Celebrity Eclipse - Inaugural Cruise
On the 21st November 2008, Celebrity Cruises issued a press release announcing Southampton would be the home port for Celebrity Eclipse, the third in their new Solstice class, for her inaugural season in 2010.  This was excellent news.  Like the other RCCL vessel operating from here, Independence of the Seas, she would arrive straight from the shipyard after a call in Hamburg.  I had wished for so long they would operate one from here.  Just hadn't expected a brand new one!  We'd missed seeing Solstice en route to Fort Lauderdale but had Equinox for a few weeks in July/August 2009, including doing two cruises, when she would then reposition from Southampton to Civitavecchia with me and Juanita onboard for the remainder of the summer season before heading across the Atlantic.  Her keel was laid on the 23rd January 2009, which struck me as odd considering Solstice took over a year to build (but then she was the first) while Equinox was eleven months from keel-laying to early delivery.  Eclipse's maiden voyage, like Indy, would be a four-night trip to Cobh on the 29th April 2010.  Unlike Indy, they had both shorts as back to backs rather than the second later in the year which seemed stupid.  I did wonder if they were giving it a little leeway, what with it being the start of the season, in case she was early then they could add something not too long.  Well Rowan wanted to go but the dates clashed with a work thing of her husband's they HAD to attend being in their town.  She told me to go ahead and book anyway, desperately hoping Eclipse would follow the tradition of her sisters and be early.  I wouldn't normally go on the same class unless there was a terrific itinerary, but Rowan had never done Celebrity so it was her chance to and from here.  It was open to Captain's Club members on the 2nd March 2009 and I was on the phone at noon on the dot!  Absolutely no queue and perfectly painless procedure after Equinox the previous year!  I booked, with the help of Darren, Deluxe Oceanview with Verandah 2A-7139, which would be along the corridor from where my and Juanita's was on Equinox so at least I'd know the way.  Now we waited but if she wasn't going to be early at least we'd know by Christmas then decide what to do.

On the 25th August, I received a letter - she was going to be early!  They went to great pains to point out is wasn't the inaugural.  After doing what they classed as the 'official maiden' on
Equinox but had no recognition of the fact during the cruise whatsoever, I didn't give a toss.  I phoned Celebrity to transfer to the new 3 Night Paris Short Break voyage from the 26th-29th April 2010, only the person I needed to speak to was at lunch.  When she called back she said the computer system crashed and head office hadn't added the new cruise to the computer so she was unable to do anything at that point.  All she was able to do was print off current bookings and make notes to say transfer, hoping to be able to get it done before she went away.  By the 2nd September I'd heard nothing so called them.  Got through to a lady who said I'd need to speak to the cruise specialist I'd originally booked with but he was at lunch so she'd leave a message for him to call me back.  It was already 2.45pm.  More than two hours passed and still nothing so I tried again but got through to a rather rude and unhelpful woman who said she would put me through to the correct department.  I ended up speaking to a very helpful cruise specialist who emailed Darren, telling him to phone.  Darren did, apologised, and after a bit of digging, discovered the woman I'd originally dealt with was called Dorothy who had gone on holiday so someone else was doing it.  They still didn't have prices but they should be released the next day or Friday since it was going on the the following Monday (7th).  The Thursday afternoon I received a call but from a cruise specialist!  It would appear it made no difference letting them know in advance about wishing to transfer the booking because he asked if I wanted to move my cruise forward.  ARGH!!!!!  I was also asked if I wanted to combine them, despite my saying no, just that one.  He also insisted my Equinox cruise was the maiden even though I said you'd never know it so wasn't bothered.  The booking was removed online and I couldn't even add the new one.  On the 7th it was there but I couldn't access it.  It said, "Exception while retrieving booking."  ARGH!!!!!  In the end it was all paid off in January and I emailed at the end of February to pre-book the Tuscan Grille.  They said I would receive a confirmation email the week before.  Would it be a repeat of Equinox and have no booking?  Thankfully, no.  They seem to have learnt lessons since then as confirmation arrived on the 12th March.  We had also booked our excursion by now, which at £75 for a tour of Paris and boat trip down the Seine (no lunch but then that bumps the price up extortionally!) was a bargain and something I wish they'd had when I had been in Le Havre on Equinox.  With less than a month to go, an upgrade notification came through saying we were now C2-1249.  I'd never been upgraded by Celebrity before.  How exciting!

I watched the gorgeous new Southampton resident arrive for 9am on the 20th April but it had been too cold to stay for docking.  She then sailed at 8pm, tour operators having requested it, to take Spanish holidaymakers to Bilbao and bring back Brits who had been stuck due to the Icelandic volcanic ash closing European airspace.  She returned for 5pm on the 23rd, was named on the 24th and had a two day jolly.  So now it was our turn and in with her was
Artemis in Mayflower Terminal.  Unfortunately, despite everything, Rowan was unable to go due to various medical reasons and would now be attending many hospital appointments that week.  So it was just me as I headed out across on Hotspur to Southampton.
When I arrived at City there was a strong case of deja vu when I saw the ship, since I'd only been there the previous August with Juanita for Equinox.  At least it was a lovely day and, having cruised solo before, I wouldn't be entirely bored.  But after the other ship, I'd been looking forward to showing Rowan around and taking her to the Martini Bar.
I went to the Concierge check-in and this is where I thought I'd end up going straight home.  I'd changed the credit card on the online check in since Rowan was unsure whether she'd be able to make it. We were giving it until that morning then if she was, there were early trains from Plymouth meaning she'd be here in plenty of time for the cruise.  But after more problems developed and it became a certainty she wouldn't be coming, it seemed the right thing to do.  Only when the lady went to register my card, Rowan's was still on the system and she couldn't get it off.  Someone came to help and couldn't manage it either.  They checked me in and told me to go straight to Guest Relations to change it.  Relief I could still go!  Can't see how I could claim this on my insurance.
Guest Relations were great and after sorting that, headed to deck 10 to find my cabin.  It was on the bump aft and port.  Pam had Concierge on Century and said it was dreadful so I didn't know what to expect since a few years had passed since her disasterous and only Celebrity experience.  Well the cabin was exactly the same as the one I'd had on Equinox at a lower grade except the door opened inwards like normal ones.  The balcony was a little bigger (probably due to the bump) with foot stools.  Wine, fresh fruit, writing paper with our names on two sheets each (no envelopes).  Because of being from the UK, they added tea making facilities which were a vast improvement on Indy's initial cruises.  I hope they've improved since.  But there were no coffee sachets nor enough sugar for two people let alone a few cuppas.  The most interesting thing was the front of the Celebrity Today stating it was the inaugural cruise.  And after they kept insisting the next was.  Either they lied or they're getting as bad as NCL with umpteen.
Next stop was the Tuscan Grille to cancel the reservation.  Since that, like the cruise, was for Rowan to try the experience, there wasn't any point dining on my own.  The computer system wasn't working so the waiter made a note of my name, room number and date so he could put it in when things were better.  He told me there had been a few changes to decor since Equinox and understood why I'd cancelled. I took some photos before leaving, including of the name.  I wish Celebrity would drop the prefix in the names.  Hardly anyone uses such a mouthful and no other ships are called anything like theirs.
Lunch in the Oceanview which was a nice slice of chicken pizza and salad then a visit to the Martini Bar!  Peter was running the bar and told me Brian, Togi and Nicky were still on Equinox.  I think he'd been taking lessons from Brian in potency!  Back to the cabin where I found a strange suitcase dumped outside my door.  I found a steward and as we looked, mine, Enrico, arrived.  Someone had clearly got a label from the porter on arrival and had written what looked like 1249 but may have been 1299 while omitting their name.  Enrico explained to me some of the doors do open inwards.  Damn!  I hoped they'd has masses of complaints about how crap outwards is so changed it.  Oh well.  He later brought some stinky fish canapes.  Salmon was some.  I waited for our 4pm muster.  With Artemis sailing at 4.30pm we should be finished in time to see her leave or just after she'd moved.  As I waited the cruise director, Nick Weir, who had been on Equinox, came on to tell us about muster, the trip to Bilbao, naming and then called this the inaugural cruise.  So there you have it from the mouth of someone who never acknowledged the maiden voyage written or verbally on Equinox!
My muster station was Murano's and very crowded it was too.  They did the same as Equinox; no lifejackets and a video.  Hardly anyone could see the screen that was on.  At least when it came to the end bit and yelling by muster guides we did just have the one instead of a couple of dozen on Equinox in the theatre.  Many people had no idea where he was pointing though because they couldn't see the emergency exit.  Then it was up to the cabin to grab my things then up two decks to the forward observation area above the bridge.  The gym was empty when I walked straight through, bar the staff, as was the deck.  One of these ships' best kept secrets until people stumble across them.  My tranquility didn't last long as I waited for Artemis, who finally left fifiteen minutes late and annoyingly silently.  Now my camera batteries died.  I knew they would at some point but had expected it weeks ago.  Quickly put in new then back to business as someone wondered to their companion if it was Artemis or Arcadia. I felt like telling them to look at the bloody name since that's what they're there for!
I felt us rock so guessed we'd thrown the ropes.  I looked at the bow and we were indeed swaying slightly.  So we were also off but a few minutes early.  We blasted three times as we moved away from the berth.
There was no point hanging around on deck just for Artemis so returned to the cabin to get her passing the Island once we'd turned at Calshot.  My case had arrived - yay!!!!  As I waited I got chatting my my neighbours on the right whose first cruise it was for her 40th birthday.  They were enjoying it already.  The people the other side of them didn't have an adaptor and couldn't find the hairdryer in the drawer.  It was such a lovely evening.
Being on second sitting, which was 8.30pm, I could relax in the cabin.  I noticed after some time we slowed right down so guessed the pilot was about to be or was being dropped off.  I went to look off the balcony and was surprised to see Artemis gleaming in the sunlight ahead then the pilot pulled in below.

For some reason, once we'd lost land, there was no mobile signal at sea.  The ship's one kicked in but then went off.  Unless it didn't work with Vodafone, like the one on Navigator of the Seas hadn't.  Pre-dinner drink in the Martini Bar and the bartender said he'd also been on Equinox.  I never saw him at all in that bar.  He told me they had new Martinis so I tried an Almond Joy which had chocolate and other things.  Yummy!  Had another one of those.  I met a couple who'd been on the Equinox Fjords cruise.  They told me it wasn't called a maiden voyage but they also were given a sun catcher.  At dinner in the Moonlight Sonata I had to explain to my table companions and both waiters why there was an empty seat at the table.  Nice people at dinner.  Two female friends, one of whom lived near Plymouth so would have had plenty to talk about with Rowan, and a couple.  My waiter said Melvyn, my head waiter on Equinox, was on the deck above.

And so back to Le Havre a la Equinox.  I often wonder if RCCL realise how close it is from Southampton.  A ferry takes less time!  I was up at 6.30am after a rotten night.  The pillows weren't the same as Equinox.  They were harder.  Anyway I had ordered room service but instead of a phone call to let me know it was on the way, there was just a knock at the door.  I was booked on the Paris Sightseeing (without lunch) excursion, which was a tour of Paris plus boat trip for £75.  They had nothing like it when I was there on Equinox.  We had to meet in the theatre for 7.45am.  Instead of going to the stage to collect your sticker, there was a table near the door.  I was on bus one and again had to explain Rowan's absence..
As I waited I got talking to a lady on a different tour whose friend had also not come on the cruise.  Hers was due to doing her back in after gardening over the weekend so a much simpler reason than Rowan's.  We were called early and headed down the gangway.  This is where I wished Rowan was here but, after seeing the disabled gangway, we'd have had just as many problems.  They really are stupid in this instance.  We got on the bus with our guide Pascal and driver Daniel and headed off just before 8am, passing Expedition as we left the port area and then hitting fog on the motorway so couldn't see the Seine as we crossed bridges.
We pulled into a motorway service station to buy food and drink for the wait between tour and boat trip rather than buy something from the expensive Champs Élysées, which Pascal warned us against.  This is where I discovered I'd forgotten my euros.  I'd changed them the night before and was sure I'd put them in my carry bag.  My purse also contained my credit card so I wasn't even able to withdraw some from the cash machine.  Thankfully I had taken a little bit of food, including an apple from the cabin fruit bowl, and a bottle of water.  Didn't stop me being seriously pissed off though since we weren't due back until about 6pm.
Once we set off again the fog had cleared and it was a lovely ride to the captial.  I couldn't help noticing how many people on the bus were already eating their goodies and it wasn't even 9.30am!  As we neared the city we passed their fairly recent (compared to other buildings) financial district.  There was also a very shiny Ibis hotel.  Ours look nothing like that!  Wonder if the price reflects the glitz?  We drove around seeing various historical sights, beginning with the Arc de Triomphe, which we drove right around.
We had our first photo stop after being sat on our bums for over an hour.  It was nice to stretch the legs.  We were told we were at Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides.  I asked the bloke who'd been sitting behind me to take a photo of me with the Eiffel Tower behind in case we didn't stop by it.
Fifteen minutes later we DID stop near the Tower.  I couldn't help but laugh.  We had about five minutes, which wasn't really long enough by a long chalk.
Back on the bus and around the Tower as we headed to the Seine to wait an hour for the boat.  The berths for these tours were below the Tower so we had a lovely view as we waited by number four for the other groups to join us.  Pity really the sun was in our eyes as we looked up at it.  It was incredibly boring though and really too long since the vast majority didn't stray too far.  We'd already been told by Pascal not to return to the Tower since there wasn't enough time to go up if anyone intended to.


© Patricia Dempsey 26th-29th April 2010
Not to be reproduced without permission