Celebrity Eclipse Transatlantic – Autumn 2017 – Review

We set sail from Southampton on Oct 28th, arriving in Boston 7 days later on 4th November after the smoothest Atlantic crossing we’ve ever known. So lucky as friends left Southampton a week later and experienced several days of ‘choppy’ seas. Our itinerary was Boston, New York (overnight) Bermuda (overnight), Nassau and finally arriving in Miami on 12th November.

As a bit of background, we booked this sailing back in November 2015 and it was to form part of my celebrations of hitting the big 6 zero! The ports of Boston and Bermuda were new to us and although we’ve visited New York on several occasions (the last time was a surprise visit in 2016 due to a prize I won courtesy of American Airlines) we’ve never sailed into New York and this was to be a highlight for me. We were booked into a category 2A cabin on the port side, deck 7, close to the elevators on the ‘hump’ (7235).

I have to say I believe this is one of, if not the best cruise we’ve done. We were RCI loyalists for 11 years, but tried Celebrity in 2015 and were blown away on Constellation. We sailed earlier this year around the Mediterranean on Reflection and were so impressed with the Solstice class of ships and so were really looking forward to sailing on Eclipse.

I have a yardstick of how good a cruise is, and it depends on the number of times I have to contact Guest Relations during the sailing. This time, none! My only visits were to ‘donate’ cash towards the onboard account and get a new immigration form (I messed the 1st one up!). In summary, the staff were excellent, especially our sommelier in the MDR and in Cellar Masters, Ensemble Lounge and World Class Bar. Our wait staff in the MDR were wonderful as was the food. Although we had a 6-night dining package, we were not disappointed in the variety and quality in the MDR. I know food is very subjective, but that is our opinion.

My only concern on day 1 was that we received a note to say that we had been moved from Select dining to the late seating option. Strange as we’d booked back in 2015 so off I went to the see the Maitre D. I was advised that Select was oversubscribed and as I had made recurring reservations for 8:30pm they had made the decision to move us to late seating (8:30pm) but had ensured that we had a table for 2. As this was the case, then all was well as that’s why we choose Select dining, to get a table for 2. We only share if we’re dining with friends. To be honest, the tables for 2 in the Moonlight Sonata dining room on deck 3 are spaced a little further apart than those in Select on deck 4 IMHO.

We also purchased the unlimited Xcelerate internet package using our Elite status discount prior to boarding and although faster than before, there are times when it is frustratingly slow and dropouts still happen. We also got the Premium drinks package in a 50% sale prior to departing and although we were given 3 paper drinks vouchers per day to be used for the Elite evening cocktail hour at several bars on the ship, we never used them as we had a package. I have to say that the only downside to us on Celebrity is the cocktail hours of 5pm – 7pm as we rarely go out for pre-dinner cocktails before 7pm (as we prefer to dine at 8:30pm). Not a deal breaker though as we’ve always had a drinks package.

As we had the 6 dinner package we would dine twice each at Qsine, Tuscan Grille and Murano. As I went to make all the reservations (the first to be in Tuscan on the day of departure) I was advised that this was 50% discount on day 1, so booked that and another 6 dinners, so we dined in speciality restaurants for 7 out of the 15 days on board.

We walked down to Mayflower park from our hotel (Premier Inn West Quay) on boarding day to see Eclipse at the city terminal before having a walk around Southampton for some last minute essentials. We left the hotel at 11am and walked to the terminal and checked in. We were onboard by 11:30am, after one of the easiest check-ins ever.

So our first full sea day started with our iPhones (and by turn our Apple watches) being set to UK time where the clocks went back 1 hour in the early hours of the 29th Oct. So we were one hour out of ships time!  I noticed when the captain made his morning address, which I understood was daily at 9:45 am, so I was perplexed when it started at 8:45 am according to my watch! Then I realised our error and had 5 minutes to get to the Sky Lounge for the Cruise Critic Connections meeting! It was a well-attended event and our gift exchange was a cuddly bear from Utah.

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I think the only other thing of note today was that I decided to purchase the unlimited photo package as there was a special offer for the first couple of days of $100 discount off the full price ($350) and then as an Elite member I got another 20% bringing the total down to $200. Taking into consideration that many 10×8 photos were $25 and 8×6 were $15 it didn’t take long to spend $200. In fact, we collected 44 photos which compared to some folders I saw was a tiny collection! Even so, we have in the region of $990 value of photos and you also get to download them for a period of a month once you get home.

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Our 2nd sea day means more relaxing, more discovery of things like the Hot Glass Show on the Lawn Club.  It was fascinating, and I learnt a lot. I’ll be back for more when the climate is a little warmer. Although we are enjoying a smooth sailing and it’s nice and bright, there’s still a nip in the air!

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I really like that you are not inundated with constant public announcements for this competition, that bingo session, the next art auction etc. Once in a morning following the Captain’s update and that’s about it. That’s what I like about Celebrity, it gets a little wearing on RCI for me.

We viewed the shops on board, but to be honest a little disappointed in the range of menswear, and there’s not much else that appeals. No different to any other cruise ship as far as we can see.

Tonight we dined in Murano and really enjoyed the attention to detail and service.

Still heading across the Atlantic, and today it was Halloween. Several areas of the ship were decorated accordingly. We lunched in the MDR today and enjoyed the calm instead of the madness of the Oceanview Cafe which on sea days is very busy. We have now got into a routine of relaxing in various areas of the ship, either listening to music, reading or attending some of the talks given in the theatre.

Another sea day during which we took part in a scavenger hunt where we had to work our way around the ship collecting photos of items to be found from a list. We thought we’d done well, only to find out we were next to last from a group of six teams! But all good fun and exercise included!

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Scavenger hunt. Get a picture taken with a dog…easy.

We dined at Qsine which was excellent as usual, and as usual we ordered too many dishes and never got to dessert! Next time we’ll do better.

Now Boston appears on the map displayed on the in-room TV. We also get details of our ‘appointment’ for presenting ourselves to the US immigration officials who will board once we are docked in Boston. As we have a shore excursion booked through Celebrity starting at 09:45 am we are given group number 9, although we don’t know what time we will be called as it all depends on how swiftly guests are processed and how many officials are on board. Everyone on board will need to processed and that includes the staff too. Strangely, although we have ESTA’s (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) as coming from a visa waiver country to the US, which we had to show in Southampton when checking in (if travelling by air you are not obliged to show a paper copy as all airlines can check online if you have one) we are still requested to complete the old green I94-W visa waiver form to give to the immigration officials.

We dine in the MDR for lunch and although service is swift, drinks service is severely lacking, to the point I had to get a manager to serve us despite our wait staff telling the bar servers to come and take an order. This is my only complaint on lunch service, and the beverage service is consistently bad over all the times we dined there at lunch. The service at dinner is stellar and so different.

After lunch we went to a matinee show in the theatre. Wow, never seen a theatre so busy, as we sauntered over just 10 minutes before the start thinking it wouldn’t be busy, we had to stand throughout the performances, which were great btw.

Evening chic again tonight and so we headed off to the Martini bar in our tuxes and after dinner changed to more casual clothes to head off up to the Sky Lounge for an Abba theme night.

Upon returning to our cabin, in addition to the normal copy of the next days daily schedule, we received a letter regarding our time in New York. Apparently, it is a requirement to obtain a Liquor License in order for the ship to sell alcohol whilst docked overnight. However, this license restricted the ship to selling only beer, wine or cider. Celebrity refunded one day’s full value of our Premium beverage package but we would still be able to consume beers, wine or cider whilst in New York. I also believe the Captains Club also gave extra vouchers for the overnight stay, but as we hadn’t used any of them as we had a beverage package, I can’t remember the number.

Awake early to see us dock in Boston.

Great sunrise and after breakfast we went out on deck to see the Boston skyline. Very chilly and fresh, so jackets required today for our excursion around Harvard and Cambridge.

Later we waited to be called for immigration. Once our number was called (9) we made our way down to deck 4 where we were guided past towards Celebrity Central past the Martini Bar and Casino. Staff were on hand every few yards to make sure you had all the necessary documentation and the cynical in me thinks to prevent people cutting in line. All possible short cuts through the casino etc were blocked too. There were 2 lines, one for non-US guests (our line obviously) and one for US citizens. Needless to say the US line moved quicker, ours moved steadily and finally we were presented to 2 officials who stamped our passports and wished us a warm welcome to the . We returned to our cabin and got our things and headed ashore!

Unfortunately as no member of the crew were to be allowed off the ship in Boston, we didn’t even get the chance for a gangway photo with Boston in the title.

We had great tour guide who went above and beyond IMHO by adding extra stops to the tour to ensure we got as much as possible out of our limited time in Boston.

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Harvard and Cambridge were fascinating as well as seeing MIT and being dropped off at Quincy market where we caught a shuttle back to the ship after shopping for a few bits. Btw Celebrity sold return shuttle thickets for $15 or $8 one way.

Again a shortstop on a cruise makes us want to go back and discover more as we’ve done in the past. Luckily we have direct flights from Manchester to Boston. Or maybe the next time we get to New York we head up to Boston and come home from there.

We approached New York and picked up the pilot at Sandy Hook whilst travelling at low speed due to regulations regarding migrating whales in the area. Although warmer than yesterday in Boston, the weather in New York was drizzly and as a result the views were hazy. Lots of people gathered on deck to experience the ship going under the Verrazano Narrows bridge at around 12:15 before sailing up the Hudson to our dock in Manhattan, passing the Statue of Liberty at 12:30. Having never experienced this before, you could feel the anticipation of many of our fellow sailors as we approached Manhattan.

I have to say it is a magical experience passing the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island in the distance and the Manhattan skyline off the starboard side. Unfortunately the iconic buildings of the Freedom Tower and Empire State Building were not visible due to the mist and rain.

What made it more iconic was the passing of a Staten Island Ferry in front of the Statue of Liberty on the port side.

We finally docked at Pier 90 next to NCL Breakaway and Seven Seas Mariner in between us and USS Intrepid. We decided to disembark and catch a cab to Macys, hopefully heading in the opposite direction of the end of the New York marathon which was heading for Central Park where the race ended. Although still drizzling it was a great ride through Times Square with the bright neon lights of the advertising hoardings lighting up the grey sky.

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After a spot of shopping we headed back to the ship to change and head for our twilight Hudson River cruise from Pier 84. The mist had lifted to a degree and we enjoyed one of the most educational and spectacular river excursion we’d ever had on the Hudson.

Upon return we headed off towards Hells Kitchen for a cocktail at a bar we’d visited when last in New York in 2016 (well we couldn’t get liquor on the ship) and then onto a Mexican Restaurant I’d chosen, called ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. Great choice, in our opinion.

After dinner we headed back taking the street one block south of the restaurant (W50th) and headed straight down to the ship. On the way back we passed groups of very excited crew heading into the city. Seeing none we allowed off the ship in Boston it was great to see that they were going to be able to enjoy downtime in Manhattan.

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We headed for the Sky Lounge and relaxed with some wine enjoying the views and lights of Manhattan which I don’t think you get the chance to see from so close a vantage point.

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New York – day 2

Today we decided that we would head off the ship for breakfast, back to the ‘Comfort Diner’ which we discovered during our visit in 2016. A traditional diner that we really enjoyed.

Afterwards, we walked to the Empire State Building where I’d booked tickets to go to the viewing platform as we didn’t visit during 2016 (we did the Freedom Tower and Top of the Rock last time).

Although it was still misty and cloudy the views weren’t the best and it was a little chilly up there and after all these years I think I’ve developed vertigo! Never bothered me before but earlier this year was up the Burj Al Arab in Dubai and I didn’t enjoy that experience. Maybe as I’ve got older, it’s got worse. Anyway, after that we headed off to do some shopping and walked through Times Square and back to the ship. Although we don’t have to be back onboard until 4pm, we’ve done enough walking and sightseeing for today and enjoy the quiet of the ship. As we had lunch, NCL Breakaway departed followed later by Seven Seas Mariner which then enabled us to see the Intrepid with Concorde on her top deck.

Shortly after 5 Eclipse departs from Pier 90 and as we’re on the port side we have a wonderful view of Manhattan all lit up as we head down the Hudson. The mist has cleared and the Empire State is resplendently illuminated for all to see, as is the Freedom Tower as we pass by. We celebrate leaving New York with the 2nd of our bottles of champagne we brought onboard in Southampton. It’s been chilling for a while!

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I head up to the pool deck to get some night shots of the Statue of Liberty and later we pass under the Verrazano Narrows bridge again as we head for our next port of call – Bermuda. Great 2 days in NYC, loved this part of the itinerary. Next stop overnight Bermuda. Looking forward to that too as never had the fortune to visit there yet.

Another day at sea as we head for Bermuda. Our usual routine of eating, drinking, gym, Hot Glass Show, photographing the ship and enjoying the best sunset we’d experienced on this trip, especially from the Sunset Bar now that the weather is that bit warmer!

Upon arrival we headed over to Hamilton by ferry and had a good look around and I purchased some authentic Bermuda shorts. My view of Bermuda is that it is expensive, so that explains why it’s popular for cruise ships to dock for a couple of nights where guests can eat and drink on board.The highlight for us was a sunset catamaran cruise on the first day.

 

After Bermuda we have our final day at sea in order to reach Nassau. We decide to start organising the packing which has to be done some day! Tonight is the final Evening Chic so it’s time for the tuxes to be worn again and we had a great evening.

We arrived into Nassau first and was then joined by Norwegian Sky, Carnival Elation and Victory and Disney Dream. It was going to be a busy day. We’d booked a day pass at the Hilton British Colonial that we’ve visited before. Nothing changes, this hotel has the slowest check in and check out procedure we’ve ever experienced. All done with a smile, but really slow! The benefit of this hotel is it’s proximity to the port, no cabs required and the food’s good.

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We arrived the next day into Miami and we waited to disembark and catch our shuttle to the day room Celebrity had booked for us at the Sheraton Miami Airport. All was going well until there was a fire alarm in the terminal building. As a result the terminal had to be cleared and so disembarkation was suspended for around 1 hour. Not a problem for us as we had the luxury of waiting on board in the Moonlight Sonata dining room. Unfortunately for those who had disembarked but not collected their bags, they had to evacuate the terminal and then be allowed back in to claim their bags. Once we were allowed to disembark, it was a fairly smooth transit through immigration but then the chaos of the transfers delayed the process even more.

As there was a delay due to the earlier evacuation, then it would appear the whole transfer process had been held up and there wasn’t enough buses for some transfers and the staff were rushing around to find available transport. We arrived at the hotel and managed to check in rapidly and reached the room by just gone midday. Unfortunately, this curtailed our shopping plans as we now only had a couple of hours before we’d have to catch the hotel shuttle to the airport as we needed to check in by 3:30 pm.

We headed off the the Dolphin Mall and grabbed some lunch and basically ran around getting some of the shopping we’d planned.Then it was back to the hotel, then off to the airport for our flight back to the UK. That’s all there is, but we consider this TA one of the best we’ve done. It was a combination of the itinerary, the ship, the staff and the weather that made it for us.

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Peter Horton

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