This was our 20th cruise together. Although we have cruised on Crystal, Seven Seas, Cunard (QM II Maiden Voyage), Royal Viking Sun, Seabourn Sun and Princess, we now pretty much stick to either Celebrity or HAL. Our previous cruise was last fall on the Noordam from NYC to the Caribbean. We have had four cruises on Celebrity, including the Zenith, Infinity, Millennium and Summit. We chose this cruise because we wanted the sea days, Linda lives in San Diego county and we love Hawaii.
We drove from Oceanside and parked across the street from the pier. We had a suite so we were able to bypass the very long lines of passengers waiting to check in. There was still quite a line for photographs.
In addition to the Noordam, we also did a seven day Mexico cruise on the Oosterdam, so this review will essentially be comparing the HAL Vista class ships with Celebrity's Millennium class ships.
First I want to say that the Roll Call board for this cruise was quite active and the Cruise Critic party was well attended. The gift exchange was a great idea.
The best thing about the Summit is The Normandie Restaurant. The food and service are second to none. HAL's Pinnacle Restaurants are not even close. The food in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant was quite good, but our waiter simply would not give us time to enjoy each course. Table assignment was another issue. On the Infinity and Millennium, our cabin was a Sky Suite and we had a table for two by the railing. This time we had a table for two by the window (not nearly as nice), but I was content with this until a couple sitting next to us at the Martini Bar told me that they had a table for two by the railing and they had an INSIDE cabin. Not cool!!! The Waterfall Cafe was actually quite nice. Very good food selection, easy to find a clean table and the service was excellent.
We had a Celebrity Suite which meant lots of space (including a walkin closet) but no balcony. I learned from the Cruise Critic message board shortly before we left that a window washing platform would be right outside one of our windows. Not a problem because it covered only one of four windows and we kept that curtain down. Unfortunately, the windows looked like the washing platform had not been used in quite some time. My major complaint with the cabin was the mattress. When I first laid down, I thought I was laying in the back of a pickup truck. When I complained, I was told that the bedding was only two cruises old. Our room steward put a mattress pad on the bed but the improvement was marginal. On the Noordam, we had a Deluxe Verandah Suite and the mattress was heavenly. Bedding is obviously a matter of personal choice but in my opinion, HAL wins this one hands down. Celebrity Suites have connecting doors and we had some neighbors with loud voices but we got used to it.
I saw on the Cruise Critic review of the Summit a mention of all this fantastic artwork. Made me wonder if I was on the wrong ship. All I remember from the Summit were the busts on the stair landings by Liza Lou that seemed to have been made out of staples or paper clips. And the brown draperies in the atrium were nondescript to say the least. If the Noordam and Oosterdam are any indication, HAL wins this one hands down.
The smoking/no smoking rules were pretty much ignored. However, this was not a major issue.
We went to two shows, one of which was awesome and the other we walked out of. They had a Filipino band called Top Notch which was the best band I have heard on any cruise ship. The Voice Males were also quite good.
Hawaii is, well Hawaii. We only did one shore excursion, Land of the Frozen Fire, on Hilo, which was nice. We did book The Feast At Lele in Lahaina on our own and loved it. The only complaint was having to leave Kona at 1 PM. According to the HAL brochure, the Zaandam leaves Kona at 5 PM, spends four hours in Ensenada (not one like the Summit) and still makes it back to San Diego at 7 AM.
Disembarkation was a mess. HAL lets you stay in your cabin until it's time to leave. Celebrity sent us to the Normandie but they kicked us out at 10:00. Having had a suite, we should have been off the ship long before that but Celebrity, in their infinite wisdom, had us in the very last group leaving the ship, a category labeled Deck 2 Aft.
One last comment for the road. Before I left I sent an e-mail to the Captains Club asking for an e-mail contact while at sea. No answer (until I was long gone). So my travel agent called Celebrity and was told that the address would be firstname.lastname@example.org. WRONG. The celebrityatsea e-mail service ended last February so we were forced to set up a Hotmail account while at sea. Both of us had given the celebrityatsea address to both business and personal associates so we were left with a bit of egg on our faces.
Our cruise next fall will probably be Canada/New England. The choices are the Constellation out of Port Liberty, NJ or the Eurodam from NYC to Quebec or visa versa. I'm thinking it's time to try HAL again.