5:30am. Sunrise. Somewhere out beyond the fog, that is, the sun is rising. We're in quite the pea soup. As I walk out on deck with a cup of coffee in hand, a ship's horn sounds somewhere nearby - but no ship is to be seen. And then, a response to the other vessel and a wake-up call that nearly sends some java overboard as I walk towards the bow, Summit's horn announces our presence with verve.
It had been an outstanding week back aboard Celebrity Summit, about to end now that we were sailing into New York Harbor.
We'd experienced Summit back in 2005, and were curious to see how we'd see this class of ship now that we've sailed aboard the newer and shinier Solstice. While Summit may lack a few of the bells and whistles, this ship is in fine shape and can boast one of the best crews we've experienced.
Food and service are the selling points for Celebrity Cruises, and we've never been disappointed in their product. This sailing, however, took us back to our first cruise on Celebrity's Constellation in 2004 - the friendliness of the crew, the quality dining experience, as close as we've experienced to that first time.
Add to that being able to drive to and from the port, and that the destination of Bermuda is one of the most picturesque, and you've got a winning combination. Didn't hurt that we spent a couple of days in NYC before sailing, either.
Bermuda, however, was the real gem (not to be confused with the ship docked alongside Kings Wharf by the same name, though we've sailed Norwegian Gem in the past and enjoyed it just fine, thank you... albeit a different experience than Celebrity).
We were graced with excellent weather for the duration of the stay in Bermuda as well as the days at sea en route. Excellent for us, but still not warm enough for locals (and apparently many tourists) to head to the beaches in large numbers. Horseshoe Bay was not very busy, and the adjacent beaches at South Shore Park and Warwick Long Bay were all but deserted. This meant hours of virtual privacy, enjoying the fine pink sand, the clear blue waters, and the private coves that make this part of the world so special.
When not enjoying the beaches or the points of historical and cultural significance in Hamilton, St. George's and other parts of this lovely land, we continued to call Summit our home away from home. Having a ship doubling as hotel and restaurant for the three days in Bermuda is not only a cost savings but indeed a continuation of the Celebrity treatment.
The menus in the main dining room were much the same as we'd seen on Solstice earlier this year. Two differences stood out, however, in making this dining experience a far superior one.
First off, the execution of the menu by Executive Chef Andy Bouchard's staff made for consistently superb meals every night. Everything matched what was described on the menu, from appetizer to dessert. And the flavours and temperatures were exactly what we had wanted. If anything, they could reduce the portion size of the entrees - but then we like to order more appetizers and tend not to have an enormous appetite by the time the main course arrives.
Nowhere was this more the case than our evening in the Normandie restaurant - still one of our favourite dining experiences at sea or on land. So many appetizing starters, we could live on these alone... but the filet mignon Rossini, complete with foie gras and black truffle, was the highlight of this 3+ hour dining experience (a shame that more and more people want to be in and out in an hour, missing out on one of the real treats of cruising; but then we're old school).
Having an assigned table in the main dining room (a table for two this time, after being seated at a cramped 8-top the first night) translated to what we've come to like about cruise dining: having a service team that we get to know, and who get to know our tastes and preferences. Sorin and Glenn went above and beyond in their performance.
In fact, we experienced several occasions of crew members going above and beyond. There were at least three instances where we witnessed guests making a request that could easily have been met with a 'not my department' type of referral; instead these crew members took ownership, and in doing so impressed this admittedly jaded traveller.
While on the bridge tour (knew we were off to a good start when the invitation greeted us upon entering the cabin at embarkation) on the last day, we complimented Captain Costas Nestoroudis on crew morale being so high - something that must be a top-down issue.
Back to the ship itself. Summit is 10 years old, and is scheduled for a drydock in early 2012 (where she'll receive upgrades to bring certain elements in line with the Solstice class). Yes, if you look closely, you'll see normal wear-and-tear items, more noticeably on the exterior decks, but also occasional fading and chipping in the cabin washrooms, pool areas, etc. This did not deter in any way from our enjoyment of this vessel. Having the Thalassotherapy pool is a plus; we also enjoyed smaller touches such as water and ice in the staterooms, trays at the buffet, the promenade decks (albeit not a wraparound, but at least more than what Solstice-class offers), a more elegant dining room (in a warmer, traditional sense), and more. By far the biggest point in favour of Summit, though, is its crew.
As the fog gave way to blue skies and sunshine, the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan were in front of us. Minutes later we'd be disembarking Summit and in our car for the drive home - but not without fond memories of our time aboard this excellent cruise.
See our Summit photos at: