Just returned from two cruises aboard the Celebrity Summit. The first cruise departed from San Juan and went to Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Martin and St. Thomas and back to San Juan. Later that night we departed from San Juan and went on to St. Croix, St.Kitts, Dominica, Tortola, St. Thomas and back to San Juan. It thought it a good idea to do back to back cruises on the Summit because of the different Itineraries offered by both cruises on the same ship. Accordingly, we got to see a lot of islands by combining the two and making the hell of flying from Denver to San Juan worth the trouble.
A bit of caution: Because the cruises depart from San Juan, the ship is often heavily booked by locals. The first cruise was the cheaper of the two cruises and carried far more local cruisers. For those of us from North America, it takes a bit to get accustomed to the style of the locals, who seemed to this writer, not as polite and observant of lines. The 2nd cruise was filled with far more Americans and Canadians willing to pay a bit more to enjoy a cruise over Christmas week.
EMBARCATION: The ship left San Juan at 8:30PM on both cruises. We arrived in San Juan early in the morning after taking a "red eye" flight from Denver. We retrieved our luggage and had breakfast at the airport. The Summit docks at the Pan American pier which isn't too far from the airport so we arrived around noon and was promptly processed for boarding by the Celebrity staff. Embarcation at San Juan is one of the easiest I've ever experienced compared to the horrible embarcation process on Norwegian in New Orleans and Carnival in Los Angeles. Lunch was available at the buffet located on deck 10. The lifeboat drill is at 7:45PM so either eat early or wait until after the lifeboat drill is over so your dinner isn't interrupted. During embarcation, I was offered a reservation at the Normandie restaurant (speciality restaurant) for 20% off during the first two days so I booked a reservation for the 2nd night.
STATEROOM: I loved the location of our stateroom on deck two, midships (category 7C). Above us was an office used by the staff and below us was the medical facility so it was a quiet cabin. Because we were so close to the sea and located midships, we probably felt the least movement aboard ship during moderately rough seas which occurred a few times. The Caribbean is not like sailing on a lake but better than the Atlantic Ocean. During port days, exit from the ship was usually from deck one, midships so we simply took the stairs down one level. Getting off the ship was a breeze compared to getting off Carnival and Norwegian vessels-they tend to spend less time in port and people have to get a sticker in advance to get off the ship because port time is limited. We generally arrived at 0800 and didn't have to get back aboard until 4:45. I must commend Celebrity for their long port hours and not making a big deal about getting off the ship. People generally took their time in getting off the ship unless they had an early morning excursion.
FOOD: Here comes the bad part....the food in the main dining room (MDR) isn't very good. Breakfast however was the only satisfying meal in the MDR and lunch wasn't served in the MDR except on the one sea day, where a nice brunch is served. I have no ax to grind against Celebrity and I left a very favorable cruise critic review of a cruise taken on the Celebrity Eclipse on 11/2011 where we travelled Aqua class and dined at BLU nearly every breakfast and dinner. The food on the Eclipse was fantastic both in the dining room and at the buffet. On the Summit, the food simply wasn't tasty or delicious most nights and nearly everything seemed a bit off as if prepared by Martians following a cookbook.
My wife and I aren't especially critical or picky eaters but we really didn't enjoy most dinners served in the MDR or the meal we had at Normandie for that matter. The soups and desserts were especially bad. My theory is that the newer Celebrity ships have a higher food budget because people pay more for the experience of travelling on a new ship. Even the buffet food was better on the Celebrity Eclipse compared to the buffet food served on the Summit. I won't travel again on Celebrity unless it is on a newer ship with Aqua class accomodations. I wasn't able to try the Summit's Blu restaurant because it is available only for those travelling Aqua class or in suites based upon availability.
There are two set dining times in the MDR at 6PM and 8:30PM or you can opt for select dining which allows you to dine at anytime but without a set table and waiter. One pleasing aspect of select dining on Celebrity is that you can actually obtain a reservation even if you are doing select dining. We opted for select dining and experienced several waiters until we came across Balan and Yovanna, who made a great team. We booked reservations for 7PM each night of the cruise (except on the lifeboat drill days) and waited until a table in their section became open. The exceptionally talented and capable hostess, Rosemary, in the select dining room on the 5th deck, indulged us and let us sit in the adjacent bar area until a table opened up in Balan and Yovanna's section. There are mostly male waiters aboard the Summit so it was nice to have a male/female team. We probably would have abandoned the MDR altogether in favor of the buffet were it not for the friendliness and excellent service provided by Balan and Yovanna.
SERVICE: Celebrity really shines in this area. Our stateroom stewards, Javier and Ahmad were both top notch and made sure we always had ice in the cabin and even found a Celebrity umbrella for my wife to use on rainy days. Most days of our cruise were partly cloudy with occasional thunderstorms.
GOING HOME: We had a flight later in the afternoon so we took a ship sponsored tour of San Juan with transportation to the airport. Those of us taking a tour on the day of embarcation met on deck 4 of the main dining room and we left the ship together around 9:00AM. Getting off the ship was a breeze as was getting through customs and immigration. Getting thru the airport on San Juan was also a breeze and everything moved quickly. You must have your bags inspected by the USDA at the airport so be sure to look for the USDA inspection station before proceeding to check-in at your airline. The USDA pass your suitcases through a machine just like security and they label your bag as having been inspected. Everything went very smoothly. Embarcation and getting through the airport at San Juan is the best I've experienced on the 12 cruises I have taken.
Take this cruise if you want to avoid the sea days if departing from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. There is only one sea day on each 7 day cruise and it is a welcome break from visiting a new island everyday.
There are rather aggressive men waiting for cruise ship passengers on the dock. Walk past them and walk several blocks until you get to the bus station. For $2US, we bought two bus tokens and caught a bus to Mullins beach and spent a relaxing day at the beach. Umbrella and chair rental cost $20. We caught the minibus right outside the beach club and took it downtown and walked 20 minutes or so back to the ship
Be sure to take an excursion to get into the jungle. We arrived in town after a heavy rain and all of the trips to the jungle were cancelled due to fallen trees and rocks blocking the roads. We took a local city tour on a safari style bus for $20 and it was wonderful to leave the area next to the cruiseship terminal to see how lush and green the island is.
A few blocks from the cruise terminal is the ferry to Nevis. I think the fare was $10 each. There are two ferry companies which operate...I recommend M/M because they use larger boats. Be sure to buy a departure ticket when leaving Nevis for $1 in addition to your ticket. We weren't allowed on the boat until we went back to the ticket office to buy a departure voucher. The cost of the voucher was included in the price we paid for the ticket when leaving St. Kitts. The water is incredibly clear on Nevis but due to the ships departure time, we didn't get a chance to visit the beach although it is possible if you are a risk taker. Nevis itself isn't worth going to unless you are staying at a resort.
Caught a minibus a few blocks from the cruise terminal for a trip to Soufriere to see the Pitons. For $7 we took a minibus along winding roads and arrived in Soufriere...the Pitons are stunning up close. We were panhandled by several men and I ignored all of them. One told my wife "I feel sorry for you as your man is going off the cliff today" I would have been more worried had there been cliffs in town. We found a restaurant at the far right of Hummingbird beach and enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch outdoors with tablecloths. A large group staying at Sandals showed up where they took their lunch.
I recommend a tour on this island rather than travelling alone as the Ganja inspired Rastafarians can be a little scary.
Take the water taxi from the cruiseship pier into town. Walk past the courthouse and you can find minibuses heading to the French part of the island Marigot. The bus cost a few bucks and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves shopping in French owned stores and then dining outdoors on a pot of fresh mussels. We wanted to visit Orient Beach afterwards but there is no public transportation to the beach as far as I know so we took the minibus back to the Dutch side and the water taxi back to the cruiseship.
First stop in St. Thomas: We walked to town and found really nice shopping areas down various alleys and along the main drag and front street. Took the safari bus back to the cruiseship for $4 each after it started raining. The Havensight shopping area next to the cruiseship is nice. There is a fabulous gourmet shop close to the bank which has everything you might want to consume. Al Cohen's liquor and gift shop across the street from has good prices for souvenirs.
2nd stop in St. Thomas: Took a safari type bus to Meagan's bay for $8 each...$4 entrance fee. The view of Meagan's bay from the top of the mountain is spectacular. The beach itself has a nice sandy bottom with clear water. We were the only ship in St. Thomas so the beach didn't get too crowded.
Well worth taking cruiseship excursion.