As we gathered at the Los Angeles cruise terminal prior to boarding Summit, rumors already abounded as to a quickly developing hurricane that was now threatening the Pacific coast of Mexico.
This had, of course, been a particularly active (and tragic) storm season in the Atlantic, and we knew upon booking this cruise back in June that hurricane risk even in the Pacific could be a factor.
Nonetheless we boarded with great expectations, glad to be back aboard Celebrity Cruises following the 18-month hiatus since we'd sailed sister ship Constellation. Glass of champagne in hand, we soaked in the Grand Foyer, then toured the ship to explore the similarities and differences Summit had to offer.
Most notably changed on Summit was the Bar at the Edge of the Earth, a renovated space that was designed for performances by Cirque du Soleil. The Edge indeed has a bit of an edgy feel, with luminescent ceiling hangings and canopied lounges this replacing the ship's night club area, top deck forward, but still offering panoramic 180-degree views. Later in the day, however, we were informed that Cirque du Soleil performances had been suspended on Summit from this sailing onward, and were in the process of re-tooling. Though this was of some disappointment to us, we'd heard mixed reviews of the Cirque experience on Celebrity thus far, and were satisfied to know they were responding to customer feedback. Perhaps they might heed our comments, then, regarding Summit's artwork. While Constellation has some nice art in its public spaces, from Peter Max in an elevator lobby to a Chihuly chandelier outside the nightclub. Summit, meanwhile, has unstimulating photography and minimal gallery-quality pieces on display around the ship, causing us to wonder whether they'd pulled the good stuff and replaced it with a high-school art project. That aside, however, Summit is a classy ship, with decor bright enough to invoke that special at-sea feeling but relatively subdued compared to her cruise industry counterparts. The colors of Summit's Martini Bar and Champagne Bar gave less aqua and more cremes and beige than her sister ship, while the woodwork and carpeting have been kept up immaculately.
That afternoon we took to our stateroom, and thanks to a short-lived deal earlier in the summer, we were in a balcony cabin for the first time. They say that once you have a balcony you cannot go back, and this was immediately apparent to us. On two previous cruises we'd had inside staterooms, appreciating the pitch darkness for sleeping at night, but missing some contact with the sea. With this cabin, however, we would not be sorry. As you'll see in the pictures, we took in sunsets, sunrises, breakfast on the verandah, early morning port arrivals, late night drinks, and the soothing noise of the bow crashing into wave after wave, all from the privacy of our quarters. This was especially beneficial due to our itinerary, which had four days scheduled at sea.
The rumors of the hurricane, meanwhile, would add a fifth sea day.
Before these came to fruition, however, we'd depart Los Angeles at sunset, meeting some of our fellow CruiseCritic.com members at a sailaway get-together which meandered from Mast Bar to Martini Bar. Following this was second-seating dinner, casual for the first night, where we got to meet our table mates with whom we'd dine for the entire sailing. A waiter gave some caution as we approached the table for six, indicating that the other four diners didn't speak English. The Assistant Maitre D, a lively Serbian named Sasha, invited us to be seated, however, noting that we would always change the dining arrangements the next day.
Much to our delight, however, no such arrangement was necessary. We would have the pleasure of dining with a lovely couple from the Bay Area, Florin and Camelia, who were joined by Camelia's parents visiting from Romania. I commented that my father's mother had come from Romania, and that much of his family was from nearby Kishinev, the Moldovan capital. Turns out the mother and father live not so far from Kishinev, and we had a good laugh about what a small world it is. And thus we broke the ice, and broke bread together.
Well, more than just bread, of course, as every meal in the Cosmopolitan Dining Room was a five course affair. Overall we were quite pleased with Summit's gastronomy, with kudos going to the meat dishes, the salads and consommes, and appetizers such as escargots and shrimp cocktail. And our waiter, assistant waiter, and assistant maitre d were omnipresent in their drive to go above and beyond, accommodating our every request. Liked the escargots? They'd magically appear from off-the-menu on subsequent evenings. Order a side of tasty fries one night? They'd be brought to the table every night thereafter, even on the last formal night with prime rib and lobster. Reminded us of our waiter on Constellation, Janusz, whom we later saw on this cruise! Turns out this was his last cruise, his contract was up and he was headed back to Krakow. So we felt glad to have seen Janusz, and got his email and phone number for someday we'd like to visit Krakow.
Since Celebrity prides itself on having food that's a cut above the other mainstream lines, however, it's only appropriate that we mention a few shortcomings. The chilled soups were more like an early dessert, fruity and extremely sweet. The seafood was inconsistent, with shrimp and scallops not always cooked to perfection. And we were not the only ones to comment on the general saltiness of the food on board, surprising in an era when even cruisers are more conscious of health and diet. The sushi is decent, though of course we had our fill of good sushi in LA both before and after the cruise. The buffets were also fine, though their theme offerings usually came up short. Pizza and pasta were better on Princess, and we missed their bay shrimp, calamari, and fish & chips; but we appreciate the smaller touches on Celebrity such as real plates and linen (as opposed to the Princess platter), and waiters who carry your tray to the table and then bring juice or iced tea for you. At breakfast they also come by with fresh pastries, coffee, and tea in the buffet seating area, another nice touch. Lunch in the Cosmopolitan dining room was adequate though not as succulent as dinner, and breakfast here was fine, though it was far more enjoyable when we ate al fresco on the verandah. We also enjoyed several meals, snacks, and drinks on the teak patio behind the buffet area, a largely shaded area with full views from the aft. Jen had brought tiramisu out here one windy afternoon, and the cocoa powder was flying everywhere; luckily Sacha had been helping Jen and brought another napkin.
We also knew, prior to boarding Summit, that we'd dine at least once at her specialty restaurant, The Normandie. This was a refined experience we'd loved on Constellation, and so we'd made reservations for the last night of the cruise. Upon boarding we stopped by Normandie to see about adding a night earlier in the cruise, and lo and behold the man behind the podium was Mario, our waiter from Constellation's specialty restaurant. In the middle of our first meal at Normandie we then saw Ivo, our wonderful Sommelier from Constellation, and were happy to chat with him as well. Not to be forgotten ever is the dining experience itself, beginning with an amuse bouche of salmon in pastry, followed by a tableside preparation of caesar salad from scratch, complete with egg whites whisked for nearly ten minutes. The lobster veloute and goat cheese souffle were, as always, remarkable, and the Chateaubriand for two was the best we've ever had, complemented by foie gras seared to perfection and a hearty Australian shiraz. We each partook from the cheese cart, with mild, medium, bleu, and goat cheeses but even in two sittings still didn't get to all fifteen varieties that were offered. Care for a glass of port with your cheese? They wheel another cart over, just ports, and I have Graham's Malvados for the first time. My only regret is not getting a bottle of this stuff in LA afterwards, since the liquor stores neither in Ontario nor in Quebec carry it. The meal is completed by, of course, dessert. I'd pre-ordered the chocolate souffle, decadent but not too sweet, served in it's baking bowl, unlike on Princess (who unskilfully carve it out and serve it without appeal into a brown mound). No, Celebrity does it right. And Jen's ganache was a perfect marriage of flavors chocolate and banana, with coconut ice cream on the side, a taste of the tropics that we were now about to enter.
Earlier in the day, this our first full day at sea, Captain Karatzas made his noon announcement and confirmed the rumors: due to the proximity and strength of Hurricane Otis (which had been elevated from Tropical Storm just yesterday sorry, couldn't resist at least one Otis Elevator reference), we'd be skipping our first port call of Cabo San Lucas, steering around the storm, and hopefully returning to a course for Mazatlan on Monday. The shipboard television channel also featured a repeating announcement from the bridge, with the captain outlining our course on visual charts and assuring one and all that safety was of paramount concern (this despite some whining from a few idiot passengers upset that they'd miss Cabo). He and the crew had also prepared the ship for rough seas, with breakables stowed, production shows cancelled in the theatre, and passengers advised to exercise caution when walking. A grade of A goes to Celebrity for communicating all of this so well; in fact the worst of the storm was always well east of us, and even near the ship's bow we felt little more than nominal rocking.
After a second day at sea, with a leisurely pace and high clouds but tropical temperatures, we shook off the rough seas at night and steamed into port on schedule Monday morning. The slowing of the ship must have woken me up, and as I stepped out onto the balcony, the lights of Mazatlan were giving way to a slowly unfading dawn. We sailed past the sportfishing docks, where I'd once hung a 167-pound marlin, with outriggers and shrimp boats passing us in the opposite direction, heading out for a day's catch. Today we shared the berth with Regal Princess, which at 15 years is the oldest member of the Princess Cruises fleet. An hour later we were off the gangway and onto a series of pickup truck, water taxi, and tractor, finally reaching the coconut groves of Isla Piedra. Here we saddled up and headed out to the beach on horseback, and, save for the sunblock which was now streaking into my eyes, it was a wonderful time. My horse preferred to walk through the water rather than on the higher beach, slowing us down a bit but hey (hay is for horses), what's the hurry anyway?! Following a beer in the thatched palapa that is Victor's, we opted to return to the ship, clean up, and head into town. Though they say that much of Mazatlan has changed, it was good to see that El Centro had stayed much the same, with the Mercado and Cathedral being the highlights. Many passengers complained that Mazatlan wasn't pretty or exotic enough, but what I'd remind them was that it's an actual town, not just a resort but a working city, complete with a busy port and an economy that involves more than tourism alone.
The next day we called on Puerto Vallarta, definitely more of a resort town, with its picturesque bay and seaside promenade lined with sculptures. Like Mazatlan, PV was hot and muggy, and after walking around town for strolling and shopping and a side trip to the former home of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton we spent the rest of the day aboard ship, greeted with cold towels, water, and a warm welcome home from several staff members. One gets the feeling that this really is home for the thousand or so crew and staff of Summit, and they're happy to share it with us, eager to show us a good time, aiming to please at every turn.
Sailing out of Vallarta we saw the storm clouds gathering, and the next day gave us a new twist on thunderstorms, with 360-degrees of lightning at sea. Particularly unique was having breakfast in the cantilevered Deck 10 dining area, with dark skies, bolts of lightning, claps of thunder, and a view of the churning seas below through the glass cut-outs in the floor. That day I attended the second of four screenwriting seminars, part of the enrichment series that Celebrity offers; also available were a motivational series, computer classes, and acupuncture. Of course no day at sea is complete without the requisite art auction, afternoon tea, trivia contests, jackpot bingo, and the like. A nicety on Celebrity, though, is that these are not in-your-face profit centers, unlike on Princess who feel compelled to announce something every ten minutes. On Celebrity it's one announcement a day, that being the daily update from the bridge.
The rain followed us into Acapulco, where a taxi driver told us about the tormenta they'd been having. Still, the showers dissipated by the time we reached La Quebrada, and we were able to see the famed cliff divers one of those must-dos that, well, you just do. After buying a ticket, we were seated in a cliffside location facing the divers, where we once again ran into our tablemates from dinner (we'd seen them in PV as well as every day aboard ship, this on a ship of 2,000 passengers). Later we took a taxi around the cliffs and up a hill to Hotel Los Flamingos, a once-swanky (much like Acapulco itself) joint that was a favorite of Hollywood legends such as Johnny Weismuller, who filmed Tarzan in Acapulco and spent much of his life here afterwards. Los Flamingos is one of the best places in town for pozole, a hearty soup-stew concoction made of pork, hominy, onions, and garlic, and served with fixings to add such as avocado, cilantro, small but potent limes, oregano, jack cheese, jalapeno, tortillas, chicharones (pork rinds) etc. And Thursday is the traditional day to eat pozole, so we lucked out on all counts. This was our only meal off the ship, and, along with an appetizer of tamales, it was well worth the venture. We'd even contemplated dinner elsewhere in town, for perhaps another bowl of pozole and some fresh seafood, but upon seeing the main dining room menu with escargots, filet mignon, and other enticing offerings, we opted to stay aboard. Later we sailed out of Acapulco Love Boat style, close to midnight with all the lights in this harbor as a backdrop that we'll never forget. And thanks to Mike and Mary, who hosted a get-together at their cabin the balcony extends out from the aft of the ship, giving 270-degree views.
The previous day we'd done a roving stateroom tour, where various CruiseCritic.com members opened up their cabins for all to see. It was like a giant conga line at one point, roaming through the ship, other passengers joining, and all of us getting to see the various rooms and suites that Celebrity offers. Of course there's not a bad cabin to be had on a cruise, but some of these were quite amazing, with balconies and views of varying sizes and angles, and in-suite features such as flat-screen TVs, marble bathtubs with a view, etc. The one product we didn't get to see up close was the Penthouse Suite, though from the balconies of Mike & Mary and Jan & Colin, we did see the Penthouse balcony, hot tub and all.
Our last port was the sleepy town of Zihuatanejo, and we were fortunate to have had the skies clear up for this gem. We anchored out in the crescent-shaped, well-sheltered bay and tendered ashore, immediately realizing we were not in your standard port no duty free shops, no Diamonds International, just palm-lined beachfront with thatched-roofed cafes, beaches that went on and on, and a small, snaking promenade that made for a relaxing morning. Later we ambled through the flea market, picking up some nice silver pieces in a low-pressure, relaxing environment. Sailing out of Zihua (with butterflies all around us) and past the resort-lined beaches of Ixtapa on Friday afternoon, we knew we'd reached our final destination and would have two and a half sea days in which to enjoy the duration of the cruise.
Of course that time went all too quickly, relaxing on the verandah; eating our way through dinners at the Cosmopolitan and Normandie; looking at (completely content and unable at all to eat) the Magnifique Gala Buffet; taking in elegant tea in the Cosmopolitan; having martinis with our mates Jan & Colin, Larry & Sue, and Mike & Mary; all etching into our memories this great cruise.
We'll most definitely sail Celebrity again. It was and remains our cruise line of choice, though we continue to explore others.
Our next sailing is booked on Oceania Cruises, from Athens to Istanbul, and no balcony on that one, but somehow I think we'll survive. Read Less