Celebrity Summit - Still a Great Ship-
Back-to-Back Cruises out of San Juan Jan 2011
This review will cover the Jan 8th and Jan 15th, 2011 seven day Cruises out of San Juan. Cruising the Eastern Caribbean from San Juan is a great value as you get 6 ports in 7 days with only one day at sea per week. Celebrity Summit designs their cruises so you can do consecutive cruises on the same ship in the same stateroom and you'll see different ports each week. About 150 people out of the 1900 or so passengers did the "Back-to Back" program. Our conclusion was that a 7-day cruise was too short and that 14 days was just about right. The only real downside is that you do get the same entertainment each week. The upside is that you only pack and un-pack once in 2 weeks and you get to know the crew and ship better. In the case of Summit, the entertainment was so good that seeing the same show twice was fine.
There are several perks by belonging to the Captain's Club. The more previous voyages you have with Celebrity, the higher your level. We had 2 previous Celebrity cruises, which gave us the "Classic Level", which gives us a few perks. The perks are significantly better for the "Elite Level", which requires 5 previous cruises. We were elevated to the "Elite Level" for this cruise because we paid for a "Celebrity Suite", which we really loved. There were cocktail parties 5 afternoons for the Elite Members from 4 to 6 with free drinks in Michaels Club, very nice. We got free laundry and a few other nice goodies, like free 90 minutes of Internet time (per person per week). We even got an invite to the Captain's table, in the MDR, which was very nice.
The Captain's Club party on Wed at 4 pm for all Captain's Club members, was a not-to-be-missed event. There were free drinks, great snacks and a full hour of entertainment. It ends at 5 pm.
Port or Starboard Cabin?
I found the port side of the ship to be the better side more frequently than the starboard side. The ship seemed to face east frequently in port meaning the sun, being in the southern sky, was blasting into the starboard side windows. Also, in San Juan and in St Thomas, St Maarten and Antigua the view from the port side was far superior to the starboard side. In St Lucia the Starboard side faced north, way from the sun, and thus was the better side for this port. Both sides of the ship in Barbados were good, with the port side being slightly better from a sun glare stand point later in the day. Conclusion, get a port side cabin for the Eastern Caribbean Cruises, no blasting sun into the room and generally a better view from the room in the ports.
LAX to San Juan-Embarkation
There is one 6 hour non stop flight once per week on AA at 11:55 pm on Friday night, we had our bags by 10:30 am in San Juan and were at the ship by 11:00 am, which was too early. Check-in started at noon, there were a lot of people there early with us. We checked in quickly because we had a suite, we got into the room by 1:30. The bags arrived by 4:00. It would have been much smoother to arrive at 4 or 5 pm and have done something useful with the day. The ship docks at the Pan American Pier, which is across the harbor from Old San Juan. There was a 20 minute queue of traffic once we got near the ship, just crawling along. Cab fare is $23 + tip from the airport to the pier. There is no place to walk to from the pier, you have to take a cab, no shopping, nothing, strangest cruise ship port I've ever seen. The pier is pinned up against a small airport, which you have to get around to get out into any sort of town.
If you dislike the idea of putting out your bags by 11 pm, the night before dis-embarkation, and then leaving the ship in big groups, there is another method of leaving the ship that they don't announce. You can take your own bags off the ship before 8:00 am and go straight to a very short Customs line and take a cab to the airport. If you can manage your bags, that is the way to go, otherwise you'll sit around for hours waiting in the Celebrity Theatre before you finally get to go down to the terminal, find your bags, wait in a very long Customs line and then board a bus for your "Airport Transfer". The cab costs $23 for a 10 to 15 minute trip to the airport.
Deck 10 Buffet at the Waterfall Cafe
Breakfast was very good, especially the waffles and eggs Benedict - outside seating is available at the rear of the ship and just forward of the buffet area.
Lunch - pizza was very good, Asian food was sometimes good, roast beef was average, salads were very good, there is a fresh pasta bar, many people said the hamburgers were good and we sandwich bar was good, they make fresh sandwiches to your order, including paninis.
Normandy (Specialty Restaurant)
This is a 5 star French restaurant with amazing service and outstanding food. The cost is $35 per person and worth it. Do this at least once in your cruise.
Main Dining Room (MDR)
For dinner we had the early seating, 6:00 pm, which is a little early for us, but 8:30 is too late for us. The ship left at 5:00 or 6:00 pm every night, so the 8:30 start just left too much time to drink eat before drinking and eating more at dinner. All the dining room staff that we were served by were very good.
In general the food in the MDR ranged from average to very good. Remember, they are serving 1000 people at a time with a long list of entrees. The deserts were consistently great. Dinner was never rushed or too delayed, we were usually finished by 8:00 pm. Formal nights were Sunday & Thursday. Most guys wore jackets and ties, a few wore tuxes. Some just wore a jacket and open collored shirt and no one objected. The rest of the nights were casual, men had to wear a collored shirt and long pants. We never had breakfast or lunch in the MDR as the Waterfall Cafe was quick, good and had outside seating with great views.
The following is a consensus of fellow diners at our table in the MDR. It really matters what you order, some items were really good and some you realize were a mistake once you take a bite. Don't hesitate to ask for another entrEe, they have plenty of them waiting.
Very Good - Sea Bass, Creme brûlEe, Apple Tartan, Lamb, Pistachio ice cream, banana bread pudding, chocolate gnoche, steak tartar, blackened yellowfin tuna, sole,
Good - onion soup, potato spinach salad, anything chocolate, seafood risotto, ravioli, lobster, filet mignon, baked Alaska, chicken Wellington, tuna, turkey, oysters, Drum Fish, Osso Bucco, Mammas Pork Chops, veal cordon blue.
Average - Flan, Crepe Suzette, cooked vegetables , hamburgers hot dogs, quail, salmon, lobster bisque, corn chowder, NY & Rib Eye steak, chicken Sambiocotta (sp), wahoo,
Tasteless - Paiaya
In Room Dining -in the suites you can get a full breakfast in the room, in the non-suites you can only get a continental breakfast in the room.
Shows & Entertainment
There were live music offerings all over the ship, all top notch. The Broadway show production staff were very talented and energetic, they put on 3 great shows each week. The shows are changed every 6 months. The other 3 nights, the main shows are comedians or specialty music acts. We were lucky, we had top talent for these shows. These shows change every week or two. There is live music on the pool deck once or twice per day.
Ports & Shore Excursions
St Croix - Coastal Bike Tour- Good bikes, water and helmets provided, they walk you to town where you pick up the bikes. Tour is easy with lots of breaks at the tops of the small hills. Return trip is non-stop, 30 minutes so you can get some steady cardio. The tour includes stops at several spots in town as well as stops along the way at an old sugar plantation and several beach stops for photos. The tour takes a detour through the rain forest, but there really isn't much to see here and the trails are dirt and a little rough. This is a $66 guided tour.
A better way to go is to walk to this shop and rent your own bike for $7/hr From Freedom City Cycles, Www.freedomcitycycles.com
It's a half block from the pier, just to the south of pier, one block in from the coastal road. Just follow the main road north from the city and go as far as you'd like, visit beaches. The staff at the store will show you good places to bike to. Traffic is very light and biking on St Croix felt safe. The road to the north starts out smooth and after about a 30 minute ride, it starts to get a little rougher, but not bad. Ride on the left side, as that's where vehicles drive.
There was some pier side shopping in temporary booths.
St Kitts - did the Fan-ta-Sea 6 hr sail snorkeling trip which was great sailing and average snorkeling. The crew was fun, we danced and drank our way back to port after lunch. There were 2 large catamarans deployed to handle the 110 people who signed up.
The boats were not crowded and were really fast, we were cranking along at 18 to 20 knots, which was quite a thrill. We had a morning snorkeling stop, which was average. We sailed over to Nevis for lunch on the beach and got to swim on the beach for an hour before heading back. Water was about 81 degrees.
The Pier is new and the development around the pier is new and nice. Still the same old t-shirt shops and jewelry stores.
Dominica - Easy to find land tours at end of docks 2 hr tour for $20pp, compared to ships $26 charge, however, at pier you have to wait until van fills up which could be forever, the ships tours leave at their preset times. Rained most of the day, so we walked around a little and then went back to the ship where there us always lots to do. The downtown area had the 3rd world feel.
Grenada - did the glass bottom trip at 11:15, we bought the last 2 tickets at 8:30 am, the same day. The wind was strong, which made the bottom murky. They picked us in a van and we 20 minutes to the southeast aide of the island.
There was a nice pier side shopping area for cruisers including the always hard to find pharmacy. There were no opportunities at the pier side to purchase your own snorkeling or sailboat rides. There were plenty of taxi's who offer island tours.
Tobago - Beautiful island if you get away from the port. There is no organized set of shops like many ports. There isn't much to see walking around. We took the 3 hr glass bottom boat ride/snorkel, which was a fun trip. We had very high winds, which diminished the experience. The trip included a 30-minute ride out to a beach past Pigeon Point. The bay that we were in was shallow, so it was easy to see the coral from the clear bottom panels in the boat. We got to snorkel for a half hour on one of the reefs. Then we went to a very large 3' deep sand bar and swam around for a half hour.
We toured the town in the afternoon, not much to see near by. The good stuff is a couple hours from the Port of Scarborough . There are plenty of taxi's that will give you a private tour of the Island highlights. Not many good shops in Scarborough. We took a cab up to the St George's Fort, which was a yawner. Cost is $10 each way for the cab. Very hilly town with narrow or no sidewalks, best to take an organized tour out of Scarborough, which had a 3rd world feeling.
What to do on the Saturday between back-to-back cruises? All the Celebrity San Juan shores excursions include an airport drop off so we did a 2 hour guided Segway tour of Old San Juan. We had the Concierge call from the ship while at sea and he booked us the noon tour. We took a cab from the Pan American pier (where Celebrity docks) to Pier 2 in Old San Juan where the Segway offices are located.
The Segway tour of Old San Juan is a good 2 hour ride after everyone is trained on the Segways, which in our case took 40 minutes. The tour was $84 and worth every penny. Very informative and fun! Pier 2 is the short pier and across from the Sheraton where the ferry boats dock. The Segway office is located in a small building next to the Pier. They do 2-hour tours at 9 am and at noon, which ends around 9:45 and 11:45. This is a one woman operation and there is no one at the office between tours. You can store your luggage at the office, she locks the door when the tour leaves. We had a reservation, but she never asked our name, so I'm not sure how important reservations were. We paid the fee after the tour. Just be there before 9:00 or noon.
Summit staff asked us to leave the ship by 9:30 if we were going to leave the ship. They said it was best to return to the ship in mid to late afternoon to avoid the crowds. You can choose to stay on the ship all day, but there really isn't much to do that day. They give you a "Transit Pass" and you use that and your passport to re-board the ship and get your new "Sea Pass Card". When you leave the ship at 9:30, you'll go through the terminal, which is a mad house with everyone leaving the ship and going through Customs. Don't stand in the long Customs line, there is a short line to the left for people with "Transit Passes", as you are not going through Customs until the following Saturday. We stumbled on this line by accident, there were no signs, look for the short line.
St Thomas - Shopping- there is a new shopping mall right at the Cruise Ship pier or you can take a multi-person cab for $5 p/p. Into town where there will be more shops and a beautiful waterfront scene. The pier side mall has lots of good stuff including a great pharmacy. I even found high-end tourist t-shirts for men (made from micro-fiber instead of cotton), $20.
We took the Castaway Girl catamaran/snorkel trip. Great trip, very good snorkeling, good equipment. We sailed back to St Thomas. We even had a guide for the snorkeling part of the trip. He pointed out stuff that wouldn't have seen like a turtle. He even dove a wreck, going in one end the boat and coming out the other.
St Maarten - Beautiful Harbor, we had 5 ships in Port. There is a nice Pier-side shopping plaza. Close to the pier is water taxi service to the downtown Philipsburg, $6/rt per person. Our Sail & Snorkel trip was cancelled due to heavy winds. The tour operator told we wouldn't see anything at the dive site and refunded everyone's excursion fare. We caught a private taxi 3-hour tour of the island, we got to see most of the island including a nude beach on the French side of the island. On the return, we did run into lots of traffic, causing us to be back about 40 minutes later than we thaught.
Antigua - We did the Stingray City trip, which was the highlight of the trip for us. 5' diameter stingrays are swimming all around you waiting for food. You actually get to hold them, they are very smooth to touch. The water is about 4' deep depending on the tide. They give you masks so you can look under water St the rays. You don't need fins, nor are they provide them. I should have worn water shoes as there are some rocks that you can contact with your bare feet. I actually cut my foot a little on the rocks. The crew took pictures of us holding the rays out in the water. Have your partner take a picture from the platform while you are holding the ray, then you have the shot digitally.
St Lucia - Did the boat ride south to the Pitons. The trip was very scenic, but we had lots of clouds and mist and periods of rain. The pier-side shopping plaza didn't have anything special. Very pretty harbor to look St from the ship.
Barbados - good-pier side shopping. The tours and taxis ranks were well organized. We did the Segway tour. The tour was sold out on the ship, but we were the fist two on the wait list and got a waitlist ticket from the shore excursion desk. The tour left at 8:30, we got down there at 8:20 and told the attendant that we were on the wait list. At 8:30 we signed the room charge for the tickets and got on the bus with everyone else. We had a 45 minute ride across the island to the northeast side if the island, very rugged and beautiful. The roads were good. This Segway ride was mostly on dirt, so the units had large tires, which made the ride easy. We rode along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. The ride was only about 1:20, but was really fun. The ride concluded with rum punches and another ride back to the ship long a different route so we could see more of the island. We had a choice of being dropped downtown or back the ship, we all chose the ship. Talking to other passengers later, the downtown shopping wasn't pleasant, so I'm glad we went back to the ship. We heard from other passengers that the Cave tour wasn't special. People who took the jeep tour looked like they had fun. These were 10 passenger in open-air jeeps with 5 people on each side of the covered flat bed on benches.
Pool Vollyball - not good, the pool is 5 to 6' deep, which is too deep for water volleyball, the pool is salt water, nice temp, but too deep (design flaw). The pool regatta was a bust the 2 times we watched, the boats just didn't work well. Lots of people around the pool.
Deck 11 - good walking/jogging deck. There was also a basketball court.
Modern In-Line Dancing - very good, fun, somewhat aerobic, classes last 30 minutes. The dances are used at dance parties.
Exercise Room-very large room, lots of cardio equipment, many with TV's built-in. There was a full range of weight machines, some free weights and a large floor for classes. The room was cool and had a great view.
Jacuzzis - lots of them, elevated, so you can see all the action.
Football games, the big games are shown in the Theatre and you'll get a version of ESPN in the room including the BCS National Championship game and the other bowl games carried by ESPN. Most of the ESPN telecasts were an international version featuring soccer and cricket
Tuesday night pool side dance party at 10:00, really fun, lots of dancers. The Cruise Director was the lead singer and did a great job.
Music- the ship had great entertainment and music all over the ship, day & night. Many people said the variety and amount of music was the best of any of their cruises.
Conclusion - Even though Summit is 10 years old, it is still a great ship and a has a great crew and a great cruise program with fine food, lots of great music and entertainment. Thank you Celebrity for offering great cruises.
Ken & Judy Montgomery