New Scenic Eclipse
By Peter Knego.
During a blast of social media posts covering the debut of Scenic Cruises’ six-star luxury expedition ship Scenic Eclipse, what stood out in my feed were the comments from friends who are generally indifferent to cruising and cruise ships. My childhood buddy Radames chimed: “Okay, now THAT’s a cruise ship I can get behind — sideways skyscrapers do nothing for me!” Meanwhile, several others gushed about the “James Bond” edginess of the ship’s appearance. “Gorgeous!” “Beautiful!” “Sleek!” These were common descriptions on social media platforms frequented by cruise aficionados.
Click below 👇🏼 for a quick clip of the Scenic Eclipse at her Manhattan berth on September 10, 2019, the day of her christening.
Since 2008, Scenic Cruises has been one of the highest rated, all-inclusive luxury river cruise lines in the world, making the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse a hotly anticipated new comer into the high seas cruise market. Dubbed a Discovery Yacht, this ship is not only the Australian-based line’s first foray into ocean cruises but the first in a new generation of top tier expedition ships equipped with impressive features like helicopters (two) and a submarine in addition to the usual armada of kayaks, zodiacs and e-bikes.
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During her New York christening on September 10, 2019, Scenic CEO Glen Moroney attributed her striking, wedge-like silhouette to that of a mega yacht (the late Paul Allen’s Octopus) he admired from his office window overlooking Sydney harbor.
With polar cruising in mind, the ship has a PC6 ice class rating, the highest possible for a passenger ship, which will allow her to not only cruise Antarctica but also navigate the Northwest Passage.
The Eclipse’s interiors, which are just as dynamic and photogenic as her exterior, are the vision of Moroney’s wife, Karen. Inside and out, they have achieved an object of cutting-edge beauty that comes with a few caveats.
Once aboard, I was struck with how the interiors resembled Scenic’s river cruise ships, albeit on a much grander scale. Stark black, gray, beige, and wood tones along with white Carrara marble surfaces provide a sophisticated setting for luxurious furnishings, vivid floral arrangements and bold artworks.
This ship is pure eye candy for those who tire of the Vegas glitz or, perhaps even worse, the generic stylings and bland, chunky architecture of many of today’s mass market cruise ships.
Including Deck 3, where there is a mud room for guests to don excursion gear, the Eclipse has eight guest decks with most of the four overall grades of suite accommodations concentrated at the forward end of the ship. Two stair towers and a pair of lifts provide vertical access and wide central passageways traverse each level, providing a seamless guest flow.
During the christening ceremony, the ship’s Godmother, Dame Helen Mirren, compared the most opulent digs, a pair of lavish 2,099-square-foot Owner’s Suites on Deck 9 to “New York apartments.”
And for a short while, with their Hudson River view that day, they actually were. These palatial abodes feature a massive, forward-facing teak-lined terrace boasting fixed alcoves of seating and a large whirlpool tub.
The living room has a panorama of floor-to-ceiling windows, a dining nook and a massive flat screen television (somewhat precariously mounted atop a chrome pedestal). Owner’s Suites also have a separate bedroom, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a tub that overlooks the sea.
Even the less princely Verandah Suites boast teak balconies, a sitting area, king-sized Scenic Slumber beds (that can change position with the touch of a button), a wall-sized mirror that contains a flat screen television and familiar Scenic trappings. We’re talking Bose speakers, a complimentary mini-bar and convenient touches like an umbrella, slippers, plush robes, (illy) espresso machines, QuietVox headphones for shore excursions and, of course, butler service.
There is an entire deck of public rooms located near the bottom of the ship on Deck 4, beginning with the in-the-round Theater (featuring reclining chairs with drink holders). On the starboard side, a boutique leads aft to the Lobby Lounge with its sea-level span of full-length windows, a magnificent backlit quartz crystal bar with 110 selections of fine whiskeys and other top shelf liquors and a Carra marble-fronted reception desk.
The entry vestibule follows, leading to the open kitchen Koko’s Asian fusion restaurant on the starboard side and the Continental/Italian Elements restaurant on the port side.
More public spaces can be found on forward Deck 5 (Observation Lounge), aft Deck 5 (Lumiere French specialty restaurant and Azure Bar/Cafe), aft Deck 6 (Spa, available at no charge to guests although treatments are for a fee) and aft Deck 7 (Gym, Yoga Studio, and the Yacht Club buffet terrace and pool area).
Unfortunately, the outer deck areas are a bit compromised by the Eclipse’s edgy aesthetics and expensive toys.
Thanks to a very large helipad on aft Deck 8 and the visually appealing but space-consuming vertical curvature of the forward bulwarks, there is a lack of ample open deck space.
While cruising through some of the most scenic waters in the world, guests will have to content themselves with open-air views from their private verandahs, racing all the way to a narrow stern terrace, up to Deck 10 or, even more remotely, out to the open bow on Deck 5.
Another functional design quirk is that the only proper pool is in an enclosed area at the aft end of the Yacht Club. Sharing space with the buffet dining area, it creates a humid environment for diners and during meal times, it becomes a noisy, crowded venue for those seeking a quiet poolside respite.
Further, while the terrace on Deck 10 is a beautiful setting with its commanding views, teak decking, open sunning space and a pair of whirlpools, it lacks a proper windscreen, negating its use when the ship is at sea.
Late that afternoon, I embarked as a guest for a four-night cruise to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. After settling into my Verandah Suite, there was time for a quick cappuccino and a fabulously crunchy cookie in the Azure Café before boat drill.
Scenic Eclipse must have looked magnificent as she pivoted out of the NYPST (New York Passenger Ship Terminal) and pointed her long, sleek bow towards the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. We toasted with a glass of champagne up on Deck 10, as Manhattan basked in a golden afternoon light and numerous small craft and a very persistent helicopter encircled us.
That evening, I joined a fellow cruise writer for dinner in Koko’s. While my companion enjoyed the sushi offerings, I particularly delighted in the tofu fritters and the ice-cold Kirin Ichiban beer.
In addition to excellent food, Koko’s features artwork by London-based Hush that combines graffiti style graphics with traditional Japanese geisha imagery.
When I retired to my cabin, my bed was turned down but there was no program for the next day. I returned to the Lounge to ask for one and was told that in order to conserve paper, programs were not being printed unless requested. Not wanting to navigate the complex television system or download yet another app (that might or might not function with shifty shipboard satellite connections), I requested that one be placed in my cabin each night.
I appreciated Scenic’s conservational motives here but in the overall scheme of things, one daily program per cabin is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other paper use on board.
Once back in the stateroom, I ticked off various boxes on the breakfast room service menu, placed it in the slot outside my cabin, turned on the red “do not disturb” sign (a familiar feature that has morphed over from Scenic’s river ships) and called it a night.
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The next morning, I awoke to my smiling butler baring a room service tray with cold cuts, a deliciously flaky croissant and a piping hot cappuccino. It was just the fuel I needed to venture out and explore the bridge (Scenic has an open bridge policy, conditions permitting) and stand out on the bow as it cut through the mild Atlantic chop.
The lunch buffet in the Yacht Club had some beautifully prepared, delicious selections but the humidity generated by the adjacent enclosed pool was daunting. As the Eclipse pulled into the Martha’s Vineyard anchorage — in lieu of reef-damaging anchors, the ship uses a satellite-controlled pod system to stay in place — I capped off lunch with another perfect cappuccino in Azure.
After heading up to Deck 10 to witness a shipboard helicopter take off for the first time, I was soon tendering ashore to join an afternoon tour of Martha’s Vineyard.
Scenic provides included Freechoice tours in each port in addition to reasonably-priced Discovery tours. Our Tastes of Martha’s Vineyard excursion took us via school bus through six quaint towns and past numerous farms and Victorian estates before stopping at the Aquinnah Cliffs for a spectacular view of the lighthouse.
When we returned to the ship, she looked especially fetching with her helipad “wings” retracted.
That evening, as the Eclipse navigated the Cape Cod Canal towards Boston, we dined in Elements, which compared to the delicious offerings and attentive service in KoKo’s was somewhat of a let down.
Later, at the whiskey bar, I sampled some very exclusive bourbon choices. Hard liquor is not usually my thing but with friends’ and the bartender’s guidance, I chalked it up to a rather “spirited” learning experience.
Intermittent rain greeted us in Boston on the next morning’s Freedom Trail walking excursion, a reasonably-priced Scenic Discovery tour. I made it back to the ship just in time for a fabulous chicken curry lunch in Koko’s.
Wandering and pondering the Eclipse that afternoon raised some concerns about all the sharp corner edges (passageway railings, counters, furnishings) on a ship that will be navigating some very rough seas.
Later, while resting in my stateroom, I also noted that the shelving was lacking lips and stays to prevent articles from sliding off. Hopefully by the time the ship is navigating the Drake Passage for her upcoming Antarctica season, some of these issues will have been addressed.
When the skies cleared, I joined my writing colleague for a run around the harbor area. We met up again for dinner in Lumiere, the included but reservations-required fixed menu French eatery. With my non-red meat, somewhat vegetarian diet, I figured I could just enjoy the ambiance as my friend consumed her photogenic courses, then head off to Koko’s or, in a pinch, get room service.
Well, once again, in the food and service department, Scenic exceeded expectations. Our waiter presented vegetarian alternatives to the fixed courses that were not only cruelty free but just as delicious and beautifully rendered.
From the first glass of Champagne to the very last scrape of the cheese platter, the entire dinner was culinary magic.
That evening, I saw no harm in our returning to the whiskey bar to sample more of those interesting malts. Of course, the following morning, when room service arrived, I found myself blearily questioning that choice.
I spent most of the sea day confined to my cabin, catching up on a writing assignment while taking advantage of Scenic’s strong, included Wi-Fi. When I did venture out, it was to enjoy a Bento Box tempura lunch in KoKo’s, more cappuccinos (with less milk and extra foam) in Azure and a stress-reducing workout in the gym. Since KoKo’s teppanyaki room was fully booked, my final dinner on board would be yet another extravaganza of friendly, excellent service and artful sushi bar craftsmanship.
At Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on the final morning, we were provided with the exhilarating opportunity to test out one of the Eclipse’s helicopters.
Click below 👇🏼 to board one of Scenic Eclipse’s Airbus helicopters.
After signing a few liability forms we donned safety vests and were escorted to Deck 8 to board the chopper, a feat that prior to the Scenic Eclipse has been privy only to the occasional yacht-owning oligarch. Seating is assigned according to weight — no exceptions — but with its comfy seats surrounded in a bubble of glass, spectacular views were enjoyed by all.
The pilot, an experienced military flyer, joked that this particular group was more interested in getting footage of the Eclipse than the gorgeous town and topography of Lunenburg. Commanding an average of $500 per guest, each 20-minute flight is a pricey but unique (for now) experience that will soon be offered on several newbuilding expedition ships.
The Eclipse’s other “toy,” the five-guest Scenic Neptune submarine, was also going to be deployed that day but it was sold out far in advance (at fares in the $250 range).
Upon our return to the Eclipse, we had but moments to bid goodbye and hop the tender ashore for the ride to Halifax and our eventual flights home.
Afterthought: My four-night September sampling was probably a bit too early in the game and too brief to render a complete appraisal but hopefully this beautiful ship’s somewhat quirky design issues will be remedied or at least taken into account with her proposed sister ships.
As far as food and service go, even at this early stage in the ship’s career, Scenic hit it out of the park.
From the flawless room service where menu “write-ins” were graciously allowed, to the perfect cappuccinos, cookies and pastries in Azure and the excellent quality of the offerings in the humidity-challenged Yacht Club, even the most casual culinary experiences were top notch. Although Elements had some teething pains, Koko’s and Lumiere were proof that Scenic Eclipse’s highly touted six stars aren’t just skin deep.
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