With one previous mediocre experience on an older Celebrity ship, we decided to take a chance on this recently christened vessel. Bravo Celebrity - you've got it going on!
Embarkation: We arrived before noon, moved efficiently through the line for common folk and were on board with a welcome glass of champagne and a glimpse of the stunning lobby to commence a much needed vacation. After a self-guided tour of the beatiful public areas on decks 4 & 5, we went up to the deck not called Lido for the buffet lunch. Our enthusiasm level was already cranked up pretty high.
Dining: We had dinner in the main dining room 6 of 7 nights. Very happy with selection and quality of food. MDR was gorgeous, although our table was in a corner near the entrance that deprived us from viewing the surroundings while we dined. That's OK, we were too busy enjoying each other and our delightful serving duo. Special dietary needs were catered to with a sincere pleasure by the asst maitre d'
One night was spent at the French specialty restaurant - Murano. It was a memorable evening with meals that were sigh-out-loud great. Add impeccable service and presentation in a sophisticated, intimate atmosphere and we were made to feel very special indeed. But be sure to book the specialty venues real early.
The buffet restaurant was really well laid out, there was above average menu variety and, except for occasional difficulty locating an available table, not a bad choice for breakfast and lunch. The inclusion of cheese blintzes and lox at breakfast was a pleasant surprise. Someday a cruise ship will introduce something resembling a real bagel to accomodate the lox.
Cabin: The standard balcony cabin felt a little smaller than we expected, but this is likely due to the cleverly designed alcove at the doorway. It was consistently quiet and the bed was remarkably comfortable, making for ideal sleeping circumstances. Kudos on the bathroom design, especially the shower, making the most of very little space.
Entertainment: Better than expected, though still lagging behind Carnival. The main showroom featured three production shows, including a spectacular Cirque Du Soleil-ish show late in the week. The earlier 2 editions gave us terrific, energetic dancers but were sabotaged by the questionable quality in the lead singing. I also wondered about headlining a talented, amusing illusionist whose specialty was...card tricks. This would have been better suited for a smaller lounge. The midnight dirty comic was so-so and not particularly dirty. In the public lounges, we really enjoyed Bel Canto Strings,the female string quartet. D'Revelation provided good dance rock in a variety of locations and there was a decent, but ultimately intrusive acapella group. To my disappointment, the activity flyer did not offer descriptions of the named musical talent. So when I finally discovered an acoustic folk singer named Dave Schultz, it was the 2nd to last night of the trip. He would have been a muscial highlight for me if I had been aware of his genre and there had been a venue more suitable than the dessert counter at which to locate him.
Public Areas: Great outdoor sunning areas with plenty of shaded lounges. Nice outdoor pool, nicer indoor pool/solarium (for adults only - hooray!). The real lawn area was a welcome treat and it seems Celebrity is still trying to figure out how to best utilize this feature. There is a well equipped fitness center with the obligatory majestic view. The decent jogging track was hempered by being too integrated with the common walking area. The atrium is beautiful and unique and was even used for more than one dance party event. The Sky Lounge was very attractive and the location for most dance opportunities. Quasar (the DJ manned dance club) would have benefitted from a better variety of music. Special thanks to Celebrity for making so much of the public space non-smoking. The other bars/lounges varied from lively (Martini Bar) to serene (Cellar Masters & Ensemble). All were comfortable, appealing choices for unwinding.
Even the public restrooms were impressive. I'll spare you any description. You'll have to discover for yourself.
Service: The level of friendliness and desire to please was a revelation. We enjoyed meeting staff from so many different countries and they made us feel like they were genuinely pleased to meet us. The officers were consistently present and gracious. Paul, the cruise director/director of onboard activities was at many events, often singing (quite well) and helping to drive the festive atmosphere.
Special shout out to dining staff member Nadia from Belarus.
Memo to the manager of the Sommelier staff: Train them to lighten up - most of us are wine novices who just want to be served a glass of wine we'll enjoy. We generally don't aim too high, so please don't be put off by our lack of sophistication. By the end of the week, our guy successfully recognized this.
Other Activities: From dance lessons (well instructed) to trivia contests (actually intimidatingly difficult), the calendar had a number of choices. Our weather was regularly nice, so much of the time was spent outside. I wonder if they would have added more activities if there had been more rainy days? The only excursion in which we took part was the America's Cup race at St Maarten. It was exciting, required real effort and worth the time and money. Other passengers seemed to enjoy the glass blowing demonstration. I must bore too easily.
Disembarkation and Customs was the only portion of the trip that seemed mishandled and stressful. Would more staffing and guidance have been meaningful, or is this aspect of the journey destined to undo a portion of the cruise benefit?
It was a great week; maybe one of our favorite cruises ever. Keep up the good work Celebrity and congratulations on the beautiful Eclipse.