Just Back From….Celebrity Summit: The Line’s Test Ship?

August 8, 2014 | By | 12 Comments

Crowded pool deck on Celebrity Summit leaving Bayonne
Launched in 2001 and “Solsticized” in 2012, Celebrity Summit is certainly not the newest ship in the line’s fleet. But what’s unusual about the Millennium-class vessel is that the line often uses it as a testing ground for pilot programs in dining, entertainment and services.
On our recent seven-night cruise to Bermuda, we asked Hotel Director Raffaele Bernardini why this is the case. The Italian formerly served as hotel director on Celebrity’s larger vessels, Eclipse and Equinox, earning numerous “ship of the year” awards for his performance. (Certainly that’s likely a major reason why line executives trust him to implement new programs.)
Another reason is the ship’s passenger base, particularly in the summer. Sailing out of Cape Liberty in Bayonne, Summit draws passengers primarily from New York City, New Jersey and surrounding East Coast states. It’s a sophisticated audience, Bernardini told us, and one that is more open to change than others.
Here are some of the line’s newer programs that we observed on Summit:
Oceanview Cafe. Perhaps no change has caused as much chatter on the Cruise Critic message boards as the new style of service implemented in the Oceanview Cafe, the ship’s buffet. Instead of the usual “help yourself” format, diners now pick up individual metal dishes containing pre-plated portions of frittata, French fries, enchiladas, etc. (You still can eat as much as you want.)
Why mess with something as engrained as a cruise ship buffet? The new format certainly isn’t easier for the staff, Bernardini said — in fact, in most cases, they end up working harder to make sure enough hot dishes are out for the diners. What it does do is cut food waste, significantly, and also minimizes the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses such as norovirus, he says. (These are the same reasons the line cut the popular sea day buffet — the main dining room set-up lacked sneeze guards and other protections against spreading disease, Bernardini said.)
Food in tins on Celebrity Summit buffet
In addition, the change comes from a desire of the line’s top chef, John Suley, to make buffet dishes look more appealing, Celebrity spokeswoman Katherine Hill said. In this regard, the change has been a success, at least from what I saw. Instead of glopping food from large bowls, it does feel more upscale to receive an individual portion. It made Oceanview feel more like a cafe than a cafeteria.
That doesn’t mean we don’t understand the complaints. The trays the ship uses are too small to accommodate several dishes, and it was awkward to stack them on top of one another. As far as portions go, it’s an argument the line can’t win; we overheard some people saying they were too large and some people complaining they were too small. I enjoyed having some sort of portion control — always difficult in a buffet; if you wanted more, you could always get up and get another.
New Entertainment. On its ships, Celebrity eschews Broadway name-brand shows in favor of live entertainment such as Sin City Comedy, Tenors of Rock and shows with its own singers, dancers and acrobats. It’s an area where some might say the line falls behind competitors such as Norwegian, so on Summit, there were a few new entertainment options in place to jazz things up.
One of these, Liquid, took place in Summit’s thalassotherary pool solarium with house music and acrobats. Passengers didn’t really seem to know what to make of this South Beach-style event; instead of dancing, people seemed to stroll around, taking close-up pictures of the admittedly attractive performers. Overall, it seemed like “manufactured fun,” although this could certainly change if the ship presents it in a different way. (In contrast, a Latin theme night held out by the pool, which also featured the acrobats, inspired people to hoot, holler and get their groove on.)
Performer in swing at Celebrity Indulgence party
Also new for this ship (it’s also on Reflection): Indulgence, a for-fee party that’s billed as “Great Gatsby Meets Moulin Rouge.” For $39, passengers receive specialty drinks and snacks you won’t find elsewhere on the ship, and watch “pop up” performances by the ship’s entertainers. While the concept seems a bit uneven — we’re not sure what a man wearing a lion’s head has to do with dancers in bustiers and wait staff with black masks — people did seem to be enjoying themselves and certainly appreciating the included drinks. (Parents, don’t worry; the event is held in Cellar Masters and sheltered from the public with heavy red curtains.)
Suite Benefits. As it moves toward a “ship within a ship” concept, Celebrity has been gradually adding more perks for suite passengers and VIPs. (This will reach an apex in 2015 when part of the main dining room will be turned into a restaurant solely for suite guests.)
One of these is Michael’s Club, the former craft beer pub that has been transformed into a lounge for suite guests. Open 24-7, the club has a concierge to book shows and excursions, as well as complimentary drinks. During the week, we received various invitations for special events held in the club; although we didn’t attend, I can see where suite guests would appreciate this more intimate service. (By the way, on Summit many of the craft beers have been moved to Cellar Masters.)
Canyon Ranch Spa. In April, Celebrity signed an agreement with Canyon Ranch, so the famed destination spa is in charge of spa and salon services as well as fitness classes. It works out of the existing facilities within the fleet; on Summit, this means massages, the salon and other treatments are held on Deck 10, while acupuncture and skincare services are in a separate area on Deck 7. (This is only the case on this ship and Celebrity Millennium.)
This isn’t the first time Canyon Ranch has come to sea; it operates the spa program on Cunard’s Queen Mary II, as well as those on Oceania and Regent Seven Seas. Celebrity’s version, across the fleet, has a few exclusive services (a grounding pedicure and medi-peel facials from Environ, for example). Spa personnel said it’s working on a speakers program to bring in visiting Canyon Ranch experts to discuss wellness and beauty topics early in 2015.
The spa offers the usual variety of services, including massages, facials, waxing and body treatments. As of summer 2014, a 50-minute massage cost $140, although discounts are available during port days. On my next Celebrity cruise, I’d use my onboard credit for another Awakening massage, which came with access to the Persian Garden steam and sauna room (although it’s too small to be worth the separate fee, I’m glad that Celebrity still includes it with spa purchase). I did appreciate how the masseuse, who trained at Canyon Ranch headquarters, took time to show me some stretches to alleviate joint tension. Also afterward: No one tried to sell me products — always refreshing.
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    12 Responses to “Just Back From….Celebrity Summit: The Line’s Test Ship?”

    1. Dean
      August 8th, 2014 @ 1:57 pm

      My son and I experienced the Oceanview Cafe portioning experiment. The issue we had was most things in the metal pans were room temperature.

    2. Roberta Calabrese
      August 8th, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

      I have sailed as a suite guest on the Summit and was very unhappy with the whole cruise. I only went to Michaels once since the young people with us also in suite were not welcome (one of the reasons I prefer RCCL). I found the food lacking both in the dining room and in the buffet.
      The crew were exceptional as are most cruise personal especially in suites. I may be tempted to try the Summit again

    3. Patty McManus
      August 8th, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

      My husband and I were on the same cruise. We walked past your cabin stating “cruise critic on board”. We had a wonderful trip. The food is outstanding everywhere on the ship. The staff and crew had to be the nicest in the cruise world. Service was outstanding and I can’t complain about one thing. Oh maybe the 9 foot waves on Monday night :) I will certainly be a passenger again. I wish I had another one planned now. Thank You Celebrity Cruise Lines.

    4. Cruise Critic
      August 9th, 2014 @ 11:02 am

      Hi Patty!

      I handed out a bunch of Cruise Critic magnets so you might not have been walking past our cabin, LOL. Glad you had a great time. Those waves were pretty rough, but we all got through them.

    5. Janet labarbera
      August 8th, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

      We were on last week as well we liked the new buffet concept. It’s too bad you didn’t mention Qsine! A new eating option. It’s was amazing!!!!

    6. Bill
      August 8th, 2014 @ 10:44 pm

      You missed one other change. Aqua (and Suite?) guests are sent to Blu for lunch on embarkation rather than going to the Oceanview Cafe. We were on Summit in June and was prepared to hate the buffet changes after reading complaints here, but found that the food was actually quite good. As the previous poster wrote, the biggest problem was that many dishes were not hot (this was less of a problem on sea days when the cafe was busier). I had the chicken and waffles (hidden at the burger grill near the pool) and it was really excellent when it was hot, among the best food I’ve had at a cruise buffet. Sadly, it wasn’t hot most of the time I had it. They also had duck on the carving station (I had a whole duck breast; sadly it was overcooked, a common theme on this ship) and even had Peking duck on the buffet.

      I do disagree about it preventing food waste. Unless you’re the sort of person who fills your plate with one thing, you may end up wasting more food than you did before. I got some Asian dishes that came with a large portion of rice (granted, rice is cheap). I had no interest in eating that much rice and I certainly would not have taken as much if I were serving myself. For the aforementioned chicken and waffles, they gave you two pieces of chicken and I would have preferred one (also would have liked to have my choice of piece).

      Liquid was bizzare. And there was no food being served, so I walked thru and then went back to my cabin.

    7. Paul
      August 9th, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

      I agree with Bill the lunch in Blu on embarkation day was a great addition. We really disliked the baskets in Oceanview they were cumbersome, wasteful, caused much confusion and made it difficult to get what you wanted. The food sits out and gets cold. It was much better when it was served by the staff Also, the change in the elite breakfast was not good. The 3 tiered standard selection was a waste of food – the buffet was far better. That having been said we love the Summit. The service is always exceptional. We have taken 3 cruises to Bermuda and will again

    8. Cruise Critic
      August 9th, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

      Bill & Paul –

      Yes, thanks for reminding me about lunch at Blu on embarkation day! Suite guests and VIPs were directed to Normandie, while Blu was open for lunch (serving the same menu, as one person in our party ended up eating at both). Having these venues open takes the pressure off Oceanview Cafe.

      The baskets will continue to be controversial, I’m sure. Some people love ’em, some people hate ’em. We’ll see if Celebrity expands them to other ships. –Chris

    9. Cruise Critic
      August 9th, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

      Hi Janet –

      I ate at Qsine twice – once with a group of other journalists and once with my family. It’s not a new venue, but I did enjoy the creativity of the menu and the servers. They really made it, in my opinion. –Chris

    10. Al Lewis
      August 10th, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

      Portion plated food will always have temperture and portion issues. It tales less staff to serve directly to guests but onle to crash plates. This will accomplish the stated goals allow personal service and the opputunity to provide a smile to everyone. Line runners can back fill the lineby working sections.

    11. Bill
      August 12th, 2014 @ 10:19 pm

      Al, I don’t understand much of your post. Do you want to try again? Specifically what does “It tales less staff to serve directly to guests but onle to crash plates” mean (the typos are not the issue, I just don’t understand the idea you’re trying to tell.

      BTW I did not post it but I was very disappointed in Blu. We’d never done Aqua before and upgraded a few weeks before our cruise because I was able to upgrade from a regular balcony for $80PP. I don’t think I would do Aqua again based on my experience at Blu. Some things were good but others were not and there were several nights when the MDR menu had stuff that was more interesting (that they would/could not get me in Blu, even though I had been told by previous cruisers that it was possible). They overcooked my duck breast on two separate occasions and insulted my intelligence by telling me it had to be cooked that way. A grey overcooked duck breast is a very sad thing.

    12. Pat
      January 28th, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

      Was just on the Celebrity Reflection January 3rd. As a matter of fact I was on the Reflection January 4th of 2014 and I loved it so much that’s why we went again this year. Love the changes they started to make for Suite Guests (Michael s Club) And there plans for later this year. I always found the staff very friendly and helpful, always asking us if we needed anything. Went to 2 specialty restaurants Tuscan Grill which I was very disappointed in. And Murano’s which was excellent !!! I find the biggest problem on the ship was unless you called to make reservations for a specialty restaurant the moment you got on board you were out of luck unless you want to eat at 10pm.
      I did go to the Indulgence Party and found it very entertaining, I loved the music they were playing, if anyone reading this can find out what music they were playing it would be appreciated. I also went to the Liquid Party but to tell you the truth I think that’s something they need to re-think.

      And I did take the plunge and booked another cruise for next year while on the ship.

      Happy Sailing

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