Sorry I took so long to post, but I figured better late than never...
In June / July of 2007 I took a trip to Alaska on the Celebrity Summit (Southbound from Seward). It was an amazing trip and I was very much impressed with the ship: so much so that I booked another trip on the Summit to Hawaii from LA. This time there were a lot more sea days, but I knew it was a great ship, so I wasn't worried. My parents, my grandparents, myself and my husband went on the trip, so I'm going to include observations from all in my review. I'll start with the ship review / getting on from LA and then get into what I did at each stop. Kona, Hilo, Maui, Oahu, and Escondido will all be included.
Flight was non-eventful. We flew in the day before our trip (December 20th). We rented a car through Hertz @ LAX, drove to our hotel (Manhattan Beach Marriott), stayed the night, and then got up early the next morning. DM and DH both forgot things so we stopped quickly at a mall & got the forgotten items. Then we went to breakfast at Uncle Bill's in Redondo Beach. DF talked to some of the locals while we were in the mall and they suggested we go there. At 10am there was about a 20 minute wait, so DH and I walked down to the beach (not far, just all downhill which made coming back a bit of a workout). Then the 4 of us took the car over to the Hollywood sign. DH had never seen it, so we figured he should see Griffith Park. I'm SO glad we decided to do this. I've heard that the best time to do this is right after a huge rain storm and it was pouring the few days before we arrived. We had PERFECT weather. Albeit, a little cold, but it was so clear we could see everything. If you are renting a car in LA, I HIGHLY recommend the navigation upgrade. If we didn't have that, I wouldn't know where we were at all. After we finished with Griffith Park / Hollywood Sign, we started back towards an off airport Hertz location to return the car. (Quite close to the pier)
Embarkation: When we arrived at the pier it was a mad house. MUCH more so than Alaska. My grandparents arrived about 15 minutes before us and since my grandma's in a wheelchair; they were whisked away and got on board in about 15 minutes tops. By the time we got there and got on line, my grandfather was in his room and they went to get lunch. After about 45 minutes of waiting on line outside we got into the building. Right before we did though there was SUCH a cute owl we saw napping in the planks above. (had to add that because it brightened my mood on line) Then it was another hour until we got to the front of the line and got our cards to board. Then they gave us a boarding number. By the time they called our number another 30 minutes went by and what we were unaware of is that there was another line after your number called to then get on the ship. That line was another 45 minutes. There was a very nice gentleman in charge of the situation talking to us (wish I could remember his name). He explained that they were only allowed 1 gangplank and that was what the hold up was for. I felt bad for him because so many people felt the need to yell at him for something that wasn't Celebrity's or his fault. The pier really needs to make another gangplank available for ease of checking in. Lesson: If you are leaving out of LA, make sure you don't arrive at the busy times. We wanted to see things before hand, so we got there at prime time which was a mistake.
On Board Finally: *sigh* Thank goodness we finally got on board. DH & DF headed straight for the buffet. Even though we were starving, we got a special for the spa for a raffle drawing while we were on-line, so DM and I headed there. Sadly, by the time they got there the raffle was over. I suggested they not hand those specials out for those who wouldn't be able to make the drawing on time and headed to the spa with DM (we were all starving at this point). Great service at the buffet, same as I remembered! After we skarfed down some food, DM and I headed for the Normandie to make reservations for one of the days we were there. DH & DF went to check out the rooms. The ship was as gorgeous as I remembered. DM & I were on our way down to the Normandie, but we saw on the side of the buffet, they had a station setting up reservations. What a great idea! So, we did it right there and then headed back to the spa for one of their spa tours. I was excited to see if the Rasul treatment was open this time. It was and I made 1 appointment for a massage for me, 1 for DH, and the Rasul on a different day for the both of us! (super excitement!)
Okay, to the room. This time I didn't have an aft, but the room was still nice. I have to say that my best experience and something that will stay with me forever was our room Steward. His name is Santana and he was AMAZING!!!!!!!! He went OUT of his way to help us whenever and I swear he had GPS on me because every time I went back to the room, he was there to open my door! I hope someone from the cruise line is reading this part because they need to give Santana MAJOR credit for how amazing he is. Something my grandma wants to add: Santana went so far out of his way for us it isn't even funny. We (my grandparents) like to keep the door open to the bathroom at night for a little bit of light. But, they were having issues with the door bouncing open and slamming closed during the night. So, Santana made something to put under the door so it wouldn't slam at night. Really, if that isn't going above and beyond, I don't know what is!
The rest of the staff was very friendly and courteous and they also treated us like Celebrities. In particular, I also really liked our wine sommelier, Maggie. She was great!
You can still get over-the-counter seasickness meds at customer service or the purser's desk. Free, dispensed a couple of tablets at a time. The sailing from LA to Hawaii was one of the roughest and the crew even said it hadn't been that rough in a long time. PLEASE take precautions. Also, if you see that they are doing a Internet class, you an get free internet for 30 minutes (you just have to sit though the class). I didn't see that happen during this cruise though. Since it's so expensive, this would be worth it.
I was depressed I missed the culinary demonstration (was busy with something else DH wanted to do). Again, I say to make sure to go to this.
Art Auctions: I go to these each cruise. My first reason is because I like looking at the pieces of art and my next reason is because I am a collector. The last cruise to Alaska I ended up buying 8 pieces. Eik, right! I liked that auctioneer and he was very helpful to me and not pushy. This cruise I did not like the auctioneer and helpers. I found them pushy and rude. Also, because I am younger I felt they did not take me seriously at all. I'm on vacation, so I didn't feel the need to wear a suit to the auction and I felt talked down to. I even ended up not attending the last auction (a first for me).
Cova: This time I went to the cova and people watched. It was great! Had coffee (which you pay for), but the pastries are free and yummy! The 6 of us even played some monopoly. (they have boards free for use in the main areas there)
Spa Treatments: I had the Ocean Wrap (nice seaweed wrap). It was a nice seaweed wrap (which they let you try on the spa tour). Then afterwards while you relax (basically in a waterbed) while wrapped you get a massage on your hands and feet. Then you shower everything off and get a full body massage. It was very nice and I would do it again. Just so everyone's aware: spa services have the gratuity built in already, but you can add more.
DH had a massage and loved it too.
Rasul: That's a whole story. First let me explain what it is. You're in an outer area which is free of steam / water and you apply a seaweed wrap. (very nice) Then you go & sit in the steam area which looks like a Turkish bath type of place. After a while it gets pretty hot in there. I enjoyed the hot, but DH didn't enjoy it and just wanted to get out of there. I guess he felt a little claustrophobic. Here's where the fun comes in.....as I'm still enjoying my time in the steam I hear him yelling, so I walked out. We were locked in there! Also, it's a bit far away from everything else, so he was trying to get someone's attention to help get us out. DH is a pretty strong guy and after playing with the lock, he did get the door open. I got dressed quickly and got out of there as well. (I didn't want to be stuck!) We went to the front desk, explained, and one of the ladies went with DH to see the problem. He showed her and they came back. They didn't charge us for the Rasul (I'm glad because we weren't in there long) and that was that. I'm sure they fixed that lock right after we left, but make sure the lock works before you get stuck too!
Normandie: The food and experience were spectacular and gourmet, while the people were friendly, pleasant, and we were treated like royalty. A couple of highlights—the Caesar salad is made table-side. DF ordered the steak diane (again—same thing last cruise) which was again made tableside. He couldn't stop raving about this either. I had the Goat Cheese appetizer (again). It was still amazing. For those who are weary on ordering this as I was the first time, please try it. YUM! This time I knew they were bringing a cheese cart after dinner, but I still wasn't prepared. My stomach just doesn't expand like that! Dinner was $30 per person + a 15% tip. We tipped more. Tons of people were waiting on us the entire time. Even though I know this is part of going to this restaurant, we had a great time here.
Wine Tastings: I went to 3 events on the ship. The Riedel Glasses Tasting, Wine & Food Pairing, and the Different Regions Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing: I did this last time and I focused on different things, so it was still great! Again, different than Princess though. When I was on Princess, once you were done with your glass, you were done. But, Celebrity is different. When you finish one glass, they will refill it so you can get the most out of the talk. I thought this was very interesting so I started drinking what I wanted to so I could fully experience what was going on. If you ask me, $9.95 for 4 bottomless glasses of wine is a GREAT deal. I drank more than 4 glasses. It was entertaining, interesting, and I learned a lot. I highly recommend going.
Regional Wine Tasting: GREAT! I got to try lots of wines I hadn't tried before from different regions. I enjoyed it immensely. Big tip here. PLEEEEEASE come after you eat something. They serve a few things here, but not lunch. You need something in your stomach to counteract all the alcohol you are going to drink! Trust me there!
Riedel Glasses Tasting: By far, my favorite event. Before going on this cruise I had never heard of Riedel. It was an experience. They had 4 different Riedel glasses and 1 "joker" glass which I've seen at my restaurants. We drank wine out of glasses they weren't supposed to be in. Ie: Chardonnay out of a Bordeaux glass. Then we transferred them to the joker (the worst of all) and then into their rightful glass. The changes were astounding. I STILL cannot believe the differences and how much better wine tastes in the right glass!!!!!!! I know it's an expensive event, but it comes with the 4 Riedel glasses. Attend if you're a wine lover!
Ports: Kona: Here we decided to book a rental car through Thrifty. My main motivation for this was that the rental car area was a walk from the pier and we didn't have to drive anywhere to get here. It was easy to pick up the car and right after we drove up to Hapuna Beach. It was beautiful there and our first experience with Hawaii. We got some chairs, sat, and went into the water for a bit. There were a TON of people there, but we still got a spot and enjoyed ourselves. It was nice and I wish we could have stayed there longer. We decided to leave and go to Greenwell farms to do a coffee tasting. This wasn't as organized as I thought at all. It is a short 10 minute tour of the equipment and then you taste coffees that have been sitting out (in a stay warm container). The coffee tasting was the best part and it was good coffee. We ordered some to ship back. I also wanted to go to the seahorse farm, but we didn't have time to stop this time. So, we headed back to the ship. All in all, it was a great beach, but a little far and a lot of traffic for a 1-day visit.
Hilo: We were here from 8-6. Our itinerary was volcano national park and then I wanted to stop and get macadamia nuts. The day before I signed onto the computer and checked the NPS website to see about volcano activity. (http://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/lava2.htm) All was fine, so our day went on as scheduled.
DH, DM, and I (DF decided he wasn't going to come) got off the ship as soon as we were able and got on the Hertz bus that was waiting for us. (we were the first ones there) We left the airport at 8:30 and arrived at VNP around 9:15. I printed out the guide on what to do, but we stopped at the visitors center first. Since people were arriving, we skipped the movie and went straight across the street to Volcano House to see the view out the back. It was amazing. (a tip I got from the board) Please make sure you see that when you are there. Then we got into the car and started on the way. Sadly, it started raining a little and I was glad at this point I brought my waterproof jacket. Since we were ahead of all the groups, we had most of the stops to ourselves. We also brought coolers with us so we had snacks along the way.
Some of our stops included Steaming Bluff & Sulphur Bank: Whew—it stunk a little bit here, but the steam vents were really cool to see. Southwest Rift Zone, Halemaumau Crater Overlook (VERY cool), Keanakakoi Crater Overlook, Puu Puai Overlook, Thurston Lava Tube. This was great. DM went and saw the main part, but DH and I took our flashlight and went into the creepy part. It was AMAZING. We couldn't see at all. While scary, it was really fun. Then we drove back around to the main area and out. On the way back we stopped at the Macadamia plantation and bought some things. We even shipped some directly back. YUM! Then back to the ship. All in all, a fun day. Wish it wasn't raining, but it was very cool to see.
A day later DM realized she lost something (wallet like thing containing money). She was upset, but didn't let it ruin the trip. When we got home Hertz had sent me a letter noting we left something in the car and to call them. DM had to describe it and it was shipped back to her by Hertz. No questions asked and they even paid for shipping! She was so relieved and I have to say that was very professional and a great Hertz experience.
Maui: This was our relaxing island. During the day, we decided to take a shuttle to the Whaler's Village and then stay at Kaanapali Beach. We sat there for about 4 hours. It was beautiful. On the way back to the pier we took a cab to the Japanese Jodo Mission, took pictures for a few, and then took the cab back to the pier to get ready. We had pre-booked a luau called the Feast at Lele. We walked there from the ship. It was gorgeous. Upon arrival we got a lei and a table. Then we sat back and watched the show. The way they handle it is that for each portion of the show, they give you something to represent that region. Some of the food was odd, but it was a great experience.
That night was Friday night and Lahaina (where we were docked) hosts an Art Night from 7-10pm. DH and walked through a bunch of them and if nothing else, it was interesting. Very festive. We got back to the ship as soon as we could after that because we had a Bike Trip down Haleakala the next morning.
At 1:30 we were out of our rooms and down by the tender. We were nervous about not catching a tender and having to wait more than ½ hour. We actually just ended up catching one, so we were outside the tenders on land at 1:45. Since we had until about 2:45 our pick up time for someone to pick us up, we decided to sit on a curb a little further up in some kind of light because it was a bit dark where we were. We were chased away by cops who told us not to loiter... Then DH decided he had to use the facilities, so we hunted around for a while for one and finally found a public one. At 3am another couple joined the wait (made me wonder what time they had). At 3:30 the van finally showed up. They apologized for the delay and said another couple never showed up at their first pick up. We got into the van and rode to the base. On the way up the mountain DH & I slept on each other.
Finally we got to the top and were told we had about 45 minutes until the sun would rise. So, we stayed in the van because it was cold! Outside! Just to give you an idea of our attire: I was wearing a tank top, long sleeves over that, my Columbia lined jacket with fleece liner on top of that. On the bottom I was wearing my super warm pants. Then sneakers, my ear liners, a hat, & my gloves. When it got closer to sunrise DH & I got out of the van to get closer to view the sunrise without buildings / other things blocking the way. It was freezing and rainy. Colder than parts of Alaska! Unfortunately, here's my regret. We saw NOTHING. The people meeting us outside the national park with the bikes further down said they saw an amazing sunrise, but we were stuck in the cloud. It's a shame because the point of the trip for me was to see the sunrise and it never happened. *sigh*
Moving onto the bike ride. We took the bus out of the park to where a van with bikes was waiting. We loaded up on gear and formed a line of lightest to heaviest. (per the guides) They instructed us on safety and then started us down. It was amazing. I hadn't bike rode in a while and there was a stretch of about 200 yards which was hard for me. But, otherwise I pushed through and made it from the top to the beach. To look back and see where we came from was just amazing and breathtaking. I would do it again, even without the sunrise. The guides were professional and I can't say enough great things. (I used mountain riders)
Oahu: We were here from 7am - 2pm. This was the only stop my grandparents agreed to get off the ship at. So, I decided to hire a limousine to take us around so they wouldn't have to worry about climbing on a bus and the 6 of us could just be together. After a lot of searching on the boards, I found abc limo. They were great. Before I came, they set up everything with me and gave me a cell number to call when we got off the ship because they couldn't park there long. DH & I wanted to go to Pearl Harbor, but the rest of the group already went. So, we got off the ship as early as possible, got in the limo and he took us there. There was a HUGE wait. It was nuts. But, DH wanted to do it, so I stayed with the plan. In the meantime Marvin from ABC went and picked up my grandparents and parents. He gave them a tour and by the time they were done, he picked us up. He took us to the most beautiful places. My favorite was Hanauma Bay. It was gorgeous. (He also took us to a fast-food type place for lunch the locals go too—that was great too!) VERY professional and I HIGHLY recommend you use ABC.
Since this was our last stop in Hawaii, I wanted a pretty lei before I got back on the ship. We were told to go to China town, but it was too late. One of the locals said to try to grocery store, so DH & I walked there. It's about 3 blocks from where we were docked. I got a gorgeous lei there for $10.
Escondido: My least favorite. I guess they to stop here just to include an international stop. I wish they didn't, but nothing we can do. In retrospect, I wouldn't have even gotten off the ship.