My wife and I sailed on the Scenic Ecplipse from Cartegena, Colombia to Lima Peru in Oct- November 2019. We have had a total of 18 cruises before this one including multiple trips on Seabourne, Crystal, Azamara and Oceania. Inevitably, one compares the Scenic experience to its price point competition. Our review is mixed.
We have found ourselves gravitating to smaller ships over the years and we had a pleasant time on a Scenic river cruise in France so we thought the Eclipse was worth a try despite concerns about shakedown issues with a new vessel. Like many others, our initial booking was postponed due to construction delays and we rebooked a similar South American itinerary a year later than originally planned.
We booked the Sofitel Santa Clara hotel in Cartegena on our own three days before departure and because it was Scenic’s chosen embarkation hotel, they met us promptly at the airport and delivered us comfortably to the hotel. Transfer to the ship was not as well done as we had to wait two and a half hours in the lobby to load the busses. Once at the pier, embarkation was as nice as any we have experienced, and our bags beat us to the room. I was surprised there was no ship security screening of our carry-on luggage, especially given Colombia’s reputation for smuggling. Surprisingly we had to disembark after one hour on board to go through a perfunctory passport check at Colombia customs. No luggage screen there either. Not complaining, but unusual these days.
Our room (Grand Deluxe Veranda Suite # 504) was beautiful and spacious: Big screen tv, spacious bathroom, plenty of storage, stocked bar fridge, coffee maker, a Dyson hair dryer my wife loved, binoculars, umbrellas, plenty of outlets after we discovered the Brit format outlet would take N American plugs, a nice sized balcony, comfy bed with a pillow menu! Very much comparable to a business class hotel room!
Our butler, Jeffrey, was great and made every effort to keep us stocked with ice, tonic and gin.
Not all was perfection. The bathroom sink had a “high style“ sloping basin that looked nicer than it functioned. The bath itself had a persistent aroma of adhesive outgassing or some other chemical bouquet. We found it annoying but eventually went nose blind to it.
The television blinked off repeatedly and worse, came on by itself repeatedly in the middle of the night. They did get this fixed pretty quickly after many complaints.
We also had problems with a tapping noise from the sliding glass balcony door. Our butler dispatched the maintenance people who arrived quickly, sprayed some lube and declared it fixed. It wasn’t. After a second visit they fixed the noise with a wedge of wood in the door frame. This eliminated the noise but made balcony use problematic because we couldn’t get the wedge back in properly.
The ship itself was beautiful but it had some design issues. One could not see anything seated in the “observation” lounge except the front deck. Better to think of it as a small library with an observation deck. The was only a single stairway and elevator bank, situated toward the back of the ship and of course our cabin was in the far front. The main “immersion” pool was located indoors in the middle of the air conditioned Yacht Club buffet restaurant. The water seemed cold and I never saw anyone in it the entire trip. The normal spot for an outdoor pool was taken up by the helicopter pad. Water sloshed from the small outdoor pool onto the diners seated below on the Azure outdoor dining deck.
We found the food at all the venues to be excellent. We did have an annoying half hour wait for our 8 pm reservation at Teppanyaki but a martini with similarly disposed table mates helped ease the pain. Once there, the food was interesting and delicious. The other specialty restaurant, Luminere was also first rate with no wait. The waiter in Elements forgot to offer my wife dessert on one occasion but otherwise the food and service there was exemplary. “JB” (James Bond, he alleged) was particularly good.
On our last night on the ship we went to the “invitation only” “Chef’s Table” experience, which was one of the very best meals we have had in our entire lives. Ten delicious and beautifully presented courses that were as much art as food. Matching wine pairings with each course and a leather boxed tool kit to help us participate in the presentation. The venue was a glass enclosed room with a views of the kitchens. They almost had to wheel me out of there on a dolly after the experience! Easily one of the top highlights of the trip! They told us they only do this every other night for 10 people, so less than half the passengers on our short cruise could be accommodated. None of the five couples ay our seating could figure out why we were so blessed since none of us were in top suites or frequent Scenic customers. Very highly recommended, so try to wrangle an invitation!!
We were disappointed we were not selected to participate in the extra cost submarine experience despite signing up for it the moment we boarded the ship. There was only one scheduled submarine excursion day and I must admit to a bit of schadenfreude when even that one day got cancelled. I understand the opportunities for submarine deployment are very limited. Not much of a ship feature when you can’t use it.
We did get on the helicopter at the Darrien National Park which was a nice 20 minute ride. Unfortunately, they rescheduled the flight so as to prevent us from going ashore that day.
We were not prepared for the number of wet landings from the zodiacs and did not have proper footwear. Better advance warning would have helped. The zodiacs were numerous and the crews did a good job loading and unloading during sometimes rough conditions.
The entertainment on such a small ship was expectedly limited compared to larger ships, featuring a single singer on two nights. The lecturers were better, with Peter Damisch being exceptional. One nice feature was the opportunity to have dinner with Peter! Other ships videotape these talks for later viewing but not here. They might also have broadcast the Panama Canal transit commentary through the television rather than through the public address system so you could listen or not. Niko, the ship videographer put together a beautifully done video of the trip with timelapse and drone footage which he promised to send to everyone!
Would we book again? Maybe in a year or two if the itinerary is right and they can get more of the kinks worked out. Six stars? Not yet, but maybe soon. Better than Crystal of Seabourne? No, but close, and with much potential for a unique experience only a smaller ship like this can provide.