Celebrity Summit and 5 Eastern Caribbean Ports
Part I - Precruise
A. Cruise Critic
Cruisecritic.com was once again very helpful in securing key information for all of our ports of call and getting to know some of our fellow travelers before the cruise.
B. Choice of Route
The cruise left from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and traveled to St. Croix, St. Kitts, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Thomas. This was our first trip to St. Croix and a return visit to the others. We love forts and looked forward to exploring Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park in St. Kitts in more detail this trip.
C. Choice of cabin
We sailed on the Celebrity Summit. I wanted an opportunity to try the AquaClass cabins and check out BLU, the restaurant for AquaClass passengers. My wife lives on the balcony when we book them so she loved the idea.
Even though we were boarding in San Juan, PR (a territory of the USA), we were visiting 4 foreign countries, so we felt it would be a good idea to bring passports. This trip we used passport cards. They were accepted without a problem and were so much easier to carry around than the standard passport book. We did bring the passport book with us in case it was needed but was able to leave it locked in the cabin safe the entire trip.
I insured the trip through Travelex, which I concluded was a good choice due to: relative cost comparisons, ease of access and booking, good disclosures, excellent coverage for what I needed, and especially because their insurance is "primary", meaning that I do not have to involve any other insurance in the claims process. I had no interest in proprietary insurance offered by a travel agency or cruise companies because if either goes under your insurance is worthless and defeats the purpose. We bought the insurance within 14 days of our booking to assure their would be no questions about "existing medical conditions", although I am not aware we have any. Thankfully we never had a need for the insurance.
F. Prebooking Excursions
Based upon the recommendations we got off the Ports of Call threads, we decided to prebook three excursions (privately, on St. Croix, St. Kitts, and Dominica) which we arranged via email. The rest of our excursions were all privately booked upon arrival in the respective ports. We have found that researching excursions ahead of time and making arrangements directly with the tour operator has always resulted in a more enjoyable, less expensive, tour than can be arranged through the ship. Tour group size typically runs about 8 to 12 passengers versus the hordes typical of a ship's tour.
We packed for 2 Semi-Formal nights (suit and tie / dinner dress), and 5 Casual nights (polo's/aloha shirts and Dockers, blouses and skirts), in addition to enough clothing to cover us for 5 days. Although it was a 7-day cruise, we packed for 5 and gave the ship our laundry on day 4). Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed were battery powered alarm clock, shoe rack, camera, sunscreen, highlighters, balloons, snorkel and mask, collapsible dirty clothes bag, wide-brim hats, a backpack, and a water camera. We also made seven 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Wednesday, it must be Dominica!" and the like) and mentioning Cruise Critic in hopes that someone else on the boards would notice and strike up a conversation. The cabin doors are metal. We held up our signs with little magnets.
Part II - Embarkation
A. The Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico
We flew United Airlines from Charlotte, NC to San Juan via Washington DC and arrived by noon. The flights were thankfully uneventful. 40 minutes after landing we had our luggage. We then attached our Celebrity bag tags, asked a Yellow Cab dispatcher for a cab, and within minutes were in a van headed for the port. Celebrity Summit was berthed at the Pan American Pier. The port is just a few miles from the airport. A cab ride to the port was about $23 plus tips. (I believe the cost is $19 plus $1 per bag).
B. Security Processing and Boarding
We arrived at the pier about 1:00 pm and got into a 20-minute line to drop off our luggage. We tipped our baggage handler $5 and headed into the building. There was a brief ID check, then a quick x-ray scan, before proceeding to the check-in lines. Fruit punch and water were offered just inside the terminal. Separate lines were set up for Suites, Aqua Class, Concierge Class, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. Once in line, you waited until being directed to one of over a dozen Celebrity check-in agents. Priority was generally given to folks in the line order sequenced above. The agent checked our passport cards, credit card, and embarkation form. Within 5 minutes we had our Sea Pass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key). Boarding had already begun so we headed straight for the ship. A picture and two more security checks later, we were on the Summit. An attendant greeted us with a choice of champagne or orange juice. Cabins were ready, so we made our way up to our cabin to check it out then set out for lunch and to explore the ship.
C. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 9070, an AquaClass category A2 cabin with 195 square feet and a 54 square foot veranda. We were located slightly forward of midships, starboard side, on Deck 9. The cabin was well laid out. Lots of drawers and enough room in the closets for our clothes. The bathroom had a toilet, sink, and enclosed shower. The thick veranda curtains will block out most light when closed, but you can tell the difference between day and night. Hangers and robes were provided. Hint: you can secure additional wire hangers from your room steward. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Saturday's event newsletter "Celebrity Today". Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the gathering scheduled for that evening. We notified our cabin attendant of a couple of minor repairs that needed attention, and asked that our mini-fridge be emptied of all beverages so we could use it for bottled water. It not much of a fridge, it's more of a cooler and it kept water cooler than room temperature but did not chill it. All of these items were taken care of by the time we returned to the cabin.
AquaClass includes: priority embarkation and disembarkation, a bottle of sparkling wine, daily fresh fruit and flowers, oversized bath towel, plush frette robes, and slippers (which you can take home), unlimited access to Persian Gardens (the various steam rooms in the spa), complementary bottled water and flavored iced tea (delivered to your room each afternoon), and exclusive dining in Blu Restaurant for breakfast and dinner.
E. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Waterfall Cafe on the deck 10 for a buffet lunch. The ship is well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. For most of the week, we tried to take the stairs when traversing the decks (and pretended that this was sufficient exercise to cover our food intake).
G. Dinner in Blu - 6:00 pm "First Seating"
We were seated at a table for 2 in Blu, a restaurant for AquaClass passengers. It's a medium sized restaurant with windows. There is no charge for passengers staying in AquaClass cabins. A $5 charge is assessed to passengers staying in suites, on a space-available basis. Throughout the trip we usually arrived in time to secure a table next to the window. Blu is "open seating". You could eat anytime between 6:00 pm and 9:30 pm, except on the first night where they asked you to dine at an assigned time due to the lifeboat drill at 7:45 pm. Blu is also open for breakfast, but not for lunch.
H. Lifeboat Drill
At 7:45 pm (about 45 minutes prior to leaving port), we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. The drill went smoothly and lasted 20 minutes. We were not required to wear lifejackets. We simply had to get to our muster station, watch a lifejacket demonstration, and listen to announcements from Captain Theodoros Zakkas.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals met our expectations. Not only was it good, it was downright outstanding on many nights. There was good variety. Nice presentations at dinner. We never needed to send back an undercooked or overcooked item. Our Maitre'D and waiters were very friendly and helpful. Meats were cooked to order. Yes, you could even order "rare".
A. Always Available
The following items are available every night: shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, chicken, salmon, and a NY Strip steak.
B. The Best Breakfast Items in Blu
Mango smoothie, mixed berries, smoked salmon, and the nice crispy bacon.
C. The Best Dinner Appetizers
Escargot, Macadamia Nut Crusted Scallops, and the Goat Cheese Souffle in Normandie. All appetizers were well presented.
D. The Best Soup
Roasted green chili corn soup.
E. The Best Entrées
Filet Mignon, Rib Eye, Veal chop, lobster tail, and the Pecan-encrusted Duck Breast in Blu; and the Venison Tenderloin and Rack of Lamb we enjoyed in Normandie.
F. The Best Desserts
Crème Brule, Strawberry Soup (rendition of strawberry shortcake), and the combination of scoops of chocolate and peanut butter ice cream.
G. Room Service
Room service was available 24/7. We didn't order anything from room service.
H. Grand Buffet Brunch
There was one brunch buffet, held in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant on Deck 5, from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, on our only sea day. This grand buffet, complete with ice sculptures, carved pumpkins and creative food animals, made-to-order omelet and bananas foster stations, jumbo shrimp, sushi, breakfast items and carved meats, vegetables and sides, and a huge dessert bar. It was not highlighted in the daily, though it was well attended. We would not have known about this awesome buffet had we not read about it on CruiseCritic.com before our cruise.
I. Sushi Bar
A section of about a dozen beautifully prepared (very fresh and chilled) sushi was available each nights from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm on one side of the Waterfall Cafe. It is a winner.
J. Classic Drink Package
We received the Classic Drink Package free from Celebrity when we booked our cruise during a special promotion. The Classic Drink Package includes sodas, fresh squeezed and bottled juices, premium coffees and teas, non-premium bottled water (aka Crystal Geyser), all beers up to $5 per serving, and spirits, cocktails, frozen drinks, and wines by the glass priced up to $8 per serving. All bar gratuities were also included. The normal price is $44/day/per person plus a 15% gratuity charge. While we didn't come close to utilizing the package to it's fullest, we did enjoy picking up bottled water on the way off the ship, the coffees and teas at Cafe Al Bacio, wine with dinner, and loved not having to sign any receipts when getting drinks for the duration of the cruise.
K. Normandie Specialty Restaurant
Normandie is one of the Summit's specialty restaurants. The interior is decorated with the original paneling and ornamentation from the SS Normandie, a French Transatlantic that was the largest and fastest ship in the world when it entered service in 1935. Cost is $45 per person and they offer AquaClass guests a 50% discount on the first night. The food, service, and wine were outstanding. We especially enjoyed the Warm Goat Cheese Souffle, Hazelnut Coated Lamb Rack, and the Five-Spice Crusted Cervena Venison Loin. Our Sommelier was attentive. We chose a nice red that was included with our Classic Drink Package and our glasses never went dry. Allow 90-minutes to 2-hours for this dining experience. Recommended.
L. Cafe al Bacio
Hit up Cafe al Bacio for a variety of espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha and macchiatos; as well as a dozen premium hot teas and iced teas including White Ginger Pear which I enjoyed. I don't drink coffee but enjoyed their hot chocolate. My wife fell in love with the Cafe Mocha Caramel Machiatta. It was a great place to stop in the morning on the way to breakfast. If you want a quick bite to eat, they offer almond croissants, pain au chocolate, brioche and apple turnovers in the morning; light lunch items; and desserts at night. The baristas at this cafe are very friendly and efficient. Most non-alcoholic drinks are in the $5 ballpark and were included with the Classic Drink Package.
M. Oceanview Cafe and Grill
Found on Deck 10, Oceanview has several buffet stations, a grill (hamburgers and hotdogs), and a sandwich bar aft. The food was generally good if you stayed away from the fried foods. Notable items included: shepherds pie, carved lamb, caribbean slaw, and the nightly sushi bar.
Part IV - Entertainment
There is no venue on the Summit that regularly showed movies. They were available on your cabin TV, but what fun is that?
We found all of the shows (iHollywood, Sirens, and Stars in Their Eyes) in the Celebrity Theater to be entertaining. The singers and dancers were among the best we've ever seen on Celebrity. As always, we were not too crazy about some of the selections. The costumes, while odd at times, were extraordinary inventive. Unlike some other cruiselines, all of the music is still performed live by the outstanding Celebrity Orchestra. The guest talent was also entertaining: James Stephens III (comedian, who will be appearing as Bill Cosby in an upcoming movie), and Steve Carte (musician, juggler, comedian). The theater itself is beautiful and the viewing is excellent downstairs. Almost all of the second and third floor seating is partially obstructed by high glass safety walls, safety rails, or the occasional pylon.
The Fortune's is filled with slot machines, one Craps table, a roulette table, a bar and a few blackjack tables. The casino was open while at sea and closed while in ports. The Casino is a fresh-air, non-smoking, environment! This is the first casino at sea I could enjoy in years, and (with the exception of the craps table) it was kept pretty busy most nights. Kudos to Celebrity for their non-smoking policy. There is no dedicated sports bar on the Summit. The casino bar does show sports on their flat screen TVs.
Did not utilize the spa, but did enjoy the Persian Garden steam rooms. It is located on Deck 10. It could use some low-volume soothing music or melodies.
E. Outdoor Pools and Hot Tubs
There are several hot tubs and two pools. We did not use the pool facilities at all.
F. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
The Celebrity Orchestra was excellent and performed at all of the shows in the Celebrity Theater. Among the other entertainment we enjoyed was Jefferson Ang (guitarist and vocalist), 4 Sail (a capella quartet), and Will Foraker (pianist). They played at various venues on the ship. We were disappointed that Celebrity did away with the String Quartet.
G. In-room TV
There were a several closed-circuit ship channels and satellite stations available on the TV in the cabin. You can also order room service and check your current account balance on the TV as well. Additionally, movies were available on your cabin TV. Both pay-per-view and free (recent DVD releases like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) were available. Soccer and cricket were about the only sports available in your cabin.
H. Michael's Club
This is used as an all-purpose room. It's now a non-smoking lounge (yea!) It's got the largest collection of bottled beers on the ship (most were pricier than the $5 limit included with he Classic Drink Package). The $5 and under beers included: Dos Equis, Sam Adams, Amstel Light, Becks's, Red Stripe, Heineken, Leffe, Franziskaner, and Blue Moon. The bartender was very friendly and efficient. The room was home to a wedding reception, meetings, some trivia contests, our Cruise Critic Connections Party, and an art auction (which unfortunately usurped several innings of the World Series one night). All the other MLB World Series games were shown live in their entirety to a large and lively crowd.
I. Room Service
You can order from morning to late night. We didn't order anything from room service this trip. From past experience, they are generally punctual and they don't just drop the order off at your door --- they come in and set it up for you. Be sure to tip!
Part V - Parties
A. Cruise Critic Connections Party
We signed up for the Cruise Critic party on the Celebrity web site. We received an email confirmation that a party would take place. On day 1 we received an envelope containing an invitation to the party, set for that evening in Michael's Club (now a non-smoking lounge). At the appointed time we arrived at Michael's Club on the Deck 4. In total, over 3 dozen folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting other addicted cruise critics. The Cruise Director Alexander Yepremian and Captain Club Hostess Melissa Snow were in attendance. Alex made a short presentation and answered questions. He was among the most approachable, visible, and entertaining Cruise Director's we have met.
B. Captain's Gala Toast
Held Sunday (day 2) at 8:30 pm and 10:45 pm prior to the show in the Celebrity Theater. There were several free drinks to choose from as you entered the theater. Captain Theodoros Zakkas welcomed passengers to the Summit and introduced his staff.
C. Monster Mash Halloween Bash
Held on Halloween night at 10:30 pm. Originally scheduled for the Pool Deck, it was moved to the Revelations Lounge on Deck 11. The lounge was rocking and packed with costumed passengers. It was fun seeing all the inventive costumes. There were also 3 dozen intricately and cleverly carved pumpkins throughout the public areas of the ship.
D. Sail Away's From Ports
Celebrity featured a sail away party on Deck 10 each night that we left a port. Note that you need to be back on board at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. We left one passenger in Dominica who didn't make it back to the ship in time. Totally his fault. When this happens it's up to you to find alternate transportation to the next port to rejoin the ship.
Part VI - Health Concerns
Celebrity does this right! There was no smoking in the restaurants, casino, show lounge, Michael's Club, cabins or verandas. Smoking was permitted outside on the port side and rear of the ship only. We are very sensitive to smoke and applaud Celebrity on it's smoking policy. The ship's environment was very enjoyable. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege, except for one fella who lit up an electronic cigarette in the Revelations Lounge during the packed Halloween Party.
B. Pools and Hot Tubs
There are two pools and hot tubs on Deck 10. We did not witness any babies in the pools or tubs.
C. General Cleanliness of the Ship
You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned: floors, walls, fixtures, everything! That said, you could see some wear and tear around the ship and the ships' exterior railings are visibly worn. Other than that she really is in good shape.
To the best of our knowledge, there was no outbreak on our ship. Kudos to our fellow passengers and Celebrity personnel for their personal diligence.
We had some minor roughness at sea a couple of days. Until this year, I always alternated half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. This trip I tried going unmedicated. It generally went well as I never got seasick. On the rougher days I sought out ginger tea and ginger ale with limited success.
Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship and Crew
We were very impressed with the ship and crew. Very friendly and competent. The ship and furnishings were in pretty good shape. She was very clean.
B. Our Cabin Steward
While we felt our room steward and assistant did a great job with our cabin (no complaints), they did seem stretched thin at times. I have no information to base my conclusion on but I think they had to handle more cabins than in years' past.
C. The Shops
Merchandise did not rotate very much. There was something on sale each day. They had tons of $10 watches and t-shirts they worked hard to unload most days of the week.
D. Internet Service
The good news: there are about 18 computers available in the Celebrity iLounge located midship on Deck 6, and while busy at times there always seemed to be an available laptop to use. All had internet service and free printing capability. It was nice to be able to use our Elite coupon good for 90 free minutes to secure our airline boarding passes.
The bad news: there are no windows-based laptops (which is only slightly problematic for non-Apple users); it costs close to 50 cents per minute for internet usage if you don't have a coupon or go over your allotted package; and the ship's internet is slow as molasses in winter. It took over 20 minutes to get and print the airline boarding passes, and that was on one of the faster laptops. For whatever reason, some of the laptop connections were faster (and I use that word lightly) and more efficient than others.
We saw a few kids and a couple of babies on board. They are looked great in their Halloween costumes and were well behaved.
F. Dress Code
The formal nights were less formal than we remember from prior cruises. We saw few tuxes. Most men were well dressed (with jackets) on formal nights, and all the women dressed up. A couple of knuckleheads dined in inappropriate dress.
We went through customs upon Disembarkation in Puerto Rico. Basically we just got in a long 25-minute line, after claiming our bags, to show our passports and customs declaration cards to Customs Officials. If you're in a hurry, you can pay a porter $5 to help you with your luggage and they'll walk you straight through customs (via their own special line) in under 5 minutes. That's a pretty good value and you let them handle your bags all the way to the taxi.
Part VIII - The Ports
A. San Juan, Puerto Rico
8:30 pm Departure. The ship birthed at the Pan American Pier. RCI's Jewel Of The Seas was parked right next to us on the pier. Once we departed we didn't see them again until St. Kitts, and that was the only time we had another ship in any port with us.
B. Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
8:00am - 5:30pm. We arrived on Sunday. A lot of businesses around the island (including the Captain Morgan Run Distillery) were closed. A reggae band was playing on the pier when we arrived. From the ship, you can see the quaint town of Frederiksted in front of the pier with lots of shops, to the left is an old fort (Fort Frederik) with a beach to its left and then about 2 miles further left was a popular beach called Rainbow Beach which had a bar and rented watercraft. We prearranged a 1.5-hour ATV jungle tour with Gecko Island Adventures for $135 for the two of us on a shared ATV. About one third of the tour is on paved roads and the balance is off-roading. There were numerous puddles and we did get a little muddy. (I'd have gotten real muddy if my wife had let me zip through the puddles rather than slowly go around them). There were 4 ATV's in our group, plus our guide. I would suggest you dress comfortably in clothes that are okay to get dirty, wear sunscreen, eye protection, water shoes, and a bandana to cover your nose and mouth from the dust the ATV's in front of you kick up. We had a lot of fun. At the end of the tour you have the option of staying at Rainbow Beach or catching free transportation back to town. We opted to go back to town, eat lunch on the ship, change into our beach clothes and hit the beach next to Fort Frederik. If you stay at Rainbow Beach, it only costs $3 to get back to town. It's only a few minutes away.
To find the Gecko office, exit the Pier and walk down the first street directly across from the pier (which is Customs Street). You will see a mini police station on the right. Enter into Strand Square Courtyard via the entrance next to the police station. Once in the center of the courtyard turn to your left and you'll find the Gecko office where you can pay with cash or credit card. You will then be fitted with a helmet. Our tour started at 9:30 am and we were asked to be at the office no later than 9:15 am.
After lunch we walked past the fort on the ocean side. Just past the fort is a reasonably nice beach with a bar and grill. Umbrellas and chairs can be rented. The sand was soft and the ocean pretty. Great place to take pictures of the ship from the beach. As forts go, there's not much to see, but the cannons are cool and there is a museum inside, but they don't make it very inviting to visit. There is one entrance gate, located on the town side. The gate was closed, but unlocked, though it looked like it was padlocked shut.
C. Basse-Terre, St. Kitts
8:00am - 5:00pm. On our first trip to St. Kitts we hired Thenford Grey for this "Island Tour". This is a great tour. However on our second tip we wanted to spend a lot more time at the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park so we arranged with Thenford Grey to be dropped off early and then join his regular tour when they arrived at the fortress prior to continuing on to South Friar's Beach. Brimstone Hill is an impressive fortress which sets atop a volcanic cone that is 800 feet high and offers 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and neighboring islands. It's also a World Heritage Site. We spent 3 hours exploring the fort and outlying structures. Hint: bring a flashlight to explore dark passages. Next to the fort is a tall grassy mound called Monkey Hill (aka Fort Charlotte). A worker had recently cut a 6-foot wide access path to the top of the hill which offers nice views. About 75% to the top is a side path that will take you to a recently rediscovered 15x20 foot (my estimate) stone out-building, with openings for 3 cannon, that was hidden under vegetation. It also offered views of the fort and the steep gorge behind it. After we left the fortress, we visited an overlook where you could see the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean on either side of a thin stretch of the island. The bodies of water could not have been separated by more than a quarter-mile. We the got dropped off at South Friar's Beach which offers an active bar and grill with lots of shade and picnic-style seating, restrooms, an outdoor shower, changing rooms, a nice beach with black and beige sands, a protected swim area and some snorkeling opportunities. We saw over a dozen different types of fish along the manmade reef and lots of sea urchins (some close to a foot in diameter).
Brimstone Hill Fortress on St. Kitts
D. Roseau, Dominica
8:00am - 5:00pm. We prearranged the "Roseau Valley Treasures" tour with Bumpiing Tours. We enjoyed this tour so much the first time we were here a few years ago, we hired them again. The cost is $50 per person (cash, paid at the end of the tour). Levi Baron met us just outside the pier and was our driver and guide for the day. Levi kept us one step ahead of most of the tours. Our first stop was Champagne Reef for snorkeling. Upon reaching the beach we walked a short 5 minutes to the end of the stony beach, until we got to a cliff where we donned masks and fins. Underwater geothermal springs vent out gasses that form warm bubbles, like Champaign in the Sea. It was pretty unique. Levi took us on a guided tour of the reef where we saw lots of fish and an old ship's cannon.
Our second stop was Titou Gorge (one of the spectacular locations where "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" was filmed). Once you get past the cold chill of the fresh water at Titou Gorge, you swim about 200-feet up a cave like area (high walls on both sides with a crevice view of the sky while swimming). The water is 15 feet deep at its deepest point. After about 100-feet of swimming you get to the middle of the gorge where there is a submerged ledge you can stand on. That’s the only place you will be able to stand before you get to the end of your swim. When ready, we continued our swim to the waterfall at far end of the gorge. This is an incredibly beautiful gorge and an experience not to be missed.
Stop three was Trafalgar Falls which has two waterfalls and an opportunity to soak in natural hot mineral spring pools. The waterfalls are both picture worthy and despite being fed by two different sources, can be included in one picture. The hot spring pools are fun and relaxing. Following the falls we drove through the Botanical Gardens and learned about several local fruit and flower bearing plants and trees. Our final stop was Morne Bruce, an overlook with a view of the city of Roseau and the ship in port.
Summit in Dominica
E. St. Georges, Grenada
8:00am - 5:00pm. On our last trip here we enjoyed Mandoo Tours 4-hour half-day "Spice Plantation Route" tour. This trip we hoped to take it easy on Grand Anse Beach, a non-snorkeling 2-mile crescent stretch of sand not too far from the ship. Most folks take a water taxi to Grand Anse Beach for about $6 per person each way. The water taxi is about 1/2-block to the left of the ship (as you face the island). We opted to take a local bus ($1 US). The bus depot can also been seen from the ship. Just look for the 2-deck parking garage with a hundred mini-vans another half block from the water taxi dock. It's easy to catch a water taxi or bus in either direction to and from the cruise pier. If you take the bus, you want the Zone #1 bus to Grand Anse (and back to St. George). It's clearly written on the windshield. The bus holds about 14 passengers and the driver (working with a conductor) will work to keep it as full as possible throughout the trip. You will not save time taking the bus. You take it because you want to get a better flavor of the island and it's residents.
Grilled Baracuda and Rocket Potato Salad at Umbrellas
If you take the water taxi, upon arrival you'll get swamped with offers for chairs and umbrellas (among other things). I suggest you walk away from the dock, past the spice market, and settle in an area away from the heavier crowds. If you arrive by bus, get off at the Spiceland Mall, cross the street and walk 1 block down a driveway where you'll find yourself at a great beach bar and grill called Umbrellas. It's an airy, clean, comfortable restaurant with great food. Don't panic when you read the menu. The prices are in Eastern Caribbean Dollars and $1 USD = $2.70 ECD. We enjoyed their grilled barracuda (two thick nicely grilled mild flaky white filets) with a side of "rocket and potato salad". Rocket is a non-bitter local leafy vegetable. Lunch was awesome. We also ordered a locally bottled ginger ale and a bottle of their local Carib Lager. There was plenty of food for two to share. With tip, the total was $58 ECD (about $22 USD). Upon exiting Umbrellas, you'll find yourself on the less crowded section of the beach (3/4 down the beach from the water taxi dock). When your beach day is done, reserve your steps and take either the bus or water taxi back to the ship.
The skies were cloudy and it rained most of the day (sometimes torrentially). I estimate that there were no more than two dozen folks from the ship on the beach, and they outnumbered everyone else, except the vendors at the spice market. We had a great adventure despite the lack of an intended sunny beach day.
Grand Anse Beach
F. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
8:00am - 5:00pm. This is our fourth visit to St. Thomas. On our first trip we privately arranged for an island tour with Godfrey's Tours for a 2-hour island tour. On our second trip we enjoyed snorkeling at Sapphire Beach. We jumped a ferry to St. John on our third trip and snorkeled two awesome beaches: Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay. On this cruise (trip 4) we considered visiting Meagan's Bay which requires a regular taxi at a cost of $8 per person each way plus a $4 per person admission. Instead we hopped a $2 taxi back to Sapphire Beach.
Despite what everyone at the pier will tell you (and they will lie to you), you can get local transportation for $2 per person in an open-air taxi to Sapphire Beach. Simply walk out of the Havensight pier main gate, cross the street, turn left and walk until you get to the Bus Stop (there is a pullover area) near the K-Mart. It is a leisurely 10 to 15-minute level walk. (You might also be able to catch a bus at the new Wendy's near the traffic light prior to K-Mart bus stop). When you see an open-air taxi drive up, flag him down, tell him where you wish to go and enjoy the trip. When you climb in, say "Good Morning" and you'll be met with a return chorus. The drive takes about 20 to 30 minutes each way to Sapphire Beach depending upon traffic. Pay upon exiting the taxi. If you are going to Sapphire Beach, you will be dropped off at the entrance to the Sapphire Beach hotels which is at the top of a hill. A short 5-minute walk will get you on the beach.
Under a Shade Tree on Sapphire Beach
Sapphire Beach is a gorgeous white sand beach with lots of shade trees and awesome views of several nearby islands including St. John. The snorkeling is good, especially on the right hand side of the beach where the sand disappears into reef rocks. We rented two unpadded beach lounge chairs for $7 each and sat under a nice shade tree. A dive shop, bar, grill, and restrooms are available. We lunched at Banana Cabana which serves burgers, mahi sandwiches, and chicken sandwiches for $10 - $15. We opted for the Jerk Chicken sandwich for $12 which we enjoyed. Banana Cabana is semi-hidden between the first two buildings on the far right of the beach (as you face the Caribbean). We saw three iguanas of various sizes checking us out on the beach. Pick up the open-air $2 taxi again where it dropped you off and ride it until you get back to the Wendy's. You'll see the ship in full view in front of you.
Tame Iguana on Sapphire Beach
G. Days At Sea
We had one day at sea. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Sea Days actually provided nice rest spites and allowed us to get reenergized. Eat, play games, port shopping briefings (basically a way to kill time watching a talking advertisement), attend shows, eat, nap, midday snack, cards, pools, bars, eat, trivia contests, read, chat with fellow passengers, eat, board games, rum tastings, gambling, watch the World Series, exercise (no, not really, but there really is an exercise room), eat, live entertainment... the list goes on!
H. Ships in Port
We only encountered one ship in port with us the entire trip. We shared St. Kitts with RCI's Jewel Of The Seas. Visit CruiseCal.com to see which ships are likely to be in port during your cruise.
Part IX - Tipping
The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ship's personnel who service you on the voyage, it really is expected, and it's something you should figure into your cruise budget. I say it's expected, but the ship's personnel work long hours to service you and the other passengers. They genuinely do everything they can to service your needs. Celebrity suggests $161 for a party of 2 on a 7 day cruise which breaks out as follows: Waiter $51.10, Assistant Waiter $29.40, Stateroom Attendant $49, Dining Room Management $14, Other Service Personnel $17.50, and additional tips for room service, bartenders (even though a 15% gratuity is already included in all bar drinks) the Sommelier, and any other personnel who you wish to tip. And feel free to tip above these guidelines. Here's a really handy Cruise Tip Calculator covering all major cruise lines. If you have purchased a drink package, a 15% gratuity is already included.
Part X - Captain's Club
If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a Captain's Club express line at Embarkation, priority Disembarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts (my wife likes the Celebrity travel tote), casino and spa discounts, free entrance into the wine-tasting seminar, and a one cabin upgrade. Some exclusions apply. Elite members also receive coupons for 90 free minutes of internet, one item drycleaned for free, and an opportunity to have a bag full of laundry (about 30 items) cleaned free, as part of their sheet of coupons. Elite members also have been getting a sheet of coupons, good for three drinks each day between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm at almost any bar, instead of the prior practice of offering a get-together in a lounge with free drinks.
Part XI - Disembarkation and Customs
Breakfast was served on the buffet, and in the restaurants. Disembarkation went smoothly. Earlier in the week everyone completed surveys which were used to prioritize passengers. Clearly those folks needing to catch early plane connections or who were on escorted tours in San Juan had highest priority. Captain's Club members had priority within their color group. Color-coded disembarkation luggage tags were issued to all cabins, and passengers were instructed to place the tags on their luggage, and tear off the stubs for bag retrieval.
Disembarkation began around 8:00 am. All passengers were instructed to sit in public areas, or lounges, until their group color was called. Our flight wasn't due to depart until 2:30 pm so we had a late debarkation. Our color was called around 9:45 am. We retrieved our luggage in the passenger terminal and waited in a 20-minute line to clear Customs. Hint: if you're in a hurry, you can pay a porter $5 to help you with your luggage and they'll walk you straight through customs (via their own special line) in under 5 minutes. That's a pretty good value and you let them handle your bags all the way to the taxi.
If you have time to kill, there's a sightseeing tour that will also drop you off at the airport. When exiting the terminal building for transportation you find taxis on your left and tour busses on your right. For $25 per person, we gave our bags to the sightseeing tour guide. Her son loaded bags into the back of the air conditioned van, and we jumped in, took a seat and waited for the large van to fill. Once full (about 16 or 18 passengers), our driver left the port and headed for Old San Juan. She gave us information about the city, stopped for pictures, allowed us 20 minutes to tour the area near the entrance to El Moro, then dropped us off downtown near Fort San Cristobal for about 90 minutes. At that point she picked us up and took us to the airport, returning an hour later to take the rest of the group to the airport as they all had later departures than us. This was a great way to spend some free time in San Juan and get to the airport.
B. Customs Allowance
According to Celebrity, US citizens traveling to the Caribbean are permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods including 1 liter of alcohol per person. In the Virgin Islands (i.e. St. Thomas), travelers are allowed an additional $400 Duty Free exemption including 4 liters of alcohol and 4 cartons of cigarettes per person. Since we traveled to both sets of islands on this cruise, we were permitted to take advantage of both allowances. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.
Part XII - Praises, Gripes and Your Questions
Summit's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. Officers made themselves very accessible. Food was very good to outstanding. The ship is clean and in reasonably good shape. Alexander Yepremian was the most outgoing and personable cruise directors we have had the pleasure to sail with. The Summit Production Singers and Dancers, along with the aerial duo, with were the most talented group of performers we've watched on any ship. It's nice to se Celebrity still believes in live music for the production shows as the Celebrity Orchestra was outstanding. And we really appreciated Celebrity's smoking policy.
We certainly didn't have much to gripe about, although if you got any group of folks together, a similar theme emerged: The price of the photos was outrageous. We didn't buy any. However, had they been priced at $5.00 (still high) she said she would have bought several. I really don't understand the mentality of taking tons of pictures of passengers and then tossing most of them due to folks unwillingness to overpay for the pictures. We won't. (By the way, the photographers were very good, usually available, and not intrusive).
We've been cruised for several years now and have posted tips on excursions to over 20 Caribbean Ports at: www.lavasurfer.com/info/caribbean-secrets.com