Summit's 11 night 11/15/2004 cruise to the Western Caribbean & Panama - a once in a lifetime experience. This is a long review. If you have questions, feel free to email me.
I found that before booking a cruise one must do lots of research to learn the options about the ports and the cruise line as well as the particular ship. That way there are no surprises or disappointments. I stumbled online onto Cruise Critic and made friends there on our board before the cruise. They gave me lots of good information that I could not find in ads. It was nice to put names with faces in person when we met at the designated place prior to sail away. Celebrity furnished a half hour reception in Michael's Club for us to meet on a sea day, as well.
The ship is more beautiful than photography can capture. It is meticulously maintained daily, full of light so one does not have to go outside to feel he is outside. There were so many special surprises. In the bay windows of the Waterfall Cafe, there were 2- 1/2 foot window circles on the floor that allowed you to see the water! The outside glass elevators also gave you a view of the sea. The windows in the Thelosotherapy pool and restaurant (which runs from starboard to port) afford you the ability to see from both sides of the ship, offering lots of light. The unexpected artwork between floors or in the Emporium are whimsical. There is clever use of mirrors which pick up yet more light, as well. Even the passages which contain only staterooms are beautiful. Some staterooms have mirrored panels on either side of the doors. It is so tastefully done. There are public restrooms outside all the restaurants , and they, too, are tastefully done.
Boarding was very efficient from the moment you arrived at the pier. The bellmen took your luggage (there is a sign in Ft. Lauderdale saying no tip is required since the employees are paid a salary) and it miraculously arrived at our stateroom shortly thereafter. You enter the terminal and are ushered to a waiting room with lines of plastic chairs. (These were the ONLY plastic chairs we saw, and remember that this is Port Everglades and not Celebrity offering plastic chairs!) The wait was not long. There was just enough time to meet the people seated ahead of you to your left before the entire row was asked to move to the next station. From there you are ushered to a large room with not long lines (because there are so many desks) where you will be given your plastic sea pass (which is your room key as well as your credit card) since the ship is cashless except for what you spend in the casino or on tips) and a small folder showing the ship's layout, after your ID and tickets are checked. If you wish to upgrade your cabin, that is the place to do so. Any vacant staterooms can be had for a pittance compared to their original asking price. A friend in a booked sky suite upgraded to the royal suite for $600 total. The people behind them had a concierge class booking and upgraded to the now vacant sky suite for $300.
Your photo is taken and is incorporated into your sea pass (but is not shown ON the sea pass), so that when you enter or exit the ship the person at the scanner can match you to your ID. You should carry some photo ID with you when you exit the ship. Although I never had occasion to show it except in reboarding, it is a safeguard. They recommend you make a copy of your passport photo page and carry it ashore, leaving your passport in your room safe. The room safe is large enough to accommodate many items, but probably not a woman's handbag.
When you approach the ship, your photo will be taken (you can purchase it later) with your traveling companion(s). There is no pressure to take the picture or to purchase it. There is a photo gallery where you can find any photos of yourselves that you wish to purchase. There will be a photographer in the dining room on formal nights to take your picture if you wish it to be done. We did not purchase any "professional" photos.
As soon as you are actually on board, you will be approached by a bellman to carry your hand luggage and direct you to the Waterfall Cafe (we arrived before 1 p.m. when the rooms are ready), and given a champagne or orange juice cocktail. Had we arrived after 1 p.m. he would have shown us to our stateroom, and we'd have gone to the buffet on our own. There was a crowd amassed around the champagne when we arrived, and before we were whisked to the restaurant, we could sit in a comfortable sofa and wait while the steward brought us our drinks. It was understandably a little bit rushed there.
We deposited our hand luggage on the aft deck and went through the buffet line. There is so much food that you may not even see it all. My husband chose selections I had not seen! There are often signs above the food item, but not always. Some is self serve and other food is served to you on another plate. It was very crowded since that is the only restaurant open on embarkation day at lunch time. Other than embarkation day, you could always find a table. Only once during the cruise did a couple ask if they could share a table with us because they could not find one. The waiters are very efficient at cleaning the tables, so you do not have to sit at a dirty table at any time. Your trays are lined with a linen placemat and you have a linen napkin and cutlery on the napkin.
Our mid ships cabin, 6093, a 2C, was perfect for us. We lacked nothing & were quite comfortable. We asked for extra pillows and they were brought. It was decorated in pale orange and brown, with matching draperies and bedspread. There is a sheer curtain behind the draperies you may use if in port if there is another ship beside you and want more privacy. We particularly enjoyed seeing the new ports from our verandah. The verandah was like a second room. If one wanted to watch tv and the other wanted to read, one only had to switch positions. I read 5 books on the cruise. There was adequate storage for our clothes and suitcases. There is a tie/belt rack, and many drawers besides the permanent hangers. We brought many hangers with us. The bathroom was just the right size. It was not cramped at all, and we are both tall. It is provided with Q-Tips, cotton swabs, a plug for a shaver, a hairdryer of sorts, shampoo and hand cream. There were always fresh towels and shower mat. There is a leather bound book in the stateroom enumerating all the services available. There is also a magazine rack filled with books about your ports of call, shopping, and about cruising in general. These you leave in the room. Tickets for your shore excursions booked previously on line, and invitations were on the dresser/table in the room upon arrival. People who had ordered special birthday or anniversary packages, or gifts from their travel agents found them in the stateroom, or if they didn't find them, asked, and they were found!
Finding our way around the ship was not difficult. The beautiful elevators listed the public rooms on each floor, and as you stepped from the elevator there would be signs directing you. These postings are in good taste and never offensive. Everything is designed to blend in, and does that well.
Our stateroom attendants were attentive without being obstreperous. There was always a pitcher of water, a bucket of ice and clean glasses. When my husband came down with a cold, they could be counted on to bring him hot water for gargling, and coffee for soothing his throat, or a partial meal if he felt like eating.
Summit has been in service for 3 years and is still new. Its sanitation rating has been 100 and 98%. Returning from ports there is often a sanitizing agent in a clear liquid, dispensed similarly to soap in a public bathroom except that you do not have to touch it to receive the sanitizer. This is done to prevent any land bourne germs from entering the ship. There were advisories in Celebrity Today to wash your hands frequently, especially just after coming ashore. If the port had had warm weather, there were also cold wash cloths offered before reboarding.
The mini bar in the stateroom was convenient, but expensive. We had brought on a 12 pack of diet 7-up which came in handy. We brought king size coffee mugs with lids, so could bring juices back to the cabin at breakfast which saved a bit of walking. Although the mini bar contains some snacks, I can't imagine being hungry enough to buy them since we were so well fed throughout the cruise!
The choices for meals were numerous. Everyone on board is assigned an evening meal reservation, by table number, in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant. But there is a casual alternative meal served in the evening at the Waterfall Cafe, by reservation ($2 tip expected per person). There is also an alternative dining room, the Normandy, with a $30 per person surcharge, reservations required, and tip required. And if you wanted to skip dinner, food was still served up until 6 p.m. in the Aqua Spa buffet and the Waterfall Grill.
For breakfast and lunch if you were in a hurry you could go through either side of the Waterfall Cafe, or through the Aqua Spa self-serve buffet, or the Waterfall Grill outdoors by the pool for burgers or hot dogs and fries at lunch (or all of the above!). If you wanted to meet people and have a leisurely meal you could choose the Cosmopolitan Restaurant where your selections will be cooked to order. That is the only place you can get eggs Benedict and banana pancakes. In all venues "floating" waiters would come around serving extra juices, coffee, pastries, etc. Or you can order room service 24 hours a day. There is a limited room service menu when the restaurant is not open (you may order it on your interactive tv or by phone), but during official meal times you may order from the restaurant menu from room service by phone. Sometimes it is brought by your room steward and other times by a person you have never seen. Tipping $2 is standard for this service regardless of the volume of food/beverage served.
In the Waterfall Cafe, toward the outdoor seating aft, there is an omelet station at breakfast and a pasta/pizza station at lunch and later. There is also a Belgian Waffle station for breakfast with all sorts of berries, whipped cream, butter and jams for toppings (and syrup). On certain days this area would serve sandwich meats/cheeses/bread or an international theme menu. One day it served tacos. The international buffet was also served in the main line of the Waterfall Cafe. During our cruise there were Italian, Mexican and Oriental buffets.
You will not find home cooking flavors in any of the restaurants, however (by my definition that means heavy on the onion and garlic!). Cooking for 2000 people every meal precludes excessive seasoning that you may be accustomed to at home. You will, however, find delicate and subtle flavors in the salad dressings and sauces. The Cosmopolitan is a wonderful opportunity to try foods you have never had before. Some you will like and others maybe not if they are too unfamiliar. Our assistant waiter knew I was interested in all the flavors and became accustomed to putting a small amount of a different salad dressing on my bread plate for me to try.
A five course meal is served in the Cosmopolitan nightly (appetizer, soup, salad, entree and dessert). If you can't make up your mind, you may order several of any course, or skip any course. If you do not want anything from the menu, they can bring you a steak and baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, or a Caesar salad even when they are not listed on the menu. I found that if you ordered one of each of the 5 courses you had just enough to eat. But it is hard not to order more than one dessert. A few times I skipped the soup, salad and entree, knowing I was going to indulge in sweets! Your waiters call you by name and know your preferences. If you ordered decaffeinated coffee the first night, you would have it all through the cruise.
There are numerous bars on the 4th, 5th, 10th and 11th decks where you can have an alcoholic drink, or a soda, or specialty coffee, at most hours of the day and evening. You can always order a drink through room service or make one in your stateroom with items in the mini bar. You may purchase a soda card which allows you to drink an unlimited number of cokes etc. each day. It runs a little over $5 per day.
Live music is performed in the Cosmopolitan at dinner on deck 5, (the balcony where we dined), overlooking the larger part of the restaurant on the 4th deck. Music is also provided on deck 10 at the Waterfall Cafe in the evening, and throughout the various bars in the evening. We heard a harpist, a violin duo, the Mozart quartet (two violins, piano and keyboard), an a capella male vocal group & a guitarist. When the performers are taking a break recorded music is played.
There are two nightly Broadway/Las Vegas type shows, one for each dining room seating. The seating facilities were excellent. Everyone had a clear view of the stage. Although the seating was theater style, in rows, there were tables for drinks like in a nightclub.
The stores in the Emporium sell all kinds of items, from gold & diamond necklaces to duty free cigarettes and even made to order suits. I broke my manicure scissors and found a nice kit in a leather container for $10, about the price of just the scissors on land.
On deck one you will find the medical facility. I saw people waiting for dialysis! There is a vending machine for common medications on the wall at its entrance, in case they are not open. Again, hours are posted, but are also listed in Celebrity Today.
If you read Celebrity Today you will save yourself lots of walking and extra trips. There are hand rails (for stabilized walking during rough seas) on most walls in the halls by the staterooms. We did not experience any seasickness but we heard that a few did. some said they took Dramamine and the symptoms ceased. I had the prescription transpatch as a back up.
There may be 3-4 things within any one hour that you would like to do, so reading Celebrity Today helps you plan out your activities. Some lectures and presentations are repeated, but mostly are not repeated.
Art auctions and lectures concerning art are presented many times. There is no pressure to purchase. There are a couple of inspirational speakers, as well as the "shopping in port" lectures, some of which lure you by the offer of a free drink or gift. There were "Acupuncture at Sea" lectures, and treatments available for a fee. There is bingo twice a day most days, and the casino daily, which is closed when in port. There are cooking demonstrations, daily movies in the theater or on your room's tv. The room tv gives you several satellite stations such as ESPN and CNN, but no local channels. There are pay per view movies for $9.95. There were floral arranging seminars (standing only) in the Conservatory just off the pool area. There are pool games, trivia contests etc. which we did not attend, but were enjoyed by some of our associates. I do not like to sit in the sun, so did not experience the sorbet parade in the afternoon by the pool. Those who did "lay out" said it was quite impressive!
Despite all the above activities, if you just want to be quiet, that is possible, too. One only attends what one wants to attend. There is no need to have your spouse with you, so singles are as welcome as couples anywhere on the ship.
For relaxation there are treatments in the Aqua Spa. Specials are offered each day, advertised on the back page of Celebrity Today. There is free use of the Thelosotherapy pool on all Millennium class ships. This area also contains two hot tubs, but not very hot, and wooden chaise lounges, some with padded cushions. There is a gigantic sky light, so although you are indoors you have windows on both sides of the ship and from above. You may use the Persian Gardens for a fee.
There are handicap facilities including staterooms, with wheelchair access to all public areas etc. Those in wheelchairs seemed to be having a good time.
There is a book library and a music library on board, mid ships, each being a two level venue. Hours of operation are posted on the door as well as in Celebrity Today.
Although the predominant language heard on board is English, many other languages were evident. Likewise, although we traveled to three Spanish speaking, and two Dutch speaking countries, all tour guides and sales persons spoke adequate English, and accepted dollars, so you did not have to convert your currency at any time. Prices on land were usually cheaper than on the ship.
On shore excursions, it is wise to take water or canned soda with you. There may or may not be a place to purchase a beverage during the tour. Although it is autumn in the states, it was hot in Cozumel, warm in Key West and Costa Rica (take bug spray), pleasant in Panama since it was raining on and off, and warm in the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao. If you do not like hot weather, be sure your tour provides air conditioned transportation. If it doesn't say air conditioned, it won't be. And use sunscreen and/or carry a sun hat or visor if your tour takes you outside the bus. These ports of call, being so close to the equator, do not have seasonal changes that we have in the states and you may burn more easily than at home.
We took the shortest tours possible, just to see the countryside and the towns without having to walk too much. How good your guide is will affect your enjoyment of the information/views you receive. Instead of pointing out various plants, rock formations, birds etc., our guide in Cozumel wanted us to sing La Cucaracha! Several of us wrote comments about the tour and were provided a half credit without our asking for a refund. Celebrity wants to know which are its good tours and which are lacking and they depend upon the passengers to provide the information.
When booking your cruise you may have chosen a particular itinerary because you wanted to experience a particular thing. We booked this cruise because it went to Panama and Costa Rica. I had just read David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas and definitely wanted to experience the canal, so took a longer trip on a ferry. This shore excursion was the highlight of the trip for me. We drove to the Pacific Coast at Balboa to board our ferry. Our guide was completely fluent in English and kept us entertained and informed (telling us when we were crossing the Chagras River or the Continental Divide. The guide on the ferry was also well learned and fluent in English. When we disembarked at Gamboa, our bus arrived to take us back to the port. Both guides were amenable to questions, also. We had extra time due to a special crossing, not having had to wait for a cruise ship ahead of us, so we were taken to the Madden dam where we could exit the bus to take photos. When the driver would spy wildlife, he would pull off the road and allow us to take photos. We found that to be true of our guide/driver in Costa Rica on the Pontoon River Boat excursion whether we were in the boat or in the bus. We appreciated the bus stopping to see a monkey or a sloth. You may tip your guide at the conclusion of the trip, especially for this extra service. You can tell when a guide enjoys his job, because he wants you to love his country like he does. Our Costa Rica guide even picked about two dozen species of flowering plants to pass among us on our trip back to the ship.
I found it interesting that the Cozumel guide wanted us to be sure that we understood that the Mayans were a peaceable people, and did not offer human sacrifice like the Aztecs had. He also made reference to the Spanish conquistadores trying to change their culture. He seemed proud of his Mayan roots that had not been corrupted by mixed marriages. Our guide in Costa Rica, on the other hand, pointed out that there were many Spanish descendents from the conquistadores who had white skin like he did, and many who were of native Indian descent, and combinations thereof. Our guide in Panama asked, "If you met me in the States, would you know that I am Pamanian?" She answered her own question by saying, "Of course not. There is no Panamanian 'look.' Our population is a compilation of descendents of the Spanish conquistadores, the native Indians and the black men from Jamaica and Barbados (whose ancestors had been brought to the West Indies as slaves) who came to Panama to build the Panama Canal." There was no talk about ancestry on the tours in the Dutch islands.
There are no annoying public announcements made on board. If you want to attend a certain event, you just make note of it and go there. On this cruise, an announcement was made when the ship had been cleared and passengers could disembark (telling you, for instance, deck 1, mid ships or deck 3 aft). Other than that the Captain made one announcement when we were in sight of Cuba, giving us our bearings. This is one of the reasons I chose Celebrity! When we docked beside a "party ship" in Cozumel, we were awakened by the constant announcements being made there!
The next day's weather forecast is presented in a card on your turned down bed (along with Celebrity Today for the following day) and a chocolate on your pillow when you return from dinner or a show. The weather, including UV forecast is run across the bottom of the screen on the channel which shows you the view from the bow. There is also a channel that shows a nautical map with the ship's current position and bearing. When you see that you are near any body of land, you need only go to the verandah to have a look with binoculars. There were whale and porpoise sightings on our trip, but no announcements, unfortunately.
If you have not opted for tipping by credit card (there will be a notice left in your stateroom for this choice, with a deadline clearly stated) the next to last night of your cruise you will be provided envelopes for tips to be given on the last night, for your steward (split equally with his assistant), the asst. head housekeeper (who had to fix our safe once, and had to let me into the cabin once), the asst. maitre 'd who is the person responsible for your table assignment and any special needs you might have for dinner. Everyone at our table was approximately the same age, and we all lived on the same section of deck 6, your waiter and the assistant waiter. Guidelines are given, but you may tip extra if you feel your service was exemplary! You are also given two evaluation forms to fill out and drop at the Guest Relations desk in a drop box. Your servers rely upon your evaluations for their promotions!
There is a shore excursions desk, a bank, & the concierge desk in case the Guest Relations personnel could not immediately fill your need. If Guest Relations says they'll have someone call you, you WILL receive the call! Very efficient and pleasant, whether in person or on the phone.
Some hard working people take cruises to relax, and do not particularly care what are the ports of call. They enjoy the activities or doing nothing, relaxing in the warmth of the sunny skies and the sea breezes. The activities page in Celebrity Today, printed front and back for morning and afternoon into evening, are printed on a separate page so you can take it with you without carrying the entire document.
A cruiser can appreciate all the organization and preparation made for each and every voyage so that the cruiser does not have to worry about anything. Like anything in life, you have to be able to go with the flow. If a port is closed to the ship because of rough waters, or in our case, because a hurricane had destroyed Grand Cayman, you will be given either another day at sea, or an alternate port of call. Usually this alternate port will be announced a few days before sailing (ours was Curacao). But you would have no prior notice if rough seas prevented docking.
We had an unusual occurrence in Colon, Panama. Fortunate for me and a hundred others who were booked on the ferry through the canal excursion, our trip left at 7:15 a.m. so was not involved in any of the fracas that occurred about 7:20 a.m. Apparently another bus line protested Celebrity's using Aventuras as its shore excursion company, and blocked the gates, not allowing ANY tours to depart. (including the 4th bus that was to have been with us on the ferry). I was told that there were armed guards present, but no one knew if they were the police, or agents of the bus company.
I was told by a friend that Celebrity immediately produced a revised activities sheet and distributed them to all passengers via their stateroom attendants, meaning that the activities staff has a few cards up their sleeves, so to speak, and can give you yet more to do!
As our Panamanian guide told us, when she received this information by cell phone, the protesting company simply didn't understand that tourists would not be happy in an un-air conditioned bus in poor repair (she pointed out to us as we drove to the Pacific, the number of the competing bus line's busses which were off the road in a ditch etc. due to bad driving, or mechanical problems. Perhaps this bus line did not understand the contract that Celebrity makes with its shore excursion companies! And this reinforces the comment cards available when a tour is not all you expected it to be. On the Cozumel tour that did not include everything we expected, we also lost our transmission about a mile from the dock. A replacement bus was provided within 5-10 minutes, and we did not delay the departure of the ship! Celebrity wants its passengers to be happy with everything. Hence the reduction in fare for the Cozumel tour.
When we returned to the dock in Colon, Panama, the gates were still closed (with all the Aventuras busses still locked inside), so we were told we would access the ship via an escalator inside one of the buildings. This was so, but I was accosted by a uniformed person (I do not know what his uniform signified) who did not speak English, who asked me several questions after he blocked the escalator so that I could not pass. I speak some Spanish and had great difficulty understanding what he wanted to know (in other words he was confrontative and did not use the pleasantries or usual phrases one would expect to have to respond to). I point blank asked him in Spanish, what he wanted to know, as I reached in my bag for my ID and purchases. He did not seem interested in identification which I showed him, nor what was in my shopping bag which he did not look into. He did not smile or act the least bit friendly, either. Only for a short moment did I question to myself whether I was in a jam and might be unable to rejoin the cruise! My husband had not taken this excursion, so I don't know if my presence alone was the reason for stopping me. No one else I talked to from the ferry excursion said they were stopped. I finally heard ONE word I recognized, "hizo" (what did I do) and I replied in Spanish that I'd been to see the Panama Canal. He did not ask by what means of transportation I got to the Canal, nor whether it had been the Colon side or the Panama City side, but he did step aside, reluctantly and begrudgingly. I still do not know the purpose of his stopping me other than to harass me.
We did not have to use tenders in any port. Nor did we have to walk long distances to find our tours. We just had to show up 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time and everything ensued like clock work. No crowds, no pushing.
Disembarkation was also a breeze. Depending upon your connecting flight time, you were assigned a time to be in a public room after breakfast on the last day. The evening before we were given new luggage tags, with a color and number, and the name of the public area we were to wait in (always with comfortable chairs). When purple 2 was called (not on a public address system, but by an employee of the ship) we all moved en mass to the customs line which had no delays, just a brief glance at the declaration, and into the baggage terminal which at first seemed to be chaotic because of the number of people there. But upon closer inspection I saw that all our bags were within 10 feet of our other bags, in good condition, all set upright, no bags piled on top of other bags etc. and that a porter was there to transport them to the street for our transportation. It was just rather crowded with so much luggage on the ground!
Cruising is probably more pleasurable if you know others aboard. But even if you do not know a soul beforehand, you will meet other, diverse and interesting people if you put yourself into the situations where you will meet them, like the Cosmopolitan Restaurant's open seating at breakfast and lunch. I did not see much intermingling at the buffet, however. But I would join people I had met earlier when I saw they were finishing their meal, and could ask them what activities they'd been partaking of etc. It was nice to be able to call someone by name.
Would I cruise again? If the price were right and the itinerary one I desired. Would I choose Celebrity again if I were to cruise? Definitely if the price is competitive. They have instituted a new policy in the last few months that means no reduced fares, or incentives by travel agents. Our original fare, purchased over 9 months ahead of departure, increased by almost $500 per person after the policy went into effect. No, I would not have booked this cruise for $1000 more per stateroom when I could book a comparable cruise on Holland America or Princess for less (or could take advantage of Radisson's half price sales for the same amount). I enjoyed everything about Celebrity and their employees but cost is a real factor!
If I MUST say something negative, to be fair, it would be that I did not like having to walk through the Casino on the 4th deck in order to traverse that floor. I disliked it so much that I would take the elevator to the 5th floor, walk the length of the Casino through a lounge to the next elevator and go down a floor to resume my travels on deck 4. I did the same on deck 10 to avoid having to walk in the heat among the sun bathers while I was fully attired. But the ship has been built and that cannot be changed!