We sailed on the Eclipse from Miami on Feb 11th, 2012. I have been on 25 cruises and 22 different ships, and the Eclipse is the best ship either of us have been on. Everything was first class. We had concierge class C3, port side forward on Deck 10, which is the same deck the bridge is on.
We drove from Tampa to Miami on Feb 10th and stayed at the Fairfield Inn near the airport. We booked that thru Stay 123.com, which gave us a cheaper rate than booking it ourselves because we could leave our car at the hotel for free for 7 days. They charged $10/person to take us to the port, and we had to take a cab back (which was $23 including tip). Overall a nice hotel but the noise (music) from a local restaurant about 100 yards away was horrible. Ask for a room on the backside if you stay here.
We got to the ship about noon and immediately went on the ship. Concierge class has priority boarding, and that was swift. The slow step in the process is that they only had 3 people checking boarding passes and passports when you first got to the terminal; they can certainly improve on this slow step because they need 5 or 6 people doing this. Once we went through security, the process was painless. Celebrity now takes your picture for your pass when you check in, so this eliminates a step. Celebrity gives you a glass of champagne when you first board--another nice touch.
Our cabin was not ready until about 1pm, so we went to deck 14 and had lunch. They had lots of different stations with different items; this seemed to be well thought out since most stations were square, with food on each side. Lots of different choices for both breakfast and lunch.
A nice feature for concierge class is that they have a bottle of sparkling wine chilled and waiting for you when you get to your cabin. I am sure you are paying a lot for it, but it was nice. You also get a lot of bathroom amenities and the largest and most plush towels we have ever seen. The bed is rounded at the foot to make passage easier when you go to your verandah; however, I am 6'2", so my feet hung off the end of the bed. The circular shower is pretty small, and it had a really small opening of about 20 inches. I do not know how some of the really fat people onboard could get in the shower.
We just toured the ship until lifeboat drill, which was pretty much a joke. They make you go to the main show lounge and give you a talk; you do not have to go to your lifeboat, which I think is a mistake. If the ship is going down, I am not going to a show lounge. I am really surprised at this especially after the disaster on the Costa ship a few weeks earlier. I think you should have to get your life jacket, put it on, and go to your muster station, just like you would do in a real emergency. You learn by doing, not watching; can't believe cruise ships can't figure this out.
We opted for early sitting dinner at 6 pm, and had a fantastic table for two by a window. Our waiter Gregory was excellent, and so was his helper. For dinner, the fish and steak were both very good, and cooked to perfection. For the rest of the cruise we had mixed feelings about the food; most of the time the fish was cooked correctly, but sometimes the beef was a little tough. At the buffet, the fish tended to be a little overcooked.
A couple of mornings we had breakfast at the Aqua Spa cafe, and it was very healthy, but they never seemed to vary the menu; their vegetable omelet was excellent. There are only a few tables here, so come early if you want to eat here. There was a much larger selection of food at the Oceanview Cafe, and it always seemed to be a little crowded. Celebrity has done away with trays ( like HAL and Carnival did), so you have to make several trips to get your food and drinks.
Sunday was our first full day at sea, and there were so many concurrent activities going on, it was difficult to decide which one to do. We did attend a Cruise Critic party, hosted by Celebrity, and that was nice. We got to meet Mike, the cruise director, and a couple of other officers. Celebrity does a good job coordinating this--just go to their web site and sign up. Celebrity is supposed to notify you by putting an invitation in your cabin as to when and where the Cruise Critic party is, but several of us did not get the invitation; we inquired at the customer service desk and they told us. Had we waited on the invitation (which never arrived), we would have missed the party. On our previous cruise on Constellation, we got to take a private bridge tour after the cruise critic party, but the Eclipse did not do this.
Celebrity has quit having art auctions; I do not miss the overpriced art, but I did miss the free champagne!
We loved Celebrity's no-smoking policy for staterooms, verandahs, most lounges and the casino. Wish other cruise lines would follow Celebrity on this. Carnival had a ship(Paradise, I think) several years ago that did not allow smoking at all on the entire ship, but for some reason they discontinued this policy.
Sunday was the first formal night, and most people dressed up. We went to the show, Edge, in the main lounge, and it was fantastic. We got a glass of champagne as you entered the lounge, and they introduced the Captain and the officers. The cruise director, Mike, was the best we have ever seen; he is also a very talented singer. We liked John Heard on Carnival several years ago, but I think Mike has him beat.
On Monday, we took the galley tour, which was basically like other galley tours that we had taken on other ships. What sets Celebrity apart though is when you enter the dining room for the initial presentation, they give you a glass of champagne!! Monday afternoon we arrived in San Juan about 3pm. We have both been there many times, so we just walked around Old San Juan for a couple of hours. Celebrity offers a walking tour with a guide for about 50 bucks, but you can do it yourself for free. Just get a AAA book and it will guide you. You can also catch the free trolley(which we did last year), and tour Old San Juan; of course none of the cruise lines will tell you about this.
Tuesday morning we arrived in St Maarteen, which is our favorite island because of the friendly people and good prices. We opted to take the water taxi ride downtown and walk around and go the casinos. You can walk it with little effort, but we figured it was worth the $6 each for the round trip ride, and you can make several trips if you want to for the same price. Where else is there a casino where you can play video poker for a nickel and get free drinks!!!!!!!!!!!! You sure cannot do that on the ship. After dinner, we attended the show entitled "Eclipse: The Show"; it was very good, but loud.
Wednesday we arrived in St Kitts where we just walked around the shops by the port, and ventured downtown (5 minute walk). The last time we were in St Kitts we took the tour of the fort but decided not to this time. We did find a huge variation in prices of things like magnets and hats (some as much as 100%), so check several places before you buy. There are certainly a lot of shops to browse, and no one annoyed you like they do in Jamaica or Cozumel. Wednesday at 10 pm, they had the "Officers poker challenge" in the casino. I asked one of the casino staff if you had to sign up, and he said, "no, just show up about 15 minutes early". Big mistake--I got there about 9:30, and the tables were full. There are two video hold-em tables, and 5 officers and 5 guests were at each of the computerized tables. As a bystander, you can get a ticket and bet (no charge) on whether an officer or a guest will win, and then if your ticket is drawn, you can win some money. So my advice is to get there at least an hour early if you want to play. An officer won, but they gave the money to the guest who finished second.
Thursday was a sea day, so we just lounged around. Did go to the Corning hot glass show where we saw a couple of guys make pretty vases from molten glass. They have the show on several days, so don't miss it. Seating is not so great, so get there early to get a good seat.
They had a fantastic brunch in the Sonata dining room, and it was very well done. At 2pm we attended the Captain's party for past guests, and it was really done with class. Although it only lasted an hour, you got lots of snacks (like we needed them after that great buffet!) and free wine and champagne. We have been to lots of past guests parties on other ships, but Celebrity does it best in our opinion. Thursday night was the second formal night, and we were looking forward to the steak and lobster; unfortunately it was not good. The steak was thin and tough and instead of a lobster tail, you got lobster meat ( or crab) mixed with breading and stuffed in the shell--big disappointment. Celebrity can certainly improve on this.
Friday was our last day at sea, and we wished the cruise lasted longer because it was such a great cruise, and we were not ready to pack and go home. There were so many activities going on, and we just did a few on Friday. Don't miss the crew talent show--it was great, and lots of talent from the crew members; this was held mid morning in the Eclipse theater. On Friday afternoon, we attended "Mike @ The Movies". The cruise director, Mike, put on a fantastic show for over an hour. If he is your cruise director do not miss it. Friday evening we watched the Farewell Variety Show and it was also great.
On three days they have a golf contest (chipping or putting), and it was fun, but I never saw them award any prize to the winner. The putting contest is held on the real grass lawn, and it is very difficult as you are putting on rather tall grass, rather than on a putting green.
Saturday morning we were docked in Miami by 6 am. We opted to carry our own luggage off, and Celebrity told us to be on Deck 5 by 6:30 am; we did and were about 100th in line. However we did get to eat breakfast at the buffet. So if you want to get off early, get in line by 6 am. Debarkation was a breeze except for a malfunctioning escalator which stopped when we were about half way down, so we had to bump our luggage down. Sure hope they got it fixed or there would have been a lot of upset people. Celebrity says that concierge class gets priority debarkation, which I guess is true, but if you opt for carrying your luggage off yourself, everyone gets it; concierge class did not put you in front of anyone--it was first come, first served.
We had to wait about 10 minutes for a taxi back to our hotel where we left the car, but that was no problem as the taxis seemed to arrive in waves.
Improvement Ideas for Celebrity:
1. Celebrity charges a fee to attend the Apple computer/Ipod/Ipad classes. I would like to have gone to a couple of classes to learn about Apple, but since I don't have an Apple, I did not go. In December we went on Holland America's Ryndam, and HAL did not charge anything for the Microsoft classes. So, Celebrity, quit charging.
2. Celebrity charges extra for fresh orange juice at the buffet for breakfast. HAL does not charge at all, and you can have as many glasses as you want; you can even watch the server put the oranges in the machine. Quit being so tight, Celebrity.
3. The staterooms are not ready until 1pm, which is not unusual anymore. However, they should allow you to put your carry on baggage in the cabin, so you don't have to lug it to the buffet for lunch. The buffet is crowded enough on the first day without having hundreds of bags there.
4. All cruise ships want you to visit their list of "guaranteed shopping" stores, and Celebrity is no exception. All the ships want their kickback from the stores, and most of the time that is the only thing the cruise lines put on their maps. They don't put casinos, drug stores, or historical sites, etc. on the maps as a general rule. Most of the maps only show some of the street names, not all of them. It would be helpful to get a better map of the area. I have learned to download the maps from the internet, or get one from AAA. So do us a favor, Celebrity, and give your passengers a better map and tell us where other things are besides the overpriced shops.
5. Schedule the main show after dinner closer to the dining time. We chose early dinner at 6 pm, and the show was not until 9 pm. For late diners (8:30 pm), the show is at 7 pm. Most ships we have ever been on the early sitting was at 6 (with show at 8), and the late sitting was at 8 (with the show at 10); we much prefer this, but you can't make everyone happy!
6. Celebrity makes a big deal about the shower head, but we did not like it very much. It did have constant pressure, unlike many other cruise ships. However, on every ship we have been on in the last 20 years or so, the shower head was on a variable vertical rod so that you could adjust the height of the head, and you could remove the flexible water supply tube. I had always thought that cabin stewards preferred this type so they could wash down the entire bathroom. I have no idea how they do it now. Go back to the old type, Celebrity. I know that the old flexible system costs more because we have that type in our bathrooms at home, so Celebrity was probably trying to save some bucks.
Overall, it was a great cruise on the Eclipse, and we liked this Solstice class of ship so much we decided to book a cruise on the Silhouette in 2013. We were amazed that the ship is mostly sold out( at least for concierge class) 11 months in advance.