When Scenic Eclipse made its 2019 debut, it's safe to say there were a few teething problems.
The ship just wasn't ready, as Scenic Group CEO and founder Glen Moroney is the first to admit -- there were certain design elements that did not work and communication and service was not quite where it should have been on a ship billing itself as a "six star" experience.
The good news is Scenic took on those comments and addressed them while the ship lay idle during the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is a ship that it is almost perfect.
We got back onboard for a five-night sailing in Saudi Arabia to take a look at the redesigned Scenic Eclipse for ourselves.
I've always maintained cruise ship service levels across the board are exceptional, and really this applies to all size vessels.
But on the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, staff have taken things to another level entirely.
I have never sailed on a ship where crew, at all levels, know your name. I'm not just talking about the Maître' D or your cabin steward or on some ships, your butler. I'm talking about literally all crew.
It's actually a really strange feeling at first, and you whisper to your fellow passengers: "How come they all know our names?" It wasn't just me; everyone I spoke to had experienced the same recognition.
No one would reveal how they did, though I think I might have a clue -- I had the same butler Radko on this cruise as I did two years ago on a Scenic river cruise on the Danube and he said he had been studying the passenger manifest and thought he recognised me, so I am guessing crew must be supplied with names and pictures of passengers ahead of time. Still, to remember the names of all 228 of us is another level.
Throughout the ship, nothing was too much trouble: favorite cocktails and wines were remembered and produced without even asking at every meal or at the bar, and a smile greeted me at every interaction. Absolutely faultless.
When Scenic Eclipse was first launched with the indoor/outdoor Yacht Club, it featured an odd pool which was situated right in the middle of the buffet area at the aft end of the room, which "just didn't work," as founder and CEO Glenn Moroney put it.
"People didn't want to be swimming inside what they saw as a dining venue."
So Moroney got rid of it, stripping the entire pool out and replacing it with additional seating. The result is a gorgeous open buffet area (with no pool), with a serving area in the center and at the side, as well as a bread and coffee section.
It's light, bright and proved to be the most popular daytime dining area for both breakfast and lunch on our short five day cruise.
The only downside is that Scenic did not put the pool elsewhere. It's not entirely the line's fault; there simply wasn't the space to install one anywhere else. All there is in terms of outdoor areas to soak onboard are a small spa pool and two hot tubs on Deck 10.
However, the good news is sister ship Scenic Eclipse II, due for delivery in 2023, will address the second main issue -- limited outdoor space for activities -- with a completely redesigned Deck 10, complete with pool.
At present, this space is underused and feels like a bit of an afterthought (as Mr. Moroney readily admits). On the new ship, the emergency wheelhouse will move to one deck below, and the space it occupied will become a lounge bar. The pool will be fitted between the two hot tubs, transforming this top deck space into a real outdoor area, perfect for sunbathing and relaxing.
And who doesn't like a ship with two helicopters and a submarine? Although the helicopters were under wraps on our sailing due to Saudi law, we did take the six-person sub for a ride down 20 meters (65 feet) in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. There wasn't a huge amount to see, but I now have bragging rights forever thanks to my spin in the submersible.
In terms of food, there has been one small but significant change onboard Scenic Eclipse -- the Teppanyaki Grill at the back of Koko's is no more, replaced instead by what the line is calling Nightmarket@Koko's. It waswas more like a 10-course Asian tasting menu experience (in this case specifically southern Indian), but the line switches things up with Middle Eastern and Asian specialties as well.
A first for me, I have never experienced such a variety of delicate and flavoursome Indian dishes, prepared and presented exquisitely by the talented and wonderfully-named Strawberry (yes, that is her real name).
Overseen by Executive Chef Thomas Goetter, who comes across as a wonderful kind of Willy Wonka/mad professor-type figure, this is one of two intimate dining venues onboard, the other being the Chef's Table.
Chef’s Table is a culinary experience like no other. Tucked away behind an unassuming door in the main Elements restaurant, the space itself is tiny with a single dining table and two 14mm-thick glass windows for you to watch the kitchen staff watching you.
Deliberately defying definition, it offers an 11-course tasting menu that takes you on a journey through Goetter's life -- his influences, experiences and extraordinary imagination.
Part molecular gastronomy, part whimsy, part mind-blowing, it's invitation-only (top suite guests) for a start, and seats just 10 lucky passengers.
Each dish reflects a significant moment in Chef Getter's life -- be it when he realised the humble cabbage could be turned into an art form, or when his fixed idea on great cooking was turned on its head by a Mexican burrito seller making the humble snack in the street (pictured above); or when he stank out his village by fermenting 25kg of bananas to try and recreate the original cooking technique of ceviche (it worked, but his neighbours were not happy).
Each dish is a delight, made all the more so by the tale behind it and his wonderful storytelling. Beg, borrow, or blag to get in here.
Every aspect of this ship has been carefully considered, from the ultra-modern rooms, to the 100-whiskies bar, to the hi-tech seats in the main cinema, to the electronic black out blinds in every cabin, to the outstanding coffee in Azure café and the outstanding wine collection.
Scenic Eclipse is also a passion project, which shines through every detail onboard (Moroney's wife Karen does all the interior design work), and will be taken up a notch in 2023 when the second and final Scenic Eclipse debuts. We can't wait to experience it.