Once again a memorable cruise experience with Celebrity! We sailed on Solstice some time ago and now we have just been on Eclipse in the Mediterranean for two weeks...brilliant! We knew how Eclipse would be as it is the sister ship of Solstice, that is precisely why we booked it, seeing as we found an itinerary we liked. We have now made use of the open passage facility and booked already while onboard - the advantages are that you make a much smaller deposit than if you book later on, you get onboard credit and you have the flexibility to think about which cruise to choose for booking, at any time as it doesn't expire. We found this very suitable as we usually book a year in advance, which would be about now, after a cruise holiday, when funds are already depleted! So the smaller deposit was welcome. We have already set our hearts on and booked another Eclipse cruise...that proves how satisfied we were.
Below is our experience on this cruise, perhaps you'll find it helpful. There are sub-headings so you can choose which part to read if you don't want to read all.
Service: just excellent!!! Embarkation was so easy, as we had already done the online check-in. Once onboard the staff couldn't do more to please us. All of them were out to do their best to see we were completely satisfied and to keep us as loyal Celebrity cruisers. And they succeeded. You start off with the welcome drink as soon as you get onboard and the smiling faces of the crew (as opposed to the shabby and bored-looking staff on another non-American cruise line). Staff members are all very clean and smart and obviously adhere to uniform regulations.
A few examples of excellent service: Best of all were our table waitress and assistant, Bozika Dukic and Aston Frances, respectively. They were perfect! (Table 145 second seating) There was no need to tell Bozika what we needed as she could tell; for instance my husband chose a dessert one evening and then thought mine seemed better - after a few moments Bozica brought him one like mine too, without our having told her to do so, as she sensed what we were thinking. Also, I showed the wish to have extra veg with my main course and my dad some French fries - she did this every meal without asking. On 4th Aug it was my mum's birthday - Bozika arranged for a cake and for the 'Happy birthday song' and, seeing as we were six persons together, she got us an extra cake to make sure we had enough! She couldn't be more thoughtful and efficient. As was Aston, quietly seeing to our comfort, refilling glasses, removing empty plates and so on. And always extremely polite. By the way mum also got a bottle of bubbly from the Captain on her birthday, which we opened at dinner that evening! Our sommelier Jasmin was great! He was very friendly and very helpful and topped our glasses when we wished without having to be told. He also served us personally if he was at any of the bars we went to. The asst maitre d' Viorel Balan came to talk to us every evening and he always asked whether there was anything not up to our expectations - (we admired his and the waiters' endless patience and self-control with some difficult guests...phew!)
Another example - there are countless items in the lunch buffet but my mum asked a waiter whether there was any smoked salmon. Now that is found abundantly during breakfast but not for lunch. However the waiter assured my mum he'll get her some even though she said that there was no need to do so. Sure enough after a few minutes he was at our table with a plate of smoked salmon, covered and nicely presented, along with the maitre d' who assured her it was no trouble at all! And speaking of the Ocienview staff (buffet) - they are all so nice and accommodating! At breakfast three guys stand out, they push the tea and coffee trolley and they greet you heartily and even sing you a song or a jolly rhyme! They start your day so brightly, considering these are human beings like us on a job with their families far away and yet they are constantly doing their utmost to make you happy. All the serving staff at the counters are very polite and obliging - lovely people!
The stateroom attendant was Deng; both Deng and his assistant were absolutely fantastic; very efficient and kept our staterooms spotless and shipshape! They were always very polite and friendly and exchanged a few words with us whenever we met.
There is a very good complimentary room service we were all the time being urged to use. However we didn't need to use it as we like eating out of the stateroom.
Another positive aspect is that you are not continuously bombarded with announcements right in your stateroom!
Guest relations staff and the future cruise booking staff are truly wonderful.
Food and Drinks: excellent again!!! Although there are the speciality dining options at an extra fee, we always had dinner in the Moonlight Sonata as we got excellent service from our waiters, as I said above, but also because the food was excellent. We really love steaks and so we were extremely satisfied - mouth-watering, juicy steaks cooked exactly how we liked them; you can have steak every day if you want except that there are so many tantalising options. Once we were on a cruise (non-American) and we were always at a loss what to choose because there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary or suitable. With Celebrity it was the other way round, difficult to choose because of the tempting variety. In fact Bozica, our waitress, sometimes brought us an extra main course for sharing as she could tell we were in a culinary dilemma! The presentation is absolutely fantastic! For example, runner beans are not just thrown on the plate but tied up in a bundle and arranged artistically with the other items. Desserts are heavenly, presenting you with further dilemma! All the food in the buffet is very good too; the carvery is always excellent, the pasta as good as home-made (we are pasta gurus at home and no, we are not Italian), lovely pizza, out of this world burgers (I didn't believe it until I tried them, then I got hooked). Don't miss the Belgian waffles and the made to order omelettes at breakfast. You can also have breakfast in the dining room, all items are available and you just sit and wait to be served instead of picking the food yourself. We enjoyed both. We particularly enjoyed lunch in the dining room when available - an excellent menu is offered and all the food is freshly prepared. The tea-time buffet shouldn't be missed either - delicate, tasty sandwiches and sweet treats, one of the best being the hot scones with clotted cream and strawberries. And cookies!!!
A must-do is brunch!!! Take your camera with you and, if possible, an empty stomach...brunch is from 10.00am to 1.00pm and it is really breakfast and lunch brought together in a glorified way! I never saw so many large prawns at one go (except at the market in Cadiz!).There is everything you can wish for, all kinds of pastries, meats, fish, poultry, cheeses...and desserts, all beautifully arrayed and ready for the taking! The highlight for me here was the hot crepes in an orangey sauce prepared on site, eaten with a ball of ice-cream ensconced in a thick chocolate coating...delicious!
As regards drinks, one can really get along without packages if need be, as water, ice tea, fruit punch and juice, tea and coffee are available all the time. However we bought the soda package as we like a bit of fizz sometimes - it really works out well and you get its value and more. We chose wine every evening from the wine list - there are prices to suit every pocket.
The Martini Bar is one of our favourites; we actually saw the very amusing bar-tender preparing, shaking and then pouring 13 cocktails at once! Very entertaining as well as a lovely atmosphere with all the cheering, clapping and egging-on.
Cafe al Bacio on Deck 5 offers complimentary snacks too, even if you don't buy speciality coffee.
As you can see there are many options and all of them offer excellent quality. I put on some extra kilos but they're nearly gone again and I'll soon be my original 59kg, so it was all worth it!
Staterooms: very clean and spacious as ships go. A good idea is the rounded edge of the beds. Very spacious shower and lovely, good quality Elemis shampoo, conditioner, soap and moisturiser, another coveted Celebrity touch. Suitcases can fit under the bed. The balcony is wonderful to watch the ship getting in and out of ports, for relaxing and for sunbathing if in the Mediterranean. Pleased to say that no one broke the rule and smoked so we could really enjoy the balcony. If you get that sort of problem however you can call guest relations and they will deal with it. Had to do this because of a hullabaloo going on in the stateroom next to my daughters' stateroom - it was fixed straight away.
Smoking: We are all non-smokers and that is something we need to consider before we book a cruise. Celebrity is tops for me as it is virtually smoke-free, including the Casino, which is just as well, as the shops are near the Casino and it would be unbearable to pass through or to cross over to dining-room and theatre. This happens on other cruise lines we used, having to traipse through the smoke-laden air trying not to breathe it in just to get to your dining-room. This is therefore another reason to cruise Celebrity.
Smokers can use one side of the pool deck and, although the solarium is no smoking, it is advisable not to use that side of the solarium as every time someone enters, the cigarette smell wafts in. I wish the Sky Observation Lounge would be completely no smoking too as unfortunately all the lounge reeks of cigarette smoke.
All in all Celebrity is our choice for a smoke free cruise - this is very important to us.
Theatre - We went to all the shows. The Eclipse stars were very good and we especially liked the last show 'Eclipse'; for me the real stars were a team of four persons who did body balancing feats. Of the guest entertainers three stand out, Mike Doyle - comedian, Gareth Oliver - comedian and ventriloquist and Steve Rawlings - comedian and juggler; they were absolutely fantastic and we really enjoyed their shows. A guest violinist was very good too. However the guest singer and guest pianist were average. Definitely excellent is the Celebrity Eclipse Orchestra!
Other - we went to all the culinary activities and we thoroughly enjoyed them. The persons chosen to do the activity are not just excellent chefs, they are also very good entertainers. Chef Thomas Stellbrink has a great sense of humour, besides being such an important member of staff! We toured the galley and had a chance to ask questions about what goes on behind the scenes and to have some curiosities answered; we sampled some treats in case anyone was feeling peckish. Another good activity was a cooking demo in Celebrity central as well as a cooking competition on stage in the theatre - very enjoyable.
After theatre events such as the liar show are fun too.
Pool deck: we enjoyed the solarium a lot, both when it was cold outside (leaving Southampton) and when it got too hot since the solarium is air-conditioned. The water is nicely warm and you literally step down into it. It is very peaceful and relaxing in here and you can read, doze off and swim at your leisure. The pool butlers are very efficient and the rule of not having unoccupied deckchairs booked for a long time was adhered to. We always managed to find deckchairs, even outside, although we prefer the shade unlike many who prefer a roasting! Perhaps because we have a lot of sun where we come from. Drinks waiters are available without being pushy. Towels are clean and plentiful and you just pick up what you need then leave the used ones behind, preferably in the used towel depots of course - very accommodating as opposed to the procedure on other cruiselines.
Ports of call: the excursions organised by the ship were well organised and efficient. However, most ports were easy to do on our own. Getting off the ship was always very easy - we were never made to wait until people who had ship excursions got off the ship if we didn't have such an excursion; we had this happening to us before on other cruiselines. We decided to have a relaxing holiday and explore the port towns themselves where possible instead of travelling long distances for a stop of a few hours and being a whole day off the ship. It worked out very well as we always managed to have a rest before the evening activities. We always have dinner second seating as this way we will fit everything in without any hassle. And there is always something to eat whenever you board the ship after the port foray.
For those of you who are shopping enthusiasts, this is a very good itinerary! We managed to do a lot of shopping in every port except Cagliari. We were there on Sunday and there aren't that many shops - La Rinascente, an Italian department store just opposite the dock, is very expensive. At all other ports you find all the big and popular stores, with prices to suit all pockets.
Gibraltar - impressive going through the straits with land on both sides, woke up early and filmed it from the Sky Observation Lounge. Just walked off the ship. Very pretty place, clean and cheerful. Good for buying that special piece of jewellery, pricewise. Good for shopping.
Toulon - must take ship shuttle as quite a distance from the dock. Pretty port though not as upbeat as Cannes say. Nice view of yacht marina and a pleasant promenade. Cathedral nothing out of the ordinary. There was a market as well as some good boutiques along the market area and a shopping mall (Mayol) with plenty of shops.
Livorno - we had been to Florence before so we took a ship excursion to Pisa; excellent, both the excursion and the place. The leaning tower, the cathedral and the baptistery are all in the same square so it is all manageable and for me the tower seen in reality is awesome! And the buildings are strikingly white against the blue sky - culturewise the best port. Bought some excellent extravirgin olive oil.
Civitavecchia - we had been to Rome before, spending a number of days there so it wasn't worth it for us to take a whole day excursion. Spent some time wandering through the town then went back to the ship.
Cagliari - just walked off the ship. Heard Mass at a church right on the promenade as it was Sunday. Walked up through the town afterwards to see the cathedral and the tall tower. Quite a way up though part of the climb was in a lift if you wanted to. Stopped for a rest and a lovely view of the port.
Lisbon - Lovely port. We took a taxi, mind they don't force you to take a day trip unless you want that as they try it on; we just wanted to get to the old town and then make our way, about 10 euro per taxi. Stopped right next to Cathedral and then we walked through the higgledy piggledy maze of cobbled streets of the old town. Amazing how the houses on different levels fit between each other. It's then an easy downhill walk (port direction) to the newer part of town where we were amazed to find lovely, large squares, imposing monuments and buildings and very wide roads, quite magnificent in fact. There is also a pedestrian area with plenty of shopping opportunities and open air refreshment areas. From here to the ship taxi cost only 5 euro. One of my favourite ports! Didn't expect it to be so.
Cadiz - very nice port we decided to explore instead of going all the way to Seville. Enjoyed it a lot. Again just walked off the ship straight to a beautiful square with a lovely monument. We then walked to the cathedral, which is off another beautiful square and continued up to the fortifications which surround the town, overlooking the sea. The old part is still very old fashioned with small businesses that you don't see much anymore. We then came across a very large, clean indoor food market (which we didn't need to buy anything from of course) but which was a lovely sight and a seafood -lover's paradise! Plus meats, charcuterie, poultry and cheeses etc There was then the shopping area a few metres away from this market, where all the usual popular stores can be found.
Vigo - just walked off the ship and the town was right there. Nice enough but nothing out of the ordinary. More shopping to spend the last of the money.
Disembarkation: very easy and there isn't all that harping about it from half-way through the cruise, which spoils your mood on other cruiselines.
Before the cruise: We flew to Heathrow then caught National Express (tickets bought previously through the net) to Southampton. Very efficient and cost effective transfer, which we did return too. The National express coach station was a stone's throw from the hotel we used, Novotel Southampton, in fact we walked there with our luggage. Booked on the net. This hotel is excellently situated, close to coach station and an excellent shopping centre - West Quay - where you can stock up on your finery and otherwise for the cruise. Very good service at the hotel and includes buffet breakfast in the price if you book early (otherwise breakfast quite expensive). Very close to pier, three minutes by taxi, about five pounds; woke up Saturday morning and there slap into view from the hotel corridor was the Eclipse! Will definitely use National Express and Novotel again.
Conclusion: Celebrity is the best as regards service and well-being of the client. One feels so pampered and at ease on the ship and it is so plain that one is a valued customer. All in all this was a holiday that exceeded our expectations and Celebrity is definitely our choice once again! Can't wait to be back on the Eclipse - different itinerary but actually booked the same stateroom already!!!