We stayed at a Novotel, one of a cluster of hotels located close to the ship's berth and to central Southampton. The room was large, quiet and comfortably furnished. A weird feature was that both walls and ceiling were decorated in bright, white "popcorn" paint! The buffet breakfast included in our GBP70 room rate was excellent. Five minutes' walk away, a huge ASDA supermarket opens from 8 till late and solved last-minute needs. Apart from TGI Friday and McDonalds there is nowhere nearby to eat so we ordered mediocre room service. Another time we might stay at the renovated Mercure Dolphin right in the city center, as there are excellent restaurants close by. Near as we were to the pier, we still needed a cab to haul us and our luggage to the ship.
we boarded speedily before noon and enjoyed an Indian lunch at the Oceanview Cafe before being let in to our Deck 6 stateroom about 1 p.m. We were located conveniently near the elevators, stairs and Internet iLounge, on a "bulge" allowing a good view from the verandah. Our luggage arrived by 2:30 p.m. and we stowed it all away before departure. Gladwin was our excellent, attentive steward, ably assisted by Mus. We were as impressed as a year ago by the cleanliness of the ship and her attractive layout.
We prefer to eat around 7:30 p.m., and this is possible under the select Dining option in the main dining room, Moonlight Sonata. We varied the time each day to fit in with theater entertainment and never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table for two.
As we learnt when we went on a conducted tour of the galley, there are 20 different dinner menus available in the main dining room and these revolve as the ship sails. We never had to repeat the same a la carte plates in 16 nights at sea though we sometimes chose favorites from the classics side of the menu.
One night we splurged at the Murano Restaurant and greatly enjoyed more personalized service and their special menu: highlights were lobster bisque, loup de mer, rack of lamb and Grand Marnier soufflé.
At Bistro on 5, an oasis of calm at lunch time, they serve delicious soups, paninis and a choice of 16 different savory and sweet crepes.
There is a huge selection of breakfast and lunch plates up in the Oceanview. We ate breakfast there early to make sure we were finished before it got crowded, which it did rapidly, particularly on Sea Days. We tried room service and were impressed how speedily the meal arrived and that the food was hot.
Entertainment & Activities:
I loved going to live shows on board. The theater was completely full several nights. Get there early if you want a good seat. If you have sailed Celebrity before, you can expect familiar faces among the entertainers such as singers Lindsay Hamilton and Mike Doyle. "Magic & Mayhem" with Neal Austin was fun and there was a Cirque-style show that was well received.
Another familiar face was Enrichment Series' Gerry Mayers. He gave excellent 45-minute talks on Sea Days about each of the ports we were about to visit -ï¿½ï¿½" their history, general information and tips about what to try and see. Although I tended to mock them on past Celebrity cruises, this time I missed the shopping gurus' talks, their tips about what to buy and where to buy it.
It is well worth spending an hour or so to see the Corning Glass demonstration on the top deck, to watch professionals at work, accompanied by an informative commentary.
Several of the city centers were easily accessible from the piers where we docked so ambling off Eclipse and wandering into town was often a good option. Here's what we did in each port:
there were open-top, HO-HO tour buses waiting right at the pier when we got off the ship. For E15 each we took the full one-hour tour around the town, listening to a recorded commentary in English as we went. We then went around again part-way and hopped off at the Corte Ingles department store (Spanish equivalent of John Lewis or Macy's), shopped and then got the next bus on to the Cathedral area. From there it was an easy walk back to the pier.
Again there were local open-top buses at the pier, in theory HOHO but not running with predictable frequency. Nobody hopped off until we had seen most of the sights in and around the city, which included the famous flamingos feeding on mudflats. We did hop off as suggested by the guide on our return to the city, up at the Castillo. It's at the top of a hill on which the beautiful cathedral also stands. Close by, the ramparts offer a sweeping vista of the city and bay (it's always reassuring to see your ship is still docked!). Stop off for an espresso or latte on your way back to the pier down narrow streets through the most historic districts.
with a population of a million, Palermo is a big city and the best tourist sites aren't within walking distance from the pier. We took a Celebrity tour to three different spots. It worked out well. The guide explained where were going then dropped us off for an hour on our own in each location: Monreale is up in the hills 15 km outside Palermo: the cathedral there is incredible and from the old town there are views way down to the city and bay. Next call was in the historic center of Palermo to see the cathedral and Alcazar palace (exterior): in a café across the street we ate the best cannolis ever, then got the bus out through suburbs to the nearest beach resort, Mondelo. If you wanted a swim in the Mediterranean this was the place, with warm water and sunshine still on October 20.
The ship offered a $20 shuttle ferry and I recommend it to get you swiftly where you need to be to start sight-seeing. We were off the ship by 8:00 a.m., wrapped up as the temperature was down to 50o Fahrenheit, on our way to St Mark's Square. At that early hour, we were among the first tourists to explore the magnificent Doge's Palace before crossing the Bridge of Sighs to enter the dismal, chilling prison block. Don't bother to rent the audio commentary as the same information is repeated on handouts in each room. The queue to enter St Mark's Basilica was endless so we just walked across the Piazza where, unbelievably, a café string orchestra serenaded us with the same selections from My Fair Lady that I heard there 40 years ago! Our goal was to cross the Rialto, proceed along the other side of the Grand Canal as far as Academy Bridge, and return from there to St Marks. A lot of fun popping into churches in obscure piazzas, or classy boutiques, but be prepared to get lost. Don't feel stupid about asking for directions as the Venetians seem used to it. The view of the city as we sailed slowly out of Venice was unforgettable.
We moored on the other side of a hill a couple of miles from the old city so the $8:00 shuttle bus was the way to go. It was a Sunday and the crowds -- foreign tourists, locals on their day off, cruise ship passengers and European teenage groups -- were overwhelming. However, we weren't disappointed with our visit to the Rector's Palace, with its display of artwork, where we learned about the history of the city. It suffered severe damage in the civil war 20 years ago but most of the destruction has been repaired and the famous ramparts are a unique sight.
Off the ship at 8:00 a.m., we wandered up main street, the Calle Mayor, stopping off for fresh "churros" (doughnuts) and hot chocolate. Tourist attractions opened at 10:00. There were too few local tour buses to cope with the crowds, so we walked up Gisbert street to an outdoor elevator that takes you up to the remains of the castle. High above the city, there are great views of the Roman amphitheater and rooftops. Cartagena was one of the Republic's main ports during the Civil War and was bombarded constantly. A lot of buildings were destroyed but many have been rebuilt and renovated. Right next to the foot of the castle elevator, a small Civil War Museum gives an evocative glimpse of life in Cartagena during those three tough war years.
Our last destination was supposed to be La Corunna but bad weather off Portugal slowed Eclipse down from 20 mph to 10 mph. Our Captain wisely decided to divert to Vigo so we could enjoy a final day in port. Passengers who had planned to go to fabulous Santiago de la Compostela weren't disappointed. Vigo is located about the same distance away from Santiago as La Corunna and Celebrity tour coaches were waiting. Having been to Santiago before, we boarded a tour bus near the pier for a trip around the main sights Vigo offers. Their Atlantic seafood is famous. Near the pier there is a street lined with "tourist trap" restaurants, packed on days when a ship is in. For a more relaxed meal among the locals, I suggest walking a few blocks over to the neighborhood near the Post Office. If you are mailing postcards, you may need to go over there anyway as I didn't see any other letter boxes.
An Elite perk is to disembark anytime up till 9:00 a.m. and for us it was stress-free. We had booked tickets on a National Express coach to London Victoria, leaving late that morning .We went to the bus station very early full of hopes that were dashed: on Sunday mornings the station doesn't open till 9:00 a.m. and all seats were pre-sold on the first few buses leaving. However, we pleaded with the driver of a Heathrow-bound coach and ended up going to Central London via the airport and Underground. It worked out Okay but was a letdown after an otherwise brilliant 16- night trip!