This was my second cruise on major ocean liner overcall (Carnival Conquest in Dec. 2002) and I would like to share my full review (long) with you.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the port at about 10:20am with two other couples also staying at La Quinta Inn. Apparently, we were too early, as people from last ship still dominated the luggage pick up/drop off area. At 11:10am, they began the boarding process for Captain's Club members and guests with suite. We were the first group after that, and the whole process was very smooth. Since we did the online documentation at home, it took us less than a minute to finish. At 11:45am, I had my welcome champagne onboard.
THE SHIP: Summit was launched in 2001, and it is in an excellent shape now. Throughout our cruise, we can see the strong effort to keep the ship in its top form. At St. Kitts, we noted that the anchor was a bit rusty when leaving the ship. And, when we returned, they have painted! Overall, it is a beautiful ship.
THE CABIN: We had a standard balcony cabin at Penthouse Deck. The cabin is nice with plenty of storage. The bathroom is impressively organized, functional with neat layout. We liked the shower unit, spacious with heavier curtain which won't stick on you. The veranda was large enough for us to sit with a small table to hold coffee or drinks between us.
FOOD: Our top interest of a cruise was not the food. However, we did have a high expectation onboard Summit because we heard a lot of positive comments about the food on Celebrity. And, we were not disappointed. When talking to other people, seems everybody agreed that the food on Celebrity is at the top of major cruise lines. I just list a few examples which I appreciated very much:
1. The delivery of breakfast to our cabin. People complained that the food arrived with a sudden knock on the door on other lines. With Celebrity, a phone call was made to the cabin informing breakfast was on the way. It was a nice touch and avoided the awkwardness of a surprise. 2. Wonderful fresh pastries every morning in the Cova Cafe Milano. Actually, we found the bakery on Summit was excellent. 3. Low Cal, Low Fat spa lunches in the Spa Cafe. They were well prepared with great taste and view. Everybody needs some light food sooner or later during the cruise. 4. The sushi bar at Deck 10 every evening. Since we were at first seating, sometime I had a few sushi after show.
5. The specialty restaurant, Normandie. The food in the main restaurant-Cosmopolitan was generally very good. The Normandie was outstanding with many extras. I love the rack of lamb and Michel Roux's sample dessert so much, the best I have ever had. 6. La Grand Buffet (midnight). We enjoyed watching, and photographing more than eating because not much room left. Downside: those meat dishes (steak etc.) in Cosmopolitan were not very good, though we had never complained it to our waiter. We ordered seafood, duck etc. later and liked them. The lobster at the final formal night was not impressive. When we had many other choices, we are ok with that. Another criticism: the Chinese food buffet on Dec. 20 (at sea) was so-so. Maybe because we are Chinese, and Chinese food won't be at their best when serving in a buffet style.
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to almost all the evening shows, and we liked them. We heard many people comparing the show on Celebrity with those on Carnival. And, some people like Carnival the better. Comparing to Carnival Conquest we took last year, I would say both of them are excellent, with somewhat different style. For production show, Conquest was more like a Vegas show, while Summit was close to Broadway. Summit's magic show was better than Conquest's. IMO, the cruise director on Conquest was much better than the cruise director, Simon, on Summit. We appreciated great sense of humor (verbally) more than those funny gesture and body language.
FITNESS: We did our regular exercise in the ocean-view gym every morning of sea day. There are so many equipment including treadmills, bikes, step units, rowers, free weights, and sequenced pieces of equipment for lower-to-upper body development. You need sign-up for the use of treadmill. In the famous AquaSpa resort, our favorite was thalassotherapy pool under a dome. We use it everyday at about 10pm, when usually no more than five persons were there. We spent little time in the main pool area. Maybe because of this time of the year (before Christmas) and the length of the cruise (10 nights), we did not see many kids there.
SERVICE: At mid-thirties, among the younger group of fellow cruisers, we didn't use a lot of services available. However, we were impressed by service team's attitude of work. They were diligent and always willing to please you. That why we were happy to give more than recommended amount of tips at the end of cruise. We like those hardworking people who love their job and deserve good rewards, though the service may not be always given to us directly. Those small touches, such as the cool towel provided when returning ship from a hot island visit, were great. What we like the most? The cabin attendant cleaned the rail, glass, and everything in the balcony, at least once everyday. This made we felt that balcony was much more enjoyable than Carnival Conquest a year ago, although at that time, our balcony was one of the biggest on the ship and several times larger than the standard balcony this time.
An area should be improved: the security personnel were cold and sometime rude. They could, with a poker face, grab your boarding card from your hand suddenly, put in the machine, return it to you without a SINGLE word. How about "welcome back" with a smile?
PORTS OF CALL: St. Maarten/Martin, Dec. 15: We were not shopping for jewelry etc., so we took a public minivan bus from Philipsburg to Marigot ($1.5pp) on French side first. After strolling the town with a clear view of Fort St. Louis, and a shopping mall, we found not much to do if not shopping. We decided to catch another bus to Grand Case. Although we told the driver where we would like to, we were still on the bus when Grand Case was passed for quite a while. The next interesting place was the famous Orient beach, where the bus finally dropped us on the beach ($3/pp). The driver did us a favor by doing that because the beach was about 1.5 mile away from the bus route. Although Orient beach is famous as a nude beach, most people had their swimming suit on. Topless ladies were not uncommon as well.
The beach itself, known as Caribbean St. Tropez, is indeed beautiful, with lots of water sport equipment available to rent and enjoy. We hiked uphill back to the bus route. The effort was well worth it. We passed several villages with great view of the colorful villa, beach and bay. We then caught another bus back to Philipsburg ($2.5/pp) for some souvenir shopping.
St. Lucia, Dec. 16: We spent most of time on the Land and Sea shore excursion booked with Celebrity. We prefer the Sea portion to the Land portion. We started with the Land portion on a minivan visiting downtown of Castries, a banana plantation, a fishing village, and finally to the volcano. We didn't feel too well on the way. In addition to people tried to sell you something everywhere which was not unusual in Caribbean Islands, the local people at St. Lucia went further. They wanted to show you their fishing stuff, taking pictures with them. And, they asked you to PAY them for doing that. The volcano is still alive, but nothing spectacular. We have visited those live volcanoes with red lava flows in Hawaii many times. The Sea portion was fun with great view of the coastline of St. Lucia. The twin pitons and Marigot Bay are beautiful.
Barbados, Dec. 17: First, we walked a while in Bridgetown. We heard some negative things about Bridgetown, such as dusty and dirty, before this cruise. But we didn't see that way. Actually, we like it and think it is an interesting place to spend sometime in. We started our bus adventure again after meeting a couple also from Maryland (Roger and Sara). The bus system of Barbados combining the normal bus and the private minibus is very convenient and cheap, 75c (1.5 Barbados Dollar) per ride. Originally, we planned to go to Gun Hill Signal Station and they liked to visit Sam Lord's Castle. Because there would be a long wait for the bus to either places, we ended up with a bus to Martins Bay at the east (Atlantic) coast.
Nice place with great scenery. The wave was rough and high, which was not good for swimming. After a break for taking some nice pictures, we headed to Bathsheba Bay, also on the east coast, which provided one of the best views of the Atlantic coast. We saw those amazing rock formations frequently shown in Barbados postcards. We also collected some colorful shells and corals. With plenty of time left, we then went to the west (Caribbean) coast, swimming at Church point beach, part of the Golden Coast. We were glad to have the "bus tour" in Barbados, seeing and feeling the local people, their way of living, and their culture.
St. Kitts, Dec. 18: I would like to go to the beaches in the Southeast pan handle while my wife liked to see Brimstone Hill Fortress. So, to show respect to my boss, we took a taxi tour to visit Brimstone Hill Fortress and Romney Manor. The Fortress had an entry fee of $5 per person. At beginning, I hesitated to visit it because we had visited quite a few fortresses before. But, I was glad that we did this one. It is a unique one, and you can see yourself why it is a World Heritage Site. The view at the top of the fortress was gorgeous. You could see several neighboring Caribbean islands in distance. The visiting of Romney Manor, a restored manor house originally built by Thomas Jefferson's brother William was also interesting. We liked the introduction and display of how the batik fabrics were printed 2500 years ago in Caribelle Batik, and did buy a big batik. We returned to the ship at 1:00. After a quick lunch, we were back on taxi to South Friar beach. We had a good time (about 1.5 hr) for swimming and some snorkeling in the coral reefs about 20-30 m offshore.
St. Thomas, Dec. 19: We heard a lot about the Trunk Bay beach, Virgin Island National Park in St. John. So, we didn't want to miss that. A 30-min cab ride brought us to Redhook on the east side of St. Thomas, followed by a 20-min ferry ride to Cruz Bay, St. John, then another 10-min cab to Trunk Bay. Not easy, but it was definitely worth the efforts and many fellow cruisers did the same thing. Trunk Bay beach is claimed as one of the 10 best beaches. This is the best Caribbean beach we have ever seen so far, and very comparable to the best Hawaiian beaches. We enjoyed powder white-sand beach, calm and clear water, and people watching. I like snorkeling, though not an expert, and appreciated the underwater trail very much. This was also my best snorkeling during the whole trip. There was an incident on our way back, when taking a ferry directly to downtown of Charlotte Amalie. One of the two engines failed, and fire and smoke were found on the back of the boat. All passengers were asked to move to the front of the boat. No big deal, except a delay of 10-15 min.
DISEMBARKATION: We had a 3:20pm flight back, so we were asked to go to Celebrity Theater no later than 9:15am after breakfast. Our color was called at 9:45am. We found our luggage easily. The security and custom were tighter than New Orleans a year ago. A cab ride put us in airport at 10:20am. After check-in our bags, we even spent sometime at Fort Lauderdale beach. Not bad, people were swimming there, not me though.
OVERALL: A great, great vacation. And, we will be back on another Celebrity cruise.