I've cruised before but my husband hasn't so we decided to get his feet wet on the Eclipse. All in all it was a terrific experience. Although it turns out cruising may not be his favorite travel pastime, that was no fault of Celebrity, and I'll definitely be back with other relatives and friends.
A note on us: We may not be the typical cruisers, or at least the typical Cruise Critic members. We aren't interested in eating in fancy restaurants or drinking fancy cocktails. We don't like gambling or high-end shopping. We like to sit and look at the water, read and nap. So our likes and dislikes onboard have to be filtered through those lenses. What you like and don't like in a cruise may be entirely different.
We're Floridians so we drove to Miami Beach and spent the night with a friend; she dropped us off at the ship shortly after 11 a.m. There was no wait at all; we simply checked in with a very nice agent and walked right onto the ship. My husband was intrigued with the idea of the buffet (and put off, I have to admit, by the spectre of being charged extra for this and that), so we passed up Bistro on 5 for lunch and headed for the Oceanview Cafe. With a plate of good Indian food for each of us and a nice table outdoors, we were happy there until we went to our room around 1.
We had a 1A room on the hump on Deck 9 (9270). Our balcony was immense and, along with the smallish table, we had three chairs -- two recliners and a third non-reclining chair, which we used as a footstool more often than not. The room was lovely and plenty big for our stuff. I have to laugh at other travelers who say the S-class ships don't have enough storage room for their clothes and shoes. We brought plenty of clothes for a week's stay and still had empty drawers, and three or four pairs of shoes is plenty for me for a week. The bathroom, too, had more than enough space; we didn't use all the drawers and compartments. But we also avoid the formal dressing, so maybe that's the problem for some folks.
We're big readers and not especially interested in organized activities. So the main thing we did all week was read -- me in my favorite place, the Solarium, and my husband more often on our balcony. I looked to see what was going on on the ship every day, and most of it sounded pretty uninteresting to me (repeated lectures about baseball and baseball cards, a lecture about pirates). Most of the cooking demonstrations cost extra (there was a celebrity chef on board) and I was happier relaxing than crowding into a theater with a lot of other people.
We loved some of the quieter areas on the ship. My husband liked to take his coffee into the Library every morning; the Card Room, which was right by our stateroom, tended to fill up with noisy people playing cards. (Imagine that!) I kept trying to go in the afternoons to the Sky Observation Lounge, the big indoor lounge in the front of the ship, but it was always either being vacuumed or, once, closed for a wedding. I never saw a soul in there; I guess it's used at night.
About the pools: I never had any trouble at all getting a prime place in the Solarium, and finding a chair at the outdoor pool was rarely difficult. There are always plenty of chair-hogs, but they didn't seem to be a problem on this particular cruise. Actually, the hardest thing was finding space in the hot tubs; people tend to stay in there and talk interminably, and they're too small to enter if you don't know the people already in there or want to make good friends with them fast! Also, the water in the hot tubs is rarely hot; that seemed strange.
We also skipped most of the shows in the main theater at night. We go to a lot of theater and entertainment at home and elsewhere, so the quality on the ship, while OK, doesn't especially measure up. I did go to the opening show, which was fine, and we went to the beginning of the Cirque-du-Soleil-style show later in the week, which didn't compare well to the real Cirque shows we've seen. (There's no humor or whimsy in Celebrity's version, for one thing.) We're not interested in comedians or impressionists so we passed on those. Other people say they love Mike, the British cruise director; I found him grating, but it didn't much matter since we almost never saw him the rest of the week.
But we really did enjoy the smaller acts that performed in the Ensemble Lounge, outside the specialty restaurants, and in various other small venues. Owen Stevenson, the singer-guitarist, is very talented and personable, and we went back to see him three or four times. The string trio was very good (although we preferred it when they played actual classical music instead of adaptations of pop and Broadway). The a capella singers, the Riptides, are terrific. I can't figure out why they sing such short shows most of the time -- 15 minutes? I did try to go to their one full-length show in the small theater (Celebrity Central) but it was standing room only and I wasn't up for standing. These guys need better venues and more stage time.
We also heard a couple of other groups in passing -- a jazz group, and maybe one other -- who were very good. It's too bad that most of these groups have to perform in the foyer where people are wandering through and there are not enough chairs for all the people who'd like to watch.
The Ensemble Lounge is a really nice venue for the smaller acts; Michael's Lounge doesn't seem to be used at all, and we didn't even notice it until the week was almost through. One day we were in there and the waiters were setting up for some kind of brunch buffet; we never found out if that was open to all Captain's Club members or to everyone or only to elite members. I haven't cruised enough that any of this is clear to me, and Celebrity gives out very little information on stuff like that.
As far as dining, my husband and I have conflicting views: He loves the casual atmosphere and the wide variety of the buffet, and I'd rather be waited on. Most of the time we did it his way since it was his first cruise. We had good experiences in the buffet nearly all of the time. The omelet and eggs dishes are terrific at breakfast, and the breads are especially good all day. At night the carving station was always good; I loved the leg of lamb (after having been disappointed in a lamb dish the first night in the MDR).
Most of the time we had no trouble getting a table in the Oceanview Cafe or outside. We had only one unpleasant experience finding a table; one lunchtime I went to a table that was empty except for an already-used and mostly empty plate, and when I moved it aside a woman came running over and said, "You moved my plate!" I almost laughed in her face because I thought she was joking: She reminded me of that bestseller "Who Moved My Cheese?" Anyway, a really nice younger couple heard the woman and called out to me that they had extra chairs at their table. We had a lovely time chatting with them, which made up for the other woman's rudeness.
We did eat a couple of times at the Aquaspa Cafe (very good and healthful) but only one night in the MDR, which is a little too fussy for my husband's taste. The only specialty restaurant we tried was Qsine. I was really curious about it, but it didn't live up to my expectations. The food is mostly good but nothing special, and the presentation, while extravagant, just gets ridiculous. Granted, there were only two of us, and presumably it's better in a larger group where you try smaller bites of more things. But for us it was nowhere near worth the $35 apiece I paid for it (and it's up to $40 now). I'd rather eat at Bistro on 5 every day instead of Qsine once.
We had a funny experience one night after deciding to order room service. We ordered appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts for two -- and our steward Ephraim (who was delightful, by the way) arrived with so many covered dishes that he had to make two trips. We had to pile all the dishes on the bed to sort out which was which. We didn't order anything more than we would have in the MDR, but because it all came at once, and each item on a separate plate, it was hilarious. I guess room service is best for smaller meals or for a suite where you have a real table. We had sort of thought of eating on the balcony, but it wasn't quite warm enough and it's so dark out there at night that we really couldn't do it. Ah, well.
As for service, Ephraim and his assistant (whose name I never got) couldn't have been nicer. We always had good experiences in the restaurants, and the bar staff in the Ensemble Lounge are delightful. The only coolness I encountered was the bar staff at the pools, who always looked as if they didn't want to be bothered. (I saw this also on another S-class ship -- is there something about being a pool bartender that makes you surly?) I do feel sorry sometimes for the staff.
The only other major instance of rudeness I saw was one morning at breakfast when a loud man with a strong New York accent demanded to the man at the egg station: "Three over." The cook, who clearly didn't speak much English, was mystified, and instead of the guest explaining what he meant, he just kept saying "three over" louder and louder. Finally somebody else stepped in and explained what the loud man meant. You'd think the customer might have realized there was a language barrier here, but no -- he just had to insist he was right.
One other minor quibble: I knew my husband would love the big brunch buffet in the MDR. But I looked on the dailies for it and never saw a single mention of it. (I suspect there was one mention, but only one.) It seems like this is a really popular event, but the ship tries to keep people from knowing about it. I can't imagine why they don't at least post a little sign outside the dining room and the buffet the day before to tell people about a onetime event that people like so much. Maybe they're trying to save on food costs? I also never saw a mention of the champagne tea that I'd remembered from another cruise. I'm pretty good at reading and marking the dailies every day, but it seems like a little more publicity for some of these events might be good.
Port excursions: We got to San Juan around 3 or 4, and we took a self-guided walking tour through the old city, which was lovely. We walked along the water and then wound our way up to El Morro and the beautiful cemetery next to it. We didn't stay to eat dinner in San Juan, and there really isn't much time to do much of anything else there. In St. Thomas, we walked into Charlotte Amalie -- a 20-minute walk, which isn't that far but is not very pretty. We're not into fancy shopping and were really put off by the hard sell of the shopkeepers out on the sidewalks. It's a pretty town but again it was really hot and we walked back to the ship and enjoyed the quiet there.
(We had wanted to take the Water Island bike tour that I'd read about on Cruise Critic, but they weren't running the tour that day and the proprietor suggested that we rent bikes from her and go out on our own. That might have been fine except getting to Water Island seemed complicated and expensive, once we added in $35 apiece for the bikes and weren't getting a tour thrown in. I'd like to do that tour someday, but we didn't want to be at the mercy of cabs and ferry schedules this time around.)
In St. Martin we booked a tour with Bernard's Tours and enjoyed it quite a bit -- feeding iguanas and holding sea urchins, going to the clothing-optional beach at Orient Bay (we kept our clothes on), checking out the open-air market in Marigot and having a hamburger at Maho Beach while the planes landed right over our heads. The tour may have been a bit longer than we liked (somehow I missed the info that we would be at two beaches for considerable time, and we hadn't brought our bathing suits), but the driver was very good and the 8-10 other passengers pleasant. This is a really well run tour, and I would recommend it highly.
Disembarkation: On a previous cruise I'd done self-disembarkation, which worked pretty well but meant that we had to be out at the crack of dawn. We didn't want to force our Miami Beach friend to pick us up that early, so we opted to be among the last people getting off. That meant sometime after 9 a.m., I think. But after breakfast, around 8 or 8:30ish, we happened to be strolling by the gangplank, and it was open with no line. So we just walked off. Our luggage was waiting for us, and we had no hassle at all. The customs officer was very pleasant and the whole process took maybe 10 minutes.
All in all, this was a lovely cruise and a nice experience. I mildly wished for more interesting shipboard enrichment activities (baseball cards? really?) and for better evening entertainment. But clearly what appeals to lots of people doesn't necessarily appeal to us. I'll be back on Celebrity before long; please save a chair in the Solarium for me.