Hotel/Embarkation: We flew into FLL the night prior and stayed at the LaQuinta FT Lauderdale Airport. Very clean, friendly staff, super cheap. Steve from SAS picked us up at 11:00 Saturday morning and we were on our way. We arrived at the terminal right at noon, entered the terminal...and stopped. Almost 3 hours later we were on board. I know that arriving at noon was going to put us right into the thick of things, but wasn't expecting it to be quite this long. Online registration/check in seemed to have been an exercise in time wasted, as we had to fill in the same information all over again in the terminal. Finally just before 3 we were on board with our champagne, and headed directly to our stateroom.
Stateroom: Our home for the week was AQ1551, port side, next to one of the bubble cabins. Very convenient to the elevators and spa. Cabin and bathroom were both big, with plenty of room for us and our belongings. Limited drawer space, but the overhead cabinets above the bed made for plenty of storage. Balcony was nicely sized with two chairs/footstools, and a table. This cabin was of the bed-near-the-door configuration. Flat Screen TV was on a swing arm which allowed us to watch free movies in bed -- a luxury! Our cabin attendant was generally absent -- and not in the good 'the cabin fairies visited while we were gone!" way, but rather in the "strange that he never introduced himself, cannot be found for ice, doesn't seem to pick up consistently, and leaves odd notes" way. Housekeeping was really the only service quibble we had, and we weren't going to let it ruin our trip.
Public Rooms: The last email I sent before shutting off my phone in Miami was "this ship is gorgeous!" and I still felt that way a week later when we left. From the art to the furnishings you could see how much thought was put into every detail in every space, making everything comfortable and elegant. All areas were always clean, including the public bathrooms which were lovely and well-used. We were sailing full and rarely saw passenger logjams -- the flow seemed to be working.
Dining: Its been a very long time since I last sailed Celebrity, but the food and service were every bit as good as I remembered. We had a bit of a service misstep Saturday night in Blu, had a quick conversation with Adrian & Akar, the wonderful Maitre D' and Assistant, and were nothing short of amazed every meal thereafter. The food was lovely, with a decent variety of choices. The portions were just right, and never left us stuffed or hungry, and the presentations were very nice too. But the true star of Blu was the staff. Everyone from the Maitre D's to the waiters and assistant waiters operated like one big family, and welcomed us into their dining room every night. They were warm and friendly, and maintained just the right balance of formality and friendliness to make sure meals were elegant without being stuffy. Luana, Musfiin, and Danny were among some of the best I've ever had, and nothing was ever too strange or inconvenient for them. Dinner at Blu was the highlight of many days, and we never left the dining room without a good meal, some good laughs, and good company.
We had dinner at QSine one night, and actually found ourselves missing Blu. The food and the presentations were really remarkable and innovative, and the service was perfectly adequate -- but it just wasn't what we'd been spoiled by across the hall.
The buffet (Oceanview Cafe) was always well stocked and manned, with a wide variety of foods. Soup, salad, pizza, pasta, Indian, Mexican, breads, stir fry...a little something for everyone. The food was always tasty and hot. Finding seating in the buffet was a problem sometimes, as folks tended to linger. If you head aft outside, there are usually a few tables near the Oceanview Bar. We ate breakfast here most days, and really enjoyed the omelets and waffles.
Room service was hit & miss. Some of it was quite good, some was just okay. Sometimes we'd get all the necessary items, sometimes we'd get no silverware. It always came pretty quickly, even late at night.
We did have lunch in Bistro on 5 one day, for the $5 surcharge. I very much enjoyed this, and was surprised to see the restaurant always empty.
Activities/Entertainment: We did not participate in many of the activities, but the Cruise Director's staff was always around and working hard. We attended the first night show, the last day cooking competition, late night comedy, and the Liar's Club. All were adequate and about what we'd expect -- nothing really outstanding, but plenty enjoyable. We did spend a bit of time in the casino each day, which was quite good to me, and not so good to my fiance. We did pop in briefly on the Thanksgiving football and tailgate party and thought it was a nice idea, and well executed. I watched the Officers vs Passengers pool volleyball tournament, and was very amused.
Bar service: We vacillated a lot over whether to purchase the bar packages, and in the end we did not. I still believe this was the right choice for us, as neither of us drank anywhere near the daily charge, but I have to admit being a little jealous at the convenience I saw other folks experiencing. We did have one soda package, and I never experienced any weirdness on the part of the crew when using it. Starting Sunday we fell into an easy routine of stopping by the Molecular Bar on the way to dinner, and spent an always enjoyable hour with Thomas every day. This is a man who takes his craft and his cocktails very seriously, but is charming, funny, and engaging. We eventually drank our way through the cocktail menu, and enjoyed each one. I was even the recipient of a custom cocktail one evening, complete with a peanut butter cookie to compliment it.
Ports: We visited San Juan, St Maarten, and St Kitts. At San Juan and St Maarten we just wandered around a bit and did some snacking and shopping. In St Kitts we took a ship-sponsored excursion to Caribbean Cooks, a cooking school run by two sisters who used to live in Northern Virginia. We spent a delightful afternoon with them, full of good stories and good cooking. In the end we ended up with 6-7 dishes and a book of recipes used in class. Not your typical city tour or beach excursion, but I'd highly recommend this one for anyone looking to do something a little different.
Disembarkation: A world of difference from embarkation. Much more organized and orderly. We had been assigned a 9:15 disembarkation, but things were moving so quickly that we were off the ship closer to 8:30, and by 9:15 we were back in our SAS shuttle en route to FLL.
Overall: Eclipse is a beautiful ship with a wonderful crew upholding the Celebrity standard of service. While there were a few wrinkles to work out, I'm confident that they're a function of newness, and that they'll be sailing near-perfection in no time at all. If you have the ability and means to sail AQ, go for it! Blu, the daily iced tea and bottle water, the ultra fancy shower, and access to the Persian Gardens are all worth it.
Big cabin, big bathroom, a little crew space noise from across the hall. Balcony big enough for loungers. Location is great for elevators, spa access, and solarium. Surprisingly little noise from solarium and Aqua Spa Cafe immediately above.