From start to finish, this cruise company and ship ticked all the boxes. The 20th October 2010 itinerary to Madeira, 3 x Canary Islands and back via Lisbon and Vigo was not great in terms of destinations but we knew what we were signing up to when we made the booking - we did not choose it for the itinerary - it was more a case of what fitted in with our schedule. We were amazed by the number of people who made negative comments about two or three of the destinations as if they had not known where the ship was going!! With the Canary Islands, the destinations really only "work" if you plan a tour because the towns themselves do not have a great deal to offer and that point was made very clear in all the destination talks! The weather could have been better but that's a big gamble you take especially when sailing from the UK in mid-October.
Our arrival at Southampton on departure day was easy and uneventful - we drove up and dropped our luggage and within two minutes were driving off to the car park where we were immediately met by the car park staff and directed to the shuttle bus to take us to the ship. Check in was a breeze - we were travelling in a Concierge cabin on this trip so were shown to a priority check in line but to be perfectly honest, none of the check in desks had more than one or two people waiting to check in. It seemed as if we were on the ship in minutes from first entering the terminal!
We had not sailed on the Eclipse before so did a bit of exploring before an announcement advising that passengers could go to their cabins. The cabins are very good in most respects - the bathrooms were the best I have seen in the last few years - one or two people have moaned about the tap arrangement over the washbasin but you quickly get use to it. The bathroom has ample storage so everything can be kept out of sight. They have a neat arrangement in that when you turn off the bathroom light, it actually stays on very low like a "night light" which we thought was a really good idea.
The cabin was the standard size of most of the outside cabins on the Eclipse and was well laid out. The storage at first sight seemed limited for such a new ship but there was a significant amount of over-bed storage and considering we took four cases, we had no trouble putting all our things away and there was ample space under the bed to stow the suitcases and all footwear. We thought the bed itself was especially comfortable and the cabins have excellent wall-mounted TVs offering the usual choices - one or two people felt that the choice of channels was limited but in my view you do not go on a cruise to watch TV - maybe a bit of news to catch up on whilst away and a couple of children's channels if you are travelling with youngsters but in our view there was more than enough choice.
The cabin staff were as attentive as ever, managing to dive into your cabin and get it all sorted out even if you have only slipped out for 15 minutes to get some coffee! We did not use any of the speciality restaurants, and used the MDR for dinner each evening so cannot comment on the speciality restaurants or the "casual dinner dining" in the Oceanview Cafe except to say that we never saw the speciality restaurants full. We felt the food in the MDR was good all the time whether for breakfast, formal lunch (which is only offered on sea days) and dinner. On two occasions, the food was not to our taste but that was our fault for not choosing wisely. Like most cruise lines, on the last full day, they offered an afternoon tea in the MDR which was nice and on our sailing was very well attended (probably due to the inclement weather!).
The buffet restaurant, Oceanview Cafe, where most guests took their breakfast and lunch was a busy place but the ship sailed full and I did not find it a problem choosing my food and getting a seat - some people travelling in groups of 6 or 8 often encountered problems but then you would not expect to walk into any restaurant and get a table for that number at the drop of a hat. There is no capacity problem in the Oceanview Cafe as some have reported - the problem seems to be with some of the passengers. It amazed us that so many people seemed to be unwilling to share a table - not the fault of those already seated at a large table but the fault of those wandering aimlessly around with their food seeking out a seat when there are two empty seats on a table for 6 immediately in front of them but they seemed unable to ask if they could "share". If there was a problem with the Oceanview Cafe it was with what Celebrity seemed to think the largely-British passengers would want - I don't go on a cruise to be offered a choice of roast meats every day (as nice as they were), Shepherds Pie and Bread & Butter Pudding. However, on balance there was something for everyone. I am not sure if the menus are fleet-wide or are "regional" depending on origin and destination.
There were ample bars and lounges around the ship to suit everybody from the smaller places such as Michaels Club to the large Sky Lounge up on deck 14 forward.
The shows in the evening were sometimes flipped so that if you were on the later sitting for dinner, the showtime could sometimes be before dinner and other days, after. It seemed to confuse some people but as long as you checked the daily schedule then there should not have been any problems. The shows were varied and not to everyone taste on all occasions but I liked the fact that that they only had 3 "big production shows" on the 11 night itinerary - I have been on other ships where more than 50% of the evening shows were the big set pieces. They had a number of individual artists on different nights - a magician, a comedian, two different female vocalists and a male vocalist. The two notable acts were Lindsay Hamilton one of the female vocalists who drew great applause from the audience and at the other end of the scale, Greg Bonham the male vocalist who had quite a few of his audience getting up and leaving before his act was over! We did stay to the end but it was not a memorable occasion.
The musicians and groups around the ship were very varied and all really good - there was a first class acapela group and if jazz was your thing then there was a really top notch jazz combo led by the brilliant Manny Kellough whose pianist, Ashley Wey should have had her own show without doubt!
The activities around the ship were plentiful (for us at least) - we do not go on a cruise for party-games and games in the swimming pool and thankfully there were none. There were a number of very informative lectures and talks across a very wide range of subjects including a 3-part talk on the Titanic - an odd subject some might think for aboard a cruise ship but judging by the size of the audience, not many passengers we were sailing with thought it odd - I am sure that on one occasion there were more people in the Eclipse Theatre for the Titanic lecture than were in for the evening show!!
The CD, John Grantham and his team did a good job with their range of activities including various trivia quizzes, ballroom and line dancing "lessons" and if we were to single out one member of his team it would be Carl Pucl, a young Canadian whose enthusiasm and personality really made this a memorable cruise. He was the one who did the Titanic lectures, he also seemed to be involved in so many of the other activities but his claim to fame must be the Celebrity Choir - the Celebrity Daily on the first day invited anyone interested to sign up for the choir and with some intrepidation we went along since we have never sung in our lives. It finished up as a group of almost 50 and with daily practice, we "performed" on the last full day in the theatre. It was quite an experience and something that I have never before seen on a cruise ship - I would say Carl Pucl will soon be knocking on the door for a Cruise Director's position.
The pools on deck 12 were good - two outside and one inside the solarium with a total of six Jacuzzis across deck 12. The pool butlers did a good job but there was the perennial problem of people taking chairs by leaving their belongings on them to signify "possession" but then never using the chairs for hours at a time. On one occasion on the sunniest day, we saw a couple put their books and towels on two sunbeds shortly after 9.30 and they never came to actually use them until lunchtime - how selfish! Because of this problem, Celebrity have placed additional beds on decks 12 and 14 but this then makes for a rather crowded feeling - if someone could find a solution to the "bed blockers", it would be much better for everyone. The solarium area was very nice with all the usual beauty and health treatments and in each of the male and female locker rooms, there was a nice big sauna which was very under-utilised. The gym area was very well situated with some of the best sea views on the ship.
One disappointment for us (and our views were matched by many that we chatted to), was the "behaviour" of some other passengers. Examples included putting their feet up on tables in the lounges bars as if they were foot-rests and the greed of some of the passengers in the Oceanview Cafe - to see some of the mountainous plates of food, you would think they hadn't eaten for 4 or 5 days instead of 4 or 5 hours! The finale to this greed was that they then left most of the plateful to go to waste!
This cruise wrapped around the UK school half-term holiday so there were a few school aged children on board. Although not directly the responsibility of Celebrity, I found the children (and teenagers) to be generally well behaved at all times - there was obviously enough for them to do otherwise that might not have been the case.
For us, the key points on this ship/trip were:
No irritating on-board announcements except the daily captains broadcast at midday. They have a zero announcement policy and certainly adhere to it which we appreciated. The Celebrity Daily tells you all you need to know and more.
Good lectures and talks.
Activity staff member Carl Pucl - I had seen his name mentioned on so many previous reviews and now I know why - he is a Cruise Director in the making.
Embarkation and disembarkation at Southampton was extremely easy and quick on both occasions. Also, very courteous and helpful port staff and although not Celebrity employees, certainly worthy of a mention.
Excellent bathrooms in the cabins.
Excellent levels of hygiene and cleanliness around the ship.
The removal of trays in the Oceanview Cafe - some people looked puzzled that they just had to carry their plate to their table which did of course mean that they have to return to get a drink but the number of times I have seen accidents in the past where guests have propped trays upright down by the leg of tables only to have others knock into them and trip over them. I think this is a very good move
Smoking is permitted in the Sky Lounge port side - I do not believe that smoking should be permitted in any indoor area. Even with the most efficient air-conditioning systems, you cannot remove the smell.
Some of the menu items could have been a bit more exciting - whilst we found the food to be good across the ship they could have certainly stepped up a notch or two with some more exciting or unusual dishes whilst still maintaining a balance for those seeking some simple cooking.
A solution needs to be found regarding those who "reserve" sunbeds all day and only use them for a couple of hours.
In summary, his was our 3rd trip with Celebrity but our first sailing from the UK. I would travel with them again without hesitation but that does not necessarily mean I would never consider any other cruise lines.