WOULD WE BOOK THIS VACATION AGAIN AT THIS PRICE? YES
Prior to the cruise, we independently booked a two nights stay (Thursday & Friday) in San Juan (through a hotel reseller) for the El Caribe Hilton (in their Lagoon Villas section). The hotel had been advised we would be arriving late as we flew in via connecting flights through JFK using Jet Blue (great flights). We grabbed a cab to the hotel, and when we arrived close to 7 PM, the hotel was already overbooked as they had a couple of conventions there. They needed to place us in a "parlor" room, which is a central room with a sofa bed, shower bathroom, full small kitchen, & balcony in their Junior suites accommodations, and in return for our giving up a queen or king size bed room, the manager gave us breakfasts at the full buffet at the Palmeras restaurant each of the next two mornings (normally that runs ~$26/pp/day) leaving us to cover gratuities. That resort is just beautiful and the water near the beach area there is great, thanks to the breaker rocks they have positioned there to buffer the Atlantic Ocean undertow current that can cause some other beaches on that island to close to swimming at times.
Overall, for a short stay, we recommend the usually peaceful lagoon villas side of the resort, although the winds at night off the lagoon assaulting the 3rd floor balcony door can be easily heard. The food is so-so on the actual premises in the restaurants. Best choices would be Lemon Grass Pan Asian Latino or Morton's Steakhouse. Subway (located just beyond the entrance to the resort on the Villas side of the complex) can be used for a basic, quick sub for lunch or whatever as an option and is a significantly better food value. Our room had a full, small kitchen, so we could have gotten food to store and cook if we had wanted to and were staying longer. The balcony had coverage from the sun, and the beach (w/lifeguard coverage) & water truly were wonderful. It is nice to walk through the ~17 acres of grounds, so we would definitely not hesitate to go back there again.
Without a doubt, "high season" of winter (January & February) is the best time to visit the Caribbean and escape winter in the North-East! Humidity is the lowest it gets in the Caribbean so it doesn't seem quite as hot as it does in the "low season" of Fall when the humidity is much higher.
When visiting any of the Caribbean, try to head up into the hills to get cooler temps, great views, and a more natural environment than the shop-intensive ports provide.
EMBARKATION: Saturday, we took a cab from the resort to the Pan American pier in San Juan. Embarkation onto the Summit around noon went smoothly and we were on board rapidly since we had done on-line check-in and had our boarding pass & passports ready. We ate lunch in the Waterfall buffet on deck 10 and checked out the revamped ship--she was nicely spiffed up! VIPs were on board the first week, but not the 2nd week. The ship was very clean both weeks. Expected ongoing maintenance was still scheduled and being done.
Our luggage arrived well before our 6 PM dinner time. Muster drill at 5 PM went smoothly the first week; alas there were hiccups the 2nd week. The first week we were told 2,000 passengers and over 900 crew were on board; the second week we were told somewhere between 2100 and 2300 passengers and close to 1,000 crew were on-board.
STATEROOM: Inside staterooms happen to work just fine for us and we feel provide excellent value for the entire cruise. Since contractors had stayed in the staterooms during the refurbishment of the vessel, all loose items (blue information books, do not disturb cards, hair dryers, etc.) were stripped from the rooms prior to guests arriving for the first post-dry dock sailing, so the stateroom attendants had to refurnish the rooms and not all the supplies were ready for the first sail night. There are still small safes in each stateroom for your small valuables. The bathrooms now have nightlights automatically always on 24/7--a positive step to decrease bathroom entrance and exit accidents. The night time flavored chocolates on the turned down bed were from Astor Chocolate these two cruises.
There is a new Celebrity policy NOT to have water pitchers in each stateroom UNLESS YOU ASK FOR SAME. You will automatically receive an ice bucket, but NOT the water pitcher unless you place a request for one. Any ship issued bottle of water (Evian) found in the room, if used by you, will incur a sea pass charge including gratuity, so just be aware of that. The last night of your stay the water bottles are removed from the stateroom by the attendants. We always bring empty water bottles with us to fill up from water dispensers in the cafe on deck 10 of the ship. We also found on the 2nd week the TV based sea pass account ledger information was unavailable the final late afternoon/evening through disembarkation so check your account mid-day your final Friday and if needed visit Guest Relations regarding account corrections.
DRESS CODE: The dress code has become "more relaxed and informal" and although some folks wore dressy clothes for "formal nights" per se, quite a number did not.
SHOPS ON BOARD: On deck 5, sundries can be found in the Liquor Store on-board in case you wish to buy wrist bands for sea sickness, cough drops, CDs of the on-board entertainers, etc. Typically inexpensive items made in China rotate in the center displays between the other shops (cheap watches, cheap jewelry, cheap other gift items). Other shops feature limited amounts of various t-shirts and other clothing, souvenir candy and knickknacks, various types of good jewelry and good watches, and Boutique C features the highest end specialty offerings in jewelry (latest promotion is yellow emeralds). Cameras are available on deck 4 at the booth near the Photo Gallery.
ACTIVITIES: there are limited activities on-board and some are only poolside based vs. being inside the ship based. The speaker for this trip (inside) was well prepared and did have various presentations (masks and illusions, gypsies, salt, etc.), but they were sparsely attended due in part to scheduling times and also at least one location misprint in the daily schedule. The arts & crafts activities were designed really for children we found out (they involved cotton yarn being made into teeny baskets, friendship bracelets, picture frames using plastic canvas, etc.), but offered to adults, so needless to say very poorly attended. There was one scrapbooking session per week which I missed. The activities staff held word game sessions and whatnot during the day. You can grab the crossword puzzle in the library on decks 8&9--a relaxing spot to just listen to your iPod in peace & quiet, etc. Champagne High Tea and some wine events, and some views from the officer's bridge at sailaway are for a fee. The nightime Island Celebration Deck Party & Fruit Buffet was at 10:30 PM on a weekday and past when we like to eat (replaces the Chocolate Extravaganzas of old). Taped recaps of Celebrity Officer presentations concerning the ships propulsion and more can often be replayed on your stateroom TV (before the next one is given live) on one of the channels.
MUSICAL ENTERTAINMENT: Performers for any given sailing will vary. Remember that you are NOT paying Broadway prices for NYC level theatre entertainment, so be realistic and scale down your expectations accordingly. Cruise ship lines have had to trim budgets where they can and that is evident in the live entertainment area with string trios or quartets no longer in sight, etc.
There was a steel drum player doing pleasant 45 minute or so sets sometimes near the photo area or other times poolside or other odd places. A soulful piano player of lounge music could be found at various venues with a piano around the ship and she sang in English. There was a duo that played classical music (violin & accordion) and they were often in the area where the Bistro on Five is, or sometimes in the Cafe al Baccio area on deck 5 or rarely at the Rendevous Lounge on deck 4. A high energy, loud 4 piece Latin band was most often in the Rendevous Lounge on deck 4 singing Latin rhythm music in only Spanish. A Latin guitarist and fun entertainer/singer was frequently in the Cafe al Bacio and fortunately he did sing some songs in English! One night late (10:30 PM ish) there was also a crew talent show we missed each sailing.
The Celebrity Summit singers and dancers perform 3 stage shows each week (this time included: Stars in Their Eyes; iHollywood; and Sirens) typically at 7 PM (for Late Dining so before dinner) and 9 PM (for Traditional 6 PM Dining so after dinner), that they have rehearsed off ship and continue to rehearse on ship. The aerial duo is a high point of those evening performances. Alternate nights once there was a comedian, once an impersonator, and once the latter two together. Backing all of them is the Celebrity Orchestra and some recorded music and video. There was no entertainment offered around the aft bar on deck 10 this trip--normally we enjoy relaxing there in the evening. Construction was still going on at the deck 11 aft area and above.
The recorded music piped through the ship on decks 4 & 5 and also 10 as in "muzak" choices and sound levels could be vastly improved and would benefit from a good review and some tweaking being done and some better choices being made. Most of the replaced artwork was not impressive, but a few pieces throughout the ship were.
CHILDREN'S CLUBS: Club X was still being completed when we were on board. The "Fun Factory" for children is now next to the Teen area (both on deck 11) and that should make it easier for parents to track their children's whereabouts based out of one area of the ship.
BEVERAGE PACKAGES: We skipped these as they cover an entire week based on high consumption each and every day, but there are all sorts of packages available.
FOOD and DINING: Early traditional dinner dining in the Cosmopolitan main restaurant week one was at a table for 6 on deck 4; while week two it was at a table for 8 in the same restaurant and we had a nice view from that table when sailing away from a port as it was closer to the floor to ceiling aft window area. Typically, only on formal nights is the Captain's table in use with another officer or two presiding.
Tea in the Cosmopolitan restaurant, Waterfall Cafe, and also for Room Service is bagged tea from Mhai Diva or decaf from Bigelow (a bit disappointing if you are used to buying the Stash or Celestial Seasonings tea bag brands at home). Coffee is not what is served at the Cafe al Bacio, but was hot.
Wine Sommelier service unfortunately was not as expected. We had the same sub-par sommelier both weeks for dinnertime and gave up on him during week one, but bar service others had used functioned despite some hiccups.
Both Waiter and Ass't Waiter dining room service was stretched week one with too many guests to serve, and much better week two with fewer guests to serve as specialty restaurants were being used by some guests surrounding and at our own table. The left side of the dinner menu is the same every night as always available options, while on the right side 7 different days of menus were used and thankfully you can "mix and match" between the two sides when it comes to Appetizers, Soup or Salad, and Entree. Desserts are no longer shown at the table prior to ordering and down to fewer choices.
Note that Breakfast is available in the main dining room if you so desire. Lunch is not served in the main dining room. On the sea day, typically between 10 AM and 1 PM, there is a large Brunch on deck 4 with virtually anything you could possibly want from cold shrimp, to Crepes Suzette, to a carving station, to an omelet station, to cold meat and cheese stations, to bread displays, fruit & other dessert displays, hot item buffet stations, etc.--even both a chocolate coating fountain and white confectionery coating fountain for skewered fruit, etc.
The bakery on board operates 24 hours a day to keep up with the demand for fresh product.
One night at dinner each week a dark chocolate souffle was served with Creme Anglaise sauce (such as is available in Normandie as well). Other examples of desserts included cakes and pastries, bananas Foster, or cherries jubilee, etc. The formal night palate cleansing Intermezzo (called Trou Normand in the Normandie restaurant) one week was mango passion fruit and the other week rose wine with cinnamon (often extras of same show up the next day in the ice cream station on deck 10).
Whole grains are very limited on board (I saw whole grain pasta only a couple of times total between the Aqua Spa cafe and the Pasta Bar, only an occasional whole grain bread choice at dinner in the roll basket, or at the Waterfall Cafe or in the mixed dishes), so to get adequate daily fiber choices, look to vegetables or oatmeal options (hot, or cold museli) at breakfast, & lunch time veggies including at the baby spinach or romaine salad bar or at the pasta station and look to fruit throughout the day, and some pulses choices at some meals. There is a morning Asian buffet breakfast station, and in the evening there is an Indian food station. There was a lovely Honey & Marjoram pearl barley and root vegetables dish one evening as a dinner selection on the Cosmopolitan restaurant menu that I would recommend and it could also be ordered with a meat or fish dish if you desired.
Many prepared food choices on the deck 10 buffets are high in sodium and fat, so simply be aware of that if you wish to be judicious in your choices. Skim milk and whole milk are available on board along with various yogurts. The beverage dispensers are dispensing cheaper fruit drinks and punches, not 100% orange juice so also be aware of that.
Realize the on-board water supply can be influenced by which port the ship has been to as staff in the Cafe al Bacio noted. The ship sells a lot of pricey Evian bottled water.
Personally, we skipped the various cover charge options of:
A) Bistro on Five (the crepe theme restaurant open throughout the day which would have served contractors when they were on board and we saw a number of staff eating in them);
B) Normandie on deck 3 (open for dinner featuring classic French inspired with some other influences menus well-known for its double baked goat cheese souffle, raspberry coulis, creme brulee with rose water, table-side service including deboning of fish, and more formal service also featuring choices of tea from the Tea Forte company and coffee from Lavazza coffee company from Torino, Italy; also location of for-a-fee Champagne High Tea featuring Perrier Jouet "Belle Epoque" champagne and 7 high quality Tea Forte loose teas; also supposed to have a single lunch day offering for half the cover charge of dinner, but that didn't occur on the first week sailing and we didn't check for the second week); and
C) Qsine on deck 11 (deconstructed theme dining designed to allow adults to interact hands-on with their food the way children do so very informal--Celebrity has dubbed it as a "Tapas Menu on Steroids" so-to-speak.
Dinner cover charges have increased for both Normandie and Qsine, although in theory, on the first night of sailing might be 20% off for that night only if not already fully booked.
Note that Breakfast and Dinner service in the Blu Restaurant area on deck 5 is ONLY for AquaSpa stateroom guests or else optional if space allows at-a-fee for suite guests. Flexible time "Select Dining" for dinner is also on deck 5 (you prepay your gratuities for the entire cruise when you book it).
The 10th floor Waterfalls buffet restaurant (called the Oceanview restaurant on some other M class ships) is open at various hours for early (includes omelets made to order) and late breakfasts, lunches (including a fish & chips station that might have plainer cooked vegetables hidden there), and dinnertime/evening options including sushi, stir-fry, a pasta station, etc. In the afternoon between 3:30-4:30 PM snacks of finger sandwiches and other goodies including fresh baked cookies and other desserts are available. On deck 10, there is also an ice cream station and other small stations for pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs, etc. and the hours for all of those can be be found in the Celebrity Today daily print newsletters available in multiple languages.
The AquaSpa Cafe also located on deck 10 closer to the AquaSpa area has some breakfast and some lunch options--I had salmon cooked a-la-minute a few times for lunch and it was good (10-15 minute wait if they have to fire up the grill), but the chefs who cook it for the main dining room are better at timing the pieces and the piece size is much larger for dinner (delicious and larger than I needed--nice thick piece). Based on availability, in the AquaSpa Cafe you can order broiled (default), steamed or poached tuna or salmon fillet; or broiled (default) or seared pork loin piece or chicken breast. Cold plates are on display for you to choose from, and there is a small salad bar. Desserts include various poached fruit pieces, and a couple of lighter other desserts. Various flavors of ficelles are offered as bread options. Although the items featured in the Aqua Spa Cafe are typically mostly lower in fat, they may not be lower in sodium. I was told, but cannot verify, that the smoothies on board are made with soy milk, as is the cold oatmeal (museli).
At Cafe al Bacio, at a less busy time, be sure to try the chocolates in the dark wooden box--framboise, cafe au lait, honey, or cacao. The cafe features Tea Forte tea choices (some teas are blended with fruits, herbs, and flowers) and Lavazza coffee (some of the staff are still in barista training). Note that the glass jars of cookies and the glass side case of rotating items (morning breakfast pastries, mid-day finger sandwiches, and afternoon through evening desserts) to eat there or to go are made on board and part of your cruise fare and you don't have to buy specialty tea or coffee to access the munchies.
On deck 5, the Gelateria serves a dense, rich Italian Gelato (I only had a taste, never a cone or dish). It is made fresh on board daily with typically less air incorporated than the amount found in ice cream when it is concocted using a base mix from Italy, to which the ship's kitchen staff add both fresh cream and fresh milk, and various flavorings and reportedly the product is made using a special gelato machine on board (in the Galley on deck 3 there were ice cream machines noted); various flavors with a range of toppings are available with the cost based on the number of size #16 scoops. You can smell the waffle cones that are edged in chocolate and sprinkles for the Gelateria Gelato after they bake since the aroma wafts through a couple of decks of the center of the ship near the glass elevators.
For further details on food on board, check out sensory nutrition dot com.
ROOM SERVICE: We only used room service once ordering via the interactive TV method. They were out of an item (roasted vegetables wrap) by 11 AM, but the fruit plate and pot of hot water with two cups and two tea bags was delivered within 15 minutes. Note there is a Galley on deck 8 and our stateroom was on the other side of the glass elevators on deck 8.
PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS, SHOPPING GUIDES: We did not use the cruise ship's planned excursion offerings as we prefer to arrange our own touring.
AQUA SPA: Hubby did decide to get a deep back muscle massage the 2nd cruise week and of course, anything having to do with the Aqua Spa is super pricey w/ automatic tacked on gratuities. Since he had to do work while on board, he noted the gal got the tension knots in his back out and that was worth it to him. He commented that the staff seemed to be from South Africa. He also used the gym area (included in cruise price) and was satisfied that most of the equipment was working.
CASINO: Didn't use.
MEDICAL CENTER: Didn't use.
SATURDAY DISEMBARKATION: Went smoothly for us; we were the 2nd group off at 7:30 AM and very satisfied with the process and cleared customs promptly. Elite lounge prior to disembarkation was Normandie on level 3 (with the Captain's Club hostess who knows the Elite tier guests handling alerting guests there when various colors and numbers are called) and we got off on level 4. We had enjoyed cappuccino, etc., in the Elite Lounge most mornings between 8:00 - 10:00 AM, so we were familiar with the venue.
LOYALTY PROGRAM: After sufficient cruise credits, one can progress up the loyalty program to the top tier (Elite) and it has its perks which will depend upon what the cruise line is deciding to offer at the time. This cruise we noted if anyone staying in a room had Elite tier membership in the Captain's Club, they could bring their spouses or stateroom companions over age 21 to Elite tier activities. Overall, we were pleased with the offerings on both weeks this trip (although the 2nd week the staff working out of Normandie were still trying to learn how to use the expresso machine and heat the milk for lattes, prep cappuccino, etc.--they were not trained baristas). Gratis snack offerings in the before dinner Elite lounge (Revelations on deck 11) were definitely stepped up both cruises--be sure to try the small dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), almond crusted shrimp along with spring rolls, mini dumplings, pleasant brie or feta cheeses, and other various layered or piped canapes, some with baby shrimp or touches of caviar. This is the only time I eat anything fried! Servers circulated through the lounge offering these and offering a selection of gratis alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages and remembered your preferences--don't forget to courtesy tip them before the cruise ends!
TRANSFERS: We did not use the cruise line's bus transfer program to and from the ship, but instead traveled by cab as cabs are plentiful.
COMPUTER iLOUNGE: If you have signed up for internet minutes, you can use some to print your boarding passes for airline travel using whatever internet minutes plan you are signed up for as there is one printer in the iLounge on deck 6. We printed our airline boarding passes that mid-day the final Friday and it was a snap. You can bring your own computer devices to use anywhere on the whole ship as during dry dock it was set up for all-ship Wi-Fi or you can just use the brand new Mac Pro laptops secured in the iLounge. WiFi Internet service ceases at 7 AM on Saturday disembarkation. If you bring your own device, visit the iLounge to have the manager install on it an easy way to access the internet service for log on and log off--on your own device you MUST be sure to log off or else you will keep eating minutes; the iLounge computers automatically log off if idle for 5 minutes.
SUMMIT OVERVIEW/SUMMARY: We came onboard to relax on the B2B cruises and we did!
Overall the dinner food was of a good quality and prepared well (I've taught at the college level in food systems management, lived in major cities, and am used to truly fine dining). Sauces are very rich, so be aware! Skip the Italian theme entrees as those are NOT authentic specialties on this ship. The Executive Chef has a strong meat background and we noted those dishes were among the best--nice lamb or pork chops, steak, beef tournedos) along with the salmon--other fish was so-so due to preparation--skip the parchment envelope wrapper Hake choice!
Announcements were usually limited to morning disembarkation alert once the ship had cleared customs, the Captain's mid-day navigation report and later in the afternoon if the ship's departure was delayed at all by the harbor patrol getting other ships out as well, and the cruise director alert of evening activities. Most guests spend time on one of 11 decks that include the indoor thalassotherapy pool (very popular), outdoor pool (very popular), with lesser use of specialty fee Persian Gardens (sauna or specialty shower or steam options, etc.).
The plentiful, nice quality lounge chairs all over (some in sun and some in shade) are comfortable and newer padded lounging options were noted in some spots.
The a/c was even cooler the 2nd week for decks 4 & 5 coming up near the glass elevators and cold sniffles among passengers and some staff abounded by the end of the 2nd week. We enjoyed quiet times when Revelations on deck 11 forward was open to us during the day with its great views through clear, large windows (we don't do the late nightclub/lounge scene). Both Revelations and the Rendez Vous Lounge have small dance floors and the onboard Celebrity dancers do offer a few dance classes during the cruise.
The water pressure did go out for some hours on the first week formal night in the late afternoon, but luckily we had showered earlier in the day! (The food prep galleys onboard used an alternative water supply). Vacuum toilets went out on one day each week on decks 7 & 8 for some hours--it seems plumbing work needs to be done on those lines as obviously some guests forget what NOT to flush in them causing blockages (and contractors had stayed in those rooms before guests came on board).
Michael's Club has been converted to a "beer bar" with a flat screen T.V. --I did prefer the former classier Michael's Club lounge. Obviously the emphasis onboard now is on more "mainstream bars" to increase the alcoholic beverage revenue stream. Guess the cruise line has to pay for those new mega ship "S class" size builds somehow! We will miss this "M class" size ship as we much prefer it to the larger mega "S class" size ships.
When docked in St. Maarten, there were at least 6 large ships in port including the gigantic Allure of the Seas. It was a mob scene! We stayed on board that day. The port made a fortune based on the head count that day!
In Grenada, we got off and went around a little and when coming back to the ship, because one other ship (Caribbean Princess) was in port and leaving well before us by around 2 PM, guests for that Princess ship were scrambling to get back onboard, which caused lines to form in the re-entry area of the visitor center around lunch time (12:30 PM).
Most other days there were just a couple of ships in the ports and it was OK in terms of getting cabs to get around or to get back onboard going through the Visitor's Centers.
Because each week there was a stop in St Thomas, the most generous duty allowance available was possible for US citizens of $800 pp or $1,600 for two.
HAND-WASHING: Frequent handwashing is advised, and Purell dispenser use is encouraged (featuring a custom stronger product than you would find on land done just for the cruise line) via dispensers outside restaurants around the ship and before you reboard the vessel at port stops.
SAN JUAN AIRPORT HEADING HOME: You must have any baggage (including carry-on items) cleared through the USDA inspection station area at the airport so go in there first before going to any airline ticket counter. If you have checked-in online via the iLounge or otherwise prior to going to the airport, you will save time and energy avoiding long lines for baggage check-in.
CONCLUSION: Now that we are back home, I can say we enjoyed ourselves and felt we got value for what we paid, despite the little hiccups. Onboard I did feel safe and sound--and that also matters a lot.
If you want to relax and kick back and be pampered a little, you should enjoy traveling on this ship!