INTRODUCTION: This was our first cruise and we were celebrating our third anniversary so we wanted to do something special and memorable. We are experienced travelers and have been to many different parts of the world and stayed in all classes of accommodation from camping, to hostels, to five-star hotels.
Simply put, the Summit, her crew, and the Alaska Southbound itinerary exceeded our expectations in every regard. We were so pleased with our overall experience and we offer our strongest recommendation if you are considering this line, ship, or the Alaskan experience.
As this was our first cruise, we hope this information might be helpful to those considering their first cruising experience as well.
SELECTION OF THE CELEBRITY SUMMIT: We did extensive research online through the popular cruise information sites including Cruise Critic and others reading many expert and cruiser reviews. We were looking for a more elegant and refined cruising experience so that eliminated the mainstream lines of Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Princess and others. But we were on a set budget so that eliminated the luxury lines of Crystal, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, and similar. This left us with the premium category lines including Celebrity, Cunard, and (according to some sites) Holland America.
Celebrity and Holland both offer Alaskan itineraries so we researched the ship amenities and reviews and ended up with the Celebrity Summit. As it worked out, the Holland America Amsterdam embarked the same day from Seward and followed us throughout the journey. She appeared to be considerably smaller than Summit but there were fellow passengers we met that had positive reviews of Holland America.
CABIN: We booked a 2A Deluxe Ocean View cabin with a balcony on the Panorama Deck. We were in cabin 8142 which is located on the Starboard side of the ship near the aft elevator lobby. The cabin was clean, well-appointed, efficient, and very comfortable. There was room for all of our over-packing and then some.
We enjoyed our balcony immensely and will never sail without one. To sleep with the balcony door open, breathe the sea air, and hear the waves was an outstanding experience. The mattress, pillows, and bed linens were all very nice and we slept as well if not better than we do at home.
ITINERARY: We booked the pre-cruise Alaska Railroad transfer to Seward through Celebrity and recommend this option. We arrived and the Anchorage Marriott and were fully checked in and issued temporary SeaPasses within 20 minutes. The scenic ride on the Alaska Railroad glass-domed train was an outstanding way to begin our journey. We saw Beluga Whales, Moose, spawning Salmon, glaciers, eagles, and even a bear in the distance. The train ride was leisurely with a hosted tour guide and the train would slow and stop for the wildlife sightings and other photo opportunities. Prior to arrival in Seward, a Celebrity representative boarded the train and delivered our SeaPasses so upon arrival at the terminal, we skipped the lengthy check-in lines, went straight to security, and were on the ship within minutes.
There were a few back-to-back passengers on our cruise who originated in Vancouver the week prior and they all said the Southbound itinerary was more desirable for reasons including an arrival at Hubbard at 1:00 PM vs. 7:00AM, among others.
At Hubbard Glacier the weather cooperated beyond our dreams and the glacier gave a "performance of the summer" according to the naturalist on board. I was told that a special glacier pilot boarded the ship prior to entering the bay. According to members of the crew it was the closest the ship had been to the glacier all summer. We couldn't have been more than 1000 feet away and Hubbard did not disappoint. The Captain opened the helicopter pad on the bow for optimal viewing and we were glad we got there early for a spot on the rail.
At Juneau we booked the Pilot's Choice Glacier Helicopter Flightseeing tour directly through Temsco. This was an expensive but once in a lifetime experience and was the highlight of our trip. The Pilot's Choice allows the pilot to fly anywhere depending on weather and the best conditions of the day. Again - if you are thinking about this excursion, just do it because you will not be disappointed. TIP: take an empty water bottle so you can fill it up with fresh, pure glacier water. We wished we had a bottle with us.
At Skagway we stayed on the ship and enjoyed the spa which was a fantastic day. The indoor solarium pool and sauna were simply outstanding and we ended the day feeling like our bodies were made of jelly. On Monday night (early Tuesday morning, actually) the moon was full and there was a total lunar eclipse. When the eclipse had the moon in darkness the northernlights put on a show that was spectacular. The naturalist on board (Milos) stayed with us outside on Deck 10 aft until the wee hours of the morning providing great commentary and insight. What a night.
Icy Straight Point was a beautiful, quiet port of call as only one ship can be tendered at a time. This was the quaintest and most charming of all the ports as there was not a jewelry store in sight. We enjoyed the grilled fresh salmon at the cafe on shore as well as the nature walk. It was quiet and calm and the tribal members running the stores were very friendly.
At Ketchikan we booked the snorkeling trip through Celebrity and had a great time. The water was 62 degrees so with the full-body wet suit it was very comfortable. The guides were great fun and very informative. They helped all the first-timers and made sure we all had a great time. The sea life was fascinating and we saw very large and colorful sea stars, urchins, wolf eels, and sea cucumbers.
On our day at sea we used the Persian Gardens section of the spa for a day fee and would have done this at least one more time had we discovered it earlier in the voyage. The design is beautiful and the steam rooms, saunas, and heated benches were topped only by the aromatherapy showers.
DINING: The Cosmopolitan (main dining) was a beautiful restaurant and the food selection robust, well-prepared, presented, and served. We shared a table with more experienced cruisers and they felt the same way.
Treat yourself to at least one dinner in the Normandie specialty restaurant as it is worth every penny of the $30 surcharge. We had one dinner with our main dining tablemates in the "wine cellar" and chose the "Menu Exceptional" with five paired wine flights for an additional charge. We had a great dinner and all agreed it was one of the best experiences we have had in a restaurant. We went back a second night for a romantic dinner for two and sat near the harpist at a window and had the best culinary experience of our life. All the staff are fantastic, particularly when they see you for a second time on the same cruise.
We also enjoyed the daily afternoon snacks at the Cova Cafe on Deck 5 (this became one of our favorite spots on the ship for the ambience and music) and the Sushi Bar in the buffet on Deck 10 which we always ate in the open air of the bar at the back of Deck 10.
PUBLIC AREAS: Having worked for an architectural design firm, I was amazed by the thoughtful planning and extraordinary attention to detail throughout the ship. We found beautiful colors, textures, woods, fabrics, and light everywhere we turned. This is truly a special ship where comfortable elegance waits around every corner.
CREW: We were so impressed with the unobtrusive professionalism and friendliness of all the crew. There were at least 15 to 20 members of the crew who were calling us by first name by the end of the cruise. They anticipated our needs and always had a friendly smile. The level of efficiency we observed left us with a deep sense of respect for all crew members from front line employees to the Cruise Director, Alan King.
DEBARKATION: We booked the post-cruise airport transfer through Celebrity and were impressed with how effectively the process was handled. From the time when we first arrived in our holding lounge (Martini Bar Deck 4) it was a little less than three hours before we were enjoying a snack and cocktail next to our gate at the Vancouver airport.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION: Celebrity Summit and Alaska treated us to the anniversary vacation of a lifetime. The ship and service exceeded all our expectations and the natural beauty of the itinerary was awe-inspiring. We highly recommend Summit and the Celebrity cruise line. We were honored to have our first cruise be on board such an extraordinary and well-run vessel and Celebrity will most certainly have our return business in the future. If you are looking for a relaxed, comfortable, elegant experience with high attention to detail - the Celebrity Summit is for you.
We hope you find this review helpful and we wish you pleasant sailings.