DISCLAIMER: This review will be VERY LENGTHY as there is a significant amount of information to convey. I have utilized topic headers so you can pick and choose which topics are of interest to you and skip the others.
The Eclipse is a unique ship and not inexpensive to book, so it is important to understand what to expect. Furthermore, my wife and I are in no way connected to Scenic. However, we have had two amazing Scenic river cruise cruises (Rhine and Danube.)
As you are well aware Cruise Critic reviews are like art and opinions can differ greatly depending on the eye of the beholder. There have been times in the past I have read reviews from other passengers who were a part of the same exact cruise segment my wife and I were on and found it hard to believe we had traveled on the same ship.
MY OVERALL CURRENT RATING WOULD BE 4 ½ STARS. I feel in a very short time period, as a few lingering issues are addressed, the Eclipse will deserve the FULL FIVE STARS.
My wife and I cruised several times early in our marriage and were even engaged on a cruise to Bermuda. However, we went twenty years without cruising as we became avid snow skiers and bought a condo in the mountains. About six years ago we decided it was time to see the world and cruising seemed to be the perfect way to do it. We now try to do two 7-14 day cruises per calendar. Year. One limiting factor is that we both are still working fulltime so vacation time is limited. Furthermore, we need to return home after each cruise to earn the money to pay for the next cruise.
Typically, we have cruised on ships in the 2,000 to 4,300 passenger range. However, on Norwegian, we like The Haven suite area as it is what I refer to as an enclave and “a small ship within a large ship.” Celebrity also has a suite class we enjoy with a separate restaurant so we can further ensure my wife’s food allergies can be appropriately handled versus being in a dining room with thousands of other guests. My wife has Celiac Disease, which is a food allergy to ANYTHING with wheat, oat & barley. We like the safety of having almost all our meals on ships where the chefs can handle her need to eat Gluten Free and understand the term “cross-contamination.” In other words, we typically are booking suites out of necessity to avoid my wife needing medical care or even hospitalization.
A LONG WAIT FOR THE ECLIPSE:
Three and a half years ago back in March 2016, I put up two deposits for future Eclipse cruises. Like many other Cruise Critic members, I have followed the construction shipyard issues and endured two cancellations. Scenic treated us well with full refunds and the offer of discounts for the two replacement cruises.
I obviously had VERY high expectations of the Scenic Eclipse since prior to this cruise I had made three non-refundable deposits for Eclipse cruises (Panama Canal, Norwegian Fjords and Antarctica.) Obviously, I did this based on the initial Eclipse marketing booklet and animation videos on their website along with a certain amount of faith.
This cruise segment was titled “Columbia to Panama Discovery” – Emabarkation in Cartagena (Columbia) with stops in San Blas Islands, Panama Canal transit, Darien National Park (Panama), Utria National Park (Columbia), Equator Crossing, Salaverry (Panama), Isla Guanape (Peru), disembarkation in Lime, (Peru.)
We flew to Cartagena, Columbia and booked our own pre-cruise room at a wonderful small hotel (Sophia) inside the Walled City. Therefore, we had the hotel arrange for a taxi to take us to the ship. Boarding went smoothly around 1 p.m. Some passengers were disappointed all of us had to leave the ship around 4 pm to be bussed back to building at the front of the port to clear customs. This was certainly not the fault of Scenic as the customs office in that port set their hours of operation. I felt Scenic handled this situation well and provided a shuttle service. Plus, the time between boarding and going through customs allowed us time to explore the ship.
This might the lightning rod since I alluded to all of us having our own opinions when it comes to art and ship design.
I will get straight to the point and tell you I love what owners Glen and Karen Mahoney have done in designing this ship. I had very high expectations and they were exceeded. As has been pointed out there are a few kinks that need to be worked out. Obviously, much more work had been done since the ship was crossing the Atlantic and a few more issues were being actively being addressed during our cruise.
The black hull and white upper structure are visually striking.
This is where there is a real diversity of opinion. I am not sure how much middle ground there is regarding this ship. My wife and I absolutely love it. Karen has done an amazing job in our opinion. Lots of grays, black, white, chrome, stainless steel and glass. This is a very modern contemporary style we enjoy.
In fact, when we visited the yoga/pilates area and found similar flooring to that we installed this year during a complete remodel of our beach reach condo. When we entered the bathroom in our cabin we just laughed as it was the exact style tile we installed in our condo master bathroom. Karen and I would get along well as we share similar tastes in contemporary design. If you are a fan of warmer earth tones with greens and browns, then there are other ships that might be more to your liking. As I often tell my friends….. “Different strokes for different folks.” For me, the Eclipse design is in my wheelhouse.
In my opinion, the gray/black palette also allows the ability to make statements with color from art which is also easy to change out over time. Furthermore, it is my understanding that all the art has not arrived on board the ship at this point in time.
As has been pointed out in a prior Eclipse review some areas of the ship have black carpeting in some public areas that require constant attention as it does show up many forms of dust and dirt. However, the crew was regularly utilizing Dyson cordless vacuums to maintain the carpet.
We were pleased with the spaciousness of the ship and the public areas. As many of you know the Eclipse carries a maximum of 228 passengers. On our sailing, there were 178 crew/staff/discovery team members and only 148 passengers. This is obviously a very high ratio of staff to passengers. There were times of the day where we wondered where all the passengers had gone.
Obviously, the main lounge on Deck Four is the primary passenger gathering location with the Whiskey Bar that has over a hundred types of whiskey. However, it is also a full bar so you have your choice of beer, wine, other alcoholic and non-alcoholic libations at most any hour. There are also bars in Azure, Koko’s, Elements, Yacht Club and Lumiere.
This might be a good point to mention something I thought about and researched since my wife and I have traveled on the Norwegian Epic which carries over 4,000 passengers.
Norwegian Epic – 4,228 passengers. Cost to build - approximately 1.4 billion USD (I adjusted the number for inflation since it was built in 2010)
Scenic Eclipse – 228 passengers. Cost to build – approximately a quarter of billion USD
Therefore, the cost for the Epic was about $284,000 per berth while the cost for the Eclipse is a staggering $1,096,000 per berth.
As you can see the Glen and Karen have made a substantial investment for luxury and state of the art technology.
For the small number of passengers, the Eclipse has what I consider to be a large number of dining venues.
Elements is the primary dining facility. It has a menu that changes regularly as do the menus in the other restaurants. I want to address something that another reviewer mentioned regarding the slow delivery of food. I did find it took a little longer than I expected on our embarkation day. Since we were on vacation we were not in a hurry and it did not bother us. I suspect the staff walks the line of not having passengers feel rushed. As I continually mention different passengers have different expectations. On a night when we did have other plans, we simply told our waiter and the various courses were delivered at a brisker pace.
Sometimes we were looking for something basic. We simply went “off-menu” and asked for some basic items (hamburger, chicken breast, etc.) we knew were on the room service menu that is serviced from the Elements kitchen.
Koko’s (JP and his team handle Sushi @Koko’s, Teppanyaki @Koko’s and Koko’s Asian Fusion). We skipped the Sushi since some years ago I ended up in an emergency room with food poisoning from a bad raw oyster. Figuring I may be more sensitive to bacteria from raw seafood I have had to give it up. That being said, I did hear good reviews from other passengers.
The Teppanyaki Grill (Reservations Required) – It is located in a separate area at the back of Koko’s. Our evening was a fun experience with great food and fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere. Chef Strawberry took the time to explain each course as she was preparing it which added to the experience.
On another evening we tried the Asian Fusion section and thoroughly enjoyed our meals.
Lumiere (Reservation required) - A French restaurant with a menu that changes every four days. The manager (also named JP) runs this facility along with Azure. As expected, the seven-course meal and service were top-notch.
Azure Bar and Grill - This is a nice casual bar and grill with seating areas inside and outside that was rarely busy. It was easy to get a small meal or snack quickly.
Epicure – A cooking school in a dedicated space with very limited availability. To my knowledge, it was offered twice during our cruise and unfortunately, we did not make the cut. With only 12 openings and up to 228 passengers your chances of being able to attend are limited depending on demand. (Only one in nine, if all 228 passengers had an interest.)
Chef’s Table – This is an “invitation-only” experience that typically occurs every other night for up to ten guests. If you are on a shorter cruise segment like mine of only 8 nights, there are limited opportunities and availability. For those who would like to partake in this experience, I suggest expressing your interest to your butler.
Fortunately, on the last night, we received an invitation to join four other couples for an epicurean experience and I do mean experience!!!
3 HOURS + 10 FLIGHTS of CHAMPAGNE and WINE + 10 COURSES (appetizers, entrees & dessert) + a LEATHER ENCASED TOOLKIT = CHEF’s TABLE
Executive Chef Bert completely exceeded my expectations by providing a three-hour interactive meal where each of us participated in the finishing steps of a couple of the courses. Our main courses included all of the following: Wagyu beef, Dover sole, lamb and smoked pork.
Executive Chef Bert said the general food prep for this event takes over 16 hours and the pork is smoked for 40 hours.
CONTRAST THE ABOVE WITH THE LAST MEAL MY WIFE AND I ATE FOR OUR NEXT DINNER.
The following night we stayed in Lima, Peru and decided on a much simpler menu we had packed in our suitcases before leaving Tuscaloosa since we didn’t want to risk food poisoning. Who doesn’t love pretzels, peanut butter, and bottled water??? Actually, I eat this for lunch a couple of days each week back home.
Yacht Club – (buffet for breakfast and lunch overseen by Robert the Restaurant Manager for the Eclipse) In addition, to the extensive buffet offerings there is the ability to order additional breakfast items from a small menu.
I intentionally saved the Yacht Club for later in my food/restaurant review for several reasons. For one, it turned out to be a very popular buffet dining venue for breakfast and especially lunch. (NOTE: it is not currently open for dinner.) Understandably, it could become “standing room only”, particularly when everyone returned from a shore excursion around the same time. However, seats typically tuned over quickly. Plus, if you don’t want to wait you can go to Elements and Azure or order room service and eat on your balcony.
I need to mention the large stainless-steel pool that is situated in the Yacht Club. It is was a topic of a great deal of discussion and a fair amount of outright derision. The general consensus was that no one would go into this pool while other passengers were eating and this space could be better utilized for additional tables.
I asked one of the servers how many passengers she had seen in the pool since the ship launched and she said only three. I told her by the end of this cruise it would be at least four as I intended to give it try.
I ended up trying it on an afternoon when I walked around and noticed the only two people in the Yacht Club were the two bartenders who were on duty. I decided to go back to my room and change to my swimsuit so I could give the pool a test drive. When I checked the water earlier it seemed cool so I figured I would only be in the pool about sixty seconds. To my surprise, I found the water comfortable and actually ended up swimming in the pool for over fifteen minutes. I could actually swim as I was obviously the only one in the pool.
It does have a sensational view out the back of the ship. (photo enclosed). I believe when this ship spends almost half the year in the colder Arctic circle and Antarctica more passengers will decide to give this pool a try and use the sun loungers as it is doubtful the outdoor pools will be utilized.
Unfortunately, it was not until the last morning that I found out from Robert (the Restaurant manager for the ship) that there were strategically located buttons around the inside of the Yacht Club pool that allowed you to turn on specific water jets. If I had known this information previously, I would have stayed in the pool much longer.
In-Room Dining (aka Room Service) – Did not try this service and cannot offer an opinion. However as mentioned previously, we did order items from the room service menu while eating in Elements.
Frankly, on a ship with such a low number of passengers that is billed as a Discovery Yacht I did not expect much in the way of entertainment. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find we had an entertainment director and singer name Grace Caudle on board. During our eight-night cruise Grace did two different seventy-five-minute singing performances. One was An Evening of Broadway songs and the other An Evening of Classics (a mixture of classics and opera.) Grace is not only beautiful she has a voice to match.
NOTE: My wife and I constantly ran into Grace around the ship as she also helps support the Discovery team. Grace mentioned she is training to become certified to operate one of the elven Zodiacs on board. I told her to be sure to put that on her resume and as it will be a sure-fire attention getter for a singer/performer. We also had the pleasure of dining with Grace one evening for our incredible meal in Lumiere. Grace was raised in Dallas, currently resides in NYC and has traveled the world performing. Grace is charming and has a down to earth personality.
Grace also hosted a Liar’s Club in the theater which I found highly entertaining. Be forewarned that some of your crew members are very good liars. (LOL)
On another evening passengers had the opportunity to view a movie in the theater.
Grace also held a couple of trivia contests in the main Lounge. On one of the sea days, I participated in a Martini class that was conducted by the bar manager.
During our stop in Utria National Park, Columbia Scenic had arranged for a group of about a dozen local performers to come on board to give a singing and dancing performance representative of their culture. It was highly entertaining, and you could tell the performers were excited and happy to be on board.
FYI: I was impressed that Captain Erwan LeRouzic made sure all the performers were allowed to take a tour of our ship. I considered this to be a “cultural exchange.” It was the first time many of the performers had ever been in an elevator. They even had a group photo taken on the bow of the ship. Our Captain felt it was important for he and Scenic to also share a special experience with the performers.
In the lounge, there was a duo of a piano player and singer that performed low key music early in the evenings and after dinner.
The theater is beautiful and seats about 240 people. As in any theater, some seats have better sightlines than others. The main three front-facing projectors were perfectly synched, and the sound system was great. There are even several “short throw” projectors on the sidewalls of the theater for displaying various background type images. It is apparent much time and thought went into the design of this theater.
The majority of the seating is in large lounger chairs. A few of the chairs in the theater are power recliners and a few on the sides even swivel. There is also bar service. Therefore, you can relax and listen to the lectures while sipping on a martini or other libations. I definitely needed this during lectures during my college years. This could have changed my entire experience of attending class.
With almost 6,000 square feet the Spa Sanctuary was a beautiful and relaxing area we visited several times during our cruise in order to utilize the steam room, sauna, Vitality Room as well as the outdoor lounge area and pool.
In the vitality room with both cushioned and heated stone loungers, BOSE noise-canceling headphones are available. I even went online and figured how to download the BOSE Connect app to allow me to use the headphone to play music from my cell phone.
While the men’s sauna has a traditional heating system, the women’s sauna utilizes some type of special infrared system which we were told in a tour was to accommodate women going through menopause. My wife said the infrared system barely provided any heat. She remarked she has much better heat from a small space heater in her office at work. Hopefully, Scenic will address this deficiency in the future. Frankly, I suspect women going through heat flashes related to menopause will seek out a sauna.
NOTE: One major disappointment for my wife and me is that there are almost no coed facilities in the spa (the saunas, steam rooms, and even the vitality rooms are segregated. We enjoy spending time together and other ships provide the ability to do so in their areas the lounges. It is not like passengers would choose to use the sauna or loungers in the nude since both areas have windows to the outside deck where anyone walking by could look inside. In reality, it is a type of “unintended” reverse discrimination as several gay couples on board had the ability to share these spa experiences with their spouses/significant others while we were denied that opportunity. I am hopeful Scenic will consider implementing some coed days and/or times.
I will admit one afternoon I joined my wife on an adjoining stone lounger on her side as there was absolutely no one in the vitality areas which for some reason was typically the case during our cruise. (Naturally, if another guest had shown-up I would have immediately returned to the men’s side.)
OUTDOOR HOT TUBS:
Naturally, we tried these out. Unfortunately, we only lasted a few minutes as the temperature was only luke-warm and far from hot. We tried the other hot tub and found it also did not have hot water. The tepid temperature ruined what might have been an enjoyable experience. It would have been ok if the ship were anchored but it was moving and since the hot tubs are forward the wind made it too cool to enjoy in tepid water.
My suggestion would be to have at least one, if not both, of the tubs set to the appropriate temperatures.
We utilized it several times and found it to be well-equipped with a nice view of the ocean while you are exercising.
Having never done Yoga I decided this was the perfect opportunity to give it try with the classes held every morning at 7 am. Unfortunately, I had to miss a few days as a couple of shore excursions were early and there would not be enough time to clean up after the yoga class and grab a quick breakfast. The instructor, Vlad, was very patient and helped me learn the appropriate poses. Although I work out regularly, I will say yoga is more physically demanding than I realized. It is even more difficult when the ship was rolling with the waves, but Vlad would adjust the pose to take that into account.
In a word …. “EXCEPTIONAL!” As mentioned previously, due to my wife’s unique dietary needs we have typically spent the money to stay in mid-range suites on ships with a concierge and/or butler, therefore I feel we have a fairly good baseline as what to expect.
There are many aspects to a cruise, including the design of the ship, the itinerary, the excursions and naturally the food; however, one of the biggest factors for me regarding overall satisfaction is controlled by the crew/staff/team members. I always make it a point to meet as many as possible in such a short time onboard.
The staff on the Eclipse were all top-notch. Of course, the crew and ship operations are handled by the captain. In our case, it was Captain Erwan LeRouzic. He is friendly and could typically be found roaming the ship checking on things. In the evenings he made himself available for conversations as he walked through the lounge greeting and interacting with passengers. Over the course of the cruise, I cumulatively spent 4-5 hours talking with him. I had done some prior research and found out he was the first person to captain a completely solar-powered boat around the world. He is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for this feat. Obviously, Captain Erwan set the standard you would expect on this type of adventure.
As most of you know the person who is responsible for the highest number of staff on the ship is the Hotel Director. In this case, it is Rico Tubert. As I always say, leadership starts at the top and it is apparent Rico sets a high bar. Once again, I will point out you could find Rico constantly walking the ship checking on his mangers and staff as well as interacting with passengers. He was always friendly and accommodating.
When I asked him one evening if the steam rooms had not yet been finished he pulled me aside to explain the steam rooms were finished but they were attempting to track down a water leak that occurs when they are running. Rico said If I, or any passengers, wanted to use them on a particular day to let him know and he would have them turned on. I mentioned it would be nice to have them for our upcoming sea days and as promised the steam rooms were on and provided a great experience. (As mentioned earlier I wish my wife and I could have had the opportunity to enjoy them together. Hopefully, some accommodations will be made for coed couples during our future cruises.)
I did have to good-naturedly tell Rico not to let the audio-video sub-contractors off the ship until they eliminated the gremlins that caused the TV’s to come on in the middle of the night for no reason several. It was startling when it occurred at night. I certainly did not fault Scenic as their AV contractors let them down. Fortunately, Scenic had them on board fine-tuning the system.
As mentioned previously, my wife has to eat Gluten Free so I always seek out the Restaurant Manager early in the cruise to ensure there will not be any issues Our Restaurant Manager was Robert who is top-notch. When I mentioned a concern on the first evening of the cruise Robert immediately called Executive Chef Bert to have him meet with us to ensure my wife’s dietary restrictions where appropriately handled.
On the night we dined at the Chef’s Table, Executive Chef Bert even went to the extra time and effort to make sure specific Gluten Free substitutions were made so that my wife could enjoy this unique culinary experience. It is hard to express how much this meant to my wife.
A special thanks to Robert and Executive Chef Bert and all their team members (including the pastry chef and baker among many others) for making this cruise special for my wife.
Another time I mentioned to Robert that my wife would enjoy something different other than the fruit and gelato that were often the main desserts listed on the menus as being Gluten Free. From that night forward my wife was provided a different Gluten Free dessert every evening. No matter which of the many restaurants we dined in during the remainder of our cruise the staff would find the special Gluten Free dessert created by the Scenic pastry chef and bring it to our table. One night I recall we were full from the main course and did not have room for dessert. I asked our waiter (JB) if we could get a to-go box to take it back to our cabin. Instead, JB insisted we allow him to arrange for it to be delivered to our cabin while we were enjoying a show in the theater. It made a great late-night snack when we returned to our cabin.
Speaking of JB, he was out primary waiter in Elements and did an outstanding job. He always had a smile on his face throughout the cruise as did the entire crew and staff. I specifically recall looking through the glass windows into the kitchen while dining at the Chef’s Table to see how the staff acted when they were “backstage.” They were always smiling and interacting with each other in a friendly manner although as you can imagine it is a frantic pace in such a small space.
At another point in our Chef’s Table meal, several of us noticed a worker surrounded by a couple of other workers who were spraying him with whipped cream and water. Executive Chef Bert also noticed and explained this was an instance where a crew member was returning home after completing their contract and other staff members were helping him celebrate.
Frankly, I am always interested in how the staff is treated-on ship by management and ownership. JB told me how on other high-end ships he would struggle to stay in touch with his family. In some ports, he and other crew members would scramble off the ship when in a port to find free internet or to buy a phone card so they could contact their families back home. In his case, it twelve-hour time difference to the Philippines.
JB went on to tell me how on Scenic they provide FREE video messaging to the entire crew so they can remain in contact with their families. JB literally teared up as he told me that thanks to Karen and Glen Moroney he was able to watch his children grow up daily. JB video conferences with them every night around midnight (noon in the Philippines.) He said when Karen was on board he thanked her and actually wanted to hug her for providing this ability to communicate with his family on a daily basis.
I also learned from the Captain that Scenic has a late movie night once a month for the crew in the main theater, so they get to enjoy those comfortable seats like the passengers. It is no wonder that Scenic staff members are happy. They have owners and management that care about their well-being. As the saying goes…. “Take care of your staff and they will take care of you and your customers.”
We also interacted frequently with a waiter named Don as he seemed to be everywhere. Don waited on us at various times in Elements, the Yacht Club and was also walking on the deck taking drinks orders another time. Don also appreciates Scenic providing the ability to remain in touch regularly with his family. One evening he showed us a tattoo he had of his daughter on one of his arms. I took a picture of it as it is one of the most realistic portrait tattoos I have ever seen. Don always had a smile and a friendly greeting for us.
As we are all aware there are no unimportant jobs on a ship from the engine room to the bridge. I am appreciative of each of the multitude of staff members on board who worked hard to ensure we had a memorable cruise.
This is certainly one of the main reasons for cruising on the Scenic Eclipse. Since this could be an incredibly lengthy section, I will try to hit a few highlights.
During the course of the nine days, I met almost the entire staff and can say they are dedicated, knowledgeable and passionate about their fields of expertise. Many of them were as excited as some of the passengers to be working on a variety of excursions and activities.
There were approximately twenty persons on the Discovery Team during our cruise on the Eclipse. The personnel changes depending on the area where the ship is cruising and how long they have been on board without a break.
Scenic also allows passengers to express interest each evening if they would like to dine with a member of the Discovery Team. This is a terrific program and I recommend taking advantage of it.
In addition to handling the actual excursions, many members of the Discovery Team also provide incredibly interesting lectures. Some are to prepare you for an area you are going to visit, and other lectures review an excursion you have experienced.
One day we went snorkeling with the Discovery Team, did a helicopter flight with Josh as our pilot over the San Blas Archipelago and then snorkeled with Kevin and Sarah to one of the remote islands of San Blas. The next day we experienced the eleven-hour transit through the Panama Canal with great commentary. On day three Lou and Peter led our group to visit the Embera tribe members in the Darien National Park. The following day Jorge helped lead a small group of truly adventurous passengers on a strenuous hike through thick jungle vegetation and considerable time walking in streams in a rain forest at Utria National Park. It rained almost the entire hike. Obviously, this is why they call it a “RAIN” forest. However, the tree canopy actually mitigated some of the heavy rains. On our second sea day, the Scenic staff arranged for a fun ceremony commemorating our crossing of the Equator. In Salaverry, we chose the excursion to Chan Can and Huenchco with Peter and Susan. The following day we were on a Zodiac excursion with Kevin and Pepe.
One of the highlights of the cruise was the Scenic Enrichment event with a private exhibition of Peruvian Paso Horses along with some local dancers. After the show, they allowed plenty of time for passengers to spend time with the horses, riders, and dancers. Having traveled on two Scenic river cruises we knew this would be a special event in which Scenic pulls out all the stops to provide a memorable interactive experience. It was held on the grounds on a five-star Wyndham hotel in Salaverry, Peru and the hotel staff was outstanding as were the performers.
Once again Scenic exceeded our expectations. There were multiple rounds of drinks and hors d'oeuvres served by an attentive staff. Since my wife has a gluten allergy, she had to decline the hors d'oeuvres since it was obvious, they all contain wheat. This was certainly not an issue as it is what we would expect at an event arranged through a third party, so we know to bring Gluten Free snacks with us on our travels. Imagine my wife’s surprise when a waiter approached with a large plate filled with a variety of Gluten-Free hors d'oeuvres they had prepared especially for her. We have no idea who thought to make this arrangement but we both want to say a big a “THANK YOU.”
The discovery team includes a historian, naturalist, geologist, ornithologist, etc. who made a wide variety of presentations in the theater. I will admit I was surprised there was not better attendance as all of the presentations were educational and interesting.
FYI: I do want to point out you will more than likely only have one opportunity to view these presentations in the theater or live on your TV so plan accordingly. Due to copyright issues, Scenic is not allowed to record and play them back later on your in-room TV.
HELICOPTER and SUBMERSIBLE:
Much marketing by Scenic has gone into highlighting and heavily promoting the helicopter and submersible. Sadly, it was probably the source of the highest level of unhappiness from those passengers who never had the opportunity to partake in these experiences.
First of all, it is apparent that the ability to get to experience one of these is based on a combination of “RHIP” and “luck.”
RHIP - As my dad told me as a kid when I was unable to do something that other people were experiencing, he would remind me that “Rank Has Its Privileges.”
The reality is that those passengers in the more expensive suites on Decks Eight and Nine on the Eclipse are given top priority as were those who have traveled extensively with Scenic in the past and are in the upper levels of the scenic loyalty program. My understanding is that “THE LIST” for the submersible comes from the home office in Australia.
As much as I loved the Eclipse and the overall experience; not getting on “THE LIST” to experience the submersible (if it had operated) was a major disappointment. It is particularly disappointing as my wife and I have two more expensive cruises of 9-11 days booked to the Norwegian Fjords and Antarctica where we intentionally booked mid-ship on the lowest level (deck five) to help with seasickness in the Drake Strait. Therefore, I will probably never be allowed by ownership/management to get on the submersible since RHIP will come into play and I will be the proverbial low person on the totem pole.
I probably would not have spent the considerable money on three cruises in eighteen months if I had realized I would probably never have an opportunity to go on the submersible.
Obviously, there is a better opportunity to get on the helicopter as it has more capacity due to the faster turnaround. On our cruise, Scenic was only utilizing one of their two helicopters. This was partly due to demand and also they are still getting familiar with the process of bringing a helicopter out of the hanger, installing the blades, going through the pre-flight checklist, etc. Our pilot Josh mentioned it currently takes about one hour for this process. In the future, they plan to get this time down to about thirty minutes which will allow them to use both helicopters since there is only one landing area and they will have to precisely alternate their takeoffs and landings.
NOTE: I do want to mention that there are also two factors out of the control of Scenic that further diminish your chances to have an opportunity to take part in the highly promoted helicopter and submersible experiences. Those two factors are WEATHER and PERMITTING.
WEATHER - Naturally safety must come first, and the helicopters cannot fly in situations that could potentially endanger the safety of pilots and passengers. High winds and rough seas are two of the primary factors.
In one case we were docked in Slaverry and high winds were coming from the wrong direction for the helicopters to take off into the wind to obtain proper lift. When the Eclipse is anchored the captain can often change the ship’s position to allow the helicopters to have proper wind direction. However, understand that can also impact the comfort of the passengers who are onboard the ship so it is a balancing act. Furthermore, in that in the case where the wind was a factor, the Eclipse was unfortunately docked next to a freighter that was actively loading coal with cranes that were constantly moving. Having a crane hit you helicopter while taking off or landing is naturally a “no go.”
On another day the waves were moving up to four feet in a matter of seconds. This would definitely have had a negative impact on safe landings.
PERMITTING - Receiving the appropriate written authorizations in various countries is definitely an issue when it comes to operating the submersible. Due to the Jones Act, the United States would not allow the Scenic submersible to be used in US waters. In other countries, Scenic has literally been working on authorizations for up to two and a half years. Sometimes these approvals are granted at the last moment. In other cases, highs seas can naturally cause cancellations.
MY OPINION: Based on feedback from many passengers this cruise segment, Scenic needs to do a MUCH better job of explaining RHIP (aka “THE LIST”), weather, and permitting before they take non-refundable deposits from customers. This would not completely cut down on disappointment and outright unhappiness but it could help mitigate it.
At his point, Scenic is promoting experiences (especially relating to the submersible) in its advertising, marketing, and new releases that it simply can’t live up to given the reasons I have enumerated.
I had several passengers tell me that they felt there were not enough activities: especially on seas days. This is one of the circumstances where your reality is based on your own personal expectations.
Below is my personal schedule from our first full day on the cruise:
7 – 8 a.m. - Yoga
8 - 9 a.m. - Breakfast
9 – 10 a.m. - Snorkeling and kayak briefing
10:30 a.m. Zodiac to a small San Blas Islands at 10:30 am.
11 a.m. - Snorkeling
11:30 a.m. - Zodiac back to the ship
12:10 p.m. - Helicopter safety briefing in Discovery Room
12:30 p.m. - Helicopter excursion over the reefs of San Blas Isles
1 p.m. - Zodiacs to San Blas islands for a two-hour kayaking adventure
3 p.m. – Zodiac back to ship
3:15 p.m. - Briefing on Panama Canal history by Discovery Team
4:30 p.m. - The geological history of the Panama Canal at 4:30 pm.
5:30 p.m. - Recap of today’s events and a preview of tomorrow’s schedule
6:45 p.m. - Captain’s cocktail reception
7:30 – 9:30 p.m. - Dinner
9:30 – 10:30 p.m. - Halloween dance
Yes, we missed lunch. Sacrifices had to be made as we felt there was too much to see and do. However, it is possible we slightly over-scheduled ourselves. (LOL)
WE REALIZED WE MIGHT NEED A VACATION TO RECOVER FROM THIS ADVENTURE DISCOVERY CRUISE IF WE CONTINUED AT THIS PACE!!!
We told ourselves we could rest during our two back to back sea days.
MY ACTUAL PERSONAL SCHEDULE FOR MY FIRST SEA DAY:
45 minutes for Yoga
45 minutes on a treadmill
60 minutes enrichment lecture on volcanoes
45 minutes for a champagne brunch buffet
60 minutes enrichment lecture on sugarcane & slavery
30 minutes mixology class on World of Martinis (Yes there was sampling)
30 minutes for a trivia contest
45 minutes for indoor pool and lounger
60 minutes enrichment lecture on Marooned Mariners
20 minutes live music
45 minutes recap with the following:
Biologist, geologist, naturalist, ornithologist, historian, etc. Plus, updates from our expedition team
60 minutes for dinner
10 minutes for after-dinner drinks
45 minutes to enjoy an evening of classical songs by Grace
I included the two schedules to further reinforce that your experience on a cruise is often based on your own desire to participate. Conversely, some passengers understandably prefer to relax and maintain a slower more low key schedule. This is part of the beauty of cruising.
A UNIQUE GIFT FROM SCENIC:
On the last night of the cruise, Scenic held an event titled: Final Recap and your Voyage Video. During the entire cruise, Scenic had arranged for a videographer named Niko to capture the highlights of our cruise and various excursions. Niko is an amazing videographer and a talented editor. Niko was literally working on this video until minutes prior to the presentation in order to include scenes from the excursions earlier in the day.
The best part was being told that every passenger would be sent a link in the coming weeks to view, share, and download this video. I want to thank Scenic for this unexpected gift.
My wife and I rarely purchase souvenirs and as we have lost two houses and most of our possessions due to fire and tornado in the past. On this trip, we only bought a Panama hat for my wife to wear on a couple of shore excursions and a box of Gluten Free corn flakes that are not available in the United States. Therefore, we concentrate on collecting memories. We want to thank Scenic for this unexpected gift that will allow us to preserve memories of this amazing cruise. Read Less