This is a very hard review to write, because the ship has been designed to be to many things that are so different, which is difficult to achieve. The design has certainly tried to incorporate a high degree of luxury and speciality gourmet dinning venues in an expedition vessel with many unique features.
So from my point of view, I really have to review it on the basis that it is an expedition ship or discovery yacht (as Scenic like to call it) with the ability to view the landscape and nature from the ship as well as from the air and below the surface of the water.
It was for these features and the region it was to travel that I chose this cruise, even long before building of the ship had even started.
The ship certainly looks the part from the outside with modern lines and a purposeful structure. However on in the inside the design deficiencies of trying to be too many things, become much more apparent. It seems as though there has been too much effort put into making it modern and futuristic with little or no thought into making it practical or functional.
The Eclipse is a paperless ship, so there is an overuse of electronics which as we all know do not always work as they should and in many instances are confusing or complicated to operate. And when they go wrong, no manual or conventional system is able to take it place.
From a safety point of view the hand rails which are square in profile have sharp edges and corners as do many handles, taps and tables. These may be in fashion at the moment and look good, but can catch you or your clothing which may be dangerous on a moving ship.
The dark colours which prevail throughout the ship together with mirrored surfaces everywhere are not conducive to an older generation of passengers, which I would assume will be a large part of the Eclipse future income.
Most modern expedition ships have forward and aft lifts or stairs, the Eclipse only has only has one set which are situated more towards the stern of the ship. This means easy access to the outer decks is very limiting and certainly can take a lot longer.
It is important on a true expedition cruise, to have quick and easy access to outer decks and indoor observation areas to view nature and wildlife as soon as possible after sighting. Unfortunately the observation lounge has very limited forward vision but at least allows good access to the large outer bow deck. Also this lounge only has self-serve tea and coffee and no bar, while the restrooms are along way a way at the stern.
The outside observation deck is good for viewing nature and wild life but deck 10 which is all outside, is a really good area for viewing as it give a 360 degree view. Mind you a part of this deck is set aside for smoking. This deck like most deck has a very large protruding roof structure which is a benefit in raining conditions but can be a hindrance to viewing birds and mountains from certain areas such as the observation lounge.
The main lounge is very open with the reception at one end and the main bar at the other which makes it very open and probably less personal. The seating layout and design does not help in making the area as friendly as other expedition ships.
Dinning venues are generally good but all with limited seating. There is no buffet option for dinner which is not ideal for a true expedition ship either. Some passengers just want a quick meal and get to bed early after a long days adventure.
The main theatre is round and has very comfortable seating, unfortunately a couple of large pillars block vision from some of the seats. With a full complement of passengers the theatre would be very hard pressed to fit them all in, which will be a problem sometimes.
The use of plain dark carpet in areas of the ship was probably not a good decision, as it almost always looked dirty as did some of the dark glass tables.
Suites are generally dark and bland with reflective surfaces everywhere. Almost no warmth has been added. Our suite had one blueish toned painting, which only made the room feel even colder.
Although the TV is very modern, it was set behind glass which meant you could not view it from any reasonable angle, even in bed, because of reflections. If you sat directly in front of the TV for viewing, you had the pleasure of seeing yourself reflected in the glass. As well the TV menu and remote control was more confusing than normal, and very slow to respond to button control, quite frustrating in fact.
The cabin itself has a very thin curtain to the balcony and an electronic blind which lowers to darken the room at night. The problem with this setup is that, not only was it noisy to operate but also if you wanted to look out at night while your partner slept, the noise and possible additional night would wake them up anyway.
The suite we were in was a deluxe verandah which was good in size but had limited drawer and wardrobe space. The wardrobe doors block access in and out of the bathroom when opened and there are no additional hooks in the suite to hang expedition clothing such as hats or jackets.
Suite bathrooms do not have a conventional hand basin. Instead they have a sloping flat surface to take water away, so there is no plug. This not only means it cannot be used for washing personal clothing but the design also tend to splash much more water everywhere, including over oneself. As mentioned before, handles are square and on the shower door they are really sharp, certainly an accident waiting to happen.
The bed was very comfortable and the air conditioning, which covers a good temperature range, is effective and easy to adjust.
The internet throughout the ship is generally very good and seems to have a higher capacity with less dropouts than other ships we have travelled on.
Staff to passenger ratio is very favourable, however it is my understanding that staff quarters have been built to the very minimum standard, which is small. Only time will tell if that is the case, and that will be through staff turnover. I know a number of staff left the ship in Quebec.
The ship itself is very smooth and relative quite. It certainly handles rougher conditions better than most other expedition ships and its dynamic positioning system is brilliant. This system means it does not have to drop anchor but can stay in the one position with almost no movement. However the side thrusters, which keep the ship in position, do create some problems for zodiac drivers as they approach the ship.
The idea of having helicopters and a submarine to enhance the experience is certainly very appealing and the experience is certainly worth while.
Unfortunately there will be many instances where they will be unable to be used due to local restrictions or weather conditions. With passenger expectations high for these experiences, the Eclipse could have some very unhappy customers at times.
Local restrictions may become a bigger issue in certain regions in the future for both the helicopters and submarine.
In summary the ship itself is very good but it certainly could have been better, in fact world class, had there been much more functionality designed into its main purpose, which I assume is a discovery yacht.
Although I did not chose to sail on a maiden voyage, unfortunately that is the way it turned out.
So how did this inaugural voyage from Reykjavik to Quebec, on the Scenic Eclipse go.
It certainly did not start well. Three days prior departure we were advised that boarding the time would be delayed by three hours from midday. Instead a room at a local hotel near the port was made available for meeting, and a light lunch was provided. We all waited until around 3pm the revised boarding time, when we were advised that boarding would not take place for another 24 hours. Scenic staff then spent several hours arranging accommodation at various hotels all around Reykjavik. The whole process was handled so badly that passengers became extremely unhappy. Scenic also offered us to board the ship for drinks that evening. Many passengers took up the opportunity to view the ship, which may have been a mistake as we were able to see just how unready the ship really was for the cruise.
To fill in the following day Scenic offered a full day, which turned out to be very good. After the tour we did board the ship, and saw just how tired and wore out the staff really were from preparing the ship for us to board. They must have worked day and night without much sleep, never-the-less to their credit they still had a smile for some very unhappy passengers.
Realistically the ship was several weeks from being ready for sailing with passengers.
To highlight how unprepared they were for passengers at the safety drill there was no check list to make sure everyone attended and when they did try to do a roll call too many were not present so they gave up and said it was all over.
During the first few days there were many issues, certainly far to many to mention here, but overtime everything started to improve and by the time we reached Canada things were running quite smoothly and everyone seemed to be enjoy the cruise even with issues remaining.
Food quality varied from average all the way up to exceptional.
Hotel staff were friendly and generally good to excellent while the expedition staff were very competent and did a great job in making the experience more enjoyable.
Over time I’m sure the ship will become a top quality product, but its design issues will remain, which is ashame.