My family and I are just back from a wonderful cruise to Bermuda aboard the Celebrity Summit form May 25 to June 1, 2014. Before I get into the meat of the review, I figure that a little background information would help.
We have taken a few different kinds of family vacations prior to this year - a cruise, a couple of trips to Disney World, an all-inclusive, camping trips, and visits to family. So while we are not quite seasoned cruisers, we do have some travelling experience - and do have a couple of cruises under our belts, including the Weezer cruise from Florida to Cozumel with the family aboard the Carnival Destiny (now Sunshine) and our honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean aboard the RCI Splendour of the Seas.
Some general comments - the Splendour cruise was 11 years ago, so a bit hard to compare - back then, they had things like midnight chocolate buffets, but there were limited entertainment and dining options compared to today. The Destiny was clearly an inferior ship to the 2 others I've been on in terms of layout and food quality, but the rooms were nicer than on the Splendour and the entertainment provided by a number of indie rock bands was incredible.
Which brings us to the Summit! I'll set up my review by category rather than by day - embarkation, room, boat/public areas, entertainment/events, Fun Factory/family entertainment, food, beverage package, port of call, and debarkation.
Well, embarkation was a bit of a letdown. My 2 previous experiences were very pleasant - show up at the pier, get checked in quickly, then up to the buffet to eat, marvel at the views, and wait with anticipation for our room to be available. This time…we got an email from Celebrity asking us to show up after noon due to a scheduled ship inspection by the Coast Guard. So we, like everybody else, showed up around 12:30, and there were long lines to everywhere: parking, security, and check-in. As we later found out, the Coast Guard inspection got cancelled, but they never sent us a follow-up email to let us know to come to the pier at a "normal" time - I don't know if that's on the Coast Guard or on Celebrity though! On the bright side, everybody was super friendly and by the time we finally got to the ship, our rooms were ready - which was actually quite convenient given that there were 4 of us, including my 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter who don't carry a fair share of the luggage :-)
We were in the Family Veranda cabin 8181. This is the corner FV on the 8th deck port side, 2 decks below the smoking section of the Mast bar (or whatever the bar behind the buffet is called!). We didn't smell any smokers at all, although there weren't many on the ship it seemed. Still though - smoking was most definitely not a problem. The room was very spacious - it felt like a suite what with the separate room for the kids, a huge comfortable bed for us, and an awesome balcony that was about the same size as the large room. The panoramic views were incredible, whether it be on sail away from New York or from Bermuda; in port in Bermuda with a view that stretched from Pembroke parish on one side through to the Southampton Princess, the lighthouse, and Sandy's parish all the way to Dockyard on the other side; or at sea, being able to look fore or aft, starboard or port side…it was incredible. There was a dining table with 6 chairs, 2 further chairs to sit on, and 2 lounge chairs. Meaning, yes - there were 10 chairs and a large round dining table on our balcony! The chairs were all new, or at least seemed that way (the chairs on the pool deck were all new a few weeks ago and these are a similar design).
This was really an ideal room for a family in many ways: I like the idea that the kids can't leave the room without passing through our part of the room (additional security), it just appeals to the protective side of my nature. Price-wise, this room was less expensive than getting 2 adjoining ocean-view rooms, and a bit more than getting 2 adjoining inside staterooms - though the insides don't come with beverage packages, so the math is a bit more complicated when comparing inside prices to any other room as you really need to figure our what the beverage package is worth to you. We basically came to the conclusion that this was exactly the right type of room for us, and the fact that we really enjoyed the aft-facing room we had had on the Splendour in '03, it was a safe bet. I really enjoy the feeling of these aft-facing rooms for a number of reasons: first, you really feel like you're on a boat as opposed to a floating city when you sit there and watch the wake. Secondly, the world really melts away since it's a much more private type of setting; and third, I'm a huge "sound" guy. I don't watch much TV, but do listen to a lot of music - as such, the sound of the water swishing away at the aft is just really amazing.
One negative on the room: there were some signs of wear & tear in the room, mostly with some furniture pieces having doors that don't open & close properly.
My experience, as I've mentioned, is limited, and this is probably the place that it's most notable. Given that I haven't been on any of the big, new ships - the Summit is the nicest I've seen in many ways. The layout is very easy to follow, the common rooms are all very nice (other than Bistro on 5 and Cellar Masters, which are kind of dreary), and there is rarely any crowding of any kind. There was never a problem to get a seat anywhere - whether at the pool area in prime time, at the Cafe (a favourite spot of mine - more on that in the beverage section), at shows, the buffet, etc. I love the worn look of the wood railings - it just seems so elegant all over. My wife absolutely loved the Thalasso pool - I enjoyed it somewhat, that faucet on the fore-port corner of the pool could really massage your shoulder area with aplomb! We all enjoyed the regular pools, which are a good size given the relatively small size of the ship. The overall ambiance of the public areas was one of relaxed sophistication, that wasn't at all stuffy and didn't make us family-types feel out of place. The Summit is a beautiful ship that is aging gracefully - carpeting for example seemed in great shape.
There is a LOT of stuff going on - while you could easily ignore all of the activities and entertainment, if you want to, you can do something at all times. I didn't watch many of the shows in the main theatre - but did see the Ken Page Studio 54 show, which was a precise mix of good music, less good music, always good performances, and standard show-biz cheesiness. I enjoyed the more jazzy, upbeat numbers than the ballads, but that's a musical taste preference really. When I saw the aerialists perform, they seemed OK - it's a tough type of show to do on a ship, but my standards for that type of performance have been set high by the Cirque du Soleil.
By far the most enjoyable entertainment on the ship, to my son and me, was watching NHL playoff hockey in the Revelations lounge on deck 11 on Sunday, then in the Rendez-Vous Lounge on deck 4 for Tuesday and Thursday's games. These were the Canadiens-Rangers games (4, 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals). Anticipating that these games would be shown, my son and I wore our Habs jerseys to the games, and had a blast watching them with a room full of Rangers fans who were quite accommodating of the Hab fan minority. As a big hockey family, this is an event that I'm sure we'll all remember years down the road. It was great that Celebrity set up such a great atmosphere for the games.
The music was all very good - from the Miami DJ (DJ TX) to the jazz guitar trio, to the variety of interesting DJ/live musician combos they had playing in various places around the ship, the music was well-suited to the ship's general ambiance, and was never too loud. Well, except for one event: Liquid.
I'll try to describe Liquid. It takes place in the Thalasso pool, with a cool light show, some sheets placed at the entry to the pool area to make it feel like you're entering a night club and not a pool, and a mix of DJ music with live percussion. There are aerialists performing atmospheric (read - slow and "liquid" movements) dance, with a mermaid in the pool just flapping her tail. While this is going on, there is LOUD dance music being played by the DJ and percussionist - though it's hard to hear the percussionist when the DJ'd music is playing so loudly. Now, loud music is not a problem at all in this setting - it is trying to be a night club after all. The problem, though, is that the sound is poorly balanced - play music loudly in a large all-glass and -metal enclosure, and what you get is absolutely no bass response, and treble bouncing around everywhere. Further - it's a bit hard to figure out what to do during this show. As the main "floor" is too low to be able to easily watch the performers, if you dance, you don't see what's going on (since the Thalasso pool is effectively like an above-ground pool).
I think that Liquid has potential. I'd love to have a cool night club experience on board a cruise ship - but IMHO they need to do a few things to "fix" Liquid and turn it into a real experience: 1) install some sound absorbing/bass trapping materials in the solarium when the show is going on so that the sound improves to a night club standard; 2) Install some raised platforms for people to be able to dance AND see the Liquid performers do their thing; 3) Once there are more people getting involved with Liquid, going around with drinks and hors d'oevres will add a last cool element.
As it was, very few people seemed interested in Liquid; I hope they try to fix it rather than to can it, because IMHO it could be something very cool and different from the usual cruise ship entertainment.
Kids club/family entertainment
My kids absolutely loved the Fun Factory - which didn't surprise me, as they thrive in an environment of structured activities. There were a lot of interesting activities - from the scavenger hunts, to the sports deck, to singing, dancing, hoola-hooping, teddy-bear-making, pirate parades, DJ scratch academy, etc. The kids had an absolute blast - and seeing the giant Breakaway in port in Bermuda with its colourful waterslides didn't even seem to bother the kids that much. The family events such as family bingo, family scavenger hunts, and the talent show were great fun - it was nice that there were family activities planned like this, because given how much the kids enjoy the Fun Factory, it's hard to get them out of it to do stuff with their boring parents unless it's organized by the kids' club!
FYI - the DJ Scratch Academy was only for kids for now, though they plan to roll it out as an "adults" activity in the future since it's so popular among kids. My son was so taken by the DJ'ing, that he wound up in the booth with DJ TX on the last night getting a 1-on-1 lesson and helping to DJ the night's entertainment. It was an absolute blast for him!
An interesting activity for the little kids was a visit with the mermaid from Liquid in the Thalasso pool. This was cool because the kids are not typically allowed in there, so it allowed them to go into a place they typically aren't allowed to visit. My daughter was enthralled - explaining to me how she met Ariel's cousin. I peeked in during this event, and it was really cute, with the kids all seated around having a Q&A session with the mermaid whose flipper was of course flapping in and out of the water.
One nice touch from Celebrity is the option to have the kids eat dinner in kids' club on sea days without surcharge. This allows the parents to have a nice dinner together on sea days, and the kids to not have a long, formal dinner every night - allowing us to enjoy some nice dinners together without it becoming a chore.
All in all, the kids club staff was great and did a great job to keep the kids entertained and enriched.
Of course food is important! Unfortunately I can't comment on any of the pay restaurants - even the Bistro on 5 - because my wife has a mental block on paying any more money for food on a cruise ship. I can't say I blame her…but I would have liked to try some of these restaurants.
The MDR food was quite good most nights - the appetizers and soups were consistently very good, and main courses were mostly as good. The lobster on lobster night was excellent, as was the scallop appetizer that night. The duck that I had on lobster night was very good too, but not as good as the excellent lobster that my wife had. Steaks in the dining room were hit & miss - the tournedos and prime rib were excellent, but the classic menu steak was borderline edible. I wasn't a big fan of deserts - but that was fine, since there are enough deserts available at all times with the ice cream bar at the buffet and the treats at the Cafe. It was nice that my kids had no problem finding something they wanted to eat there - usually ordering the pasta dish from the "adult" menu rather than the kids menu items, which were mostly junk food.
The buffet was quite nice - the stir fry station was very good, the pizza was excellent, the little baskets of food felt more upscale than a typical buffet and allowed for some items that are unusual at buffets: fajitas, breakfast sandwiches, etc. The various sausages available at all meals were good, the waffles at breakfast were a treat. I really think Celebrity is onto something with these little baskets of food - not only does it seem more upscale and in keeping with the idea behind their QSine restaurant, but it seems more sanitary to avoid using tongs/scoopers wherever possible. My only complaint would be that the pasta bar area was quite bland and the pasta not particularly well cooked. They need to spruce that up somehow.
Room service was delivered promptly, but the 2 breakfasts we ordered were both missing items we had ordered. I suspect that the little cards you fill out for breakfast are the culprit - they just aren't well suited to ordering breakfast for 4 - but it's annoying to order in breakfast, and see that they forgot my daughter's toast, my potatoes, and my son's cream cheese…but that said, room service breakfast is about the venue and not the food - it was really, really nice to eat breakfast out on that balcony out in the open seas, and on the day we docked in Bermuda. We never got the opportunity to order room service MDR dinner to our balcony due to scheduling - but definitely want to try that next time!
Overall, we enjoyed the food on this cruise and consider it to be a cut above what we have had on either of the other cruises we've been on, but not quite as good as the food you can get on the dining plan in Disney or what gets served at a good all-inclusive in Jamaica. This is where my wife's refusal to pay more for specialty dining probably hurts my rating of the food. But don't read this as a negative - I really enjoyed the food, and found it noticeably better than either RCI or Carnival.
We received the drinks package as a perk, and decided to upgrade upon boarding to be able to really let loose and enjoy given the small up charge per day. We certainly used the package to the max - enjoying many teas/coffees at Al Bacio (frequently playing cards with the kids there), martinis at the martini bar, a few glasses of wine with dinner, Evian or Pelegrino with every meal and throughout the day, the occasional cocktail, craft beers, etc. It was a lot of fun! The martinis were great (wife's favourite was Disco Lemonade; I liked them all but tend to prefer the less sweet ones). Hint: one martini at a time is enough.
We certainly used the premium package - probably 3/4 of the drinks were "premium" drinks. We probably would have enjoyed the classic package without the upgrade as well - there were still some nice beers available - but I don't think we tried one classic package wine, so it's hard to say. What I can say is that there were a LOT less wines included with the premium package than there were when I bought the cruise, so keep that in mind if you're looking to book the package.
Favorite drinking spots were the martini bar and Al Bacio, and of course the MDR with dinner! Rendez-Vous was also fun at night when watching a hockey game or a band perform, and the pool grill bar (next to the grill) was a great place to get a drink quickly. I found drink service to be quick and friendly everywhere, with the exception of pool area bars during a party - where of course things got a bit hectic. But it was much nicer than similar circumstances on the Weezer cruise, where they were pushing their "drink of the day" almost exclusively, and pushing it HARD.
A new favourite wine that was on the premium package was the Wente Cabernet. Both my wife and I really enjoyed that one…more than once too!
Cellar Masters: This place was deserted. It was dark & dreary, and right near the entrance to Select dining (meaning there's no need to sit and wait with a glass of wine). The wine list was shorter than the MDR by a country mile, there were only a few choices from the old Micheal's Club beer list available, and the atmosphere was generally unfriendly. I suspect that this space will soon become a Gastrobar, as it has no real purpose at this time.
Craft/Interesting beers: These are now spread over various bars, based on the type of beer that people are likely to enjoy in specific circumstances - with the lighter beers (like Blue Moon) being stocked no the pool deck and the heavier options such as IPA's being split between Cellar Masters and other "inside" bars.
Port of call: Bermuda!
My perspective on Bermuda is perhaps different than most people's. Being that my wife and I lived there 11-13 years ago, we have already had plenty of chances to visit the area attractions, and were approaching the visit as an opportunity to show the kids where Mommy and Daddy used to live. We went into Hamilton for Harbour Nights, and to show them around some of my old haunts (my old office, lunch spots near the old office, the supermarket and Marks & Spencer to pick up a few treats that aren't available at home). Mostly, though, we went to the beach - Horseshoe, IMHO the nicest beach in Bermuda (and perhaps the world) that also happens to be perfect for kids with its mild incline and big-but-not-too-big waves, the rocks to climb on either end of the beach, and the absolute crystal clear water combined with firm but soft sandy ocean floor. It was great fun to meet up with old friends, who also have kids - felt both like we had never left, and that we now know what it would have been like had we stayed there and had the kids there!
One complaint…when I lived there, I got around easily and quickly on my Vespa. As a visitor with kids, my only options were the taxi (very $$$) or the public transit (still pretty $$). Given that the ships are docking at Dockyard, EVERYTHING is far away and takes time on the buses and/or ferries. The bus system is just not well set up to serve cruise passengers, since everything is designed for the hub point to be Hamilton - which makes perfect sense for residents. Bermuda really needs to start offering some more convenient routes from the Dockyard to popular attractions, or else do something to open up Hamilton to big ships. I'd have liked to take the kids to the Crystal Caves - but it would take ~ 1.5 hours each way from the ship, which is just too much.
Disembarkation and conclusion:
Disembarkation was organized and smooth, and we appreciated being able to eat breakfast front the full menu in the MDR. After a good breakfast, and one last game of cards/coffee at Al Baccio, we got off the ship to an unusual stink (locals to the area said that the smell was "New Jersey"), and drove home to Montreal in time for dinner.
This was a great vacation and one that we hope to repeat in the future. The luxury of a 3-day stay in one port makes this a great and unique cruise vacation that I would recommend to anyone - on top of the fact that it goes to one of my favourite places in the world, it was just a quality trip in all respects, and an easy one since we didn't have to fly to the port. The rocky 18-foot seas on the way back added a lot of fun to the proceedings, and I guess that I don't have a problem with seasickness if I didn't get nauseous from that!
We'll look forward to the next time we're fortunate enough to take such a wonderful vacation!