Over the last five years I have been on five cruises. In that time I have come to read Cruise Critic's boards to check out where I might head next. I have yet to post a review. So I figure I owe it one and here it is.
History; Having been on five cruises over the last five years, all on different cruise lines (the top 5 = Princess, Carnival, Holland America, Royal Caribbean), Celebrity was the last of the lot.We chose the ship by its route/ports and not by the reviews, age of the ship or services provided on board. Having been on 4 cruises, we have been to many of the ports of call in the east and west Caribbean and looked forward to seeing the sunny south.
Booking; We booked our cruise though a local CAA (AAA in the USA) travel agent. I like the security and expertise of having a veteran on your side. That said, I did compare the price to that online/self booking and found little difference. I would consider going directly through the cruise line in the future as equally as going through an agent again. I guess it will come down to price and my confidence with the cruise company and my ability to hit the right buttons on the computer. Using credit card to book might provide me with that extra security I feel using a Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) approved agency.We booked a balcony cabin(6069-2C), with flight for three. I travel with three very close, family like, friends(aged 40ish). We can share a close space and they can put up with my snoring...for the most part. The fact is you spend so little time in your room. The balcony provides a private get-away and I would highly recommend it. The cabin for three cost $899 each, the flight cost $799 each. We are "educators" so our travel dates are fixed to the school holidays. In Toronto this means "peak" season and the need to book extra early to get what you want.
Flight ; Our flight time was 6:15am on Saturday morning. Which means for us to beat the "March Break" (aka Spring Break) madness we need to be at the airport 2 hours before. Luckily for us we checked our flight the night before to confirm its departure and discovered that the time printed in our Celebrity cruise book was wrong. It stated a flight time of 6:30am. Now that would not be a problem in a non rush period, but at "March Break" that can be BIG trouble. We quickly adjusted our departure time from home and set the alarm clocks for 3:30am. The airport parking in Toronto is not the best. We have decided that "Park and Fly" is the way to go. For those of you who live in TO, we find the economy lot works. Print the coupon before hand and a week of parking cost $75.00. The "Park and Fly" bus was right there to pick us up and had us to the airport by 4:20am. By 5:45am we where at the gate. Looking back we decided that was too a little close for us. In the future we would give ourselves even more time to ensure we didn't miss our much anticipated holiday for a few more minutes of sleep. Our American Airlines flight was smooth and got us to our connection in Miami in time for a quick bathroom break and to the connection to San Juan, PR. We would so prefer a direct flight, but from Toronto that is hard to come by. This was the 1st of the 5 cruises that departed San Juan. Having just stopped there on cruise 4. Our flight home on Untied was also uneventful and on time as we connected in Chicago and then home to Toronto 20 minute early.
Transfers; The transfers both to the boat and to the airport where well organized and smooth. We had booked vouches with our cruise tickets and found Celebrity to be on the ball as any.
Embarkation; We arrived at the dock at 1:30pm and where on the boat by 2:00pm. We had processed the "express pass" on our home computer and besides the annoying "photo" and the need to pass our hand luggage through two scanners we stepped onto the boat and where greeted rather abruptly by the need to "hand sanitize" and then a room steward who showed us to our room after a quick pass by the champagne. I grab a glass of orange juice and we where escorted to our room. I am the kind of guy who likes to find his own way. While this may be a service enjoyed by some I find it "necessity" an annoyance.
Cabin; Our cabin was #6069. It was a outside, balcony and convertible to three beds. The room appeared in good shape and perhaps had been recently remodeled. The bathroom was small, but no smaller than what we had experienced in the past. It was as clean and well laid out as any we had been in. Our room steward team (Edwin and Simpson) were always in the hallway or cabin down the way if we needed anything. We did make some request of them and they obliged. I would say of all the cruises I have been on they where effective, efficient, but certainly not personable. I don't need them to wait on me hand over foot. I was happy that we needed little interaction. But in comparison with other room stewards, I knew little about them in the end. Which was fine, but also prevented us from feeling a personal connection to them or the need to recognize them with an additional tip beyond the standard deduction. I would recommend the balcony. Even if you end up spending little time out there. The time you do spend, in port or at night just before bed, is a peaceful and worthwhile expense. We opted for the sofa to be unfolded and stay as a bed for the majority of the cruise. The other option was a pull down above the two singles. We had experienced the pull down last year and I was not happy be suspended (300lbs) above two other, unsuspected sleeping cabin mates. Edwin did add the mattress from the pull down to the sofa bed at my request, which made the sofa bed a much more enjoyable lateral sleeping location for 7 nights.
Ship; We loved the ship. We didn't find it old, worn or dated. Understanding that our last cruise was on a brand new Royal Caribbean ship (4000 passengers), we where concern having read reviews here. Don't get me wrong, the ship is not new, but the work they have done to keep it ship shape has paid off. The "soft" spots in the restaurants didn't swallow us and the common spaces seemed updated and well cared for. We loved the ships layout, size and feel. The adult pool area was defiantly a high light with the therapy pool and cafe/spa food choice(more on that in the food section later). We had a great table for dinner and enjoyed the fact that the ship didn't tender once. We found the staff to be friendly and ready to serve. There where few lineups and when you had to line up they moved quickly and efficiently. There was one or two exceptions...EDDIE at the upper pool bar was not enjoying serving cruisers one day, perhaps a bad day, perhaps a need for a job change or perhaps just a bad bartender/server. On the other hand Reveena and Sophia in the Rendez-Vous lounge where exceptional and provided a personal service to us like few others have on any cruise.
Food & Wait Staff; Why do we cruise? At the top of the list would be the food. We are foodies. We live to eat. As a foodie I have had many experiences eating in my life. From five star restaurants that cost a small fortune, to cheap and dirty but delightful meals in the smallest greasy spoon where the food is off the hook but the bathrooms are out of bounds. We like the constant food choices on cruises and with our vacations spent comparing the different options over the past five years Celebrity ranks high (especially in comparison with a Caribbean Island resort). The buffet lunch on the first day is always a good test. Having travel for twelve hours, I look forward to a good chow down and the fact that we have made it to the ship, its a tradition and marks the official start of the holiday. Our first trip to the buffet didn't disappoint. The pizza was fresh and hot. The salad bar was full and abundant, although hard to reach through the spit guards. The pasta bar was manned and ready. The hot buffet offered southern friend chicken plus other "meat choices, several hot potato and veggie options as well as a carving station and dessert bar. The beverages offered free of charge where standard fare, ice tea, lemonade, fruit punch, guava/orange punch, coffee, hot tea, milk, ice and iced water. We where pretty happy with the selection and didn't grew too tired of the coffee quality until half way through the week. The beverage stations where well kept and maintain through most of the week. There was various ice machine break downs and one perhaps that was possessed, as it threw ice cubes out randomly as you passed. We didn't take too much advantage of the pool side grill. We did stop by for a few nachos or fries. I tried a hot dog with sauerkraut one day and it was yummy. Breakfast was again pretty standard cruise buffet dining. The options where countless and all was served for the most part by a helpful staff. The breakfast omelets and hot buffet required some wait but little complaint here. The waffle/French toast station on the other hand seemed over whelmed and under trained. One day we where told to go away and come back when they had gotten time to regroup. I never did get that piece of coconut French toast or a taste of that orange butter, but I did enjoy the waffles i did manage to score and the cherries that i topped them with were delicious. We did go to the dining room for one breakfast. It was a little disappointing. Eggs benny is a fav and we looked forward to trying out what Celebrity could pull off. The eggs where small and cold the hollandaise thin and electric yellow, the ham tough and frigid. I later found out that the same dish was offered on the buffet that morning and bet the quality was little different, if not better. It was nice to be served breakfast and the hot oatmeal and hot milk was a nice change, although again available on the buffet. We also went to to the brunch offered in the dining room on the last day. I would recommend it highly. The variety was hugh and a nice change. I enjoyed the fresh carved roasted ham and several hot food stations as well as the entertainment(more on this later too). Lunch remained consistent for most of the week. We did discover the Spa/Cafe right when we needed a change. It is located in the adult pool area and proved to be a fresh take on some standard cruise food. The sushi bar that opened everyday at 5:00pm however was the best I have ever had on a ship. There was a sushi guy there hand packing and replenishing the sushi. The ice cream window was also very popular with everyone. Some day the ice cream was hit or miss, but what it lack in ice cream quality, it made up in candy availability. The caramel sauce was not from a bottle and was browned sugar awesome. Same with all the dressing on the buffet and in the dining room. This attention to detail is what I would say puts Celebrity at the top of our cruise ranking. Not just with dressings or ice cream toppings, but every where on this cruise you could see the caring of the staff and crew. From the presentation of the brunch to the chocolate/dessert buffet, the quick reactions to a forgotten section on the upper pool deck as we watched the sunset or the pleasant greetings of staff through out the ship, Celebrity seems to be not forgetting that exceptional presentation goes a long way in costumer satisfaction. Dinner was fun. We had awesome table mates with very different points of views and personalities. We where sat at table #440, late sitting ( shout our to Jeff & Pam and Evan & Miriam). We like to stay late and laugh and chat and share our days and really enjoyed hangin' with our table. Our waiter and assist waiter where working hard to provide top notch service to all their tables (18 people at our seating from talking to Gama). Bob and Gama are great. Again not too personable, but striving to provide the best service, they can archive. Gama worked hard each nite to share histhoughts on the menu with us. I appreciate his insight and often took his recommendation. I and others would often order many courses, much to his chagrin i bet, he would bring them all, do the check ins and fix any problems. Gama was great and I hope he receives his fair share of the tips which I paid for daily as well as the last nite's thank you note and cash we provided for his work. Bob was his assistant waiter and worked well with Gama to ensure our table had everything we needed, including a transport truck of spenda.They were always running, and seemed overworked. That may be an understatement on a cruise ship. From what I understand all staff work long hours for a long time to receive a large payout. An amount I am sure which works out to very little an hour in the end. I support their choice to work on a ship and enjoy the service they provide and with out getting to far into the politics of it all, I continue to work to understand both sides of the arrangement. The head waiter in our section did his robotic best to stop by and pay us some lip service. On one visit he asked if everything was good and someone asked him for more water. Rather than grabbing the water jug and filling our glasses, he left and directed some other sog to do so. Obviously this was not in his job duties, he was a team player or perhaps saw it below himself to do so. I didn't ask. I have never found a head waiter I liked on a cruise ship. I feel their love of the hierarchy and deplore it. The food in the dining room to be honesty was a bit hit and miss. All the beef dishes for the most part where good and that is what Gama would recommend, the fish dishes ranged from delicious (seafood risotto) to uneatable (seafood wrapped with cod). The appetizers ranged from disaster (clear broth soup) to awesome ( ). The shrimp cocktail was available every night as well as a steak, chicken and fish. The rest of the menu changed. One of the biggest disappointments of all was the lobster. On our first cruise (Princess, where the food was least impressive of any cruise) the lobsters where whole and fresh. Here the lobster was a half a rock, lobster tail. Like a giant crawfish, served on a seafood something. It was a waste of time and money. It was over fishy and lobster tasteless. SHAME on Celebrity for trying to cut corners. I would suggest, you reduce the menu choices and focus on quality and not quality. The desserts on the ship in general where not great. The best dessert we had on the ship was a pavlova served at lunch in the Spa/Cafe. The banana's foster, baked Alaska and cherries jubilee where all done, but lack, again a quality, that I was expecting from Celebrity. The food in general was good. Please don't over think my criticism. I am not your average foodie. I have graduated from cooking school, cooked professionally and would expect most people on the ship found the food to be outstanding. From having talked to a 35 cruise-timer, who shared our table one night, the food has dropped in quality on this ship and all of Celebrity...I would cruise this ship again and eat my glorious way through another week. Celebrity was in the end the best of the food experiences we have had on a cruise ship...but it is in the end just that...a cruise ship and not a five star French bistro...but a little bit of everything, which would be hard to do on land never mind at sea for 2000. We didn't go the the "Normadie" , but two table mates did. They had a great time and enjoyed the service and food. I don't like being served by a flock of waiters and from the many descriptions i have both read and heard I wasn't moved to try it.
Cruisers; We meet some very nice people on this cruise. We don't cruise to make friends, but we always seem to meet some good people. The people on the Summit were as friendly as any cruise we have been on. Being "March Break" the cruise seemed full and I won't be able to support the feelings of other cruise critic posters as far as types go. I would say there was very few children on board, or very few that we saw. I would say an older crowd (40+) of mixed races. We didn't notice anyone taking flowers or sugar packs and didn't find people pushy or rude. There where quite a few Canadians, EH!
Entertainment; We loved going to hear the Elk Island Trio every night in the Rendez-Vous Lounge for a pre-dinner drink. The whole band was top notch and one of the best we have every heard on a cruise. The first production show we went to was also top notch. The Broadway theme show was very commentary. Having seen many of the shows on Broadway and in local productions, it seemed they "borrowed" much of the staging and choreography. It made for a great show with some very enthusiastic dancers and talented singers working to reach their potential. We attended one other show which featured songs from Barbara Streisand to the Bee Gees and it was less well staged and produced. We enjoyed the A cappella group at the brunch in the dining room and the classic, piano and guitar performances around the ship. The worst of them all was the band that often played by the pool and at the "Sock Hop". OMG! Their diction was off and their attempts to recreate the hits horrid. One day they were attempting a Bob Marley song and two of the "pool Butlers' were mocking them and doing a better job. We also attend arts and crafts and learned how to fold an origami crane. It was fun, but I did feel that Celebrity could have provided a better quality craft, come on...paper folding! We didn't get to bingo and never made it to the casino. The cruise staff seemed friendly and we did watch some of the standard cruise ship games taped on the TV. We didn't really have problem with the Cruise Director, he seemed to be enjoying his job and reminding us of the few overhead announcements being made.
Ports; 1. Puerto Rico - We had been to San Juan before so we didn't take time to explore. If this is your first time here I would recommend a walk around old town and an admission to the fort. I also would tell you to take the water taxi across the bay to the Barcardi rum factory. The tour is good and the rum better!
2. St. Maarten - Again this was not our first time here. The beaches are awesome and our plan to take a taxi to Orient beach was fooled by the weather. If you are given a good beach day make the trip to one of the beaches, they are awesome. We ended up walking to downtown from the ship docka nd doing a little shopping. We also sat on the beach in front of town for a short bit. It was clean and open, it started to get full as the weather cleared and the sun came out.
3. Dominica - This was our first visit to Dominica. It was a beautiful and tropical delight. We booked an excursions through the ship to go river tubing. Our original booking time was 9:00am I believe. When we arrived in our room the first day our excursion tickets were waiting for us with a time change to 2:00pm. We ended up really enjoying the later time. In general we fond the pace of later worked for us. In the past we have always aimed to get the earlier excursions. In the future we would defiantly book the later. It allows for a more leisurely wake up, breakfast, and morning. As far booking through the cruise vs. finding your own. We know the cruise marks up the excursions. We also know the cruise waits for you if you are late. If you book on your own or find your own way, as we do in some cases, you risk missing the ship, literally. We booked our excursions weeks before online. We had found in he past that by the time you wait to book at the ship some, if not all, excursions are full. The river tubing was great. I would highly recommend it as a excursion. The bus picks you up right at the end of the pier and you get a nice tour/ride to the mountain/forest/river area. The river is beautiful and lined with hugh trees and jungle scape. The valley walls are lush and untouched beauty. The river water was cool and refreshingly clear. The tubes have covered bottoms that protect your bottom from the rocks that line the route. There is some adventure here and a helmet protects your head from possible interaction with rock. I would recommend water shoes to protect your feet as you free flow with the current down the rapids. There are guides on tubes that follow and direct your journey, but it does get pretty rocky and sometimes you are left on your own. I would highly recommend this excursion.
4. Grenada - Having read some mixed reviews here we were unsure of what to expect. I would say the port area was very different from others. We were "escorted" for a short distance by "Jimmy" who wanted to show us around the island, we declined and he was gone. We took the advice of the ship's shopping guide and walked to "Dot's" to buy some spices. The walk was short and through the tunnel, which was fine and a fun adventure. We bought our spices and made our along the water front for a jaunt. We decided to turn around and stopped by a local grocery store and a couple of other shops. We did climb the stairs at the port side of the tunnel to get a good view. A short hike and a nice panorama of the port. On our way back to the ship I did buy an "steel rum" from a seller in the little shops outside the mall for $25US.
5. Bonaire - We booked an snorkel excursions through the ship here, a week or so before we departed online. We didn't get the first excursion we wanted, we settled with the "Junk Snorkel". We were very happy with this excursion. Having done a catamaran snorkel on our last cruise in Grand Cayman, we looked forward to another adventure on a different type of sailing vessel. We were not disappointed by the boat or the snorkeling on this awesome Caribbean gem of an island. The "Junk" is an old pirate looking ship owned by some local folks who came to the island from Switzerland. The boat has a long story and is a wooden ship covered in carvings and shrouded with history. The port in Bonaire is small and has the most beautiful turquoise blue water I had ever seen. As we pulled in we spotted a sea turtle from the ship. There is little here but a dock and a transportation pick up. A larger centre seemed to be a short walk away. Our excursion started right off the ship's dock. Small tenders (Zodiacs) picked us up at the dock and whisked us to the "Junk". In no time the boat was full and we where on our way. The captain and crew were friendly and served punch as we crossed the straight to Little Bonaire. Little Bonaire is a island/park surrounded by reef and outlined with beautiful sand beaches. The crew handed out the gear and briefed us on the fish/ocean life we may see. The captain then explained the two options. 1. Take tenders to the beach and snorkel in the immediate area of the beach. 2. Take the tenders to the beach and then once everyone was off the ship take the tenders up current and drift snorkel back. YEAH 2! I have always wanted to drift snorkel and if you are up for an adventure I would highly recommend it. After making our way to the beach, we put on out gear to work out any problems and then we jumped back in the tender and headed up current. There was about 10 of us and two crew. One crew drove the tender and the other jumped in the water and escorted us back as we drifted back to the first stop on the beach. It was awesome snorkeling. They asked that we didn't swim over the reef, which did limit our perspective and result, but what we did see was awesome and full of life. There were some deep spots and I got to see my first wild sea turtle, which was a HUGH standout for me. The whole water part lasted about 90 minutes, with a 30 minute ride there and a 45 minute ride back. On the way back the crew served rum punch and fruit trays and sold T-shirts and hats. I would highly recommend this snorkel adventure.
Aruba - Aruba's port is the opposite of Bonaire. Over developed and commercial. The island itself is beautiful all be it windy. We decided on making our own way to the beach and I would do it again. We caught the bus right across from the port for less than two bucks and rode out to Eagle beach. I had done some research on the beaches and would recommend Eagle to you. The beach is white soft sand and warm turquoises waters. We found a spot, left our stuff and waded out into the water. We stayed in the water for almost two hours. Floating and swimming and enjoying the sunshine we had been missing after a long, cold Canadian winter. There are beach bars along the beach and I was lucky to have a friend make a visit so that we could enjoy a cold one as we floated. Oh mama, life is good! thxs JL!! We did have to wait a short time to catch the bus on the way back, we had left ourselves lots-o-time and weren't too concerned. The bus came just as we were finishing up a conversation with a couple from New Hampshire that were spending the week on the island and were interested in our ship and cruise history. The bus had us back to the ship in no time (maybe a 10 minute bus ride). We decided to buy some sodas and water to bring onto to the ship and found a little convince store just behind the main mall that met all out needs. Aruba is a sunny paradise, but be warned it is very windy and that wind moves the sand into all the wrong places...if you know what I mean:O)
Day at Sea - I do love to have a few days at sea. This cruise offered just one. We did keep our excursions low key knowing we would be visiting so many islands. I would in the future book a cruise with less islands/more sea days. I would also consider booking this cruise for two weeks and really seeing more of the islands at a more leisurely pace. I really do like the private islands that many cruise lines offer on one day as a stop. Of those I found the best to be Holland America's. The ship didn't feel over crowded on the sea day and while finding a chair at the pool would have been difficult, there were many others just beyond the pool area.
Disembarkation: Getting off the ship was quick and well organized. We put our luggage out the night before and had received ut tags and time slot well in advanced. We didn't get off the ship until 9am-ish, so we had time for breakfast and a shower. We made our way to our on board meeting place (the theatre) and hardly had sat down when they called our color. A short walk to the gang-way and into the port terminal. The lines moved quickly and the luggage was waiting for us. We lined up for our transfer and were at the airport before we knew it. If this is going to be your first cruise consider yourself lucky. Celebrity hits all the right cords and surpasses other cruise lines with it attention to detail and service. If this is not your first cruise I believe you will find the Summit to be all that other ships are and what it lacks in newness it makes up in layout, atmosphere and overall cruisability. Bon Voyage!