The cruise was great although both my wife and I picked up bad colds while on board - so we were both laid low for a couple of days during the cruise. Nevertheless, we still had a wonderful and memorable experience on the beautiful Celebrity Eclipse. She is really a beautiful ship - well planned, spacious, furnished with understated elegance (unlike the vulgar garishness of some other vessels we have sailed on!), exceptionally clean, well maintained and managed. However, the jury is still out as to whether we really like the big ship experience. The Solstice class ships are just too big for our liking. On our voyage the Eclipse was fully booked with almost 3000 passengers and although we never really felt crowded, one always gets the feeling there are just too many people around particularly when de-boarding and re-boarding at ports of call. On the one occasion in Gibraltar we had to tender because the docking area was under repair after being damaged by severe storms a few weeks earlier, and the tendering process for a ship of the Eclipse's size was something of a nightmare.
Largely because they are so big, Solstice class ships obviously lack the intimacy and personal touch one tends to experience in smaller vessels, especially ones of the size operated by Azamara and Oceania. But I guess they compensate for this by their sheer efficiency, slick organisation and high standards of staff training. Indeed one stands in awe at how efficiently the ship is run. Everything seems to work like clockwork, all requests are attended to promptly, staff are invariably knowledgeable and courteous, and frankly, one would be hard pressed to find anything to really complain about - although some inveterate whingers that we came across did manage to do so to our constant irritation!
Some random observations about our experience on the Eclipse:
We dined in the main dining venue the Moonlight Sonata most evenings and for the occasional breakfast and lunch. Standards in terms of both food quality, variety and presentation ranged from good to excellent. Indeed, how the ship's main dining room manages to turn out over 2500 banquet style meals of generally very high quality every single evening is a feat of incredible proportions! On the other hand the buffet restaurant (Ocean View) was disappointing. Quality was bland and generally a case of "same old, same old"with the menu selection changing seldom if at all throughout the whole two weeks. On the one occasion we had dinner in the Ocean View the range and quality of the fare was pretty much boarding school standard - definitely below the standard we have become accustomed to on our previous cruises. We tried two of the specialty restaurants - the Tuscan Grille styled as an Italian steakhouse but which offers a full range of options of meats, seafood and pastas, was very good. Outstanding service and well presented and prepared high quality meals. The other one Q Sine was a real experience! The menu is an Ipad; there are no starters or mains but rather a selection of over twenty experiences all prepared to gourmet standard from various countries and cuisine styles ranging from curries, English fish and chips, gourmet kebabs, specialty meatballs, exotic seafood selections, to traditional Chinese and Japanese dishes with sushi served in the form of lollipops! An absolutely amazing experience that is worth experiencing for the vibe alone although the food itself was pretty special as well. The desert selection was particularly innovative. We did not dine at the other specialty venue the Murano but from all reports it is well worth visiting. All the specialty restaurants carry fairly hefty couvert charges of USD 30/35 per head and although one initially baulks a bit at the amount of the couvert, it would be difficult to get a meal of similar quality in a high street restaurant for much less than the couvert charged.
As mentioned the decor and furnishings on the Eclipse are elegantly upmarket. The lounges and other public venues were all well laid out and comfortably furnished.
Although slightly bigger than the balcony class staterooms on other ships we have sailed, we found the larger cabins seemed to have less storage space than we have become accustomed to. Bathrooms are larger and ingeniously laid out. We made good use of our balcony.
As usual, ranged from the poor to very good, with a couple of really good Broadway type shows, one excellent comedian cum ventriloquist and one or two reasonable singers/pianists. Others were pretty poor and some have clearly been on the cruising circuit for too long!
Activities and enrichment programmes:
There was always plenty to do on sea days with many organized activities although one could always find a relatively quiet nook just to chill if so inclined. We found the enrichment programme that included a well renowned astronomer and a delightful professor of art history to be very informative and interesting.
Staff and service:
Service generally was excellent. Cabin attendants were efficient and unobtrusive and waiters and stewards in the dining venues always were attentive and professional. Management were attentive and visible - particularly the Cruise Director (energetic and hard working but with a style that just did not seem to gel with the predominantly English passenger profile on the ship).
We thoroughly enjoyed all the ports we visited. We only participated in two ship's excursions, one in Gibraltar and the other to Pisa and Florence, both interesting and worth the cost. in all other ports we toured the cities on our own.
Value for money:
The cruise overall was a wonderful experience. Apart from the usual exorbitant cost of drinks on board we have only one minor niggle and that is the tendency of Celebrity to charge extra for so many "extras' that are often thrown in on other cruise lines such as extra charges for shuttle services, specialty coffees, bottled water and so on . The "nickel and diming" attitude tends to pall after a while and seems to be going against the trend of other cruise lines that are becoming more all inclusive (at a cost of course) but in our view it would be better to add the cost of these "add ons" onto the cruise fare upfront to avoid the irritating additional fees being levied for anything out of the ordinary. One example particularly irritated us. On arrival in our cabin a prominently displayed welcome greeting indicated that "Celebrity are pleased to offer you a complimentary bottle of water to quench your thirst" - only to be informed in the fine print that if we actually had the temerity to open the bottle we would be automatically charged USD4,50 for a bottle of water one could get for a dollar on shore!!!
Predominantly British with an average age of over seventy many of whom were physically challenged (the ship is very wheelchair friendly). As one of the comedians joked he had never seen so many things on sticks in the buffet restaurant. Then he noticed they were passengers!! On all our previous cruises we have tended to be overwhelmed by Americans who were in a definite minority on this cruise.
Embarkation and disembarkation:
Very efficiently handled. Embarkation formalities were completed swiftly and we were on board with a welcoming drink a mere thirty minutes after our arrival at the port. Disembarkation was the smoothest we have yet experienced which for a ship the size of the Eclipse is something of an accomplishment.
After the cruise we spent a very pleasant week in Bude on the NW Cornwall coast. Although the weather was pretty lousy, raining virtually the whole week, we found this part of Cornwall to be particularly beautiful and we enjoyed many pleasant hikes across the moors and alongside the cliffs overlooking the cruel Atlantic Ocean.
We really enjoyed our cruise on the Eclipse but on balance, we think we still prefer smaller vessels that are able to offer a more intimate, informal experience. We have however, already booked an Australasian cruise on the Solstice class in 2013 so we will give the Solstice brand a second chance before passing final judgement. But, despite these minor misgivings about the size of the ship it was all in all a wonderful, relaxing vacation.
Now to pay the bills and plan our next adventure!