I wanted to get an in depth visit to Japan and circumnavigate the country. While Japan did not disappoint, I question the choice of doing it on Scenic. We have had a fair amount of experience of luxury cruises on Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and Silversea. A real eye opener was realizing after a day or two that this would be more like a riverboat cruise than an ocean voyage. Scenic Eclipse is a beautiful ship and is billed as a discovery yacht. I think this is a good description, but it missed the mark completely as a expedition light voyage (I knew there would be little for the submersible but thought perhaps the helicopter and kayaks might be usable). During our intro presentation to our Discovery team, it was announced that we would only have the team leader, one helper/speaker and a videographer. All the expedition team, sub pilots and helicopter pilots were sent home. That was a bit of a shock and made me think that if this had been a top restaurant and the executive chef said we've sent all our sous-chefs home and will provide you with box lunches instead, I'd be equally as surprised and wondering why I came here, I could have just gone to a chain restaurant to satisfy my hunger. That being said, I focused on the original purpose of this trip, to really see Japan in depth (we were also staying on for the next segment (see that review).
Fortunately, the land tours organized by Scenic's land partner were top notch and we really enjoyed every one of them except for some weather-related issues which were just bad luck at this time of year. Trying to put our comparisons to our previous cruise experiences aside, I imagined what this trip would be like on a yacht. There it had similarities. On a yacht one tends to have to bring your friends and family and one’s expectations are more about getting to where you want to go, the food and drink and how nice your cabin is. Well Scenic Eclipse comes very close to providing a yachting experience on a grand scale. Our cabin was very stylish and initially made a good impression. The balcony was bigger than what we normally get on other ships in a standard suite, and while the bathroom and closet space was minimal, it was adequate for this trip. What was annoying, as the days passed and the initial wow faded, is that many design elements were impractical for living on board. Everyone we spoke to agreed that the flat sinks with no storage space were a pain to use and really only should be in a museum. The TV in a mirror is OK as long as you look at it in the dark and from the couch. Daytime use of watching when in bed is a challenge since you have to strain your neck. TV selection is pretty limited and Scenic on demand is almost nonexistent (but it would probably be that way on a superyacht too - fairs, fair). Our veranda was comfortable with enough room to dine but unfortunately, we were reminded of the harsh environment this ship is in by seeing some black peeling paint square in the middle of our line of sight. I was surprised since this is a rather new ship, but I don’t recall hearing about any dry docks so perhaps that’s overdue.
The experience on board was mixed. I can say without exception that everyone we met from the cleaning crew all the way to the Captain were all trying their very best to make things work as well as they could but the overall feeling was of a team that didn’t know how to be a team, a lack of good direction and coordination and unfortunately I couldn’t help but get a feeling of chaos and one hand not knowing what the other was doing. I was aware that many of the original crew had moved to the sister ship, but I felt that almost every crew member was a newbie. They were all trying so hard, but it was like they were thrown in at the deep end without any coach around to help. In my experience with other ships, I’ve learned that the Captain is at the top but primarily deals with the safety and navigating the ship to its destinations and it is the Hotel Director who is as senior but is focused on what happens on board with passengers and crew. My conclusion is that the ultimate blame of this less than optimal experience onboard primarily with the Scenic head office for poor planning on this itinerary and the Hotel Manager who really was not making sure each department knew the big picture and not to just focus on their little specialties. It pains me to be so critical but Scenic does have the possibility of fixing all this if they choose to.