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Pure, pristine, welcoming: these are all apt descriptions of New Zealand, a country that feels both instantly familiar and yet unknown.
And cruising New Zealand is one of the simplest ways to discover its highlights, delivering ‘pack once’ convenience with diverse and exciting ports to explore each day.
We set sail on board the Celebrity Eclipse for an 11-night round-trip cruise from Sydney to New Zealand to do just that.
Celebrity is recognised for its premium but relaxed offering. While arguably lacking the wow factor of some other cruise lines and more modern vessels, the Eclipse still presents a high-quality cruising experience.
The itinerary encompassed Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds, as well as Dunedin, Wellington and Picton.
Once on board, you quickly understand why Celebrity has such a loyal customer base, with many passengers returning for a high seas adventure multiple times a year.
For this particular sailing, it’s one iconic sight after another, starting with the departure from Sydney Harbour.
There really is something magical when you sail out of a major city such as this, viewing all the prominent landmarks: the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and ferries scurrying in and out of Circular Quay.
Celebrity Eclipse: first impressions
Embarkation was a simple and efficient process: after a scan of your boarding pass, it’s onto the ship. Your electronic pass card, for use throughout the ship, is waiting in the cabin.
The only safety requirement is to find your emergency location and have your name ticked off by one of the friendly crew members.
Boarding was via Deck 3 into the Grand Foyer, a spacious three-level atrium.
This area forms a central hub for cruisers, be it socialising at one of the bars, browsing boutiques and an art gallery, or stopping by customer relations, future cruise bookings and other services.
The ship’s layout is rather straightforward, making it easy to find your bearings:
- Decks 3, 4 and 5 aft are for restaurants. Midships is the casino and services mentioned. Forward on deck 4 and 5 is the theatre and other entertainment options; Celebrity Central and the Quasar nightclub.
- Deck 12 accommodates two magnificent pool areas, a large outdoor area and an adults-only retreat with plenty of lounges and bubbling hot tubs. Forward on Deck 12 is the popular spa and fitness centre to work off all those extra cruise calories.
- Deck 14 aft is the busy Oceanview Café/Buffet, while the Sky Observation Lounge is forward. The Lounge is used for many of the traditional indoor cruising games like trivia. It’s also a disco for the late-nighters. Around the central part of the deck, looking into the pool areas on Deck 12 (there is no Deck 13) is a smallish jogging track.
- Deck 15 has a lawned area for bowls and putting. Central is the Glass Blowing studio for those wanting to try their hand at making a vase or bowl. Aft has a relaxing Sunset bar for those peaceful cruising moments of watching the sun fade under the horizon while you chat about your experiences. Forward has areas for teenagers and junior cruisers.
Oddly, you’ll find no covered promenade deck with full access to circle the ship, though the walking track just above the Lido Deck is a fine alternative.
Overall, the feeling is one of casual comfort with a focus on the pools and relaxation. This extends to the dress code of smart casual only, so there’s no need to pack the tux (unless you really want to).
Celebrity Eclipse: cabins and suites
Eclipse has the standard stateroom configurations spanning Inside, Ocean View and Veranda (Balcony), as well as more premium Suites. There is also The Retreat – an exclusive option which comes with butler service and its own private restaurant and lounge.
Premium terrace suites gaze directly out from the stern of the vessel, presenting magnificent views for those wanting to sit back and take in the sunsets from the privacy of their own veranda.
As ours was a last-minute booking, we opted for a guaranteed Veranda Stateroom (6115, to be precise) the extra room and openness. It was excellent value.
With the cabin forward of the ship, it was a fair walk back to central areas and restaurants. The old advice of needing to be mid-ships for stability doesn't apply to modern cruise ships. We struck some heavy seas and felt no undue roll or movement.
On entry, the bathroom was on the right, with a good-sized wardrobe facing into the room. Beyond was a king-sized comfortable bed with quality pillows, small bedside tables, and a lounge sofa bed.
There were built-in drawers, a television, a bar fridge, safe and a small desk adequate for a laptop. The pull-out sofa bed could sleep two but would make the room cramped. Families on a budget with one or two small children would find it adequate though.
Above the bed was additional storage space. Suitcases could be stored under the bed. Overall, there was plenty of space, making it easy to keep the room uncluttered.
The balcony accommodated two chairs and a small table, while the bathroom is a decent size, featuring a large vanity and corner shower. It didn’t feel cramped.
Like the whole vessel, the décor is in muted fawns and browns with highlights making for a serviceable, comfortable feel.
My recommendation, unless you’re on a tight budget, always opt for a balcony, especially on a seven day-plus cruise. Balcony cabins provide more light with the full-length sliding doors enhancing the feeling of space, especially for those who like to chill out in their cabin.
Celebrity Eclipse: dining and drinks
The Eclipse offers two inclusive dining options; the white linen restaurant Moonlight Sonata and Oceanview buffet/café. Both open their doors for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There is also the small Mast Grill by the pool for those wanting to remain in bathers, along with a healthy option café next to the Spa.
Moonlight Sonata had early and late seating options, though most guests opted for open dining.
Food quality was excellent, with standard favourites and specialty options each night. The traditional cruise buffet venue Oceanview café was popular for those after a quicker, less formal dining option. The variety on offer catered for all tastes.
Four specialty restaurants complemented the dining experience: Murano for French, Tuscan Grill for Italian, Sushi On Five for modern Japanese, and the quirky Le Petit Chef. The latter is a fusion of food and entertainment featuring 3D projections on the dinner table.
All dining was smart casual, though there were gala nights for those wanting to make an extra effort or get dressed up for fun.
Celebrity has various dining packages for those wanting to experience the specialty restaurants and I’d recommend trying at least one if you're on a 7-day plus cruise.
Unlike some of the more modern ship designs, there were no outdoor eating options, save for the casual Mast Grill and seating at the Oceanview veranda.
Overall, I couldn't fault the quality of the food or the service. The staff were well trained, helpful, friendly and talkative when you were in the mood for a chat.
If you desire more than standard juices, teas and coffee, drinks packages are available.
Café al Bacio and Gelateria on Deck 5 serving espresso coffees and specialty teas. It’s a popular morning and afternoon meeting spot, as the brewed coffee offered as standard elsewhere isn’t to everyone’s palate.
For me, I found the Eclipse’s dining to be of a high standard, even in the Oceanview buffet, where the captain and other senior crew members could be seen regularly.
Celebrity Eclipse: entertainment
Fourteen different bars are found onboard the Eclipse, many boasting live music across the afternoon and night.
Music ranged from a solo guitarist and a string and acoustic duo to the Sunshine house band pumping out different music styles from jazz, to pop and rock. Dance band Southern Groove also got people moving.
Shows in the theatre varied from a stand-up comedian to an excellent illusionist, a three-member girl group and productions choreographed by the Eclipse singer/dancers, acrobats and in-house band. All were entertaining, running for around 45 minutes.
Night owls can kick on at the Sky Observation Deck, which has a disco that continues long after the main entertainment has finished.
When you want a break from lounging by the pool or reading a book you’ll find plenty of daily happenings. Around 60, in fact, including trivia, sudoku challenges and Deal or No Deal, as well as entertaining talks and sports challenges.
Celebrity Eclipse: spa and fitness centre
The ship’s Spa and Salon boast a full range of massage and health treatments, in addition to the Persian Garden after-treatment relaxation area, and steam and sauna rooms.
Forward of the Spa Deck 12 is the well-configured Fitness Centre for those feeling more energetic or looking to burn off cruise indulgences. It's equipped with the latest aerobic equipment, plus weight machines and rooms for studio sessions.
For a more exclusive Celebrity cruise experience, book a suite in The Retreat – the ship's all-suite playground. This has its own restaurant, the Luminae, lounge and Sun Deck complete with pool and hot tubs.
Celebrity Eclipse: our verdict
While lacking the wow factor of the latest cruise experiences that have Broadway musicals, infinity pools, and roller coasters, Celebrity still presents a premium value package.
The Eclipse is a fairly standard although certaintly very fun cruising affair, and Celebrity delivers it all at a high standard that many cruise devotees will be more than satisfied with. It’s relaxed and casual with plenty of activities to join in, if you so desire.
Extras such as drinks packages, Internet, specialty restaurants, spa treatments and shore excursions are quite expensive, so expect to budget around fifty per cent over the cost if you are after the complete cruise experience.
This is not unique to Celebrity, with all cruise lines increasing charges in these areas.
Some lines are packaging up offerings such as drinks and WiFi and, at the luxury end, even shore excursions. It’s worth checking out these inclusions while considering what you’re looking for from a cruise.
Our personal highlights were the spectacular Sail Away out of Sydney Harbour, and the breathtaking scenery of Milford and the Marlborough sounds. Dolphins welcoming the ship into the Sounds was an added treat.
The magnificent pool areas and friendliness and efficiency of the staff were also standouts.
I would have no hesitation in booking another Celebrity cruise for the very contemporary combination of a premium yet relaxed casual cruising experience.
The writer travelled at his own expense.