This was the third springtime Caribbean cruise we took our sons (who are now both in college) aboard a Celebrity ship, and our fourth cruise overall, having taken our 25th anniversary cruise on HAL Eurodam. We have enjoyed our time on Celebrity's Millennium and Summit in the past, and the Eclipse was even better in many--but not all--respects. Each family cruise, the four of us have shared a room since we're only in the room to sleep, change clothes or shower, and prefer to spend our vacation money on excursions at the various ports. And despite our repeated travels south during Spring Break, none of us is interested in partying or sunbathing.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We live only a few hours from Charlotte, so we drove down the night before and stayed at the Hampton Inn Charlotte Airport. All four of us slept in a room with 2 queen sized beds and managed just fine. We weren't able to enjoy the complementary breakfast as we needed to be at the airport prior to 6 am, but we were pleased to find we could leave our car at the hotel for a week free ($10/day thereafter) and take their shuttle to the airport. We flew from Charlotte to Miami non-stop on US Airways, and actually arrived early. The taxi to the cruise terminal was a $24 flat fee; even with a $6 tip it was less than half the price of Celebrity's shuttle.
At the cruise terminal, it was not immediately clear where we were to drop off our luggage and which entrance led to the Eclipse, but we were there early enough that even with us wandering around a bit, we were still some of the first to arrive at the waiting area, where we sat for about an hour before they began the check-in process around 11:30 am. Lines were long getting to check-in and waiting to board, but we were on the ship before noon.
Our stateroom, #6123 (2B Deluxe Ocean View w/ Veranda), appeared longer and narrower than similar staterooms we'd had on Millennium-class ships, and with less storage space. While nicely appointed and certainly adequate for two people, it was nearly impassable at night when the trundle bed and couch were prepared for our sons. This had not been a problem on our previous two family trips.
Not until we were boarding the Eclipse did we begin to appreciate its size or its grandeur. The 10 story open atrium with suspended live tree, and the half-acre of real grass on the Lawn Club are certainly two of the most impressive features. A bar with ice-filled tables (Crush) and an innovative restaurant with whimsical offerings (Qsine) also help set this ship apart. But while there were plenty of areas to swim or enjoy whirlpools, one perk we did miss from the Millennium-class ships was the free thallasotherapy pool.
Naturally, we went to the Lido Deck shortly after boarding to get some lunch, and immediately noted the Oceanview Cafe had "food islands" which helped cut down somewhat on the lines. The food there was as good as most of the better land-based buffets we've enjoyed, and there was a nice variety throughout the week.
We have always been impressed by the quality of Celebrity's main dining room meals, which we find to be as good as some of our favorite local restaurants, and the personalized service despite serving several hundred passengers at each seating. The Eclipse's Moonlight Sonata did not disappoint us, and therefore we felt no compulsion to visit the specialty restaurants--though Qsine did intrigue us.
Staff & Service
Even though we have come to expect excellent service on Celebrity cruises, we found our waiter, assistant waiter, and cabin steward to be the best we'd had in our four cruises so far. We certainly let them know it with our praises and extra tips.
On each of our cruises, we have made it a point to go to the first evening show which usually gives us a taste of what's to come for the week. Rarely do we find more than one or two performances we feel are worth our time. Unfortunately, that was still the case on the Eclipse; in fact, we didn't go to another show that week. However, we must admit their party band was quite good, and they had a solid a cappella group as well.
*George Town, Grand Cayman: The port itself looked like many of the better Caribbean ports. We visited Stingray City which was well worth the trip; Dolphin Discovery, also worth the time & money; the Cayman Turtle Farm which gave us the opportunity to pet a yearling green sea turtle but otherwise wasn't very exciting; and Tiki beach which was rocky for swimming and a bit small.
*Cozumel, Mexico: We actually didn't spend much time in Cozumel itself as our excursion took us to Playa del Carmen (which was a pretty port itself) on the mainland. We then took a bus to the Tulum Mayan ruins, which are beautifully maintained and particularly striking overlooking the Caribbean. We then enjoyed a buffet at a private beach, and some time to enjoy the sun and surf. A word of caution for those prone to mal de mer: the water was a bit choppy on the 30-45 minute ferry rides between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.
*Costa Maya, Mexico: Puerto Costa Maya is beautiful in a "Disney does Caribbean" way. We prefer getting more of the local flavor, though, and enjoyed our tour of the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, though they weren't quite as fully excavated as Tulum.
*Roatan, Honduras: The port at Roatan was very pretty and had a number of fairly nice shops; the town itself, which we drove through on our island tour, was not as attractive. We took a ride through the mangrove canals which were less impressive than we'd hoped, and made a couple of stops to experience the Garifuna culture. Unless we were to go back for a snorkeling trip, I doubt we'd feel the need to return to this port.
Like embarkation, here's where we were reminded of how many passengers were travelling with us. Lines were long and moved slowly getting off the ship, but once we did, immigration only took about 15 minutes. Waiting for a taxi, riding back to the airport and then going through check in and airport security took about an hour total.
The Eclipse is amazing. The public areas are phenomenal, the service exceptional and the food delicious--in short, what we've come to expect from Celebrity, but even better. The only two times we found ourselves somewhat disappointed were: 1) when we saw the layout of our room (2B Deluxe Ocean View w/ Veranda) which made less efficient use of space vs. Millennium-class ships; and, 2) when we had to wait in significantly longer lines getting on and off the ship. That being said, we had a wonderful week on board and would be happy to cruise on a Solstice-class ship again.