There are lots of chronological reviews of cruises, so I try to take a different slant with each review I write (e.g. ABC's of Xpedition). This cruise on Summit sailing June 3 from Vancouver to Seward was one of three firsts for us; the first on a Millennium class ship, the first as Select members of Captain's Club, and a first cruise replacing a cancelled one. So, this review will provide our comparative experiences on these three levels.
Our previous cruises on Celebrity have been on board Mercury, Horizon (sob & she is gone) and Xpedition. We have a preference for smaller over larger, and had some apprehensions about the larger Summit. But, with a couple of exceptions, size did not matter.
Embarkation at the Ballantyne Pier was smooth despite the fact that it was (due to the cancelled May 20th cruise) the first for the season for Summit out of Vancouver. Our only delay was in the taxi after we had entered the Port area. A train loaded with containers blocked our access to the pier, and we waited and waited as the meter ticked over. Xpress Pass and Select status had us on board just 15 minutes after leaving the taxi; and that included Security, US Customs and Immigration, dodging the photographers and registering our mug-shot on the SeaPass.
We had glass of champagne in hand and were escorted to our cabin at 1.40pm. Our luggage arrived outside our cabin around 4pm. This was faster than on the smaller ships, go figure. Due to the cancellation of the May 20th cruise, we had to accept a cabin which does not suit our preferences. We opt for lower decks, midships, oceanview. On Summit we had forward, up on deck 9, with balcony. We prefer the layout (and the few extra square metres of space) on Mercury (some area lost to balcony I think), but, we did smile as we used the balcony from time to time.
The cabin service was unobtrusive, thoroughly professional, and when we had special requests (like the ice-bucket with ice early each afternoon to chill our pre-dinner bottle(s) of wine) they were filled without fuss.
The larger Summit gave us several features we came to admire (love). We are both keen walkers and enjoyed the longer jogging track on Summit. But we missed the wrap around, teak promenade walking deck on Mercury which we used often on windy days. Summit has a long, straight stretch of stretchdex sprayed on the promenade decks. This is somewhat lacking in character, and you either walk up and down or cut through a lounge to the other side.
We soon learned to meet for breakfast and lunch in the Spa Cafe. We are admitted foodies but we try to be logical and careful about our first two meals each day. This little gem gave us healthy options, small but adventurous choices, and (almost as importantly) respite from the numbers in the Waterfall Cafe. The staff of this delightful spot are regulars in the Normandie (specialty restaurant) and very well trained and friendly. On mornings when we craved an omelette or pancake, the walk from the stern of Waterfall Cafe to the Spa Cafe was noticeable.
Then (did I keep the icing on the cake till last?) there is the Normandie - we had made reservations for the night we wanted for the May 20th cruise. To our surprise, we could switch to the same second formal night (we will do anything to avoid lobster and the Baked Alaska parade) on the replacement cruise. An old (1983) St. Emilion just happened to find its way from our cellar at home into our suitcase - Sommelier Roman smilingly did it proud with the full decanting with candle treatment. The food and service were as advertised - what a fine evening. Now when are they going to refit Mercury with one of these restaurants?
Dining in the main dining room on Summit was comparable to that on smaller ships. I think some of the recent changes to the menu are improvements but are probably fleet wide by now and not specific to Summit. We did have the best team yet experienced at our table for two -- Agustinho and Jose worked perfectly together, remembered our preferences, gave reliable advice, and never pushed us to eat more than we ordered. We did find the main dining room for second sitting less crowded than on smaller ships, but I put that down to the unexpected demographics of this June 3 sailing. There were 170 under 18s, and only 270 Captain's Club members. We guess that there was a lot of dining in other spaces -- grill bar, cabins, sushi bar, and pizza. That meant more space for the waiters and a quieter time generally at second sitting...very relaxing.
Cova Cafe on Summit seems smaller; but excellent service (waiter Bailon taught us to order a bottle of wine rather than wines by the glass...what we did not drink, he kept for our next visit), and the wonderful work of the string Quartet (Viva) and the acoustic guitar (Glen) made this our favourite place before and after dinner.
Having Michael's Club as a non-smoking area (versus a cigar bar on Mercury) suits us, but other than one evening when Viva played there, the entertainment was not an attraction. The other major difference between smaller ships and Summit is the presence of Cirque du Soleil. While this means the bar on the top deck (Bar at the Edge of the Earth) is still outlandishly decorated but used for the masquerade night just once (pack a mask if you plan to attend), it also results in one show in the Celebrity Theatre with the Cirque performers. While the introduction to their show is somewhat unfocused (in our opinion) and being ad-libbed is often under-lit (computer lighting boards do not know where they are going next), there were two outstanding segments of the show which had our hearts in our mouths and our jaws dropping open. WOW! The flip side is that this takes the place of the additional professional musician we enjoyed on previous cruises; a classical pianist, a xylophonist, a banjo specialist etc.
Although there will be many of the rookie sailors on June 9th who will disagree, we found Summit handled really well in the 8 hour squall which hit early afternoon en route to Seward after leaving the Hubbard Glacier. Horizon would have rolled much more...and Mercury too? Our top deck forward cabin moved less than we had feared.
I am not sure that the next comment is relevant in terms of ship size. Prior to the cruise we had been concerned that we would not be able to go very close to the Hubbard Glacier. Watching webcams of previous cruises showed Infinity and Mercury standing well off the glacier and just for a short time. We were again lucky. Cruise Director John (and several crew members we spoke to) boasted of how lucky we were; longest time at the glacier, closest in 20 years, calm sunny weather, and so much calving that some people worried the glacier was going to break up completely. What an event! I cannot wait to set a slide show of my pics to music.
The main disadvantages of the larger ship are results of larger numbers on port days. Tendering resulted in some waiting (especially in Sitka) and lines did form in the cafeteria when many had early tours ashore. The small towns like Sitka and Skagway are somewhat overwhelmed when four or five ships our size or larger are there on the same day. Combat shopping seems to be the order of the day...especially when it rains.
Compared to the smaller ships (and this may be itinerary related not size), there did not seem to be a sense of camaraderie in the Activity Program on Summit. I was the only attendee at the first ping pong and first shuffleboard sessions at sea the first day. Sports Coordinator Andrei suggested the cooler weather and the large number of first time cruisers (who were still finding their way around the ship, and trying everything) might be responsible. On Mercury, we developed several rivalries and friendships with other passengers at these activities, and the Sports Coordinator fostered these.
Turning to the Select category difference there is not much to report. There was a sense of disappointment with the bonuses booklet in the cabin...most coupons require that you spend money to earn the bonus. Not to our liking this trend. But we did appreciate the free wine seminar with Roman in the Normandie, the Galley Tour with executive chef Frederic, and the (higher quality of) drinks served at the Select and Elite cocktail party with senior officers and staff. There were offers of special events with the Art Auction staff (not a way we like to spend our time on board) and with the Wine Auction staff (Canadians need not register and bid because of importing regulations -- what a pity!)...so, for us, these offers were not really a step up from Classic status.
We surmise that our Select status (and the small numbers of members in this category on the June 3 cruise) did prompt the invitation from the Hotel Director to dine at the Captain's Table. Unfortunately it arrived on Wednesday evening for the Thursday dinner and clashed with our Normandie reservation, and switching at that late stage was not possible. We regretfully declined. Maybe our luck will hold on another cruise, and we will be invited again?
Finally, what was the consequence of a cancelled cruise and re-booking? Well, after the panic of learning of the cancellation, and the stress of trying to re-book everything, there was a continual feeling of wonder that we were able to switch it all (sailing date, ship-board credits on file, post-cruise visit with Anchorage friends, independently booked shore tours in Skagway and Juneau, even one of two frequent flyer reward tickets for the cruise back from Anchorage to Vancouver). With a refund from the cancelled cruise paid to our credit card a couple of days before we sailed, we felt blessed all over again. The only negative was that the Bon Voyage gifts we had purchased for each other never did arrive. Our phone call to Celebrity on learning of the cancellation resulted in having to cancel the orders for the first cruise and re-order for the second. Maybe the fact that we called just 16 days before the June 3 sailing meant the order (and that of our Travel Agent who always sends us a bottle of wine) went into the ether somewhere? Guest Relations staff politely tried to sort out the missing items on the first two days, but we cancelled them after three days of waiting. There has been some comment on CC threads about the compensation offered to those booked on the original cruise. In our case, it seems adequate to generous. We had expenses of $55 and $300 dollars to change our return flights, and Celebrity offered up to $200 per person, so we will receive all but $100 of that. However from reading posts on the May 20th thread, we were lucky in that many others did not manage to recoup expenses, or could not manage rebooking as easily; the one size fits all offer did not work for back-to-back cruisers or those from long distances with hotel bookings or tours pre-and post-cruise.
Me thinks it is time to end this prattling. Millennium Class or smaller? We tip the scales slightly in favour of the larger class with advantages just winning out over drawbacks, though our next cruise booked is on Century which may give us the best of both worlds? Select versus Classic membership status? Hardly a big jump in perks here given that the one category up-grade is still the draw in being a CC member anyway. And what about sailing on a replacement cruise instead of one that was cancelled? We do not want it to ever happen again, given that there was anxiety and confusion initially...but if the cruise-gods could guarantee that we two young retirees can be sure of a refund and replacement cruise just two weeks later, I suppose we would have to hope it does re-occur. Questions? Post and I would be happy to answer them.