My husband and I, both working stiffs and in desperate need of a vacation, were excited to set out on our "upscale foodie" Celebrity cruise. We flew from Denver to Miami on a red-eye (American Airlines), which was a bad choice for 2 reasons- 1) I found it impossible to sleep due to excitement and cramped seating 2) We arrived in Miami irritable (due to lack of sleep) and jet-lagged (2 hour time change). Luckily, the Blue Lagoon Hampton Inn allowed us to check in early (0630) without charging an extra night. The shuttle picked us up promptly from MIA- the hotel was less than 10 minutes away. We killed a day in Miami, rented a car, cruised South Beach, nibbled on Cuban cuisine and got amped up on Cuban coffee; espresso with sugar served in a little cup, the cost is usually 65-75 cents and can be found at most bakeries.
Our hotel (Blue Lagoon Hampton Inn) offered a shuttle to the pier on embarkation day for $20 (both of us including luggage). We signed up. After dropping off cruise passengers and luggage at Carnival, we arrived at the stunning Celebrity Eclipse. A porter immediately arrived to take our pre-tagged bags from the cargo trailer. We had a problem, one of my bags had gone missing. I started freaking out, I told the driver that he must've dropped one of my bags at the Carnival pier! Suddenly, a bus pulled up, the driver got out and said that the cargo door wasn't closed and a suitcase fell out. Unfortunately, he did not stop to pick it up. He said it lay on the side of the road.
The shuttle driver had us wait while he went to fetch it. Unsure if this was a good idea to begin with, once five minutes passed I started panicking. I thought the driver had deserted us- having not found the luggage and assuming some thug-passer-by had stolen it. Just before hyperventilating ensued, the van came into view, the driver pulled out my somewhat beat-up luggage. It was fully intact. Huge sigh of relief.
The embarkation process went smoothly, the porter took the bags, a crew member pointed where we would go thru security screening. We waited about 10 minutes in the screening line, which was admittedly long but swift moving. Once thru security, we followed the signs to "Aqua Class" boarding. We were the only ones in line, we were positioned behind another couple who were just finishing up and within 10 minutes, we had our Seapass cards in hand! We were directed to the gangway where we boarded without delay. Our rooms were ready and the restaurants were open.
Room 1627 was modern, clean, and bright. Fresh fruit, champagne, and iced tea greeted us upon entry. The stateroom was nicely laid out, plenty of hangers, bed side tables, a well-lit vanity, flat screen TV, mini-bar, safe, handsome sofa and coffee table. Upon unpacking I realized that storage might be an issue as the drawers were small and there wasn't much space for shoes, handbags, and the like. Mind you, I brought 5 pairs (not including my husbands). I discovered that storing smaller items- passports, jewelry, etc. in the safe was handy and eliminated some of the tabletop clutter. The balcony itself was immaculate, as was the glass and furniture.
HINT- There are storage cabinets in the headboard of the bed, they are a little out of reach for someone petite (I am 5'2"). There is also a drawer under the vanity for cosmetics.
We dined at BLU, Qsine, Tuscan Grille, Murano, Moonlight Sonata, and Oceanview Cafe. The service at ALL of the restaurants was exceptional.
Being Aqua Class, we dined at BLU for breakfast daily. The fresh squeezed orange juice was phenomenal- pulpy, light, sweet, and tangy. The food offerings were a bit "precious" to borrow my husband's description: muesli, fruit platter, yogurt, smoothies, omelettes, all cooked to order using organic ingredients. Basically, nicely arranged delicate-looking food served in small portions. The coffee was awful- pure tar. Since I am a light breakfast eater, the delicate meals suited me, however my husband frequently required a trip to the buffet following our meal, I would then enjoy the buffet's lighter breakfast blended coffee.
Qsine is experimental dining, a little far-out for my purist tastes, but still enjoyable and fun. We ordered our meal on an iPad, we shared 5 courses. It took us three hours to complete dinner. Moonlight Sonata was a hit with fresh, more traditional cuisine in heartier portions. The brunch is an extravaganza not to be missed. Murano is upscale fine dining. Mahogany clad walls set a romantic scene for uber-fussy food and extra-attentive service. Tuscan Grille was my favorite, lovely ambience, succulent food touting fresh seafood, risottos, pastas, soups, and rich tasty deserts. Oceanview cafe is the buffet. No lines, super fresh dishes ranging from sushi to scalloped potatoes. A nice dessert layout to boot. HINT- you can eat outside too, towards the aft of the ship.
With the exception of Oceanview cafe (buffet), the decor of the dining areas is sublime. White linen tablecloths, quality cutlery, sturdy upholstered chairs, and spotless glassware. The early guests get the best tables (window) and don't be afraid to ask for a specific table if you spy one you fancy.
Back to the room... The stewards were completely on-the-ball. After returning from breakfast our room was always ready. The same with turndown service after dinner. In fact, it seemed like they had a secret way of knowing when we left the room as we rarely saw them. I collected the little chocolates they left on our pillows as souvenirs, a different flavor every night!
Our ports were San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Martin. In San Juan we trekked to El Convento hotel where we dined at El Picoteo. We dined on the patio and enjoyed delectable seafood paella and a pitcher of sangria. We wandered the cobbled streets avoiding the crowds and traffic, then finally ventured to the casinos of Condado via taxi. In St. Thomas we took a tour boat excursion to St. John. From St. John's Cruz Bay we hopped an open air cab to Trunk Bay and swam in the pristine turquoise waters until it was time to head back. The logistics involved with this excursion paid off, as the beauty of Trunk Bay was my highlight of the entire trip. In St. Martin we went sailing and I got seasick. Our sailboat anchored off Airport Beach, and I swam ashore (thinking it would help my wooziness). The sand was incredible, like wet cornmeal, not fine, but light and fluffy. I played like a child, piling great mounds, covering my body, I was so preoccupied I hardly even noticed the the topless women sunbathing nearby. The water was warm and clear, I didn't want to swim back, in fact I toyed with the idea of hopping a cab back to the pier to avoid anymore undue seasickness.
When we weren't eating or sleeping, we could be found reading in the aesthetically pleasing public areas (mostly the pool and lawn). I devoured nearly 300 pages of Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons and my husband finished off Frederik Pohl's The Other End of Time. I lost about $80 in the glitzy casino's penny slots, I had a good time regardless- enjoying the din and activity of other gamblers. On non-excursion days, I would attempt to walk on deck for exercise, but found it ill-suited for that purpose. Too many people in the way to keep up a good heart-rate. Instead I opted for the state-of-the-art fitness center which was modern and not too crowded
The boutiques were a little high end for my taste (and pocketbook) but I browsed just the same. We didn't got to any of the shows, choosing instead to gorge ourselves on 2 to 3 hour multi-course dinners. We did see the comedian Dave Burleigh who was mostly funny, a little PG rated for my taste (and lack of children on board), but still humorous. I enjoyed the string trio immensely as well as Owen Stevenson's vocals in the handsome Michael's Club.
Disembarkation was as efficient as embarkation. Quick and easy. We were given new luggage tags with a disembarkation time and group meeting location. We met at Moonlight Sonata, our number was called, we disembarked, deftly plucked our luggage from the assigned carousel, waited in line 10 minutes for customs, then headed for the taxi stand which was insufferably long. My husband thought maybe if we kept walking towards the next ship (Carnival) their line would be shorter. In fact it was, within 5 minutes we were headed back to MIA. The cab fare was $25.
To summarize, the Celebrity Eclipse and it's 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise was awe inspiring. The service was exceptional, the food was wonderful (albeit a wee bit fussy), the ship itself was first-rate in every way. My best vacation ever.