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.)
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.)
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.