First impressions can be tricky; especially when they are unexpected or different. This is especially true with a relatively new cruise or expedition company. So it is not surprising that my Scenic Eclipse’s first impressions are both. The unexpected has been so comforting and exciting. The different takes a bit more time to be objectively appreciated, so I have delayed this article a bit longer than usual.
The staff onboard Scenic Eclipse are, without exception, among the best at sea. How do I know this so quickly? Because I have known so many of them for years. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that close to 80% of the staff formerly worked on Seabourn ships. But there is another thing that makes it even better…and these are not just my thoughts, but those of the staff as well: Scenic Eclipse is a happy ship and they are back free to be themselves, delivering that special level of service because that’s what they want to do rather than because there is a corporate mandate that service is to be delivered per a protocol. I see in their eyes and in their comments that on Scenic Eclipse they feel they are cared for as human beings rather than as mere employees. I will have more to say about this in a future article, but I am just giving my first impressions here!
Now for the hardware: It is a pretty spectacular ship. It isn’t perfect and some things take a bit of getting used to, but overall: WOW!
The stark, grey, décor in the main lounge and reception area that greets you upon boarding is a bit of a shock to the system because it is not what you expect on a cruise or expedition ship. This is something I am getting used to and am starting to understand. It does have its elegance and does, in a way, work as a foil to the outside environment you are exploring and the main bar with its wall of whiskies.
It is, to be sure, designed more to be more of a hotel lobby including having a very Reception Desk is located where all your needs – both hotel and expedition – are addressed. It took a few days to really see the guests utilizing it as such because quite a few were locked in their suites while we were crossing The Drake Passage and the ship is operating at about 50% of capacity. With people sitting around, a pianist playing during cocktail hours, and into the evening, there is more vibrance than the photographs without them depict. And, to be sure, it is the only area of the ship that is so monochromatically grey.
The Discovery Lounge, where recaps, lectures, entertainment (there are two very talented and charming women who are also Cruise and Assistant Cruise Directors with years of luxury cruise ship experience) and movies are held. It is a great space with individual reclining leather chairs.
Speaking of The Drake Passage, the Scenic Eclipse has oversized stabilizer fins and, especially considering her smaller size (she carries about 200 guests), I found her ride to be quite good in the moderate seas we encountered. We did not have a Drake Shake, but it was not a Drake Lake either.
The most impressive aspect of the Scenic Eclipse, however, is the diversity of facilities and her guest to space ratio. Remembering that there are only 200 guests on the ship, the fact there are four main dining areas plus four additional specialty ones (seven in all) is impressive in and of itself. But there are also:
While I will detail the dining venues as this expedition continues, basically
There is also 24 room service and a large self-service laundry. (There is laundry, but no dry cleaning, available at extra cost.)
Besides the dining and other onboard facilities, Scenic Eclipse has two helicopters, one submarine, a number of kayaks and paddleboards, and, obviously, zodiacs. And, it is worth repeating, for only 200 guests. (On this expedition there are actually only 103 guests so multiple opportunities to use all of them are possible.)
The suites, at least my initial Deluxe Veranda Suite, after I settled into it for a few days, seems more like an upscale hotel room rather than a cruise ship suite. The bed is very comfortable and is adjustable so each side can be raised at the head and/or foot with the touch of a button.
There is an espresso machine and tea kettle along with the expected stocked refrigerator. There is a nice bar set up with three small decanters your butler will fill with your spirits of choice. You are also provided with two hot/cold water bottles for you to use and take home. However, the bar setup is on a fairly high shelf, so it is hard to reach and harder to use. There is also a conflict due to the cabinet door being so wide: You can’t maneuver to the dressing or bathroom areas without closing the cabinet door on your brewing coffee.
The closet space – there is no walk-in closet – is fine for a 7-12 day expedition, but not for a longer journey. One frustration is that the closet doors are almost as wide as the hallway, so in order to maneuver back into the suite you must get what you want to put in or take out of the closet, step to the side and then close the door. If the door was hinged on the right rather than the left the conflict would have been eliminated.
The television is very large and hidden behind a mirrored wall next to your large balcony door. While it looks impressive, it is frustrating that during the day the only way you can see it is if the automatic blinds are lowered. You are in Antarctica so closing the blinds is the last thing you want to do.
Most of these issues are eliminated in the Grand Deluxe Veranda Suite, which is basically the same suite, but slightly wider. You are, however, provided a semi-walk-in closet that has more hanging space, and is more efficiently laid out plus almost double the drawer space. This obviously addresses the conflict with the closet doors. (A sliding door or curtain to hide this space would be nice.) Also because of the extra width, the issue with the espresso cabinet door getting in your way is eliminated. (The bar setup is still in the same location.) Possibly most importantly, since there is now a three-foot-wide wall before the balcony glass door begins, you can actually see the television without having to close the blinds.
There is a small sofa and an ottoman in the living area along with a low, but large, coffee table. (There are two ottomans in the Grand Deluxe Veranda Suite.) Unfortunately, the table is too low to comfortably dine on room service offerings. Speaking of which there is a nice, but limited, 24 Hour Room Service menu.
The lighting has four settings so with a push of a button (which are a bit hard to read) you can set the mood in your suite. (Curiously, the “all lights on” button is only located by the entry door and not bedside.)
The balcony, which has a true teak deck, is quite wide in both versions with two comfortable chairs and a full-sized table. It is too narrow for a lounge, but this is an expedition ship so the width is far more important than the depth. And with extra-large balcony doors, all that glass truly opens up the view.
The bathroom is stylish, but alas not the most functional. The shower is large with a rainfall and handheld wand and the vanity has a very large and stylish sink. It also has a large true medicine cabinet with mirrored doors inside and out; something I wish more ships had. It is also where the power outlets are located, continuing with the sleek design. There is also a small ottoman, but since there is no vanity in the bathroom I am not sure its purpose…but it looks good. Curiously there is no real counter space so you may well use part of the sloping sink as a counter.
Note that Scenic provides ESPA environmentally sensitive soap, conditioner, and body lotion all in pump dispensers. But there is no separate shampoo and body wash, as they are combined, and for me, they are a bit too perfumed. You may want to bring your own.
Since there is no counter space in the bathroom, the desk area (which has a mirror and separate makeup mirror) must function as both the vanity and your workspace, so things could be quite crowded. The desk has three deep drawers, one of which is dedicated to a Dyson hairdryer. Curiously there are only one 220 volt and one 110 volt outlets along with two USB charging ports. Normally, I could get around this by plugging in my universal adapter that doubles my outlets, but the outlets are located in a trough at the rear of the desk that is too narrow. (A power strip would solve this, so be forewarned.)
One thing that is missing in the suites are hooks. There are none other than the two bathrobe hooks (which are placed way too high). So you have no place to hang your wet parkas, pants, hats, backpacks, etc. That becomes a real frustration quickly. There is more room in the bathroom, on the back of the closet doors, etc. and needs to be installed.
Speaking of parkas, you will receive a very high-quality black parka that has a very comfortable fleece lining that can be removed. I have had to deal with snow and rain and it had kept me bone dry and warm. A bonus is that because it is quite stylish for a parka and isn’t red, orange, yellow, or blue, it can easily be used at home.
Overall my first impressions are that there is a lot of luxury and a lot of style on the Scenic Eclipse. But more importantly, there is a relaxed but luxurious level of service with genuine smiles.
This continues into the Expedition experience, but alas that is for my next article!
Part IV: The Expedition Experience