I can't resist a bargain (or a relatively new ship) so when I saw the price of a balcony cabin on the Eclipse for around £600, I couldn't resist. Yes we had to add trans-atlantic flights, but it was still cheaper than cruising out of the UK where the equivalent would be around £1500-£2000 for an equivalent cabin. So I booked two cabins (my two twenty-something daughters were also travelling with us). Thanks to the info on the Cruise Critic forum, I knew to watch the prices and when they dropped, contacted our TA who got us a reduction of around £50 each. This is quite unusual in the UK cruise market.
Unfortunately I hadn't factored in that March was peak season in Florida because of the snow birds (always visited in heat of summer when accommodation was cheap and plentiful). Add to that a music festival in Miami, it made finding cheap but good quality accommodation near impossible.
I eventually opted for a beachfront two-bed condo in Sunny Isles (Marenas Resort) which was fine, although not exactly cheap. Taxi from airport around $50.
Embarkation was effortless and we were onboard by 12.30 ready for lunch. The welcome glass of bubbles was a hint to the quality of service to come. We headed to the Ocean View Cafe and couldn't believe the variety of good quality food on offer.
Our cabin was ready by 2 pm and we were pleased that we had taken time to research the best cabins so had booked on the hump which gave us extra-large verandas. In fact my daughters in 8226 had a balcony three times the size of a normal one whilst ours was about twice the size. Same furnishings as others in the category, just more outside space. Would definitely recommend a 'hump' cabin and contrary to what I had read, facing forward wasn't too windy.
We absolutely loved the Lawn Club with the comfortable wicker seating - we probably spent most of our time there. The girls even sunbathed on the grass (on towels as no furniture allowed). Sailing away from Miami was spectacular seeing the city skyline and picking out South Beach.
We had opted for Select Dining and had no difficulty getting a table at around 8.30 most evenings. Food in the main dining room was excellent as was the service. Rather than the impersonal experience we had on other cruise lines offering this flexible dining option, we had efficient friendly staff who had memorised our names by the dessert course and who remembered us and our preferences on our subsequent evenings. We didn't use any of the select dining venues as we felt the quality of food was excellent, so why pay more. Qsine looked interesting, albeit a bit quirky. Possibly worth it for the novelty value. Other options were Murano and Tuscan Grille, which both looked good. We were a little confused about what was included so didn't visit Bistro on Five or Cafe El Bacio.
We rarely used the pools as they became quite busy, although we liked the fountains alongside and also the covered day beds. Didn't use the spa either but had a quick look at the persian garden, and was surprised at how small it was. Basically a solarium with ceramic beds (about 8 of them) - not worth the extra fee in my opinion.
I think it is difficult on a 7 day cruise with few sea days to make the most of all of the facilities - didn't get to any of the tastings for example. But there were a range of unusual options available to those not going ashore.
We found the Corning Glass show interesting (once) and it was very popular. The evening show was particularly impressive. The theatre shows were good and we particularly enjoyed the acapella group - in fact we often planned our evening around their performances.
My husband loves Karaoke (sorry!) and got very excited that it was on most evenings up in the stunning Sky Lounge. Unfortunately the girls running it just put the backing tracks on and did not encourage people or sing themselves.
The itinerary was a little disappointing (although probably our fault for not booking excursions, but we traditionally like to explore independently). (see below).
The overall experience, however, was one of quality in terms of environment, service and food. In fact it had spoilt us so much that our post cruise stay was a little lack-lustre in comparison.
We stayed on the Florida Keys for the last three days of our holiday at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, which was nice enough but not as luxurious as the Eclipse.
We were so impressed with Celebrity that I have just booked the Silhouette for August!