Review of the Celebrity Summit - Eastern Caribbean March 5, 2004
Susan and I booked our winter vacation almost a year ago. We had been on the Constellation a couple of times and all the Century class ships in both Europe and the Caribbean, but had heard marvelous things about the Summit - and the itinerary looked just right - 10 days, including 2 sea days in the beginning and end. Another plus was that the cruise left from Fort Lauderdale - just a 2-½ hour flight for us. We originally booked 6131, one of Sky Suites with an oversize verandah. Then we were able to switch to 6146, one of two Sky Suites that adjoin the Penthouse Suites. This is a beautiful room, decorated just like the Penthouse Suites, slightly larger than the normal Sky Suites, also with a larger balcony - and a really great bathroom. Even though we had read some complaints on the boards about noise from the Penthouse, we decided it was too beautiful and special to pass up. We ended up thrilled with our decision. We had an absolutely great time with the added bonus of the best weather we have had on a cruise in the Caribbean in the past 4 years.
The review will be in four parts - 1) Pre-Cruise, 2) The Ship, 3) The Ports and 4) Post Cruise and Wrap-up. I hope you find the review helpful if you are considering a cruise on the Summit or one of the other great Celebrity Ships to the Caribbean.
We are pretty active on the boards, so we quickly registered for the Cruise Critic Party and found the specific cruise thread. The cruise thread was very active, but mostly with the same 15-20 folks. This is pretty typical. We were able to make some friends on the boards ahead of time, and arranged to be at the same dinner table - as well as make some other plans. This worked out great - and now that Celebrity lets you request dinner companions ahead of time, is something I am sure more and more cruisers will do in the future. We did some research on hotels and restaurants, since we were flying in a day early (always a good idea!), and decided to try Price line for the hotel. We weren't able to get one of the better hotels on the beach, unfortunately, and ended up at the Wyndham by the Airport. Because the hotel wasn't really near anything, we rented a car from Hertz for the day. We got a full size car for $40 and it did make it easier to run errands, meet up with the pre-cruise folks for cocktails - and would have allowed us to drive down to Hollywood Beach for dinner, had not the bridge gotten stuck!! When we do this again, we'll be a little more savvy on how to get one of the better hotels - but renting the car was a great idea - especially since Hertz had transport right to the ship the day of the cruise.
The Wyndham was fine for the price ($90 in high season). Check in was easy and our room was clean and the bed was pretty good. There were a couple large groups also using the hotel - I believe all booked through tour agents for one of the ships leaving the next day - but the hotel was not overly crowded. One guest complained that his room was dirty and he couldn't get ice - but we had no problems. We looked around the pool area, and it was nothing special, and since we didn't have much time the afternoon of the 4th, didn't hang out down there. We brought 3 special bottles of wine with us, but wanted to purchase a few more bottles for the ship, along with some rum for our flask.
Rosie from the boards (JNL Rose) had recommended a liquor store across from the Embassy Suites on 17th street, and her recommendation was right on. We found some very nice wines, well priced, and some good Tortuga Rum to help spice up our drinks. We had brought an extra piece of carry on luggage to bring it on board, and had no trouble. We then went to the Hyatt Pier 66 to meet some of our fellow cruisers for cocktails (this was arranged by Tommycruiser). It was a very pretty bar at the top of the hotel, and it rotates in a circle in about an hour. There is also a nice observation deck from where we saw a beautiful sunset. There were about 20 of us who met for cocktails and conversation and it very nice. Around 6 p.m. we stepped outside to the observation deck as others were leaving for dinner.
We met some great folks from Ireland there on vacation, and chatted about our upcoming end of summer trip to their great Island and watched the sunset. It was then time to drive down to Hollywood where we had dinner reservations at an Argentinean restaurant we found through Fodor's, right on the beach. Unfortunately, we never made it. As we left the hotel to turn east on 17th to back over the bridge traffic was stopped. After 20 minutes cars started turning around and coming back towards us the wrong way!! Finally, someone came down and said the bridge was stuck, and it could be an hour before it was fixed. We joined the convoy in illegal U turns and went back to the hotel and had a great dinner at their outdoor restaurant right on the water. Great conversation with our waiter from Philadelphia, a super martini or two and great veal made us quickly forget our original plans!! We'll get there next time!!!
Of course, 10 minutes after we sat down for dinner the bridge was fixed - and we later found out we could have turned the other way, gone down the coast road and crossed over another bridge a mile down the road - but not being from there, we wouldn't have known.
The next morning we slept in, re-packed our carry on bags and returned the rental car around 11:30. We were at the ship by 12 noon. Since we had E Tickets, we had to prepare our own luggage tags at the pier - but the porter was very helpful and we wound our way into the holding area. In the holding area there must have been about 300 folks already there waiting to board. But because we were both Select CC Members and in a suite, we got moved to the head of the line, and we were on the ship by 12:30. Very smooth embarkation.
The Summit is the third of the 4 M class ships, and it was almost an exact copy of the Constellation, which we have been on a couple of times. We liked the color scheme and art more on the Summit - a little more subdued and classy, we thought. Our suite - 6146 - was just as beautiful as we had seen before on the Constellation - especially the bathroom. The bath was all marble, with large double sinks, an extra large 2 person shower and a separate full size bath. The balcony already had two deck chairs with covers, 2 chairs and a small table. When we met our butler, Kenneth, we asked for a larger table so we could eat our breakfasts outside and one appeared later that afternoon. Drawer storage in the room is more than adequate but the closet is a tad small - especially for a 10 day cruise with 3 formal nights - but we did fine. We needed some items pressed right away for the first formal night which was the next day and the service was prompt and the prices reasonable.
I mentioned our butler was Kenneth from a Portuguese part of the Indian subcontinent. He was superb. He took the time to get to know us - always brought us 3 cappucinos in the morning - always asked if we wanted 1 or 2 in the late afternoon - and if we weren't in, always knew to leave us some cookies in our room. He arranged for wines to be delivered to our table for dinner, shined my shoes, got our cleaning back promptly, and set up a beautiful table each morning for breakfast. We ate outside 8 mornings and it was the perfect way to start our day. We had read on the boards where some butlers were late, or didn't set up the table with proper linens, but Kenneth did a great job with everything. If you are lucky enough to get Kenneth for your butler you will be treated royally. And say hi from us!
To be perfectly honest, we rarely saw our cabin steward(ess) and her assistant, but the room was kept sparkling clean. If we needed anything, though, including extra towels, it was Kenneth who was there to help us. The cabin stewards must love working the suites with active butlers - I'm sure they have a lot less to do.
Everything in the room worked like clockwork (unlike our Royal Suite on the Constellation last year which always seemed to need some repairs). The 19 inch TV comes with a DVD player, that can also play CD's for music. While not as grand as the plasma TV's in the Royal and Penthouse Suites, it was fine for us, since we didn't spend an inordinate amount of time in our suite. We usually watched a bit of CNN to catch up on the news and used the DVD player to listen to music. But if you book a suite and like to watch movies, feel free to bring some on board. They also have some you can borrow while on board - ask your butler for the current list.
You may need to ask for directions on how the lights and window shades/curtains operate as it is a rather unique button system. It took us until half the cruise to figure it all out.
There is a door adjoining the room to the Penthouse - and the Penthouse bedroom is just on the other side - so, yes, you can hear some noise. Our neighbors were relatively quiet, the only constant being that their wake up calls always seemed to come a half hour before ours, and since we could hear it, we were always awake a little earlier than we would have otherwise liked. It has been our experience that most of the cabins on M Class ships are very quiet, and it was only because of the adjoining door we heard anything at all.
We had second seating in the main restaurant. Because we changed our table from one of 12 near the center of deck 4 to a table for 6, we were in the back alcove on the starboard side. It turned out to be a great table - the two couples we had met earlier on the boards were super company and our waiter was the Great and Powerful Oz. Oz is from Istanbul, has been with Celebrity for 10 years, and his professionalism, polish and sense of humor were outstanding. He wasn't shy in recommending dishes (or not, as the case may be) and he was usually right on the money. He constantly teased Susan for never finishing everything, and another couple at our table who, no matter how great the regular desserts were, always ordered Sherbet. One day they asked, as usual, what the sherbet of the day was and he answered cooley and objectively, "Garlic", and proceeded to write down the order. He was kidding of course, and after that, each night we would try and come up with some outrageous sherbet they could be offering (Brussel Sprout sherbet, anyone?).
The food was excellent - much better than our last cruise on the Connie. The beef was tender and always cooked to order, the fish was not fishy and the duck and veal were sublime. The lamb chops were exquisite. Overall, these were probably the best entrees we have had on a Celebrity Cruise. The only disappointment was the cold soups - which are usually out of this world. For some reason they were very watery - and not very cold. Also, the lobster was so-so. Still, the salads were fresh - crisp lettuce every night, and the hot appetizers were scrumptious. The few desserts I did have were worth the calories!
We ate at the Normandie specialty restaurant twice - on the first Sunday with our regular tablemates, and then later in the week on Thursday just the two of us. The food was great - some dishes clearly unique and different than the regular restaurant, and the service, if a bit slow, was still way over the top. On a longer cruise, eating there twice was a nice break and clearly worth the money. On a shorter cruise, I would do it only once.
We rarely ate at the cafeteria on 10 - just not our style, but the few sea days we did the food was fresh and service fine. A great place to eat lunch is on the back of the ship. The grill made adequate burgers - although the wait for 10 minute turkey burger did shine brightly. Later in the day, the sushi bar was also quite good, and very popular. Our friends spoke highly of the healthy food served in the Thelossatherapy pool area, but the strong smell of chlorine in that part of the ship kept us away. There is always somewhere on the ship to get food now, unlike the old days when you would come back from an excursion at 3 or 4 and have nothing. This is a real improvement!! Overall, I'd give the food an A-.
Susan used the spa a couple of times and said they were very nice and helpful. For the last formal night, she went in to have her nails done - and after the evening was over, a couple needed to be re-done. The spa did them again for her the next day, gratis. The workout room - like the Connie, is at the front of the ship, with plenty of equipment and great views. I used it twice and had no waiting, although it was pretty busy.
Because the weather was so pleasant most of the time, the pool area was pretty crowded on the sea days from about 8 a.m. on. Still, we never had a problem finding a place to hang out - usually on deck 11 (although it did get a bit windy up there). Of course, we always had our balcony - which got plenty of sun - even with the overhang. We actually liked the overhang since we could also get some nice shade during the day.
We were regulars at the Champagne/Martini bar every evening before dinner. Our cocktail waitress was the lovely Emma from New Zealand. She made wicked martinis and cosmos - and, per my special request, made plenty of blue cheese olives for the whole cruise. I helped get one of our new ship-made friends hooked on em!! The duo in the Rendez-Vous Lounge were pretty lame, and seemed to repeat the same set night after night. Still, there were always plenty of dancers, so clearly some folks enjoyed them. We went to the disco a couple of times - and the DJ seemed pretty accommodating and the place was really hopping - especially for a Celebrity Cruise. A couple of our tablemates were excellent latin dancers, and the DJ would always plays one or two pieces from their own CD's for them to dance to after dinner.
As for the rest of the ship's entertainment - we didn't take in any of the shows. Our tablemates felt the comedy was pretty lame but the musical shows were pretty good. The harp player and pianists we heard on board were very good, but the string quartet made everything sound like a dirge. The guitar quartet in the Normandie was excellent and the guitarist who played happy hour on the back of the ship was also very good. The only time we went to Michael's was for the Cruise Critic party on the second sea day, but I heard it was pretty empty most nights. There were a number of cigar smokers on this cruise - and they pretty much hung out at the back of the ship, but I'm sure they would have appreciated Michael's being converted back to a cigar bar.
Our overall impression of the Summit was that it was absolutely tops in service, and the most elegant Celebrity ship afloat. While on board we booked next years trip - this time we will do the Western Caribbean in 11 days in February - with the added bonus that we get the same suite, and $400 in credits ($200 for booking on board and $200 for being stockholders and booking prior to March 31). By the way, if you are planning a future cruise, always try to book it on board, and do it early before it gets crowded.
We went to St. Maarten/St. Martin; St. Lucia; Barbados; St. Kitts and St. Thomas, in that order.
In St. Martin, one of our cruise critic friends, tablemates and, as it turned out, next door neighbors (6144, not the Penthouse) rented a car and we went with them on a drive around this relatively small and desert-like island. We spent most of the morning in Marigot - the capital of the French side. They had some very nice shops, but the prices were not all that great. We had a marvelous lunch and then drove further around the island to Orient Beach. For a few bucks, we got some nice chairs and a rum drink and soaked in the sun and the sights. Yes it is a clothing optional beach, and yes, most people should think twice before choosing to go without clothes.
The water was warm, and swimming was good, but didn't try to snorkel. We then drove back to Phillipsburg and parked in town and did some more serious shopping. Better shopping here, especially for clothes, jewellery, tobacco and liquor. Our friends were more active than us, but it was fun to look. We then had to return the car and they hit us up for an outrageous extra charge for gas (I think we only used an 1/8 of a tank - it's a very small island). If you want to rent a car there, my recommendation is to wait until you land, negotiate the best price you can among the 3 or 4 rental agencies near the ship, and make sure you put gas in before you return it. Overall, a fun if somewhat expensive day.
St. Lucia was second. We booked our only ship's excursion here, as we wanted to see the Pitons and get in some snorkeling, and the best way to do it without an arduous bus trip was on a half day catamaran sail. It was beautiful and tons of fun. I only wish we had more than 25 minutes for snorkeling, as it was really clear and there were lots of fish. St. Lucia is one of the most scenic islands - very lush, partly because they get lots of rain - and we did get some for about an hour right after we snorkeled. Who cared - we were already wet, and enjoying the rum punch immensely!! The excursion was $58 per person and well worth it. After lunch on the ship, we walked around the shopping area near the ship and spent a relaxing afternoon aboard. We'd love to spend more time here.
Our next stop was Barbados. After a walk through town we caught a cab and went to Malibu Beach, which is pretty close to town and where the ships dock. It was very crowded, but we found a nice shady spot under a banyan tree, got pleasantly buzzed with Pina Coladas spiked from our stash, and got wet when it got too warm. Also a mid day shower here, but not as strong as on St. Lucia. We weren't interested in a tour of the rum distillery and the food didn't look all that great so we headed back to the ship around 1 for a light lunch and nap. A pleasant beach day, and not very expensive.
The next day we docked at St. Kitts and with our shipboard friends, shared a cab to Turtle Beach, which is a good drive away ($8 per person each way). Free chairs and a beautiful beach including some wonderful snorkeling and views of Nevis. But watch the drink and lunch charges which are very high. We did have some interesting entertainment from someone pet hog, who woke up after lunch and proceeded to try to undress one of our shipmates, then rummaged through another one's bag to gorge on a banana or two and almost ate this gentleman's Rolex, until the unafraid Paula (one of our tablemates and neighbors) saved the day by distracting the pig and snaring the expensive would be lunch before the hog could swallow it. We lunched during the mid day shower here, and the water and snorkeling were particularly good after lunch. At 2:30 our intrepid taxi driver, the 6'5" Socrates, picked us up, played us his homemade CD's cut on Trinidad the previous year and dropped us off in town for a bit of shopping. Found some nice clothing here for both of us - some of it made locally, and pretty good quality. The town was very clean, the people very friendly, and St. Kitts remains one of our favorite islands. Not an inexpensive day, but mostly because of the lunch and shopping.
Our last stop was the intrepid St. Thomas. Here, we had booked a private excursion with Sharon of the Winifred. We taxied over to Red Hook (also $8 per person) and met Sharon and her first mate and the 2 other couples for our sailing and snorkeling adventure. On the plus side, it was a gorgeous day, and the sailing was superb. The negative was the guided snorkeling trip off of Caneel Bay in St. Johns was an unmitigated disaster for me when our guide, the aforementioned first mate, left me behind. Here I am one minute trying to get used to their annoying fins, and following some fish and trying to enjoy myself - and the next thing I know, I raise my head and there isn't a soul around. I had somehow started heading towards the beach while the rest of the group headed in a 90 degree angle towards some distant rocks. Also, I am pretty blind in the water (can't wear my glasses - and though I can see pretty good through my mask in the water, am blind as a bat above water) and when I looked around to at least try and spot the boat, there were a number of them parked off shore and I wasn't sure which one was ours. After some loud yelling on my part, one of our group heard me, and waived her orange floatie in the air and I started heading in that way. Fifteen minutes later I caught up with her, but we were now 5 to 10 minutes behind the rest of the group so we swam hard to catch up to them. At that point our leader came up to me and asked me if I was alright. It took a lot of patience for me to not belt him one.
Anyway, 10 minutes later we were pretty much where I had been 40 minutes earlier, and I got fed up with the fins, and swam to shore (beautiful beach areas there - drop dead gorgeous) where I ditched the fins and did some great snorkeling near some rocks. Finally, everyone seemed to be heading back towards one of the ships, and Susan, thank God, stayed behind and the two of us made it safely back to the ship (Susan was using a flotie so could carry my fins back with her - since they were the ship's and not ours -we had our own masks etc.). Then we had our "gourmet" lunch, which was a small piece of chicken and a salad, and some rum punch, and we sailed back to Red Hook. Nice sailing. Still, I cannot recommend this trip. It is overpriced at $110 per person plus recommended tip for the ubiquitous first mate, so do yourself a favor, and if you want to go snorkeling on St. John, do it yourself.
When we got back to port, did our typical last minute booze shopping (since the prices are good and you can take back more from here than other islands), and got ready to enjoy our last two sea days.
In summary - we loved St. Lucia and St. Kitts, and can see ourselves spending more time on both of those islands. The other stops were also fun, but those two were the most special.
We had a relatively early flight back at 11:25 a.m. and were beige 2 for disembarkation. The various colors were given different times to meet in different areas of the ship - ours was in Michael's Club at 8:30. At 8:45 the cruise director came in and informed us we could leave the ship - and our color and the whites (wherever they were) were first off the ship. We had our luggage at 9, were in a taxi by 9:15 and having a Starbucks coffee at the airport by 9:30. We had read some horror stories on the boards about disembarking in Ft. Lauderdale, but ours was very easy. We had arranged our own air, and there were very few taxis - so, we do recommend if you are doing it on your own, to try to get off early so as to avoid a long wait for a taxi. Still, can't beat the airport being 10 minutes away - overall, a piece of cake.
We made some great friends on the cruise - from England, Dallas, Northern California and Minnesota - and had incredible service from our butler, Kenneth, waiter, Oz and cocktail waitress Emma. We can't wait to be on the Summit again next winter!! Jeff Taxier Read Less