I am writing this a few days after returning from three and a half weeks away, the first part of which was our very first transatlantic cruise.
We have cruised three times previously with Celebrity and twice with Holland America and this was our first on the Eclipse, in fact the first on a ship that size. Before I get into detail can I say we had the most fantastic time overall and look forward to trying a transatlantic again in the future.
We left Manchester by air at 11.20 on the morning of the cruise – I like flying my wife doesn’t and the approach and landing at Southampton on a smaller FlyBe plane was a touch bumpy but hey one hour Manchester to Southampton, collect luggage in no time and on a coach for the port will do for me!
The coach dropped our luggage at one door, never to be seen until in our cabin and then to another door for the quickest and smoothest embarkation I've ever had. Just a few short queues and walked right on the ship. The cabin was ready so we went straight to our “stateroom” and deposited the carry-on bags and headed for exploration and a spot of lunch at the buffet in the beautiful and well set out Ocean View Cafe.
Now remember I said we were away three and a half weeks, 13 nights on Celebrity, off at Ft Lauderdale around the port and straight on Crown Princess for a further 7 nights in the Caribbean and finishing with a few days in Florida for a few days Xmas shopping. As a means to keep costs down that we had elected the cheapest interior cabin we could on Celebrity with the reasoning that we had a large proportion of sea days thus little to get the benefit of a balcony from. We were on deck 8 – cabin 8332 at the rear of the ship. It was perfect, larger than cabins we have had previously, well appointed, plenty hanging space, over bed cupboards and the cases out of sight under the bed that was very comfortable. Bathroom had glass fronted storage, a great shower and sufficient space for our needs. We had a fantastic cabin steward in Del who was beyond first class! Even a kettle, tea bags and coffee that I joked would be removed by the time we got to the USA , that was surely for the UK tastes and then totally unsurprisingly it disappeared about two days out from Ft Lauderdale in readiness for the US Caribbean season.
1st couple of days a little bumpy and I am not greatest sailor but with Stugeron I was perfectly fine, I know one or two were struggling but it really was not that bad.
Dining – We opted for select dining at night giving us freedom with timings etc. and of course you can select to eat alone or join others as you so wish. My wife and I generally prefer our own company and never had a wait on any night we came for dinner of more than 5 minutes for a table of our choice in the Moonlight Sonata. Bogdan, the host quickly got to know our liking for tables and we used this facility every night, no need for additional cost restaurants as the food was all delicious. Our waiters and assistant waiters were all great – we had a few more than once and they were all good and very accommodating to our requests, mainly for normal butter to go with the rolls as I don’t really like the three options that they supply on a small plate. We are not wine drinkers so did not have much contact with the wine steward but others around us all seemed happy with them.
The Oceanview Cafe was our port of call for breakfast, lunch and nibbles, always a nice buffet. There were a larger number of UK guests (over 1600) compared to the US/Canada (about 600 I think), so there were several items that are typical of an English cooked breakfast. I don't remember anything like that on my previous Caribbean cruises. As I have lost three stone in weight this year I was trying really hard not to go silly and although I have added a few pounds I avoided cooked breakfast other than a slice of toast on all but one morning. All the buffet food was well cooked, lots of choices and no complaints. I especially liked the Panini station at lunch and had some great sandwiches made there. Many on the cruise had inclusive drinks packages so there was probably more drunk than normal. We didn’t but don’t drink much anyway, possibly no more than a dozen alcoholic drinks between us the whole cruise, they are a little expensive but hey your on holiday so enjoy them. It would have been nice if Cafe Baccio was inclusive it all looked incredible.
There was so much to do on this cruise, I wanted to relax and my wife was ticking activities off that “we must” do or see!!! Several days there were multiple things happening at the same time and we had to choose one over the other. The Hot Glass Show was fantastic. These young artists are amazing and to blow glass as well as they did in some slightly choppy conditions encountered on a transatlantic must be a challenge but they made it look easy. Their shows are often busy and it is due not only to the unique nature of the show, but the personalities of the artists. Sue Denning is by far and away the best cruise director we have cruised with and the theatre shows we went to were excellent. There were three production numbers and they were all extremely well staged and very enjoyable to watch. The orchestra other musicians/jugglers/comedians/singers were all very entertaining. Pung Fe will be a name to watch out for in the future, he is a young man with tremendous talent.
Two of the three ports of call we have seen before so went shopping in St Maarten and St. Thomas. Oh dear this cost me as my wife was in and out of jewellery stores all the time, but never mind at least that is her Christmas present sorted! Both ports had a number of other large ships also docked and were quite busy so it made bartering a little more difficult but I stuck to my guns and got the prices I was prepared to go to on all occasions.
Nassau is a new stop for us – it is Ok but very crowded. There were five ships in port so probably 11,000+ people who could coming off these ships. Once again, tons of shops all selling basically the same thing. Next time I'm in Nassau, I'd go on a trip of somekind or a taxi tour.
US Immigration (NOT THE CRUISE LINE or SHIP STAFF FAULT I HASTEN to ADD) – I have to say a few words about immigration in St. Thomas, technically the first stop in US territory the entire ship including the crew have to go through immigration.
There were major issues with the people from immigration - arriving late, not having the right computer technology to call up all the electronic files for the British who had completed them online prior to sailing (at times I wonder why we are considered allies as we are not treated like it). Five or six officers to deal with close on 4000 people is a total joke and I will be writing to the US embassy in the UK to register my dissatisfaction. We arrived in line at our appointed time and it took three hours to get through and the officer basically threw my wife’s passport back at her, gladly for me it reduced shopping time once ashore. I believe many missed their excursions and were not happy at all. It was hard to understand as I'm sure this isn't the first time they have had to go through immigration at a Caribbean port where there are excursions involved. I truly felt for Sue Denning and her staff who were taking much of the brunt of this when other than queue management there was little they could do.
Disembarkation was a bit of a drag, luggage handled well by the crew the night before and we went at our appointed time, now bear in mind we had no rush as we were only going as far as Crown Princess across the dock but when we got off were again a long line being held up by, yes you guessed it, Passport Control operated of course by US Immigration who yet again did not have all the booths open and when I tackled one guy told me that with the economic conditions there had been cutbacks – unreal, more people arriving means more tourists, means more dollars spent means more tax collected, I really can’t understand the lack of common sense at times. Next time I will be off first by carrying our own luggage and although there will be a line it won’t be at the back of 2800 others.
Overall we had a truly fantastic time, met some very nice people, enjoyed some great activities and demonstrations (the chef’s involved in the culinary ones were fantastic) on board and the 8 sea days at the front end went very quickly. The shows after dinner were great, the food was very good, the staff helpful and made the cruise go smoothly. I placed my deposit on another open booking with Celebrity on board and would certainly consider another transatlantic trip if the US Immigration can get their act together.