Overall: We had cruised a total of 8 times in the past, on Carnival, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean, so we had a pretty good understanding of the mid-market cruise experience. I consider Celebrity definitely above average among all cruise lines. This cruise didn’t change my opinion. But Summit being one of the older ships in the fleet, it was showing its age and its small size presented some distinct disadvantages comparing to newer larger ships with more amenities. My family had taken a couple of cruises on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, which also leaves from Bayonne, so I will be comparing the two ships throughout my review. Overall, this trip gets a 4* from me.
The 6 of us (my parents, my wife and I, and our 2 kids) drove down to NJ on Saturday and stayed at a hotel nearby. I used my Marriott points for the hotel, so we had to park at the dock. I didn’t like the park-and-cruise deal because I didn’t want to have to wait to be picked up after we come back.
We arrived at the pier at 10:30 and went through the check-in process in a matter of minutes. When we went on Explorer of the Seas in 2013, we also arrived at 10:30 on that day. That time, it took us more than an hour and half to get on the ship, mainly because the ship wasn’t ready. We had to sit for an hour in the terminal waiting for the buses to start running to take people from the terminal to the ship. This time, after we went through the line, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the buses were already running. When we got on the ship, we found it quite empty – we didn’t even have to wait for the elevator, and then walked right into Oceanview Café (the buffet place) and found plenty of empty tables for us and our carryon luggage. As any experienced cruiser would know, during the rush hour of boarding the ship, you often have to wait 10 or 20 minutes to just get on the elevator, then another 10 or 20 minutes to fight the crowds in the buffet to find a table to sit. None of that on this trip - basically, shortly after 11 AM, we were having lunch at the rear deck of the ship and looking out the window at the NYC skyline. I think Celebrity being a smaller ship certainly helped – fewer people to unload from the previous cruise and less area to clean.
Lesson for future cruiser on Summit: get there before 11 AM and you will be flying through the lines. But even if you get there later, the lines shouldn’t be bad. It’s a lot easier to unload and load 2000 people than 4000.
We had an inside cabin. It’s actually relatively large comparing to other inside cabins on other ships we had been on. As other reviewers already noted, this is an older ship and you can definitely see signs of wear and tear, especially in the cabin. There were cracked tiles in the shower stall, broken lamp cover by the vanity, loose furniture pieces, and etc. I even tightened a screw on the closet door hinge myself using the tip of my travel scissor as a screw driver. I am pretty laid back regarding these things. In my own house, there are plenty of little problems that I know of but never fixed because it was just not worth the effort. I had the same attitude regarding the defects in our cabin. Since none of those affected the use, I didn’t complain. One good thing of the cabin: they gave you real soap and shampoo and conditioner, like a regular hotel room, instead of wall-mounted dispensers as those on Explorer of the Seas.
We did have some noise issue. We were next to a block of rooms of loud partiers. They were a large group and liked to stay up late. We would hear them coming back at 1 or 2 AM, then talking loudly in their cabin (next to ours) for another half an hour. For light sleepers like me and my wife, once we got woken up, it would take us at least a couple of hours before we could go back to sleep again. So that was really unfortunate. I thought about writing them a note or asking Guest Services to intervene, but decided against both options. What was I going to ask them to do? Don’t stay out until 2 AM, but instead going to sleep at 10? That’s never going to work. Don’t talk so loud? I didn’t think they knew how to talk quietly. They were just loud people. This was actually the first time of all the cruises that we had such an issue, so I just had to chalk it up to our bad luck.
Lesson for future cruiser: bring a white noise machine or download some white noise sound track on your MP3 player.
Main Dining Room:
The food in the MDR (Cosmopolitan) was not bad, but nothing to rave about either. I have eaten at fancy restaurants that cost $100 per person or more (mostly on business trips), and hole-in-the-wall ethnic eateries that the local day laborers go to, so I consider myself quite knowledgeable. I would classify the food at MDR as what you would expect at a wedding or banquet hall -- the quality of Olive Garden/Red Lobster, but dressed up to be like Morton’s.
I am a seafood lover, so I always order fish whenever possible, but I found the seafood offering in the dining room to be less than ideal. There was a fish entrée every meal, but it’s almost always salmon, except one night when they had lobster tail and haddock both on the menu. (I had lobster, which was overcooked; my wife had haddock and loved it.) I didn’t know if they had supplier issue or if it was a conscientious decision, but it certainly became a running joke among my family and a few other passengers: “I wonder what fish will be on the menu tonight? Salmon? I never would have guessed!”
The dining room wait service was good, but honestly, I have never had bad wait service in any of my previous cruises. We had Select Time Dining, but made reservation for pretty much the same time every day, and were seated at the same table and had the same waiter team every day. That was a nice bonus because we really liked our waiters. On our first night, we had reservation at 6:15. The meal took more than 2 hours, with long waits for every course. We quickly figured out the reason: the big dinner rush was 6 o’clock main seating and we were stuck behind the crowd, so to speak. The next day, we moved our reservation to before 6 PM and finished the meal in half the time.
Unlike some other ships, Summit didn’t allow us to make reservations for the entire week in one shot. I tried to make reservation on Monday morning for that evening and was told that all the desirable time slots were taken, but I found out that they would let you make the reservation one day in advance. That’s what I did for the rest of the week: when we went to dinner every night, I would talk to the hostess right then and there to make the reservation for next night’s dinner.
Lesson to future cruiser: Try to stay a little ahead of the main crowd to avoid long wait. If you have Select Time Dining, don’t make a reservation at 6:15 or 6:30. If you have main dining at 6, arrive right on time instead of 10 minutes late. It will save you at least 45~60 minutes over the course of a meal. And remember to make your reservation one day ahead. I also have another very important tip regarding the dinner time, but I will save it when I talk about the shows as those 2 topics are related.
Lots of reviews had focused on the buffet, especially the new format of putting food in pre-portioned containers. I actually liked the idea. It reduced waste, and made the line go quicker – no more waiting behind a slow or picky person who would scoop and poke every piece of meat/fish. It also helped keeping fried foods crispier, since there were only 3 or 4 pieces in its own wire basket instead of 30 or 40 pieces sitting in a big tray and getting soggy from the steam.
One thing I really liked about the buffet was the sushi offering. I had been on other ships where they claimed to serve sushi, but only had lame California rolls with cooked shrimp or fake crab meat. Summit actually had 4 or 5 different kinds of sashimi (real raw fish: tuna, salmon, tilapia) and 6 or 7 different kinds of sushi every night. It’s great, but also made me wonder: if they had tuna and tilapia for sashimi, why couldn’t they offer something other than salmon in the main dining room?
The shows were very good, but here comes my biggest complaint. For all the other cruises I had been on, the shows were always at 8 and 10 PM. Occasionally they might switch to a different time to accommodate another event, but 8 and 10 were always the norm – it worked because the main dining slots were always 6 and 8 PM. For some reason, on this trip, every night the shows were at 7 and 9 PM. That meant the folks who ate at 6 had to go to the 9 PM show. Those folks went to the earlier dining because they had kids or elderly people who wanted to go to bed at a reasonable hour -- my family fell into that category. At home, our 2 kids go to bed normally around 8:30 and go to sleep by 9. On the first night of the trip, by the time the 9 PM show was over and we walked back to the cabin and got ready for bed, it was close to 11 PM. Fortunately we had “Select Time Dining”. We booked our cruise too late and the early dining at 6 PM was full, so we had to settle for the Select Time Dining. It turned out to be a lucky stroke as it allowed us to change our future dining time after we realized that 6 PM dinner didn’t line up with the show time. Starting the second day, we made all our dinner reservations at 5:30 in order to make to the 7 PM show.
Lesson to future cruiser: if you want to catch the early show at 7 PM, make sure you opt for “select time dining” and then make your reservation for 5:30 or earlier. A normal dinner takes close to 2 hours, but if you start your dinner before 6 (when 1000 of your fellow passengers come into the dining room), you will stay ahead of the rush and get your food quicker, therefore be able to finish your dinner in one hour and fifteen minutes, which will leave you 15 minutes to walk over to the theatre and get a good seat.
Other entertainment activities:
The entertainment team was very good. They were personable and funny, not the self-smug type of arrogant funny, but genuine and down-to-earth. You could tell that they tried hard to make it interesting for all guests. They had all the traditional games and activities, but they managed to come up with a couple of new ideas, including a Top Chef style cooking competition with passengers as contestants, and several competitions (pool volleyball and trivial contest) between guests and ship officers. Those were very popular, but the popularity also made obvious the fact that the Summit was too old and too small. The ship simply didn’t have large enough rooms to host those popular events. Most of the bars/lounges on the ship also served as corridors, so if they were doing a popular game show at one of the lounges with close to 100 people watching, nobody could walk through that area, literally blocking that entire floor from any through traffic. And among those who were sitting or standing to watch the game, half of the people there could barely see the game action.
Places for self-entertainment:
Because the ship is smaller and older, it definitely lacked the amenities that you would see on a Royal Caribbean ship such as Explorer of the Seas. I knew they didn’t have ice skating rink or rock climbing walls, but I was surprised to realize that it didn’t even have a miniature golf course or shuffle board court. There was only one ping pong table on the whole ship and it was always in use.
In this regard, I have to say Royal Caribbean is far better. When we were on Explorer of the Seas, the game/card room was always full of people, playing cards and games on every table. Here on Summit, there was no game room and the library was quite weak. There was no method for checking out books. I assumed they would just let people borrow and return them on an honor system. There were very few board games or cards available for borrowing – we saw only 2 boxes of checkers and 1 box of chess. Fortunately my kids loved checkers and chess, so we used them several times. I am going to recommend to them (in my post cruise survey) that they invest 20 or 30 dollars to furnish the library with some more board games and cards. Considering they have no other amenities for people to occupy their time, a better selection of games and cards will be a really inexpensive way to provide some quiet entertainment.
Bermuda: (I am putting my port review here so that readers don’t have to click on another link to read them)
Bermuda needs no hype from me. If the cost of living on the island wasn’t so high, I would seriously consider buy a timeshare and go there every year for two weeks. Well, maybe we will just do the cruise every year – it’s probably cheaper than the annual fee of a time share and the cost of food for a week.
I do have some valuable tips/advice to share regarding local transportation and beaches.
Bus and ferry tickets: You will find a lot of reviews and questions on the forum about that. I will give you my recommendation. First of all, if you want easy, buy the 3-day pass at $35 per person. You don’t ever have to think or plan. But, if you want to save money, or if you are like me (being an engineer, I take it as my personal mission to figure out the most efficient and cost-effective method to do anything), I have some tips for you.
If you have done any research about Bermuda transportation fare, you know there are 3 ways to pay for bus and ferry: token, pass, and paper ticket. Cash is also possible, but they don’t accept paper money, so it’s practically impossible for anybody to carry enough quarters to pay for even one fare ($4.50). As I said earlier, day pass is the easiest, but the most expensive. Few people will ride enough to cover the cost. Token is only slightly cheaper than cash ($4 per token for one way travel, $2.50 for child fare), but if you only plan to do one round trip per day (to the beach and back), token is probably the best. Paper ticket booklet is the cheapest option, but they don’t sell them at the dock, so you will have to travel to Hamilton to buy them, hence it will require some planning.
For the 3 days we were in port, we did the following itinerary:
Wed: Tom Moore’s Jungle (aka Blue Hole park), Hamilton self guided tour, and Hamilton cruise night.
In the morning, we got off the ship and bought token for each person for just one way travel (4 adults, 2 kids -- $21.) Took #8 bus to Hamilton – avoided beach-going crowd who were all taking #7 bus. We had the entire bus to ourselves for the first half of the trip.
We got free transfers from the driver when arrived at Hamilton. All buses ended and originated at the same station in Hamilton, so it’s really easy to get off one and wait 10 minutes for the other bus. We transferred to #1 bus to Tom Moore’s Jungle. While waiting for #1 bus, I bought paper tickets (2 books of adult tickets for $30 each and 1 book of child tickets for $15, each containing 15 tickets -- $75.)
Rode bus to Tom Moore’s Jungle and hiked the trail and visited a couple of caves and swimming holes. The park was amazing, but the weather was very hot and humid. I would have liked to spend more time in the park, but my kids were running out of steam. We only spent a little more than 1 hour there.
Took a bus (either #10 or #11) back to Hamilton, using the paper tickets bought earlier. Did a self guided walking tour, visited city hall and the 2 art galleries there. Walked to Hamilton public library and used their free WiFi in the courtyard to catch up on emails. Walked around the garden next to the library. Again, I could have done more walking, but my kids were tired.
We took the ferry back to the ship from Hamilton. After dinner, we took the ferry back out to Hamilton for Cruise Night. It was ok, similar to any street fair you would find in US – the main street blocked from traffic, a bunch of booths selling stuff, and a sound stage playing music.
So, regarding the bus tickets -- for the first day when we did the most traveling (6 rides per person), we spent $12 per adult ($4 token to Hamilton, free transfer from Hamilton to Blue Hole, $2 bus from Blue Hole to Hamilton, $2 ferry from Hamilton to Dock, $4 ferry round trip to Hamilton at night); $5 per child ($2.50 token, free transfer, $0.50 bus, $0.50 ferry to Dock, $1 ferry round trip.) The next couple of days we just rode the bus to the beaches and back. Basically we spent a total of $96 on bus/ferry tickets for 3 days for 6 people and still had a few paper tickets left for our next visit to Bermuda.
We have heard that most people would go to the beach on the first day, and the beach crowd would get thinner with every passing day. That’s why we decided to do the sightseeing trip on the first day, plus it allowed us to buy the paper tickets in Hamilton. On the second port day, we went to Warwick Long Bay beach (we heard fellow passengers telling us how crowded Horseshoe Bay was on the first day, so we opted for the safe choice). WLB was very quiet and had several smaller beaches connected to each other. I recommend those beaches, instead of Horseshoe, for those who don’t like crowds. WLB was basically on the same #7 bus route, just one more stop farther than Horseshoe. One of the beaches had an arch set up with fresh flowers covering the arch– somebody was going to get married that evening. You can imagine how pretty it looked, with the pink sand and turquoise water in the background. We did walk from WLB to Horseshoe at the end of the day because Horseshoe had a nice bathroom with showers that we could wash ourselves. WLB only had smelly bathrooms which were basically cement out-houses.
We went to Horseshoe Bay Beach on the last day. The crowd was much smaller. We walked all the way to the left end and found a neat cove that’s no bigger than 20x20 ft, tucked inside rocks. Kids spent hours digging holes in the sand and we hardly saw anybody – it’s as if we had a private beach to ourselves.
It was very easy. We registered to get off by self-assist. We were told to wait at one of the lounges between 7:30~8 and could get off by 8:30, but the ship must have arrived at the port early because when we went to the lounge at 7:45, they told us that we could go. We were in our car and driving off shortly after 8.