Hmm - stay home and go to work - or get on the Celebrity Summit for a week with three days in Bermuda. And a chance to see the "old" Summit before she gets Solsticized and turns into Scandinavian Modern.
Celebrity Summit 6/5 - 6/12/2011: Bayonne - Kings Wharf, Bermuda - Bayonne
You can see the photos from this cruise at
You'll have to click on each album to see the photos in each set - and click on the thumbnail to see the full size photo. You can also see them in high resolution by clicking on the drop down box above the photo to the right.
We drove up a day early and spent the night at the Fairfield Inn near the airport. Typical Marriott - no problems at all with the room or hotel other than getting there. I neglected to print out their directions and just used MapQuest to get there as part of our drive. That proved a bit challenging. The Fairfield Inn is on an island with two or three other airport hotels - directly across routes 1 & 9 from Newark Airport - and with the NJ Turnpike on the other side. So we were sitting on the airport service road staring across the highway at our hotel - and tried all of the street turn instructions in the MapQuest directions. Nope - nothing worked, so we finally called the hotel and asked how to get there. That was fun in itself - taking an exit for the service road - going over the highway and under another, and then a U-turn over another road. And then driving past the hotel - and then in a driveway that took us behind the row of hotels - and then finally coming in the back way.
We left the hotel the next morning at around 11, hoping to avoid the rush to beat the rush to board the ship. The drive to the port was equally adventuresome - we thought we were following the signs but I guess we missed something. So it took us an extra 10 minutes to tour downtown Bayonne, but we got to the ship. Drove down the long road past condos and empty lots to the pier - then decided to see the 9/11 Memorial - donated by the Russian government. Pictures are in the link above. The views from and through the Memorial are impressive and moving. We walked around a bit and went back to the car.
So the next challenge was parking. We had been advised on Cruise Critic to park in a lot on the end of the terminal building away from the river to avoid the paint overspray from the dry dock. Nope - those lots were not available. So we followed the signs, dropped off our luggage, paid our money, and went into the main lot. And parked as far from the dry dock as we could. I had bought a car cover so we weren't that worried anyway. (Note: There was no evidence of any paint overspray on our car cover when we returned.)
Walked into the almost empty terminal with our roll-aboard bags, had almost no wait for our credit-card swipe and seapass card handover, and went right onto a waiting bus. Ten minutes later we were through the ship's security camera and walking onto a waiting elevator - into the arms of our waiter from the Mercury in December. Confirmed that he was OK and that his wife was still with him on board - and went to the Aqua Spa area for lunch. It was 1 PM by the time we finished so we headed down to the cabin to get rid of our carry-on stuff, meet our attendants, and see our cabin (photos are in the link above).
Off to explore. This was our first M-class and we wanted to know where things were.
Sailaway was at the Mast Bar (deck 11 overlooking the pool) and we really enjoyed meeting everyone from the roll call. Did I mention that this was a Cruise Critic host sailing and we finally got to put faces to many of the names we've known here for years. Then back to our cabin to unpack and get ready for dinner.
Ship and sea days:
Despite some comments about the Summit being threadbare and ready for dry dock, we thought she was in excellent shape. The staff was always cleaning and the crew doing regular maintenance. They varnished the stairs in the library one evening - painted railings elsewhere. The only signs of wear I could spot were a couple of chipped elevator buttons, our verandah railings needed a new coat of varnish, the chrome on the sink in our cabin was scratched, and the up-and-down feature on the handicap stall sinks didn't seem to work. I wish our house was in as good shape as the Summit! And the cleaning! Did you know that they not only vacuum the stairs but use a brush to clean to the edges and the corners? Enough said.
This was our first Concierge Class cabin and it was roomier than our verandah on the Mercury. There was also more storage place (still 3 closets, but the desk had more storage room plus there were some shelves on the wall).
The only crowded places we spotted were by the pool on sea days and in Cova Cafe and Revelations when the Neptunes were performing. Oh - and the game room was full on several occasions - which contradicts some comments we'd noticed about it not being used much any more.
We were blessed with great weather for the entire cruise. It was slightly cool during sailaway and I think it might have drizzled on the first sea day for an hour or so. It was cool and cloudy in Bayonne on disembarkation. Seas were smooth but we did notice a bit of ship movement, more than might be expected given how smooth it was. Someone thought that it was more noticeable because we were going so slowly on the outbound trip - which takes 62 hours to cover the same ground we did in 39 coming back.
We spent most of our time on board reading (DW & me) and knitting (DW) on our verandah. One nice thing about the design of the M-class ships is that the pool deck has a huge overhang so we almost never had direct sun on the verandah. We did wander out to eat and hear the string trio playing in Cova quite a bit.
There was a special bridge and galley tour for the Cruise Critic group. The captain joined us for the bridge tour and answered everyone's questions. He was far and away the most socially engaging captain I've ever met. Not only did he answer the questions on the bridge, but he also gave a lecture during one of the sea days on the ship's navigation. I think he may be the youngest master in the Celebrity fleet. I also attended an interesting lecture on the ship propulsion systems. This is the first cruise I can recall with sessions about the ship's operation - there was even an evening session on celestial navigation. Definitely a treat for us geeks.
For those of you wanting to take your own photos of family and friends, go to the conservatory (deck 11, just aft of the pool area) for some lovely backgrounds with plants and a single staircase.
Food was about the same as on our December Mercury cruise - a step down from a year earlier and definitely down from the Michel Roux days. At least we didn't get the menu with beef cheeks, unless that was the night we ate in Normandie. Absent the comparison to the Roux fare, the food would have been fine. The food in Normandie was a cut above that in the main dining room and the service was superb in a lovely quiet environment. I'm not sure it was worth the extra cost, however. We were told that if we came back for another meal, they would be amenable to making us an off-the-menu meal such as Steak Diane or Chateaubriand. I am somewhat bothered by the idea of having to pay extra for the selection and quality that used to be standard fare in the MDR only a few years ago.
The buffet had a varied selection. I liked that they had more omelet bar locations than on the Mercury and that there was more space, making it feel less crowded. However, I did miss the stir-fry section at lunch - I liked that as a lunch choice. One tip: if you eat in the buffet, the section near the stern of the ship was usually almost empty and very quiet.
We sampled the Aqua Spa buffet almost every day - DW usually found something to eat, and I enjoyed some of their deserts. Unfortunately, we could never find a place to sit there and wound up carrying the tray all the way through the pool area to the Waterfall buffet.
I've said this on every Celebrity cruise and will say it again - their sound people think their job is to make everything as loud as possible. The only non-amplified group was the string trio, Grand Volta, and we tried to get to as many of their performances as possible.
We enjoyed the Neptunes (a usually unamplified a capella male quartet) and heard them in Cova Cafe regularly. We caught snatches of the performances of some of the other musicians on board and they all sounded pretty good. Martin Andales sang and played guitar - seemed to do a lot from the John Denver era, but again it was a bit too loud. The dance and jazz groups were also good and their sound level wasn't too bad. We dropped by Michael's club one evening to hear the pianist, but again it was too loud for our aging ears.
We got scared by discussions of Bermuda's cutbacks on the ferry and bus service and decided to do ship excursions to avoid exacerbating some health problems by having to stand in lines for what sounded like crowded ferries. The government added several more runs by the time we got there but we decided to stick to the tours anyway.
We took the St. George tour on our first day and that was the highlight of our trip. The tour included a round trip on the ferry, and the line was not too bad for the noonish ferry run. A tour rep met us in St. George, divided us up into groups of no more than 6 and sent us off in mini-bus taxis. We were taken to the old section of town and were given about a half hour to see the perfumery and St. Peter's Cathedral, the oldest church on Bermuda. The guide then drove us around town and over to St. Catherine's fort, which had a self guided tour down to the powder storage rooms way underground. The construction was fascinating - it was obviously dark underground, but they couldn't risk any sparks near the powder, so there were glass windows with lights behind them to allow light in those spaces. We also got to see the various pulley systems used to haul up the shells.
From there we went to St. David's lighthouse and got to climb the 85 steps - but the view was worth it. He also explained the water catching systems on the island. Because there is no natural source of fresh water other than rain, the roofs of the houses are built from local volcanic rock with channels guiding the rainwater into a cistern. The roofs are repainted every 2-3 years with a compound designed to help purify the water. And the roofs, which must rest on concrete or volcanic blocks, are heavy enough to survive the regular hurricanes. Our tour guide was excellent and provided interesting history and general background on Bermuda and St. George. We were then dropped off in town to eat lunch and shop. DW wanted yarn as a souvenir of Bermuda (recognizing that it would be imported from the UK) for some knitting and had recommendations from online friends so we went to one, Needles, etc., and she found what she wanted. I would recommend that tour but would suggest taking either an earlier ferry there or a later ferry back to allow more time to see St. George.
Our second day was to be a boat tour to Hamilton but that was cancelled the night before and we were booked for the Friday trip instead. So we spent a couple of hours wandering through the Dockyard shops. The craft shop had a nice collection of work by local artists, several of whom were working while we were there. (Bobbin lace, anyone?) Also in the dockyard area was a nice pottery place and a mall type cluster of small shops selling the normal port souvenir items.
Our third (and last day in port) was advertised as a boat tour and shopping trip to Hamilton. It turned out to be a nice ride to Hamilton during which a guide on the boat told us about the various houses overlooking the bay, many of which belonged to the local glitterati from families who had lived (and made lots of money) on Bermuda for centuries.
We were then left in Hamilton for a couple of hours to shop. We wandered into a few stores and then walked down to the Par-la-ville Park, which was a small park behind the original post office in the middle of town with some interesting sculptures amongst the floral displays - see the link above for photos taken there. I would not recommend this excursion as it was quite expensive for minimal area information.
Then it was back to the boat and back to the Summit to await our early afternoon departure from Bermuda. Our departure was a unique experience as the CD made a rare non-noon announcement that Captain Costas was opening the helicopter pad at the bow of the ship for all passengers to watch us leave Bermuda. The captain, instead of heading straight northwest towards Bayonne, treated us to a lovely voyage parallel to the Bermuda coastline so we got to see the St. George area again - and to also see the St. George town cut from close in and realize how narrow and challenging that would be to transit.
We had a great time on the Summit and would certainly take another cruise on her or one of her sister ships. I'm not sure that we would take the Bermuda cruise again, however, given the travel time to get anyplace else on the island, and might take a smaller ship that can dock in Hamilton. But we'll certainly look at the Summit for another sailing elsewhere. We're not sure how we'll like the ship after the dry dock in January when they update her to the new Solstice look, which will eliminate some of the only quiet deck space in favor of more cabins - and will also add a special dining room restricted to passengers in certain cabins. This takes us back several decades to the first and lower class cabins in use before the cruise industry started the classless sailing concept - and may also make the public areas on the ship more crowded. We'll let you know when we take a sailing on the new version.