Celebrity Summit, January 29 - February 5, 2011
Since I was traveling with my iPad, taking notes, recording comments and observations etc... was made much easier. This is my first posted review of a cruise. This was my SO's third cruise; the previous two were on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. In addition, I have sailed on Carnival, Norwegian, and Princess cruise lines.
Thursday, January 28 - Flights were uneventful, only issue was an unexplained security issue at JFK Airport, during which all flights were halted. This set us back by 30 minutes. Overnight at the Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel, 1369 Ashford Ave, Candado, Puerto Rico. Check in was very efficient, we received a free upgrade to a suite, or so we were told. After checking out the room which was very nice, clean and roomy, we headed into Old San Juan. We did some walking, and then had a local beer, Medalla, at Nono's Bar & Restaurant. The bartender gave us a sample of 43 which is vanilla liquor, tasty. Then we had dinner a few doors down at Aureola Cafe Restaurant, 106 San Sebastian St. We started with mojitos, then SO had a local pork dish. Pork loin with cranberries over a bed of mashed potatoes. I had another local dish, deboned red snapper stuffed with sweet peppers and shrimp, plantains on the side with the usual garlic sauce. Both were excellent. We went without dessert but did have a cafe con leche (coffee with steamed milk). A cab ride back to the hotel, took a look in the hotel's casino then up to the room. Overnight was comfortable, and for the most part quiet. One item, the Wi-Fi signal is not strong enough for this hotel. In the room's sitting area the connection was okay, the signal was inadequate to maintain the connection in the bedroom. I had two other signals (secured) that were of considerable stronger strength. Not a big deal by any means but if you like to check e-mail or use the internet while in bed, this will not be possible.
Friday, January 29 - Embarkation was very smooth, better organized than Royal Caribbean's port in Bayonne, NJ. We arrived very early as we had to check out of our hotel room by noon. So we were at the cruise port (Pan American Port, not Old San Juan) at approximately 12:30PM. Our bags were readily accepted and we then went through the security checkpoint. After this we were asked to wait in a large room that had chairs set up with lemonade, punch or water available. Shortly thereafter, at about 1:00 we started on the lines for check in. This was also very well run as the people who arrived earliest were the first to get into the lines. This was also a relatively quick process. Then it was a short walk and we were on the ship. Our cabins were not available until about 1:30PM. Until then we were free to explore the public areas of the ship as well as pick up something to eat in the buffet on Deck 10.
The crew was great; we met our room steward who inquired about any desires or special needs. For dinner thus evening we had lamb shank and prime rib. The arugula salad with citrus dressing was a standout. Dinner was excellent. Also, at dinner this evening we met our table mates, a couple from Virginia and another couple from the United Kingdom. These folks were tremendous company, we all had varied backgrounds and experiences, we looked forward to dinner each evening.
Sunday, January 30 - St Thomas (Charlotte Amalie)
We had breakfast in the main dining room and were happy with the food and service.
As we have visited St Thomas in the recent past and taken historical tours we decided to just visit the town on our own. The hawking by the cab drivers and personnel from the stores has gotten significantly worse then we remember. It seemed that almost every cabbie, even when driving by, is trying to lure folks into his cab. Somewhere around 30 -45% of the stores have a person, sometimes very disheveled in appearance, standing outside the store attempting to guide potential customers into the store. Some of these guys were fairly aggressive. This does become annoying after some time in port. Lunch was at the Green House Restaurant, which we always enjoy. Tried Carib Beer which was somewhat similar to Corona. We walked back to the ship, about a mile and a half leisurely stroll along the water. For dinner this evening we had the sea bass and salmon. (Note: every night part of the menu changes while there is a section of the menu that remains the same thereby always ensuring a nightly beef, chicken and fish selection) Again both were very good, also tried frogs legs which do taste somewhat like chicken. Dessert was a chocolate concoction and apple pie. The pie was not as good as homemade but then again my SO is a tremendous cook and baker. The show this evening started with the Captain's Gala Event. When entering the theatre everyone was given a choice of a glass of champagne, white or red wine. The Captain introduced himself and his senior staff. Afterwards was a production by the ship's dancers, singers and orchestra highlighting Broadway shows of the past few decades. It was a high energy show and very well done. We see several Broadway productions every year and we enjoyed this show very much.
Monday, January 30 - St. Maarten (Phillipsburg)
In port upon our arrival was Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, arriving while we were walking towards the water taxi to take us into town was Holland America's Westerdam and when we started back to the Summit we found that Costa's Mediterranea had arrived. Four ships in port at one time, each paying approximately $12.00 per person on board each ship to the local government in port fees, each and every island should be very happy to see the ships arriving. As we had taken an excursion in St. Maarten in the past and were not impressed, we decided to just go into Phillipsburg and walk around, looking in the shops. Again the stores have hired folks to stand outside their respective shops and hand out coupons and otherwise hawk passersby. Some of the stores may have perfumes, etc that are either unavailable or not yet available in the States. Stopped just off the cruise port where there are a number of shops, bars, etc. and had a drink. Better off having a drink in town or at the beach as the places closest to the ships charge as much for a soda, beer, or drink as the ships charge. For dinner we had seafood risotto and some French variation of a sirloin steak. We liked both as well as the desserts which were again excellent. The show this evening was a comic, he was very entertaining. Some guests stated they had trouble understanding the comic due to his thick Boston accent.
Tuesday, February 1 - Antigua (St Johns)
On our arrival the Thomson Dream (British cruise line) was already in port and docked. As we were docking the Norwegian Dawn was arriving just minutes behind us. We took "The Best of Antigua" excursion and were pleased. Our guide was pleasant and she was fairly knowledgeable about the history of the island. During the excursion we were given a rum punch which was strong especially at 10:15 in the morning. We had both breakfast and lunch in the buffet and were pleased with everything, selection, freshness and temperature of the food. Dinner again in the main dining room, for dinner we had the lemon sole and turkey parmesan. The sole was good while the turkey was excellent. For dessert we had the crepe (excellent) and coconut flan which was not good at all, the only poor dessert thus far. The show was another singing and dancing affair, with Broadway shows as the theme, again. There were some acrobatics also. This show, although very good, was as expected after Sunday's show. The ship's captain was in attendance for the show.
Wednesday, February 2 - St Lucia
We ordered breakfast in our cabin this morning. This was done to assist with our early excursion. Breakfast was ordered to be delivered between 6:30 and 7:00AM. Breakfast was delivered at 7:10AM after we received a call at 7:05AM that it was on the way. In port the Thomson Dream, which we last saw the day before, still docked, was in port and already docked. We took an excursion, "A Taste of St Lucia." While we were on the excursion, at various scenic points we observed the Carnival Miracle making its way into port. This excursion was poor at best. Our guide was a young woman who appeared to be about the age of 20, who truly did not seem interested until she started to sing towards the end of the excursion while wishing us God's blessings, clearly angling for tips. As far as history, this was limited even though we went to four locations. The first stop was nice as it was a large home from the French colonial era furnished with antiques. This is where we were given our drinks and "taste" of St Lucian food. We were offered a fruit punch or a rum punch, at 9:00AM. The food part was plantain chips, banana chips, breadfruit chips and some sort of cod fritter on a toothpick. Basically, this was a few bags of chips and cheap drinks, although this excursion was written up as though we would get a real taste of local foods. The next stop was a studio where the process of silk screening was explained and demonstrated. Next stop was a scenic stop where the rest rooms were off limits unless a person was willing to pay for the restroom use. The last stop was a shanty town in an extremely poor area, with a filthy beach, no where to walk to and a number of tables set up with local folks selling the usual island shirts, hat, figurines, spices and sauces. Overall, a highly disappointing excursion. Celebrity should police these outings much more closely since they book them and surely take some of the cost. During the afternoon, back onboard, I attended the historical talk on how sugar cane affected the populations on the various Caribbean Islands, it was very interesting. Tonight we had a seafood linguine and a "drum" fish with coconut rice dish for dinner. Both were excellent, desserts were again excellent. The entertainment this evening was an impressionist who partly sang a number of songs, never finishing any. He intertwined this with some comedy. He was okay; a few comments were overheard that indicated some audience members were put off by the entertainer being very much full of himself.
Thursday, February 3 - Barbados (Bridgetown)
Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, Fred Olsen's cruise line ship Braemar and Thomson Dream were all in port and docked upon our arrival in Bridgetown. Following closely behind us into port was Holland America's Maasdam. Breakfast at the buffet was excellent, again. We were scheduled to take the "Taste of Barbados" excursion at 8:30AM. We were advised by the ship, twice in writing and twice by voice message, that the excursion was changed to 12:30PM. The later messages also advised that there would be no tour guide as the driver would assume that role in addition to operating the vehicle. We were not happy but went with the flow. At 12:20PM we were waiting at the meeting point with two other people. The management's excursion listing was left for us to view and it clearly showed that there was an 8:30AM excursion with 22, then 24 and finally 26 people from the Celebrity Summit attending this excursion. We asked several times if we were in the correct spot and were assured we were. Finally, the four of us were quickly herded to a van already containing eight other people and advised to board for the excursion. I asked the young lady if the morning excursion was overbooked resulting in the change for our excursion. The young lady responded that there was an imbalance between the morning and afternoon excursions so there was some rescheduling. This sounded like a lot of double-talk to me, but again we went with it. The excursion started out slow with a long drive to our first stop, which was the Four Square Rum Distillery. The second stop was the prize of the entire cruise. This second stop was the original owner's residence of the first stop. We were treated to a tour of the former owner's home, the Sunbury Plantation House. A good deal of history was available and appreciated. Then we were shown how planters punch and rum punch are made. Then we were shown how jerk chicken and fishcakes are made. The cook is an actual trained chef, was extremely personable and very willing to give some secrets on properly preparing the island specialties. Then it was time to head back to the ship. Check out www.barbadosgreathouse.com for additional information. Tonight was lobster night; everyone at the table had lobster. Very good, the lobster is from the Mediterranean. It was explained that securing lobster has become somewhat of a problem for the cruise industry. The entertainment this evening was another song and dance routine of Broadway shows. This has become expected by now and after the first show somewhat less an exciting.
Friday, February 4 - At Sea
We attended the "At Sea Brunch" which was great, breakfast foods on one side, lunch foods on the other side with pastries to the rear. This was served in the main dining room, was self-service with beverages brought to the tables by the wait staff. An issue came up this morning, I inquired about the tip envelopes which have in the past been delivered to the staterooms on the next to last night on the cruise. I was advised that our tips had been automatically added to our onboard account. I contacted Guest Relations and spoke with Judy who advised that it was my responsibility to advise the Guest Relations desk that I desired to handle the tips personally. Judy further advised that a notice was sent to our stateroom early in the cruise and was also mentioned daily in the cruise newsletter. I stated that I wished to handle the tips myself and Judy stated this was now impossible as it too late in the cruise; this was to be taken care of prior to the stop at St. Lucia. I asked for a supervisor and was told that all supervisors were in a meeting. I asked for a return call from the supervisor, which Judy seemed hesitant to promise. I then stated that upon arriving in San Juan I would contact my credit card company and put a hold on all payments to Celebrity. A short while later Judy called back and stated that her supervisor was still in a meeting but she had contacted the company's comptroller who agreed to allow me to personally handle the gratuities. This was great news, a plus for Celebrity and as we were greatly pleased with our staff we intended to tip a little more than the recommended amounts. This issue was worked out for all involved. During this day at sea we attended a number of events. We attended the Captain's Talk in which the Captain, the Chief Engineer, Hotel Captain and the Food & Beverage Manager explained a bit about their respective positions, duties and responsibilities as well as took questions from the audience. One passenger started her questions with "Where do I start?" She went on to criticize the food...You use garlic in escarole although this ship does not do so, dessert called something is actually a chocolate dish and rose wine should come from France not just drop in from anywhere; a very poor display of manners in our opinion. Hopefully since everything was so, so wrong with her experience she will cruise with another line next time. Then we attended the cook off, or something similar, the improvement talk about Caribbean Immigration and then the Cruise Critic galley tour. All were good, we enjoyed them all. For dinner this evening we had the roast turkey and the veal cordon blue. Both were very good. Desserts were also excellent.
The show this evening featured both the comic and the impressionist, both seen earlier in the week. Again the comic was good, the impressionist was okay.
Saturday, February 5 - San Juan (Debarkation)
Very efficient sums up this process, again more organized and quicker than Royal Caribbean in Bayonne, NJ. We had a light breakfast then headed to our assigned waiting lounge. We were off the ship at about 8:30AM and boarded a taxi for the airport. The cost to the airport is $19.00 per couple plus $1.00 for each bag. Our cabbie stuffed four of us into the cab with bags so the cabbie "earned" $54.00. Frankly the cabbies on each and every island have become extremely tiring. They are very aggressive; some could be viewed as threatening to a single, inexperienced traveler. They promise anything to get you into their cab; we were dumped at one port's entry gate by a cabbie who did not feel like waiting in the cab line.
The only holdup in this process is the walk through at the United States Customs checkpoint. With approximately 2,000 passengers to check, Customs had only 2 stations operating so this slowed everything down a bit. Fortunately they were not opening bags, just checking passports and collecting the declaration forms.
A few observations regarding the cruise. The attitude and actions of the people on the various islands towards tourists seems to us to have become much more aggressive. As for excursions, after three cruises we are averaging about 50% in the good/poor category. A pleasant as well as knowledgeable tour guide can make a great difference. A local teenager, with a poor attitude, no real historical knowledge of the location and no incentive to share what s/he does know will completely ruin what could have been a good trip. The maddening part is when they start to sing, and ask for God's blessings for the tourists, minutes prior to the end of the trip, an obvious play for tips. The cruise lines really should monitor this aspect of the cruise more closely.
The average age on this Celebrity cruise was considerably more mature than the Royal Caribbean cruise we have sailed. Also, due to the date of the cruise there were few kids on this sailing. We are fine with this; we did not have to tolerate teenage antics, attitudes, etc.
Celebrity does a number of small things that add up to a more luxurious cruise. Water and ice in the rooms at all times, beach towels available at the pools without a required sign out system, unobtrusive cabin stewards & waiters, much more organized embarkation & disembarkation, sommeliers who actually make it a point to stop at every table before and during dinner, interesting self-enrichment talks, all add up to a highly enjoyable cruise.
If there was one weakness on the cruise it may be the nightly entertainment. Royal Caribbean may actually be better in this single category. Three shows by the ship's singers and dancers featuring Broadway productions were too much. The impressionist was okay once, twice was also too much. At least the comic had fresh material for his two appearances.
All in all a great cruise. We will be repeat cruisers with Celebrity, although this will be dependent on their itineraries as well as departure & return ports.