Saturday, August 17, 2013

Celebrity Eclipse - Post 3

Old Stavanger
Two more ports of call in Norway awaited us on our Iceland/Norwegian Fjords itinerary:  Stavanger and Kristiansand.  After a full plate of excursions the two days prior, we opted for a slower place in Stavanger, the fourth largest city in Norway and the largest of those we would visit.  Its status as the oil capital of the country had created a multicultural assemblage of people from 80 different countries and more fast food chains than we’d seen in Norway yet.  Juxtaposed on the beautifully preserved cobblestone streets and 17th century wood houses are modern buildings financed by oil companies making their mark.  On one side of the inlet, commercial enterprises dominate, while on the other side where the Eclipse docked lies Old Stavanger.  Some of those houses and businesses did not appear to be inhabited, but many of these well preserved homes have lured people back to take loving good care of them and embellish the exteriors with beautiful flower gardens.  Ben and I walked all around the entire port area and both
Stavanger Market
sections of the town, stopping at a local market to admire local hand-knitted sweaters, scarves, and jackets.  (What else can they do during those long, dark winters?)  We heard that the excursions offered were quite interesting, however, from a boat trip on the Lysefjord for spectacular views from Pulpit Rock, to a visit to an Iron Age Farm or the Utstein Monastery.

Compared to the fjords areas further north, Kristiansand is a tropical resort!  It actually is as close as the Norwegians get to a real beach experience.  The temperature was pressing 75 and the locals were practically melting.  (Can you tell I’m a Texas gal?)  Ben and I booked a lovely tour by land and sea to Lillesand, where we toured the beautiful coastline and sailed past quaint villages and vacation homes.  I think I’d have to live there and then escape the “heat” now and again up at Flam and Voss.

Another day at sea and we were back in Southampton for a much quicker trip back to Heathrow for our flight home. 

Connoisseur Dinner Group in Tuscan Grille
with friends, Cathy & David at Far Right
I should also take some time here to tell you about the beautiful Celebrity Eclipse.  Like her sisters in the Solstice Class, she is stunning.  Nothing garish or brash about Celebrity decor, just understated elegance.  She accommodates about 2800 guests, but crowds were never an issue.  The first and last days at sea brought many of these northern Europeans to the pool deck, and on some days when I was wrapped up in sweaters, there were still some diehards swimming in the pool.  Brrrrr.  We spent our onboard time mostly INSIDE listening to the three excellent musical ensembles performing and watching the incredible scenery we passed by—in between trips to the gym and to Zumba classes, of course.   

Celebrity is noted for cuisine, and we found food in the main dining room excellent, with only a couple of slight misses here and there.  This ship sweetened the gastronomic pot, however with specialty restaurants that blew us away.  We ended up eating three times in the Tuscan Grille (Italian), and once each at Murano (French) and Qsine (contemporary takes on dishes from all over the world—incredible).  One of our meals in the Tuscan Grille was for the special five course Connoisseur Dinner with wine pairings.  It was truly excellent, although I confess it could not match the Connoisseur Dinner we enjoyed on the Azamara Quest earlier in the year.  The setting alone for that one in the stained glass ceiling library and hosted by members of the entertainment staff, was exceptional.   
Corning Glass Show

Tucked at the back of the ship near the Lawn Club of Solstice Class ships is a Celebrity feature you don’t expect to find on a sailing vessel:  The Hot Glass Show showcasing the skills of master glassblowers from the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.  After getting all bundled up (and sitting as close to the hot ovens as we could for warmth), we watched these young women create glass works of art rivaling any we’ve seen most anywhere.   

Entertainment on this ship, however, was actually run by Celebrity’s offices in the U.K, which brought onboard mostly British comedians and singers.  We enjoyed the singers, but couldn’t relate as much to the British humorists and impressionist.  As I mentioned above, three different musical groups also performed at the various venues around the ship.  We particularly enjoyed the West Side Strings trio from the Ukraine and the Top Notch party band.  As always on such itineraries, lecturers provided insights to various topics.  One from the University of North Texas focused on history and culture, and the other based in Alaska spoke on nature and photography topics.

For those of you who just aren’t “Caribbean people,” this is an excellent itinerary for the summer months, especially if you’ve already been to Alaska.  We were blown away by the scenery and couldn’t get over our huge ship sailing down those narrow, but very deep fjords flanked by (sometimes) snow-capped lush green mountains.   Not every Norwegian/North Cape itinerary includes Iceland and the Faroe Islands, focusing instead on Norway.  Frankly, to get even more Norway in the itinerary, Azamara, Hurtigruten, and other small ship lines can go in and out of even more fjords and inlets and visit additional ports more readily than the big guys.  Hurtigruten ships are working vessels that started the huge interest in fjord cruising.  Prices are much higher, but the experience is more intimate and educational than glamorous and entertaining.   

Iceland and the Faroe Islands were an added treat on this itinerary.  Visiting the Blue Lagoon was great fun, as was crossing the Arctic Circle, but I would have loved seeing more of the fjords.  The North Atlantic can be pretty choppy, too, so your stateroom location is important for this itinerary.   This one has been on my bucket list for quite awhile, especially after missing Fjordland in New Zealand due to rough weather.”  We recommend it to you, too!

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