First, some general comments. My husband and I are in our early thirties, and we cruised with our four year old son and my mother and her husband. We're Elite Celebrity cruisers and we have sailed Summit before, but not since the Solsticization. We generally prefer the S class ships, but chose these sailings since they were inexpensive and fit the time frame we had available. This was our first back to back cruise- we did the repositioning cruise from Cape Liberty, then the first Caribbean roundtrip San Juan.
We had been worried before this trip because of the Norovirus outbreak, but it was completely gone by the time we were onboard. Guests could serve themselves at the buffet, bread on tables, etc. There was no sickness on either leg that we heard of. I did see a red dot on our cabin door so I assume that there had been an ill person in there, but the deep cleaning must have worked because none of us got sick.
One of the advantages to booking the repositioning leg was the much cheaper airfare for us to New Jersey. We enjoy the ports from San Juan, but it's very expensive for us to fly there from Toronto. We got a good deal on Porter Airlines to go one way to Newark and then only had to book a one way ticket home from San Juan. Despite it being a flight of not even two hours, Porter provided a complimentary lunch. My son also liked having computers in the waiting lounge as well as free juice and cookies. It's definitely a more relaxed way to fly!
We stayed at the Hampton Inn Elizabeth, near Newark airport. We got a great deal on Priceline and it also included a pull out sofa for my son to sleep on at no extra cost, as well as breakfast in the morning. They were pretty much standard hotel rooms, but the staff was excellent. They took out brand new blankets when they made up the sofabed for our son and told us we could keep them if we wanted.
We prearranged transportation to the pier with Independent Driver (888-816-0973). It was a reasonable $12 pp, and since our group of five plus luggage would never fit in one taxi, this was definitely a cost savings. He helped us unload our luggage and get it to the porters when we arrived at the pier.
Normally we prefer to arrive at the pier by 10:30 or so, but we had to go a little later this time because of the timing of our car service. We got to the pier around 11:30, a little worried about a long wait, but surprisingly things were fairly empty. Before the cruise there was a letter advising people to board at specific times based on the deck they were on, which we'd never seen before, and perhaps that had an impact on things? Captain's Club members and suites were told they could embark at any time after 11am. We were onboard by 12:15pm, Seapasses in hand. Unfortunately, they didn't work! The check in staff hadn't activated them properly, so that necessitated a quick trip to Guest Relations.
We were lucky enough to be able to book the same staterooms on both legs of the trip, which was really nice. We needed connecting cabins because of our son, and unfortunately by the time we booked there were no connecting balconies left available. We chose category 7 oceanviews, 2029 and 2033.
I would never book a connecting stateroom on an M class ship unless it was necessary. The walls are absolutely paper thin, and we could hear my family having a conversation in normal voices next door. We had no real privacy at all. We needed the connecting cabins because our son goes to bed very early, and so do my parents, so this way my husband and I could put our son to bed and go out in the evenings and leave the connecting cabin door open in case our son woke up.
When I booked, the Celebrity agent assured me that our cabin had a pull out sofa as well as the overhead berths. It is my fault for not checking the deck plans myself, because I didn't realize that no connecting cabins have the pull out sofa because of space; I simply took the agent's word for it and we know how often they are incorrect! Our son was scared to sleep on the overhead beds, so we wound up having to remove one of the nightstands, the chair, and the glass table to shove the main bed against one wall, and squeezing a rollaway cot beside the bed. There was very little space left in the cabin but it was the only way to make it work.
We did have plenty of storage space for all three of us for two weeks. I love how the M class cabins have little cabinets everywhere.
The cabin was comfortable and generally well maintained, although we received shabby linens a few times. Our sheets had holes in them one day and we found an old stain on them another time.
Our stateroom attendant was just average, but her assistant, Jose, was excellent. Nearly every night our son was greeted by a different towel animal, and he loved it. We'd never received towel animals before on Celebrity, even when we'd cruised with our son before.
My husband and I hadn't eaten in the main dining room for our past two cruises, so we were a little curious to see if we'd enjoy it. Normally we prefer specialty dining but of course, when you cruise with a child things are different. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the meals we received and the level of service in the dining room. We are now considering using the MDR on future cruises as well.
We had an excellent table for six by the window. I did find it unusual that on the first leg, they seated an older single gentleman with us. I worried he might feel awkward joining a family with a small child by himself, but we tried to make him feel welcome. He stayed with us all week so I suppose it worked out well in the end.
Our waitstaff were beyond excellent, taking very good care of us. On the first leg, we had Henry as our waiter and Alexander as our assistant waiter. They made sure we had everything we needed. Our bar waiter was Anatoli and he had our pre-dinner drinks waiting for us every evening. The wine steward, Isageni, was also excellent. He opened fresh bottles for us every evening and helped us make good selections to pair with our meals. We all had the drink packages, and our glasses never got empty.
For the second leg, we asked for and received the same table, and got to keep Henry as our waiter. Unfortunately Alexander was transferred to a different section and Isageni left for vacation. Their replacements, Raimundo as assistant waiter and Nelson as sommelier, were competent but we had such excellent staff the first week so it wasn't a fair comparison for them.
Our assistant maitre d', Sriz, was also so friendly and helpful. When she heard my son ask for "meatball soup" (he loves Italian wedding soup), she had some made up just for him. She also had the head chef make spicy Indian food for my husband on several nights, which he enjoyed, and she had our favourite dessert that used to be on the MDR menu, Fraisier, made for us.
We also normally skip the brunch, but enjoyed it this cruise. The hot pasta station had customizable Asian dishes which my husband enjoyed, and the buffet selections were tasty.
They offered a lunch in the MDR for back to back guests between legs with a special menu. Our son didn't like any of the items on the menu, but the waiter brought him a hot dog instead.
As per our tradition, we had embarkation lunch at Bistro on Five, which was delicious as usual. However, I think the secret is out because it was absolutely packed and service was slow as a result. We went four times total on the two cruises and the service and food was always good after that. We missed a few of the sandwich offerings that are available at the Porch on the S class ships, but not on the Bistro menu.
Much to my surprise, there was little to no discounting of the specialty restaurants on either leg. I had assumed that from the comments here on Cruise Critic that discounts are nearly always available, and since we weren't going to go often enough to book a package, I hadn't made any bookings in advance. On the first leg, after checking a few times, they offered me a 20% discount in Normandie but told us nothing was available for Qsine. We decided not to go to Normandie since our son was enjoying the MDR so much and didn't want to go to kids' club for dinner. The staff told us that on cruises of 7 nights or fewer, generally there are not many discounts available because there's more demand and less time, but on longer cruises discounts will be available.
On the second leg, we received a letter offering us 2 for 1 in a specialty restaurant on the first night, since we were B2B, so we did decide to try Qsine and send our son to the Fun Factory pizza party. The four of us really enjoyed Qsine and tried to get another reservation but they were completely sold out unless we wanted to go at 9pm (which we didn't). Since they close at 10pm, I'm not sure how practical that is even if you do enjoy eating late? I wish there was another place to buy their delicious Qsine cocktails, too!
Oceanview Café/Poolside Grill:
We were pleasantly surprised in this area as well. On previous cruises, burgers at the Grill had been left sitting out in warming trays and didn't come right off the grill, but on this cruise they were hot and fresh. There were beef burgers, hot dogs, and French fries every day along with sauerkraut and sauteed mushrooms and onions to top them. You could also get a turkey burger or veggie burger made to order.
The pizza at the Oceanview Café was excellent- it's made on a flatbread of some sort and was really tasty. Every day there was cheese, pepperoni, vegetarian, plus a special of the day.
Our son loved the waffles in the morning, and the sandwich station in the afternoon at the aft of the ship. We used the buffet for breakfast most days, but other than that we didn't really eat there for meals. Afternoon tea was offered there and I stopped up a few times. The sandwiches changed every day but they always offered those yummy scones, cream, and jam.
Aqua Spa Cafe:
We really enjoyed the new SPE menus at the Aqua Spa Cafe. The parfaits were delicious and they were included on the drink packages, much to my surprise. I really enjoyed the strawberry shortcake one.
The new hot entrees changed every day and I thought many of them were tasty, especially the broccoli and mushroom quiche. They also had two cold salads like chicken, tuna, or salmon each day made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise, as well as cold grain salads. We thought this was a big improvement over the old Aqua Spa Cafe offerings. They still had the yummy breadsticks and fruit that used to be available.
Cafe al Bacio was one of our favourite haunts as usual. My husband drinks Americanos, and my parents enjoyed the fancy teas. I don't drink coffee but I love the Iglus, which taste like milkshakes. Our son loved the chocolate chip cookies. They no longer have little sandwiches, but they still have breakfast pastries in the morning and sweets in the afternoon.
My husband spent some time at the Mast Bar, where the bartenders made him some interesting drinks that weren't on the menu.
On the first leg of the cruise, we were told that four blenders had broken, so it was difficult to get frozen drinks if you weren't by the pool. We tend to spend most evenings in the casino and some waiters would go to the Rendez-vous to get a frozen drink but others would not even with a tip. After the first week I asked the bar manager if it was possible to get a blender in the casino, and he did arrange for one on our second leg.
It still seems odd to us that Michaels Club doesn't open until 5pm even on sea days. My husband enjoys craft beer and wished it was available for lunch at times. He did visit there every evening and he really liked the Fin du Monde beer. The cruise director mentioned there were going to be changes made to Michaels' Club very soon but I've forgotten what they are going to be.
We attended a few shows on this cruise. I was very happy to see that we had one 54 Below performer for the repositioning leg- Gregg Edelman sang songs from musicals and talked about performances he'd been in. The late night comedian, Michele Balan, had the audience in stitches.
We really enjoy the live music on Celebrity; it's one thing that still sets it apart from other cruiselines. The guitarist was very good, as was the pianist. We didn't spend much time at the pool so didn't really get to listen to the party band. The a capella group, 4sail, was very good.
My mother and I went to a couple of the Bingo games, and she was very excited to win on the first day. It has increased in price, though, and packages run as much as $59 per session, so we didn't play very often.
We didn't attend any of the trivias or much of the Celebrity Life activities- we preferred just to relax and enjoy the ship.
The Hallowe'en directions were really nice- there were carved pumpkins everywhere and the casino was full of things like cotton batting "webs" and rubber spiders and ravens, and severed body parts. It was also interesting seeing how many passengers dressed up- there were some great costumes!
There were more kids on this cruise than we had thought there would be- 40 on the first leg, and 75 on the second. On the first cruise, they combined the two younger age groups and still didn't have enough children for organized activities most of the time. Our son still really enjoyed attending and playing with the staff (Ivana, Karlo, Carolina, and Quincy) who are all excellent. He made lots of crafts and played games- there were days it was difficult to drag him out of kids' club except that he really enjoyed getting dressed up and coming to the MDR with us.
Every day, they offer activities from 9-12, 2-5, and 8-10pm. You can also sign your children up for the lunch and dinner parties which are free on sea days or $6/hour/child on port days. They also offer a late night slumber party for a fee but our son was too young for that so he never went. You can also buy a VIP package for $99 which includes all the for fee times plus some Celebrity merchandise, but we didn't purchase it since he only went to the dinner party twice.
We had thought that there would be some good Hallowe'en activities for the kids, but unfortunately they didn't hold them until the 8-10pm time block and our son was in bed so he missed the costume parade and Hallowe'en party. However, thanks to some wonderful Cruise Critic members, my son got to go trick or treating at their cabins and he had such a fun time. He told me that it was one of his favourite parts of the cruise.
We were disappointed to see that the price of photos has gone up 50%, to $29.95 per picture. I asked if there was any discount if we bought the photo package since we were on a back to back, and he told me if we bought the most expensive package ($399), he could give us a 50% discount on the top package next week. Much as I love pictures, I thought that $600 for two weeks was crazy, especially since it applied to only one of our cabins. I was also not thrilled about the way they chose to handle their promotions. During the first week, there were none. We had extra OBC so we purchased four photos. On previous cruises they gave us a folio when you buy four but we were told they no longer do that. Then, the very following week, they offered a folio for purchasing three photos, and on one day even offered a buy two pictures, get one free. They still would not give us the folio, so we chose not to take or purchase any photos the second week, and normally we buy a lot of pictures.
The Captain's Club hostess, Ashley, was excellent- very friendly and social. Because our son is very well behaved and followed the dress code, he was permitted to attend the evening cocktail hour with us. We never stayed for very long but he enjoyed sitting with the adults and having a fancy glass of grapefruit juice and a snack.
On both of these cruises, although they designated Michaels' Club as the lounge for the Elite party, they gave us three drink tickets per person per day. Since we had the Premium drink package, we threw the tickets away on the first cruise until a waiter asked us to give them to him if we weren't going to use them. Apparently they have value to the staff, so on future evenings, we gave all our tickets to waiters if we weren't going to use them.
We never attended the Elite breakfast but did enjoy the formal tea on both legs while our son was in the Fun Factory, and we also made use of the disembarkation lounge on the final day.
We did make use of the laundry and dry cleaning coupons we received, and generally things were done well. The laundry comes back folded in a plastic bag but not pressed, so if you need pressing you'll have to send it out separately. I do recommend making a list of any items that you send out in the free bag of laundry though as a couple things went missing and our stateroom attendant was unable to track them down. I'm not sure how they keep things separated, but perhaps this procedure needs some work as this isn't the first time we had laundry go missing, although last time the items did turn up. I would never send anything out to be cleaned that is irreplaceable.
Ports of Call:
We had been to all these ports before, so we decided just to relax and not do anything too intensive. In St Maarten, we went to Maho Beach, which was probably the highlight of the trip. Our son loved seeing the airplanes land right over our heads! A crew member recommended that we try the Marriott in St Kitts, which has fabulous pools as well as beach access, and day passes are $35 although there isn't anyone by the pool checking passes. The waves were too high to safely enjoy the beach, but they had a shallow wading pool for children and we had a fun day there. We visited Coki Beach in St Thomas, but our visit was brief because there were rainshowers. In general, the weather was pretty rainy so it was good that we hadn't been too excited about seeing the ports.
We ate at the Oceanview Cafe on the final morning before going up to Revelations, the Elite disembarkation lounge. We had a great view of the small airstrip nearby and watched little planes and helicopters take off and land while we waited for our number to be called. Since our flight didn't leave until 3pm, we had a very late number and didn't leave the ship until 9:45am. We found our luggage and got through Customs quickly and easily- if you have a porter assisting you, you can avoid the long lines.
We booked a day tour with Happy Tours in San Juan for $25pp where we did some sightseeing and then they dropped us off for lunch and shopping while they kept our luggage, and then drove us to the airport. The cruiseline offered a similar tour for $59pp, so I would recommend looking into a private tour operator if you have a late flight like we did. Unfortunately it was raining again, so wandering the streets wasn't all that appealing.
The service on this ship was probably the best overall in all our Celebrity cruises. The officers were very visible and friendly- the Cruise Critic party had several senior officers including the Captain turn out, and after dinner on several evenings the officers were standing in the hallway between the Martini Bar and the Rendez-vous to chat with guests. We also met Peter, the Hotel Director, as well as other officers, during the Elite social hour.
The staff really made the cruise for us. We probably got a lot of extra attention because of our son, but we felt like they went above and beyond. Everyone always had a smile, or wanted to stop and chat with him or us.
Overall, we had a great Celebrity experience. The food was very good, the service was excellent, the ship was well maintained, and we enjoyed the itinerary. We did miss having a balcony, and some of the amenities of the S class ships like the Molecular Bar, but overall we really enjoyed this cruise and are definitely looking forward to Silhouette in January.