I will try to focus this review on the differences with sailing with Celebrity, so for those of you who are interested, this is going to be a long one.
Background: My Wife and I are experienced cruisers, 16 now in the bank, most with Carnival (8), (3) with RCL, and (3) with NCL, so I will compare our first Celebrity cruise against them. Before we picked this repositioning cruise I read over 50 cruise critic reviews for this ship, and knowing over 50% of those reviews were negative in overall tone, I have to say we were pleasantly surprised.
The Ship: Even though the ship was over 10 years old and recently out of dry dock for improvements in December 2012, the ship was beautiful. Lots of teak woods, fresh paint, nice deck chairs in adult pool area, beautiful furnishings in all the lounges, etc. Ok, some of the art pieces left something to be desired, but overall we loved the look of the ship. Shopping area very nice, pretty standard, lounges well laid out and easy to find, the only thing missing was a sports bar/pub.
The Crowd: Older than most cruise lines, the Summit passengers were experienced cruisers from the age of 40 and above, with more leaning over 50. This gave us a little level of cruise sophistication, as passenger expectations were high, and the Celebrity Summit crew met that challenge. In addition, we were surprised to see a large Bear group of at least 30, alternative lifestyle men who know how to have a good time. We had the pleasure of talking to a lot these experienced cruisers and we learned a lot about other cruise destinations from them that we now want to take. Getting back to the age group differences on board, during our 2 formal nights, I saw at least a third of the men wearing tuxedos and the rest in dark suits, and the ladies were dressed to the nines. Where Carnival and NCL have gone too far with casual dress, Celebrity brings back the fun to dress up with style. What a pleasure, I felt like we were sailing on the modern day Love Boat.
Embark/Debark: Embark in Bayonne as expected was smooth and easy, we got to pier at 11:30 and we were on board getting our champagne welcome aboard toast by 12:15. Disembarking in San Juan again was also easy, we had a nice Oceanview Cafe buffet breakfast at 7:30 AM, and we were off the ship by 8:30 AM.
Cabin/Stateroom: We had an outside balcony on deck 9, pretty standard cruise room, well laid out, easy to store everything, decent bathroom with curtain shower, mattress was ok, flat screen TV, plenty to watch, free movie channel plus pay for movies option, etc. Only complaint were the pillows, they were horrible, no support, the only thing that really needs attention in the room.
Thermal Spa/Gym: Ok time to talk about something negative. My Wife and I love to go the thermal spas on other ships, so we paid the $189 up-charge to have unlimited 7 day access to the Summit Thermal Spa area. I have to say we were disappointed and I should have asked to get our money back. Its way too small, sometimes overcrowded, only 3 little thermal rooms, and just too small to relax in, no fresh water to drink in there besides a water fountain. They should just open that area up for everyone; it’s not worth the up-charge. Gym was standard and excellent, female and male locker rooms had sauna’s overlooking the ocean.
Casino: Very typical of most cruise casinos but smaller in comparison. Biggest highlight here was that it was completely smoke free, what a pleasant surprise. In fact, the entire ship was virtually smoke free with only 3 small outdoor areas that you were allowed to smoke in. Smoking is actually restricted on passenger balconies also although there were some passengers who ignored this rule.
Entertainment: I can't remember the last time we were on a cruise and from the opening welcome show till we disembarked that we wanted to and did attend every show, they were that good. What Carnival, NCL and RCL have forgotten is that it’s nice to have a ship band of 6, 9 professional dancers, and 6 quality singers that did 3 formal shows, all very good. It was wonderful to hear live music during the performances, and they also had 2 aerialists from France who were truly breathtaking. The comedian, a woman from NY was hilarious, and guess what; you could see her performance in the main theater, not some tiny lounge that you have to wait on line to get a seat. We laughed so hard we fell out of our seats. And the other performers, all fantastic, the 4 person acapella group to Jefferson and Brandi the 2 solo singers; we couldn't get enough of all of them. We look forward to sailing with Celebrity again just for the entertainment.
Service Surprises: Celebrity knows how to treat its passengers, we must have had free champagne at least 4 times, the welcome aboard toast, the Captain's greeting in Lounge, our repeat cruiser cocktail party, etc. A nice touch that goes a long way. Another nice treat, while lounging by the pool, Celebrity delivered hard scooped ice cream to those sweating in the sun by the pool. I have never seen that before. And the most important difference when you sail with Celebrity is the presence and interaction by the ship's Senior Officers. They were everywhere, greeting folks at dinner, attending and mingling at the parties, my Wife and I have never had so much positive interaction with the Senior Officers on any other cruise line like this. I spoke more with the ship's Captain, than I did with the Cruise Director. Truly high class service from them, and the entire crew, from the bartenders, to the waiters, to the cabin stewards, etc.
Dining: First the Buffet - Again, why all the negative reviews about the Oceanview Buffet? From our first meal there to our last, and that was breakfast and lunch every single day, the choices were endless and very good. There were multiple specialty stations that changed depending on whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner. At breakfast you had at least 3 different omelets to order stations, a huge fantail station with waffles, pancakes and French toast to order, and the first ever poached eggs station that I have never seen on any ship where you can get Eggs Benedict to order at the buffet. For lunch, you had a very good pizza station, and different here were the roasted veggies and olive bar that was available from lunch time till midnight everyday. In addition at lunch, on the fantail the waffle bar converted to the sandwich, wrap and Panini station, plus there was a full service pasta station and multiple carving stations. While they did not have a named Food Network Chef Burger station, the Summit’s hamburger and hot dog station located by the pool was very good also. At lunch time there was an Asian station that converted to the Indian station for dinner, and the poached egg station became the Special international selection station for lunch. For dinner, they also put out a full, for free sushi bar, again something I have never seen on other lines. And one last thing, the waffle station for breakfast which became the sandwich station for lunch, became the grill station for fresh to order grilled steaks, fish and chicken for dinner, amazing. We traveled with a group of 26 people, and they were all happy with the buffet selections.
Second – The Main Dining Room (MDR), we ate here 4 times, including both formal nights, had set dining at 8:30 PM, and had your typical MDR experience of good service, lukewarm but tasty food, and at times the meals stretched out a little too long. Dinner highlights included beef wellington, filet mignon, lamb chops, great soups, and the waiters even serve you your salad dressing with 3 choices of dressing each night. Different from other lines, they actually give you a bread basket on the table with 3 different butters and hummus to choose from, nice touch. While nothing was truly spectacular, it was all pretty good.
Third – Specialty Restaurants and Chef’s Table Experience – We ate at Quisine the very first night with a 20% off the $45 per person charge, and all I can say is that it was a weird dining experience. Ok it was cool to order and see the menu on an Ipad, the family style portions were huge, service was excellent, but the whole experience a little weird. The food which did come piping hot had too many choices, too many courses, and we left after 2.5 hour dining experience feeling like we were going to explode.
We did attend the only Chef’s Table dinner experience on the third night at a cost of $279 per couple which was prepared by the Ship’s Executive Chef and served literally on the galley floor. That cost included wine at every course of which there were 7, the Celebrity cookbook, and a group picture. Was it worth the $279, I would say no. The food was no different than what was served in the Normandie restaurant, and it was so loud and crowded in the galley that we could not hear ourselves talk. In addition, Celebrity charges almost double what the other cruise lines charge for a private Chef’s table dinner, and sadly, I have to say our Chef’s table experience on the Carnival Breeze for $150 per couple was better in all aspects.
Forth, we did dine at the Normandie restaurant the very next night after Chef’s table, and again, was good, but not $45 extra per person good. I would have rather eaten in the MDR instead, and Carnival’s and NCL’s Italian and Steakhouse specialty restaurants were better.
Excursions: We did not book any excursions from the ship, as we have been to these islands many times. However in St. Maarten, we took a taxi ride for $8 per person each way to Mahoo Beach to sit under the planes landing and had a great time. In St. Croix we negotiated an 3 hour Island tour with the local taxi service for $25 per person and really enjoyed the sites on St. Croix including the Marriot beach side Renaissance property, the Christopher Columbus beach cove landing site, the 2 rum factories (Captain Morgan’s and Cruzan, and the amazing since closed Hess oil refinery site. We also had a nice fish and chips lunch in downtown Christiansted. In St. Thomas we went shopping right off the ship, and then partied hard at Senor Frogs at the end of the pier. In San Juan Puerto Rico after disembarking the ship, we booked a private roundtrip Zip Line tour to El Toro Verde for $195 per person from ziplinetourspr.com. It was about 90 minutes each way from downtown San Juan in a private van, the tour included a Cuban sandwich lunch with beverages, and we rode the 8 zip lines plus the beast, which took about 2.5 hours. This was the best zip line tour of all the zip lines that we have done in the Caribbean.
If you are still with me, we were very surprised how good our Celebrity Summit experience was, and we look forward to sailing with Celebrity cruises again.