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TPG's first look at expedition cruise ship Scenic Eclipse: What I loved and what needs work

August 23 2022
22 min read
SScenic Eclipse in the Arctic
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Editor's note: TPG's Ashley Kosciolek was hosted by Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours for an Arctic expedition sailing on Scenic Eclipse. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren't subject to review by the line.

Scenic Eclipse, the James Bond of ships, is elegant yet formidable.

The ship is the first expedition-focused vessel from Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, a cruise line known for its upscale river cruises and land-based trips.

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Until recently, expedition ships were spartan, offering only bare-bones amenities and less-than-swanky accommodations. However, Scenic is among a number of lines bringing luxury to the adventure cruising scene. I expected the line would get the upscale touches right, and indeed, Eclipse is over-the-top elegant without trying too hard. However, does the ship blend style and function?

The answer: Yes. Seamlessly.

I've just disembarked my first-ever expedition cruise, an 11-day voyage to the Arctic, and I'm in love. Not just with the stunning scenery and cute animals, but with this ship which, like the polar bears we watched from its observation decks, commands respect because it's built to survive the terrain and is fully capable of doing so.

Scenic Eclipse is small in size, holding only 200 passengers. It's able to visit remote places that many other cruise ships can't. In that, it feels exclusive.

However, its welcoming interior belies a reinforced hull that can break through first-year ice with ease. I soaked in the magic of the region in absolute comfort while surrounded by landscapes many early explorers found to be deadly. The disparity was thrilling.

Nearly three years after it first set sail — and more than two years after its initial voyages were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic — the ship quietly arrived in the Arctic for the first time, bringing with it improvements from initial rounds of passenger feedback. Here are my impressions of the first in Scenic's line of luxury expedition vessels.

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What I loved

Form and function

Scenic Eclipse floats behind a hunk of blue ice just off of Svalbard. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Scenic Eclipse resembles a large yacht rather than a standard cruise ship — and its aura of sophistication and exclusivity made me feel like royalty. A powerhouse in the luxury space, Scenic knows a thing or two about pampering its passengers, so I wasn't surprised that the line nailed that part.

What fascinated me more was how well the ship was built to handle the wilderness of polar cruising and how successfully practical spaces were incorporated into its gorgeous design. In other words, the vessel isn't merely pretty; it's functional. The juxtaposition doesn't go unnoticed.

Underneath the ship's sleek exterior are a slew of amenities. They include a central lounge and bar serving 130 different whiskies (all of them free), a theater with cushy leather lounge chairs instead of standard seating, a high-end spa, a specially designed kitchen space for cooking classes and even a submarine and pair of helicopters for passengers who want to take their excursions to the next level.

The mudroom on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Mudrooms are standard on expedition ships. However, I was surprised by how Scenic Eclipse made this mundane room feel fancy with its leather seating, simple-but-polished design and orderly cubbies for storing Muck boots, which are provided to passengers for use during sailings.

It also doubles as well-organized storage for kayaking suits, booties, gloves and life jackets, which are doled out by the kayaking leaders before each excursion.

Scenic Eclipse houses a fleet of Zodiac inflatable motorized boats used for excursions. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Everything — mudroom, laundry room, boot cleaners and water sports equipment storage on the lowest decks — is laid out to maximize efficiency and keep the grime away from other areas of the ship, allowing intrepid exploration to harmoniously coexist with the leisurely way of life on board.

Even the superstructure is designed to allow for upscale functionality, with the vessel's aft exterior walls able to fold in to allow room for the helicopters to take off and land. (Note: Scenic Eclipse is not allowed to use the helicopters in the Arctic.) It's also outfitted with stabilizers, so efficient we barely felt any movement during the voyage.

In an effort to be more environmentally friendly, the ship runs on cleaner-burning fuel. It also employs some fancy technology, such as a dynamic positioning system (instead of anchors, which can harm the ocean floor and wildlife living in the off-the-beaten-path places where it sails) that uses GPS coordinates and thrusters to keep the ship in one spot when it stops.

Public spaces

The cozy Scenic Lounge houses a bar that serves 130 different types of whiskey and other drinks. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

My favorite space on the ship was the Scenic Lounge, where passengers can sprawl out in alcoves in what feels like a cozy living room flanked by the guest services desk and the aforementioned whiskey bar. It made me want to curl up on a couch and read in my pajamas, but I resisted the urge.

With furnishings crafted from sustainable materials, the lounge is the central location for daily trivia hosted by the entertainment staff, as well as the meeting point for daily excursions, which are organized by color groups.

A wall of loose-leaf self-serve Kusmi tea is available for passengers in the Observation Lounge. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

The observation lounge, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and comfortable sitting areas, was my second-favorite onboard area. It was almost always underused, which meant I could find a quiet place to work, read (it's also the ship's library) or grab a cup of coffee while staring out at the scenery.

Sadly, the self-serve coffee machine was often empty, and when it worked, the drinks tasted watered down. The full wall of gourmet Kusmi teas made up for it, though.

The Observation Lounge on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

My only gripe (and it's been echoed by passengers before me): The sightlines here are truncated by the vessel's bow, so it doesn't offer the uninterrupted views you'd expect from an observation lounge.

The Yacht Club buffet area on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

One of the other complaints passengers reported when Scenic Eclipse debuted was an ill-placed indoor pool found smack in the center of the ship's buffet. The line took note and removed the buffet pool, replacing it with an open seating area. (The move did leave the ship without a main pool, though passengers can take a dip in either of the two tiny plunge pools in the spa.)

Seeing what the venue looks like now, I can't imagine how cramped, humid and loud it must have been trying to eat with fellow passengers splashing away in the same enclosed space. Now, the area has much more seating and offers one of the most aesthetically pleasing buffet experiences I've ever had at sea, along with superb food.

Expedition guides and entertainment leaders

The "discovery team" on Scenic Eclipse — which includes expedition guides, naturalists, geologists, botanists, animal experts, kayak leaders, bear scouts, photographers and more — numbers nearly 30 people. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Normally I shout out the crew on ships where service is stellar. On Scenic Eclipse, my butler, room steward and the guest services team were phenomenal, as one might expect on a cruise vessel of this caliber. However, here I want to focus on two groups of staff who truly set this cruise apart: the entertainment leaders and the expedition guides.

The entertainment staff on Scenic Eclipse organize trivia competitions and pass out brainteaser puzzles. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Cruise director Amy and her assistant, Pablo, led daily trivia, often with fun twists like musical clues that they sang themselves.

On a ship so tiny, there were trivia regulars, including the people in my group and me. On days when we missed the quizzes because they conflicted with excursions, they found time to read us the questions later in the day and provided additional brain teasers like word scrambles and rebus puzzles.

Additionally, the ship's expedition guides, who were friendly and exceedingly knowledgeable about all things flora, fauna, rocks and ice, were quick to answer questions and share their vast wealth of facts. Everyone I encountered was accommodating and insightful.

Scenic Eclipse's Arctic "survival of the fittest" hike took us on a four-mile trek for stellar views. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

They led us on daily Zodiac sailings, kayaking excursions and hikes, where they pointed out wildlife and remnants from previous visitors to the areas where we landed. They discussed flowers and the differences between local birds. They talked about why female polar bears are the ones to wear collars and how long they stay with their young. They also gave daily enrichment presentations, where they shared information about the history of Svalbard and quirky tidbits like how many McDonald's Big Macs an adult human would have to consume for enough energy to trek through the Arctic.

They were allowed to be more social with passengers than on more mainstream vessels, which created an extra layer of personalization. If invited, they were permitted to join us for dinner, which they did on several occasions. It was during mealtimes that we learned more about how they started their careers and what continues to draw them back on board.

Food

Falafel with beetroot puree and yogurt at the Mediterranean Night Market teppanyaki grill on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

What might not be immediately apparent is that Scenic Eclipse offers an outsized number of dining options for a ship of this class. Each venue is small, but the menus are practically perfect in terms of selection. They're also delightfully fancy — but no egos get in the way of special requests or substitutions.

As a somewhat picky eater, I'm not a fan of certain types of meat and was worried I'd be hard-pressed to enjoy some of the restaurants on the ship. It turns out my fears were completely unfounded, and the culinary staff couldn't have been more gracious in accommodating my likes and dislikes.

At the reservation-only venues — including French restaurant Lumiere, Koko's Sushi and Night Market teppanyaki, as well as the chef's table (by invitation) — I was able to either find something I liked on the menu or request a vegetarian substitute. At Lumiere, I opted for a fabulous plant-based steak, and before dining at the chef's table, a quick call to the front desk meant my candied foie gras was replaced by an exquisite candied date instead.

A candied date with grape cotton candy as a substitute for candied foie gras at the Chef's Table restaurant on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

A vegetarian travel companion commented that she was impressed with the selection for people who don't eat meat at all, grateful that it extended beyond merely steamed vegetables and French fries.

My favorite food items from this trip were a Mediterranean tuna taco and falafel with beetroot and yogurt from the Night Market, which featured a new cuisine each night; a beef stick made to look like a cigar at the Chef's Table; and chicken tikka masala from the Yacht Club buffet.

Me, going full "Lorax" with more grape cotton candy at Koko's on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Other standouts included Swedish pancakes with lingonberries from the room service breakfast menu; cookies, a hamburger, fruit pavlovas and Margherita pizza from the Azure Cafe; and truffle fries and daily risotto creations in Elements, the Italian restaurant.

Oh, and whatever you do, don't miss the out-of-this-world grape cotton candy from Koko's, which houses two Asian dining options, including a sushi venue that has all of its fish flown in from Japan.

A dedicated kitchen allows a chef to provide cooking lessons to passengers. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

For travelers who like to cook their own meals, there's also a special kitchen where passengers can sign up to cook with the chef.

We snagged a piece of this glacier ice for use in onboard cocktails. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

As for drinks, remember to ask your expedition guide if you can grab a chunk of ice from a nearby glacier to take back on board after a Zodiac tour. The bar staff will rinse it and break it up for use in your favorite cocktails. (You can hear it snap, crackle and pop as it melts in your glass and releases air bubbles trapped inside.)

Cabins

My balcony cabin on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

In line with the rest of the ship, the cabins on Scenic Eclipse are ritzy but somewhat dark. Most of the time, that wasn't a problem for me, as it created a feeling of calm.

Everything is high-end, from the beds that adjust with remote controls and Illy coffee machines to the rainfall showerheads and Dyson hair dryers. (Finally, a ship hair dryer that actually worked — perhaps a little too forcefully, given how thoroughly it knotted my hair.)

All cabins are suites, offering far more space than what you'll find on most other ships — especially expedition vessels — and they're gloriously soundproof. I could barely hear any noise from the hall, and I couldn't hear any at all from above, below or next door.

Each cabin on Scenic Eclipse has a decanter set, allowing cruisers to request a small in-room stash of their favorite alcohol. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

I'm not a big drinker, but with just about all onboard beverages included, it was nice to see a minifridge stocked with soda, beer and other libations. There was also a decanter set that could've been filled with my favorite liquors, had I asked for them. Carafes of water, replenished as they ran low, rounded out the choices.

My butler — yes, every cabin has one — also got into the habit of bringing me daily treats like bowls of potato chips or plates of cheese.

Other cabin flourishes include a surplus of outlets and USB ports for charging, as well as bathrobes, umbrellas and binoculars for use during the sailing.

My balcony on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

I had a large balcony, which was lovely, but I only used it a handful of times during my cold-weather cruise. It provided a terrific vantage point for photos on most days, and it allowed me to take some wonderful videos when we found ourselves in the middle of an ice field.

The balcony has an electronic blackout shade that lifts and lowers with the push of a button. It's immensely useful in polar regions, where you'll get 24 hours of light at times of the year.

The bathroom in my cabin on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Most standard bathrooms are shower-only, and the ship provides its own brand of Espa toiletries: two-in-one hair and body wash, conditioner and lotion. I appreciated the nightlight at the base of the sink, too. (I never did figure out how to turn it off, though.)

What still needs work

Cabins

The ramp sinks don't exactly work in terms of counter space or a place to pool water for shaving or face-washing. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

While we're on the subject of cabins, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out some elements that don't work as well.

The first is the bathroom sink. The entirety of the top is a slope down which the water flows to a trough at the bottom. There is absolutely no counter space, which is particularly frustrating for anyone trying to do their hair or put on makeup, or for men who like to shave by filling up the sink basin.

The strange cube-like knobs on the shower doors on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Oddly, the cube-shaped pewter handle on the shower makes it difficult to open said door, as it provides no grip and hurts if you hold it a certain way. To get in the shower, I had to grab the top of the door and pull to get it open.

And then there is the television. Its placement in front of the couch isn't ideal because it catches a glare from the overhead lights and the balcony (especially when the midnight sun shines during summer in the Arctic). It's also cleverly hidden inside of a floor-to-ceiling glass mirror, which means it can't be angled to allow for in-bed viewing. The ship's first passengers complained bitterly about this, but the line has yet to correct the problem.

Shoreside operations

A directional sign at the airport in Svalbard. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

I can't overstate how amazing the staff was on my cruise. They were friendly, knowledgeable and anticipated our every need. Shoreside operations still need quite a bit of work, though. The most critical issue Scenic needs to address right now is its off-ship logistics and communications.

For example, all fares for Scenic's expedition voyages include a pre-cruise hotel stay. The accommodations arranged by the line were fine for me. However, passengers expecting luxury (and with fares starting at $13,000 per person for a 10-day sailing, who wouldn't?) were disappointed.

Check-in took a very long time, the rooms were fairly basic (at least I got one that wasn't already occupied, unlike some travelers) and the embarkation-day breakfast was a brown bag with an apple and yogurt.

Scenic chartered a private flight for passengers embarking the ship in Svalbard. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Again, just about everything involving the onboard experience was top-notch, so the irritation among passengers quieted until the disembarkation briefing, which was held on the second-to-last night of the cruise.

A future-cruise consultant who was running the presentation told everyone the charter flight from Svalbard back to Olso, originally scheduled to depart around midday, had been changed to 7 p.m.

The theater on Scenic Eclipse. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Passengers demanded to know why they weren't informed sooner, given that many of them had dinner reservations in Oslo that evening or, worse, connecting flights home that they would miss due to the new later departure time.

Scenic knew about the change just a couple of days into the voyage (the public relations team that organized the press trip I was on told me as soon as they found out), so it was unclear why other passengers weren't immediately informed. Also, the fact that the line scheduled two tours in Svalbard to help cruisers pass the time until the later flight only seemed to anger them more.

"I don't want to spend six hours at some stupid museum that only takes me an hour to see," said one woman.

Several people from the U.S. and U.K. then raised their hands to complain that they emailed customer service with various questions prior to sailing but received no response.

Another said he got two confirmation emails for a helicopter booking, despite the fact that the ship's helicopters are not allowed to be used in the Arctic. (That was also not clearly communicated to passengers before embarkation, leading to much disappointment.)

One of Scenic Eclipse's two onboard helicopters. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

As more passengers weighed in, a trend became clear: The onboard team has its act together; shoreside operations does not.

On the last day, the shipboard staff rallied to allow us to stay on board until it was time to leave for the airport, stretching their resources thin as they prepared breakfast and lunch for us and turned over all the cabins for the next group of cruisers embarking later that day.

However, the folks handling land-based logistics dropped the ball again when a member of our travel party, who requested wheelchair assistance in advance, had no chair and no attendant waiting for him when we landed in Oslo.

Following the sailing, Scenic founder Glen Moroney sent a letter to cruisers to apologize for the shoreside experience. Click the photo, and enlarge to read the full letter. (Screenshot from Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

A few days after arriving home, my fellow passengers and I received an email from the line's founder and executive chairman, Glen Moroney, offering an apology for the scattered nature of the pre- and post-cruise experiences and explaining why certain aspects of the trip had gone awry.

He blamed a recent hacking incident, which necessitated a full website rebuild, delaying communications between the line and passengers.

To solve the issues, the letter said the line has beefed up its cybersecurity, and is currently working to hire and train additional reservations staff. It wasn't done quickly enough to stave off problems on my sailing, but, hopefully, logistics and communication will improve going forward.

What's next

A rendering of Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II in Antarctica. (Image courtesy of Scenic)

Overall, Scenic Eclipse is a luxurious vessel run by helpful and knowledgeable staff who go above and beyond to make sure passengers have the best time possible. The line has listened to its passengers and made onboard improvements to areas like the buffet, but there are still some quirks to be worked out, particularly in the way of shoreside logistics.

Looking ahead, Scenic's next expedition ship will be Scenic Eclipse II, a sister vessel to Scenic Eclipse. Although the general layout will be similar, and the ship will still have two helicopters, the line plans to make tweaks to the ship's design. They include the addition of an outdoor pool and an upgraded submarine with an expanded capacity of eight passengers, plus a driver. Scenic Eclipse will also replace its submarine with a newer model.

Discovery leader Jason gives a presentation during which he explains features of Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II, both of which will have a new and improved submarine. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

In terms of new activities, one of the expedition guides let it slip that the cruise line is considering offering added-fee heliskiing. The expedition ships would use their helicopters to take cruisers to the top of a mountain and allow them to ski back down. There has been no official word yet on when this might be available and whether passengers would need to bring their own gear.

Scenic Eclipse II floated out at a shipyard in Croatia in July and is due to make its debut in April of 2023. After Scenic Eclipse II, the line has ordered three additional ships.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured photo by Scenic Eclipse in the Arctic. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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