Master: Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis Hotel Director: Daniel llias Cruise Director John Howell PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS
Cruising, like everything, is subjective. A wonderful cruise for one person is not necessarily for another. Sometimes it's timing or simply our moods at the time. Some of us look for one experience, others look for something else. So with minor flaws, this is a rave review for Celebrity. This was was the cruise that sealed the deal for us -- we are now Celebrity loyalists. This is our third Celebrity cruise -- the first being on Horizon to Bermuda in 1997, the second on Millennium in the Western Caribbean in 2003 and now this 2-week adventure through the Canal on Summit. We booked another 10-day cruise in the Southern Caribbean in December 2006. We decided longer cruises are for us and cancelled our scheduled 7-day cruise on the Mercury in October 2006.
Our experience with HAL, thus far, simply does not compare in service. Even visually, Summit is more appealing as we traveled about the ship. However, when I find a longer itinerary on HAL we will likely give them another try because I don't think it's quite fair to compare the 2 experiences without a longer cruise in the mix.
It takes about 2 days to get "into the swing" of the cruise. And the last 2 days I anticipate its sad end. So a 7 day cruise only affords me about 3 days of total relaxation. A longer cruise gives us the opportunity to just revel in the absolutely joyous experience of cruising. I have never enjoyed being on the sea as much as I did these past 2 weeks.
We flew into LAX, rented a car and drove to Long Beach where we stayed at the Coast Hotel. We love the location; the hotel was clean and quite nice right on the water. The Queen Mary was within walking distance so that was a wonderful way to spend a part of Saturday. Finding the hotel was very difficult, but if we were to sail out of San Pedro again, I would stay here.
OVERALL OBSERVATIONS ~ CELEBRITY VS. HOLLAND AMERICA:
This cruise made Celebrity our #1 cruise line of choice. However, I've never done a 2 week cruise on HAL so this may not be a completely fair observation. But I can honestly say that other than some issues with a couple of shore excursions, there is absolutely nothing we didn't love about this cruise. We've cruised 15 times since the early '80s -- not a ton of experience. But we've cruised on Cunard, Regency, HAL, Celebrity, NCL, Royal Viking Line, Seawind Cruises and Windstar so we have a lot of compare.
First to compare the ships Oosterdam (sailed 11/04) and Summit -- personally I feel the design, layout and general architectural details are far superior on Summit. The outside elevators alone and so much more open and encompass superior views as you glide up and down. There are 4 of them vs. Oosterdam's 2 and glass practically all around.
I can't even compare the onboard shops. Oosterdam's were sparse and broken up in such a way that it reminded me of a maze. Summit has magnificent shops laid out similarly to walking down an avenue with two kiosks in the center where the merchandise is changed daily.
The cabin's appointments are far superior. The dressing table/desk on the Oosterdam also held a TV and had little cabinet space. The Summit's dressing table is much larger and more usable.
This was the most amazing cruise we've ever taken in every way.
We arrived at the pier by taxi around 11:15 a.m. If there was a short line, I don't even remember it. We were Concierge Class so had "priority" boarding, but it would have made no difference at all. We were on the ship by 11:30 and able drop our carry-ons in our stateroom. Our cabin attendant, Lorna, apologized that it wasn't "quite ready," but promised it would be within half an hour. We happily headed to the Waterfall Cafe for lunch.
We were in Concierge Class #6135 on Penthouse Deck (6th). As you may know, because 6135 is between 2 Royal Suites, the deck is considerably deeper than most CC class staterooms. There is plenty of room for 2 cushioned chaises and a small table plus 2 cushioned chairs and a round dining table.
This cabin is also about 20 sq. ft. larger, I think, than a standard verandah cabin. The "living" area seemed a lot roomier than our cabin on the Millennium which was midships on the same deck.
The closets are not great, but we were still able to somehow fit everything in. Unlike the HAL ships, there are 6 drawers and roomy shelf below the safe. But there is only one closet for hanging clothes for us. Luckily DH doesn't pack too heavy and there was room for all my "stuff."
I do prefer the verandah furnishings on the Oosterdam (wicker) -- this furniture was not as nice, but the size made up for it and the cushions helped. Had we stepped up to a Sky Suite, I think we would have had wood which was really very nice.
One thing I loved on the Summit was when you've ordered Room Service for Breakfast (CC gets the full menu); Lorna would always call me to say the tray was on its way. So much better than the knock on the door.
I did love the little "extras" we got in CC class -- the fresh fruit everyday, the 2 pillows each were heavenly. The comfort of the bed was heavenly and I loved the duvet. Have to admit it didn't quite measure up to HAL's beds, but was so far superior in every other way that I overlook that completely.
I'll use this opportunity to mention the Royal Suites. We had Cruise Critic friends who were lucky enough to grab one for a really great rate and they invited us for a party one night. This is an AWESOME suite with a huge verandah with hot tub, separate bedroom, dressing area and large bath. The living/dining area was beautifully furnished with luscious woods. They had large plasma screen TVs in both the bedroom and living room. I was sooooo jealous!
A word about the passengers as a whole. I would say the age range was definitely in the over 60 department. But there were many in their 40s and 50s and a few younger. We had (I think) 5 small children who were so well behaved I thought they might be robots. There were also many Europeans onboard. We were fortunate that the ship was not completely full with about 1900 passengers (Summit can actually hold up to almost 2300 when used to capacity).
Some of you might say "so old!!!" Sometimes someone might walk a bit slower than you might like, but everyone on this ship seemed to be having an equally wonderful time and I heard little or no complaining. Maybe I walked in a dream world, but I didn't hear it.
We had a really nice Roll Call before we left and we knew 40+ had signed up for the Celebrity Connections party. Several of us also decided to hook up at Sail Away at the Mast Bar. The person who began the roll call made wonderful nametags for us and we all gathered there in wonderful moods ready for a great cruise. San Pedro was unseasonably cold that day, but our hearts were sure warm!
We gathered the next day at Michael's Club for our party and what an amazing turnout! And what a fun, wonderful group with ages across the board from young to very old. But the very old guy just happened by! When I asked him what his CC name was, he said he just saw it was a party and decided to come on in!
John Howell, the most wonderful amazing CD on the face of the oceans, came to greet us. When we had to break up because another party was coming in, they promised us another party the 2nd week. They came through for us and that party was equally well attended and enjoyed.
Throughout the cruise, close bonds were made among several CC members and we really enjoyed getting together, sharing tours together and other activities. And because we had made contact on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas Roll Call before we left (knowing they'd be on a similar itinerary), we had fun shouting across the ships a couple of times ... especially as we made our way through the Panama Canal.
Early on, one CC'er suggested that on Sea Days anyone interested in eating in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant should meet outside at 12:30. We did this a few times and were particularly pleased when we invited John Howell to join us one day after our second party. He graciously accepted and I was fortunate to have him sitting next to me. He shared a lot of fun stories and information we wouldn't ordinarily have. I said it before and I'll say it again: John Howell is, without question, the best CD I've ever known. It almost seemed he was everywhere at once, always accessible and always there with a smile. He's raised the bar for me -- that's for sure.
Before dinner we would always go to the Rendezvous Lounge or Martini Bar for the Virgin drink of the day. If we wanted to watch the dancing, the Lounge was the place to be. But we really liked the Martini Bar and the Champagne Bar when we wanted to talk. We often didn't get to do this because the show was so frequently at 7:00.
We had Table #436 right in the center of the dining room beside the Ms Rotterdam statue. We could not have had a better table.
I thought the food was really good although I had much more beef than I would generally enjoy. I'm much fussier about food than many people are, but everyone else felt the food was really top notch. Personally I didn't like the potatoes except a couple of rare occasions, but the beef was amazing. Everyone who had fish said it was always wonderful as well ... even though we had never heard of any of the varieties they offered.
For us, it was our Waiter, Julio, and Asst. Waiter, Francisco, who really made our dining experience the best of a lifetime. Their service was beyond description. And this was where Celebrity shines so far above HAL which doesn't begin to compare. I still fault HAL management decisions for this, but Julio had 3 tables during Late Seating so he had the time to give us so much. Both Julio and Francisco were so happy, so willing to meet our every whim.
For our sitting, everyone seemed to adhere to the dress code throughout the week although I must admit it seems that "Informal" is a word not everyone quite "gets."
To top off this amazing experience, we also had the only Assistant Maitre D' who has ever bothered with us at all. From the very first night Celito (sp?) came to our table and spent time with us. He would fulfill any request or desire we might have. The extras that we got which included a magnificent array of cheeses and biscuits every single night were just fantastic.
The Normandie (Specialty Restaurant)
We only dined here once because we were invited by 4 other CC'ers to join them one night. I'm so glad we did because just the "show" is worth the $30/pp cover. We had an 8:00 pm reservation and we left the restaurant at 11:30. It was superb from start to finish.
Waterfall Cafe and Grill
Everything here was so good. The Pasta Bar (made to order) was exceptional and so fresh. The pizza was terrific. I especially loved the vegetable one. I like the HAL ice cream better, I have to say. But Celebrity has improved their burgers, etc., and these were absolutely amazing.
All the desserts here were so good. I also loved the Deli section with the "make your own but they'll do it for you" sandwiches. Which reminds me! The Belgian Waffles in this section in the morning (only until 10 so get yourself up there!) with strawberries in syrup and whipped cream all over them were beyond description. All the fruit (especially the cantaloupe) was wonderful as well.
The service overall was absolutely amazing. Everyone everywhere on the ship greeted us with a smile, a "hello" and a "good morning" or "good night." I never encountered anyone who did not deliver the epitome in service from the Concierge, to Guest Relations to Captain's Club and to Future Sales (and you can bet I was in there booking another cruise!).
Just that friendly "good morning" when we emerge from the midship elevators for breakfast is an added touch you don't soon forget.
If I'm going to criticize, it's the Shore Excursion desk. I realize it's a tough job, but there were not pleasant when all I asked for was a comment form to let them know about my shore excursion problem.
Lorna, our Stateroom Attendant, was always just outside my door with a greeting and a smile.
Amazing! From one night to the next, they never repeated one act. Each show was fantastic and fun. When I judge shipboard entertainment, I don't compare it to Broadway -- I compare it to other cruises we've been on.
We went to almost every show. And I loved that many nights they had the Late Seating Show at 7:00 so that we could enjoy other entertainment throughout the ship. It also gave us a chance to get to bed before 1:00 in the morning!
Some of the talent was beyond amazing. The Aerialists, Alex and Sally, were magnificent to watch. The featured singers, Travis and Denise Turpin were wonderful and just seemed to enjoy themselves every minute. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers were fantastic.
Noodles Levenstein was just plain funny, Antonio Salci (Pianist) was so good I bought his CD, Jack Walker's voice got better with every song and by the end of his show I was on the edge of my seat. I ran to be the first to buy his CD. There were many nights that these entertainers received and deserved a standing ovation.
Both DH and I agreed that it was the best entertainment we'd seen on any cruise.
"ACUPUNCTURE AT SEA"
If you've ever considered acupuncture and just haven't done it, this is a wonderful time to try it. They had several lectures explaining the process and I decided to bite the bullet and try it. I found it very helpful and plan to continue now that I'm back home.
The only service I used here was a manicure. Josh was the most amusing and amazing manicurist I've ever had and the hand ritual treatment was beyond anything I've experienced. I didn't every have a manicure before that includes massaging my neck and shoulders, but I'll take it!!!
SEA DAY ACTIVITIES (We had 7 of these!)
These were heaven! We're not big "activities" people so unfortunately I can't report on that very much. I do know there were a heck of a lot of people up on the pool deck having "Fun In The Sun". And I loved the "Sorbet Parade". Yummy!
SHIP'S PHOTOGRAPHERS AND PICTURES:
Loved that the photographers were not "in your face". They would ask if we wanted a picture taken. This made it a lot easier to find our pictures when we did want them because so many people declined. The cost has gone off the charts and the only one I purchased was our table picture. I'm glad I did because the one taken with my camera came out blurry.
But I don't know why they won't print up a simply 5x7 rather than attaching 2 wallet size and a 4x6 in order to jack the price to $19.95. We didn't bother with the "studio" shots either because those cost even more. In this world of digital photography, it's just not worth it.
The only thing I regret was not asking the photographers to come to the "Connections" parties so we could get a group Cruise Critic shot. I would have loved that and it would have been worth the $20. But I just never thought of it and no one else did either.
PORTS AND TOURS
Upon returning to the ship in every port, we were greeting with cold water, punches or lemonade and ice cold hand towels. These were soooo welcome in hotter ports and particularly while waiting for the tenders.
We had 2 days a sea (aaaaah sweet bliss as we relaxed into the journey of a lifetime) before arriving at Cabo San Lucas on Tuesday, 10/25. Sailing along the Baja in the early morning light is an awesome experience. Rounding Lands End, we dropped anchor the farthest from shore that you can without being the Pacific Ocean. Summit gets last dibs at every port from what we saw. I have no idea why. So it was a loooong tender ride into port. I hate tendering anyway.
Luckily for us, we had tours in both tendered ports so it was a piece of cake. I will say that the tenders on Summit are far better than HAL. They're more open, with more air flowing through and much lighter. So it was as good as it could be. We took a ship's tour in this port called:
"Land's End Boat Cruise & Beach Tour": If you want to giggle a bit, go to the Celebrity site and read their description of this tour focusing on the part about the "beach club." The boat portion of this tour was just as we expected and I have no complaint whatsoever. It was wonderfully enjoyable and I just wish they could have dropped us off at Lover's Beach and leave it at that.
Instead we were taken back to the port where we were herded like cattle toward a bus to take us to the "beach club." The problem here was there was a guy in the front with a sign who walked very fast and appeared to lose half of us (somehow we all ended up where we were supposed to be). We got on a very clean and pretty bus and were driven the short distance to the beach. This was mere moments from the pier and we could see our Summit anchored off shore (if we were smart enough to bring our binoculars with us). The RCI and Crystal ships were clearly visible.
But this is where the joke began for us. We walked down a very steep hill and were led onto a crowded beach there in the harbor. They had roped off a section where about 50 or so plastic lounge chairs had been place with a bunch of market umbrella. The chaises were so close together that the only way to sit on them was to stand at the foot of the chair and sort of fall backward hoping the other end would not pop up and kick you in the head.
The chairs were on such an angle that I basically went behind it and dug it deep into the sand just so I could sit on it without sliding off. We were told that the roped off section would keep the vendors from bothering us -- that they could only come over to us if "invited." Well, they were very good at making you feel guilty if you didn't "invite" them. On top of that, they pretty much blocked any view of the water. They were so sweet, actually, that is was hard to be angry but it certainly wasn't quite what we expected. We couldn't wait to get back on the bus and return to the ship.
After another day at sea we arrived Thursday in Acapulco which I was prepared to hate, but was pleasantly surprised. Here we had booked a tour called:
"Mayan Palace Beach Getaway": This was an excellent and wonderful tour. The Mayan Palace is a timeshare resort in the "future" section of Acapulco. As you may know, Acapulco is divided into the "old" section, the "new" section, and the "future" section. This is a magnificent resort like none I have ever seen. We spent the day sitting by the pool by the sea and had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant there. We spent 4 hours there and then returned to the ship. It was a wonderful day shared with some of our new Cruise Critic friends. All the guys bonded standing in the pool. When I've posted my pictures, you will see all of this and the pictures speak a thousand words.
On Friday we docked in Huatulco which is a charming and delightful town. I will say, however, that I had gone on this cruise prepared to by sterling silver in our Mexican ports. Forget that! I'm sure if I'd gotten out of the main part of town I could have done better, but I can find much nicer silver here in the states for at least half the price and I told the merchants that. When I saw a piece I liked for $250, the salesman said "let's talk." We talked, but when he realized I wanted something under $100, he led me to their souvenir table. I left empty handed.
We did not do a tour here because I'd been told you can easily walk about town and there's a wonderful beach right next to the pier. I found this difficult to believe, but they were right. It's a beautiful, clean, white sand beach and I enjoyed my time there. Huatulco is named for its nine beautiful bays and I would think seriously about returning to enjoy one of their resorts. They are trying to entice tourism there and I'd like to enjoy the beauty of the area before it becomes the next Acapulco.
After another wonderful sea day (did I mention that once we got away from the cold dampness of California our weather was magnificent throughout? -- well, a little misty on the Panama Canal, but that kept it cool) ... we arrived on Sunday, 10/30, at Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Here we had booked a tour called:
"Aerial Tram Pacific": We docked at the far end of the pier (of course) even though there was no other ship at the pier. They had a trolley with a "toot toot" engine that shuttled everyone to the flea market area. Sadly, I never got to enjoy shopping there since we were so late returning to the ship from our tour. Many people told me they did their very best shopping by the pier in Puntarenas.
The bus picked us up right by the ship and drove the 1 ½ hours + to the park in the mid-Pacific. I want to say first that the aerial tram portion of this tour was magnificent and so worthwhile. But the walking portion which we were told was "optional" seem to take up the better portion of the time allowed and quite truthfully I didn't come all the way to Costa Rica to see plants that were not even native to the area. They plopped them in the ground and put little signs on them. They also walked us ever so slowly to see various types of snakes being kept in glass cages along the path. I found this very upsetting. Here we are in the wild and these snakes are housed in little boxes just so we could stare at them in groups of 10 and 20.
Because there was a huge back-up at the tram, our guide would walk us about 5 steps and stop us to prattle on about something. I was terribly disappointed in this aspect of the tour, but all was forgiven after our wait for the tram because we really enjoyed our ride up above the canopy of the forest. Even the rain made it all seem that much more beautiful. I was particularly excited when I saw a Fiery Billed Aracari (variety of Toucan) which I pointed out to our guide! I even got a picture of "my" bird giving me a little wave.
So late returning to the ship all I had time for was a few quick shots of the sunset before we left this magnificent country.
At sea on Halloween with all sorts of shenanigans going on about the ship, we reached the entrance to the Panama Canal and the Bridge of the Americas early in the morning Tuesday, November 1st. We did not tour here because we wanted the experience of cruising "from sea to shining sea" -- the Pacific to the Atlantic. It was more amazing, magnificent and awesome than I ever could have imagined. Seven or eight years ago we did the "half way" portion of the canal through the Gatun Locks, into the Lake and out again. But that paled in comparison to the entire canal. Any of you who have done this cruise know what I mean. I had read and studied a great deal about it so it made the experience that much better. Along the way there was a lot of sharing with Radiance of the Seas as she passed through the canal with us.
Again, my pictures will tell a better story than I can.
Another day at sea and then we arrived at sunny, warm Aruba on Thursday, 11/3. Docked right in town, I shopped a little in the morning and then joined Rich and Sandy (Our Dream) for a beach day. One of the things that Celebrity does is give you huge beach towels in your cabin for your use throughout the cruise. When you bring them back, they give you a nice fresh new one. I like this so much better than grabbing 2 or 3 smaller towels on HAL.
At our second Cruise Critic party, John Howell had told us about a wonderful beach where it wouldn't be so crowded. It isn't even on the map. Since that conversation, John asked me not to publish the name so I won't. But if you're lucky enough to cruise with John, he just might tell you about it. It is a heavenly beach ... a hotel where we presumably were not supposed to be able to rent the thatched umbrellas and lounge chairs, but when we told them we were happy to pay, they were happy to accommodate us. We found a huge umbrella under which all 4 chaises fit. We were right by the water so could all easily swim without worrying about our things. The water felt like liquid silk and the color of the water was incredible to behold. Having come from the Pacific where we did not see waters like this, it was all that much more appreciated. We had a wonderful day there.
After 2 more days at sea, we arrived back home in Ft. Lauderdale -- a very sad day for me because as I have said before, this journey could not have been more fun, more enjoyable, more fulfilling or any better in any way.
CLOTHING AND ATTIRE
Couldn't come up with a name for this section, but did want to mention that DH after much thought did take advantage of Cruise line Formals. He has his own tux so was reluctant to pay $85 for this service. He did not regret it! First, it fit better than his own since they used his current measurements as opposed to those of several years ago when he was just a wee bit smaller.
But beyond that, the ease of having it delivered to the stateroom and leaving it there was worth every penny. The tux was quite stunning and he looked wonderful. When I post our pictures later on this thread, you'll see how nice it was. I highly recommend it.
I packed perfectly for dinner, but took way too many casual clothes. When you pack for a 2-week, remember to remove 1/3 of what you plan on taking -- maybe even more. If all else fails you can throw on a cover-up and pretend you're on the way to the pool.
On our 14 night cruise we enjoyed 8 Casual nights, 3 Informal and 3 Formal. This threw me a little because I thought it was 7 Casual nights, but luckily I had an Informal outfit that could pass for Casual.
We were told we would have "priority" disembarkation, but all this meant in the end was that we had a special lounge to wait where Danish and coffee were served. There were so many Europeans on this cruise who needed to fly from Miami that we could not disembark until 10:00. This was not a problem since we live in West Palm Beach and friends were meeting us.
The entire process was a "piece of cake." We went for breakfast at 8:15 and returned to our cabin. Lorna told us we could wait there, but at 9:30 we went to the Cinema so we would hear when "Red4" was called. Suddenly we felt we were in a James Bond film waiting for the code word "Red4!" Promptly at about 9:45 we were called and left the ship with no jamming, elbowing or anything. All the bags were organized in their color categories and while the line through customs appeared very long, we whisked through literally in minutes and were in our car and on our way by 10:15.
It's the people who made this journey so absolutely amazing. Many of them were fellow CC'ers and many we just met along the way.
You may think this rave review is just too good to be true. But this was 2 weeks of pure bliss. I'm not easy to impress and you should also know that the entire first week I was trying to reach someone back home in West Palm Beach, FL, to see if our house was still standing after Wilma. But despite that anxiety and the $200 spent on the internet trying to get news, I still managed to have on of the most wonderful times in my entire life.
I won't be forgetting any of it anytime soon and I hope the friendships we made onboard will last a lifetime. Read Less