My wife and I have four kids and we have been on quite a few family cruises - having been on Princess, P&O and Royal Caribbean. We fancied a change this time so we opted for Celebrity. Although we have four kids just the two younger ones (12 and 15) wanted to come this time.
Embarkation was quick and easy. The only slight irritation was that, apparently, you have to specifically ask for luggage tags online two weeks before the cruise - and we didn't know that. Why they simply don't mail them to you is a mystery to me. As such, we (and many others) had to join a queue in the freezing cold dock-side to be given luggage labels. A crazy system which Celebrity would do well to improve. That aside, check-in was quick and easy.
Once aboard we went straight to our rooms - which were ready and very nice. We had two rooms, both with a verandah - which had connecting doors. The rooms were of a good size and the bathrooms were the biggest I've seen - even on some suites. The TV was pretty clever, with lots of channels, and you could view the onboard photos as the cruise progressed. The face recognition software automatically sends the photos to the relevant TV's. Impressive technology. As always, we had an initial explore of the ship and found it to be well designed with lots of lounges and bars. The general ambience was that of a 'relaxed modern' feel. The mustering was quick and easy and without the need to take life-jackets, which was easier than normal.
We opted for the 'flexible dining plan' whereby we dined when we felt like it. Not once did we have to wait for more than a couple of minutes and the service was generally excellent - as was the food. Every single meal had a very good menu selection, including healthy eating options. We had one meal in a speciality restaurant, whereby we went to the Q-sine. Now this really was an experience I'm glad we chose to do. Menu is an iPad which you make your selections - and they just keep brining it out. The spring roll comes in a spring. One course comes on a suitcase. Fish and chips come in a popcorn box - and so it goes on. Think we had about 10 courses over a three and a half hour period. Well worth the $30 a head. The food in the buffet restaurant was also excellent and there was lots of choice - the best I've ever seen on a cruise ship. Finding a seat, on the other hand, was often a bit of a challenge.
My kids particularly enjoy the kids clubs so they went and joined these immediately. Now my older daughter (15) really loved it but my younger one (12) didn't. Reason being, the age range of their particular club was 12-17. So my eldest child was in the middle of the range but my younger one was at the young end of the scale - and there is a huge difference in maturity between 12 and 17 so my youngest didn't really feel part of the group, so she chose not to go after the first couple of get-togethers. I think Celebrity would do well to think about having something specific for the 11-14 age range.
The entertainment was pretty good - especially a Cirque Du Soleil type thing one evening. Astonishing stuff - never seen anything like it on a cruise before.
I swam a lot in the adults pool - which was very pleasant - and my wife used the gym a lot. Again, all very nice. We found the service on the ship was universally pleasant and helpful.
One thing which did surprise me was the general demographic of the clientele. I assumed that because it was over the school holidays (Autumn half-term) there would be a lot of people with kids. It certainly wasn't - I'm in my mid-40's and I felt like a spring chicken! In fact I was in the pool on one occasion when I looked round and asked myself "now why does this remind me of something?" and then I laughed to myself and remember. It was like a scene from the movie 'Cocoon'. Sadly, it has to be said, whenever I engaged fellow guests in conversation so many of them seemed grumpy and appeared to get a buzz from finding fault. As an example one person said that the ship was too 'bright and not intimate enough' while later on another said that the ship is too dark and not bright enough. Personally, I think life is too short to be complaining all the time and I tend to have a 'glass half full attitude'. It's not the first time I've seen such an attitude by regular cruisers and something in me wants to roll my eyes and say 'get a life', but there we have it!
As for ports of call, we've done enough cruises to know that we try to avoid the organised excursions and we tend to commandeer a taxi for the day. The reason is simple. (a) there are lots of us (usually 6 on this occasion 4) and the cost is about one quarter of doing an organised excursion; (b) we have more freedom to come and go as we please; (c) often the cabbie will know of little gems which the masses don't go to; (d) on the excursions there's always one old biddy who can't find the bus or something.
Madeira: grabbed a cab who took us to the land tobogganing thingie. Then to a beautiful botanical garden. Then to a beach area. Then to a fantastic view. Then back to the ship. A great day out.
Tenerife: Well my kids wanted to watch the Formula One so we found a very nice sports bar where we watched this - then did some shopping.
Gran Canaria: We hired a cab who too us to a place where we went on a camel ride then had a quick tour of the island.
Lanzarote: Hired a cab who took us up the volcano, via a vineyard, and then to some other interesting sights.
Lisbon: Hired a cab and went to the zoo (very nice it was too) and then we got a cab to the old part of the city where we hired Segways for a few hours and did the sights on these. We really did enjoy that day.
Vigo: This one place we did do an organised tour because we wanted to do a 'two hour white water rafting trip' and we thought it would be easier to do the official tour. Let's just say it was great fun but we rather regretted it. When the coach arrived at the destination they said there is nowhere to change so we all had to change on the coach. It's fair to say that there was lots of fat naked flesh wobbling about for all to see. My kids and I elected to get wet in our normal clothes rather then attempt to put on a wet-suit in public. We were laughing a lot, to be fair. We eventually got into our three rafts and imagine our surprise when our two hour rafting trip ended 45 minutes later. Turns out it was too wet and cold to continue! Well we figured that such things are to be expected if you choose to go white water rafting. Anyway, by now we all needed to change again (back to dry clothes) and we were frog-marched to a cellar of a local pub where there was bathroom big enough for one person to squeeze into at a time. So that was interesting. Also, as I was getting changed I noticed that my clothes (which were on the floor) were in a puddle of freshly applied bleach - so they were now ruined! Back at the ship we mentioned our experience to Guest Services and told them we felt that $400 ($100 each) for 45 minutes (plus ruined clothes) didn't strike us as particularly good value. They agreed and refunded us 25%. I wasn't going to push it any further because although it wasn't what we expected we did actually have a good old laugh!
Sea days were good - we did the trivia competition and didn't come last, so that was a pleasant surprise. Loved the proper grass where we played bowles (or whatever it's called). We also enjoyed three lectures which were (it sounds in bad taste) about the Titanic. These were very interesting and somewhat moving. Don't think there was a dry eye in the place when the Celebrity Quartet played the very same final tune which the quartet on the Titanic played. There was also a minute's silence for those who lost their lives. The speaker, a Canadian chap, really knew his stuff and was immensely interesting.
Disembarkation was very quick and easy and we were hope 45 minutes later (we live in Hampshire).
We would definitely recommend Celebrity Eclipse to others - we found her to be welcoming with a 'feel good' factor.