Review of a Transatlantic crossing Eclipsed by ModernLuxury
We booked the cruise in January for a late October crossing and only days after booking the rates fell enough for us to rebook into Concierge Class and move from deck 9 to deck 10. We always look to book one of the staterooms forward of the forward elevator bank as these rooms have a view straight down and unobstructed by the lifeboats. Additionally we look for a room with the bed by the bath as this gives a large and light sitting area with easy access to the balcony. As for the perks of Concierge Class the one perk we utilized the most was an invite to a helipad sailaway from New York, and the extra points towards a new Captain’s Club level.
Sailing from Southampton’s City Cruise Terminal made the choice of hotel easy and we had a decent night’s sleep at the Holiday Inn with a brilliant view of the Celebrity Eclipse from our room as we woke on the sunny morning of embarkation day.
Across from the hotel is the Mayflower Park from where another transatlantic crossing embarked in August 1620, however that historic crossing was probably a lot more eventful and a good deal longer as they only arrived south of Boston in mid November, some three months later. Our cruise completed a similar journey in just seven days.
Walking from the hotel trailing our luggage to the cruise terminal took a mere four minutes and the guard at the port gate was kind enough to provide directions to the terminal (straight down the road, mind the cars driving on the left!) and in no time we had handed our luggage to the shoreside porters. Walking into the terminal building we were reminded to have our Xpress Pass and passport in hand and then we had to pass the mandatory security screening which proved even more rigorous than at the airport the day before.
Well inside the terminal we were directed to the first available line, although not Concierge Class we did get to walk right up to the agent and in a matter of minutes we held our welcome package and golden SeaPass cards and could continue to the first of many revenue generators – the welcome aboard photograph. Then up the escalator and a walk up the boarding bridge to be pinged in at the ship’s security check point forward on deck 5 starboard. And then for the big welcome, a glass of Kir Royal – now we knew we were back onboard our favorite cruise line. Total time from dropping bags to first glass of bubbles took less than 15 minutes.
Boarding early has its privileges, having the ship to yourself is one of them. Having to lug your carry-ons around is not as fancy, but hey, you’re now onboard the cruise ship! Having cruised on both the Celebrity Solstice and the Celebrity Reflection we were already familiar with the layout of the ship and just enjoyed “revisiting” old favorite places. As this was a bright and sunny day we took the elevator straight to deck 14 to get a drink and take those “we just boarded a cruise”-pictures to post online before logging off for the next week.
Yup, imagine that – two weeks with only spotty internet and we were happy about it too! We did not want to pay for internet onboard and made sure to check emails and social media before the ship set sail. The entire cruise was a bliss with no constant status updates to respond to and it was nice to experience life without all the distractions of our daily lives.
Oh, yes, another thing we had bought to enhance our cruise was the Premium Beverage Package that went on 50% discount a few months before departure. With that package almost all drinks and all the wine we like was without charge – so was soft drinks and espresso based coffees. We ended up getting our monies worth in martinis, cocktails and wine, but more on that later.
The young at heart
Another Concierge Class perk is the boarding day lunch in the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room. All other classes get to have lunch in the Oceanview Café on boarding day, except Suite Class, who dine in the Luminae. We enjoyed a leisurely three course lunch served by waiters and wine served by a sommelier rather than fighting to get a table by the buffet. Later in the cruise we did enjoy the buffet, and even had our dinner there. Again, more on that later on. Rather than taking our coffee in the dining room we went to Café al Bacio and enjoyed our coffee in the very stylish and bright yellow armchairs people watching as the ship started to fill up.
We may have been busy enjoying ourselves because we missed the message that the staterooms were ready, but when done with our coffee we headed up to deck 10 to see if our room was ready and it was. And our luggage was waiting for us outside the room – great, that gave us time to unpack and settle in the room before the muster drill. As we were doing our thing unpacking our room steward Rodrigo knocked on our door to introduce himself. He went through his spiel and we asked him to clear the mini bar and the water kettle to allow us some more storage on the desk. We got a habit of bringing a couple of bottles of water back from the last bar each night to keep in the mini bar.
Soon it was time for the muster drill and our assembly station was (as anticipated) on the deck 5 balcony of the Eclipse Theatre. As on most cruises there’s a long wait from entering the theatre til the safety presentation starts, mostly because not everyone is in a hurry to get there because there’s always a long wait from entering the theatre til the safety presentation starts… but eventually a couple of the event staff demonstrated how to put on a flotation jacket and then a new agent style video showed the safety features of the ship (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlPxS415_6I). Glad we didn’t have to bring the life jackets though, as we could leave the theatre pretty quickly after the safety drill and make our way to the Sky Observation Lounge and get seats right in the front of the lounge overlooking the bow as the ship slowly pushed away from the pier and we had started our cruise – our first transatlantic crossing! Time to celebrate with a colorful drink!
As the ship made its way down Southampton Water towards the Isle of Wight and eventually the English Channel we went down to our room to change for dinner. We had booked a table in Tuscan Grille to be able to enjoy the last view of land while dining. However there had been a mixup and our reservation was not in the system, but we got a table in the next row and were still afforded a pretty good view of land as the last daylight disappeared. Tuscan Grille 2.0 is the new concept and some favorite menu items have been replaced, but we easily found enough for a four course dinner – and being embarkation day we were offered a 50% discount on the cover charge. We accepted the discount and saved our pre-purchased dining package for another day.
After dinner we went back to the theatre to see the welcome aboard variety show featuring a selection of the performers and headliners for the week to come. The pianist was great and we made a note of his name to make sure to see his show. The stand up comedian was too Scottish for us to understand his humor, the language barrier was just too wide. The theatre was packed and we barely got seats at the far corner of the balcony. With so many of our fellow cruises in the theatre we got a good idea of whom we were to share the ship with – the gray haired generation. In our 40’s we were among some of the youngest passengers and we only saw a handful of kids during the two weeks of the cruise.
Days pass all too quickly
Our first day at sea and the first morning of our cruise we wanted to sleep in, but woke bright and early as we were just too excited about being on a cruise! Continuing on a tradition from our last cruise almost four years ago, I went for coffee from Café al Bacio while Anne was getting ready. It must have been quite early as I saw almost nobody as I walked along the shops and art gallery on deck 5 towards the café. Only a couple of guests in the café so I quickly got my order of two coffees and a handful of pastries and started to walk back to the room. But caution, the coffee is hot! I couldn’t help dropping a cup of coffee on the floor – embarrassing! Quickly one of the guests from the café came to my rescue and placed a chair over the spilt coffee and the barista quickly made me another coffee. Most embarrassing was the fact that the gentleman who helped secure the spill on the floor was no other that the Hotel Director! Now I was introduced to top management, only not in the way I would have wanted. I made it back to the room with my new coffee and the pastries without any further incident. Phew!
Once we we dressed and had finished (drinking, not spilling) our coffee we ventured out of the room and made our way towards the Oceanview Café for breakfast. The weather was gray, but the sea was calm. Being late at the buffet meant that the rush was over and we quickly found a table and could start explore the buffet stations. The layout of the Oceanview Café is quite clever with hot buffets along the fore and aft bulkheads and four cold buffets in the middle. There are no rails to push trays along, in fact there are no trays, but large plates that you can easily carry as you move between the various sections.
What makes a transatlantic cruise unique and sets it apart from an ordinary cruise are the many days at sea. On this crossing we were to be at sea for six consecutive days and add to that another two sea days between the ports on the second part of the cruise. We had been looking forward to all those sea days and they were actually the reason for choosing this cruise over many other options. And as we had opted out of the onboard internet solution we now had plenty of time to read books, spend time together and enjoy the facilities onboard. Actually we never got around to partake in any of the Celebrity Life Activities, talks or quizzes as the days just seemed to pass too quickly.
When the captain’s not on the bridge
We did do a excursion on one of the sea days… not a shore excursion, but the Behind Scenes Access Tour. We met our guide, a young lady from the Shore Excursion Desk at the Passport Bar and while we were signing a release the rest of the group showed up. As some parts of the usually off-limits parts of the ship is quite noisy we all received a radio headset so we could hear our guide. First stop was the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room upper level and from there the Wine Tower that is the focal point of the dining room. The tour continued through the deck 4 galley with impressive photo displays of all dishes to be served during the course of the two weeks. And a full bakery and giant pots and pans.
Below on deck 2 we walked through the provisions stores with a living room sized room filled with wines and spirits from floor to ceiling as far as the eye could see. The next room had soft drinks and juices. Another cold room had fresh eggs piled high next to mountains of flour and sugar. The freezer room was packed with fish and meats. All in all the foods and things that would be needed to feed 4400 people for at least a week. Impressive! The tour continued down the central corridor on deck 2, you might have seen it when going down to the tender stations. The corridor is affectionately called I-95 after the main US freeway going through Miami all the way to Maine. The corridor runs almost the full length of the ship and connects most departments along the way.
At the front of the ship on deck 2 are the crew messes, library and bar. We walked through the crew mess while lunch was being served and the buffet style service resembled what we knew from Oceanview Café including a carvery station! There are actually three crew messes to be able to accommodate the 1217 crew onboard. The library was small, but had a selection of nice books and clocks showing time in important places like Manila, Mumbai and Miami. Also the crew bar looked quite nice and the prices very reasonable. We were explained that the crew are allowed to consume alcohol, but only until four hours before going on duty and never more than a blood alcohol of 0.5% and they may be tested at any time. The crew are working as much as 14 hours a day, and are ensured at least ten hours of rest per 24 hours.
Down on deck 1, now below the waterline, we visited the laundry room. Very interesting and fascinating to see the giant washers and dryers. And the steam roller that can even fold the linens, table cloths and napkins. All guest laundry is also handled down here and rows and rows of clothes on hangers waited to be pressed. We even saw a demonstration of the shirt press – less than a minute and the shirt was crisp and ready to be worn. After a security check we were then shown the engine control room. There is no access to the actual engine room and the noise level down there is unbearable, so the control room was perhaps even more interesting. The assistant engineer spoke about the different and very interesting initiatives Celebrity Cruises have started to conserve fuel and clean the ships’ exhaust.
After a grand tour below decks we took the elevator to deck 10 and there had another security check before being allowed on the bridge. Wow, what a view! Even if the view from the Sky Observation Lounge is great, it seems as if the view from the bridge is just that much better. We were allowed to roam freely on the port side of the bridge for a while until assembling around the port side steering column where Staff Captain Chris took us through some of the instruments and the procedures from dock to dock. The passage is the part of the cruise between the dock and the open seas and the voyage is the crossing when navigating the high seas. Navigation is free and at the discretion of the master and his staff only subject to local restrictions as shown on the navigational charts.
The Staff Captain is the person onboard responsible for the management and navigation of the vessel. While the Master is the captain and ultimately responsible for the vessel, the Staff Captain is the one who makes sure everything gets done. Even if the captains are seen out and about the vessel the bridge is manned by at least persons 24 hours a day, at sea and in port and to keep everyone on their toes an alarm sounds with regular intervals, and if not deactivated within a brief time the senior officers are alerted wherever they are.
A display case on the bridge shows the broken Champagne bottle from the christening of the vessel on April 24th, 2010. The godmother was Emma Pontin and her photo is on display next to the Guest Relations Desk on deck 3 of the Grand Foyer. Also on the bridge is a sitting area for the officers to use for meetings. The center console with all the navigational instruments is duplicated on each bridge wing so the vessel can be operated from either of the three locations. When docking in and departing a harbor the officers on the bridge are assisted by lookouts on the bow and stern of the ship. For the very last feet of navigation close to the pier there’s a glass floor in each bridge wing to allow for a direct look down on the water.
The most important meal of the day
Days at sea may tend to blend together but with a plethora of dining options, bars and entertainment there’s really no reason for the days to become too long or boring. Just for breakfast there’s room service, the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room, the buffet at the Oceanview Café and the Aqua Spa Café in the Solarium or you can always just opt for a cup of coffee and pastries at the Café al Bacio on deck 5 of the Grand Foyer. Still hungry lunch will be served in the same locations and also at the Mast Grill on deck 14 overlooking the pool deck. Passengers in Aqua Class may take their breakfast in the Blu restaurant located among the specialty restaurants on deck 5 aft of the Ensemble Lounge, which is designated for this cabin class while passengers in Suite Class have the option to take all their meals in the Luminae restaurant that was retrofitted from a corner of the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room on the starboard side of deck 3.
The specialty restaurants are located adjacent to the Ensemble Lounge on deck 5, aft of the Grand Foyer. Passing all the way though the Ensemble lounge takes you to the remaining specialty restaurants which all open towards a large hallway decorated with large ceramic vases and a giant ceramic stylized flower.
Murano is located just behind the bar of the Ensemble Lounge and is the modern French restaurant featuring a delicious menu and signature butterfly service where the dishes are presented to everyone at the table at the exact same time, even if it takes two, three or four waiters. Many courses are prepared tableside by the chef de jour as the waiters are known in Murano.
Off to the left is first Qsine which debuted on the Celebrity Eclipse and has later found its way to the newer ships as well as the older Millennium class ships. Qsine is fun, the menu is presented on an iPad with interactive texts and videos. Even the food is interactive and meant to be assembled at the table by the guests. The dessert is served as eggs on a bed of grass and the dessert menu is a cube, that seems as if it can be turned in a hundred ways.
Across from Qsine is Blu which is reserved for the passengers staying in the Aqua Class cabins. As we were in Concierge Class we did not get access to Blu on the cruise, but we did have a meal in Blu on a cruise where we did stay in an Aqua Class stateroom – and we were not as fond of the experience as others have mentioned online.
Between Qsine and Blu is the large arched entrance to Tuscan Grille. Actually the entrance resembles giant Italian wine barrels. This restaurant occupies the full width of the ship and has floor to ceiling windows spanning more than 180 degrees giving a spectacular view across the stern of the vessel – this is the place to dine when leaving port or to enjoy the sight of the wake as the ship makes her way across the ocean. Tuscan Grille is an Italian inspired steakhouse with great flatbread, homemade pastas, excellent steaks and seafood and classic Italian desserts with a Celebrity twist. After the meal you’re treated to a glass of homemade Limoncello – a great way to end a great dinner.
On embarkation day all the waiters from all the specialty restaurants had set up tables throughout the ship to try to make an upsell as passengers boarded. We had already purchased a five dinner package so we just asked for assistance in booking the dates and times we would like – and were offered dinner in both Tuscan Grille, as I mentioned earlier, and in Murano for 50% off each. We happily accepted and were now up to seven specialty dinners out of the 15 nights onboard. As the days progressed we did visit the Maitre D’ in Murano to rearrange our dinner reservations and we always received a postcard from the restaurant on the morning of a reservation to confirm the time.
We did have a few meals in the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room, but we felt the service was too rushed and we did not really appreciate being seated so close to the next table as it might have a single table. Not that we do not wish to be among other people, but we did choose this cruise to relax and just be us. There’s nothing wrong with the service in the main dining room, except we’re not fans of the “three courses in three quarters of an hour” style of service. Efficient is key and that they are. Within minutes of being seated the assistant waiter is pouring water into our glasses, but we had to stop him and ask for bottled water. The bread is then set on the table and a choice of three dippings is already there when we get to the table. The waiter is quick to take the order, but shows little interest in explaining the specials – it seems as if he’s on the clock. Only minutes into service the starter is served and while the food is okay, the presentation could be better. Then just as you take the last bite of the starter and put down your silverware the assistant waiter is ready to remove your plate and the waiter is about to get ready to serve the entree. Again just as you’re finishing your last bite you have to hold on as your plate is about to be pulled out from under you as the dessert is next. We love desserts but we also like to have time to digest one course before being presented with the next. The best meals in Moonlight Sonata were the breakfasts – nothing beats breakfast ordered off a menu and served by a waiter hands down! And breakfast is less hurried.
Contrary to our previous cruises we opted to go for the Premium Beverage Package for this cruise. Usually we’ve just had the classic non-alcoholic package and paid as we went for wine and drinks. With the Premium Beverage Package virtually all the beverages and drinks we could imagine were free and we only ended up paying a supplement on a single drink as it was above the limit for the package. We’re not usually consuming that much alcohol and often we both can go weeks or months between a glass of wine or a beer. However, as the Premium Beverage Package was offered at 50% discount before the cruise and this cruise was our first international vacation in almost four years we decided to go all in and try a few drinks.
There are plenty bars, a dozen and a half or so, on board the Celebrity Eclipse and we did manage to sample them all. Starting on deck 3 is the Passport Bar, across the Grand Foyer from the Guest Relations Desk, specializing in beers and offering a large and varied selection of small batch and international beers. Probably the most stylish and popular bar onboard is the Martini Bar & Crush on deck 4 just above the Guest Relations Desk and the highlight of the bar is the frost covered bar. There are about 20 seats at the bar, but plenty more seats in loungers and alcoves around the bar and an additional dozen seats at the Crush bar, which is a high table with ice piled high in the center and vodka bottles sticking out. The Martini Bar serves every conceivable martini based on an impressive selection of vodka and gin.
Also on deck 4 across the Grand Foyer from the Martini Bar is the Cellar Masters wine bar. This lounge styled bar is enclosed by bulkheads decorated to resemble a medieval castle and wines are sold by the glass or bottle. The Cellar Masters is also known for the Enomatic machines, where you can pour your own wines by the glass. We only tried this venue once to get a glass of wine while we were waiting for a table in the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room.
Outside Cellar Masters is the Fortunes Casino resembling anything you would find in Las Vegas.
I have already mentioned the Ensemble Lounge as it is the gateway to the specialty restaurants on deck 5. The lounge is quite large and has a well stocked bar offering a broad selection of cocktails and drinks. One corner has a small bandstand and the lounge is often used for live music performances in the evenings.
The Casino Bar on deck 4 is, besides offering its wares to the patrons in the Fortunes Casino, also right on the Boulevard, across from the logo shops. Just a bit forward of the Casino Bar you’ll find the Entertainment Court with access to the Celebrity Central auditorium and the Quasar night club, which also has it’s own bar.
Using the stairway in the Entertainment Court going up to deck 5 and moving aft you’ll pass the photo gallery and the Galleria Shops until you see the Art Gallery and the World Class Bar. The World Class bar is different from all the other bars on the ship, as the menu is limited to 16 handcrafted gourmet cocktails. The star of the menu is the Zacapa above the Clouds, that is rum smoked before you with applewood, quite the spectacle. Continuing around the corner is the Café al Bacio and Gelateria off the Grand Foyer. Most of the day the café is busy and most seats are only available for a minute as you get up and others want to sit. And of course, as you continue aft you’ll get back to the Ensemble Lounge.
The buffet on deck 14 is call the Oceanview Café, even if the bar service is provided by the Destinations Bar inside and the Oceanview Bar on the aft deck. Moving up the aft stairs with a grand view of the ships wake you’ll find the Sunset Bar on the green grass of the Lawn Club. Further forward by the main pool deck you’ll find the Pool Bar on deck 12 and the Mast Bar on deck 14. And just inside on deck 14, the very forward bar and lounge is the Sky Observation Lounge with commanding 270 degree views forward over the ships bow.