CRUISING LIKE A TSAR

 

12 DAYS SCANDINAVIA AND RUSSIA CRUISE on CELEBRITY ECLIPSE

Last year, sometimes in the middle of July, I come across a special offer on Celebrity Constellation (you can see my review on this website) and I started to think that Celebrity Cruises is a very powerful option to contra-balance the recent and constant disappointment with my “all time

favourite” Norwegian Cruise Line-NCL. And one morning I got in my email information about a 12 days trip to Scandinavia and Russia on board of Celebrity Eclipse from Southampton. As last time when I was visiting Sankt Petersburg was in 1987, when the city was still Leningrad and as I loved my last experience on Celebrity, didn’t take me too long to book a Sky Suite and start packing for my northern journey on ECLIPSE.

Leaving from Southampton means you can take everything you need in your car, drop your luggage with a porter, and soon be relaxing on board with a drink in hand ready for the 4,000-mile voyage

Introduced to the Celebrity fleet in 2010, Eclipse is one of the line’s largest vessels, carrying up to 2,850 passengers and more than 1,200 crew members. But don’t be scared about the size, ECLIPSE was designed in such a way that, even the ship was very busy, I never got the overcrowded feeling like on NCL or Cunard. Eclipse is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful big cruise ships we’ve ever sailed. Its interiors blend sophistication with a bit of trendy hotels look alike, but with softer edges.

The check-in in Southampton was one of the best, smooth and quickest ever. Actually we needed around 30 minutes from the moment when we park the car at the City Terminal until we were enjoying the first drink in Mast Bar on 14th Deck. Celebrity has a separate check-in for Suite guests with very helpful staff so the idea of queuing at the beginning of your journey is eliminated in a very nice and friendly way. And guess what? Our luggage arrived in our suite in no time, far much quicker and hassle-free that we experienced on NCL Epic in our last trip.

The next pleasant surprise was our Sky Suite (2135). From the moment when I enter the stateroom I had a nice feeling, which will be amplified during the entire journey in every corner of ECLIPSE that the ship did not feel like a ship, and more like a 5-star hotel that happened to go to sea. Which is great! The layout of the stateroom was perfect for our journey, with its 300 sq. ft. and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors opening to a 79 sq. ft. veranda. We enjoyed a nice sized balcony with a good sized table for wonderful breakfasts. The bed was also higher than normal, allowing more luggage storage beneath, and the mattress was designed with rounded corners to make moving around it even easier. This cruise was the first one when I didn’t have a problem to find storage space for everything compressed in our 5 suitcases. Add to all of this the lounge seating sitting area with sofa bed and you will get the perfect space of a 12-day journey to Scandinavia and Russia

Of course, as a Suite’s guest you will have enough time to enjoy all special Suite Amenities: your 24 hour European butler service, priority check-in, welcome bottle of sparkling wine with fresh fruit and flowers, assistance with packing and unpacking your luggage, an expanded room-service menu with full meal service in your suite, in-suite afternoon tea service, evening hors d’oeuvres, shoeshine service, and Celebrity tote bag. Another surprise was waiting for me in the bathroom. I will not talk again about the storage space or the actual size of the bathroom, but, in a time when all the cruise line cut corners offering “company branded” amenities (aka cheaper stuff than well-known brands), Celebrity pampered us with a wide range of Bulgari products…and that’s in my opinion a touch of luxury

When you stay in a Sky Suite, you’ll enjoy the luxury of personal butler service. This includes assistance with unpacking and packing, in-suite lunch and dinner service. And Harold, our butler was absolutely fantastic.  A smooth and un-intrusive service always with a big smile and a solution for small problems and a sense of “being here and everywhere when needed” – that was Harold presence during our journey. And of course his entire team – Elsa the stewardess and Simeon the assistant steward was fallowing the same style. After an 18 hours’ trip to Moscow at our return to the stateroom. when all the restaurants were closed, Harold left in our room a plate with my favourite cold cuts and a “sleep well” message. How sweet!

Dining on board ECLIPSE was another high-light of the trip. When you book a suite you have access to Luminae restaurant. Right from the entrance, where a smiley and helpful host will find for you the right table, you are amazed by the celebration of light, chrome and glass, as well as white and yellow furnishings to reflect the meaning of its name (light). Luminae is split into two separate spaces, which gives the feeling of intimacy and exclusivity Celebrity is trying to create.

Dining on board ECLIPSE was another high-light of the trip. When you book a suite you have access to Luminae restaurant. Right from the entrance, where a smiley and helpful host will find for you the right table, you are amazed by the celebration of light, chrome and glass, as well as white and yellow furnishings to reflect the meaning of its name (light). Luminae is split into two separate spaces, which gives the feeling of intimacy and exclusivity Celebrity is trying to create.

The service in Luminae restaurant is another strong point of ECLIPSE. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, perform at very high standards. From the waiter to Maître D’, from the assistant waiter to sommelier, everybody has a strong product knowledge, are familiar with the ingredients and always able to pair different courses and wine to achieve a fantastic gastronomic experience. Victor our waiter had always an excellent recommendation for us and after couple of days he knew exactly where our preferences are heading for. Tomislav, the sommelier, acknowledge immediately our taste in wines, recommending the perfect pair for the food chooses but he try most of the time to divert our habits to some new experience. And guess what: he was right 99.99% of the time.

We try couple of time the Oceanview Cafe on Deck 14 – an expansive multi-station buffet for breakfast, lunch and casual dinner. And surprise: the quality of food and service was far above everything else that we experienced on other cruise ships. The buffet layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room, rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices and I was in love with the Sushi station and the freshly made Shaworma.

Bottom line: The quality of cuisine is so high and the choice so extensive that it feels as if you’re eating in a different restaurant every night

Perched at the very top of the ship, Eclipse’s most distinctive feature is definitely the Lawn Club, a half-acre of real grass that offering a quiet, country-club feel. Real Grass on a ship! I thought it was a joke when I read about the half-acre grassy area on the top deck of the ship, but it simply works. The Lawn Club is a great place to relax, play croquet, putt, picnic, practice bocce or wiggle your toes in the cool blades of real grass. You can play croquet, putt around some golf balls, play a game of bocce, or take a little picnic.

At one end of Lawn Club, the world-famous Corning Museum of Glass has created a studio to present Hot Glass Shows, in which master artisans explain the art of glassblowing during creative, high-energy performances centred around creating a finished vase or bowl.

As far as activities go, travellers can enjoy three pools, 18 retail shops and enrichment programs like cooking demos and dance lessons by day and theme parties, comedy acts and kind of Broadway-style shows by nigh. But to be honest Celebrity didn’t pay to much attention to activities and entertainment and the quality is lower than on other ships. But we will talk about that another time.

My favourite places were the Library and Team Earth, a museum-like interactive environmental awareness experience, which, on our cruise, housed an exhibition of photographs from the line’s Global Encounters competition with the World Photography Organisation.

My favourite places were the Library and Team Earth, a museum-like interactive environmental awareness experience, which, on our cruise, housed an exhibition of photographs from the line’s Global Encounters competition with the World Photography Organisation.

Inside, Eclipse feels like a spread in an upscale lifestyles magazine. At the base of her atrium, translucent, backlit onyx panels and white drapes give a modern and chic hotel ambience, while fifty feet up a full-size, 20-foot tall tree sits suspended in a planter, adding a hint of surrealism. There’s the usual theatre, spa, pools, library, shops, casino, art gallery and children’s clubs but the ship holds many surprises for new guests – including a four-storey tree suspended between glass-fronted lifts and eye-catching works of art displayed in the spacious area around the specialty restaurants

If you are organised enough to get a Premium Package before boarding or jump for an upgrade whilst on board that’s a very smart move. ECLIPSE is a real paradise of fancy drinks and the choice is impressive in the venues field too. From Cellar Masters featuring wines from across the world to Ensemble Lounge a pre- and post-dinner bar a cosy, jazz club feel with live music was a perfect place for a drink our too.

On our first Celebrity cruise the favourite place was the fashion-world Martini Bar with a perpetually frosted bar top and entertaining demonstrations of cocktail-making by the bar staff. This time, due to the fact that 90% of passengers got a Classic Drink Package included in the price of the cruise and chose not to buy an upgrade, Martini bar was always overcrowded, serving less Martinis and more cheap G&T and Sparking wine by the glass. Such a pity !

Fortunately, I discover another fantastic venue: Word Class Bar – the former Molecular bar. The Cinderella of the drink venues on the ship located by the art gallery, it’s unnoticed by most passengers and the atmosphere is spoiled by its openness which allows music from different venues and passengers going to and from the theatre to intrude. But once you decide to have a drink there the surprise is a massive one. World Class serves interesting and sophisticated cocktails at almost twice the cost of regular drinks elsewhere on the ship, based on great quality spirits  That was my place for the rest of the cruise enjoying “world class” cocktails an attentive service and a new experience, different every time.

Twice during our journey, we stopped in Quasar – a fun nightclub often playing very good music, chosen by the DJ according to the crowd age. Good place to hang out if you still have some dancing energy left after the rest of the evening.

Sunset Bar- at the back of the ship and Pool Bar- closes surprisingly early even when the weather continues to be good into the late evening they didn’t pass the level of a normal outside cruise ship bar with average drinks and service.

Michael’s Club is the lounge dedicated to suite’s guests. Sounds too good to be truth….and in a way that was the reality. On ECLIPSE Michael’s Club is far away to be a “gentlemen’s club” environment. When you step inside you have the feeling that you left behind the modern luxury of the ship and you entered an old and outdated space with Grandma’s furniture collected during couple of decades and piled up in an old storage room. I was trying to find a logic of the mishmash of styles and ages of all that collection of sofas and chairs…it was impossible. Until the moment when I found some photos of ECLIPSE before 2015’s refurbishment and I understood that Michael’s Club is the resting place of chairs, tables and sofas which could still cope with our weights.

The only reason why we returned couple of time to Michael’s Club was Ildi, an excellent concierge who was trying very hard to place this lounge on ship’s map organising every day different events: music recitals, lectures, presentation, informal meetings. But without Ildi, her perfect smile and excellent advices for sure we will avoid “The Morgue”. I do hope that in the future ECLIPSE will give a makeover to the lounge and rise the services to the ship’s standards; you can be “old fashion style” in a modern approach for sure !

As the journey to Scandinavia and Russia had couple of see days I had enough time to explore the ship and join different activities offered on board. And even if the entertainment or enrichment lectures didn’t manage to convince me (we will talk about this in my next post) some events grab my attention and energy: a fantastic Faberge presentation followed by private viewing in Michael’s Club or the full of fun Sing-Along ABBA party after our departure from Stockholm

And what a surprise the invitation sent by our lovely Concierge Ildi with the chance to discover in a private tour the bridge of Celebrity ECLIPSE and a Q&A session with the Staff Capitain. That was a real treat !

Celebrity doesn’t enforce a strict dress code throughout your cruise but you will be expected to look smarter on “Evening Chic” nights! There were two evening chic events per cruise and I am happy to say that the dress code was not only respected but, in both occasion, my fellow traveller could give a lesson to the “over-sold” Cunard’s Gala nights: no Matalan tuxedos and no e-bay dresses.

If you’d like to spend your money (and definitely get something in return!) there’s also shopping on-board, and we’re not just talking a few gift shops! You can browse the likes of Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Bvlgari and many more. There’s even an art gallery for you to buy art and you can also exclusively purchase apple products from the on-board iLounge – which is the only certified seller of apple products at sea. All products bought are tax free, making the purchase worth your while

Celebrity is perfect for those who want something extra out of their cruise – especially if it’s a luxury experience. It’s a five star experience akin to a modern boutique hotel with ultra-modern amenities, décor and atmosphere. For those first time cruisers wanting to experience a stylish voyage, couples or solo travellers, Celebrity has something for everyone.

So no surprise that we left Celebrity ECLIPSE with the strong idea that we have to come back and now I’m planning the next cruise with them. Is a little bit sad that my old friend NCL lost us to Celebrity but, at the end of the day, cruising is not an easy market and one mistake (or more if we talk about NCL) can cost you somebody loyalty.

After 14 cruises last year and 7 this year (up to now, you know me) I don’t have any problems to accept that this one, on Celebrity ECLIPSE, was one of the, if not, THE BEST.

Thank you Celebrity! Thank you ECLIPSE Crew!

Stay tune for my next posts:

  • Scandinavia and Russia in 12 days – what and how you can see ALL!
  • What can eclipse the ECLIPSE? – what I didn’t like on Celebrity Eclipse

~ by leonard69 on August 30, 2016.

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