I am an Elite member of the Celebrity Captain's Club and this was my third Celebrity cruise in 10 months. Last October, my husband I went on the Equinox from Rome to Egypt & Israel and loved it. At Christmas, I went with my daughter on the Mercury from Baltimore to the Caribbean - a fabulous cruise, despite the age of the ship. My husband, daughter, mother and I have just returned from our cruise on the Eclipse ex Southampton.
The night before we stayed at the Botley Park Hotel on a self-arranged stay & park cruise deal. It was fine and pretty convenient. At the port, embarkation and disembarkation were both smooth and efficient.
Like the Equinox, the Eclipse is a magnificent ship. The Lawn Club, the gym, the Moonlight Sonata restaurant - all very impressive. The Spa is lovely. The Martini bar is lively and popular and the Sky Observation Bar is a fantastic venue. The theatre is impressive and there is another smaller theatre space in Celebrity Central.
Activities: plenty on offer. The free fitness classes with Christian and Mark were demanding and worthwhile. Name That Tune, Bingo, Trivia quizzes, including a 'Where in the World is....' Quiz are just some of the stimulating daily fare. In addition there were dance classes in merengue, salsa and modern line-dancing. Another new addition was a choir and staff:guest dance classes. There were some enrichment activities including Rosetta-stone language classes, Smithsonian lectures, Titanic lectures and a new feature - Apple Mac classes.
Service: exemplary, as ever. Celebrity really scores on service. Almost every member of staff is friendly and eager to help. Occasionally you come across an unsmiling waitress, but she's the exception, not the rule.
Stateroom: the four of us were in two Concierge Class cabins on 10th floor. Both were attractive and spotless. The two stateroom attendants worked hard to keep them this way. We received outstanding service. The cabins are spacious and have plenty of storage. We found it easy to keep our stateroom neat and tidy.
We mostly dined in the Moonlight Sonata dining room. Our two waiters were fantastic and couldn't do enough for us. The food was good, with plenty of choice and always cooked exactly as requested. We also used the Oceanview Cafe. This is the buffet option. It can be a bit of a zoo at times. On a couple of sea days we found we had to wait a long while to get a seat. There was a lot of choice in food. Everyday there was Indian, Mexican, Oriental, a Grill, Carvery, Pizza and Pasta, Salads and hot food selections. Tea, coffee and some cold drinks were free and wine or drinks from the bar were available from the waiter. Generally the food quality was good, but occasionally fell short of Celebrity's standard. We often went to the Cafe Bacio for afternoon tea. The selection of teas and coffees was good and there were pastries available to eat or to go. There was an ice-cream parlour here too. There are also speciality restaurants on the Eclipse, available at a premium. We tried the latest one, Qsine. You order from an ipad and choose from a selection of items. The waiter told us to select things we might be interested in. We each chose a couple of things but seemingly the waiter selected our first offerings, as none of us had chosen what turned up. I had to wait until the third or fourth 'course' until I got something I'd requested. By then I thought I wasn't going to get anything I'd chosen, so had eaten other things that I wasn't keen on. When my choice arrived, although it was very nice, I no longer felt hungry. In the end, none of us could manage a pudding. We felt it was a bit of a gimmick and didn't really enjoy the evening. I wished we had not been seduced by the 'hard-sell' on this restaurant and had chosen one of the other speciality restaurants.
Ports: the itinerary was good. We used the ship's shuttles, which we found efficient. We did not go on ship excursions, as we preferred to see the ports by ourselves, in our own time.
Entertainment: We did not go to the shows, so can only comment on the bar entertainment. The entertainment programme did not appear well organised. It was a pity, as there were some very talented performers aboard. The dance band, The Frontliners, was excellent - they knew so many songs from different genres. The band played up in the Sky Observation Bar and had everyone up dancing, but in between their sets, a member of staff put on a tape with the same few songs playing on a loop. This killed any dancing (and the atmosphere) dead. When the band returned, they almost always started with a string of slow dances, or sometimes did a whole slow-dance session, which was frustrating for those of us who don't have partners or who have partners who won't dance!
On the Mercury, one bar had a guitarist who played acoustic songs - it was a really good option for a relaxing evening. On the Eclipse, there was a singer-guitarist who was superb! However, he only played during the day. I would have loved to have listened to him sing in the evening. There was also a jazz group, a classical string quartet and an acappella group. They were all good and very popular, although we didn't usually frequent the bars they performed in. The DJ in Quasar, the nightclub, was uninspiring. He was also the compère for the FOUR karaoke nights. I can't say the karaoke was unpopular, either, but this pretty much sums up the feel of this cruise for me: more karaoke nights than formal nights.
Is Celebrity moving away from the upmarket image it once had? Well, how would YOU rate hoards of unruly children running about between the seats in the bars until 1am or later? When our daughter was young, on our first Celebrity cruise, the bar was off-limits to her after 11pm. When was this rule changed? How about the prank calls my 78 year old mother received? Untraceable, said Guest Relations, as the culprits had used the ship phones. Then there were the children or teenagers knocking on her stateroom door at 1 or 2 am every night. I had to reprimand unsupervised children running up and down the floors playing with the lift buttons so that the lifts stopped at every floor unnecessarily. Not my favourite holiday activity. What about the kids running about playing noisy hide-and-seek games in the Sky Observation Bar while adults were trying to relax or read? Yes, we complained. So did other exasperated adults. A security officer came and asked where their parents were, and told them to go. But then SHE went and left them to it. After a few minutes, they resumed their game. In the end, the adults left! My husband complained again to another officer who sighed and said, "Well, it's the fault of the parents." Not good enough, Celebrity!
It isn't a school-holiday problem. We have only ever been on cruises during school holidays and have never had these problems before. We couldn't fail to notice, however, that the clientele was different from our previous Celebrity cruises: more tattoos and football shirts. Despite the fantastic ship and the wonderful staff, it often felt like Butlins-on-the-high-seas, but at fancy prices. Time and time again we heard guests say, "Never again from Southampton!" Whether this will translate into "Never again with Celebrity!" remains to be seen.