Before your cruise.
The information we received before was very good, I was not in charge of organisation though but let me summarise thus: Pack for a normal holiday plus some really sharp suits, shirts and ties and you won't go far wrong. Also bring loads of medication because it is an American ship and healthcare there is unfamiliar.
Too easy for words as you head to the dock area in Southampton the road signs have special LED displays for which ship is boarding where. Then you turn onto that dock (no massive trucks or industry as such as it is further down the solent) and you arrive in a line of cars in the holding area where you can get out and look up at the enormous thing that is Eclipse (It dwarfed the French aircraft carrier in one port!). Once you get on that dockside you are done. They take over from there. From getting to the dock we said goodbye to our luggage (taken out of your car for you, but we were embarrassed so we helped) and parked. Short walk with hand luggage and suit carriers to the security where you are greeted by either very happy and helpful staff or extremely good actors. From leaving the car to getting on board we were about twenty minutes, no queues, no waiting, just checks at the desks and walking through to the ship. IT WAS BRILLIANT. No horrible airport to negotiate, no three hours wait for a three hour flight packed like sardines, just efficient happy service all the way to the ship, and when you get onboard you KNOW this is going to be something special. Our jaws dropped when we got on board. I have seen reviews saying this is not a 5star experience, they are, in my humble opinion very wrong indeed. The whole ship is gorgeous, not opulent in the dripping gold and gaudy carpet sense but sleek and stylish in a very classy way. For the car nerd, if I was expecting Lamborghini I got top of the range Aston Martin.
Excellent. Some reviews have mentioned storage space. I can only fear for what these people bring aboard. I had 5 suits, 14 shirts, loads of summer holiday clothes and I really overpacked. My girlfriend had 14 dresses and her summer holiday clothes and we had plenty of room. There is a good size wardrobe, draws, overbed storage and loads of room under the bed. The bathroom is solid and stylish, the shower excellent and plenty of storage in there too with even a thoughtful little rail in the shower for ladies to shave their legs. The rooms seem to exude those little thoughtful details that make two weeks in them seem like three days. A credit to their designers. Also everything was of excellent quality, well fitted and solid. The bed was massive, I am six foot and I got lost several times and had to call for assistance. The balcony was on one of the 'bulges' of the ship and I would recommend that as you looked right onto the sea rather than over a lifeboat which meant when the dolphins (yes) came really close you got a great view. (dolphins mainly in the bay of Biscay, watch out for them in the mornings... early). The TV also pulls out so you can watch it at the right angle from the bed. So stateroom excellent.
I may not have cruised before but I have eaten at very good restaurants from New York to Athens and I can tell you, as a man for whom quality food is a delight, The Moonlight Sonata restaurant is brilliant. We took fixed dining at 8:45 so we were at the same table with my family each night and it worked very well for us. Gave us time for a drink before. Also there are always two shows on a night and if you have late dining you can usually choose which one you go to as the times work out well. The portions are perfect and we were always full but rarely uncomfortable. And if you want to have your main again or a second pudding all you need do is ask.... not me but my dad was known as 'two puds' by the end of the cruise. The same dining anywhere in the UK with white table cloths excellent service, wine waiter and four consistently delicious courses would cost £120 a couple every night. You can have breakfast lunch and dinner in the MSR but we had breakfast and lunch in the oceanview cafe mostly though there are other small eateries around the ship ranging from burger and chips or stir fry at the mast bar to light salads and snacks near the spa. If you were of such a mind you could eat yourself silly. Oceanview cafe breakfast was up to you. From blueberry pancakes with syrup to watermelon chunks. From a cardiac event enducing full English to museli followed by smoked salmon and cream cheese roll you are totally spoilt for choice. And here is my first crewmember mention, Donovan the coffee and Tea guy in a morning really puts a smile on everyone's face. Full marks that man. If you are waiting to go I will not spoil it for you, when it happens you will know.
Our Moonlight Sonata Restaurant waiter was and Indian guy whose name is difficult but begins with A and he was brilliant, always happy and attentive and very very good at his work. His recommendations were always perfect and if you ordered something else apart from his recommendation he was always happy. One night I was ill and not at dinner and my family said he was very concerned and said he would bring me some food personally if I was up to it (I was not but you can't help feeling bowled over by that sort of service). Extra special mention for Zenyap our waitress who went above and beyond all the time. Small things like seeing what breads we were not eating on the first couple of nights and taking the time to prepare the bread basket before we arrived to what she knew we would prefer. Showing us some napkin folding and other little tricks that will make any dinner parties we throw just that little bit more special. The Maitre d' for our table (432) Akar I think his name was, was the definition of excellent. He ran a tight ship so to speak and always made sure we were happy. One night we could not have what we ordered for very understandable reasons and he was just fantastic. He made sure we could order that dish any time we wanted after that night and had a special plate of handmade chocolates sent to our room to apologise. The replacement dish was sirloin steak so good we all forgot about it very fast.
Bars and clubs
There are LOADS search them out and find your favourite. We ended up in the wine bar cellar master most nights before dinner. Dennis the Sommelier (wine waiter) in cellar masters was incredible. Friendly, knowledgeable and a genuinely excellent at what he did Dennis really made our cruise just that little bit more special. He took the time to get to know our preferences and would make little polite suggestions for things we might enjoy. If I am ever in a position serving people I want to be able to do it like Dennis, a gentleman.
Gym and spa
After all that food and drink you need to stay at your best. For this purpose there is a fantastic, modern and very well equipped gym which I used regularly. It is free, never full and there is a sauna waiting for you in the changing rooms with really posh showers after. The one stand out bad point for my girlfriend was the spa prices the equivalent of £200 for a 75 minute massage... £200! I want to write more on this and the spa prices and how much we wanted to use them but I do not have the heart. A massive shame.
A bit high street UK. You can walk off the ship into the town. Our tip is not to wait for the cable car up the rock but get a white but from one of the islanders. The saving is minimal but you get to see things better.
We paid for the shuttle bus into Toulon at $15 euro each it was good value and air con. Toulon was nice and good for a walk round but you can also just get off the ship and walk around the little town where the dock is.
Beautiful Jewel of Tuscany. Pay for the bus ride from the port. It is about an hour and the Aussie guide Pete we had was funny, a resident, informative and let us nap on the way back rather than talk. A good guy. Florence it's self was gorgeous, historic and totally spoiled by sweating English and American cruise ship parties just like the one we were on. My BIG tip for Florence and Rome is to not go on a celebrity tour. Not that they don't look good tours. The guides we saw taking groups sounded great and very polite but the sight of 20-30 people in 100f heat having to walk around like a school party would bring the pity out of the hardest misanthrope. On your own with a book you can do as you please when you please and how. Celebrity are MASTERS however at organising the busses and embarkation/disembarkation. You book your tour before or during your cruise, then present yourself in the theatre at the time on your ticket, get a coloured sticker with your bus number on and leave within 5-10 minutes. No queues, no hassle.
Same bus transfer job. Same heat, less crowds, great fun. If you want to go into St Peters go first thing you do as you get off the bus. Otherwise the Q is too big... and I mean massive. Again Celebrity did a great job organising.
We were shattered after Rome and Florence so Sardinia... we are sorry.
Walk off the ship into the town, brilliant place, go see the fish market and Marks and Spencer will never look the same.
Shuttle again. Lisbon is beautiful and easy to walk round from the drop off point. If you go the hard rock cafe in Lisbon please frown at the lady waitress for me then withhold your custom. Lisbon has plenty of little cafes locally run which were good but open about eleven am.
Again a walk off job. Vigo feels good. Like Cadiz it is a solid Spanish town with friendly locals good cafes etc. We were a but 'cathedraled out' by now though.
The entertainment on board was great during the day and Amy who ran the quiz was a saint. Dru the Cruise Director tops my 'most likely to read Cruise Critic for his name' list and will be happy to find we thought he was great. Including the routine we got into of saying 'good morning Dru' when we switched on his cruise director channel in the mornings.
The evening entertainment (the shows) were mixed. The Broadway type stuff and the circus one were brilliant and I have been to Broadway and West End stuff and I was more than happy. The rock and pop stuff was less so but the two don't really mix anyway. Stick to the glitzy musicals Celebrity that's what your stars do best!
So easy it makes my cry to think of ever having to go to an airport ever again.
Overall this was an amazing holiday and if we can save up we would go celebrity again with no hesitation. I would say if you have kids most people said Royal Caribbean were more child orientated. There was plenty to do and a really good looking kids club but this really is an adult oriented ship. It was a shame the main pool was virtually off limits as families absolutely colonized the area and the pool was always full of kids unless you got up early. I have chickens at home, I would like to have brought them but they poo everywhere and I can't control them. So I did not bring them as I thought they would annoy other guests. Why can't people do this with children? However to Celebrity's eternal credit the enormous indoor solarium pool and Jacuzzis are adults only and we could always find space in there to relax. Those who wanted a sunbed on sea days when it was sunny have to be on deck before 8am to be sure and attendants are good enough to remove towels and books that are left for more than half an hour without use. We heard people complain that there were not enough sun beds but there are 2500 guests on board at 10am when they all want one. Get up early and you too can be smug and self satisfied knowing (watching them wander round like morons wondering why) having had a nice lie in they cannot find a prime spot. The early bird catches the worm. There is always somewhere to sit in the sun even if it is on the lawn at the back.
Behaviour of other guests was generally good. The piercing and tattoo crowd have (of which I am a proud member) have largely been priced out and it is good to find yourself surrounded by people who behave better than you do and I consider myself quiet and considerate. Some of the moans are very funny if you can listen in. Some people are NEVER happy. I would ask those older couples who spend £5k plus on a holiday to do nothing but be moan why they don't go to Butlins where they can be PROPERLY miserable, have a REALLY good moan AND save themselves the price of a second hand Jaguar a tweed suit and a hearing aid. Even when pushed to the limit by these waddling clouds of perpetual despair the staff were relentlessly polite and friendly. Though I suspect anyone boarding who can offer cheap voodoo dolls of other guests would do a roaring trade with the pool staff and oceanview cafe waiters who often bore the brunt with class and grace. If you like a drink get the drinks package. The drinks are extortionate otherwise. We drink an average amount and if we hadn't have had the drinks package we would have spent about£1450 as it was we spent £980 for the two of us and had a great time. My brother who can drink quite a bit and his wife who also appreciates the odd tipple got through £2500 of drinks. The package saved them LOTS of money.