We flew in to Heathrow a day early and travelled by National Coach to Southampton. A bus departs from the Central Station every two hours and after picking passengers up at Terminals 4 and 5, it takes 2 hours to arrive in Southampton,.
We can recommend staying at Jury’s Inn in Southampton, a 5 Pound taxi ride from the bus station. The central shopping area is a 15 minute walk from the hotel across a leafy park. A huge ASDA supermarket stocks essential supplies to take on board. Next morning, a ten minute cab ride got us to the ship by 11:30.
THE SHIP: Huge, of course, but her lines are graceful and the deck layout is easy to follow. Our state room on Deck 6 was compact, seemingly with less storage that the equivalent class cabin on Millenium. The shower stall was spacious enough for my 6 ft 2ins, 185 lbs frame. Our steward was, unusually, a woman: Darlene and her assistant kept the cabin spotless and were very attentive.
Once we reached the islands and the weather improved, the pool area and upper decks were packed with sunbathers, but I could always find a lounge chair in a quiet corner for a quiet read – on my fabulous new Kindle!
As predictable on a cruise out of Southampton, the passengers were probably 90% “Brits”. Scottish, Welsh, Irish and regional English accents far out-numbered the Americans and Europeans. Mostly gray heads and the few children behaved well, and only “lost it” when heard squealing happily in their assigned swimming pool.
DINING: The evening choices were Moonlight Sonata, (the main dining room), the buffet or one of three specialty restaurants. We tried them all and our favorite specialty restaurant was Murano’s for its soufflés, wonderful fish and rack-of-lamb. Actually, the food in Moonlight Sonata was varied and excellent quality so there was no need to go elsewhere. As a relaxing alternative to the buffet for breakfast or lunch, try the main dining room for waiter service. Another lunch alternative is Bistro on 5, which serves good soups, paninis and a variety of sweet or savory crepes for a $5.00 charge.
ACTIVITIES & ENTERTAINMENT: Celebrity’s shopping guru Fiona MacKenzie was familiar from other Celebrity cruises. There were limited shopping opportunities on this voyage so she shared her insights into what to see and do in each port, particularly if not taking a shore excursion. A retired British customs officer gave two entertaining talks on the islands and the last day he related his career “confessions” as a customs officer. Another speaker gave us details of the special fauna and flora unique to the islands and the last sea day scared us with dire global warning predictions which left our home state of Florida largely submerged by the next century. The shops on board were kept busy especially on sea days and I suspect the British love of pubs was good for bar business. However, it seemed the Brits aren’t into casinos as whenever we passed the only gamblers were a handful of Asians and Americans.
The Celebrity Theater shows often fill to capacity so get there early for a good seat. The best performer was singer Lindsay Hamilton who is entertaining and has an excellent voice. My companion complained that we’d seen her on four previous Celebrity cruises but I didn’t care.
PORTS-of-CALL: Anybody who stayed on board at any of the ports missed a lot. They were quite varied and well worth a day visit.
Madeira was the first, lit up by a rainbow as we drew close. We had arranged a private tour with Joao Daniel Freitas, recommended by prior CC visitors. An energetic, blue-eyed man, his English was fluent as he’d lived many years in South Africa. His wife Eusebia was very responsive to our e-mails while setting up the day’s arrangements for 11 of us split between two cars. We saw a lot in 5 hours and were particularly impressed with the natural beauty of this mountainous island.
Tenerife: Once you get off the quay there is an organized taxi rank. We were assigned David who agreed to take us on a 5 hour ride for Euros 100. The old city of La Laguna has some beautiful streets and churches that merit an hour or two. After stopping for some panoramic views of the fertile slopes falling down towards the Atlantic, the next call was Orotova. We visited a colonial building called Los Balcones where a variety of local goods are for sale, then on to the popular resort town of Puerto de la Cruz. It has a rocky sea front, a black pebble beach and many swimming pools. Charming streets and up-market hotels are side by side with souvenir shops selling rubbish and cafes catering to a clientele that can’t cope with Spanish food. Unfortunately, Mount Teide was hidden in the clouds. As we requested it, our last stop was at a locals-only, family restaurant. We enjoyed island specialties such as octopus, fish croquettes,and three types of sausage, washed down by strong red wine.
Gran Canaria: After the first two islands, Las Palmas had a real city atmosphere. We walked from the ship down a short street to catch the first (9:30 am) Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus. Our first stop was Vegueta, the old colonial neighborhood several kilometers from the modern downtown. Santa Ana cathedral is magnificent. Don’t miss the separate entrance to the South Tower, where for Euro1:50 an elevator carries you to the top for a spectacular view of the old city and shoreline. There’s a lot to see in Casa de Colon (Columbus’ House, free entry) and the narrow streets around there. Back on the bus, we stayed aboard till it went around to the second stop, the main shopping district, home of El Corte Ingles department store (the Spanish equivalent of Selfridges or Macys). We walked back from there to the ship after a diversion to the beach, an attractive stretch of golden sand boarded by hotels and restaurants.
Lanzarote: is an arid volcanic land where a tour is essential, so we opted for the once-in-a-lifetime “Camel Ride and Fire Mountain” trip. The camels were fun and the landscape created by the violent eruptions was unforgettable. The downside was that even in late October tour buses engage in a fierce struggle to gain entry into Timinfaya National Park, one by one. This resulted in a lot of wasted time and our guide was under constant pressure to chivvy the 50 or so passengers on and off the bus, leaving little time for us to absorb what we were seeing. Nevertheless, it’s still worth doing once.
Lisbon: unlike HAL’s ship which docked down town, we happened to dock way out by the April 25 bridge and I questioned how Celebrity could justify an $8:00 shuttle fee. Anyway, a HO-HO bus, taxis and public transport were available right there. Lisbon is a lovely city with lots of atmosphere, ideal for walking around or taking the rattling old trams up its many hills. The views from San Jorge Castle are not to be missed.
Vigo: located in Galicia, the so-called “greenest” part of Spain, it was not surprising that it rained all day in Vigo. Rain or shine, Celebrity’s ½ day tour to Santiago de la Campostela is not to be missed. Our educated local guide’s English was good and he made sure we packed the maximum into our two hour walk in and around the medieval Cathedral, third most holy site in Christendom, which the Pope was to visit a week later. Earphones eliminated the need for all of us to cluster around the guide and strain our ears.
DISEMBARKATION & AU REVOIR
As Elite class passengers, we could disembark anytime up till 9:00 am and it worked smoothly. We rented a car and a word of warning if that’s what you plan on a Sunday: the rental offices aren’t open at the port, at least in late October, so you need to get to Southampton Airport, a 20 Pound cab ride from the ship. On Sundays the offices at the Airport open at 10:00 am.
In sum, we had a good time on the Eclipse and while on board booked another cruise on her for October 2011, guided by Jose, the ever-helpful sales manager. We had a chance to get a feel for the different ports and will try to get back to Madeira and to Gran Canaria for a longer stay.