There’s no ship’s biscuit or pemmican in sight – but there is plenty of rum. I’ve just spent the weekend at the naming celebrations on Celebrity Eclipse, a cruise ship you might have seen in the news last week, when she staged an emergency rescue of British holidaymakers stranded in Spain by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano.
Eclipse is the spanking-new sister ship of Solstice and Equinox, which I travelled on last year for a press overnighter. This weekend’s trip was spread across two nights, giving me much more time to explore and enjoy the whole ship – and you’ll need at least that time to get to grips with this enormous floating resort. For those of us whose entire seagoing experience before these Solstice-class ships has been scabby old car ferries, the sheer size and gloss of something like Eclipse is a little overwhelming. There are nine restaurants to choose from (requiring a weekly bacon delivery that is measured in tonnes – you’ve got to love an organisation that measures its bacon in tonnes). There’s a bar for every mood – a wine-tasting room with Enomatic machines to make sure your glass is perfect; a club that’s like something from Captain Scarlet; a quiet, wood-lined cigar bar; a bar up by the pool where you can drink in your bikini; an ice-bar specialising in Martinis; a cocktail joint specialising in molecular techniques; a lounge like Star Trek’s Ten Forward. You can graze on coffee, crepes, patisseries, superb gelato (I recommend the coconut), hot dogs – you can shop in one of 19 boutiques, swim in one of three pools, bob up and down in one of six hot tubs, climb a virtual mountain in the gym or go and get your hair done in the spa. A three-storey theatre hosts a nightly acrobatics show and some variety acts, as well as talks about the ship and the destinations it will be visiting; there are live musicians all over the ship, and you’ll find something to every taste, from Manilow to Mozart, to sit and listen to for a while. There’s a small casino with table games with pleasingly low minimums and slot machines. Like Equinox and Solstice, Eclipse has a lawn club on the roof, with putting, croquet and quoits. And, for some reason which is still totally opaque to me, a glass-blowing studio. There’s so much to do that apparently, many travellers end up staying on board for their whole break rather than going on shore excursions.
I worked my way around tastings at several of the restaurants (not all of them – I was only there for a couple of days) – I’ll be posting pictures and notes on some of the food available later in the week. For my tastes, the 5th floor Ensemble Lounge and the 4th floor Wine Masters tasting room were the most attractive places to sit with a drink, partly because they’re rather more quiet and intimate than some of the other bars – if you like a bit more excitement with your Cuba Libre, head to the 4th floor Martini Bar, with its ice countertops and beautiful ladies in sequins, or to Quasar, the small and very spangly nightclub.
Accommodation on board is comfortable and surprisingly spacious; the staterooms have all been designed to pack in as much storage space as possible, and even in the smallest rooms you’ll find a desk, a decently sized settee and a superbly comfortable queen-sized bed that can convert into twins. Rounded edges on the beds and the other furniture maximise space in all the staterooms and mean there’s nothing to knock into when you stagger back from the club at three in the morning – and if you need a hand coming round in the morning, there’s a shower with body jets and a rain head to get you ready for breakfast. The cupboards are stocked with Frette dressing gowns, slippers, umbrellas, shopping bags, lighted make up mirrors, binoculars and a fierce little hairdryer, but we still found there was room for several suitcases’-worth of your own belongings in our Deluxe Veranda room. (Leave some space, though – there are, after all, nineteen shops on board to visit.)
There are several classes of stateroom – Celebrity have a run-down of the features of each on their website – most of which have a very private balcony with sun loungers and a sliding picture window. We found ourselves leaving the window open a crack at night to allow the sound of the sea inside and slept blissfully, being rocked gently by the waves. There’s great charm in being woken by a kittiwake on the balcony in the morning and drinking your first cup of tea on a lounger – I recommend it.
Part of what makes Celebrity so successful is the staff, who bend over backwards, forwards and sideways to make your trip a good one. Milk pods for the tea and coffee in the state rooms hadn’t arrived on time because the flight they were on had been stopped by the volcano (Eyjafjallajokull – I really ought to get used to spelling that, because I sure as hell can’t pronounce it) – and about two minutes after we rang to ask for some, a lady appeared at the door with four half-pint cartons for our fridge. There’s a smile on every face, and somebody polishing something around every corner – the place positively glistens. Every time we left the room, we came back to find a new surprise – some flowers, a tray of canapes, a bowl of fruit, a bottle of fizzy wine – I could get very used to being looked after like this.
Eclipse is based in Southampton, the first of the Solstice-class ships to have a UK home port. Alongside the outside pools, which I found an absolute joy – I love swimming, and it’s particularly good fun when the pool is bobbing up and down in the sea – there’s an enormous enclosed solarium with another large pool, hot tubs and relaxation pods that you can snuggle up in with…a good friend, which means that even in British weather you can get some sun and swimming in the warm. The tea and kettles in the room are a nod to the UK clientele, and although the food on offer has an American bent, they’ve squeezed fish and chips onto at least one of the menus.
The best recommendation I can give the ship is in the fact that as soon as we disembarked, Dr W and I started to talk about which of the forthcoming cruises we should shell out to go on. Many thanks to Celebrity and Siren PR for putting us up for this inaugural weekend – and watch this space for more on the food later this week.