A Mini Cruise on Celebrity Eclipse.
The advertisement invited me to “come and see the new features added to Celebrity Eclipse during her recent refurbishment”. The challenge, along with an attractive price, meant that the challenge was too good to refuse so I found myself entering Dock Gate 8 to be greeted by the sun reflecting off the huge windows of the ship and the flags fluttering in the breeze.
Check in at City terminal was, as we have come to expect with Celebrity, very straight forward and I was picking up a glass of “champagne” that was offered as I entered the ship less than 20 minutes after I parked the car.
This was my third voyage on Eclipse and my seventh on a Solstice class ship so I was looking forward to finding all the new features that were advertised as well as reacquainting myself with some old favourites. I had an hour or so to wait until the cabin would be available so I headed for one of my old favourites Bistro on Five for a relaxing light lunch away from the inevitable crowds in the buffet restaurant. I did not have to wait long to find some new features, a new menu in Bistro on Five and a new cover charge, $10 an increase of 100% over my last experience on Equinox in October last year. The new menu is OK but I am not sure it is worth the increase in cover charge.
The cabin was ready on time so I went to drop off my bag ready to explore more of the ship. I like the modern cabins on Eclipse and find the bathrooms to be one of the best for a regular balcony cabin. The balcony is also of a reasonable size and the furniture is modern and comfortable with a full height table that enables you to eat on the balcony in comfort. The one feature I do not like is the bed located next to the window as it makes access to the balcony more tricky and means there is no view from the seating area.
Whist waiting for my case to arrive I took a stroll around the ship to seek out the new additions that were heralded in the advertisement for the cruise. The smell of fresh coffee and waffle cones cooking told me that Cafe al Bacio and the Gelateria are unaltered and I am pleased to report that Cellar Masters wine bar is still thriving on Eclipse. This had been replaced by the Gastro Pub on Equinox which was a great disappointment. Dropping down to deck 3, the Passport Bar is now labelled the Gastro Pub @ the Passport Bar. The only difference I could see was a bank of beer fridges in one of the walls, and strangely for a Gastro Pub, there are no draught beer available. Other changes were some minor rework and a new theme for what used to be the Molecular Bar and a Slush bar has replaced the little used kiosk between the Solarium and the main pool area.
The smell of fresh mown grass is still counterintuitive on a cruise ship so the Lawn Club still raises a smile and it was in immaculate condition on Eclipse. The pool area was also very well presented and the dancing fountains are a nice touch, especially at night.
The solarium pool remains a haven of tranquillity with the wooden loungers with deep cushions and towels folded looked very inviting on a cool day in May.
The biggest change that I could find is the introduction of the suite only restaurant Luminae in part of the Moonlight Sonata restaurant on the starboard side of deck three. This takes out one of the two access doors to the largest part of the main dining room and resulted in queues on every occasion that I went to use it. The loss of the starboard entrance to the dining room also means that guests sitting on the starboard side have to squeeze across the rest of the dining room through waiter stations or inconveniencing other already seated guests. I was surprised to see that no changes have been made to the table plan to facilitate access to the starboard seating areas. Never have so few inconvenienced so many, as Luminae is only available to around 140 of the 2850 guests on Eclipse. I do not have a problem with there being a suite only dining room, but not at the cost of the majority of guests please. Once we got to our table, the menu and food was very good but the service was not what I have previously experienced with Celebrity.
On a much more positive note, Ocean View cafe is still as good as ever with a wonderful selection of food available and the quality of the items I tried were all excellent. For me, this is one of the best buffet restaurants in any cruise ship.
I decided to try one of the alternative dining options on the second night. With table lamps hanging from the ceiling, chairs with only one arm and wine glasses without stems, I had to be in Qsine. Having enjoyed Qsine before I had learned how to order better this time. Service was friendly and efficient and everything selected was first class. I did however feel that the cover charge which is now $45 is rather high.
The cover charge for Murano is now $50 and Tuscan Grill is $45.
I used to visit all the alternative dining restaurants a few times during each cruise but would think twice about booking any of these again now as they no longer represent particularly good value for money in my mind.
The standard of service in the bars has declined markedly. I experienced significant queues at the Passport Bar and the Sunset Bar, in both cases there was only one bar server and no drinks waiters. It was also much more difficult to get a drink in the Ocean View café without queuing at the bar yourself. Is this the result of cost cutting or a deliberate ploy to reduce drinks uptake with so many passengers being on drinks packages?
Talking about drinks packages and having tried them a few times, I am not convinced that they represent the value that is claimed. You need to select the package that is right for you very carefully, for example the Celebrity Select Alcoholic package ($65 per person per day) does not include any premium bottled waters and the wine selection is rather limited. If you like a good wine with dinner you might be better opting for the Premium non-alcoholic package ($26) and then buy a wine package to get much more choice of wines. I am also not sure that drinks packages drive the desired behaviours for the standard of service we expect from Modern Luxury.
I found the constant attempt to sell on board irritating, especially since we had a drinks package and had booked an alternative dining venue. I feel that this sort of selling has become much more intrusive recently.
Disembarkation was chaotic, something I have not experienced on Celebrity before. I joined a queue near the main lifts at 08.45 as directed and it snaked around deck 5 for nearly 30 minutes before I entered the terminal. This was tiresome, especially when more announcements were made to encourage guests to disembark which just caused the queue to build and cause more congestion.
I still like Eclipse as a ship and the food is excellent but I feel that the service, the increase in on board prices and the constant selling are detracting from the concept of a modern luxury cruise that I have come to expect from Celebrity. A new cruiser will undoubtedly be wowed by Eclipse and the Celebrity offer but as a longstanding Celebrity cruiser, it is difficult to come to terms with the declining standards.