We recently returned from the June 16 cruise from Venice to Barcelona on the Summit. We had a fantastic cruise and were very happy with this ship and itinerary. We are a couple in our late 40's with two daughters ages 7 and 11. This was our 7th cruise overall and our 2nd on Celebrity. Most of our other cruises have been on Princess, so we couldn't help making some comparisons here and there. This was also our first European cruise. I've tried to separate our comments by topic so that you can skip the ones that don't interest you. We had a very active Roll Call for this cruise which was a huge help in pre-cruise planning.
PRE-CRUISE/EMBARKATION: We flew Delta from PHX-ATL-VCE and arrived the day before the cruise around 11 am. We had decided to splurge on a water taxi to our hotel, Locanda Orseolo, provided that we could be taken directly to the hotel's canal side entrance rather than St. Mark's Square. Upon arrival at Marco Polo airport, we went to the Venezia water company's desk in the airport terminal. We were told that because of the tides we couldn't go directly to the hotel but had to be dropped off at St. Mark's. Knowing that low tides cannot occur at noon, we decided to walk with our bags out to where the water taxis depart. We asked again there and found someone willing to take us directly to the hotel. Thanks to tips we've read on Cruise Critic, we told the driver we wanted to take the "scenic route" through the Grand Canal rather than the shorter more direct route. We agreed on a price of 120 Euros. We had a very nice trip through the Grand Canal and then to Canal Orseolo, where we arrived at the "water window" for our hotel, Locanda Orseolo. The driver knocked on the window and it was opened by Igor, who immediately greeted us by name. Our luggage was handed in through the window and we then climbed in ourselves.
We picked Locanda Orseolo based on the great reviews it has received on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. We were not disappointed. We had Room 14, which is a 2 room suite that looks out onto the canal. The first room had two twin beds and the second room had a king bed and a nice bathroom. The hotel is charming, ideally located, and the staff could not have been friendlier. We only wish we had arranged to stay two nights instead of just one. We dropped off our bags and set off for some immediate sightseeing in Venice, including a visit to St. Mark's Cathedral. We returned later to meet a couple from our Cruise Critic Roll Call who were also staying at Locanda Orseolo. We all went to dinner together that evening. We had hoped to take an evening gondola ride but it started to rain so we ended up at Harry's Bar for overpriced bellinis.
The next day we had a nice breakfast at Locanda Orseolo including their famous crepes. We did more sightseeing in Venice, including the Secret Doge's Tour. We also took a lovely gondola ride. Finally it was time to go to the ship. We shared a water taxi from the hotel with the couple from our Roll Call. This time we made the mistake of not fixing the price ahead of time, and not asking to be taken on the shorter, direct route. So we ended up with another scenic trip from the hotel through the Grand Canal to the cruise terminal, at a cost of 110 Euros. We got to the cruise terminal around 4 pm and were able to board quickly and easily.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF THE SUMMIT: We have been on the Infinity to Alaska so we were familiar with the layout of the ship. We really like the size and layout of the M-class ships better than our other favorite line, Princess. We had connecting staterooms (6093 and 6095 -- Category 2C) located midship on Deck 6. Because we have young children, we also liked the fact that we could have cabins that connected with an interior door, which is virtually impossible to find on Princess. I do prefer the location of the closets in the Princess staterooms, though, because you don't block the doorway when you use the closet. Our rooms were clean and comfortable and we liked our room steward, Rolando, who made sure to always greet us by name.
CRUISE CRITIC CONNECTIONS PARTY: We had an active Roll Call for this cruise. We had 59 people signed up for the Connections Party. We had an informal get together after sailaway at the Mast Bar, and the official party was at 10 am on the first sea day in Michael's Bar. We had about 25 show up from the Roll Call. The Cruise Director, John Howell, was there along with the Hotel Director, Raffaele Bernardini and the Food & Beverage Director Robert Flack. There was also someone from Celebrity's Miami office, as well as Kim, the ship's activities director. They were all very gracious and happy to chat with us. John Howell gave a nice introduction and said that they read Cruise Critic regularly!
DINING: Dinner the first evening was open seating. The next night we went to the dining room for our regular seating. We had main seating and Table 440. We had requested a table for 4 but they led us to a table for 8. I immediately started to panic. I was worried that we would be seated with people who would not like being seated with children. But just as I was fretting about that, another family was seated at our table with two children ages 6 and 10 (ours are 7 and 11). Kudos to Celebrity for matching us up so nicely. We had excellent service every night from our waiter Cecil and his assistant Sam. We are used to Anytime Dining on Princess, but we enjoyed getting to know our wait staff and not having to bother with reservations. We thought that overall the dining room food was good to very good, and pretty comparable to what we have had on Princess. Salads were a weak point in my opinion. They always had fancy descriptions but usually didn't consist of much.
As for desserts our comments go both ways. On the plus side, the desserts routinely showed freshness, richness of ingredients, and the execution of a skilled pastry chef. Sometimes on Princess (particularly the buffet) we find the desserts to have a supermarket "slice of sheet cake" quality. Not here. On the minus side, we felt that the breadth of the offerings, while wide, was skewed towards mousses, Napoleon cake-type dishes and Eclair- type pastries, with not enough in the pie, cobbler and fruit varieties. On these cruises you can eat a lot of puff pastry.
One night we ate in the Normandie and thoroughly enjoyed it. We always dine in the specialty restaurants on Princess and we found both the Normandie and the SS United States (on the Infinity) to be far superior to Sabatini's and Sterling Steakhouse, in terms of the service and the food itself. I had the filet mignon with truffle sauce, and DH had the rack of lamb. Both were excellent and of course the goat cheese soufflE was heavenly. The whole experience took 3 hours, probably about 30 minutes longer than was really necessary, but very enjoyable nonetheless.
We were quite happy with the Waterfall Cafe for breakfast and lunch (when not in port). We especially liked the waffles at breakfast and the Asian food available at lunch. The Waterfall Cafe had a much better selection of food, and the food itself was definitely superior to the food we've encountered at the buffet on Princess. The burger grill at the pool was also surprisingly good compared to our prior cruise experiences.
We also thought that overall the service onboard was excellent, professional but also very friendly. In addition to our wait staff and room steward, we had especially good service from the Fun Factory staff and at the Cova Cafe, which became one of our regular stops. One of the hidden gems on these ships is the pastry bar at Cova Cafe, which has free, delicious, still-warm pastries in the mornings and both savories and desserts in the afternoons. Cova Cafe is also a great place to get Gourmet Bites, the late night passed hors d'oeuvres and sweets.
LA FLAVA: According to John Howell, the Cruise Director, this is a new concept for Mediterranean cruises. The night we were in Naples, the ship put on a big Mediterranean buffet poolside on Decks 10 and 11, with lots of extra tables and chairs for outside dining. Everyone was encouraged to wear white (or togas) and there was a band and dancing. The dining room was also open if you wanted to eat at your regular seating. It was very pleasant to sit outside and watch the sailaway from Naples.
DRESS CODE. We felt that the dress code was followed pretty faithfully in the dining room. We've read a lot of heated discussion about the dress code outside the dining room. Yes, on formal night we did see people in casual attire in the internet cafe, the photo gallery, the shops, etc. Nobody seemed concerned. We also saw a few people in what I would call "smart casual" attire at the shows. Frankly, the shows were never full (perhaps due to the busy itinerary) so I couldn't imagine them turning anyone away. Also, nobody was dressed sloppily - just not formally. What really struck us, however, was that on formal nights there were a lot of empty seats in the dining room, and that increased with each formal night so that by the time of the third formal night, there were quite a few tables that were empty or near empty. We felt sorry for people at two tables near us. Both were tables for 8 but one had only 2 people present and another had only 3. The port intensive itinerary presumably affected the turnout.
At the disembarkation talk on the last day, John Howell announced that effective August 1, Celebrity will be dropping informal nights and will only have formal and smart casual. A big cheer broke out in the Celebrity Theater at this announcement. Of course, we had already read it weeks ago on Cruise Critic!
ENTERTAINMENT. On our one prior Celebrity cruise (Alaska in 2006) we thought that the production shows were inferior to Princess. This time they were excellent. But there were a lot of them—maybe 5 of the 12 nights there was a "Hits of Broadway"-type show. If you like these shows (and we do, to a point), they did a good job. Aside from that the shows consisted of two vocalists, a pianist, and one comic. The pianist was Hyperion Knight and he was very accomplished and entertaining. While Princess offers multiple show venues, the Celebrity Theater is the only venue for anything besides small lounge-type acts. On the plus side, there were always plenty of seats available at the shows, so one could plan to show up at the 9 pm show at 8:59 and be assured of a decent seat. Also, because we were determined to get the kids to bed every night by 10 or 11, we didn't see the late night shows and can't report on them.
CONDITION OF THE SHIP. One thing we'd like people to take away from this review is: don't believe everything you hear or read. Or: some people just like to complain. If one's standard is a ship in mint, maiden-voyage condition, then, sure, one can find disappointment, because tiny cosmetic imperfections accumulate over the years, even with constant maintenance. But if one judges the ship the way that one would judge a hotel on land, it's just fine.
FUN FACTORY/CRUISING THE MED WITH KIDS: The Fun Factory was excellent. They told us there were 330 kids on board, including 170 teens and the rest in the 1-12 age range. Our 7 year old wanted to spend every available moment in the Fun Factory. Our 11 year old didn't spend quite as much time there, but did enjoy activities like the scavenger hunt, foosball, karaoke, etc. One of the reasons we opted for a lot of private tours was that we figured it would make it easier to tour the ports with kids. For the most part, that was true. Also, these ports almost all involved lots of walking over cobblestone streets with lots and lots of stairs and steep inclines. We were glad we didn't have to deal with a stroller. We felt like we got quite a workout every day (and therefore deserved dessert every night, LOL).
DISEMBARKATION. No complaints here. We had a Celebrity transfer to the Barcelona airport. We had a 1 pm flight. The transfer went smoothly. Then however we had to wait in an hour long Delta line to check in. More Delta snafus followed in Atlanta, but that's not Celebrity's fault and we made it home exhausted and jet lagged but very happy with our cruise experience.
PORTS OF CALL:
VENICE: The ship spends the first night in Venice. On Tuesday we took the Celebrity shuttle to St. Mark's Square. The shuttle costs $20 pp, but they didn't charge us for the kids, which was much appreciated. We walked to the Bell Tower and took in the panoramic view from there. We then walked to the Guggenheim, which we should've checked on first because it was closed. So we went instead to the Accademia museum. We then walked around the Rialto Bridge and market areas where our kids were amazed by the variety of unfamiliar vegetables, meats and fish. In particular, we saw an entire shop devoted to varieties of horse meat. We fed some bread to the pigeons at St. Mark's Square and took the shuttle back to the ship.
Sailaway from Venice was spectacular. The ship was docked with the starboard side facing Venice, so everyone lined up there for the view. But after the ship backed out of the dock, it turned so that the port side had the view of Venice for the actual sailaway. The Captain opened the helipad for an additional viewing area. It was a very memorable experience.
The next port was DUBROVNIK. This was supposed to be a tender stop but the Captain was able to dock. We paid $10 pp to take the Celebrity shuttle bus to the walled fortress. We walked the wall and took in the incredibly picturesque views. Afterward we went back to the ship for lunch and dropped the kids off in the Fun Factory. We then returned on the shuttle to do a little shopping and wandering through the streets. We didn't appreciate until we got there what a nice port stop Dubrovnik is. You can easily enjoy it on your own without needing a tour.
SANTORINI: This was the only port where we used a Celebrity shore excursion. We took the trip to Oia and Fira, which includes a stop at a winery. Santorini was hot and the sun was intense. Arm yourself with hats and sunblock! It's quite beautiful, though. Afterward we took the cable car back down the mountain and returned to the ship.
ATHENS: We had booked a private tour with Spiros taxi service. Spiros sent his colleague Dimitris who met us at 7:45 am. (We knew from email exchanges to expect Dimitris.) Dimitris was an excellent driver and was one of the highlights of our trip. Our first stop was the Acropolis. We got there quickly and beat most of the crowds. We saw the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena, etc. On our way back down, we passed the busloads of Celebrity tours trudging up the hill. Next we went to the Temple of Zeus, and then the Olympic Stadium. All along the way Dimitris provided us with helpful and entertaining commentary and stopped at several picturesque vistas for photo ops. We also went to the Royal Palace where we saw the changing of the guard. We went to the top of a hill (not sure of the name) with an incredible panoramic view of the city, including the Acropolis. Dimitris took us to a small Greek restaurant for lunch and then we went to the archeological museum where we saw artifacts from the Neolithic through classical ages. We then went to the Plaka for some shopping. If I were to do it over, I would've skipped the Plaka because to me it was just lots of cheap touristy stuff I didn't want to buy, and I would've preferred to spend more time seeing the ruins. We were surprised by the tremendous amount of graffiti in Athens. But we were very satisfied with our tour and returned to the ship around 4 pm, which gave us time to get cleaned up and ready for dinner.
NAPLES: We arranged private tours for Naples, Rome and Florence with RomeinLimo. They gave us a bit of a discount for booking all three tours with them. We shared these tours with a couple we met on the Roll Call, so there were 6 of us. Our driver was waiting for us at the dock with a Mercedes minivan. As we drove through Naples, we certainly saw evidence of their garbage strike. Our tour took us first to Positano, then Sorrento where we had lunch, and finally to Pompeii. The minivan was configured so that one row of seats faced backward, which proved to be a problem on the extremely winding roads around Positano and Sorrento (reminiscent of Highway 1 in California). At least two of us had to ride facing backwards and whoever was in those seats felt carsick. So we had to keep taking turns. If you have any tendency toward being carsick on winding roads, make sure they don't give you a van with rear facing seats!
After our experience in Athens with Dimitris, we were hoping to hear interesting commentary from the driver about the Amalfi Coast and the area around Naples, Positano and Sorrento. Our driver was certainly polite and professional, but was apparently not inclined or prepared to give us any commentary. We know that these are drivers, not actual guides, so we can't complain that he wasn't doing his job. But we had high expectations after all the rave reviews we'd read. Anyway, we had a nice lunch in Sorrento and took that opportunity to call Duman of RomeinLimo and request that for our next stop (Rome) we have a driver who would give us a little more information.
We had a nice lunch in Sorrento. We had arranged with RomeinLimo for a private guide for Pompeii. We picked her up in Sorrento after lunch and she rode out to Pompeii with us. Word must have filtered back about our call to Duman, because the guide said that she understood we wanted to hear about Sorrento. So she filled us in on Sorrento before moving into her remarks about Pompeii. We arrived in Pompeii and she took the six of us on a private guided tour. Pompeii is fascinating and not to be missed.
ROME: Once again our RomeinLimo driver met us at the dock. Duman certainly came through on our request for a more talkative driver. Mauro was wonderful and we would highly recommend him as a driver. He gave us a brief history of the founding of Rome as we drove from the port to the City and basically kept up a running commentary (in a helpful, entertaining way) at every opportunity. We encountered bad traffic on the way into Rome and immediately fell behind schedule. We finally arrived at the Coliseum and Constantine Arch. Mauro hustled us out of the car and dashed over to the ticket line at the Forum to get us tickets. We were actually going to the Coliseum, not the Forum, but when we got up to the entrance to the Coliseum we understood why Mauro had bought our tickets at the Forum - much shorter ticket line. We breezed in past the huge ticket line (but immediately some of us got bogged down in the women's restroom line). We spent about 45 minutes at the Coliseum.
From the Coliseum, Mauro drove us over to the site of the Circus Maximus (chariot races, etc.) and we also saw a view of the Forum from above. He then drove us past the building that was the Fascist headquarters where Mussolini would stand on a balcony window and give speeches. We sort of zoomed past the Mouth of Truth and some other sites I couldn't keep up with. Mauro then drove us into a sort of courtyard with lots of diplomatic cars that turned out to be the site of the Knights of the Order of Malta, which is a Catholic order that is its own sovereign entity and has its own diplomatic relations with other countries. We saw various persons buzzing around in very impressive robes, capes, medals, etc. Apparently Mauro knew there would be activity there because it was St. John the Baptist Day.
Our next stop was Trevi Fountain. We also drove by the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon but didn't have time to stop. We grabbed a quick lunch at a panini shop and then met our private guide (again arranged by RomeinLimo) for the Vatican. Our guide, Sara, then took us on a brief tour of the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Sara was a good guide and gave us lots of information, but there just isn't time to do this port justice! All too soon we were driving back to the port. On the drive back, Mauro gave us his personal recipe and tips for making our own limoncello. If you are looking for a driver in Rome, ask for Mauro!
FLORENCE: Florence was the last of our tours with RomeinLimo. As in Naples, our driver was polite and professional but not talkative and didn't offer any tips or suggestions. Our first stop was Michelangelo Square with a beautiful view of the City of Florence and the Ponte Vecchio. We then went to the Accademia to see the statue of David and also the Bound Slaves. After that we went to the Uffizi. RomeinLimo had taken care of advance reservations for us and our driver showed us where to buy our tickets and enter. In retrospect, we should've been better prepared for what we wanted to see in the Uffizi. We spent a lot of time wandering sort of aimlessly. We got to the end and realized we'd somehow missed the Botticelli rooms and had to backtrack to see the Birth of Venus as well as Da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi. These museums don't seem to give out the sort of helpful maps we're used to in the US, so come prepared with your own map or guide book. Other people from our Roll Call brought their own audio guides on MP3 players, and that seems like a great idea we'll try next time.
After the Uffizi we grabbed a quick lunch and bought some souvenir Christmas ornaments. We then went to the Baptistery and saw the famous doors by Ghiberti known as the "gates of Paradise." We looked at the outside of the Duomo but didn't have time to go inside because we had to move on to visit Pisa and the famous Leaning Tower. As with our visit to Rome, I felt that we just didn't have nearly enough time to explore this beautiful city. If I were to do it over (and were limited to just one day) I'd come better prepared with a list of what I wanted to see and be assertive with the driver about it. We sort of passively went where the driver took us and I think we didn't make the best use of our limited time.
VILLEFRANCHE/NICE: Our final port was Nice. This time we shared a tour with two couples so there were 8 of us. The tour company we used was Med-Tour and our driver was named Janic or Yanick (not sure of spelling). He was an excellent tour guide. He first drove us to Nice, which is France's 5th largest city. We parked by the market and courthouse and walked through the market area. We then drove to St. Paul, a charming medieval fortress that has been turned into boutiques and art galleries. Our 7 year old bought a stuffed toy seal in one of the gift shops. Yanick told us that St. Paul is a big hangout for movie stars.
We then drove to Monaco. Yanick explained that Monaco is the name of the state, the name of the capital, and the name of one of the 5 districts of the state of Monaco. Monte Carlo is another of the 5 districts in the state of Monaco. We made our daughter leave her stuffed seal in the car while we had a nice lunch at a restaurant near the Grand Palace. We then toured the Grand Palace, which involved an audio guided tour of the grand apartments and public reception rooms. It's an impressive palace and I would recommend a visit. We then went to the Cathedral and saw the graves of Princess Grace and Prince Ranier. We returned to the car where we discovered that in cleaning out the car Yanick had inadvertently thrown out the toy seal. Many loud tears followed. Yanick assured our daughter that he knew where the seal was and could retrieve it, even if he had to jump in! He then took us over to Monte Carlo where some of our group went to the Grand Casino and the rest of us did some shopping and gaping at the expensive yachts. We met back up with Yanick who had miraculously retrieved the seal and assured himself of a big tip.
Lastly we drove to Eze, which Yanick told us was founded by the Moors. Eze seemed similar to St. Paul but with more restaurants and hotels in addition to boutiques and art galleries. We had a nice stroll through Eze and then returned to the ship. After all the museums we'd visited in Italy and Greece, it was nice to end with a tour that was pure sightseeing and shopping!
One thing that surprised us about our port visits was the fact that, with the exception of the Grand Palace in Monaco, none of the public museums or institutions took credit cards. In the US, we take it for granted that such places take credit cards to pay for admission. In Italy and Greece, however, these places were all strictly cash and ran around 11 Euros pp, with no reduced admission for children. So you go through cash very quickly.
SUMMARY: All in all this was a great cruise. We came home with great pictures and great memories. We look forward to cruising on Celebrity again.