We are Canadians in the 40-45 age bracket, who have been on 3 previous cruises, all with Holland America. This was our first Celebrity Cruise. We have concluded the two lines are overall probably on par with each other. We did not find the food superior on Celebrity as had been reported. There were elements of HAL which we found to be just a step up and classier. For example, the common areas of such ships as the Volendam have artwork, flowers etc and a general ambience of old world charm which we found somewhat absent on the Summit. Perhaps we were being somewhat nostalgic for our first cruise. HAL also had an Explorers Lounge area (if I am remembering the name correctly) which combined a very large well stocked library and games room with very comfy chairs, computer terminals and a lovely ocean view. The atmosphere in that space was lovely. The library on the Summitt was in the very middle of the ship, no windows, and the 2 times I went in there the temperature was sub zero. Their computer terminals are, again, in a windowless area in the middle of the ship with a very sterile desk environment. I thought HAL did some of the common areas better, but not to say the Summit did not have some nice relaxing spots, maybe even some we didnt even find in those short 6.5 days. The special coffee place which served (free!) chiffon cake and other special desserts was a nice place to hang out.
CABIN; By lurking on these message boards, I learned the aft corner family verandah rooms were released to parties of less than 5 in the off season. I booked 7202 which was in the aft starboard corner. We were not disappointed by the size of the room or the verandah. Both were enormous. Although this was a kid free vacation we were almost wishing we had our 3 year old with us to take advantage of all the extra space. Having a verandah so large also spoiled me in that I was able to read and relax in privacy with quick access to our own drinks, bathroom etc. It will be hard to have to go back up on deck with the masses if we have merely a standard verandah on our next sailing. There were some issues with the general repair of the room. There was a crack in the wall mirror which had a very obvious piece of tape placed on it rather than replacing the mirror panel. The shower curtain top rings were rusted, as was the sink drain stopper, and there were gouges in the wood of our entrance door. All these things could have been repaired or replaced but were not. Perhaps it was a bit beaten up being a room dedicated to families but still it seemed to indicate there was a lack of attention to detail and a desire to keep the premises in ship-shape which we found odd. The size of the room and the cleanliness were enough to offset these small "repair' issues but still something we noticed so worth mentioning.
FOOD; we were not in a suite, so the breakfast menu via room service was somewhat limited. On HAL you could, for example, write in "Eggs Benedict" by hand and they would bring it to you, even though it was not on the standardized menu. Did not even try that on Celebrity b/c quite sure it would not have happened. We ate in the main Cosmopolitan dining room a couple of times for breakfast and found it less manic and crowded than the Ocean View Grill. Service was quick and efficient. Grill was fine for lunch, lots of selection, and fairly spread out, but again could be somewhat manic and a bit crowded depending on the hour. We signed up to eat at the specialty Normandie restaurant for a special wine pairing meal but we were one of only two couples, so they cancelled it. This led us to book at the Qsine instead and boy are we glad. We ended up eating there twice b/c it was so good. The waiter warned us that the portions were large, and we ended up feeling stuffed but boy was it worth it. Everything is served with such flair and imagination and there is an energetic vibe. My husband also arranged with the Maitre D Sean to have a surprise Tag Heure watch delivered to me as a special dessert, so my fond memories of Qsine might be coloured a bit by that memory as well. In any event, highly recommended to all gastronomes for a meal you wont forget. The other nights dining at the Cosmopolitan were quite good. The couple of times we ordered room service items for lunch such as a club sandwich or a salad, they were good and service was fast and accurate.
ENTERTAINMENT; We might give a slight edge to Celebrity here as they obviously put much effort in to the production value of their shows - the costumes etc were fantastic, but the talent level of the performers was typical cruise ship caliber. I find that there a usually a few good singers but some just sound like they are shouting rather than singing. There were very neat aerial performances at the end of a couple of the shows which was a nice compliment. The comedian they featured was excellent, he told many anecdotes about shipboard life which were so true . eg coming back to the ship when in port to get the "free lunch" The Casino was fun - my husband had great luck at poker winning a couple of tournaments, and also a special tournament against some of the ships officers. That income together with my modest blackjack profits defrayed literally all our shipboard expenses so we have good casino memories.
DISEMBARKATION AND EMBARKATION Both smooth. We are risk takers who fly in the day of the cruise (not retired so less time to spare) so were were not on the ship til 5;30 for 8;30 sailing - so no line up by that point. We were on in 10 minutes. We were on a San Jaun tour for disembarking and met up with our group at the Cosmopolitan and got off the ship fairly quickly and easily.