Celebrity Cruises’ luxury ship Eclipse has just had a revamp. She’s spent nine days in sunny Florida in dry-dock having a bit of a break and indulging in some primping and pampering. She arrived in Southampton this month refreshed, revitalised and ready for the big reveal of her new bars, Luminae Restaurant and Suite Class accommodation. Mr Jones and I went on a voyage of discovery to check out Eclipse’s stylish design and ‘Taste of Modern Luxury’ on a two night mini-cruise from Southampton to Le Havre in France.
Talks and Tastings
As well as exploring the ship’s new highlights there were talks and tastings based around Celebrity’s reputation for exceptional food and wine. Celebrity Cruise Ambassador Ben Fogle entertained with tales of how he became an accidental adventurist. There were master-class demonstrations by two stars from ‘Great British Chefs’; Robert Thompson, Britain’s youngest Michelin starred chef, and Adam Simmonds from Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat ’Saisons. We also attended a highly entertaining wine-tasting class with Oz Clarke, Celebrity’s wine expert.
Exploring Celebrity Cruises’ Ship Eclipse
But before all that started we located our stateroom and unpacked before heading up to the top deck where we watched as Eclipse slipped away from the dock passing Osborne House and the Isle of Wight on the way. We spent some time getting to know the ship during a stroll around the decks, enjoying the fleeting sunshine and feeling the grass between our toes on the ship’s Lawn. Sadly the sun didn’t last long so we headed for the Solarium and chilled in some huge wicker chairs as Eclipse sailed into the grey waters of the English Channel.
World Class Bar
In the evening it was time to check out one of Eclipse’s new highlights, The World Class Bar, where we sampled a selection of cocktails and tasted some of the stellar brands they stock in association with drinks group Diageo. The World Class Bar brings a ‘fine drinking’ experience where delicious cocktails are crafted from fresh ingredients and the finest spirits by the World Class certified mixologists. If your man is happier with a pint there’s also a Gastrobar which serves over 40 handcrafted boutique beers paired with a gastro menu of comfort food which can all be ordered from your seat with an i-pad! We ate in the Moonlight Sonata main dining room that evening and I enjoyed Thai Beef Spring Roll with Ginger Glass Noodle Salad for starter and a succulent steak main course followed by a velvety soft New York Cheesecake for dessert. Excellent food and good company – it was lovely to catch up with the other #destinationbloggers. After dinner we spent time in the lively Martini Bar.
Next day when we woke up we’d arrived and docked in France but we had a busy day ahead so no time to step ashore. This trip was all about discovering the ship. We knew we had a full-on foodie day ahead so I just have fruit for breakfast in the Ocean View Cafe. Mr Jones couldn’t resist a full English…
First stop was at Luminae restaurant for food tasting and champagne – yes before midday! Luminae is an exclusive restaurant for those staying in Suite Class accommodation and comes with Celebrity’s signature look of cool contemporary design in a light and airy space.
It’s true that we eat first with our eyes and the food was beautifully presented. It tasted even better. World cuisine is added to an eclectic menu and made with a modern approach using traditional elements. Food is prepared daily on board featuring locally sourced ingredients inspired by the destinations that Celebrity sail to and all the ingredients are picked up en-route from local vendors.
Before we were introduced to the tasting plate a glass of Champagne was served which started proceedings nicely. We tasted a deliciously creamy Jerusalem Artichoke Soup and I loved the way the accompaniments to it; Iberico ham, sourdough croutons, black trompette mushrooms and mascarpone, were displayed in a small dish before the soup was added to it. This was followed by Iberico Ham Croquette, Poached Lobster with pineapple and radish and Steak Tartare. Dessert was fruity Blackcurrant Marshmallow, Three-Tiered Chocolate Mousse, Nougat and Chocolate Truffle. If that doesn’t satisfy a sweet tooth then suite guests can choose from the candy cart. Oh heaven!
Wine-tasting with Oz Clarke
If you ever have the chance to attend a wine-tasting with Oz Clarke then you must go. Not only will you get to taste some great wines but you’ll learn about their history, how the geography of the region and the weather affects the grape and in turn the flavour of the wine. All in a relaxed, informal manner with a large measure of chatty humour.
We gathered in the main dining-room while Oz, standing in front of the Celebrity wine tower, introduced us to two white and two red wines with various cheese pairings. Celebrity has the largest selection of wines at sea so he had lots to choose from and he chose well. We sampled Wairau River Sauvignon from New Zealand with Goat’s Cheese, St Francis Chardonnay from USA with Brie, Montgras Carmenere Reserva from Chile (my favourite) paired with Parmesan and Ross Estate Lights Out Shiraz from Australia with Stilton.
A Chat with Oz Clarke
Afterwards we chatted to Oz for a few minutes and I asked him his first memory of drinking wine – his answer was quite shocking. Oz Clarke was three years old when he had his first taste whilst his parents were rescuing his drowning brother from a river during a family picnic. Oz was thirsty and decided to help himself to his Mum’s homemade Damson wine which was sitting on the blanket beside him. His father, a doctor for West Kent Colliery, made him vomit to get the wine out of his system and that was the last time Oz drank any wine until he was at Oxford University. Being a student he couldn’t afford to take a girl out for a meal so the wine club was a cheap date as £2 got four glasses of wine – and that’s where his love of wine began.
I’m no wine aficionado and would like to know more about it so I asked Oz what is the best way to learn about wine? Drink it, he replied, get some friends together and decide on some wines – each person can bring a bottle – then sit around the table and drink, consider and discuss. Don’t use a spittoon – the wine will loosen tongues and people will feel relaxed enough to say what they really feel about the wine – it’s one of the best ways to learn about what you like or don’t like.
My final question was ‘Retsina – why’? He laughs out loud when I ask this but replies ‘it’s the taste of holidays and sunshine – so why not!’ I’m off to Crete next month so maybe I’ll have to give Retsina another chance.
Ben Fogle Adventure Talk
During the afternoon Ben Fogle, Celebrity’s destination expert, entertained us with an account of how he was so bad at sport that he was always the last picked for the sports team at school to completing the gruelling six-day Marathon des Sables and rowing the Atlantic with James Cracknell. He enthralled us with tales of his adventures and hinted at what’s coming up including coming face to face with crocodiles and a very, very long swim.
Tuscan Grille Speciality Dining
As well as Main-Dining Celebrity Eclipse has speciality restaurants and dinner that evening was in Tuscan Grille. Our menu was created by ‘Great British Chefs‘ Robert Thompson and Adam Simmonds. Pan-fried breast of quail was followed by flame-grilled mackerel, with a succulent main of roasted loin of lamb and a dessert of dark chocolate delicé with peppermint granita. Of course this was all rounded off nicely with drinks at the Martini Bar.
And so our mini-cruise and Eclipse’s big reveal came to an end all too quickly but we’d had a lovely time discovering her new highlights and re-discovering Celebrity Cruises’ eye for detail, stylish design and exceptional food and wine. If you’ve never taken a cruise and are wondering if it’s for you then a two-day mini-cruise like this is the perfect way to get acquainted with a cruise ship and decide if you’d like to take a full cruise.
Celebrity Eclipse is offering cruises from Southampton to the Mediterranean and northern Europe throughout summer and autumn 2015. Itineraries include 13 and 15-night Canaries and Azores sailings and a new 15-night Scandinavia and Russia sailing which I really like the sound of.
Celebrity Cruises will have five ships sailing in Europe for 2015, calling at 28 countries and 94 destinations. There’ll be more late night departures and overnight stays so that guests will be able to experience some locations at night including Ibiza (Spain), Cannes (France), Mykonos (Greece), St. Petersburg (Russia), Venice (Italy), Barcelona (Spain) and Istanbul (Turkey).
Click to read more about my experiences with Celebrity Cruises as one of their #destination bloggers.
Disclosure: Our mini-cruise on Celebrity Eclipse was hosted, however, all opinions and calories consumed are completely and entirely my own.