Celebrity Summit: Bermuda, August 29-September 4, 2011
Personal Background Information
This was the fourth Celebrity cruise my wife and I have been on, and our fifth overall, having taken a 25th anniversary cruise on HAL Eurodam. We have been on the Summit before as well as the Millennium and the Eclipse. Any time we have concerns during our travels, we have no problem speaking up, but we refuse to let unexpected situations that inevitably arise ruin our vacation. That philosophy served us particularly well this trip.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
Hurricane Irene caused us to change plans. We had originally gotten tickets on Amtrak to bring us from central Virginia to Newark on Saturday, August 27th. We had reservations to spend the night at Hilton Newark Penn Station, and then had planned to take a taxi to Cape Liberty Sunday morning. A few days before we were due to leave, it became clear Irene would be hitting the NYC area on Sunday. Celebrity made the decision to postpone embarkation until Monday, August 29th. In addition to posting this change on their web page, they called us twice at home to make sure we were aware, and to let us know they would be giving us $300 OBC since we had booked a Concierge Class room. And despite having "non-refundable" hotel reservations, both Hilton and Amtrak gave us complete refunds.
Hoping for the best, we instead decided on Sunday to drive to Bayonne, with an overnight stop in Harrisburg, PA. I had gotten a hotel room at the Crowne Plaza Harrisburg on Priceline for $80. With taxes, fees and $19 valet service, it was around $120 for the stay. The hotel was older with smallish rooms, but it was clean and nicely kept. We felt it was worth what we paid, but by no means would have been worth the $160+ price they usually charge. We had a lovely supper less than a block away at Bricco, an upscale Italian/Mediterranean restaurant.
Monday morning we headed to Cape Liberty and were there in about three hours. The last 30 minutes was a bit confusing, even with GPS, but we got there with no traffic delays. And even adding in the $19/day cost of parking at the terminal, we still ended up spending less than half what we would have spent on Amtrak tickets and taxi fare.
Cape Liberty's cruise port facilities are functional, but not as efficient as Ft. Lauderdale, Miami or San Juan. We were directed to drive up alongside a long pavilion, drop off our larger bags, and then park. Since the facilities have been created from re-purposed warehouses, getting cars, baggage and people where they needed to be was more chaotic than we had previously experienced. Adding to the confusion, the Summit was apparently still in the process of debarking when we got there.
Inside, the cruise terminal was clean and utilitarian, bringing to mind military facilities I had been in. Once through the check-in process, which WAS quick and efficient, we waited for shuttles to take us about 400 feet from the terminal building to the ship's gangway. (Everyone understood this was for security reasons, but that didn't stop the jokes.)
This was our first Concierge Class stateroom (#9110). The booking information stated it was slightly bigger (191 sq. ft. w/ 41 sq. ft. veranda) than a Deluxe Balcony (170 sq. ft. w/ 38 sq. ft. veranda), but we really didn't notice it being significantly roomier. We did enjoy some of the extra touches such as champagne on ice and fresh flowers in the room when we arrived, and fresh fruit daily. And we appreciated the priority luggage delivery and priority embarkation/disembarkation. But truthfully, the thing which made us decide to pay a bit extra for Concierge Class on a future trip is that doing so gives us an extra point toward Captain's club account, which in turn gets us that much closer to Elite status and a 10% discount on the Xpedition Galapagos cruise we've both dreamed of doing.
Though we have been on the Eclipse and know first-hand what amenities it offers, we actually prefer the size of the Millennium-class ships. So when we heard the Summit was going into dry-dock January 2012 to be "Solsticized", we figured this could be the best of both worlds. I was really hoping someone on-board would be able to tell me exactly what changes would be made where--after all, it seems that would drum up interest in return visits. Surprisingly, no one seemed to have that information.
Some recent critiques I read prior to this cruise indicated some felt the Summit was past its prime. There were a few times I saw a chair or two with scratched paint or scuffed upholstery, but for the most part what I saw of the ship appeared to be in good shape--and I suspect it will look even better after January.
We did miss the food stations on the Eclipse, but the food on the Lido deck (Waterfall Cafe) was still quite good. Dinner in the Cosmopolitan was delicious as always, but we had a few problems here. The first night, for some reason, was open seating for everyone, even those of us with assigned seating. The second night we learned we were accidentally double-booked at a table for two with another couple at 8:30. We ended up eating with a grandmother and her three lovely grandchildren who had also been displaced from their table of four. From the third night on, we had a table for two at 6 pm, though it was along the main aisle where waiters and patrons were passing us constantly. The last night, we reserved seats at the Normandie which we'd never done before, and found the food and service to be outstanding.
Staff & Service
We have always had excellent service on Celebrity cruises, so when the service isn't quite up to par, it stands out. Again, most of our concerns center around the dining room staff. There was the dining room staff member who wordlessly gave me the incorrect reservation card for our 8:30 table for two. There was the waiter on the second night who told us he'd checked with the maitre d' before putting us at the table with the other four displaced diners when it turns out the maitre d' had no idea where we'd gone. Even on the Lido deck we ran into a couple of staff members who were not friendly. And on the last sea day at 7 am, before most passengers had come up for breakfast, we had trouble finding a table on the starboard side that didn't have crumbs on it. We'd never experienced that on any cruise before.
However, 98% of the dining staff was great. The dining room waiter we did have for three nights, Atmaja, and his assistant waiter, Miss Li, were wonderful. And the staff at the Normandie couldn't have been any better.
On previous cruises, we have remarked on how well-behaved the children were. While again that was the case with the vast majority, there were at least two of groups of kids--one preteens, the other teenagers--who were inappropriately loud and disruptive in quiet areas (the library, stateroom halls, etc.) Someone in a neighboring stateroom actually yelled at one group carrying on outside our staterooms, threatening to call security--another experience we'd not had on previous cruises.
We generally don't find the on-board entertainment to be entertaining to us, so anytime we do see something we like, it's a plus. Doug Cameron, a jazz violinist, was a rare find. Along with the ship's orchestra, he performed a sort of "Hooked on Classics meets Trans-Siberian Orchestra" variety of classic, country, bluegrass, rock and jazz tunes; and he was as comfortable joking extemporaneously at the mike as he was playing music. Additionally the trumpet player in the orchestra was probably the best I've seen on any cruise.
*BK36 Aquarium & Caves (Day #1): We got round-trip ferry tickets from the Naval Dockyard to Hamilton, then boarded buses and saw a bit of Hamilton on our way to Crystal Cave. Other than having a pontoon bridge, lots of water, and "soda straw" stalactites, it's a pretty small cave compared to Luray Caverns which is 2 hours from where we live. The Bermuda Aquarium Museum & Zoo complex has a pretty nice aquarium which features lots of marine wildlife common to Bermuda. The zoo is undergoing construction, and many of the animals there aren't necessarily Bermudan. The museum is even less impressive. We were then brought back near the ferry terminal and could stay in Hamilton sightseeing and take the ferry back later.
On Day #2 we toured St. Georges on our own, purchasing a day pass for ferry and bus. The first ferry to St. Georges leaves the Dockyard at 10 am. We used a Bermuda tourism map ("Bermuda: Your Handy Reference Map") and the self-guided tour from Frommer's to find our way around to all the points of interest. After lunch we took the bus to Hamilton which took nearly an hour (and nearly took my wife's lunch), then looked around Hamilton as well. We took the ferry from Hamilton back to the Dockyard just before supper.
*BKB5 Railway Trail Bike & Swim (Day #3): We took a small pontoon boat, along with a group that was kayaking, from the dock to Ely's Harbour. The bikers then walked up a trail into a resort, got helmets and trail bikes and headed out on part of the Bermuda Railway Trail. We saw Scaur Hill Fort and Somerset Bridge, the came back for a soft drink. Our tour was the last one before the ship left, so we bikers didn't get a chance to swim.
This was the first time we were in no hurry to get off the ship, as we had no plane or train to catch. However, as previously mentioned, we had priority disembarkation with Concierge Class, so we were off the ship and in our car by 8:45.
Yeah, this cruise wasn't our best, but when we looked back, what went wrong boils down basically to three things: 1) We had our 7-day trip cut to 6 days; 2) Our dining experience had a few rough spots; 3) Noisy kids occasionally bothered us. Everything else, including Bermuda itself, was wonderful. We look forward to cruising on the Summit again next year in March and September after she's been Solsticized.