So the reader can better put into perspective the writer's cruising experience, here is a brief history. Wife Judy has sailed five times, first on Celebrity Infinity, second two on RCI Navigator of the Seas, fourth on the Summit and this cruise. I have cruised since the '80's, sticking with the mainstream or premium lines for over a dozen cruises. We have made Celebrity our line of choice for the past several years since we enjoy what has been up until now a finer cuisine, better service and best value for the dollar. Our opinions of most of those categories have not changed. This was our second cruise to the Western Caribbean. This specific cruise was chosen for its itinerary, since we wanted to either do the Western or another Southern, the ship, since it was new to the fleet, and its cost, since it was the least expensive of all the weeks in December or January. This cruise was taken with old and good friends known for over 35 years who drove to Florida from St. Louis and then were kind enough to drive all of us across the state from Cape Coral to Miami for the cruise.
Reviews, by their very nature, are subjective works and contain little more than the opinions of the writer, with little to no factual evidence that can be proven or disproven. This review will be no different and the reader should bear in mind that one person's experience onboard a cruise ship can vary greatly from another's. The opinions contained in this review are solely those of the writer and not his wife and/or friends with whom he sailed. It is evident that differing opinions can be gleaned from various people who were on the same ship, depending upon who served them, when they were served, where they were served, etc. Opinions of cruises can also vary from one week to the next, one ship to the next and one crew to the next, so it is literally impossible to get an accurate picture of just how good or bad a ship or cruise line may be from reading only one review. The writer strongly encourages the reader to incorporate this review and its contained opinions into as many other reviews that can be obtained about the same ship, time frame, crew and itinerary. Look at the various reviews as you would view a figure skating competition scoring from the judges - throw out the best and worst, and then see with what you are left.
Twenty years ago, when determining how good or bad your cruise was, only three things were taken into consideration: food, cabin and entertainment. Much has changed since then and the general public is much more demanding, for both quality of product and information regarding same. This writer believes that cruises should be reviewed in several categories - the things that make you want to take another cruise with the same line or on the same ship. Cruise Critic covers these topics quite well and you will find my ratings for each category in their poll. The following review will be an attempt to justify those ratings.
Embarkation - nearly flawless, save a problem with my credit card information that had been input online not showing up. costing only an additional couple of minutes. Total time from getting in line for Concierge Class passengers to walking on the ship was 20 minutes. It was the second fastest embarkation time we have ever experienced.
The ship and its public rooms - Simple elegance is the byword of the Solstice class ships. The ship is very well appointed, the art is thoughtful, and nothing is overstated or wanting. The ship is in excellent condition since it is only a few months old and is a pleasure to walk through and/or explore. Best use of space has been utilized at every turn and for having 2800 passengers on our cruise, it simply never felt crowded. The only time one could get a sense of just how many people there were onboard was the sea days, and even then, it was impossible to determine the true number. The ship feels comfortable; the writer doesn't know how to state it any better.
Dining - This must be broken into the various venues in order to get a full picture and understand the rating that was assigned.
Main Dining Room - We chose Select Dining in order to be able to dine when we wanted rather than having to rush after a shore tour for early seating or have too much time on our hands for late seating. We made reservations before the cruise online for 6:45 each evening, but only used the MDR three evenings. Our first night saw us in QSine in order to get a reservation at that venue at an acceptable time and the second night, we dined in Tuscan Grille after finding the menu in the MDR to contain nothing of interest to any of us, so our first opportunity to try the Moonlight Sonata was our third night of the cruise. Sergio was our waiter and we couldn't have asked for better service. He had spent 10 years with Crystal before coming to Celebrity and his professionalism and personality showed he was a special person. The only downside in the meal was the wahoo fish was dry. Since it was still tasty and edible, no complaint was made.
Our next evening, the fourth, we returned to the MDR to what was probably the worst meal of the entire cruise. All four of us ordered the New York Strip steak and only one was delivered as ordered. One was grossly undercooked, still purple in the center after being ordered medium and two others were well done. The steaks were cut 1/4" thick and there could not have been more than 3 oz. of meat on the plate, including the fat. My idea of a good strip steak is one that is cut between 1" and 1-1/2" thick, weighing between 10 and 14 oz. To make matters worse, the waiter brought the dinner plates up from the galley immediately after serving our salads and let them sit on the waiter's station counter for ten minutes getting cold before bringing them to the table. We should have complained on the spot, but none of us are whiners to excess, so we ate what we could, not wanting to wait for more plates to be prepared and brought to us. We did, however, mention the problem to the asst. manager when she did a table touch, but informed her that nothing needed to be done since we had gone ahead and ate what had been presented. As soon as the show was over that evening, Judy and I went to the buffet since we were still hungry.
The following evening, Judy and I again had a problem of finding something on the menu that appealed to us, so we decided to part from our friends and dine in the buffet since Celebrity had expanded their casual dining selections. Although the food wasn't the highest quality (I mean, let's face it, it's buffet food, all right?), there was plenty from which to choose and we had an enjoyable dinner with time to spare to make it to the evening show, a problem we were encountering with our Select Dining time of 6:45.
The sixth night was formal night and we returned to the MDR out of tradition, if nothing else. We requested Sergio and was told we would have him as our waiter. When we got to the table, we found him to be waiting on the table next to ours and our waiter for the evening was the same one that had left our food on the counter to get cold. I told Sergio in confidence that we had requested him and were disappointed not only to not get him, but to get the one we did. He wanted to know what the problem was, so I told him as factually as possible. He immediately went to the other waiter and the asst. manager and discussed the issue. We were visited by the asst. manager, the same person who said we would get Sergio, and was offered a sincere apology with a guarantee that the service and food would be better tonight. My wife ordered the Lobster Melange against my advice after reading so many negative comments about it on the boards because she wanted lobster, period, and asked for two tails, since they were only halves. The other three of us ordered the beef medallions and complained that it wasn't going to be the same as a good filet that used to be served. Judy enjoyed her lobster and honestly didn't understand all the bad comments about it. The other three of us received eight ounce filets instead of medallions, all perfectly cooked to order this time. It goes to show that one should not jump to conclusions too quickly based on a prior experience because this turned into the best dinner we received in the MDR, thanks to a complaint and one simple comment. The asst. manager and the waiter in question saw to us receiving a meal that would make up for the poor experience we had received on the previous visit. It was our last meal in the MDR. We had thought of trying the room for breakfast but were dissuaded by others who had said they had less than satisfactory experiences.
The Oceanview Cafe (Buffet) - We ate all but one breakfast in this venue, one dinner and several lunches. The good: a wide variety of foods and dishes so you won't go hungry. The bad: again, inconsistent food preparation and lack of service. To explain the lack of service, Celebrity indicates that the workers in the buffet will take the plates of the handicapped and ladies to their tables, but this was only seen on one occasion during all of our visits. In addition, dirty plates were left on the table for considerable lengths of time on some occasions, while on others, they would cleared away immediately. The writer must assume these differences were caused by the worker's personalities and not a product of the ship or cruise line. To explain the problem with food preparation, consider that every morning, I ordered a three egg omelet with ham, cheese and onions. On the first morning, I received a two egg ham omelet/ On the second, a two egg ham and cheese. On the third, a two egg ham, cheese and onion. On the fourth and fifth days, I finally received what I had requested. I would blame it on a communication gap considering the various native languages at play if it were not for actually watching the person taking the order check off the appropriate boxes on the order form so I knew the order had been taken correctly.
The various menu items at the buffet were prepared to please a wide variety of passengers, meaning that a bit of spicing up was usually in order. Things of note were a very good selection of salads and salad bar items. The ranch dressing was tasty, while the Caesar dressing needed some kick. I got the spaghetti with tomato sauce with either shrimp or meatballs on several occasions and found it always to be well prepared and tasty, although it also needed some salt and seasoning to make my taste buds come to life. One the one dinner we had there, I got the grilled fish and found it to be quite good; tasty and juicy while being cooked properly. I wouldn't want to eat every meal at the buffet, but one could and not go hungry.
Room service was a bust for us. On our previous cruise on the Summit, we got breakfast nearly every morning in the cabin and the attendant would set up our balcony table for the meal, complete with table cloth, flowers and place settings, only leaving the passenger to uncover the dishes and begin eating. We ordered breakfast in our cabin the first morning and received a tray of cold food from our cabin steward who dropped the tray on our coffee table and ran out the door. Again, we didn't complain because we didn't want to take the extra time to have it made over, but we also didn't give it a second chance. One of the nicest perks of our last cruise was having a leisurely breakfast on the balcony either watching the waves or the port of call before setting out on our daily adventures and we especially looked forward to this happening again on this cruise. Instead, we were disappointed. I noted this on a comment care that Celebrity provides in the cabins wanting to know how they can improve their service. The following day, I was visited by our cabin steward who informed us that Celebrity discontinued the practice of setting up the meals for their passengers and all stewards now drop the meals and leave. I found this to be one of the few occasions when Celebrity actually dropped their service standards. It's a shame, because those little things can leave a bad taste in the mouths of some cruisers.
QSine - This is one of the most entertaining venues for dining you will ever see and I fully expect to see the idea franchised at land based locations such as Las Vegas and New York. It is tapas style dining with a twist. You can read all about it on other forums, so I will not take the time to explain it in detail. Suffice to say that it is an interesting experience that should be tried once. More than that would constitute gluttony. This venue is best visited as a group of no less than four people. In fact, many of the menu selections are designed for a table of four. You will place your orders on an iPad and you will be instructed to order anything that may interest you. Your server will guide you through the process and will compare each order to the others to ensure duplication is kept to a minimum. There are twenty courses from which to choose. Many say they make it through five or ten courses, so I guess the four of us were real gluttons when we told the server that we were throwing in the white flag of surrender, only to be informed by her that we only had three courses left from which to choose. Suffice to say, the food was good, the presentation was unique and the service superb. And none of us wanted to think about food for the next 12 hours. I gained four pounds while on this cruise and I think most or all of it came from that meal. If the reader is looking for recommendations, everyone's favorite course at our table was the Kobe beef sliders. They serve four at a time and we all wished we had made a double order since we only got one per person. One thing that the writer cannot emphasize enough: this is a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself and save room for the next course or four. Plan on a meal in QSine taking between three and four hours. If you make a reservation for 6-8:00, don't make plans for anything else for the rest of the evening. Go there when you don't want to see the show that night.
Tuscan Grille - An Italian steakhouse with outstanding service and food quality. We had reservations for 6:00 on the second evening, were the first ones in the door and accordingly, got the best table in the house, against the aft glass in the middle of the room. That also afforded us the best wait staff in the house who saw to our every want and need. The steaks were some of the best Judy and I have tasted, pure Angus beef and prepared perfectly. We were brought various non-ordered courses that the chef, maitre 'd or someone had taken the liberty to order on our behalf, making this a truly memorable evening. I excused myself from the table to leave the room for a few minutes only to return to everyone waiting for me because the waiter was going to prepare my Caesar salad table-side and wouldn't begin until I had returned, making everyone else at the table wait. If I were going to choose one specialty venue in which to dine more than once on a cruise, it would be this one.
Murano - Although I truly enjoyed the food and service at the Tuscan Grille, Murano is in a class of its own. A Mediterranean style restaurant with heavy French influence, this venue is a cut above the specialty restaurants onboard the M class ships in terms of courses, preparation, menu selection, ambience and service. Judy got the lobster for the second night in a row and thoroughly enjoyed it after watching it be prepared table-side. I ordered the Dover sole and watched the waiter strip the bone at table-side. It was very well prepared and quite enjoyable. What really topped off the meal for me was the dark chocolate souffle, perfectly cooked and so tasty, I wanted to take another home with me but knew it would never survive. The service at all three of these specialty venues exceeded expectations to such a degree that large additional gratuities were gladly given. If you go on a cruise for the food, book these venues every night and you will not be disappointed.
For anyone who has cruised in the past couple of years, you will know the Midnight Buffet has been replaced with the sea day brunch. It has been said this was done because Celebrity was wasting too much food at the midnight meal that no one would eat. Unfortunately, no one wanted to eat the food at the brunch on this cruise. There were a lot of selections, but very little decent food that could be consumed and enjoyed. To make matters worse, the service was non-existent. We ordered tea for the entire table from a waiter when we sat down. Another waiter brought us water or we would have had nothing at all to drink for the entire meal since the first waiter returned with the tea 45 minutes later when we were ready to get up and leave.
The Mast Grill served decent burgers and very tasty hot dogs, along with buffalo wings that you won't know about unless you ask because they keep them hidden. They serve coated fries, something that many people do not like, but I find enjoyable.
Although I didn't dine in Bistro at 5, I heard many good reports from those who did. I also heard more bad about Blu than good, so judge accordingly before booking an Aqua Class cabin.
If the only venues I wanted to rate were the specialty restaurants, my rating would be a 5+. But then, you are paying extra for them, so they should be better. If I were to rate the MDR on its own for food quality, presentation and selection, I would give it a 2, when on past cruises on Celebrity ships, I would customarily rate it a 3.5 to 4. The buffet would receive a 3, since ones expectations of the buffet do not start out as high as the other venues. It appears that Celebrity is putting its eggs in the specialty venue basket and allowing the other standard venues fall in quality. But once again, please keep in mind that you are reading one person's opinion and not fact, and consider that you can't get much more subjective than when talking about food.
Entertainment - Being a former professional musician and having lived in Las Vegas for 13 years gives me a different insight to the musical entertainment onboard the ship than most people and I am accordingly, more critical than most. That being said, I found the best group at sea on this cruise, a six piece pop and rock band calling themselves D'Revelation. They usually set up shop in the grand foyer and could be heard on the 3rd, 4th or 5th decks without a problem. A string quartet and jazz quartet were also very good, as well as the individual performers around the ship. If there was a weakness in the entertainment, it was in the production shows. The singers and dancers were very good, well rehearsed, but simply didn't have good material with which to work. We missed the first production show and cannot comment on it. The second show was the producer's take on popular rock songs from the 60's, 70's and 80's and simply was too far off center to be effective. You just can't transition from Smoke on the Water to Clare De Lune and then back to something like I Wanna Take You Higher and expect to get away with it. To make matters worse, you can't expect classically trained singers with their perfect vibrato and intonation to be able to sing hard rock and pull it off. The third show was a Cirque Du Soleil style show that spotlighted the same singers and dancers in different roles that was a little more enjoyable. But as one of our fellow travelers stated that had already seen the show once, "I'll have to spend most of my OBC at the bar before the show if you expect me to watch this a second time."
Christopher James did a one man show that contained some decent but not exciting magic tricks. The highlight of his show was the one liners and intellectual humor that went over the heads of the majority of the audience. Cecil Parker was another one man act on a different night. He was billed as being nominated for a Grammy, but it was never disclosed what the Grammy would have been for. He lacked star quality and would have been adequate as a lounge performer, but not the main attraction.
Al Ducharme did a late night comedy show three nights. We caught his act on the third try and were unimpressed. Some of his jokes were funny, but many fell to their death without a laugh from anyone.
Cabin - The smallest of our cabins on the past several cruises, #1124 is a C2, Concierge Class cabin with an oversized balcony. On the S Class ships, all balcony cabins are cookie cutter, meaning they are all the same size with the only perk that can be had being the larger balcony on some of the hump cabins. It measured 190 sf and although the standard balcony is supposed to be 54 sf, I would put ours at closer to 70 sf. The room was well appointed with nice artwork. No wear and tear yet, no spots, and thanks to the current smoking policy, no burn marks on the carpet or bathroom vanity. It had less storage space than other cabins we have had on M class ships, but still enough for the two of us since we have cruised enough to know not to overpack. We actually had room left over in the bathroom. The cabin was comfortable, even if a bit small. The perks for Concierge Class came in nicely, especially considering that our final cost after price drops for this cruise was little more than a 1A.
Service - One of the most important categories on a cruise, at least for us, and Celebrity did not disappoint. Our cabin steward was friendly and did a good job of cleaning, but did not pay enough attention to the little things such as making sure the ice bucket was filled with something other than water from the melted ice she brought yesterday. Not the type of thing that is going to spoil my cruise. The wait staff in the various dining venues have already been discussed and with the few noted exceptions, must be considered excellent. The bartenders always seemed distant, even after giving them an extra tip, but since we didn't use their services very often, it didn't bother us. Other staff and crew on the ship seemed to enjoy going out of their way to ensure every passenger had a memorable experience, and they seemed sincere about it with genuine smiles and handshakes that said something. Celebrity has always had very good service marks from me but they seem to have once again raised the bar and outdone themselves on the Eclipse.
Fitness and Recreation - Much to do, especially now with lawn games such as croquet and bocce ball. Let's face it, it doesn't take the place of a rock climbing wall, but I'm too old to use one of those anyway. The fitness center is state of the art with numerous elliptical trainers, treadmills, stationary bikes, resistance machines and free weights. Never a problem getting on a machine when you wanted.
Shore Excursions - We only booked one tour through Celebrity, having learned a long time ago that doing so is usually a mistake. This was no exception. We booked an island tour of Grand Cayman and had a tour guide/driver that was very difficult to understand. He was friendly enough, but we could have learned as much on our own as we did with him. While on Cozumel, we took a cab downtown and shopped, walked around, got lunch and got a cab back to the ship. On Costa Maya, we organized a group from our roll call thread of 25 and hired Native Choice to take us to the Chacchoben ruins. This was our best tour and I highly recommend it. On Roatan, we hired Victor Bodden on the advice of these boards and again had a tour guide/driver who could not be understood. We paid an extra $5 pp for the monkey tour which wound up being at Victor's house - a half dozen spider monkeys, a couple of animals that were distant relatives to the raccoon and a half dozen parrots and macaws. If you want to tour the island, Victor's company is probably the best you'll do, but frankly, there isn't that much to see on the island other than a couple of photo ops. When we started out and the tour guide pointed out the beauty shop, talking as though it was a landmark not to be missed, I got a little worried. It did afford us the chance to buy some souvenirs and a bottle of liquor.
Value for the Money - This was the least expensive 7 day cruise we have ever taken, even less than a non-balcony cabin we had on an earlier cruise with Celebrity. Naturally, this is due to the prolonged recession and poor economy. It also was due to researching what would be the cheapest week during a three month period in which we wanted to cruise. In many ways, this was the best or close to the best cruise we have ever had, particularly in terms of service and specialty dining. For those reasons, I must state that Celebrity still offers the best value for the dollar spent. If that will be continued must be left to be seen in the future. Next year's prices are on the rise and unless the economy stumbles again in the near future, I don't see those increases going away. If the prices do continue to rise, I feel it will be paramount for Celebrity to reinstate its food quality to what it once was in the standard fare venues.
Overall I consider the Eclipse to be the best ship on which I have ever sailed. Its service is outstanding, the hallmark of the line, and the week long experience we just had was quite memorable. I cannot state that I will ever sail on it again however, because for as good as Celebrity's guest service is while onboard their ships, their land based customer service is just as poor. Between CSR issues that I had after booking the cruise, the change in their policy regarding refunds from price drops, and the deplorable way in which they treated the passengers of the Century in October, I wonder what their true intentions are toward their customer base. I chose Celebrity to be my line of choice many years ago for a variety of reasons and have not looked back. I do not believe there is another cruise line in business today that will satisfy my needs and desires better than Celebrity for at or near the same price point. So when my line of choice lets me down, it's time to step back and decide if another form of vacation may be more appropriate for the next few years. I sincerely hope they resolve their customer service issues and will keep my eyes open awaiting news of that happening. If it doesn't, I guess I'll begin looking at HAL in another few years. In defense of the Eclipse, I must say that if there was ever a ship that could come close to making me forget about the land based problems the company has, this one is it.