I was more than happily surprised at my Scenic Eclipse expedition. I wasn’t really sure what my expectations were setting out; especially with Scenic Eclipse being a new product and Scenic Tours and Cruises being a company I had only limited dealings with. In the end, my expectations…even if they were of the highest level…were exceeded.
Full disclosure: While I knew the Corporate Executive Chef, Tom Goetter, and the Director of Hotel Operations, Vitor Alves, for years from my – and their – former relationship with Seabourn Cruises, what I did not expect was that approximately 80% of the hotel staff were also formerly with Seabourn. So it was not only like “Old Home Week” and I was definitely treated exceptionally well (including lots of teasing!) I felt a joy from many of them that I had not seen in quite a while. They were happy, working for a company that actually cares about them and lets them be themselves; something that they were all still a bit bitter about losing those things with their prior employer. A happy ship makes everything and everyone better!
When I discussed taking this expedition with Scenic’s representatives there was a lot of promotion about the ship from her oversized stabilizers – they do work well…both underway and when used in conjunction with the ship’s dynamic positioning – to Dyson hairdryers in every suite. (They actually use Dyson vacuum cleaners too!) I explained that my concerns were less about the ship and more about the expedition experience; including the interaction between the guests and the expedition team.
After the expedition, I came away with the feeling that the Scenic Eclipse, as an expedition ship, hit almost every mark (she does suffer from insufficient outdoor deck space) in an impressive fashion. And as a luxury ship, she offers as much or more luxury than pretty much any cruise ship sailing today…and she only carries a maximum of 228 guests. Yes, the Scenic Eclipse has a few quirks and a few shortcomings – which I will discuss below and have in my prior articles – but as I said during my initial discussions with Scenic, “In the end, the guest will remember that penguin carrying a rock for no particular reason, that whale feeding while they were in a zodiac or kayak, that amazing sunset.”
Scenic Eclipse has a very refreshing and important philosophy. If it was said to me once it was said two dozen times: “We are a young company and are always striving to do better. Please tell us what you see and how you think we can make Scenic even better. There are more ships coming and improvements will be made. So please keep telling us your thoughts!” This is a company you can have confidence in; knowing you won’t be ignored and that your opinion truly matters.
Without a doubt what I remember first and foremost is the delivery of fantastic wildlife and nature experience, followed by some of the best – and most interesting – cuisine I have had anywhere on land or sea. And to catch you up on my contemporaneous thoughts, here are my previous articles about this expedition:
As the Scenic Eclipse is an expedition ship, let me reflect a bit as I did in my Expedition Experience article. The ship, with her oversized stabilizers, performed incredibly well. While we did not have The Drake Shake, on the way to Antarctica there were some moderate seas, which I hardly felt but for a few hours. While some were not as fortunate, the ride was excellent. (We almost had The Drake Lake on our return…making it eight crossings without a serious sea issue.)
Before sailing on the Scenic Eclipse, I admittedly did not really appreciate how important and effective Dynamic Positioning is or how much it improves your expedition experience. By not anchoring and having computers use bow thrusters and azipods to keep the ship in position…any position…the effect of wind and swells are minimized and, of course, when you are in position there is no time spent anchoring or worrying about whether X is the best location. Add to that the garage for the zodiacs – with an amazing and motivated deck crew – and the guests are out on the water almost instantly.
What can I say about the Expedition Team? They performed extremely well. This was my fourth visit to The Ice and it was the most prolific. Not only in the variety of wildlife (acknowledging Lady Luck was also on our side) but getting us out and about in conditions that similar teams on more conventional ships couldn’t. Despite weather and some swells, we did not miss a single scheduled landing or zodiac cruise.
Give a talented group of friendly and enthusiastic experts the right equipment and let them go for it…and Scenic Expedition’s team did. There are too many magical things that happened on this expedition to list them, so I encourage you to read my Expedition Experience article.
There were a few tweaks I would like to see.
Speaking of “going for it”, the Captain and Bridge Team work very closely with the Expedition Leader when assessing sites and, more importantly, conditions. They are extremely collaborative and, thus Scenic Eclipse is very nimble. This results in opportunities not only being found, but not being lost. This is not always the case with some of the larger cruise line operators, who have relegated captains to doing more paperwork, while the corporate head office makes decisions from thousands of miles away, with far too many SOPs (standard operating procedures).
During my time onboard the Scenic Eclipse, I was given the opportunity to stay in three different types of suites: Deluxe Veranda, Grand Deluxe Veranda, and a Spa Suite. They are all beautifully designed, extremely well finished, and truly have the feel of luxury hotel rooms. There are some functionality issues such as conflicting doors, lack of vanity space, difficult electrical receptacles, and, most importantly, a lack of storage in both of the Veranda Suites.
The best way I can put is that hotel rooms are designed for short stays and expedition and cruise ships live more akin to a temporary home. But – and it is a big “but” – I mention the quirks so that you are aware of them; not to dissuade you! The suite are very comfortable and, to be sure, you are boarding the Scenic Eclipse for extraordinary luxury expeditions; not six week Mediterranean cruises.
As I discussed the first two suites in my First Impressions article, I will mention here that the Spa Suite has a fantastic jetted tub with a view and a huge rainfall shower (with mood lighting), a comfortable L-shaped sofa, a huge balcony, and a nice walk-in closet…but it lacks a vanity or a desk. (I guess the Spa would do makeup and you wouldn’t be doing any work??)
Speaking of the Spa, it is excellent. This is because, in large part, Scenic owns and operates the spa; something that almost every other company contracts out. So being vested in having the best, Scenic has hired excellent staff, given them an excellent facility – infrared saunas to plunge pools and more – and has eliminated the “upsell”. (I do have to mention one masseuse, Munee because she is, well, “money”. I don’t know how this charming, petite, woman found ways to bend and pummel me that I could never imagine, but she did…and she made me feel so much better afterward. Best massages at sea…ever!)
In my Culinary Experience article, I detail what is truly the most creative multicultural and venued dining experience at sea. I am not talking about one or two fantastic experiences, but literally every one of the nine venues. And just to highlight how good the cuisine is: On my last night I wasn’t very hungry come dinner time, so I went to Azzure Cafe and ordered a pizza…because it was that good!
Scenic does a great job with the Pre-Cruise Experience As noted in my Enlightenment article. You are informed about everything, in writing, from when you will be picked up at the airport, to your hotel stay, to internal air flights, and more. Scenic’s long history as an Australian tour operator has really polished this experience so things could not have been easier or more efficient. A few folks (including me) had some minor last-minute requests and Scenic took care of them almost instantly. My first two articles detail this.
That said, the experience at the end of the journey could use a bit of polish, as I often say, “One’s last impression winds up being their first impression when they get home“. You know that feeling that when all those helpful hands wave to you when you disembark and then you are on your own? Well, that kinda happens at the end of the Scenic experience unless you book an extension with them. But there is an easy fix!
Because you disembark early and take an early flight back to Buenos Aires domestic airport you have 10+ hours before your flight back to the US takes off. So when you are immediately transferred to the international airport you can’t check in or head to a lounge. Ugh. But you don’t know that you will have this void – and thus plan for it – until literally the last day. At a minimum, this information and a day room with transfers (even at an additional cost) should be offered during the Pre-Cruise experience.
Scenic did come through for me – as it did throughout – by arranging a day room for me at the Alvear Palace Hotel along with my transfers from the domestic airport and to the international airport. I know a number of my fellow guests that would have jumped at the opportunity if they had it.
My experience on the Scenic Eclipse was extraordinary in almost every respect. The staff and crew are some of the best in the business (and I’ve known them for years so this is not a superficial superlative). The expedition team was professional, experienced, approachable, and delivered. The cuisine was, overall, beyond compare. And the ship – while it definitely makes some design statements – performed admirably as an expedition ship and is filled with luxury touches throughout.