Pre Cruise Party-We met up with several Cruise Critic friends at Bayside Market for cocktails & dinner. We started out at The Other Daquiri Bar meeting CC friends old & new. We enjoyed the vibe at Bayside, there's live music outdoor in the square, for shopping there's tons of shops & little kiosks, the people watching is great too. We had 7PM dinner reservations at Lombardi's Italian restaurant. We arrived promptly at 7 & they were all ready for us. They had us set up at a large white lined covered table with a view of the bay. We had thirteen CC members attending the pre cruise event. Our waiter took drink orders & brought freshly baked bread to our table. Most everyone ordered something different & everyone seemed very happy with their dinner. I had the Bistecca alla Brace Churrasco which was absolutely incredible (especially for $20.00!)
Hotel-We stayed at the Hilton Miami Airport hotel. We had a free shuttle from Miami airport to the hotel. Our room was nice and clean (even smelled nice!) had a small balcony overlooking the Blue Lagoon which had Manatees swimming in it. The hotel had a nice pool & grounds were immaculately kept. The only thing I didn't like about the hotel is it's too far from downtown, restaurants, shops, etc.
On sail away morning there was a breakfast buffet offered but it seemed pretty expensive at $22.00 PP. The hotel also had a small coffee bar that sold a huge bacon, egg, & cheese pannini sandwich for $7.00. My wife and I split the sandwich which was perfect, tasty and quick! We had a Starbucks coffee & latte and were on our way.
Embarkation-We arrived at the Celebrity cruise terminal at 10:40AM & were on the ship just after 11:00, kudos to Celebrity for their extremely efficient boarding process!
Ship-Having sailed Solstice two years ago we knew the ship & it looked very similar other than different artwork & color schemes throughout entire ship.
We loved the pool area & the private cabanas. which we enjoyed lounging in one all afternoon on a sea day. We never had any problem finding chairs by the pool. We love the "fountain art" by the music stage. It's great to just stand in and cool off.
Cabin-We booked cabin #6303 which was on deck six, the Continental deck the very last cabin on the port side of ship before the Aft balcony cabins/suites. We loved our cabin, the bad was very comfortable & we both slept great every night. At times we thought we were the only people on the ship it was so quiet in our cabin! The only time we really felt any motion from the ship was leaving the ports. The cabin had a nice leather couch, a nice flat screen TV & lots of brand new movies on the "free" pay per view. We watched Robin Hood, Prince Of Persia, Inception & bits and pieces of a few others. We loved the room service ordering from the TV, & being able to check our statement on the TV. There are a couple of interesting Celebrity TV channels also, one showing a current interactive map of the ship & one of the bridge view cam with all the weather & sea wave information etc.
The music channel was also most impressive as it had a couple of my favourite artists featured. On the jazz channel there were several tracks by Pat Metheny & on the Blues channel there were also several tracks by our hometown favourite Buddy Guy.
The bathroom for my money is the best on any ship I've ever sailed on. Our balcony had a minor obstruction which was the top blue that wraps around the specialty dining areas of the aft of the ship. We could not look straight down but that did not bother us in the least. The payoff was that this balcony & the one next to it are about double the size of the regular balconies.
Main Dining-Moonlight Sonata Dining Room-We thoroughly enjoyed eating there each night. We felt our meals were excellent every night. We ordered two & three appetizers, & on a few occasions ordered two entrees, never a problem. Yes the lobsters are not huge but it was no problem having another along with some Tiger Shrimp. Only one nights offerings were not too exciting. Our head waiter was my favourite waiter (Juan Carlos from Honduras) in the nine cruises we have been on. After the second night he automatically brought me escargot each evening. His sparkling personality, wit, & humor were in a word great! My wife and I sat at a table (#421) on the 5Th floor, upper level of the dining room right on the railing with a great view of everything. We were joined by my in laws, and a couple (their best friends), my SIL & BIL. We might have been one of the loudest tables in our seating area as Juan Carlos & his wonderful assistant Subacorn had us laughing our way through dinner every night. I can't say enough about how a great head waiter can make or break a cruise. These two worked so well together, perfect teammates! Our wine steward stopped by our table each evening & took care of us beautifully. I had purchased the classic beverage card so I enjoyed my fill of wine each evening. My glass was never empty. We also enjoyed specialty alcoholic coffee drinks on several occasions after dinner. If you do purchase a drink card why not? Besides they are quite tasty!
Ocean-view Cafe-was laid out just as the Solstice. There was an endless amount of choices at breakfast & lunch time. I especially enjoyed the omelette station & my feta cheese & spinach omelette. Also the Eggs Benedict were very good. My wife loves the freshly made waffles as well. We loved eating outside near the ocean-view bar in the aft seating area. There was a Jamaican coffee/juice steward that came through singing each morning. His warm personality & great singing was a big hit.
Mast Grill-served great cheeseburgers, corn dogs, Hot wings, brats, and the best freshly made nacho chips topped with your choice of cheese, guacamole, taco meat, onions, tomatoes,& HOT! HOT! HOT! jalapenos! The Mast Grill was a perfect spot to grab a bite while lounging at the pool.
Murano-We dined in Murano one evening & my wife & I both missed our regular wait staff who knew us & were so awesome. The service in Murano was excellent, but lacking the fun we had with our regular waitstaff in the MDR. Maybe even a bit stuffy. I had the Cognac Lobster which was prepared table side, which was very cool. Our meal was excellent but in my opinion specialty dining just isn't worth the extra money. I'm perfectly happy eating in the MDR.
Ports-Grand Cayman we planned out a day of snorkeling on our own which turned out better than I ever expected. We took a short (10 minute) walk South to Eden's Rock Dive Shop and rented a locker for $5, put on our own gear & stuffed our backpacks into the lockers. The staff there was very friendly and helpful telling me exactly where to snorkel & find the caves of Devils Grotto. We went down their easy access stairs into the water. We were immediately greeted by some of the usual suspects, Sergeant Majors...looking for handouts. But what was really cool were the 3'-5' Tarpons that had no fear of us and swam right up to you. This made for some great photo opportunities! The reef at Eden Rock has probably been very damaged by the multitude of cruise ship guests snorkeling & touching and stepping on the reef. There still were a very good variety of fish. The Devils Grotto is a ways farther out & much better quantity of fish. I'm guessing many people just don't want to go that far out by themselves. We saw several different blue hued Tangs, the highlight was following a school of dark blue Tangs (maybe 50-60). We saw different varieties of Parrotfish, some Angelfish, Foureye Butterflyfish, Squirelfish, Yellowtail Snapper, different varieties of Grunts, & several schools of Reef Squid. We spent a good three hours snorkeling at the two sites here. We then packed up & headed North past the cruise ship pier to Hammerheads where we left our backpacks on a picnic table & jumped in & headed directly towards where the cruise ships were anchored. Halfway between the cruise ship & Hammerheads Bar was the Wreck Of The Cali. It's a huge wreck maybe in 15'-20' deep water but very easy to see everything in the crystal clear water. The wreck was very interesting to see all sprawled out on the ocean floor, the "ribs" of the ship & all the mechanical parts. Afterwards we enjoyed a few Cali Light & Cay Brew beers at Hammerheads. The staff was friendly & we had a great time with them.
Cozumel Mexico-We booked the Cozumel Bar Hop Bus as a group with our CC friends & getting a 10% discount, which ended up being $44 PP for a five hour tour to the remote East side of island. There we visited four different bars: Punta Morena, Coconuts, Playa Bonita, & Rastas. We were with our Eclipse roll call group which filled two buses. It was a lot of fun partying with people we knew through Cruise Critic! We got a shot in each bar. Some of the "shots" were actually a small drink in a shot glass. The Tequila popper shot was my favorite along with the last "green" shot/drink which I could have had a entire glass of. These bars are all very, very rustic with thatched roofs & no electricity. We drank several varieties of Mexican beers, Sol, Tecate, Corona ranging in price from $2-$4. The vistas from each bar was better than the other. Watching the big waves crash onto the shoreline was a completely different side of Cozumel than I've ever seen. It was a absolutely beautiful day along with absolutely beautiful ocean scenery. We so wanted to try the coconut shrimp at Rastas that we all read so much about on CC & that the Cozumel Bar Hop people actually raved about & promoted. Well we all ordered it and were told they were out of coconut. For the life of my I still can't understand how on an island in the caribbean you can run out of coconut??? So we ordered garlic shrimp instead which were just OK, 7 large shrimp cut in half for $16.00 which I though a bit pricey for the Caribbean. The guacamole & pico de gaio was excellent & hot! I believe I ended up drinking 7 beers and having 5 shots, so taking the Bus was a great idea! But make sure to bring plenty of cash! None of the bars take credit cards. So leave the driving to them & enjoy a sun drenched party at some unique Cozumel bars.
Costa Maya-We booked the Native Way Mayan Ruins Tour with Ivan & David independently on the Internet. It was $50 PP for the five hour tour. We took a 45 minute bus ride to the ruins site on their brand new bus with good air conditioning & unlimited cold bottled water provided. Ivan made this tour fantastic! His father actually found the Chacchoben ruins in 1942 & claimed the land which has since been taken over by the Mexican government & turned into a national park. Ivan our guide grew up playing in & on the ruins. He left to go to college & returned to Costa Maya as a licensed guide for several ruins sites in Mexico. Ivan was so informative & most passionate speaking to us about the ruins which are really his home. He is an incredible individual & we were so impressed with him personally and his guide service. We took my Mother and father in law who is a huge history buff. I really went on this tour to appease my wife & my FIL but ended up enjoying the ruins more that I ever thought I would. I highly recommend this tour to anyone, it was 5*****!
Rotan, Honduras-We booked the Upachaya snorkeling tour for $70 PP. We were picked up just outside of the port area, exactlly where they said they would meet us for a short ride to Upachaya. After a brief intro by Dwane the owner we were off to snorkel with Al our guide. Al is a most knowledgeable diver, snorkeler, & incredible free diver. Al would free dive to the ocean floor & bring up various sea creatures for each of us to hold. We held huge conch, huge starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, & sand dollars. Al would also scan the reefs & coral finding lobster & a Sea Lion for us to see. The things he showed us I would have never found or seen on my own. Al really "made" this tour. After snorkeling the first area of reef in the bay for an hour we headed to the spot known as the Spooky Ridge & it is a lil spooky! We were snorkeling in waters from 5'-15' until we got to the ridge where it drops off anywhere from 75"-200'! The cool thing was Al alerted us to stay by him & watch as stingrays shot off into the darkness & depths as we snorkeled over the ridge. The spooky thing was not knowing what was down in the pitch dark depth looking up at us! After we were done snorkeling we were offered locally brewed beers of Port Royal & Salva Vida beer, or sodas, or water. We returned to the Upchaya retreat for a vegetarian lunch consisting of a rice, beans, & onion salad a shredded carrot & pineapple salad, chips and salsa, & watermelon. Beer, soda, & water were provided with lunch. I purchased a tasty "Monkey La La" drink for our bus ride home. The snorkeling tour was incredible but in my opinion the lunch left a little to be desired, especially at $70 PP. After burning so many calories & spending a lot of energy snorkeling I would have liked something more substantial to eat. That being said the snorkeling was excellent & that's the real reason to take this tour!
Ship Bars-I wanted to give a special mention to a favourite bartender aboard the Eclipse. We first visited the Sunset Bar at sail-away & met a bartender Ignacio from Acapulco Mexico. Within a couple hours & a couple of Red Stripe beers he was calling my wife & myself by our names. Knowing I had the classic drink package I never had to show him my card again. Something about his ability to remember our names & what we liked to drink aboard a ship of 3000 people really impressed me. We visited with Ignacio each evening enjoying a quiet pre dinner cocktail & taking with him about life aboard the ship & back at home in Acapulco was quite interesting. We honeymooned in Acapulco 23 years ago & still remember the amazing cliff divers! Some nights we were the only people at the Sunset Bar with Ignacio, he is a wonderful young man & Celebrity is lucky to have him representing their company. Ignacio you are truly a class act!
Even though some of the wow factor wasn't there as this ship is just like the Solstice. We loved the Solstice so much & liked knowing what we were getting.
We thoroughly enjoyed our week aboard Eclipse and at times really did feel like a Celebrity. We felt special! It's good to feel special, like a Celebrity, even if it's only for one week a year!