Just got back from the 1st July sailing of the Summit to Bermuda. It was fabulous!
Most reviews focus on all the things there are to do on board, the activities, the shows, the get togethers. I am a quiet introvert. I tend to avoid those things, but still thoroughly enjoy cruising. I like eating, reading, people-watching, drinking wine and listening to music. I don't like loud people, crowded places, smoking, shows, shopping or the casino. Here's my warped take on things!
As a family, we have cruised 15 times on Celebrity, this time was a little different as our son is a SHA summer intern and couldn't come with us, so we offered this trip to our daughter and two of her best friends who have all just graduated high school, as an alternative to "Beach Week" which is every parents nightmare. Bermuda or Ocean City, MD? We knew "The Triplets" would choose the cruise!
We spent a couple of days in New York pre-cruise in the heatwave. Stayed at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in Times Square and visited the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Liberty Island and Ellis Island. I love the anonymity of big cities and loved having two whole days of not being asked where I was from. (23 years in the USA and I still have a british accent!). Having had a hectic 2 days of sightseeing we were looking forward to "chill time" on the cruise. We booked a van through Dial 7 to drive us to the port, and the driver and van were right on time.
We were at the port by 11am and on board drinking champagne by 11:15. We were bus number 2 so one of the first on board. Had lunch in the buffet, sorted out spa appointments and extra cabin keys and our cabins were ready at 1pm on the dot. We had C2 cabins 8045 and 8047, and the former had the coveted larger triangular balcony. Our bags arrived promptly and we were unpacked well before muster drill. As I knew there wouldn't be the old style drill with the wearing of the life jackets, I had the Triplets practice putting theirs on in the cabin and took the obligatory photo!
Last year on the Summit we were unfortunate enough to have a rather naff cabin steward. This time our cabin steward, Derrick, was brilliant. Nothing was too much trouble for him. Our requests are pretty simple, extra towels, no flowers or feathery things because of allergies, and gowns for formal night that needed sending for pressing. All were taken care of immediately and with a smile.
We had Select Dining and I made reservations online before the trip, some nights for a table for 2, sometimes for the 5 of us, always at a table to ourselves. (Don't want the accent question coming up again!). We were usually seated within 5 minutes. The Triplets went to the dining room a couple of times without reservations and never had longer than a 10 minute wait. We sat in different areas every night and each night the food wait staff were excellent. I had the Premium Alcoholic Drink Package and was hoping to have a DIY wine-pairing with different wines with each course, but it was so hard to get a wine waiter that I rarely got more than 1 glass of wine in the dining room. it wasn't that the sommelier was ignoring me, but he had so many tables that he was stretched beyond the point at which he could provide good service to everyone.
Last year the food on the Summit was very disappointing. This year the food in the Main Dining Room was amazing. I couldn't believe the difference. I am not a picky eater but prefer quality over quantity, and small plates of exquisite food over mounds of stodge. I typically ate an appetiser, a soup or salad and a main course. I had been looking forward to trying the crab stuffed mushrooms but escargots were back on the everyday menu in their place. The everyday Shrimp Cocktail was good, as was the Shrimp Louis and the Spinach Turnover. Soups were nice but there were fewer consommes than in the past. Salads were varied and all pretty decent. I had some good fish, Hake in Papillotte, Tilapia Putanesca and an amazing Trout. Meats were nicely cooked too, and the Tournedos of Beef, Beef Wellington and the Bacon-Wrapped Pork Loin were all excellent. I am not a dessert lover so I never ordered one.
We didn't try any of the pay dining venues this trip as the food in the Dining Room was so good. Many negative comments have already been made elsewhere regarding the buffet, but I am not a fan on buffets at the best of times, and apart from embarkation lunch and one late breakfast to avoid the crowds eating at the Brunch Buffet in the dining room that day, I steered clear of it. I would have liked to try the Aquaspa cafe, but as the Thalossotherapy area was "standing room only" most of the time, I didn't want to get food and then have the hassle of wandering round aimlessly trying to find somewhere to eat it. We tried room service breakfast once, but as I got pastries instead of plain croissants and the fixings for a smoked salmon breakfast, but no smoked salmon, I didn't bother again.
Did I starve? No way! The dining room was open for lunch and breakfast on sea days. Have I mentioned Cafe al Bacio, the best place on the ship, yet? It was my home from home. I went there first thing in the morning for a couple of lattes, a croissant and a pain au chocolat, sitting in my favourite chair by the window. I went back later for tea and mini sandwiches at lunchtime, then late afternoon for non-alcoholic cocktails, early evening for a glass of nice chilled french rose while I listened to music, and then after dinner for one last glass of wine, before getting a bottle of evian and a hot milk to take back to the cabin. I was in heaven, no lines, no looking for tables and great waiter service and I worked my premium alcohol card very hard! One other little tip.... the dining room waiter on the last night mentioned that people tended to get angry at breakfast in the dining room on debarkation day because there is a long wait for food and he suggested to us very strongly that we would be much happier at the buffet. Really? I don't think so. Anyway I had a cunning plan... I discovered that not only is Cafe al Bacio open for business on the last morning, it still offers pastries and the drink package still works! It was highly civilised and I got off the ship a happy person!
I never tried Bistro on 5 as the menu looked very carb heavy. The Triplets did however try it and didn't think it was worth the money. They went for breakfast on a port day, were the only patrons there and the food came out cold. I wonder where the galley for this restaurant is?
We didn't frequent too many of the bars. Michaels Club was nice, I think they are aiming for a pubby feel, but it's still a work in progress. Perhaps they could have trivia in her occasionally to get the "Pub Quiz" feel? Michaels had a good selection of beers for DH and they did carry my french rose. One night they ran out and the barman went to another bar to get one for me. That was service above and beyond what was expected as I could easily have chosen something else. The martini bar seemed to be hopping most nights, a very popular spot. We walked through Cellarmasters a couple of times and it was deserted, dark and unappealing. I don't get the point of the half-opened bottles in the dispensers. No one seemed to use the place, so anyone who did could be drinking 2 or 3 week old wine! I don't see why Cellarmasters can't be the same way as the Martini Bar. All the wine bars I've been in have been vibrant and lively, with music and happy chatting people. This was like the Marie Celeste. The Sunset Bar on 10 Aft used to be a favourite place, but now that it is one of the few places smoking is allowed, it naturally attracted a significant number of cigarette and cigar smokers, so was smelly and lost it's appeal for me. However I believe that losing a nice bar to smokers is a small price to pay compared to the benefits of the interior of the ship, the cabins and balconies all being smoke-free.
Other than the "Welcome Aboard" show and the comedian (hilarious!), we didn't bother with any of the organised entertainment. We did listen to some of the lounge acts and they were pretty decent. The singer guitarist was at his liveliest at the Welcome Aboard Show and then became more and more maudlin as the week went on. It wasn't helped by people constantly requesting American Pie and John Denver. "Music to slit your wrists to" we thought, and expected to hear Leonard Cohen by day seven. At the other end of the happiness scale were the accapella quartet, not really my cup of tea, but quite accomplished and unbearably cheerful. There was a south american singer guitarist, Nestor, who played rumba, samba and flamenco songs, and had developed quite a fanclub by the end of the cruise. Last but not least was a pianist I came across just the once, late one afternoon. He was a pianist singer with the motto "why play one note when you can play ten, and if you can play them badly, even better"! He reminded me of Les Dawson. He murdered Coldplay and Radiohead, Elton John and Oasis with unbridled enthusiasm. No one was spared and I had to stifle a giggle. He wasn't however so bad he was good!
We had a couples hot stones massage at the spa. It was a tad pricy but fabulous and I was really pleased that the masseuse read my note that requested no pushing of products afterward, and respected my wishes.
We are Captains Club Elite and one of the benefits was a nightly pre-dinner cocktail party in Michaels Club, hosted by Aurora, the Captains Club hostess, who was charming. We tended to go later so that all the people who like to find people to "chat to" (talk at) had already selected their victims and we could enjoy our free drinks in peace! They had a very nice selection of available drinks and also served hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. It was all very nice. They also did something similar in the morning with a continental breakfast, but we never checked it out. We did go to the Elite Afternoon Tea which was nice, but there was way too much food, and I had to turn down cake after cake after cake until finally they bought out the tray of scones. I do have to question the logic of having the Elite Wine and Cheese Tasting immediately after the Elite Afternoon Tea. I would have preferred them on separate days and had to pass on the wine and cheese. Much has been negatively said about the Elite coupons. I thought the free $49.99 internet package was great and it lasted me all week. We also took advantage of the free laundry, so no complaints from me
We had the Premium Alcoholic Drinks Package and The Triplets had the Premium Non-Alcoholic Packages. We more than got our moneys worth and it enabled us to have the best of everything, teas, coffees, water in the nicer parts of the ship instead of always heading to the buffet for the free stuff. However the wine service in the dining room was miserably slow, and I am not sure whether the drink package had anything to do with it. I do think that the sommeliers were more attentive people ordering bottles than wine by the glass, and probably it worked better with traditional dining because a good sommelier would remember which tables would be looking for wine.
New this time was the Photo Package. They were offering an all inclusive package where everyone in your cabin and anyone in your party under 21 could have prints of all the photos taken of you onboard and a disc of the same thing for $249.99. Bear in mind we always buy photos, and that ship photos purchased individually are usually quite pricy, and that we had The Triplets with us who were game for jumping in front of every camera they came across, and you will see what a bargain this was. We came home with 65 different photos, which at a conservative price of $10 each would have run us about $650. We beat the bank on this occasion!
The Triplets are 18, so too old for the organised Teen Programme. The only other activity aimed at their age group was the 18-30 Meet and Mingle on the first night. They went along but felt very intimidated as there were people drinking and people who were much older than them, so they left after 5 minutes. Perhaps Celebrity should look at a separate alcohol-free18-20 Meet and Mingle for those guests that they don't allow to drink, and who really don't have any reason to be hanging around with people who are almost 30! They were invited to a "Newlyweds and Anniversary Party", I assume in error, as the Travel Agent had noted they were celebrating their 18th birthdays and graduation! They didn't really make any friends this trip but were happy to enjoy one last vacation together. They played board games in the library, sunbathed, worked out, attended beauty seminars, went out for dinner, saw The Newlywed Show and generally amused themselves and had a really good time.
Bermuda itself is fabulous, clean and safe with exceedingly polite helpful people. It's a bit like the Caribbean but without the hassle! Our first day we took the ferry to St George, walked around the old town then over to Tobacco Bay and Fort St Catherines and had lunch at The Beach House. Day 2 we took a taxi, (1352, Lestew Wilson, what a nice man!), to Horseshoe Bay. We arrived early enough to get to our favourite secluded area, (hint: walk and walk and walk!), and left at 1pm when it started getting really hot. We explored the Dockyards in the afternoon and allowed Triplet 1 to order herself her first alcoholic beverage, which she can't do in the USA! Day three we booked a ships tour, a snorkel excursion to 2 wrecks on a glass bottom boat. Unfortunately on the day conditions were unfavourable, and although we got to see one of the wrecks, the snorkelling had to be done at an alternate location.
Disembarkation was smooth and well organised. We had an 8:30 departure from the theatre as we had private arrangements. Our number was called at 8:20 and by 8:40 we were getting into the car that was picking us up.
All in all this was a great trip. The ship did seem rather crowded at times, and with some dare I say rather loud, vulgar people on board. I mean who in their right mind would consider it appropriate to go shirtless to a muster drill in the theatre? Someone had to sit next to their oozing flabby body during the drill and someone else would have to sit in the chair they had sweated on later. Come on people, this really is gross.
There were also some great quiet places, Cafe al Bacio any time of the day, Thalassotherapy pool late in the day, any of the empty bars during the day and of course, my balcony where I could go for some peace and quiet!
If I have any suggestions to make to Celebrity it would be to have a rethink on Bistro on 5 and Cellarmasters. They need livening up. How about a tapas style restaurant with a small cover charge and lots of small plates, (like a mini Qsine which I didn't try because there seems to just be too much food), with a lively spanish themed wine bar beside it with Nestor playing rumba and flamenco? It has to be better than what's there today! My second thought is that they should do something about the thumping techno dance music that is playing all the time in the shopping area. Perhaps Corporate have done research that shows that young people buy more when that sort of music plays, but it drove me away. Finally, over the years we have seen the Baked Alaska parade dwindle to a shadow of it's former self. This time there were no Baked Alaskas held shoulder high, no sparklers or glowsticks, no parading around the dining room, just the staff walking down the staircase and if you weren't anywhere near it you didn't get to see anything. It hardly seemed worth it, and perhaps it's now time to kill it off for good.