Celebrity Eclipse was built for the British market. Although Celebrity Cruises had had for many years ships calling in Britain and even sailing occasionally from British ports, the brand was not that well known in the UK prior to 2010. Because the UK was a rapidly growing market and in light of the success that Celebrity's sister company Royal Caribbean International had had in penetrating the British market, Celebrity decided to commit one of its new Solstice class ships to Britain. That ship was Celebrity Eclipse, which has for the last three years spent the bulk of the year sailing from Southampton.
During that time the British have come to embrace Eclipse. “We positioned ourselves in Southampton to be the UK ship for our UK guests.” said Hotel Director Tom Brady. “[This cruise] it is probably 85 to 90 percent British. Looking out over the course of the season, it is probably 65 to 70 percent.”
“I think this ship has become almost a home to the British. They love this ship,” added Cruise Director Sue Denning. "It has a nice heart."
Indeed, even when the ship is sailing out of Florida in the winter, Eclipse has a large number of British passengers. “In the Caribbean, we were averaging 300 to 500 guests from the UK. In my opinion, they have enjoyed the experience of the ship in Southampton and they stay with what they like,” commented Mr. Brady.
What draws British passengers to Eclipse? Ms. Denning believes that the attraction can be traced back to an incident that occurred when Eclipse was entering service. The ship was scheduled to do a series of pre-inaugural cruises from Southampton before beginning her regular schedule. These cruises were to designed to acquaint travel agents, the media and dignitaries with the ship. Considering that Celebrity was still relatively unknown in the UK, these cruises were quite important. However, just as Eclipse left the shipyard where she was built, a volcano in Iceland erupted sending ash into the sky and grounding all air traffic in Europe. This left thousands of British travelers stranded throughout Europe. Celebrity decided to cancel the first pre-inaugural cruise and sent the ship to Spain to rescue some of the stranded British travelers. “Consequently, I think [the British public] warmed to this ship.”
In addition, Celebrity has adjusted its product to suit British tastes. Tea kettles were placed in all of the staterooms. Certain British brands of beer are available in the bars and lounges. Similarly, British dishes have been added to the menus and the ship's buffet restaurant.
“They love the fact that the company has been discerning enough to move and grow with them. They see that efforts have been made. I've heard a lot in recent months since I have been here - - 'you've really tried to help the British market. You have done things that make a difference.' They love the fact that we have taken the time to make black pudding. It is the little tiny things.”
Along the same lines, when the ship is sailing out of Southampton the entertainment is geared toward the British market. “The Bits look at entertainment differently than the US.” Ms Denning pointed out. “We have 2,600 British people here and we have to go with the majority. But we try and pick people who can cross over.”
Scheduling of the entertainment also reflects British tastes. In recent years, many cruise ships have taken to scheduling the shows in the theater so that the show for those guests on the late seating is before dinner. This is done so that guests who are on the late seating do not have to stay up late, which is convenient on evenings before a port call. But this is not done on Eclipse during cruises out of Southampton. “The European style is different, not just British but Europeans. They all like to stay up late.”
Something else that appeals to British travelers is Eclipse's array of four specialty restaurants plus a glamorous main dining room. “The British like to be special. They like to done out and they like to fine dine.”
While Eclipse is generally-speaking a relaxed ship, the British passengers also appreciate that its formal nights. “They will dress up, like they always have for centuries. You see some beautiful clothes. We have shops in the UK that do cruise clothes and the ladies go and they get dressed. That has been a British trait for hundreds of years. They always get dressed for dinner. A lot of British guests even on an ordinary night will still dress.”
Mr. Brady added: “It is nice to see because usually [on cruise ships] we are fighting the other battle - - no t-shirts in the dining room. We don't have that problem with the Brits. These guests are very conscious of their attire.”
“I think what we have done as a company is a nice balance. We encourage everyone to experience the formal night process. The reality is that we only uphold that in the main dining room. That is the only place in the ship where we uphold that tradition. You can go to the specialty restaurants, the theater and the rest of the vessel and be a bit more casual, we call it country club casual or evening casual. The guests love the fact that you have flexibility.”
When Eclipse first started sailing from Britain, most of her British guests were people who had traveled on Royal Caribbean and who knew that Celebrity was affiliated with Royal. Now, “we get guests who were on Independence [of the Seas – Royal's primary ship in the UK market] but more often P&O, Cunard or Princess - - the traditional [British lines],” noted Mr. Brady.
Although Eclipse is drawing passengers from the traditional lines, Brady does not see Celebrity as cast from the same mold. “We are a different line. We don't compare ourselves to P&O or Princess. I think our brand provides a very nice, high end product without being over the edge. It is still comfortable. We like to mirror ourselves more toward the way resort hotels operate so I think our approach is a little bit different than traditional cruising.”
While Celebrity has reached out to the British market, the cruise experience on Eclipse is not exclusively British. Indeed, when the ship is in the Caribbean, the focus shifts to the North American market. And even when she is cruising out of Southampton, there are usually a significant number of North Americans aboard.
“I have a lot of British guests who say to me that they like a good mix. They don't like it to be all one or the other. They like to be in with the Americans and Canadians.” Ms. Denning noted.
Eclipse is often the highest rated ship in the Celebrity fleet and has won numerous awards. “I think the very fact that they rate us high is to be taken very well because British people are extremely discerning. They will tell you how it is straight down the tube. For them to rate us like they have during the last three years is because they really do like what they see. They don't say it unless they mean it.”
Cruise ship interview - Celebrity Eclipse - Celebrity Cruises - Hotel Director and Cruise Director