This was our first Celebrity cruise. We did a 10-day Mediterranean cruise on Oceania last spring which was our main comparison. We were concerned that although Summit is small for Celebrity, it is much larger than Insignia--but we never felt overwhelmed or crowded. Every aspect of this cruise was equal to or better than the level on Oceania, and the price was considerably lower even with the extra charges, so we consider Celebrity an excellent value for luxury cruising.
In the review that follows I will call out the particularly excellent features and the things that we didn't like. This may give the impression that there were a lot of things to complain about so let me state clearly up front that we had a great time, Summit is a wonderful ship, Celebrity is our new favorite cruise line, and we will be back.
The embarkation process was very smooth, even though this was the dry-dock shakedown cruise and work was continuing. We took an early-morning flight from NY and were able to board as soon as we got to the ship (just before 2 pm but others were already on board), with no lines or hassles. The cabins were available immediately, although luggage was delivered throughout the day (ours was among the last, just in time to change for late dinner). Had lunch, went back to the Pan Am port building to buy bottled water, explored the ship a little, and attended the Muster Drill.
We were very impressed by Celebrity's attention to the Muster Drill. Every passenger was checked in at least twice on the way into the muster station, the presentation was thorough, and we were given a complete printed version of everything they said. The crew stayed at the end for further instruction. This was very reassuring.
We and our friend had inside cabins on deck 7 (we had initially accepted the Celebrity website's default choices on deck 9, but changed after reading cabin reviews on another website that warned about noise from lounge furniture being moved around early in the morning). These cabins--7101 and 7127--were completely quiet and located close enough to midship for a smooth ride.
The cabins were similar to our inside cabin on Oceania Insignia, and completely satisfactory for our needs. The mattresses were brand new, firm but not hard, and we slept very well throughout the cruise. The new color scheme is nice and contemporary. The bathroom is very functional, and the shower stall is larger than on Insignia so I didn't hit my elbows. The new shower curtain kept the water where it belonged. We would gladly take either of these cabins again.
We went to Bistro on Five for lunch on embarkation. It was empty and I think we were the first passengers ever to dine there, so it was surprising that the crepes smelled of old oil. None of our three lunches was particularly good so we never went back there.
Select Dining in the Cosmopolitan MDR was mostly excellent. The first night we had excellent service from our waiter Melvin, so after a less satisfactory experience at another station we always requested (and got) him again. We never had to wait for a table to open up. The food was better than Oceania, despite their gourmet claims. Plenty of interesting choices every night. Some items were truly excellent, a few were disappointing (having been spoiled in Maine we should have known not to order lobster, but it wasn't even cooked properly). Overall the food was at least very good. It was generally served hot; soup was always hot because they pour it in the bowl at your place from a thermos. One night I asked for a substitution of mashed potatoes instead of boiled, and that was no problem. Quantities were sufficient and we were encouraged to ask for more or different if anything was not satisfactory.
Qsine was a hoot. We went in a party of seven, which allowed us to sample a wide selection of the menu. Service was very attentive. Two examples of the stellar service: one menu choice includes lamb chops which wouldn't have been enough for everyone--so they brought extras without being asked; when my wife asked if something contained tomato, the waitress immediately brought her an extra item that she knew was tomato-free. The quality of the food was much better than the description of Qsine led me to expect: filet mignon, lamb chops, authentic Indian recipes; not a loser all night and so many offerings that even if you didn't like something you could get stuffed on everything else. My only reservation about Qsine is that it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun if we had gone as a two-top.
Normandie is to die for. There have been some snarky comments about other rave reviews, implying that the reviewers don't know from top restaurants, so let me state my creds: my favorite restaurants are Radius in Boston, Citronelle in DC, Eleven Madison Park in NYC, and Michael Mina in San Francisco. Normandie is on that level. Everything we had was excellent. We never splurged on the 5-course wine pairing dinner, but they were happy to let us order a second appetizer course to achieve a similar result (it was too much food). I will single out the rack of lamb because of comments in other reviews about the MDR version only including 2 chops; in Normandie you get 4 chops which add up to a very satisfying portion. We made another reservation before we left, and would have gone a third time except that they were sold out. Next time we'll book three nights in Normandie before sailing.
We had all our breakfasts in the buffet (which is called Waterfall Cafe on the deck plans and Oceanview cafe in Celebrity Today). There was a large selection of meats, eggs and pastries. Fresh fruit was disappointing: we rarely saw fresh berries and they were not top quality; even the melons and pineapple weren't fully ripe. I felt that all the pastries were overcooked, but this is true of many of the bakeries where we live (except that at home we can shop at the other bakeries). There were at least five kinds of sausage but I didn't really like any of them (or the bacon); and the waffles that some reviewers rave about did not appeal to me (I prefer the ones at Hampton Inn). Luckily there was almost always Eggs Benedict so I only sampled these other choices for informational purposes... All the above comments are based on our likes and dislikes; your mileage may vary. We never tried the buffet for lunch or dinner.
Coffee was consistently terrible in the buffet. There has been a thread about this, but I wasn't sure what they meant by terrible. It wasn't too strong or too weak, it was that it tasted bad. It also varied from day to day in strength and flavor (one day for some reason it was pretty good, but only the once). The chamomile tea was weak, even with two tea bags. The ship's water also tasted bad, so I don't know how you could make good coffee or tea--but they do in Normandie (where the Chamomile Tisane was excellent).
We aren't big on shows or casinos, and we like to dine late so the shows are often over by the time we finish dinner. We did attend parts of two of the shows on Summit and were impressed by the quality compared to Oceania. But I'll be snarky here and state that these are definitely not "Broadway quality." Entertaining, yes--but nothing like a real Broadway show.
The dance classes were enjoyed by DW, and there was such a wide range of ability that even my two left feet could have joined in. Luckily I had the camera and instructions to take pictures...
The Cruise Critic reception was scheduled at 8 pm early in the cruise in the Rendezvous lounge. I popped in between dinner courses as the group was being welcomed by the Cruise Director. It's a nice gesture, but it's very difficult to find a time that works for everybody.
Three cheers for Celebrity's very restrictive smoking policy. It was great to be able to visit every single area inside the ship and never worry about being assaulted by secondhand smoke, and on deck there was enough of a breeze that I didn't have to choose my path to avoid the smokers. I'm glad that the whole industry is moving this way, so Celebrity won't feel any pressure to backtrack on this excellent policy.
We did our shopping in port, so we only browsed through the boutiques on board. A check of liquor prices at a duty-free shop in St. Thomas showed that Celebrity is fairly priced.
We also brought our own camera, so we weren't tempted by the efforts of the shipboard photographers--who were getting a little pushy by the end of the cruise [no, I don't want my picture taken with someone in a dolphin suit]. Oceania has dropped this "service," do we only realized in retrospect how much we enjoyed its absence...
This was an area where Oceania really fell down: the range of offerings was slim and prices were dramatically higher than you could do on your own, and as a result they were often cancelled due to poor sales. Celebrity was much better: many more choices and fair prices. We did most ports independently either because someone from our roll call had made arrangements or because we just wanted a quiet day at the beach or shopping, but the two Celebrity tours we took (described below) were excellent and well worth it.
Announcements and Muzak
First the good news: announcements were kept to a minimum, and since they are only in English they are short and sweet. Canned music, on the other hand, shows the schizophrenia of Celebrity's attempt to reach out to a younger clientele: it was often too loud and the styles didn't match Summit's classy decor, but it also wasn't authentic enough to really appeal to those who like that stuff. There were a couple of computer-generated tracks that were really annoying (one sounded like a new synthesizer-based dental drill; the other like a violin section tuning up for 10 minutes at a stretch). We complained about the sound level in Normandie one night, and it was lowered; a few minutes later someone else must have complained, because it was replaced by Classical music which fit Normandie much better--please make that change permanent!
Post-Dry Dock Teething Problems
I expected to see much more last-minute work going on. The aft end of Deck 11 was roped off the entire cruise while they completed the new AQ cabins there, and that also blocked off the new aft Deck 12 (with the rumored basketball court which I hope is not real). There was constant painting, but this is true of all cruise ships trying vainly to prevent the inevitable oxidation process that salt brings to steel. The only real problem on this shakedown cruise was a complete failure of water pressure on day 2, which prevented showers before dinner on the first formal night; we were told that the kitchen coped by cooking with Evian, which given the bad taste of the tap water would seem like a good idea all the time. But all in all this was an incredibly smooth shakedown cruise, and kudos to the entire Celebrity team involved in the Solsticization program.