Celebrity Eclipse, the third of five vessels in the fleet's Solstice class, is one of the most beautiful big cruise ships on which we've traveled. Its interiors blend sophistication with a bit of whimsy, giving the ship a feeling that it's a cross between the trendy W Hotel chain, but with softer edges.
Always a line that has emphasized quality dining, Celebrity has upped the ante with Celebrity Eclipse, making some tweaks from the original Solstice that work beautifully. In particular, the concept of the playful Qsine, which debuted on this ship and has since been expanded to others in the fleet, is a stand-out, but so too is the Tuscan Grill Steakhouse for hearty fare.
The best part of Eclipse -- as on other Solstice-class ships -- is the Lawn Club, a grassy expanse on a top deck aft, where you can play bocce or miniature golf, enjoy jazz at night under a starry sky, or simply lounge on grass so soft it's more comfortable than a poolside deck chair. On one afternoon visit, we grabbed a seat and watched as a bartender from the adjacent aft bar tried to entice a visiting bird with a piece of bread. It was a little thing, but cruise ships typically don't incorporate nature into onboard features (on most vessels even the plants are fake), and for a brief moment we felt as if we were in a lush garden.
If at times the warmth and character of Eclipse and its excellent crew lent the experience a luxurious overtone, it's important to note as well that Celebrity is still a mass-market cruise line. The rampant upselling and fee surcharges were a bit of a turnoff, particularly given that the quality of dining in the fee-free restaurants was often significantly less than those with extra charges. Also, the spa felt more like a bustling train station than a serene retreat, and on sea days, the pool deck, beautiful as it is, could feel crowded and chaotic. But none of these downsides is enough to deter us from taking another cruise on this magnificent ship.
The Grand Foyer, which spans Decks 3, 4 and 5, is one of the most gorgeous atriums at sea.
The slogan for the ship is "food is at the aft end; entertainment is up front; money is in the middle." To that end, the restaurants are clustered aft of the atrium, and the Eclipse Theatre (main show lounge) is fully forward. Between the main atrium and the theater is a mini-atrium, anchored at Deck 4's "Entertainment Court," the nexus for nighttime entertainment. Amidships, in between the dining and entertainment venues, are the casino, reception and a mind-boggling 19 boutiques and shops that are part of the Shops on the Boulevard complex, covering every genre and price point. Show us the money!
In another cluster, various landings for the main atrium's elevators have been expanded to accommodate the card room, library, a museum-like interactive environmental awareness experience called "Team Earth," and a fantastic Internet cafe called Celebrity iLounge, which is a multipurpose room operated in partnership with Apple. The computers are Macs, of course, and there are numerous courses on computer-related topics. There's also a retail store which is beautifully presented (and quite helpful if you, like me, forgot to bring your Mac computer's power cord!).
The 24-hour library is spectacular, spanning two decks, with towering bookshelves extending the full height of the room.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Spa services are conducted by Elemis, Ltd. (a division of Steiner) and include a dizzying array of spa treatments like a variety of massage offerings from sports to New Age and everything in between. A standard 50-minute massage is $110, excluding bells, whistles and hot stones. As with all of the cruise-ship spas operated by Elemis, quality and experience of therapists is a bit hit-and-miss; our Swedish massage was bone-crunchingly hard, and we had to tell the practitioner to lighten up a number of times. (She ultimately apologized, saying "I don't know my own strength," which seemed odd coming from a massage professional.)
Elemis also offers teeth-whitening and acupuncture. Beware of Steiner's traditional after-treatment product sales pitch. (Feel free to just say no.)
The Persian Garden, a Millennium-class idea expanded to Eclipse and its siblings, is central to Celebrity's AquaSpa concept. The area includes a coed sauna and steam room, tropical rain shower and heated oceanview relaxation chairs. The facility is available for free to AquaClass passengers and for $99 to all other passengers (based on a one-week cruise). AquaSpa pools include a circular spa pool, a swim pool and two whirlpools in the absolutely gorgeous Solarium.
Though the AquaSpa pools are closed to children, the main pool area does include a family pool (shallow for youngsters), separated narrowly from the "Sports Pool" on one side and the "Wet Zone" on the other. The Wet Zone is a flat area with vertical fountain jets that fire at random; it's great fun for kids to play in or for anyone wishing for a quick cooldown. Together these three form Eclipse's main pool area, accompanied by four hot tubs.
A fully stocked and staffed gym sports all the newest fitness machines, as well as a serpentine jogging track (eight laps to the mile). Classes in yoga, aerobics and the like cost $11 per class. The nicest recreational area is the Lawn Club, and though Celebrity is careful to avoid excess wear and tear on the living grass, the ship's own backyard does feature a bocce court and a three-hole putting course. At the forward end of the ship, on Deck 15, is a basketball court.
Eclipse juxtaposes bright sunlit colors, windows and skylights above with warm browns, tans, golds and reds in the carpets, furniture and wood trim below to warm up what might have otherwise been a stark decor. This stylistic stamp is most evident in the ship's cabins. Our comfortable 194-square-foot Deluxe Veranda cabin was carpeted in red and gold, with blond teak and walnut paneling and furniture. The couch and chairs were upholstered in cream leather, and the desk-cum-makeup table was topped with beige speckled marble. The balcony was, at 54 square feet, too small for anything more elaborate than sunbathing on one of the two webbed chaises or watching the scenery. Between the two lounges was a teak-topped pedestal table.
Our bathroom was a pleasant surprise. Specifically, we liked the curved acrylic shower door (in lieu of the oft-maligned shower curtain) and the spaciousness and contemporary styling of the room in general. The quality ceramic tiles in varying shades of light brown gave the impression that the bathroom was custom-decorated, rather than prefab, as it no doubt was. Our only real beef: a wall-mounted shaving or makeup mirror would have been nice, and the quality of the bath tissue, which was single ply and rough to the touch, was poor. Bath products all come from the Elemis line, in keeping with modern "product placement" marketing. (Elemis is the spa operator for the ship.)
We give Eclipse high marks for storage space. The cabins come with many nooks, crannies and cubbies to store stuff, in addition to the normal closet shelves and hanger bars. Other amenities are typical: robes, safes and refrigerators/mini-bars. Even in a stateroom studded with high-tech electronics, the mini-bar accounting is handled by ticking off items on a usage list (thankfully), rather than by one of those automatic refrigerator sensor thingies.
The centerpiece of this room -- as well as those in all other categories -- is the large, LCD flat-screen television interfaced with a Mac mini-computer, through which passengers can book reservations, services and excursions; examine their accounts; check menus; and watch on-demand entertainment. The channel lineup includes everything from cartoons and classic TV to free movies (offered in two languages); a CBS sampler ("Eye on Celebrity"); cable travel, sports and news channels; ship information channels and multi-genre music channels. For those who left their laptops at home and still wish to access the Internet in-suite, they can do so using their stateroom's combination full keyboard and remote control. However, we found the system to be slow, clumsy and difficult to use, so if surfing the Web in your stateroom is a priority, bringing your own laptop still makes sense. As one might expect, the larger the cabin, the larger the screen. The minimum is 32 inches, increasing to 52 inches for the largest suites.
At the minimum end, basic inside cabins measure from 183 to 200 square feet and represent 10 percent of inventory. Of the 1,279 cabins with ocean views (including suites), 1,205 have balconies -- a whopping 85 percent of all cabins. At the opposite extreme are the two Penthouse Suites, measuring 1,291 square feet with 389-square-foot balconies. These cabins offer floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors, separate living room/dining rooms, baby grand pianos, full bars, sofa queen sleepers, two 52-inch LCD TV's (the one in the living room has surround sound), full passenger baths, and master baths with a whirlpool tubs, shower stalls with dual shower heads, double washbasins and even 26-inch LCD TV's. The verandah has a second whirlpool and lounge seating. The 44 Sky Suites represent the bulk of the suite cabins. They each measure 300 square feet with a 79-square-foot verandah accessed through floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors and have two beds convertible to queen-size. Bathrooms come with a shower/tub combination and washbasin. Each living room has a sofa queen sleeper, vanity and 40-inch LCD TV.
Eclipse's 130 AquaClass staterooms have identical footprints to those of the Concierge, Sunset Veranda and Deluxe Ocean View staterooms (192 square feet/53-square-foot verandah). The difference is in privileges and amenities. Located on Deck 11 near the AquaSpa, these cabins include an expanded assemblage of spa-oriented cosmetics, gels and bath amenities; upgraded linens, including a selection from the "pillow menu"; Frette robes and slippers; complimentary bottled water; a daily carafe of flavor-infused iced tea; canapes; and access to an exclusive room service menu of salads, whole grains and healthy dining choices.
The bathroom features a five-head Hansgrohe invigorating "shower tower." As mentioned earlier, AquaClass passengers have their own specialty restaurant, Blu, as well as complimentary use of the AquaSpa Relaxation Room and Persian Garden (see Spa & Fitness), a value of about $100 per passenger based on a seven-night cruise. Lastly, a "spa concierge" is available to assist in booking treatments, providing product information and offering recommendations from the wellness library.
Though there is no onboard concierge (other than the spa concierge), passengers in ConciergeClass staterooms may avail themselves of concierge-type services (such as restaurant and private car reservations ashore) from the Passenger Relations department. This category has other perks: a full breakfast room service menu, nightly canapes and complimentary welcome aboard Champagne. Other Concierge Class upgrades are similar to aspects of AquaClass cabins: Egyptian-cotton oversized bath towels, Hansgrohe massaging showerhead and Frette robes. Shoeshine service is complimentary, as is use of a golf umbrella and binoculars. Priority treatment takes the form of priority check-in, luggage delivery, embarkation and debarkation. In 2012, Celebrity expanded the ConciergeClass services to include an exclusive pre-departure lounge with free coffee and juices.
Families can take advantage of 121 connecting staterooms and four Family Ocean View Staterooms with verandahs. These rooms measure a massive 575 square feet with one master bedroom, plus a second bedroom (with a single twin bed) and sitting area with a sofa (convertible to trundle bed).
Eclipse has 30 state-of-the-art wheelchair-accessible staterooms, covering a wide range of categories from Inside to Sky Suite. Eighty percent (24) are outside, and 20 of the 30 accessible cabins have accessible balconies. All accessible staterooms have additional square footage over their non-accessible counterparts and have 32-inch-wide automatic doors with sitting-level key card slots. Most accessible staterooms feature five-foot turning radii. Bathrooms have roll-in showers, ramped thresholds and lowered fixtures. A service animal relief box is available on request.
Suites feature the services of a butler, who will, among other chores, assist in the moving of heavy luggage, as well as packing and unpacking.
Celebrity Cruises is increasing its suggested gratuity by 50 cents per passenger/per day beginning on all bookings made on or after April 29 for all cruises that begin on or after the same day. The new suggested gratuity will be $12.00 per person/per day, if you're in a standard cabin; $12.50 per person/per day, if you're in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $15.50 per person/per day, for passengers in suites.
The forward area, including the basketball court on Deck 15, is ground-zero for kids aboard Eclipse. The court is sandwiched between the two dedicated kids' areas: X-Club (for kids ages 12 to 17) on the port side and Fun Factory (for 3- to 11-year-olds) on the starboard side. The rooms are of about equal dimensions and are stocked to the rafters with age-appropriate gear. The teen area also features a soft drink "bar" with a popcorn machine. Also clustered with the kids' clubs is the video arcade. In addition to that room's complement of the latest bleep, beep and zap machines, kids also have access to Wii consoles and foosball and air-hockey tables.
The well-staffed youth program includes organized activities for five age groups, as follows:
Shipmates, ages 3 to 5, and Cadets, ages 6 to 8, offer dinosaur hunts, SpongeBob trivia, face-painting and water games. Ensigns (9 to 11) are engaged in scavenger hunts, pool games, bingo, basketball and game shows. Teens are split up into two groups. Those in the 12 to 14 sector participate in "tweens" activities like pool Olympics, game shows and karaoke, and those in the 15 to 17 group, which has less structured schedules, have a prom party and a "Dancing with the Stars" event.
Designated "Toddler Time" sessions are organized for the younger-than-3 set. Toddlers are permitted in Fun Factory only with parental supervision.
In lieu of group baby-sitting, Eclipse provides lunch, dinner and slumber parties for kids, ages 3 to 11, so parents can lunch, sup and party at night sans kids. These "parties" go for $6 per child, per hour. In-cabin babysitting for children 12 months or older is subject to availability. Fee is $19 per hour for up to three children in the same family.
Family accommodations include four family cabins and 121 connecting cabins, as mentioned above.
The typical Celebrity passenger is mid-50's, traveling as part of a couple, sophisticated and appreciative of the better things in life. The majority are from the United States, but that balance, as well as the ratio of couples to families with kids, may shift between the Caribbean and European seasons.
The two levels of dress on Eclipse are smart casual and formal. Two formal nights take place per seven-night cruise. On smart casual nights, sport shirts and slacks are appropriate for men, while women will be comfortable in skirts or pants and blouses, or casual dresses. On formal nights, both men and women may prefer more dressy attire, such as evening gowns for women and tuxedos or dress suits for men. A large percentage of men do opt for the tuxedo route.
During the day, Celebrity offers a number of choices for enrichment and entertainment. Those who can't bear the thought of disembarking without winning just one more luggage tag can compete in multiple games of trivia, game shows and the ever-popular Celebrity chestnut, "Battle of the Sexes."
Passengers who would like to disembark with a bit more brain power than they came aboard with can attend educational programming that ranges from computer lessons in the Internet cafe to lectures on a range of subjects. These are organized via partnerships with Rosetta Stone (for foreign language classes), Smithsonian Journeys (for erudite speakers at Eclipse's "Beyond the Podium" series) and Apple. On our sailing, the two lecturers were a self-improvement specialist and a real-life crime scene investigator discussing forensic science.
Celebrity Tastings, an annex to the art auction's main gallery, hosted samplings of wine and other libations, such as single malt and Irish whiskies, Port wine and rums. A dedicated wine-tasting venue on Deck 4 called Cellar Masters offers wine-tasting with knowledgeable sommeliers. Also, passengers can conduct do-it-yourself wine tastings 24 hours a day in Cellar Masters by purchasing a "wine card," inserting it in an automatic dispenser for a particular type of wine, and dispensing a measured one, two or four ounces into their glasses. It may be that the lack of bartenders gives Cellar Masters a chilly, soulless feel. (We're not big fans of the automatic dispenser for wine.) But, it was never crowded; in fact, it was often empty.
If you like a convivial bar, the Martini Bar was so much fun that it was a regular stop on our travels, evenings and even afternoons on sea days. Bartenders are inventive and creative and bring a Cirque du Soleil interpretation of cocktail-mixing that's just fabulous.
Arguably, one of the most interesting enrichment experiences is the "Hot Glass Show," where passengers can sit surrounded by the grass of the Lawn Club and watch a master from the Corning Museum of Glass practicing his or her art, with a second artist providing commentary. This goes light-years beyond the demonstrations we're all used to seeing at the Murano glass factories.
Then there are the standbys we all expect: art auctions, bingo, dance lessons, wine appreciation and the like.
One disappointment -- and this comes from someone who doesn't spend a lot of time in casinos -- is that the casino on Eclipse is entirely too small for a 2,850-passenger ship and could use more gaming tables. At most, four blackjack tables would be open at any given time, and only one of those had a $5minimum.
At night, Celebrity Eclipse features a nice range of entertainment offerings -- on deck, in lounges or in the main showroom -- that cover a variety of musical styles. These include a solo steel pan player, a classical string quartet, solo pianists, a jazz combo and big-band stylings from the main show band. There's disco and dance music in Quasar, the ship's nightclub.
The Celebrity Eclipse Theatre, the ship's main show lounge, is a well-designed room with excellent sightlines and semicircular rows of comfortable theater seats, all with good views of the stage. There are no tables, but drink holders have been added to the armrests. Normally three production shows take place on a seven-night cruise; one of the shows is a Cirque du Soleil-inspired circus show, while the other two are standard revues with the star aerialists used like featured dancers. Other main show lounge performances include a singer, a comic and a magic show, along with welcome aboard and farewell shows.
One very pleasant surprise is that Celebrity's beginning to offer evening entertainment up at The Lawn Club; a jazz concert one night under a starry sky with wine and cheese (you pay for the wine, though not the cheese) was an absolute delight.
Shore excursions were handled efficiently and smoothly. We didn't find anything new or unique on our sailing, but we were, after all, on a Caribbean cruise.
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