I am writing this review while on my return flight to the US, having just spent the past two weeks (14 nights) aboard the Celebrity Eclipse. Launched in April of 2010, the Eclipse joins Celebrity's award-winning family of "Solstice-class" ships, which currently includes the Celebrity Solstice, the Equinox and, in 2011, will also include the Silhouette. So, although I will try to maintain complete objectivity, I must admit that I boarded the Eclipse with very high expectations. Fortunately, with only minor exceptions (as later noted), I was not disappointed.
When discussing the physical attributes of a cruise ship (ie, it's layout and appearance), industry professionals often refer to the ship's "hardware". So, let's start there.
At 122,000 tons (the largest in the Celebrity fleet), the Eclipse was surprisingly easy to get around on and even with a full capacity of 2,850 passengers (based on double occupancy), the ship never felt crowded. To be perfectly honest, my first impression of the interior décor was that it was a bit "plain" but, as the days onboard passed, I came to appreciate it more and more. Consistent with Celebrity's position in the industry as a "premium" cruise line (as distinct from "mass market" or "luxury"), the overall look and "feel" of the Eclipse is what I would describe as "subdued elegance." Unlike the "cheap glitz" or "pretentious opulence" of some other ships I've seen, the interior of the Eclipse seemed to be intentionally understated by its designers so that guests (myself included) would feel completely at ease while staying in their upscale home at sea. Colors in the main lobby area were soft and light, while other public areas and lounges (including Michael's Club and Cellar Masters) were adorned in deep natural wood tones with luxurious furnishings and plush carpeting.
Hallways and stairways were quite wide for side-by-side passage of guests and we rarely had to wait more than a minute or two for an elevator. The public bathrooms were immaculate and they were always well-stocked with small single-use cloth towels (rather than paper or hot air dryers).
The pool and solarium areas were spacious enough that finding a comfortable lounge chair was never a problem. However, the jogging track (or "walking path" for those of us over the age of 60) went right through the pool lounging area (so it became something of an "obstacle course") and it did not go completely around the entire ship.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the ship's "hardware" was the "Lawn Club". I must admit that a negative pre-conceounced notification (based on photos and descriptions that I saw) may have clouded my expectation. But, after spending just a few minutes watching fellow passengers playing croquet or basking in the sun on the finely manicured natural grass, I realized that the photographs of this area in Celebrity's brochures and television commercials could not capture it's peaceful serenity. I loved it!
Since all restaurants offer a variety of culinary choices, any evaluation of food is influenced not only by personal taste but also by what items are selected from the menu. Nowhere was this more attractive than at the Murano specialty restaurant aboard the Eclipse. My wife ordered the filet mignon while my cousin, Mike, had the veal chop. Both entrees were, unquestionably, the best of their kind we've ever tasted … anywhere! On the other hand, the fish (Mediterranean sea bass) that my cousin's girlfriend, Janet, and I both ordered was fair at best.
More consistent was the meal we had in the specialty restaurant, Tuscan Grille. Although the filet mignon was quite as good (in our opinion) as in Murano (even though the Tuscan Grille touts itself as being "a steak house with an Italian flair"), all of our entrees were excellent in their own way.
At the specialty restaurant, Quisine, we had a lot of laughs sampling a wide variety of unique entrees and side dishes, each described on an I-pod menu.
The main dining room, Moonlight Sonata, offered a variety of dishes every night that ranged from good to excellent, with very few disappointments. We especially liked the Select Dining option which was a nice departure from the approved two-seating arrangement on most traditional cruise ships. And, we were always able to get a table for four by the window as we requested.
A cruise passenger's perception of onboard service is so often dependent upon who their stateroom attendant was and which waiters / waitresses served their meals. So, at best, any evaluation of service should be taken only as a generalization based on limited individual experiences while onboard.
Having prefaced this part of my review (to "cover my tail" in case the reader has a different experience), let me say that my wife and I found the service to be superb. Our stateroom attendants (Violetta Rodriguez and David Campbell) were the best team we've had on any cruise (and we've taken many cruises). The dining staff was competent and professional in all restaurants. In addition, there were some nice little "extra touches", such as greeting you back onboard with a complimentary welcome-back soft drink and a "spritz" of cool spray after a long day of shore excursions. However, one of the things that I most appreciated was the judicious use of public announcements. Following the captain's positioning and weather update each morning, the public address system was virtually silent the reminder of the day. There were no blaring announcements about the next round of jackpot bingo or special "deals" on jewelry. If you were interested in such things, the time and place of all onboard activities and events were clearly shown in the daily calendar that was left in the stateroom the precedenting night. Having learned to read when I was in 1st grade, I did not miss the annoying announcements one bit.
If there was one area in which my experience aboard the Celebrity Eclipse disappointed me (and my traveling companions), it was the entertainment. More specifically, the Broadway-style production shows (which I have seen countless times before on other cruise ships) were fair at best and totally uninspired at worst. That's not to say that the individual performers were not talented (although I've seen better). It's only to say that I found these "song and dance" shows to be "corny", repetitive and, in certain respects, slightly amateurish. The exception to this was the last show (titled "Eclipse"), which featured some terrific acrobatic performances and great sets with special effects. The variety shows (jugglers, magicians, comedians, etc.) were generally good.
The highly-promoted glass blowing exhibition was, in my opinion, slow-moving and dull. Although the presenters from the Corning glass museum were obviously very skilled at their craft and dedicated to their work, I just could not get too excited about spending nearly an hour watching a glass bowl being made. In fact, at one point during the exhibition, my wife turned to me and said "What am I missing?". Ironically, this same exhibition was highly recommended to us by one of our staff members who saw it on the Solstice. So, do not take my word for it. See for yourself.
Like every modern cruise ship, the Celebrity Eclipse offers a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from lower-priced interior cabins (with no window) to huge luxury suites with personal butlers. Obviously, a guest staying in one of the large suites would have a different stateroom experience than one staying in a much smaller interior cabin so, once again, I must preface my stateroom review by cautioning the reader that it is based on my specific experience ( which may or may not hold true for other types of accommodations on the Eclipse).
My wife and I chose (as we most often do) a standard mid-priced stateroom with a balcony, which was more than adequate for the two of us. The décor was soft and pleasant. The bedding was very comfortable and neither of us had any difficulty falling asleep. The bathroom was a nice size but the shower did not have a hand-held extension (which meant you had to move your body around a bit to get yourself all rinsed off). There was somewhat less storage space than we would have liked on a 14-night cruise but, overall, we were very satisfied with our standard balcony stateroom accommodations.
Having taking well over 30 cruises over the past 15 years that we've been in the business, my wife and I are always looking for something special when a new cruise ship enter the market. And, that's exactly what we got with the Celebrity Eclipse. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the unattainable standard of being absolutely perfect in every respect), we give this one an overall rating of 8.5 to 9. We can not wait to book our cruise on the brand new Celebrity Silhouette (sister ship of the Eclipse) when she begins round-trip sailings to the Caribbean from Cape Liberty, New Jersey in 2011.