Celebrity Eclipse Dining
Dining choices abound aboard Celebrity Eclipse. Besides the main dining room, passengers can eat in three specialty dinner restaurants, a restaurant reserved exclusively for passengers in AquaClass staterooms, a crepe and panini bistro, a lido buffet with specialty stations, a poolside grill, a spa cuisine buffet and grill, and a coffee bar and gelateria. Of the 10 restaurants, six are open for breakfast, five for lunch and seven for dinner.
The towering, airy Moonlight Sonata is the ship's main dining room, spanning two decks at the aft end of the ship. The room is bright and light in tone and makes ample use of the ship's signature design element, glass. In fact, instead of a wine cellar, one end of the dining room is accented with a two-story glass wine tower, replete with tall ladders to reach bottles at the highest levels.
Surprisingly for a ship with 2,800-plus passengers, this single restaurant feels spacious and uncrowded. There is ample room to navigate between tables, and the room's openness, combined with extensive carpeting on the floors, results in a tolerable noise level.
Passengers can choose from the more traditional set-seating, set-tablemate scenario (with dining times typically at 6 or 8:30 p.m.) or Celebrity Select, which gives passengers the opportunity to dine at any time between 6:30 and 9 p.m. Options include advance reservations or simply showing up.
Moonlight Sonata is also open for breakfast and lunch and is all open seating.
Service is prompt, attentive and friendly. The dinner menu is not overloaded with choices, offering a total of seven entrees, including a salad entree. Although no separate spa, vegetarian or heart-healthy menus are added on, at least one choice per course qualifies for each category. In addition, the chef suggests his favorite from the available options, and several "classic favorite" options are available nightly, including Caesar salad, salmon, New York strip steak and creme brulee.
We found the cuisine to be a mix of French, Italian and "New American" styles, with contemporary popular ingredients -- phyllo, Yukon Gold potatoes, feta cheese, fresh fennel, etc. -- conspicuously present.
We'd also like to give kudos to the entree salads. We're generally not fans of main-course salads at dinner, but these are really hearty concoctions, such as an arugula salad with sliced grilled "Gaucho" steak, fresh marjoram and bacon ranch dressing. Lunch salads in Moonlight Sonata also shined and were one of the only midday menu items that could lure us away from Oceanview Cafe or the Bistro on Five creperie. The other temptation was a hamburger served in the dining room because the Lido Deck grill was absolutely insistent on serving all burgers very well done. The chefs were more flexible in Moonlight Sonata, even if medium rare to rare was a Quixotic quest.
Nine decks directly above Moonlight Sonata is the Oceanview Cafe, an expansive multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch and an open-seating casual alternative venue for dinner. Outside of regular mealtimes, ice cream, pizza and pasta, sushi, afternoon tea and late night snacks (from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.) are on offer, all without additional charge. A juice bar there serves up particularly delicious fresh-squeezed OJ, but it will set you back a few bucks.
The buffet layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room, rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices.
Besides the conventional dinner choices, which tend to mirror what's served each evening in Moonlight Sonata, British (bangers, English bacon, baked beans) and Asian (miso soup with mix-ins, tofu, rice) stations, as well as vegetarian and carved meat stations round out the mix. The standard breakfast selections don't change (omelet station, Canadian and American bacon, turkey and pork sausage, potatoes, fruit, pastries and breads). We found the breads superb, especially the house-made English muffins.
Lunch features one changing "Chef's Choice" station (primarily a carving station for ham, leg of lamb, beef, etc.) in addition to tacos, pastas, stir-fry, sandwiches, soups, salads and other specialty stops. Sandwich choices include hot (corned beef) or cold (turkey, chicken salad). Diners can customize their pasta choices with sauce selection (marinara, alfredo, garlic/butter) or select meats, spices and veggie mix-ins for their stir fries. There is plenty of elbow room between tables, and attentive waiters are available for assistance for those who require it.
Other casual options include the Mast Grill, on the same level as the Oceanview Cafe, but forward of the main swimming pool. It serves burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like. One deck down, the AquaSpa Cafe serves healthy, spa cuisine breakfast and lunch by the spa pool. We found it a great choice for lunch, especially for the salads and simple grilled or poached seafood choices.
Deck 5 is the epicenter for specialty dining. We were particularly fond of "Bistro on Five," a cheery little casual eatery hugging one side of the atrium. Bistro's main fare is crepes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert crepes. Don't miss the dulce de leche or banana, nutella and pistachio crepes, and ask for either of these with a scoop of vanilla gelato from the gelateria next door. Bistro on Five also features panini sandwiches (steak, chicken or vegetable), soups and salads. Since Bistro on Five opens at 8 a.m., we found it a delightful choice for a quiet, almost private, breakfast, especially in the early days of the cruise, before many passengers had discovered it. We also liked the "Build Your Own" crepe option, which consisted of a palate-pleasing palette of scrambled eggs and omelet-type ingredients. Our favorite sandwich was the marinated flank steak with lettuce, mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar. Bistro on Five is open 'til a half hour past midnight and requires no reservations, though there is a $5 per-person service charge.
One of my favorite spots for a light nosh or snack was Cafe al Bacio, a coffee bar with fee-extra beverages, located across from Bistro on Five. The food, from pastries to small sandwiches, is complimentary. A gelato bar dishes out cold concoctions.
Aft from the atrium on Deck 5 is the entryway into the Ensemble Lounge, an energetic, convivial watering hole that's ideal for pre-dinner drinks. In one of the best pieces of interior architecture we've seen on any ship, Ensemble forms a nexus from which Celebrity's signature Michael's Club and four specialty restaurants -- Blu, Murano, Qsine and Tuscan Grille -- fan out like spokes of a wheel. Because of this architecture, not only does this section of the ship have the feeling of a sophisticated city's "Restaurant Row," but it also places the four specialty restaurants such that they all have beautiful picture window views of the sea.
Blu, technically not a specialty restaurant as much as it is a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity's new AquaClass category, has a menu similar in course structure to that of Moonlight Sonata (appetizers, soups and salads, salad entrees, main entrees, Everyday Classics and Sommelier Recommendations). It differs in both the number of offerings (one or two fewer per most categories) and the style of cuisine, relying less on rich sauces and sauteing and more on natural reductions, ragouts and herbs. AquaClass passengers do not have to pay extra to dine there, but suite passengers may book tables on a space-available basis, for which they are charged a $5 per person gratuity. The restaurant is otherwise off-limits to regular passengers.
The ambience of Tuscan Grille, Eclipse's Italian steakhouse restaurant is described by Celebrity as "Napa-meets-Old-World-Italy," an impression that we concurred with as we entered through a "wine cave"-like archway into a genteel room with ornate furniture and place settings. Tuscan Grille also has the best view of any restaurant aboard the ship, being situated all the way aft. A meal in Tuscan Grille, in our estimation, is best enjoyed on the early side, while there are still seats right up against the wall of glass facing the trailing wake of the ship, and before the sun has gone down. The grilled meats and seafood can't be beat, although we were mildly disappointed in the pasta choices -- only four, and the sauces are conventional: Alfredo, Bolognese, Toscana (meatballs and tomato sauce) and Parmiggiana. Other signature touches are an antipasti bar and Caesar salad prepared tableside. We enjoyed a perfectly grilled veal chop, preceded by the excellent preparation and presentation of a Caesar salad for two. The per-person charge is $35.
Celebrity is renowned for its high-quality French alternative restaurants. On Eclipse, the restaurant's called Murano, and the theme is Continental with a tilt toward new French. The centerpiece is a six-course tasting menu, featuring appetizer, soup and salad, fish course, palate cleanser (sorbet), meat course and dessert; all of the dishes except the sorbet come from the a la carte menu. There are two choices for each course on the tasting menu, and there's an option of a wine paired with each. It may be heresy, but we chose to order a mere two-course meal, feeling we'd be spending a month on the treadmill just to make up for six courses of caloric intake.
The a la carte menu choices are bold -- caviar, escargot, sweetbreads, foie gras, venison and the like -- but familiar faves abound: filet mignon, duck breast, lobster tail, surf and turf. I chose seared sweetbreads, which came out delicate, light and crispy, followed by Dover Sole Veronique, a favorite of mine, sauteed with white wine and grapes. The cover charge for Murano is $45 per person, or $89 per person to pair wines with all the tasting menu courses, and a "Market Price" surcharge for a caviar option.
One practice in Murano left a bad taste and that's the upselling. We were offered Champagne to start our meal as if it were a hospitality gesture (and only later were we presented with a bill for $20 per glass). We also noticed that a crewmember came around handing out roses to the ladies -- and then asked for payment.
Saving the best for last, Qsine (pronounced "cuisine") is a new restaurant concept for Celebrity, replacing the Asian restaurant on the first two Solstice-class ships. It is a massive hit, so much so that it appears on Celebrity's even newer Silhouette, as well. It's an interesting blend of tapas-style tastes with gourmet interpretations of ethnic comfort food. The menu, presented on an iPad, includes standouts like Kobe beef sliders, sushi lollipops, lobster fritters, "chintinis" (Chinese melange served in martini glasses), "disco" shrimp (poached tiger shrimp) and, for dessert, beignets, cupcakes and cheesecake bites. Cost is $45.
Room service is available 24 hours a day from a limited menu of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts.