My wife and I just got back from the 10 day Summit Southern Caribbean cruise and it was great! I read just about every review I could find about the ship before we left so I figured when we got back I would put my two cents worth in. I will try to be as informative as possible.
And so it begins....
We live in Charleston,SC so we decided to drive down to Fort Lauderdale the day before. I read from a forum post that the Wyndham Airport hotel was running a park and go special. For about $100 you can stay the night and leave your car in their parking garage for the length of your cruise. Since the port parking garage is $12 a day we figured this was a good way to save money. We booked a room online and I printed out the receipt. The fun began right when we got there. As I was checking in another patron was screaming to speak to the manager (not a good sign). When we got to our room the king size room we booked was replaced with a smokers room with two double beds, complete with stained spreads, and a barely functioning air conditioner. Too bad for the hotel they didn't know who they were dealing with. After a stiff drink my wife and went to the front desk. They tried to say that King sized rooms were not "guaranteed". I showed them my print out and my wife say she has asthma and would die in a smokers room ( she doesn't really but people don't want a medical lawsuit). They agreed to move us into a handicapped King room which was clean and had AC. Score one for the home team!
All aboard...... Day 1 embarkation.
We took a taxi to the port around 10:30am because we want to be on the boat early to start our fun. We huddle around in a room filled with people before they finally usher us to a seating area to wait to board. We have to wait for suite people and Captains Club people to board first. I offer to trade our children for concierge class accommodations but no one seems interested (little joke there). The boarding staff try to make the experience better by making a few jokes about the food being all gone etc. We finally board at noon. We arrive in our stateroom 2055. It's very nice with plenty of room and a huge mirror behind the bed. There are two white robes, water and ice on a silver tray, and a decent size shower. Our room on Holland America was bigger but this room is better than our Royal Caribbean sardine can. We quickly head to the buffet and have lunch then decide to enjoy the Fort Lauderdale sun poolside. I however made a grave error. I left my shorts in the suitcases. Since 9/11 it takes a while for your luggage to get checked in. Quickly I asked my room steward for a pair of scissors and the jeans I am wearing become cut-offs. I look a little red-neck but at least I can relax poolside. We order what would become the first of many Pina Coladas onboard and toast our trip. Their Pina Coladas are great!
Sun & Fun... Day 2 At Sea
We got up early and decided to stake out a pool chair before they become extinct. We know all about chair hogging and decide to play it safe by nabbing one early (editors note: we never leave a chair marked for more than 30 minutes so I don't believe this constitutes hogging, if you believe it does then too bad, I'll wave to you from poolside while you walk around aimlessly with your towel). After our 10am Pina Colada breakfast we spend the day listening to the band "Voltz" and laying in the sun. The band is very good playing a wide variety of tunes, everything from Island music to Rock to Blues. Their female lead singer has a phenomenal voice. During our day poolside we are brought cold towels (nice). Later about 2:30pm they do their first sorbet parade. The restaurant staff wearing white gloves parade around with silver trays filled with small cups of sorbet. It's a lot of fun and a nice cool off on a hot day. It's the first formal night so we go put on our Sunday best. There is one minor flaw to completing our elegant picture, my red glow in the dark face. I guess a month in a tanning bed cannot compete with the power of mother nature. My wife decides we better not keep our pictures since I look scary. Dinner was excellent. The prime rib we ordered melts in your mouth. We cap our evening off with a couple of crown royals and call it an early night.
Feeling hot hot hot.... Day 3 At Sea
I am lobster man. My face looks like a red relief map of the desert. Small children run in terror. Despite my efforts I get horrible sunburn on my face. The rest of me is not too bad, but my face looks like a stop light. We still go to the pool but I end up wrapping up in towels like the mummy to keep from burning further (plus I want to heal up for our St Martin trip to the beach). My wife and I enter a few poolside trivia contests since they are in the shade. I won the TV tunes trivia and scored us a couple of cool key chains. The day has cold towels and sorbet as well.
That night we decide to try the Normandie restaurant. If you go let me give you a couple of tips. Don't eat much that day and expect your dining experience to be about 2+ hours long. The ambiance was spectacular. The whole room has gold overtones and is very subdued. The paneling from the original Normandie was very impressive. There was a classical trio playing next to us. It was a very elegant surrounding. We start with soup. My wife has lobster bisque and I have French onion, both very good. We have Caesar salad which they prepare tableside. Finally we enjoy the Chateau Briand which was as smooth as butter. Later they brought around a cheese tray (which we passed on). Finally we had dessert which was good but they poured coffee on my wife's chocolate soufflE (we thought it was chocolate sauce). I would recommend trying this experience at least once on your cruise. Off to bed to get ready for port #1.
Naked as a jaybird..... Day 4 St. Martin
We decided to spend the day at Orient Beach in St Martin. We went to Orient on one of our previous cruises but only stayed a short time. This time we want to spend the day on this pristine beach. We get off the boat and make our way to the car rental area. We had reserved a car with dollar rental and figured we could use that as a bartering tool to get a good rental rate. The hawkers were everywhere trying to get us to rent one of their cars. We finally settled on a car for $40 after some haggling. The island is very easy to drive since you drive on the right side and the main road circles the whole island. We arrive at Orient make our way to the front of the Coco beach club, set up our towels, and get our morning Pina Colada. Orient beach is one of St Martins best. It's very clean and scenic. Since it's clothing optional you avoid big crowds and screaming children. There are various naked people floating around which provides my wife with great amusement. It seems that people who like to get naked have no business being naked. There are lots of old fat men with their tackle dangling down and naked old women flopping around. I saw an older naked woman jogging down the beach and I'm hoping over time that memory will fade from my brain cells. After lunch we do some souvenir shopping for the boys and head back to the boat.
Ride'm Cowboy Day 5 St. Lucia
We decided on horseback riding at International stables for the day. It will always be one of the most memorable experiences of my wife and mine. First they provided transportation to and from the cruise terminal. Ms Floria was very charming and accommodating. You could really tell she has a love of her animals. The horses were well cared for and the staff went out of their way to make sure our horses were the right fit for our riding experience. They have horses that cater from novice rider to pro. We then set out on a ride across a beautiful St Lucia beach. We stopped at a ledge and our guides snapped pictures of us on our horses with the ocean in the background. Then we dismounted at small bar on the beach which had local venders offering drinks and souvenirs. A vender, seeing my bad sun burn, proceeded to fetch an aloe plant and coated my face with cool aloe. He then gave me a stalk of the plant to use later.
Then it was the swim time. My wife and I mounted my Black Arabian and headed into the ocean. It was an incredible sensation to be on the back of this powerful animal as it strode along in chest deep water. More pictures were taken by our guides using our cameras. We dried off and returned to the stables. During our return riders were permitted to trot or gallop along the shore if they desired. We cannot recommend these people more. They were gracious hosts and a class act all the way. If you book though make sure you go for the two hour swim. For $50 a person it is definitely a value. We later tried the market area and found that to be a mistake. The market area was dirty and filled with cheap trinkets. I also have reservations about walking the streets where they sell voodoo candles and live chickens. We give up on shopping and call it a day.
Turtle, turtle, turtle.... Day 6 Barbados
We decided to book the turtle swim and wreck shore excursion for this day. Ocean Adventures did a great job. First the excursion waiting area is shaded (whew). After a short bus ride we boarded a uncrowded catamaran around 9am. The crew was very accommodating. We motored along the coastline and our host provided interesting items about the islands as well as a few jokes. Sodas and water were provided on the way to the turtles (no alcohol till after snorkeling unless you don't want to snorkel). We arrived at our turtle sight about 30 minutes later where masks and snorkels were provided (no fins since it upsets the turtles). The turtles were beautiful and amazing to behold. There were at least 10 of them swimming all around and under us. After about 10 minutes we boarded and headed to the shipwreck sight. Fins are allowed here and you are given more freedom to explore.
The area is teaming with fish and beautiful coral lines the white sandy bottom. After this it is rum punch and beer time. The crew then provides all the rum punch and beer you want (a very good local Barbados beer I might add). The beach is right next to the wreck site so we stopped off for a short beach stay about 25 minutes. Finally we headed back to the ship with island music playing on board. One of the crew offered us some delicious banana bread to eat on the ride back. We arrived and made it back on the boat by about 1pm well in time for lunch. The whole excursion on Celebrity cost us $45 a piece which was a steal for all they give you. I can't recommend this tour more! Once again in the afternoon we decide to shop. The town is a very long walk from the dock. The town seems very crowded to me and lacks the charm of the smaller places we have visited. Some of the store clerks are rather surly as well. Cab fees are outrageous. I get my wife to promise that this is the last shopping trek we will undertake. Her sore feet agree with me. We are definitely praising our friend Crown Royal when we get back to the boat.
Monkey Business... Day 7 St Kitts
For our day in St. Kitts we decided to take a taxi to the turtle beach restaurant on the southern tip of the island. We read it was a great place to spend the day and that on occasion you might get to spot monkeys wandering around. The taxi ride was $20 to get there and the driver agreed to meet us at 3pm to pick us up ($40 round trip). We arrived just as a small sprinkle was letting up. The restaurant was very quaint and everything you would expect from a beach bar & grill. We grabbed a couple of beach chairs (which are free to use) and a small table and started about the hard business of relaxing. One of the workers there was busy raking up the sea grass from the beach. We had a great view of the bay and Nevis off in the distance. Soon my wife had her first visitor. One of the cats from the bar meandered over and decided he found an easy mark. This was the case as my wife fed him cheese from the cooler we had brought with us. Afterwards the cat stretched out and relaxed on our cooler earning him the name "Cooler Kitty".
As the day progressed my wife got her wish when one of the waitresses announced that the monkeys have arrived (We had heard rumors that they had all been chased off by local dogs). A group of about 10 small monkeys came foraging around for goodies. A local man gave my wife a cup of mango juice which one of the monkeys walked up and accepted from my wife. They were not, however too thrilled with the watermelon I brought from the boat. When I handed it to the monkey he sniffed at it and threw it to the ground like an angry small child. It was really fun watching their antics. Our final animal visit came from a huge hog who seems to think the beach is his private grounds. It was funny watching him mess with various patrons belongings until he took a fancy to our cooler. I had to shoo him off when he tried to stick his whole head into our cooler grunting and sniffing the whole time. "Cooler Kitty" was not too thrilled as his intrusion as well. All in all it was a great day at the beach. The only drawback was the endless amount of hawkers cruising the beach trying to sell you necklaces, bird feeders and island music CDs, most of them were not too pushy though. At 3pm our driver picked us up and we returned to the boat. The town of St. Kitts is quaint and had the best shopping deals other than St Martin. A warning however, my wife and I went to a local drug store to buy sun block and sun burn relief stuff and the cashier tried to rip us off. We used our charge card and she tried to put the total down as US$23 instead of $23 EC, a big difference. I caught her mistake and she corrected it but I felt it was intentional.
Life is a beach.... Day 8 St Thomas (St John)
My wife has always wanted to see St John. We read about how most of the beaches there are undeveloped because they have been declared a park area. We spent a lot of time debating which beach to try there. At first we were leaning towards Hawksnest but in the end we decided to go to Trunk Bay since they have facilities. The day begins with lots of shuttling. Taxi to Red Hook $8 per person, ferry to St John $3 per person, taxi to Trunk Bay $4 per person, Trunk Bay admission $4 per person. Was it all worth it? Answer a resounding yes! The taxi reached the crest of a hill and stopped to show us Trunk Bay beach from above and the view was spectacular. The whitest sand we have ever seen and waters that have about every shade of crisp blue you could imagine. Most pictures you see on the internet of Trunk bay are taken from this high point. We are glad we didn't go with Hawksnest because they had construction going on with all kinds of workers and equipment milling about.
We arrive at the park and it is very clean and modern. The have large bathrooms, freshwater showers, a small store, and a little grill. All the facilities are back away from the beach so as not to interfere with the majestic scenery. I have to say without a doubt that of all the beaches I have been too, domestic and abroad, this is by far the most beautiful beach I have every laid eyes on. It's like walking into a picture post card. The sand is clean and white and silky soft. The waters are so clean and clear you feel like you are looking into a swimming pool. We were concerned about the beach being crowded but overall I would say everyone had ample breathing room. We spent most of the day here soaking up the sun, enjoying lunch from our cooler (stocked with sandwiches from the ship), and taking in the wonderful scenery. When it came time to go it was almost painful to part from these surroundings, but we vowed that on our next St. Thomas visits we will definitely return to Trunk Bay. This is a place you have to experience at least once in your life.
Back to the sea... Day 9 at Sea
Once again it is time to bask poolside on our floating resort. I go out at 6:30am and scout out a good chair. I have now found myself in the company of other hunter-gatherer husbands whose wives have sent them chair foraging as well. Its almost like a morning social club, sipping coffee, comparing our chair catches of the day. The day consists of the usual poolside day activities, cold towels, sorbet, trivia and pool games, music by Voltz, etc. We retire a little early to get ready for the final formal night onboard. It's lobster night so my wife is very excited. At dinner we order two tails each and judging from what I overhear other people do the same. After dinner we get the baked Alaska parade which is pretty much a standard on all boats. The waiters seem to have a lot of fun with it. Our waiter put his gloved hand into the fire and raised it like the Statue of Liberty. At midnight that night was the Grand Buffet. This is my third cruise so the novelty of the buffet has kind of worn off. You have the usual ice sculptures and food carvings. The hard thing is trying to eat a bunch of extremely rich food then go back to bed. After a night of listening to our moaning stomachs we decide we may pass on next cruises buffet.
The last dance.... Day 10 at Sea
The last day has arrived. We do the usual pool routine but mother nature only cooperates till about noon. We play the pool games & enjoy Voltz for the last time. We spend the day packing and getting ready for tomorrows sad day. We enjoy some poolside hamburgers for our last dinner. The poolside grill has really good hamburgers as well as great pizza and a different past dish each day. That night we ordered pizza which came to our room in little pizza boxes (nice touch). We go to sleep hoping our boys haven't burnt down the house or starved the dogs in our absence (they didn't).
I don't wanna go.... Disembarkation
We are given color coded tags on our luggage to identify when we get off the boat. We let them know in advance of our very long drive home. They have announcement free disembarkation. Basically they assign you a waiting area and instead of announcing whose next over the ships speaker they have a ship representative in your lounge announce what color is getting off next. We wait and wait and wait. Finally around 9:15 we get to exit the ship. We give up on the idea of grabbing the rail and kicking and screaming and reluctantly leave our floating paradise. Back to reality, sigh. When we got back to the Wyndham our car was right where we left it so we hit the road and bade adieu to Fort Lauderdale.
The Mighty Summit
Our cabin was nicely furnished, very clean, and spacious enough to meet our needs. There was plenty of closet space and drawer space. We had a small night stand with a water pitcher, ice bucket, and two ice tea glasses. The room comes with a mini-bar which to me is a waste. I would have much preferred a decent refrigerator. We tried to use the mini-bar fridge but our stateroom attendant would not empty it for us so we had to empty it ourselves every time we wanted to use it. It wasn't very cold as well. The shower was ok. They give you a shampoo dispenser and a lotion dispenser by the toilet. The bed was about as comfortable as most ship beds we have had (foam mattress rather firm). After spending most of the day baking in the sun, eating large amounts of food and drinking we found no trouble sleeping.
Food Glorious Food
Cosmopolitan Dining Room The main dining room is the cosmopolitan restaurant and we found the dEcor to be quite attractive. They have screens which cover the windows including the huge window in the back. During our dining they would raise the screens to reveal the waters outside. We insisted on a table for two since we hate forced dinner conversation. They put us right next to the waiter's station which was kind of noisy. Our waiter was Ok but a little over the top trying to be friendly. I like polite quiet service but this guy insisted upon trying to make conversation, all with a rather pretentious overtone. A good waiter can pick up on how much interaction his patrons want. I guess he was worried about getting his tip. The food was good. The best items my wife and I agreed were the salads (always fresh and different) and their beef dishes (very tender and juicy). A lot of the dishes were a little to rich for us, a lot of veal, duck, quail, and cod just to name a few items. It seems the menu caters more to a European taste.
Casual Dining Boulevard We really enjoyed this option. You can make a reservation to eat in the back of the Waterfall restaurant. They make up the tables real nice with table clothes and offer the same level of waiter service as the main dining room. The menu has two variations both with steak, chicken, salmon, pasta and made to order gourmet pizza. We found the service here the best on the boat. The waiters are honestly friendly and professional and the Maitre d' went out of his way to ensure you were enjoying yourself. The view was superior to our dining room view. They sat us in front of a huge window where my wife and I could watch the sunset. I highly recommend people try this option if you want a relaxing meal in a casual setting. The steak was excellent.
Waterfall Dining Room This is your classic buffet dining room. We ate our breakfasts and lunches here. The breakfasts were good but not as abundant as Holland America. Some items were only available on some days. Overall there was plenty to choose from. They had a good omelet station which offered various ingredients and would also fix fried eggs. I liked this because I would rather have a fried egg cooked to order. Lunches were good but not great. At sea they had themed buffets (Italian, Mexican, etc) but overall we only could find one or two things we liked. For example the lasagna only had ground beef, noodles, and mozzarella cheese. No Ricotta cheese or anything else. This left it rather bland. A lot of the dishes were lacking in this fashion. There is a pasta bar during lunch as well as a sandwich bar in the very back. The sandwich bar was good and offered a wide variety of breads and meats as well as a special sandwich of the day. My wife almost jumped for joy when they did Steak sandwiches since this is her favorite and I was thrilled to see Reuben sandwiches one day. Everyday there is a station offering 100% real ice cream, it was delicious, with lots of toppings to choose from.
Poolside Grill The poolside grill was a favorite stop for us. They have delicious hamburgers with every topping you could want. The fries were quite good. They also have four different kinds of pizza. My wife and I both liked the pizza which had a great crust. There was also a pasta dish of the day. All in all the food was good and it's a great place to grab a quick snack while sunning.
Normandie The Normandie was a worthwhile alternative to the usual routine. I have already described our dining experience above. I would heartily recommend trying it as least one day. You would probably want to go on a non-formal night since formal nights in the cosmopolitan shouldn't be missed.
One of the weak points on this ship is the entertainment. The comedian Mike Ivy was horrible and both my wife and I fell asleep. They had a magician who did a sort of vaudeville routine which was kind of annoying. They had a xylophone player which was not very entertaining (he seemed more excited than the audience). We didn't even bother to check out the violin player. The Celebrity singers and dancers are pretty much par for the course. This was our third cruise and over all the song & dance shows just don't wow us anymore.
How many salutes to Broadway & the movies can you watch before they become passE. Someone should have told the singers that "Titanic" might not be a good movie choice to salute on a cruise ship. On cruises we like to see unique acts. They had a couple who were acrobats but they were not given their own show (they meshed them in with the singers & dancers). This is too bad because they were quite talented. I wish they would use some of their bars onboard for late night comedy, maybe of a more risquE mature. As mentioned earlier we really enjoyed the band Voltz. They played a wide variety of music, anything from country to rock to island music. Their female lead singer has a phenomenal voice. We also enjoyed Ron Thompson who was a solo guitarist who played about the ship (usually on the back deck at sunset). It was very relaxing to listen to Jimmy Buffet tunes while watching the sun sink into the Caribbean Sea.
The T-Pool This was an area we would come to visit a lot. During the day the T-Pool was always crowded. But at night it was all but abandoned. A few nights my wife and I opted to skip the show to check out the T-Pool and we are glad we did. We went around 8:30pm-9pm and most of the time we either had the whole thing to ourselves or shared it with one or two others. The T-Pool is a small warm salt water swimming pool that is flanked on each side with seating areas filled with Jacuzzi type bubbles. There are also four tall faucets shooting streams of warm water into the pool (these feel great if you let them hit your neck). There are two hot tubs outside the pool but they close at 9pm (which is silly since the t-pool stay open till 11pm). My wife and I loved to get in the middle of the pool and float on our backs and gaze at our reflections in the glass ceiling. It was a wonderfully relaxing experience. If you want a great way to wind down before hitting the sack ease up there at night and relax.
The Main Pool. There are two small pools topside. One is a deeper pool (about 6' deep) which is used primarily for swimming. This is a salt water pool and as the ship is moving it creates waves that travel back and forth. When the waves really get rolling you can hear the pool goers laughing like kids in an amusement park. The other pool is shallower and is used more by children and people who want to just soak in the water. There are two hot tubs outside but it boggles my mind that someone would want to soak in hot water in the hot Caribbean Sun. It would be nice if they would leave the poolside hot tubs open at night but I guess that would make them liable to anything bad happening and they would have to worry about more amorous couples using them. It would be great though to hot tub under the stars.
Announcements Announcements are all but nonexistent on this cruise. This is something we were really pleased with since we were subjected to the constant bingo call of "Mr. Bingo" on our Royal Caribbean cruise. On this ship they would do a noon update of where our position was and a couple of the days events and that was about it.
Overall This was an overall great cruise experience for my wife and I. We have to give celebrity the thumbs up in the area of service. With this ship it's all about the little extras, from the champagne given at boarding to the cold towels given poolside and upon returning to the ship. There were just so many "nice touches". We heartily recommend this ship to anyone cruising. It's a quiet oasis from the storm of everyday life.
The Blake's Cruise Tips:
Pack a lunch Why risk traveler's diarrhea when you have such great food on the ship? Take a collapsible cooler, a box of freezer bags, and some hefty disposable containers. I also recommend bringing at least twelve water bottles, 20 oz Evian type. Keep the water bottles filled with water from the ship. Order sandwiches dry from the restaurant onboard or get them delivered by room service. Pack the sandwiches in the bags, chips in another bag, and if you want most ships have a fruit and cheese plate which can be put into your hefty containers. Get packets of condiments for your sandwiches. Ice the whole thing down by getting your cabin attendant to bring you extra ice. Now you have a wonderful, safe picnic lunch to take to the beach or ashore.
Luggage Get large suitcases because less is better. We found a nice large travel suitcase at Wal-mart for $50. Get some colored ribbon or take apart an old Christmas bow and tie it around the handle. You can also put large stickers on your suitcase. This will make finding your bag a lot easier when you get off the ship since they tend to pile the luggage all together.
BYOB To save money, pack your own liquor in your suitcase. We brought two 1.75 liter bottles onboard. Use room glasses and ice to fix your own drinks. When getting duty free liquor in a port pack it away in a backpack or travel bag. Most of the time the guys running the x-ray machines won't try to confiscate it. If they do take it so what, you'll get it back at the end of the cruise. We have never had them confiscate our bottles.
Chair Hogging Endless posts have been written on this subject and everyone has a different opinion on what is and is not acceptable. Here is my two cents worth. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. People on all cruise ships are going to get up early and stake out a chair. It's a fact of life. Now you have two choices. One is to show up at the pool late in the morning and have no decent place to sit. The other is to set your alarm, get up early and stake your claim. We did the latter. I must note though that we never left our chair unattended for more that 30 minutes, usually to go eat a quick bite. I feel it's wrong to hold a chair all day and not use it till late afternoon but I also will do what it takes to provide my wife with a great spot to lounge in the sun. Now the chairs by the pool are the only ones with pads on them so they disappear fast. I would suggest to anybody who likes to sunbathe all day poolside to get up at 6:30am and put a towel, book, sunglasses, etc on a chair and enjoy your day. Nobody has ever thrown peoples stuff overboard and if they did they would probably get into a whole lot of trouble if not a fight.
Stateroom Envy Some people like to boast about their staterooms or suites. How they get butler service or free fruit etc. My wife and I always go for the least expensive best deal. We usually book interior cabins near the bottom of the boat. For us the cabin is just a place to change clothes, sleep, or be alone together. We spend most of our time on deck or engaging in other activities. Now granted for our Honeymoon we booked a room with a deck and it was very romantic. But for vacation we like to save as much money as possible (so maybe we can cruise even more often). We recommend bottom of the ship as close to the middle as you can get. This area has the least motion and will save you from having to walk from one end of the ship to the other.
Well I hope this has been informative or at least a little fun to read. Remember it's your vacation so enjoy it to the fullest and happy cruising!