CELEBRITY SUMMIT, 10 day cruise, 4/16/04, Southern Caribbean itinerary out of Fort Lauderdale.
This is a very long review but organized so that you can find only the items you may be interested in if you don't care to read the entire "volume".
This was our 5th cruise and the best yet by far. Celebrity is a wonderful cruise line that strives for excellence and it shows. They have some of the best crew to passenger and space to passenger ratios in the business. Celebrity definitely made a positive impression on us with their M class ship and we look forward to cruising with them again. They know how to do things right and have wonderful ideas for the future. They try to be innovative and have implemented some wonderful ideas since our last voyage with them. Any criticisms in this review are meant to be constructive in hopes that somebody from Celebrity will be reading it.
We are a couple in our early forties traveling during Massachusetts school vacation break with our two sons ages 11 and 13. Joining us were friends and their 13-year-old son.
THE SHIP The Summit is a beautiful ship and very well designed. We had cruised on Galaxy before and although Summit was at full capacity it did not feel crowded at all. The flow from one public area to another was very easy. The dEcor was classy and sophisticated. The ship itself was kept very clean although the crew was very unobtrusive about it. The artwork was very interesting and I realize this has been commented on quite a bit previously. I would say that it would appeal to a range of tastes. It is an accent to the dEcor but is not the dEcor itself.
The demographic on board tended toward an older mix of passengers although there were a wide variety of ages present. This is not a party ship but these guests definitely know how to have a good time. We had a very classy group on board and everywhere you went guests were courteous and polite. Everyone was so friendly and we enjoyed meeting others at the open seating times at breakfast and lunch in the dining room as well as around the ship. The entire atmosphere was relaxed and elegant without being stuffy.
The pool area is well designed. We never had a problem getting loungers even though we usually looked for them during peak times. Yes, it was crowded near the pool on sea days but we usually wandered a little bit to find four chairs in a location that may not have been our first choice. We then kept an eye out and as people left we relocated closer to the pool in the sun. The pool butlers were fairly efficient about removing towels from the chairs. If guests could drop their own used towels in the hamper as they leave this would free things up a bit more quickly. Toward the end of the week this seemed to be more of the case as people noticed where the towel hampers were located. On sea days they had the sorbet parade around 2 PM usually followed by one or two fun and silly games. If you order four beers from the pool bar you get the fifth free and all come in a big bucket of ice. Great touch since it can get pretty hot our there. Passing out chilled towels poolside was another nice touch as well as when you came back on board from the ports.
I only tried the thallasotherapy pool once and really enjoyed it. It was like a giant hot tub but with added minerals. I could feel my skin tingle. The bubble loungers were something else! These were very comfortable and relaxing.
We enjoyed the martini and champagne bars quite a bit. The first or second evening they offer a martini sampler with 5 small martinis for $5. Ours came with a traditional gin martini, citrus, peach, French (chambord), and melon martinis. This is a great way to try out a few. We enjoyed this area frequently throughout the cruise even treating ourselves to the champagne and caviar one night, which was outstanding. The only problem here is the smoking. Since the champagne bar allows smoking the entire area does become smoky sometimes, which is too bad. We also found the casino to be extremely smoky and couldn't stay in there for too long which is probably a good thing since it appears the odds were always against us.
Words and Notes were a nice touch. We didn't use them much although the kids would visit Notes occasionally. Bring along your own headphones though otherwise you must travel down to guest relations on deck 3 to obtain some.
The Conservatory was different. I wish they would consider turning it back into a sports bar, which I believe the space was originally designed for. In fact the only thing I felt was missing from this beautiful ship was a comfortable place to view sporting events on a large TV. I am not a big sports fan although my husband is and some of the other guests also seemed concerned about missing certain events.
We didn't get a chance to have any Aqua Spa treatments but did walk through to see it. The staff here were very friendly and informative and provided us with some brochures. This is an attractive area that is kept very clean. We also browsed by the gym but unfortunately never had a chance to visit (the best intentions...). This area had a nice selection of equipment and was also kept very clean.
Michael's club is a terrific place for relaxing cocktail in a quiet atmosphere. We loved the warm intimate environment here. We took many photos here in front of the fireplace and at the piano on the formal nights.
Revelations is a very nice dance club. We enjoyed dancing here at the beginning of the cruise but didn't frequent this as much as we would have liked. It could either be empty or active depending on what time you went by there. Things picked up a bit later here. We saw many elegant couples of all ages that were terrific dancers. Very enjoyable to watch! The photography area was convenient and we took advantage of many sittings. They actually offered photo taking every evening not just on the formal nights. We had rented tuxes for the boys so of course we made certain to have a lot of pictures taken of which we purchased many. If you purchase three 8x10 shots you receive a free Celebrity 5x7 photo album with removable ship photos in it. They do a decent job here and the photos are reasonable. We also purchased the cruise in review video here for $24.95 and it will be mailed to us in a few weeks. We are hoping that it is longer than the 10- 15 minute one we saw on board but nobody here seemed to know for certain so we took our chances.
OUR CABIN We were in cabin 9197. This was a corner FV aft on the sky deck. The design of this cabin was wonderful and there was plenty of storage and space for our family of four. The main entry led you into a hallway, which then led to another door to the room. This hallway was great for storing our 7 pieces of luggage. We also could easily fit some luggage under the bed for packing dirty clothes back into during the week. The main area of our cabin had a very comfortable bed that I believe was a queen but it felt a little larger. Two sofas in the seating area converted into a twin bed and full size bed every evening. There are two double closets with a tie/belt rack and lower hanging bars that fold down if desired. A single closet adjacent to these has 6 drawers, a few shelves, and the safe. The door to this particular closet was off and hanging by the hinges when we arrived. We notified our stateroom attendant and it was fixed that evening. There was additional storage under the desk (cabinets) and in the nightstands (drawers). There were two TV's, a VCR, and mini-bar. Power outlets were by the desk. The bathroom was normal ship sized and provided a shampoo dispenser in the shower, bars of soap, cotton balls, q-tips, and shower caps. No lotion or conditioner was provided although we always bring our own. We were on the concierge class level and our cabin was not designated as such although we did receive the fresh flowers once or twice.
The balcony was enormous. Our views went from the entire aft section of the ship up along the entire port side. There were four cushioned loungers, a small side table, a larger dining table and two regular strap chairs on the balcony. An overhead light is in the overhang. The overhang covered our balcony halfway with the awning adding another few feet. Along the edge of the deck was a perimeter drain with a deep edge so the deck was never very wet. The support post housed a drain from the deck above. This design makes it difficult for any water or loose items to make their way down to the lower balconies. Our only wish was that we had more time to spend on this great balcony. We were so busy with everything else there was to do that we didn't take full advantage of it.
Upon arrival to the cabin there were some areas that had been missed due to hurried cleaning. Some spots on the toilet seat and some spilled coffee. I took care of these myself and didn't complain. The carpet has some stains and also could have used a better vacuuming. They just don't get into the corners. We found old crayons and things under the edge of the bed. The bedspread had something spilled on it. The glass partitions needed to be cleaned better too. The countertops that are marble need to be sealed as everything leaves a mark on them due to the porosity. I ended up with some sawdust on my clothing from the closet door that had been fixed (also must have been worked on previously and the closet shelves were never wiped off). Overall the rest of the room was very clean but just a step below the cleanliness of the public areas, which were kept immaculate and polished. This didn't bother me tremendously but I mention it in hopes of Celebrity reading this and giving a little bit more attention to this detail. Our cabin steward Rodriques was very good with the day-to-day cleaning of the bathroom, main vacuuming, etc. but the room needed a deep spring cleaning overhaul if you know what I mean. Also, I never bothered to point everything out to Rodriques who was very nice and friendly. I am sure he would have taken care of this but I felt that I would have been picky to ask and at the time it wasn't important enough to me.
Prior to the cruise I was concerned about the reports of noise above the sky deck. Our cabin was situated directly below the outdoor section of the waterfall grill aft. Yes, you do hear the occasional chair scraping. No, it didn't bother me much at all and I am a very noise sensitive person. The crew does NOT go out there at 7 in the morning moving furniture and hosing down the deck as some have reported previously. In fact not once did we have water wash down from the upper level onto our deck. We had one napkin and one straw blow down and that was all and Rodriques removed these. Only once did the chair scraping wake me up and that was 9:30 AM and I needed to be up anyway. I would not hesitate to be in this cabin on this level again. On the balcony you can hear the chairs much more loudly than in the cabin because of the metal above. Still not very bothersome. You are outdoors and everything is louder including the wind, which is the loudest. You don't hear very much of the conversation going on above. In the evening we could hear the guitar player, Ron Thompson, who we thought was enjoyable to listen to. You could also hear him from the other levels aft on the ship. There was plenty of privacy on the balcony, sun and shade depending on where you were. All aft balconies look down onto each other since they are tiered. I didn't feel that the lower ones were any more private than the upper. The aft grill overlooks them all although people just don't stand there to look down at you. They are enjoying the view.
DINING Cosmopolitan Restaurant (main seating, table #551) - We were seated at a table for 10 with our friends and another couple with their 12 year old daughter. This couple actually live in the town next to us at home! This is a beautiful restaurant. The Pomeranian quartet is a very nice touch. There are nice views from most areas although they should not cover the windows on formal nights since you miss the view. Food ranged from excellent to fair with the majority being very good. Not as good as when we were on Galaxy several years ago but still better than Royal Caribbean. Excellent veal oscar, lobster tails, salmon steak, rack of lamb. The lamb steak was tough though and the shrimp scampi was seasoned differently with the pasta being overcooked. The appetizers and soups were consistently excellent but the salads were just okay. Not bad, not great, but consider that they don't have a garden out back to select the vegetables from. The desserts were fabulous and we enjoyed the baked Alaska parade on the last formal evening.
Our waiter Gusti from Indonesia was outstanding. The assistant waiter Parimon (also from Indonesia) was fabulous. If you like a range of food just ask your waiter for his recommendation each evening. He will let you know what is not so good and what is the best. The restaurant manager also seemed genuinely interested in our opinion and making certain we were satisfied. They knew the lamb steak was tough and apologized while making certain that extra food was brought without our asking. The restaurant manager was very concerned and didn't want us to experience a bad meal. He was the best we have experienced in all our cruises. Gusti was also concerned and always wanted to be certain we were happy. Unfortunately for us but fortunately for him, Gusti is going back to Indonesia for 3 months to be with his family. He has two young boys at home. Gusti always had some origami tricks to share with our boys and our tablemate's daughter. The children were treated fabulously. Gusti even cut their meat for them one evening. You may get to experience his wonderful friendly service in the future if you are lucky!
Our wine sommelier Zanna from Lithuania was wonderfully friendly and very helpful. She shared some of her black and white sketch drawings with us one evening and we were very impressed. It turns out she is also a very talented artist. She also had some nice little games to share with the boys and our tablemate's daughter.
Casual Dining - We decided to try this the evening we were in St. Kitts since the port departure time was changed to 6PM. You need to make a reservation here but you can do it the same afternoon. They had one section of the waterfall grill arranged with nicely set tables. This is not a buffet. There is waiter service and several courses are served here. The menu had 5 or 6 entrEe selections and the sirloin steak was excellent. You also may walk around the corner to the sushi bar and select some for your appetizer here. We were very pleased with this wonderful option. The food was quite good here and the service was terrific even though the sugar train tour ran late and they were inundated with unexpected customers. They would not turn anyone away who had missed their dining room seating time. Eventually they had to call in some waiters from the main dining room as soon as they were not busy. We ran into Gusti who wanted to take our dessert order. All the staff were running around trying to serve everyone and we thought they did a wonderful job. They do use this venue to train the waiters and it is a great way for them to gain experience. Celebrity has created a very nice option for dining here. We enjoyed the main dining room but this is a welcome change the day or two you may need to dine at a different time.
The Normandie - Where do I begin! This was unbelievably outstanding and a wonderful treat. I had the goat cheese soufflE, delicious, the chateaubriand for 2 with fois gras and truffle (shared with my husband of course!), several delicious selections from the cheese cart, and the chocolate soufflE with hot coffee sauce for dessert. They also brought a cucumber soup at the beginning and a selection of petit fours for dessert. The food and presentation were amazing. My husband had the French onion soup, which was the best he has ever had. Our friend had the lobster bisque which was another success. The staff were very attentive and entertaining. They even escorted me to the ladies room!
We started our evening there in a giddy mood with an attack of the giggles since our friend accidentally brought the wrong shirt that was too small for him. The laughter was contagious and trying to behave in such a nice place only made it worse. I was afraid we were going to cause a scene. The wait staff picked up on the fun and we had a great time with them. Also, a nice coincidence was that one of our waiters, Harish, had been one of our group's waiters on the Galaxy several years ago. My husband and I both thought he looked familiar but it wasn't until we asked him if he had been on that ship and the location of his tables there that it was confirmed. This was a nice surprise.
We chose our wine for this evening from the suggested pairings on the menu and were very pleased since the wine complimented the food perfectly. These were very good wines and you could actually order many by the glass here so that you could try a different wine with each course similar to a wine tasting. At the end of the evening they gave us booklets detailing the history of the Normandie. This dining option is another great innovation by Celebrity. Had we dined here earlier in the week I may have had to go again. The $30 per person surcharge was well worth it and we even tipped extra since we felt it was so deserved.
The only issue we had was that when I made our reservation (in advance since we are captain's club members) I was firmly told that children could not dine there unless they are 12 and older. Our youngest is 11 so this was not an option for the boys and they would not make an exception. The reservationist then told me that the boys could not dine in the dining room without us. Later I asked at the casual dining restaurant if they could dine there without us and was told that they would ask permission from the manager and although not allowed it probably would be okay (they could see that the boys were well behaved at that point). When we saw Gusti at the casual dining restaurant and told him we were going to the Normandie the next evening he assured us he would take good care of the three boys. I told him I had been informed that they were not allowed without us and he then insisted that we send them and he would make sure everything was okay. This was extremely kind of him. Later we were complimented by the tables around us how well behaved the boys were and how cute they looked dining the evening without us. Again I cannot say how much we appreciated Gusti. The kicker to all this is that when we walked into the Normandie on the evening we dined there the first thing we saw was a table seated with four children much younger than our own!
Waterfall Grill - Very good for breakfast although we prefer the dining room with the fabulous eggs benedict. The grill choices were the same everyday. I felt adding one or two specialty items each day like an egg strata, quiche, huevos rancheros, etc. would have made it stand out. There was plenty to choose from though of your standard breakfast fare along with a Belgian waffle station and an omelet station at the back There were limited fillers for the omelets though. The fruit here was good but it would be nice to add some grapes, mangos, kiwis, and papayas occasionally. It was always melon, pineapple and oranges only. The coffee was very good here and readily available with waiters providing refills at your table. The orange juice dispensers frequently had problems dispensing concentrate at times but you could easily add water yourself.
Lunch at the waterfall grill did have a lot of selection with a different theme each day. Food was very good here for buffet food. Unfortunately I did not make it to the sandwich bar around back since I forgot until the end of the week and was hooked on the Aqua Spa cafe by then. Trays were usually carried for you from the waterfall grill to an inside table or outside anywhere you desired.
Aqua Spa Cafe - Again, another wonderful concept by Celebrity. The food here was fabulous. I enjoyed this quite a bit. The selections were light and tasty although I usually tried more than a few items throughout the day so I don't think I saved any calories here!
Sushi Bar - Open from 6 to 10. Great concept and delicious sushi with a nice selection. I was very pleased to have this option.
Pool Grill - Delicious hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and fries with a few other accompaniments. This was very convenient with great beer selection on ice here.
Ice cream bar - My boys frequented this more than I want to know about. Wonderful availability. I think some of the teens were trying to set a record of the most ice creams in one day. Has anyone ever seen a teen boy eat? I believe one boy had 13? But hey they are on vacation too!
Evening pizza and pasta - Waterfall Grill - Another place given a good workout by my boys. The teen counselors frequented here with the gang in the late evening. This was great since we had the main seating and of course the boys would be hungry again later.
Cova Cafe - My husband enjoyed this frequently for espresso, which I don't drink unless I want to stay up all week. He was very pleased that this was available. We missed the afternoon snacks here so I guess we will have to go back again and try them! This is also where you purchase the soda cards. They are $5 per day plus 15% gratuity. We purchased these for the kids and it was worth it. They affix a small sticker to your room card for unlimited fountain soda. As a bonus the kids all received an insulated coke logo drink holder with lid.
Midnight Bites - We thought this fabulous concept of serving appetizers in the public lounges late in the evening was a terrific idea. The first night they were excellent but after that they were very good. In the rendezvous lounge the waiters were prompt about offering them around on trays. In the martini bar though they were slow to come around and frequently just stood there with their trays. We couldn't understand this and would either signal them or get up and walk over to them.
Midnight Buffet - This was presented once during the cruise on the last formal evening. One time per cruise is sufficient in my opinion. It takes them hours and hours to prepare and display everything. There were stunning ice sculptures and beautifully arranged delicacies. The only problem here with the traffic flow was having four food lines flow into two dessert lines. Of course most seemed to want only the dessert so the food line would come to a complete stop from time to time.
Poolside Caribbean party - or "melons on parade" as Simon called it. Since we attended after the Normandie we ate nothing. Our kids told us that the food was delicious and they enjoyed the ribs and other selections. This was a fun atmosphere with Voltz playing and a lot of dancing, macarena, conga line, limbo, etc.
All in all the variety of dining choices was very pleasing and the availability was very good with a variety of food offered frequently throughout the day. The options were much improved since the last time we have cruised and we were very happy with the choices.
THE CREW I have mentioned a few crewmembers already in the dining section and I have to say that they are all wonderful. Everyone was genuinely friendly and seemed very happy. The service is very prompt and attentive without being obtrusive. We had enjoyable conversations with many of the staff. Michael Sunga at the martini bar was so pleasant. He always had a joke or a little trick to show us. He is from the Philippines and also has two young boys. The bar waiter Antonio was very funny and we enjoyed Ian Reid the pool bartender. The crew were always greeting you and saying hello as you passed by.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director - Simon Weir - A hilarious goofball. He definitely enjoys his job and has a lot of fun while providing a lot of entertainment. His accent makes things even funnier from the American perspective. He is very enthusiastic and energetic and seems to be everywhere. His assistant Stuart Tumbull was a little more subdued than Simon but very friendly. Off the Top - A cappella group - Nice group with a good range of music.
Voltz - Caribbean band - Very enjoyable, beautiful voices, nice selection of your typical Caribbean tunes poolside while branching into others up at Revelations night club. By the end of the week the poolside music did become a little repetitive although I didn't mind since I love all those Caribbean tunes.
Frank Duo - They were not for us but they definitely fill a niche here. Many passengers were enjoying them and we also saw many very excellent dancers on board.
Ron Thompson - Guitar player - Very enjoyable out on the aft grill deck outdoors. Unfortunately many nights it was too windy (just our particular week) for us to comfortably sit out here and relax. Also this is where the cigar and other smokers go although it wasn't bothersome with the fresh air.
Steve Solomon - Comedian - Absolutely hilarious if you enjoy bathroom humor. Seriously though he was very talented and had the audience in stitches. We enjoyed listening to him and I even want to buy his new book, "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, and I'm in therapy". He grew up in Brooklyn, NY where my Dad is from and I definitely drew some parallels here.
Samantha Jay - Musical sensation - Unbelievably talented and lovely. This young beautiful woman plays the violin, saxophone, and oboe and plays these instruments extremely well. She is quite entertaining and charming. We saw her on the last evening along with Elliott Finkel and were sorry we had missed her previous performance. We had hoped at least that our boys had caught it with the teen director but they had told the boys they wouldn't like it and it would be boring for them. I couldn't believe this since both my boys play the saxophone and my oldest also plays violin. I know that one would not know this and even we weren't sure what the first performance was all about and didn't make the effort to get there. It was a disappointment to have missed this. She is a natural entertainer and amazingly musically gifted.
Elliott Finkel - Pianist - Another extremely talented performer. Also, he is funny and witty. His personality really comes out on stage. He played a nice varied selection and also a piece with Samantha Jay. He has played around the world for many famous people. We enjoyed his talent, humor and wonderful personality.
Tibor - Action comedy - Not my favorite type of entertainment with the spinning plates, juggling, etc. although I do have to say that he was quite talented and entertaining. Also nice to look at by the T-pool if you happen to run into him during the day!
Csaba - Specialty aerialist - Amazing graceful gymnast. Amazing strength! Kept looking by the T-pool!
We didn't get to see any of the production shows with the Celebrity singers and dancers so I cannot comment here. We are looking forward to the new collaboration with Cirque du Soleil and hope to have a chance to experience this in the future.
KID'S/TEENS CLUB There were approximately 37 kids on board between 3 and 17 years old. Also, I believe 6 more under the age of 3. We were told that there had been several hundred on board the previous cruise. I have to say that all of the children and teens were wonderful kids and very well behaved. My boys and our friend's son met a lot of new friends and by the end of the week were spending most of their time with the teen group. The counselors were excellent and the kids enjoyed them tremendously. It was nice that there was both the shipmate's fun factory as well as the teen tower. There also was a video arcade but cost $1 per play. My boys enjoyed the tower and this is where their group frequently met for activities and games. It doesn't turn into a teen disco until midnight. They also have a nice plasma TV there for occasional movies, sporting events, etc. For an hour each day in the early evening the teens could visit the fun factory and use the playstations, play in the ball pit, etc. and believe it or not they loved doing this! Also, the younger kids sometimes went to the tower for some of their activities. The wonderful design of the ship provided a lot of flexibility here.
I have to say that at the beginning of the cruise there was some concern whether or not our youngest, age 11 would be able to join his Brother and friend, both 13 since the age groups were split differently. This worked out okay in the end since there were so few kids that some of the ensigns (10-12) joined the admiral t's (13-17). Unfortunately though at the beginning this did cause some stress for my son as well as a few others in the 11 to 12 age category. On top of this they made the kids up to age 12 wear a bracelet causing them stand out from the rest of the group. Well of course every single one of them "lost" their bracelet. Although everything turned out fine I wish Celebrity would be more sensitive to this.
I believe that the age groups are not grouped correctly and they should be more flexible with blurring the lines right from the beginning especially when parents request it. At home our middle school has kids from grade 6 to 8, which translates into ages 10 and 11 to 13 and 14. They all attend school dances together. This would be a more appropriate age grouping in my opinion. The teen disco allows age 13 and up and although this turned out not to be a problem for our 11 year old, it should possibly be lowered to accommodate middle school age kids. Also, 17 year olds don't really fit well with 13 year olds but are grouped this way. There is no perfect solution here except to be flexible from the beginning with the age groups and maturity levels on board at that time.
PORTS OF CALL / SHORE EXCURSIONS
St. Martin - In the morning we went on the Golden Eagle Sailaway a ship's excursion. This was early with an 8:15 AM departure. We sailed for about an hour out to Tintemarre Island. There was plenty of room on board this very nice catamaran. It was a bit rough on the way out with waves washing over the front of the boat, which was actually a lot of fun. They raised the sails and got the men to volunteer pulling the rope for the main sail. At the island we had about an hour to relax on the beach, swim, snorkel, or explore. You could jump off the boat or take the center stairs that drop down into the water about 6' deep. We love to snorkel but since you have such little time here I wouldn't bother with it. We tried snorkeling but it is a rocky entry with some wave action making it difficult to get in there. Once in there was not a lot to see. The time there is better spent relaxing on the beautiful beach or exploring a bit. There are many lizards in the area behind the beach and some interesting landscape. The crew brought out buckets of volcanic mud for us to smear all over ourselves for a "spa treatment". It was fun and funny to see everyone like this. It did make the skin soft and was very exfoliating. They also brought a cooler up onto the beach that had a nice selection of beverages. The crew was excellent, friendly, courteous, and attentive. We sailed back with some nice music and great beverage service from the crew. They also handed out sub sandwiches but the challenge here up by the nets was keeping them dry! There is a large covered area on the boat where you can relax in shade and stow your gear. On the way back it was now the ladies turn to raise the sail! Not as easy as it looked. All in all I would highly recommend this excursion.
We came off the Golden right at the same dock as the water taxi. Since it was a walk back to the Summit we didn't bother going back for lunch but just hopped on the water taxi, $5 round trip all day. It was very crowded but a short ride with the second stop bringing us close Everything's Cool beach bar and restaurant. We exited off the dock turned left and strolled down the beach a few blocks to their beachfront area where we had a nice view of our ship. An employee Gavin immediately collected $10 for two beach chairs and an umbrella as well as the $5 water trampoline fee for each boy. The tramp was fairly crowded most of the time so the boys weren't enjoying it that much. Gavin also took care of renting jet ski's if you desired. We relaxed in the loungers and let Gavin bring us cocktails, menus and lunch. He was terrific waiting on us all afternoon and of course we gave him a nice tip for this fabulous service. We were so content where we were that we never made it into the restaurant until we passed through on our way out. When we did walk through there were a lot of people enjoying the outdoor deck, listening to music and watching a volleyball game that was in action. This was a good place to stop for a bit if you are in town. I probably wouldn't want to spend the entire day here though. I also want to mention that we were bothered by beach vendors literally every 30 seconds. They would plunk their wares down on your chair and interrupt your conversation. We did eventually buy a few things that we did want to purchase but I found them to be the most aggressive I have ever seen. Also, if you wait a bit the selection does get better but unfortunately if you even look at something they assume you are buying it. On the way back we strolled through Phillipsburg and went into a few shops. I found the prices to be no better than the jeweler's exchange in downtown Boston. Actually they were higher in my opinion. My friend and I both bought gold flip-flop pendants with a few diamond chips on the straps and blue green inlay on the sole. These were around $100 each and were a fun souvenir purchase for their novelty. We weren't comfortable making any serious jewelry purchases here though.
St. Lucia - We decided to go on the Caribbean Pirate's Extravaganza a ship's excursion and I have to say that after reading many excellent reviews we were quite disappointed. The Brig Unicorn was very overcrowded and we felt like a herd of cattle. The entry onto the ship while being easy enough for us was very difficult for many of the older passengers. There was a big drop from the dock to the ship and they tried using a steep little gangway that was more dangerous than just jumping onboard. The ride over was scenic but the crew did nothing to entertain or service the passengers. There was an announcement that the bar was open and what the available beverages were but it was too crowded to get over to it and get much. One of the crewmembers busied himself making bracelets to sell at a later time I guess. We sailed to Pigeon Island national park but then had to sit on the ship while they tendered passengers. Eventually we got on the 3rd tender which was crowded and another difficult entry and exit onto the dock. Some of the older passengers didn't think they would make it. The tender was so overcrowded that they had to wait until it was almost empty and rose up in the water a bit so they could get off a little easier. One good wave and it would have gone over.
Once at the island it was an interesting place. You only have a short time here before they start tendering you back which again takes a while. Some of our group hiked up to Fort Rodney and took some nice photos of the beautiful view. The pirate ship in the bay did make a good photo op I have to say. You could also see one of the Sandals resorts from here, which is actually within walking distance. There is a small beach here and trails with picnic areas. The restrooms were not in good order. We did not bother to try the snorkeling. Some of our group went out on the treasure hunt but didn't listen to the clues and came back empty handed. This was just as well because we decided to cut our losses, salvage the day, and taxi to another destination. We informed one of the crewmembers, gave him our names and the number not returning. He didn't seem surprised. We later heard from others on the tour that they served some food on the ride back that wasn't very good and had been sitting out in the sun. We did hear that it was a little bit more fun on the return trip. The treasure hunters who found keys claimed their prizes and I guess there was a little more music, etc. Still not a worthwhile undertaking and I would not recommend this excursion. Also, St. Lucia is a very beautiful island and you will not get to see much of it this way.
We then walked out to the park entrance and easily found a taxi van for the seven of us. We had previously spent a week in St. Lucia at the Windjammer Landing and we decided to visit there. It was still as wonderful as we remembered. We relaxed and had lunch and cocktails poolside and after lunch moved down to the beach a few steps away. I strolled along the shore to the next resort for some snorkeling but it was not as good as I remembered. I heard from a guest staying there that a storm the previous week had stirred everything up. The Windjammer now has a large water trampoline and the kids were thrilled with it. It was very relaxed and uncrowded here and we had an enjoyable time. This is a lovely villa resort that is very family friendly while also appealing to couples and singles. We met our taxi driver at the entrance at 4PM as we had previously arranged. He mentioned that one of the staff of the resort told him that cruise ship passengers were not allowed there anymore since there is a new owner. Well, I had emailed previously and was not told this. Also, the restaurant we dined at is open to the public and all the beaches in St. Lucia are public by law so I am not sure that they could not allow you. I think possibly he was trying to discourage the taxi driver from bringing too many tourists in there.
Barbados - We went on the ship's excursion, Swim with the turtles, shipwreck, and beach. This was an excellent excursion and I highly recommend it. We were on the Cool Runnings catamaran, which I believe had been chartered for the day by another outfit. There were also a few crewmembers from Ocean Adventures along to help crew the boat. I got the impression that all these different outfits support each other in their business ventures even though they are competitors. The crew was absolutely fabulous and we had the best time. They were funny with their antics and not shy about posing for our photos. We got out to the turtles fairly early since this tour left at 9:15. There were a few boats ahead of us but it wasn't too bad. One of the crew fed the turtles and soon enough quite a few were attracted to our area. They were all different sizes and would swim closely by you. You could touch them by holding out your hand and letting them lightly brush by. Holding onto to them or grabbing them is turtle abuse and the crew instructed us in this. Sure enough I still saw one woman grab a small turtle with both hands. Fortunately the crew did too and scolded her. Unbelievable! There is always one in every crowd! We could not wear flippers here but actually they weren't needed since you didn't have to go very far. Some people complained of crowding around but each time I encountered this I would just swim around to the other side of things and have plenty of space. Just use common sense here. Most of the time I would just float and plenty of turtles would swim by. There is no need to swim after each and every one that goes by. This was a unique experience and we all enjoyed it tremendously.
Our next stop was Folkestone Marine Park. On the way here we passed through a driving rainstorm. It was so heavy that it was difficult to open your eyes since the rain was driving sideways toward us. Eventually one of the kids got the idea to put on their snorkel mask and soon enough everyone followed suit. We looked hilarious. A bunch of people wearing snorkel masks riding along on a catamaran in the pouring rain in our bathing suits. I wish I took a picture! As soon as we got to the marine park the ocean water felt 10 times warmer than the air. It continued to rain a little but that didn't matter. Here we explored an interesting wreck with many fish swimming about. I believe it is the Stavronkita. There is also a fabulous reef a little closer in to shore with a lot of marine life. This was an interesting place and we were fortunate to visit here.
After snorkeling we enjoyed some Banks beer and other libations while we sailed over to a deserted beach at the defunct Paradise Island Resort. This property has been bought by Sandals but not developed yet. Just as we arrived the sun came out. Perfect! The water here was breathtakingly beautiful and the sand was like powder. We relaxed and swam around here enjoying ourselves.
As we sailed back to the ship we asked the crew for directions to the Boatyard since we had noticed their advertisement on the crews t-shirts. After dropping the passengers off they told us they were sailing over in that direction and offered to let us stay on and sail over with them. This was a blast and they blared the music for us and kept the bar open as we sailed around the Summit and into downtown Bridgetown. Again I cannot say enough about how awesome the crew was. We all posed for pictures together and then we swapped a Patriot's t-shirt for a Cool Runnings one. We had a blast with these guys and now tipped them a second time for the extra ride, which they definitely were not expecting but we felt it was so deserved. From our drop off point we walked about six blocks to the Boatyard at Carlisle Bay. We strolled in paying $12 per adult and $5 for the kids and were led to some beach chairs with the now needed umbrellas. They had given us $10 back in food and drink tokens for the two adult entry fees. It was crowded here. We found an employee to take care of us again and he brought us everything we needed right to our loungers. We never would have been able to eat at the restaurant since things were so busy at that point about 2 PM. This had a crowded fun beach party atmosphere. The food was decent and I tried a flying fish sandwich that is a specialty in Barbados. It was very good. The water trampoline was crowded and the iceberg looked impossible to climb. My boys informed me that most of the handles were broken off so I guess it was although I saw a few individuals up there. We relaxed, had lunch, took a swim and then it was time to head back. It was good to stop here but I wouldn't spend an entire day here either since I am sure there are more picturesque beaches on Barbados. No problem finding a cab since they lined up outside. We shared one back with some ladies cruising on Princess for a 14 day Panama Canal cruise. They said their ship was empty.
The taxis in Barbados drop you at the cruise terminal and after you walk through the gift shops (disneyesque?) you board the correct shuttle for your particular cruise ship. This is a huge port with some distance to the individual ships. There were six ships in port that day.
St. Kitts - We arrived in port and were cleared by 8:30 AM, which was much earlier than our scheduled time of 10 AM. We were also scheduled to depart at 6 PM rather than the original 5 PM giving us a much longer day here. Our plan was to head to Turtle beach for monkey viewing but our friends were getting a late start so our family headed off to the shops with two way radios so our friends could notify us when they were ready. By the way I would highly recommend bringing these radios with you especially if you have teens along. They also work great if you want to split up at different times. Anyway, we explored the few shops that are within walking distance of the ship. We were on a mission for a silver chain for our youngest son and found a nice one for $32. I'm sure I could have bargained it down but didn't bother. There were many taxi drivers along the way politely offering rides. The shop keepers and taxi drivers wanted to find out where you were going and make good recommendations to assure that you would enjoy their beautiful island. They seemed concerned that you wouldn't get to see everything of which they were very proud. After speaking with various people we decided we could take in more than just Turtle beach with our time there.
Our friends radioed they were on their way around 11 AM and we found a taxi driver with a van. His name was Bobsie and he has seven children! The taxi drivers here have different license plates and they wear ID cards on their shirt. They are trained to give excellent information about the history of the island. Bobsie drove us around the downtown area pointing our various sites of interest and explaining the history, which was very interesting especially noting the area where slaves were traded not so long ago. We drove out to Brimstone Hill Fortress ($5 admission for adults, $2.50 for children) and spent a half hour exploring here taking in the spectacular views. It was quite amazing and took 104 years to build! We then drove on to Caribelle Batik for a quick tour and a brief look at Romney Gardens. Along the way we passed through the village that Bobsie grew up in. Very humbling. Everywhere we went Bobsie provided interesting detail. He was very enjoyable to listen to. We then drove out to Turtle beach enjoying the spectacular views along the way. We stopped for photos at the lookout point where you can see the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans together. The drive out to Turtle beach is worth it alone.
We arrived at Turtle beach and it was now around 2 PM. We sat down and ordered lunch, which was quite good along with a few cold Carib's. According to Bobsie they are the best on St. Kitts where special water is used in the brewing process. We had passed the Carib plant earlier. We saw one monkey at Turtle beach helping himself to a leftover sweet drink and took a few photos. Unfortunately he was the only one we saw the entire time we were there. After lunch we strolled over the footbridge down to the beach and found many empty loungers to chose from. We selected the better ones and relaxed a bit. The beach itself is nice with fabulous views of Nevis but yes, there is a lot of sea grass in the water and it is not level on the bottom but rather rocky in areas. There is not a sandy entry after the first 10-12'. This didn't bother me and I swam right over the grass and ledge out to the snorkel area that is to the left of the swim raft. There is decent snorkeling here but it is a bit of a snorkel adventure to get there. It is nice that the raft is out there for snorkel breaks.
Back on the beach my husband fell asleep on one of the loungers in the shade (unfortunately he was suffering with a head cold) when this huge red pig woke up and started his adventures. Did I mention the pig yet? Anyway, the pig doesn't seem to have the best vision and appears to be around 500 or so pounds. He was biting a picnic table that had some abandoned French fries on it and was lifting the table up moving it. A woman took pity and fed these to the pig snatching her hand back at the last moment after each frie. After the show was over we wandered back to our loungers only to turn around and see the pig nuzzling up next to my husband. After waking him with the pig wiggle the pig just plopped down on the ground next to him and went back to sleep next to his new friend. It was absolutely hilarious to see the groggy surprised expression on my husband's face.
Bobsie our driver met us at the pre-arranged time of 4:30 and we enjoyed another scenic ride back to the ship. Along the way we could see monkeys in the distance running up the steep hillsides. We also saw one perched on a boulder on the side of the road. Bobsie told us there many more monkeys than people on St. Kitts. Arriving back at the dock there was still some time for shopping. We had agreed on a price with Bobsie of $22 per person for this full day tour with the seven of us. Of course we paid him much more than this and it was still the best bargain we had.
St. Thomas - We had prearranged a daysail to St. John with Coconuts and Daydreamer catamarans from 9 to 4, $110 for adults, half price for kids. We found an excellent friendly taxi driver Roy and taxied over to the Grand Bay Palace resort where the catamarans are moored. We boarded Coconuts and after some short instructions from our fabulous crew, Captain Frank and Carly, we were on our way. There were around 20 of us total on board. This was a wonderful way to spend the day. We snorkeled at a small island on the way to St. John where a turtle is frequently seen and an occasional dolphin. A few people saw the turtle but we missed it. Many nice interesting fish though although the reef was not as healthy as it should have been. I did witness one person from another catamaran standing on some coral and also a woman from ours picking things up off the reef although we had been instructed not too. This is ignorant and selfish behavior. It is unfortunate that a few people will not follow the rules and ruin things for others. I could see why the reef was becoming unhealthy with what I witnessed in the short time I was there.
We then sailed over to Honeymoon beach on St. John, which is just beautiful. All of the scenery was spectacular. Captain Frank would point out some items of interest as we sailed. For example a small island that is for sale on Ebay for $18,000,000. Such a deal! Another was a rock formation that was used for target practice of cannons when emptying the stores. We anchored in some soft sand (Captain Frank was very careful about where he dropped anchor) and lunch was served. They put out an excellent spread with a nice deli platter, fresh rolls and variety of delicious salads; jerk chicken, hearts of palm with mango, pasta salad, etc. The bar was open all day with good selection and delicious rum punch sprinkled with cinnamon on top.
We snorkeled over a nice reef to the right of the beach (as you are looking from the boat). There were also a lot of fish taking shade under the boat, which provided nice viewing for us. There were some floats available to use and we could spend time swimming or lounging on the soft sand beach. The time here passed much too quickly. We started our sail back at quarter to 3. On the way they raised a beautiful spinnaker sail that was red, white, and blue. This was interesting and Carly did a lot of the work herself. It made the catamaran go much faster, so fast that it then had to be taken down as we were coming in much too quickly. We could see a rainstorm passing through some areas but never over us. This was a wonderful day with a fabulous crew and I highly recommend a daysail with this outfit.
Upon arriving back to the resort, Roy was waiting for us at the prearranged time of 4 PM. We drove back to the ship and had some time to shop at Havensight mall. Again I found the jewelry prices to be higher that what I have seen here at home. We were docked right next to the Constellation and they blew the horns back and forth to each other at departure. It was loud and funny.
EMBARKATION / DEBARKATION / CUSTOMS
Embarkation - We flew into FLL early arriving at 10:10 AM. We quickly found our luggage and had a 5-minute taxi wait for a van instead of sedan since we had four people and seven pieces of luggage. We were at the cruise terminal by 10:35 and were quickly assisted by a porter who helped us get the room tags onto the luggage quickly and took the luggage away. We walked around to the front of the terminal, through throngs of people who I assume were debarking passengers, to the terminal entrance where we were meeting my Dad to go out to lunch. The line appeared long and wasn't moving at this point so we were glad to head off for a bit. We had a nice lunch nearby at Kelly's landing and were back at the terminal by 12:30. There was still a long line but it was now moving.
At the first checkpoint they look at your docs and then escort you to different seating areas. They allowed Captain's club select and elite members, concierge class, and suite holders priority embarkation only. I stopped to use the ladies room and my husband and boys couldn't go into the seating area until I came out. This now put us back a bit. We finally got to the seating area, sat for a while and it seemed to be taking a long time. Nobody wanted to explain much and this raised the anxiety levels of more than a few people. It was crowded and it seemed like everyone was arriving at the same time. They slowly strolled around checking documents. Finally our section was dismissed and we lined up to go through security. We proceeded down a hallway, had a picture taken, a visit to the kid's club table, and then chose a short line to get our room cards and sea pass accounts activated. They automatically activate the kid's cards so you have to visit guest relations on board to deactivate them. We had to try this twice before they could finally do this for us, which was a bit of an annoyance to take care of. We then proceeded up an escalator and joined another line entering the ship after passing through a spot that takes your photo with your room card. This line moved slowly and when we finally got on board the next tray of champagne had just been emptied. They were greeting you and having crew escort you to your room. I believe the champagne and escort was possibly the final thing slowing everything down and I would have passed on these for a quicker embarkation. We didn't bother waiting for the next tray of champagne anyway. We were onboard close to 2 PM. All in all not bad but the longest we have experienced so far although the others were pre 9/11. Our luggage was waiting by our cabin when we arrived back from the lifeboat drill after 4 PM.
Debarkation - This went smoothly. We were to report to the rendezvous lounge by 8:45. After a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, we went back to our cabin to collect our few remaining items, and visited our balcony one last time. Celebrity is great about making you still feel you are a still a guest on this final day. There was a Navy show in town and we viewed a submarine go by with crew at attention along with various other vessels from our balcony. It was very interesting. We proceeded to the lounge waited 15 minutes until those with gray tags were escorted off the ship. While my husband searched for our luggage I stood in line for a porter who then collected our luggage and brought us curbside to wait for a taxi. It wasn't immediately clear that you had to find your luggage and then wait in line for a porter. You definitely needed two people coordinate this. Both inside and outside passengers were running around all stressed out, which was unnecessary. It all worked out fine but the behavior definitely added to the anxiety level. Unfortunately our porter did not put us in any distinct line for a taxi dispatcher and we had to move our luggage a few times before we figured out we would never get a taxi without one. There was a lot of chaos here with too many people and not enough taxis and like us many people didn't understand that you needed to get in a taxi dispatcher line. We eventually got into one and lucked out when we were next in line and a van came along. All in all it didn't take that long but was stressful at the time. We were on our way to the airport by 9:30 and the rest was uneventful.
I do want to mention that my film packed in my luggage did receive some x-ray damage so from now on I will pack it in my carry on and hope that I can request it to be hand inspected. Our digital camera was perfect for this situation. Also, our luggage never got weighed but we did stick to under 50 lb on the way down and hopefully on the way back. Curbside check in at FLL is a lot slower than Boston but we made it onto our 11:10 AM flight with plenty of time. Customs - This went very smoothly. We had some prior anxiety about this and received a notice that assigned us a 9 AM inspection. Since we needed to be on our way to the Grand Bay Palace by 8 AM we checked in with guest relations and were told to just show up earlier. We got in line at quarter to 7 that wasn't moving causing many people stress. Actually this was because the doors weren't open yet which nobody realized! The doors opened at 7 and we were through around 10 minutes later. They gave you a little yellow slip to show upon leaving the ship here in St. Thomas, which we had no problem doing a little before 8 AM. GRATUITY SYSTEM We decided to try charging our gratuity to our shipboard account this time to make things easier. The form was very easy to fill out and they did the math for you. You fill in the number of days to multiply the suggested amounts by and there are areas to add extra if you desire. You bring these down to guest relations where they give you a receipt and charge your sea pass account. I had to go back since they accidentally only put through two adults rather than four the first time. We had expected to receive something to hand out to the staff indicating the amounts given but all we received the next day were a bunch of vouchers in one envelope with no amounts listed or any other info indicating that they were from us. We weren't certain if they were receipts for us or were meant for the crew. Since we already had a receipt we decided to write the amounts on these vouchers along with our name and cabin number and a thank you. I had to refer back to my original receipts to obtain the correct amounts. We then obtained some envelopes for these and passed them out. At dinner Gusti thanked us for the gratuity but told us that it had been accidentally credited to another waiter. We were concerned about this and he assured us that it would be straightened out. He told us that the restaurant manager knew about it and had originally informed him. We made sure he took note of our voucher and the amount since we had given him extra and wanted to be sure he received this. It is a nice convenience to be able to take care of the gratuity this way but I think they need to provide you with something better to present to the staff that indicates the correct amount given along with your name and cabin number so there is a record for the staff in case of errors like this.
CRUISE CRITIC What a great group! We met some wonderful people. I won't mention names here for fear of leaving somebody out but you know who you are and we very much enjoyed meeting all of you. Unfortunately we didn't get the opportunity to meet everyone in our large group that was close to 100 members. Rick, Chessbriar, had a great idea to get the group to meet at the pool bar 3 PM on the first day using his bright orange shirt as a signal. We stopped by quickly and met a few before we had to go to the lifeboat drill. Celebrity scheduled our party for Sunday morning at 10:15 AM in Michael's club and since I am not a morning person I got the time mixed up and arrived at the tail end of things missing the group photo. I had a little time to chat with a few but still didn't meet everyone. It was nice that Celebrity had another 2 PM pool bar meeting for us on one of the last sea days but I'm not certain if everyone picked up on it in the program. In retrospect it would have been a good idea to have a daily meeting place and time if you wanted to stop by and chat a bit with a few new friends. A suggestion would be the pool bar at 3 PM on sea days and the martini bar between the dinner seatings 7:30 to 8:30 PM on port days.
CAPTAIN'S CLUB We missed the cocktail party since it was at 5:15 on a port day with a formal night and we didn't have enough time to get back and be ready for our 6:00 dinner seating. I heard that it was nice. We received credit for our sailing coupon of $150 on our credit card before the cruise. The Normandie didn't have a record of our coupon when we arrived but it showed up on our stateroom account the next day. I believe this is not handled through the Normandie where you pay the $30 fee at the door prior to being seated. It was nice to be able to make our reservation for this restaurant ahead of time. We received cova cafe chocolates and casino chip ($2 each) and match play coupons ($5 each). We didn't use the custom air since we weren't aware of it at the time of our booking and handled our own. Also, our kids would not have qualified. Even though they have sailed Celebrity twice now they are ineligible to become Captain's Club members and we also receive no added benefit for paying their fare. We didn't receive any notice of a wine tasting. We forgot about the golf simulator discount and paid full price. We didn't take advantage of the aqua spa bonus gifts with purchase. All in all I would say that I was satisfied with the benefits having only cruised once prior with Celebrity although they should either provide us with double sailing credit for paying for the larger cabin along with the 3rd and 4th passengers or allow the children to qualify for some benefits.
OTHER The Daily program was informative and was delivered to your stateroom during the bed turndown each evening. A few nights we did not receive the kid's itinerary but could pick it up the next morning.
We saved the pillow chocolates in a ziploc bag since we usually couldn't eat them at bedtime and are still enjoying them here at home.
We didn't bring along any lanyards for the kids passes expecting to purchase one on board or receive a complimentary one through the kid's club. There was not a single one to be found anywhere on board! The gift shop does not carry them and neither guest relations nor the kids club could provide one although guest relations will punch a hole in the card for you in the appropriate place as not to deactivate anything. Next time we will bring some from home.
We loved this itinerary with the two days at sea at the beginning and end to ease into your cruise and also relax before heading home. The ports we visited were all very desirable and I would love to visit each one again and again.
This was the first time I have ever enjoyed sea days this much. This was due to the extremely intelligent design of the ship and the fact that things never felt crowded or hectic. There was no such thing as a line or waiting. Everything was convenient, easy and accessible even with the ship at full capacity.
IN SUMMARY Our family enjoyed this vacation tremendously and cannot wait to cruise with Celebrity again. Feel free to ask me any questions.
We were treated fabulously! Read Less