We've just returned from our first Celebrity Cruise onboard the Eclipse. It was a 8 day Norwegian Fjords cruise. We are a couple in our mid 40s and this will be our 5th cruise, the rest have been on Princess. Our holidays are all about the ports, relaxing and recharging our batteries, we like great service but hate hard sell. I've done comparisons to Princess where we noticed differences and have tried to be constructive. I'm sure others on the same cruise would have different perceptions but these are ours.
Embarkation was a breeze, we stayed at the holiday inn in Southampton and were able to walk to the ship, the process was smooth and there were only 3 people in front of us at check in and security. Our check in time was 12, we arrived bang on 12 so don't know whether we would have had to wait if we were early. The check in queues for each category of suite/captains club were all the same length so no difference whether you had priority boarding or not. When we walked on, we were approached straight away for hand sanitiser, had hands full with hand luggage, holding a coat we'd taken off for security and we're rubbing our hands dry with sanitiser and were immediately given the welcome on board drink. It felt like you were being rushed and not given chance to finish one task before being given the next task all whilst juggling stuff we were carrying. Rooms weren't ready so went to find some food but found everywhere busy with no seats free so walked around aimlessly. I didn't like this, at Princess the rooms are already ready even when we've boarded at 11, it spoilt our first experience of Celebrity. I'm sure if there is a next time we know what to expect so it won't feel as bad.
We were able to go to our cabin at 1.15ish, we had a concierge class on the hump on deck 10. The room was fantastic, seemed loads of hanging space with plenty of coat hangers, the bathroom was nice and the balcony was great. The chairs on the balcony were really comfy and the bed was very nice, we slept well every night and found it hard to get up it was that comfy. Compared to Princess is was nice having a kettle in the room. We wouldn't complain about anything in the room. Our steward was Carlos, he was very friendly, obviously worked hard and soon had our routine down so serviced the room whilst we were out. Again, there wasn't anything I would complain about with Carlos. He made us 2 lovely towel animals, the second one was cute, we'd brought a cuddly moose and put him out one night, when we got back, Carlos has sat him on the bed and had made a towel moose to sit with him. Put a big smile on my face.
We don't like to do main dining and tend to eat in speciality restaurants and the buffet. We tried Qusine and really enjoyed the experience, the service was great and the food very tasty. I preferred the buffet on Celebrity to Princess, the layout seemed better and the choice was greater. All the food was tasty and cooked well. During lunchtime it was hard trying to get a table, the weather was cold so I think everyone was in the buffet for lunchtime whereas if it's sunny people are spread out more. We had room service for breakfast, service was always 5 to 10 minutes earlier than expected but they telephoned before they came which was nice so I don't think they'd catch you out and it was much better than being late. The ladies bringing the tray were very cheerful and friendly.
The worst part was the service in the buffet, other bars and cafe. I've read on boards that the number of wait staff have reduced so I was expecting some slow service but it was worse than expected. In the buffet, dirty plates weren't cleared quickly enough, you had to hunt down people to get a drink or go to the bar yourself. It wasn't any better in the cafe or other bars. They had 2 staff on in the molecular bar which was full so it took forever to get a drink, it didn't feel special and we didn't return. The only bar we received good service was the martini bar when they realised we had the classic package but were paying for pricey martinis and we left a tip, the waiters soon gave us attention then. We didn't have any experience like this on Princess and it felt the only let down on the cruise. It wasn't the crews fault, there just wasn't enough of them to cope with the numbers. Apart from the martini bar, there weren't many menus around and I wrongly assumed that there would be a list on board of what was or wasn't included in the package so didn't print off the internet, whereas on Princess I would drink a variety of different things and try new drinks, I didn't know what cocktails were included and found myself sticking with the same drinks. Another confusion was that I drank Smirnoff Ice during the first half of the cruise then suddenly got told it wasn't included in classic only premium package. When I explained we'd been drinking it for last 4 days they said it was a mistake and couldn't have one unless I paid extra, the attitude of the bar man was rude and the bar manager wasn't much better. In end I gave up and drank something else, but again without seeing a list I couldn't even check. I just got the impression that the bar staff were over worked, short staffed and didn't want to talk about options as they knew they weren't getting tips. Someone said that on the previous cruise they had 6000 tickets a day on drinks, on this cruise they had 10,000 tickets a day so the workload was increased and maybe this impacted it.
I thought the ship was beautiful. I loved the contemporary design and all the art work. We didn't use the spa as it was so expensive (more than princess and I thought they were expensive), I was surprised they didn't really do many special packages. It was nice having the casino smoke free every night, I thought the library was stunning and loved the lifts being in the centre of the ship going from top to bottom. There never seemed to be queues for the lifts. We tried to go to the Apple centre 3 times but must have had bad timing as there was a long queue each time and I wasn't that bothered to go back again. Again I think this was due to the cold weather so everyone kept indoors. The shops were nice and the staff were polite and friendly but not pushy. The TV was impressive, loved that you could view your bill on line and the photos appeared on there, Princess could learn from this. The ship was also very smooth, the seas were calm but even docking didn't cause any vibrations and we always left port on time. The one thing I missed from a Princess was port information, they give everyone a 4 page information sheet on each port with things to do, a bit of history, helpful advice on eating, transport etc and some common phrases in the native language.
The highlight of the activities was the Hot Glass Show. We felt like stalkers at the end as we went to every show. It was so cold but they provided blankets and hot drinks, I think the cold kept people away and we managed to get a front row seat every time. Bob, Ryan and Jamie were all talented beyond belief and really lovely people and needless to say the pieces were stunning. I hope Celebrity don't cancel this show, it's brilliant.
We didn't do many shows, the Eclipse show was good and the entertainers were impressive. Sue was friendly and you always saw her around the ship which was nice. The activities always seemed to have a good turn out which gave a nice ship atmosphere.
The organisation of the excursions was very good, all tours left on time and the guides were very friendly and knowledgeable. The only slight grumble is that the descriptions weren't as accurate as they could have been. We booked the hike in Gerainger and knew it said strenuous but the description on the excursion site made it sound like we'd be ok. When we got on board and read the ticket it sounded like it was a very steep 5 mile hike with very different wording to the excursion description, so in the end we cancelled it and booked another one. But to be fair to Celebrity when we asked to change the hike for the RIB boat, they'd had more requests so had laid on 2 extra tours to ensure everyone could do it, which was great service. In Stavanger we booked the Oil museum which was a 3 hour tour with a stop on the way for a photo. This turned into a 1.5 hour bus ride around Stavanger which only left 1hour 15 minutes at the museum. You could hear people grumbling on the coach.
We absolutely loved the ports, Norway is gorgeous and we were really lucky with the weather. The tour guides explained that the snow had melted early so the waterfalls weren't at their best but they were still beautiful and there was still snow on the tops of mountains which just added to the beauty.
Bergen was our first stop, it was a Sunday so not many shops were open but that was Ok with us. Disappointed not to experience the fish market as I'd read brilliant things about it but as the weather was nice we did loads of walking.
Second stop was Flam and we did the ships train excursion. Again the weather was lovely. Scenery stunning and there was snow at the top which we didn't expect and was great fun. We sat on different sides of the train each way so got to see the views, people were well behaved and didn't hog any windows. I was glad we'd booked the cruise excursion, I'm sure with more ships in port, the train could be heaving and the small port would be very busy.
Gerainger was my favourite port, stunning, loads of hikes to do and the RIB boat down the fjord was such fun. We were lucky to use the sea walk which made it so much easier than tendering. I'm not sure whether it would be as peaceful with more shops in port as it may be too crowded. The seven sisters wasn't at full force as much of the snow had still melted (the guide said it was in full force earlier this year) but the one opposite (either called the bridesmaid or bachelor depending on who told the story) was impressive.
Alesund was my least favourite mainly because after scenic ports it seemed too big in comparison and didn't have the Norwegian feel about that the rest of the itinerary had. I think we made a mistake by not booking any excursions because we didn't find enough to do. Probably my fault for not researching enough but it was the only port which didn't leave me ranting and raving and wanting to go back.
Stavanger was beautiful and there was loads to do, really pretty buildings and a great mix of culture and shopping. The petrol museum was very informative and interactive, would have liked longer there.
We did self disembarkation and it was so easy, we were off the ship at 6.15am and straight on road.
I loved Norway and would go back tomorrow. I'm so glad we saw the snow on the mountains, I'm sure it's beautiful in any season but the snow made it stunning. All in all a fantastic cruise and I would cruise Celebrity again but the lack of staff was a big let down for a cruise line that calls itself luxury. If the prices were similar and the itinerary similar I'd choose Princess but if there was a big price difference or Celebrity's itinerary was better I wouldn't hesitate to cruise Celebrity again. I'd give it a big 8 out of 10, if the service was better it would get a perfect 10/10.