Posted on Friday, November 26, 2010 by Peter Knego
The 122,000 gt CELEBRITY ECLIPSE, third in the spectacular five member CELEBRITY SOLSTICE series of ships, had just arrived in her new home port of Miami, where she hosted a pair of back to back two night inaugural sailings prior to embarking on regular U.S.-based cruise service. Sample the wares and have a look at some of the most extraordinary and progressive design features afloat with Peter Knego on the first of the ship’s U.S. inaugural sailings.
Friday, November 12, 2010
After watching the last of my hand carry enter the X ray machine, I was pointed toward an unfamiliar steel box. “Is that the machine that causes melanoma?”, I asked the back of the TSA officer.
His neck craned to the left. “Yep.”
“I need a manual search.”
For a flash, it was silent in the screening area. The agent’s right arm extended to the man behind the machine irradiating my laptop, cameras and shoes. “I’ve got a male manual!”
“We need a male manual search!”, the scanner shouted to a line of officers behind him.
Aside from the momentary kerfuffle caused by my refusal to enter the box, what followed was a very thorough but polite pat down by a blue-gloved TSA agent. Maybe I was lucky but this latest air travel annoyance paled by comparison with the cramped seating, three hour layover in Cincinnati and infuriating lack of tangible signage in Miami International Airport that lay ahead.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
The next morning, as the shuttle bus crossed the bridge to Dodge Island, the edgy silhouette of Celebrity Cruises’ CELEBRITY ECLIPSE was the first in a lineup that included the recently “balconied” CELEBRITY CENTURY, a Carnival DESTINY clone and the NORWEGIAN EPIC.
“I can’t wait for you to see this ship!” I told my friend Rob.
And wait we did — for some two and a half hours in a snaking line, grilled by the Miami sun. The 122,000 gt vessel was going through her own extended “manual groping” by U.S. Customs after making her maiden arrival from Europe that day.
The thought of trying to stay awake, let alone document this massive, angular entity in a mere two days had what was left of my pulse racing. Every minute in that queue was another part of the ship not photographed…
My self-induced turmoil ended the second we stepped aboard the maritime masterpiece named CELEBRITY ECLIPSE. She is a ship for those who might otherwise dislike the notion of cruise ships. Nothing about her is corny, clichéed or glitzy. No Olive Garden “peel off” decor — just seamless, inspired and utterly 21st Century sea-going stylings (with a nod to the best of the mid 20th) from a tasteful and well-integrated team of architects and designers.
Our sore eyes soared through the epic scale and architectural dynamics of the atrium, provocative artwork and, yes, the random carpeting! The vast majority of images will be included in a full Quadruple Decked! tour but I’m happy to say this ship is every bit as impressive (and maybe even more so) than her jaw-dropping sibling, the 2008-built CELEBRITY SOLSTICE. Unfortunately, I missed the 2009-built EQUINOX due to a schedule conflict but have no doubts that the second sister is an equal triumph of edgy design and good taste.
Located on forward/starboard Deck 11, 194 square foot Aqua Class stateroom 1516 would be our home for the next 48 hours. One of 130 cabins that come with unlimited access to to the Aqua Spa Relaxation Room overlooking the bow and the Aromatherapy Persian Garden steam room, it features a queen bed with rounded corners, plenty of well-organized storage space and a soothing brown, beige and olive color scheme.
Its brilliantly-conceived bathroom features shelving behind brushed steel-handled, wood-toned cabinetry and chic fixtures like a bowl-shaped sink, a dim light setting option (great for those 4:00 AM calls) and a shower with curved, sliding glass doors.
The Hansgrohe rain shower head and five horizontal spray jets were very much appreciated (once I figured out how to set the temperature) but neither of us had occasion to use the corner bar in the shower for shaving our legs. Note the plastic rings to prevent one’s foot from slipping.
Amenities include Hydro Minerale lemongrass hydrating shampoo, conditioning creme, bath gel and moisturizing lotion. En suite bathrobes as well as lavendar oil-infused aroma sticks and a nice little bag with soft slippers are provided in addition to a pillow menu and exclusive access to Blu, the ship’s Mediterranean-influenced dining room.
Despite the temptation of chilled bubbly, a huge ship awaited exploration.
But first, some fuel was required. With plenty of open space between its multiple food stations and decor right out of “Catch Me If You Can”, the Ocean View Cafe puts most shipboard buffet eateries to shame. Selections include a salad bar with an astounding variety of veggies and coves with pasta, cold cuts, fresh breads, a carvery, Indian food, desserts, ice cream and much more…
It soon became obvious that documenting was a Sisyphean effort. The ship was filling quickly with her complement of travel agents and media. Thankfully, the good people at Celebrity arranged for me to stay on board for a few more hours at the end of our inaugural cruise.
It was time to just savor the details. Like the origami-style packaging on the tea bags in Cafe Al Baccio, the ship’s very popular cafe on starboard Deck 4.
Way up on Deck 16, there was a nice view of the soon-to-depart CELEBRITY CENTURY, which brought the “wow” factor to new ships when she debuted as the first “cyber ship” in 1995. Now, at a “mere” 71,545 gt, she is considered a mid-sized “classic”.
The midships pool area on the SOLSTICE ships contains two pools, a quartet of whirlpools and a spectacular fountain that jets upward from the base of a bandstand. Angled canvas sunscreens provide shade and create a sculptural effect that for some reason bring to mind the rock temples at Abu Simbel.
There was time for a short but restorative workout in the ECLIPSE’s lavish gym, which could hold its own against most established land-based facilities.
From our verandah, the fiber optic lighting effects atop the cruise terminal canopies vied with the vivid sunset behind the ever-growing Miami skyline.
Our dinner was hosted in the Blu Restaurant on port Deck 5 at 5:30. A simply gorgeous space divided in the center by a huge screen and flanked by textured walls in the form of floral blossoms, it has a sea foam green palette versus the cool blue hues of its SOLSTICE equivalent.
In between the colorful circles on the screen are actual”peep holes” that provide a glimpse into the other side of the room.
Among the pleasing details waiting to be scrutinized were table settings that include green-tinted water glasses.
Even the butter coordinates splendidly with Blu’s “flower” theme.
We chose from three appetizers: Grilled Tamarind Glazed Quali (with cinnamon pickled carrots and tabouleh); Chilled Seafood Napoleon (with cucumber carpaccio and saffron vinaigrette) and BLU Cheese Souffle (with candied anjou pear and port wine reduction).
Soup and Salad courses included: Chilled Avocado and Lemon Soup (with poached shrimp); Sweet Yellow Corn Velouté (with chile oil, cilantro and chorizo); Baby Spinach Salad (with roquefort cheese, bloomed craisins, toasted pecans, prosciutto and black pepper emulsion); Marinated Tear Drop Tomatoes and Bocconcini Salad (with basil, argan olive oil and balsamic syrup).
Entree choices: Grilled Salmon Fillet and Endive Watercress Salad (with basil pesto); Orechiette Pasta (with porcini mushrooms, vegetable pistou and basil); Blackened Ahi Tuna (with forbidden rice, baby bok choy, spicy onion and white sesame seed vinaigrette); Roasted Chicken Breast (green lentil blini, wilted spinach and tomato garlic emulsion); Pan Seared Filet Mignon (celery root purée, green asparagus, cabernet confit shallots and olive oil beef jus). Daily veggie choices included baby poached vegetables and lemon oil. “Classic Favorite” alternative choices include: Broiled Atlantic Salmon Fillet; Roasted Airline Chicken Breast; Grilled New York Strip.
And the desserts! I ordered the strawberries in a caramelized sugar basket with a chocolate “handle”. Succulent and sculptural…
In the Celebrity Theater, the evening show was “Ovations”, a tribute to Broadway and West End productions.
After the huge dinner, a bit of walking was required before attempting sleep. The ECLIPSE is stunning in both Lunar and Solar settings.
A warm Tradewind blew across the upper decks and Lawn Club.
The ECLIPSE was moving steadily in the currents off the Florida coast, as evidenced by the “slosh” of her beautifully lit pools.
Even the restrooms on the ECLIPSE and her sisters are an “event”. Cloth towels, motion sensor-activated faucets, stylish glass and steel sink basins….
And for the men, urinals with etched steel trivia questions…
Sunday, November 14, 2010
At the 8:45 AM press conference, Celebrity CEO Dan Hanrahan unveiled plans for the “SOLSTICE-ing” of the INFINITY at Grand Bahama Shipyard and fielded questions about the ECLIPSE. I was able to ask what physical differences set the ECLIPSE apart from the SOLSICE. Here they are:
1. The Grand Staircase has been modified.
2. Cellarmasters (wine bar) has been redone.
3. New decor in Blu.
4. Qsine has replaced the Silk Harvest specialty restaurant.
5. A “Living Room” area has been added to the Sky Observation Lounge.
6. The i-Lounge has replaced the Internet Center.
After the boat drill, Celebrity VP of Culinary Operations and Executive Chef Jacques Van Staden hosted a media “tasting” event in Qsine at 11:30 AM. Extra tariff ($30), reservations-required Qsine has replaced the Asian Fusion dining venue on the SOLSTICE and EQUINOX and represents a bold, interactive concept in shipboard eateries. Each dish has been invented or re invented by Van Staden so that guests can experience an array of international specialties in a unique and fanciful way.
While standing behind a banquet table filled with Qsine specialties such as “Sushi Lollipops” (sushi with a soy center, wasabi and ginger/radish salad ) and Popcorn Fish and Chips (cod and fries in a popcorn box with malt vinegar on the side), Van Staden held up an i-Pad with the Qsine touch screen menu.
Colorful icons represent various dishes as well as wines and other beverages. Martinis and specialty drinks can be virtually “mixed” on the i-Pad, as well.
International specialties such as guacamole can be prepared to taste by the guest, utilizing a mortar and pestle filled with slices of avocado and other guacamole makings.
The distinctive orange and black table settings have been designed by Van Staden and his staff. Even the uniforms, which are asymmetrical, are Van Staden creations. In Qsine, the term “waiter” has been rendered passé. Attending staff are designated “culinary tour guides”
And the desert menu? A Rubik’s Cube of sweet options waiting to be twisted and unfolded…
Appetite piqued by the Qsine samplings, I joined Rob in the spectacular, double deck Moonlight Sonata Dining Room for lunch. We were seated at a table for two on the starboard side balcony.
Although the Moonlight Sonata is just the ship’s “regular” dining venue, the food and service was superb. We began with the freshly-baked breads (organic French bagueete, whole grain rye and Greek olive/oregano), accompanied by a carafe of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I had crisp fried mozzarella sticks (with marinara dip and pesto) and potato and leek bisque (with pistachio foam) before digging into a fried tofu main course with radish sprouts and ponzou sauce.
And for dessert a caramelized apple on a Feuillantine Cookie a la mode.
The remainder of the day was spent exploring the ship, working out and trying to rest in our comfortable suite. A helicopter buzzed us as the ECLIPSE zig-zagged through the sea lanes off South Florida. Outbound cruise ships from Miami and Fort Lauderdale passed on either side of us en route to the Bahamas and Caribbean.
Dinner in Murano that night was another epicurean event. Murano is the ECLIPSE’s extra tariff dining venue featuring rich Continental cuisine. Guests can choose from an a la carte menu ($35 per person) or opt for the special “Five Senses” Gastronomic and Vineyard Tour ($89 per person) food and wine pairing. Vintages culled from an extensive wine list and caviar (market price) are also available.
Table settings include copper chargers, Riedel stemware and silver plate cutlery and napkin rings.
It all began with the Phyllo Baked Anjou Pear With Roquefort Cheese…
And of course, there was a palate cleansing sorbet in a winged, etched glass bowl.
Among the main courses was a brilliant Pan Seared Dover Sole Veronique…
I finished with a “not so modest” order of crepes in Grand Marnier sauce a la mode — prepared tableside…
And, of course, there were petits-fours.
Next stop, the Celebrity Theater for a taste of the evening show, “Edge” (classic pop and rock tunes), featuring a spectacular $250,000 screen as its backdrop.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Our CELEBRITY ECLIPSE cruise had ended almost as quickly as it began. By 9:00 AM, we were out of our cabin and had our luggage stowed at reception so we could actually begin documenting the ship.
A brilliant sun beamed down on the patch of live grass adjacent to the Hot Glass Studio.
A special team of gardeners were watering the aft portion of the Lawn Club.
Under a glass canopy festooned with solar panels, fountains danced behind the forward pool.
And a budding Brigitte Bardot frolicked in the fountain by the open air pools.
It was almost noon by the time we had worked our way down to the ship’s public spaces. On aft Deck 5, the Ensemble Lounge provides access to Michael’s Club (a cigar smokers’ haven) and the specialty dining venues Murano, Qsine, Blu and the Tuscan Grill.
The Tuscan Grill steakhouse ($30 per person) is located in the stern with dramatic picture windows overlooking the ship’s wake.
Obscured by layers of guests during the short preview cruise, the elliptical Martini Bar on Deck 4 is just one of many dynamic and modern spaces on the ship.
As the CELEBRITY ECLIPSE filled up with its next quota of agents and media, the time had come for us to reluctantly disembark. In terms of innovative architecture and dynamic decor alone, this series of ships sets the bar for all forward-thinking Premium market cruise lines.
Stay tuned for a very detailed look at almost all of the ECLIPSE’s decks and public spaces in a forthcoming Decked!
Special thanks: Martin Cox, Rob Di Stefano, Lisa Harrison, Elizabeth Jakeway, Lis Kemp, Tavia Robb, Carly Sax
End Of “Stellar ECLIPSE” Sea Treks