This was our second Celebrity cruise, having previously had a week on the Solstice in the Caribbean. That was impressive and relaxing. This time, it was two weeks around the Mediterranean. Two weeks is long time on a boat you might think but luckily we enjoy the opportunity to do nothing. This cruise attracted a much older demographic (I'm mid 30's) and don't underestimate what that means, although it's beyond the control of Celebrity.
So, the basics. We embarked at Southampton. Really smooth operation. Cases taken in the car park and the terminal is literally across the street. Check in was a breeze (make sure you setup everything online) and we perhaps waited 20mins in the lounge until we were allowed on. So by 12.30pm we were across the gangplank.
For cruises novices (some in our party were) the 'going aboard' process is a little chaotic. Celebrity offer you a glass of fizz and then you're allowed throughout the ship. But there is often a bottle neck and alot of confusion about where to go. We knew the layout of the boat, so headed aft for the elevators. I find it's best to go topside as quick as possible and if you can find a corner for lunch in the buffet, even better.
Cabins were available sooner than expected too. We stayed in a Aqualcass cabin - knowing that this has some obvious perks, such as Blu (restaurant) and the Spa access. The cabins are also higher up and forward, near the spa. The cabins on the Eclipse are pretty comfy. Alot is made of the storage space and there is loads - enough for 2 weeks worth of clothes and shoes. It was all very clean and in good condition. The bed was large (king size, albeit with curved corners) and the whole place feels roomy enough. The balcony is a good size too. Enough space to lie out. They actually give you reclining loungers unlike some lines that only give you upright chairs.
We never had issues with the cabin. Everything worked (ok, one light and the phone stopped working but were fixed sharpish) and it was made up and cleaned like clock work, even if we stayed on the balcony. Only tiny issue was that some of the added value amenities (binoculars, slippers, tote bag etc) had to be asked for...some only turning up in the second week. But we were given double rations of canapés and mineral water, so I'll let that slide.
On a wider note, we had breakfast almost everyday in Blu to avoid the buffet crush...and it's worth it. Also had dinner there most nights. Excellent service and classy food. Smaller portions but the attention to our party was amazing. Occasional nights we dined in the 'speciality' restaurants. Now these need some context; we had a dinner package. So, if you like theatre and flamboyance with your food give these a go. But the food wasn't much better than Blu; just different. Murano is cited as THE gourmet eatery. But it's more about lavish decor and constant theatrical service. The opposite is of course true in a Michelin starred establishment but this is a cruise ship.
I'd avoid Qsine if you want a quiet meal. It's really full on. Fun but not worth it if you want to be left alone. The only one worth the true effort/cover charge is Tuscan Grille. The view form the aft is amazing at sunset. We dined early just to enjoy it. Its a slightly more relaxed ambience too.
And then there's the buffet. I realise it serves a purpose and people love the perceived value for money but on this cruise it was chaos. The quality of the food was pretty good. The repetition is managed well. But the pace by which the other quests moved around the stations was maddening. Queues formed and people dithered around in circles not realising that the food is the same on both sides. Again, this is the guest's not Celebrity's fault. But some crowd control might be helpful?
Amenities wise, we enjoyed the calm of the coffee shop, the solarium and the Cellar Masters club. It was mostly too windy to sit out on deck so we also hid away in the relaxation room at the end of deck 11. But the decks in good weather are extremely crowded. Cheek by jowl. I have no idea why they think we'd pay $000's to literally sit inches from partially clothed strangers!
The old argument about the lawn being a waste of space is applicable here. We gave up sitting out by the pool when other guests were literally pressed up against us. Not great for a premium cruise line.
We tolerated one half of a 'show' from a guest act. The ship's own company was dreadful. The hot glass show too was passable but having seen it before, I have no idea why anyone thought this would be a great longterm entertainment event.
Used the gym often; it's very well equipped and has a great location looking out over the bow.
In terms of ports only Livorno and Civitavecchia need excursions - there is nothing to do locally. The others have opportunities accessible from the ship. Genoa was special case with a really crappy walk to the developed harbour area, which was saturated with street sellers. Not nice.
And then the negatives. We saw and felt the customer service slide some what in the second week. As if the crew were getting bored. Orders took longer and the restaurant (Blu) was more chaotic. They also ran out of some fruit and weirdly Budweiser (?).
As we had an AQ Class cabin we were called to say we had a $60 discount for Spa treatments. When we enquired at the Spa reception, the woman couldn't have been less helpful. She had no idea what we were referring to and said she needed to check with her manager. They called us a few hours later, when we told them to get lost. Total break down in sales/communications.
We also had a awkward run in with the manager of the Bistro; walking up for a table, we were asked if we were on the wait list. We asked what the wait was (amazed people would actually wait 40mins for a crepe)...and then noticed there were several (not one or two) empty tables. We asked why they were empty and the manager said bluntly he was 'waiting for people to turn up'. How long he'd wait was anyone's guess. He clearly didn't understand the logic that a wait list only works if people turn up on time. Really backward. And rude.
We then had the worst food service experience for a LONG time in Blu. With two meals being served with plastic AND then metal pieces in them. We of course complained and the waiter, chef, and maitre'd all came to table to gush apologies. But with no offer of compensation/credit etc. We had to ask for the wine to be comp'd. Then wouldn't do this, instead offering us a bottle of champagne the following night. Which wasn't the point. They were then obsessed with making sure we filled in the survey card based on all the OTHER meals we'd enjoyed. Really tacky.
Last gripe was during a port day, we went down to deck 2 to access the gangway, we turned left out of the elevators following a sign 'gangway'. However, we didn't realise that we had strayed into the crew area (them having left a door open) - until we noticed the Celebrity staff propaganda charts and the horrified stares of the off duty waiters. We were eventually accosted by an officer who both apologised and chastised us, wanting to know what we were doing wandering around down there - to which we said 'trying to get out!' (we had a wheelchair user in our party, so weren't ambling around for no reason). So, some really crappy security and customer service right there.
Overall it was a pleasant and well served cruise. The whole selling point for Celebrity is attention to detail, which for the most part they do really well. Even the disembarkation was well managed. There are elements that are pretty trashy (smoking areas, junk food, flash mob dancers) but most aspects stand up to 'you get what you pay for'. Saying that, I don't think we'd sail with Celebrity again, plenty of others to try.