Celebrity Eclipse's U.S. Debut
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What's Eclipse got that her sisters don't? For starters, the specialty restaurant Qsine, among the most creative eateries afloat. The idea is comfort food from around the world turned on its head -- with nothing served on proper plates. So you get spring rolls served in metal springs, bite-sized "popcorn" fish-n-chips served in a classic red-and-white popcorn box, and sushi served lollipop-style on sticks. Even the menus are interesting, displayed on iPads and puzzle cubes. Each dish is meant to be shared, and I recommend that you come hungry -- my four-hour dinner left me feeling full well into the next day.
The Pool Deck
Every cruise ship has a pool deck, but I found Celebrity Eclipse's especially inviting. Perhaps it was the dancing fountains that you could splash about in to cool off, or the creative lounge chairs (including double loungers under a canvas teepee, hammocks and circular, movable wicker sunbeds). No tacky plastic here -- even the regular loungers have blue or orange pads. And if it dares to rain on your Caribbean vacation, the adults-only Solarium has a covered roof. See those shade panels? They're actually solar panels, drawing in a bit of extra power for the ship.
If you've seen the movie "Cocktail" and always wanted to visit a bar with juggling, dancing waiters, head straight for the Martini Bar on Deck 4, where the congenial bartenders turn mixology into performance art. We watched one waiter balance a martini glass on his head while the bartender stood on the bar and poured in the libations from on high. For another group, he stacked four martini shakers and poured three different cocktails simultaneously (see photo). Don't drink? You can still join the fun. The waiters will happily bring you a soda . . . in a martini glass.
Step aside, boring soft-serve ice cream: Eclipse has gelato, the iconic Italian treat. If you've got a sweet tooth, don't miss the gelateria on Deck 5. The 10 flavors range from chocolate to mango, rum raisin to hazelnut, coconut to caramel, and you can choose between a cup and a cone. The only downside is that you have to pay a few bucks for your scoops. (If you must stick with the classics, the buffet has an extensive ice cream selection, and the open-air grill has the requisite soft-serve.)
Sunset at Sky Observation Lounge
Who can resist watching the sun set over the ocean? One of the best spots on Eclipse to do so is in the Sky Observation Lounge, where you can watch the light show indoors -- drink in hand -- through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The lounge has an array of ridiculously comfortable chairs and couches and even lay-flat loungers, all in a mod decor. There are even faux fireplaces to create that living room effect.
There's something about a lawn that brings out the kid in everyone. Step onto the live grass of Eclipse's Lawn Club, and it won't be long before your shoes are off and you're battling friends old and new for bocce supremacy or the title of croquet king or queen. Just be careful where and when you choose to play: I unwittingly started a game of lawn-size Jenga just as people were gathering for the Hot Glass Show, so when I toppled the tower, a collective groan went up from the 20 or so people I hadn't realized were watching. Feeling romantic? Bring a blanket and a bottle of Champagne for a picnic or stretch out at night for a view of the stars.
Crepes at Bistro on Five
Many cruise ships offer fancy French restaurants, but Eclipse takes a different approach, offering its version of Gallic street food with the Bistro on Five creperie. The menu offers crepes for every meal -- breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert -- as well as panini, soups and salads. But don't mistake this for light fare. The savory crepes are drizzled with yummy sauces and are larger than you think -- I tried to pair a Mexican crepe with corn and peppers with a sweet Nutella and banana crepe, and was unable to finish either.
Hot Glass Show
Admittedly, it's an odd thing for a cruise ship to offer a glass-blowing exhibition as an attraction. For one thing, most lines don't want to add any more 2,200-degree ovens than they have to on a ship. However, the Hot Glass Show adjacent to Celebrity's Lawn Club is worth a visit, especially if you've never seen glass blown before. It's fascinating to see the artists work the molten glass, moving quickly to keep the glowing goo at just the right temperature for shaping. Just be sure to stick around afterward when the team raffles off its just-made piece of art.
I'm no connoisseur of art, but Celebrity Eclipse has some pretty cool works scattered about. Apparently the line thinks so too, as it offers complimentary, self-guided art tours using iPads. I think it's more fun to wander around the ship, loitering in the stairwells to check out the decoration, but if you want information on the artist and how the piece came into Celebrity's collection, take the tour. And don't skip the stores -- I loved the wildly dressed mannequins outside the Deck 4 shops, with their hot pink hair and crazy gowns and lemon-covered bathing suits.
Find Your Living Room
One thing that struck me about Eclipse was its fabulous seating areas that are ideal for curling up with a book, gathering for some girl talk or meeting your sweetheart for a drink. Whether it's a nook in the Ensemble Lounge, a high-backed chair in the library, an orange-pillowed conversation area in the Solarium or a quiet corner in the Cellar Masters wine bar, the restful places entice as much as the activities.
Three Things You Can Miss
And if you want to save time, here's what you can miss:
Production shows: Celebrity hasn't put the same kind of energy and creativity into its production shows as its restaurants. The Broadway tribute I saw jammed together disparate shows into single scenes (a mash-up of West Side Story's "Maria" and Dirty Dancing's "She's Like the Wind" was particularly jarring).
iLounge: It's gotten a lot of hype, but it's essentially an Internet cafe that sells some Apple products. If you're not used to using a Mac, you might need some help getting online.
Team Earth: This exhibit, which our reviewer calls an "interactive environmental awareness experience," doesn't have an obvious purpose on Eclipse. The space seemed ill-used with a large globe and a few touch-screen computers -- and not much else.
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