A quick backgrounder: My boyfriend and I had never cruised before, so this was a considerable risk to take with our hard-earned vacation dollars and time. Our main concerns: We would hate cruising, the boat would resemble a gerontology ward and/or be overrun with screaming children, the food would be terrible (we both really like to eat) and, of course, weather.
Embarkation in Bayonne was smooth and hassle-free. We arrived about noon and were on board the ship within a half hour. One caveat: There is no truly reasonable public transit option to the port. We used a car service and paid $50 plus tip and tolls ($70 US). We walked on board with our luggage (point of pride: we both had only small carry-on bags - less is more, made our lives so much easier.)
We were greeted immediately with a welcome-aboard cocktail and checked into our room, an Oceanview on Level 2. The room was immaculate, cozy, and had ample storage space. Whilst unpacking - and here please feel free to shake your head in dismay - I began to feel unwell. I looked out the window and realized the boat was swaying quite a ways from the dock. Uh oh - if I felt this bad while docked...you guess the rest...
I rallied and we explored the ship, grabbing lunch at the poolside grill. Happily it turns out being moored that day in Bayonne made me seasick but being at sea did not (except for one very rough day on the way home - more on that later), thus I am able to provide quite a comprehensive review of food on board the Summit. Let me first say that I only found two things to criticize: the desserts were just not that good (apple pie was a disaster; ice cream seemed warm all the time) and the sushi was mostly flavourless.
About an hour in we discovered the actual buffet and were blown away. It wrapped the entire way around the ship, and covered just about every cuisine one's heart could desire: salads, sandwiches (make your own), fresh fruit, indian curries and asian stir fries, cheeses, pastas, pizzas, fresh-carved meats...the list goes on. Overall the food quality was excellent. Breakfast was the real star: the fruit was perfectly fresh, the bacon crispy and delicious...mmm...bacon. I have missed that buffet every single day since we returned home. For me, there is nothing more luxurious than a buffet breakfast - choose anything you like - and eat al fresco, sitting in full view of the ocean. Sigh. We never actually ate lunch in the Main Dining Room so I can't provide a review of that. We ate in the MDR for dinner three nights and it ranged from pretty good to wow, yes I'd love a second lobster and risotto dinner, please. Our waitress, Carolina, noticed that we cleaned our plates and offered us another. I couldn't believe it. We had the later dining time and found that service was a bit slow - though it improved after the first night. We might consider the earlier dining time in future as it would enable us to do more in the evening without getting so tired.
On the Summit, I had quite frankly the best customer service experiences of my life. 99.9% of staff seemed genuinely happy to be at work. Some even seemed *excited.* It seemed genuine. I don't know what they're putting in the water. I want some. Here's an example of staff going above and beyond: the first day I was sick, I wanted to get some drugs in case I started to feel worse once we set sail. We couldn't find the medical room to save our lives (no pun intended). On the stairs we ran into a staff member who not only explained how to get there, he dropped what he was doing and volunteered to walk us there. We found this repeated over and over again, from our stateroom attendant to our waitress in the MDR. I would be remiss if I didn't give a massive shout out to the Summit's captain. When the other two cruise ships left Bermuda early to try and "beat" Hurricane Irene, our captain wisely remained in port, then took a slow route, heading south and then north to avoid the storm. The other ships were presumably at sea FOUR DAYS in high waves. We had one bad day with 25-foot waves and he kept us well-informed reassuring us that we would never be more than 300 nautical miles from the storm. He provided a lot of information that calmed my nerves and made this time on board much more enjoyable.
The ship was beautiful - obviously a bit older but tastefully decorated, well laid-out, and spotlessly clean. The aft bar with its wooden deck and seating was a favourite spot to sit.
Bermuda itself was gorgeous: pristine island and water, fairly easy to get around (once you know the bus/ferry routes) some gorgeous architecture and fantastic snorkelling. Bermudians are extremely polite and I fell in love with them a little bit. I wished our docking location was more central: Hamilton was easy to access, but getting to St. George's was time-consuming (you really need to budget 1.5 hours). Whatever you do, don't skip St. George's, though; it is one of the most beautiful places I've seen, like an old European town plunked onto a lush tropical isle. We walked from the ferry, past the perfumery (nothing to my taste, but a neat building/grounds), past a wonderful old church (beautiful cemetery/gardens) and to Tobacco Bay. We were able to rent an umbrella/lounge chair/snorkelling equipment and it was not crowded. Absolutely perfect day. Our shore excursion - snorkelling aboard the Catamaran, Artistocat, was superb. Wonderfully informative crew and really beautiful reefs.
My only quibble with Bermuda is the general lack of sidewalks. Really, that's all I've got. Neither of us own cars and we walk / transit everywhere. Walking is decidedly more pleasant when you're not worried about being run down. A cab driver defended it thusly: "We have sidewalks. You walk - on the side." And then he tried to only charge us $15 US for what was easily a $40 ride - seemingly typical Bermudian hospitality.
Entertainment on board the ship - what we did see - was overall great. Admittedly much of our entertainment came from eating and lying around in the sun. The musicians were all fantastic apart from the violin trio. (Full disclosure: I'm a violinist and have played all sorts of gigs and there is just no excuse for playing easy things like Mozart/Beethoven/Handel out of tune. Sorry. I'm wondering if only I noticed this? Probably not - really poor intonation at times.) The musical entertainment was well-suited to the time of day/venue (nothing loud before noon) and there was something for everyone I think. There was quite a bit of officer engagement and it was nice to see them in contests like "Dancing with the Stripes" - really funny. The nightclub, Revelations, surprised me with how lively it was; it was nice to see families having fun together and children were politely ushered out at 11pm.
The crowd on the Summit was a nice mix of young and old; families, middle-aged people, some newlyweds / couples and groups of friends in their 20s/30s, as well as seniors. I found no predominant age group. Nationality/ethnic mix was obviously skewed towards white and American. Everyone had a good time together I think. There was a quite a bit of rowdiness with children running around the pool and in the buffet area but it was easy to escape that, as there were plenty of quiet places to relax, particularly on the top deck.
As this review runs the risk of rambling, I'll close off by saying that the Summit was a superb ship, Bermuda was breathtaking, and the overall experience outstanding. This was hands-down my favourite vacation so far. For sure we will be back cruising with Celebrity -- hopefully soon.