This was our sixth cruise to the Caribbean, and our seventh cruise with Celebrity -- and the third and fourth time on the Summit. We're in our 60's and one of us is retired -- the other one. We like to travel, listen to classical (mostly baroque) music, read, and chat with friends.
We booked a back-to-back because we decided that, if we had to spend all that time and money to get to San Juan, we might as well make the most of it. The Summit alternates its weekly itineraries from San Juan. One week's sailing consists of San Juan, at sea, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and back to San Juan. The other week's itinerary is San Juan, St. Croix, Dominica, Grenada, at sea, St. Thomas, and back to San Juan. We did the St. Croix sailing first, but would recommend the reverse sequence if you're planning on a back-to-back as it puts the sea days at the beginning and end of the pair (with a day in San Juan in the middle), giving you a chance to decompress from work and travel at the beginning, and then a day near the end.
Getting to the ship:
This is only the third time we've flown to a cruise as we've been lucky enough to drive either to Baltimore or New York. The last time we flew was in 2006 for our cruise on the Danube and that was before the airlines started charging for each bag, extra legroom, and time in the bathroom ?. So we pruned our packing and decided to rely on the Celebrity laundry -- good choice. Celebrity handled the airline and pre-cruise hotel booking and put us up at the Sheraton at the convention center -- a short hop from the pier. The hotel was fairly new, had a nice pool, and served a delicious dinner by the pool. Our only complaint about the hotel is that the gap under the room door (and that to the adjoining room) was large enough that we could hear every hall conversation -- from several rooms down. Given how tired we were that night, the other hotel drawback, its distance from Old San Juan, did not pose a problem.
Celebrity's deal included getting us to the ship. The hotel took our luggage around 11, and the next time we saw it was outside our cabin door around 3. The bus picked us up around 1 and we were on the ship by 1:30 -- no kidding, it was that fast. The cabins were not available until close to 2.
It felt great to be back on Summit. We knew where everything was and it was like returning to a favorite spot -- which it was. They are constantly cleaning and maintaining her. They touched up the paint on one of the outdoor pools on turnaround day and were redoing the varnish on the wooden rails around the pool while we were there. Everything looked great. Our previous sailings on Summit were in Concierge Class, and this time we had a Veranda cabin. While the CC cabin was slightly larger, I liked the extra cabinet over the TV in this one.
I'm not sure how we lucked out, but we managed to have a series of electrical run-ins on this cruise. First, we blew the circuit breaker when turning off the bathroom light -- that was the night the ballast decided to pop. Then the cabin door lock battery decided it was time to fail and left the door in an unlocked state. And someone on each sailing commented that the bulb on the night table had blown and they were told the ship had run out. This was confirmed in a subsequent conversation with an electrician on the ship.
We are constantly impressed with the people that Celebrity hires. Our cabin attendants were magicians, usually invisible and keeping the cabin immaculate and getting things fixed instantly. Even more amazing is their memory. We walked into the dining room and were recognized by Hamilton, who waited on us during our December 2010 Mercury cruise. And a few days later I was walking from the buffet back to our cabin on deck 7 when I heard a "hello," turned around, and saw our cabin attendant from last May's sailing to Bermuda.
We decided to try "Select Dining" for the first time, as we were tired of finishing dinner late but also did not want to eat at 6. We had reserved for either 7 or 7:15 each night (except sailaway -- see my comment below) and also selected the option to share a table. To our chagrin, we discovered that Celebrity repeats its menus each week so we got a bit creative the second week. One night we doubled up on appetizers and skipped the main course. Another night found us at the buffet, which turned into a pleasant surprise as we discovered a very quiet, almost romantically lit, dining venue, with a nice array of foods: sushi, custom stir-fry (veggies, meats, and flavors), pasta, and grilled to order steaks, chicken, and fish. We decided to avoid the disruption of the galley staff parade on the second formal night(much as we do appreciate them) and had a delicious meal in the empty Bistro-on-Five.
One change on this cruise is that the concierge desk staff had assembled a mini-guide for each island in stacks at the guest services desk. There were one or two maps and a 2-3 page summary of things to do at each port. These were usually available the evening before.
This was our third time on St. Croix and we planned a repeat of our previous visit to Sand Castle on the Beach, but backed out at the last minute and visited the Frederiksted Art Gallery. We chatted with a couple who enjoyed their visit to the resort on the island in Christiansted's harbor so that's on our list for next time.
This was another repeat visit and we wandered through town to the Cathedral, which we hadn't seen before, and was off Independence (formerly Pall Mall) Square.
A new port for us and we wandered around town near the pier, visiting one of the churches, its graveyard, and the public market.
Another new island. We walked through the Sendall Tunnel to the old harbor, which we then wandered around, followed by a walk up the hill to the Cathedral, and then back down the steep hill to the port and the ship. That area is very run down -- they did not have enough money to rebuild after Hurricane Ivan devastated the island in 2004. We'd like to take one of the island tours next time -- or maybe even spend a week there as the mountains and beaches looked magnificent from a distance.
St. Thomas -- first week:
I left DW on the ship and hopped a taxi to Magens Bay for the day -- my third time there. As always, it was lovely with calm water.
San Juan -- turnaround day:
The day started out overcast and rainy, so we stayed with the ship. They escorted us off the ship around 10:30 and right back on after waving our passports at an immigration officer. For some reason, we were not allowed back in our cabin until the normal time, so we sat in Rendezvous and read.
This was our first visit and we took a taxi from the port to the Cathedral, where we were awed by the grave marker inscriptions. We then walked a couple of blocks to the Jewish museum, housed in a colonial era synagogue, the current synagogue, and then to the beautiful Careenage. From there we walked back to the ship, wandering through the Pelican Village craft market on our way. Barbados is one of the wealthiest and best governed islands in the Caribbean.
Our last "new" island, we took the water taxi across the harbor and then walked to the absolutely astounding cathedral -- see our photos. We walked around Derek Walcott Square and then through the market before heading back to the ship. The market had many stalls with unique local handcrafted items hidden among the usual T-shirts. This is another island to which we'd like to return.
We decided that after four times on Antigua, it was time to go to a beach on the island that claims to have 365. We went to Valley Church Beach, about 20 minutes away by taxi. It was quiet, clean, and the "merchants" were not obnoxious. The sand was mostly shells and not as fine grained as we'd like -- will have to try another beach next time.
Another return visit so we decided to explore a new beach -- Dawn Beach on Oyster Bay. The bar/restaurant had good food and drinks, the beach was soft white sand, water warm -- what more could we ask?
St. Thomas -- second week:
In another attempt at variety, we took a taxi to Sapphire Beach. The beach is lovely -- soft sand and live coral reef --with a nice view of St. John and we stayed longer than we planned, as it was so nice.
We were asked to be in Normandie by 8:20 and our number was called in under ten minutes. We found our luggage, waited in a short line for customs, and were in the airport by 9. While this was the absolute fastest we've ever made if off a ship, the airport experience was not as pleasant. United Airlines does not even open their check-in desk until 10 AM, so we had to stand and wait an hour. The TSA lines were not fully staffed so that was an extra wait as well.
We had a fantastic time on this back-to-back and would do it again in a heartbeat. Our only complaint about the pair of cruises was the decision to have the muster drill at 7:45, disrupting all of those not in traditional dining. If this is the only time that works, then Celebrity should block dining venues after 6:15 and focus on providing a good dining experience that first evening. The ship was lovely, the food delicious, staff were terrific, and we had great weather for two weeks.
Links to photos and menus can be found at: