Our fourth cruise in four years and the second on Celebrity was on the new Celebrity Eclipse. We opted for Celebrity because, last year, our experience with Celebrity was superlative. Unfortunately, our experience on this cruise wasn't up to the previous year's standards. The Eclipse didn't seem to have as many on-board events going on and the events they had were not of last year's quality. With all the pre-cruise hype about the Eclipse being Celebrity's newest ship, maybe we expected too much.
The check-in at the dock went fairly smooth and we got to our cabin on Deck 12 (2103) which was one of the "Concierge Staterooms". We had booked a better stateroom package than previous years, so both the room and the balcony were a little larger than we've had in the past. In addition, there was a bottle of champagne in the room when we arrived along with fresh flowers, a fresh fruit basket every day as well as daily hors d'oeuvres.
Our stateroom's location was the best ever. We were portside and mid-ship. We were only about 50 steps from the swimming pool, 20 steps to the elevators, one floor below the Oceanview Cafe and 9 floors above the standard demarcation point of the ship when we were in port. Desmond, our stateroom attendant, did an excellent job and meeting our every need.
Unlike the cafeterias aboard the previous three ships we've experienced, the Oceanview Cafe is not organized as your standard buffet. Instead, it features multiple stand alone food service islands. There were different stations for Salads/Soups/Bread, Desserts, Pasta, Stir-fry, Indian cuisine, Sushi, and a couple more for more standard fare.
Another difference was that most shipboard buffets offer a tray upon which you can put plates of the various food offerings. On the Eclipse, there were no trays...just a large, square plate. My wife and I agreed that we like the tray concept better. It's tough to carry a plate with your main course on it along with a bowl of soup (and/or a salad) AND a beverage AND a dessert. No trays meant that folks getting their food had to go back and forth between their table and the food service area...which made the foot traffic in that area tantamount to rush hour in the big city. There were no lines, per se, at the service islands. Folks were butting in and elbowing each other to grab their entree selection. It wasn't a fun experience and was certainly not relaxing. Obviously not all new ideas are good ideas.
On the other side of the pool - on the same floor as the Oceanview Cafe - is the "Mast Grill" which is a nice outdoor restaurant featuring grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, fries, onion rings, potato salad, coleslaw, beverages and all the standard toppings.
At 6 PM, we made our way to the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room on Deck 3. Our waiter was Custodio and his assistant (Raul) both did a marvelous job.
The ambiance of the Moonlight Sonata was really quite nice and the food was good...but not exceptional. We only ate in the Moonlight Sonata four of the seven nights (I refuse to wear a sport coat on vacation and another night there was nothing on the menu that made us go "wow!").
The down side of dining at the Oceanview Cafe in the evening was that the food choices were very limited. One night I couldn't find potatoes of any kind, mashed, fried, French fried...nothing...not even rice! Another night Kathleen went for the stir fry and found that they didn't have any chicken. It's not what one would expect on a cruise.
Our first "Day at Sea", was a welcomed break after a day of scurrying to make it from Minneapolis, through three airports and to the docks in Miami.
I stopped at the casino and found that the Eclipse casino is "cashless". So the fun I usually have plunking an endless stream of quarters into a series of one-arm bandits wasn't in the cards this trip...but, while it cost me some expected fun, it did save me some bucks.
That afternoon we watched one of the "on-demand" free movies - which were a pleasant addition to their on-board TV system. The TV system on the Eclipse was really very nice.
Our first port was supposed to be Georgetown, Grand Cayman. It was an exceptionally windy day and many of the shore excursions that involved water sports, snorkeling or diving were canceled. Also, rather than Georgetown, as planned, the port allowed the ship to anchor on the southwest side of the island in a bay that protected it from the wind. We were near the South Sound area.
This was our first experience at being shuttled to and from the ship to shore in tenders. In this case, they used large double-decker boats. It was actually kinda fun and went well.
Our shore excursion for the day was a tour of the island. Our guide for the day was Leroy
Smith. We stopped at the Governor's mansion, drove past "Seven Mile Beach" and stopped at the Rum Cake Factory where we were treated to sampling several different kinds of rum cake as well as various flavored Tortuga rum.
From there the tour literally went to hell. Indeed, there's a tourist area in the northwest portion of Grand Cayman called "Hell". The area got its name from the unusual lava rock formations. Indeed, the formations are odd in that they don't look like any lava formation I've ever seen. The entire area is blackened and very jagged...it looks like the blacked ice crystals.
Our last stop was the Cayman Turtle Farm at Boatswain's Beach. The Turtle Farm is a sea turtle nursery where Green and Hawksbill turtles are bred and raised. LeRoy gave our group a tour of the facility which includes a nursery where the baby turtles are nurtured until they can join their adolescent friends. My wife relished the opportunity to hold a baby sea turtle (6 months old) and learn how to calm the squirmy little critter by gently stroking its neck.
I was impressed by the huge "swimming pool" that was the home to no less than a couple hundred sea turtles whose shells were all about 3' in diameter. In all, they keep about 500 sea turtles at the facility with a female to male ratio of 4 to1. The turtles are kept at the farm until they're about 2 years old and then are released into the ocean. It costs between $2,000 and $3,000 per turtle to bring them from an egg to release. Interestingly enough, the turtle farm also has a very rare albino sea turtle.
I found out later that our ship really wasn't "anchored" in the Grand Cayman bay...it was really just drifting with the bridge maneuvering the ship's props to keep the vessel from running into the other cruise ship in the bay. All in all, it was an enjoyable excursion.
Our second port was Cozumel, Mexico. The locals at the pier were borderline rude and not helpful unless you were interested in booking a tour with them. Eventually we found a police officer and another local who helped us catch a cab.
Our former neighbors in Minnesota live in Cozumel 8 months out of the year and they volunteered to show us the island so we got to their home, hopped in their car and then took the road around the entire island.
About half way around the island, we stopped at an outdoor bar and grill called "Bonitas" and had beverages, chips and salsa. Later, we met up with a few of our neighbor's island friends and dined at little hole in the wall restaurant called La Peritas which specialized in delicious fresh fish.
Our third port was Costa Maya, Mexico which is sometimes referred to as the "Disneyland of Mexico". It is a port that, in 2001, was specifically constructed by Mexico and Carnival Cruises for tourists. Its location is only about an hour's drive to several Mayan ruin sites. Other than that, it's pretty much a tourist trap. There's nothing at the port that wasn't specifically constructed for the cruise ship tourists.
Our shore excursion for the day was of the partially unexcavated Chacchoben Mayan Ruins which are situated in a jungle near the border of Belize - south of Costa Maya. We rode in an air conditioned bus for an hour to the ruins. Along the way our guide gave us a history of the area and its people. The tour of the ruins was educational, very worthwhile, interesting and well done - but nothing you would need to see twice.
Our favorite port on our cruise was our last stop, the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. It's a beautiful island with friendly people and very quaint surroundings.
Our shore excursion tour was hosted by Artly Brooks (of Fun and Sun tours), the great grandson on Juan Brooks who is one of the original developers of Roatan. We toured the island on a smaller air conditioned bus through Coxen Hole and up a winding road to a balconied store at the top of a hill where we had a view of the bay and our ship.
We went past the historical shipwrecks of the Tulung (which burned and sank in 1965) and the Alexandria. We went on to stop at Sherman's Iguanas Refuge which also had a fish nursery and caged monkeys as well as yellow knap parrots in the town of French Cay.
There were hundreds of iguanas crawling all over the refuge and we had an opportunity to feed them. There were a couple more stops on our excursion. We visited a private home with spectacular views of the whole Island and an exclusive community with condos, time shares and apartments.
We've enjoyed visiting the many places on the seas, but we especially relish those ports where one can experience the true nature of the country rather than the tourist traps.
Our last day at sea was spent sitting in on an on-board lecture by one of the engine room engineers on how the ship was propelled. It was interesting to learn the ship's propellers do not "push" the ship, rather, the four propellers face the front of the ship and "pull" the ship. Apparently that methodology saves energy.
Disembarking the ship in Miami wasn't as smooth as our previous experiences. It took a long time to find our luggage (in one of three rooms). We got to the airport about 3 hours before our flight left. All in all, we had a good time. But it failed to meet our expectations after sailing with Celebrity last year.