This was my second cruise, the first being a 4-night RCCL sail to Key West and Cozumel with my sister in August 2003. It was the first for my husband, and it was our honeymoon. Overall, we had a wonderful time, and thoroughly enjoyed our vacation. We did, however, experience some disappointments that I'll mention below.
GETTING THERE & EMBARKATION -- We flew into Anchorage on Thursday, and awoke bright and early (New Jersey time) on Friday morning. After an early breakfast at the Sheraton, we walked around Anchorage for awhile. Since nothing was open, we went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and caught a lift to the Egan Center from the bellman. The line to check in was about 15 minutes long, and we were relieved of our baggage. We had about 2 hours to kill, which we spent in the galleries of Anchorage, buying our first souvenirs.
Our departure for the train station was delayed somewhat, but we were eventually on our way. The train ride was beautiful, and a wonderful welcome to Alaska. It took almost 5 hours to get there, however, and due to the aforementioned jet lag I was a little sleepy.
When we got to the cruise ship terminal in Seward, we were promptly greeted with an official letter informing us that there was a mechanical problem with the ship, and therefore we would be arriving in Juneau and Ketchikan several hours late. (They did, however, offer us a free happy hour on one of the days, as an apology.) I immediately panicked, realizing that we had a heli-hiking excursion planned in Juneau with Northstar that we were in danger of missing. Never fear, once we had gotten to our stateroom, I called on my cell phone, and the nice woman at Northstar said "We've been waiting for you to call!" They had already gotten a call from the Summit and had automatically rescheduled us.
STATEROOM -- The stateroom was quite nice. We had ample room, and enjoyed our balcony, despite the chilly weather. In Ketchikan, it was nice enough to sit outside and enough the evening air. Overall, I thought the room was a step above RCCL's Enchantment of the Seas, and I particularly enjoyed the robes.
Our stateroom attendant was another story. We didn't even see him for the first 24 hours on the ship, and throughout the cruise his service was inattentive and disappointing. At times, I had to call Guest Relations to request service on the room (i.e. getting the bed made). He was full of excuses and reasons why he couldn't do the things that we perceived to be his responsibility, and made us feel guilty for asking for the most simple things like more ice when we ran out.
FACILITIES -- The ship itself was very nice, and we loved all the contemporary artwork on display. We rarely felt crowded; even though there were plenty of people on the ship we always seemed to be able to find a spot to sit, drink, etc.
The spa was quite nice, and my husband enjoyed a massage on each at-sea day. I got a pedicure on the first day, which was lovely, but I must mention that the salon does not have driers, so it took a long time for my toes to dry! Not a problem in a warm weather destination, but I really wanted to put my shoes back on and I ended up smudging a big toe.
I avoided the spacious, nice-looking gym like the plague, but did take a Pilates class that was so-so. (I do Pilates 2X week at home, and it was clearly for newbies.) My expectations were low, however, so it was not a letdown.
DINING -- We were excited for the Celebrity dining experience, given what we had heard in advance about Celebrity's cuisine. Unfortunately, we were somewhat disappointed in this respect. (A caveat: as New Yorkers, we consider ourselves to be pretty sophisticated diners, and picky ones at that. The French Laundry in Napa is our gold standard, and it's hard to measure up to that.)
We had breakfast each day in the Windjammer Cafe, which is the traditional breakfast buffet. We were pleased to see that it was almost always easy to find a table, and the staff was always available to carry a tray or pour more coffee. In general, I thought the breakfasts were very good, and we particularly liked the waffles made to order and the pain-au-chocolate available from the bakery. DH was disappointed by the bacon (too soggy), but he is really picky about bacon.
We also had lunch each day in the Windjammer, and by about the third day we were really sick of the lunch options. There were always hot entrees, salads, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, etc. available, but for some reason the food itself just didn't look or taste that good. A couple of times I got a veggie burger from the pool grill, which was good. But overall, we were disappointed by the lunch options. A few times I felt like I really couldn't find anything to eat. The ice cream, however, was always delicious.
Due to the wacky port schedule, we only ate dinner at our assigned seating (early) three times at the main restaurant. However, our waiter was great, and the food was decent -- not terrific, but certainly passable and sometimes very good. As a vegetarian who sometimes eats fish, I was able to find plenty of options on the menu. My husband is a real meat eater, however, and he had some trouble getting meat cooked properly (i.e. medium well came back medium rare, etc.) Again, he is picky, but it's worth noting.
We also ate one night in the Normandie, the Summit's specialty (read: costs extra) restaurant. It happened to be the night we were in Juneau, and they extended our port time to midnight, so for that reason, perhaps, the restaurant was almost empty. We greatly enjoyed both the meal and the wine, and recommend it to others traveling on the Summit.
ENTERTAINMENT -- We didn't really do much of the shows, although one night we WERE the entertainment when we were contestants in the Newlywed/Not-so-Newlywed Game. I'm pleased to report, we won! Since we were already awake, we went to the comedy show at midnight, which was terrific. Other than that, the shows didn't interest us, and we were jet lagged anyway.
PORTS -- We loved this itinerary, despite the delays, and feel like it gave us a good taste of Alaska.
Hubbard Glacier: Not really a port, but worth mentioning how great it was to get so close to such a huge glacier. We arrived quite late, just in time for the early dinner seating. It was a disappointment, because earlier in the day, Jessica, the social hostess, had invited us to sit at the Captain's table. However, we really didn't want to miss the glacier, so when it because clear that we would miss dinner (around 5:30 or so) we called her to politely decline. She seemed a little rude, but I got over it quickly because the glacier was terrific. Be sure to bundle up for this one, it got cold quickly.
Juneau: As it turns out, we didn't get into Juneau until just after 2 p.m., so we had already rescheduled our heli-hike twice. We walked to the State Museum, which is worth visiting if you don't want to shop and want to learn a little about Alaska's history and people. At 4 PM, we went to the Red Dog to wait for Northstar to pick us up for our now very late heli-hike. By 4:30, they still hadn't arrived, so we used a pay phone to call -- turns out that the weather was so bad that we couldn't go. Huge disappointment, but Northstar handled it well, and I wouldn't hesitate to book with them if we ever went back. It was getting late, but I still wanted to do something before our 7:30 Normandie reservation, so we caught the last shuttle out to the Mendenhall Glacier. I would definitely recommend this, and wish we had more than the 30 minutes before the last ride back to explore this area.
Skagway: In Skagway, we took the White Pass Railroad up, which was breathtaking, and a must-do for visitors to this port. To get back down, I had the brilliant idea of taking the "bike down" excursion. My husband and I are 42 and 30, respectively, and we bike for fun on the weekends, so I figured this excursion would be no problem. However, I underestimated my dislike for rapid descent. While I was picturing a leisurely bike down with many stops for pictures, the guides told us that they expected us to maintain a consistent speed of 15 to 20 MPH, and not to look anywhere except right ahead of our bike. So much for leisure! I quit halfway down because I was definitely the slowest in the bunch and just wasn't enjoying it.
Icy Strait Point: We really loved this port, and highly recommend it to others. We started with the whale watching excursion. It was a big boat, so even the 200 people on board didn't make it feel crowded, and we never had to struggle to see on the 2nd floor outside deck. And boy did we see a lot! There were humpbacks everywhere you looked; it was definitely the most memorable part of the trip. (The expert guide did mention that the number of whales we saw was over the norm.) The port itself is tiny and brand new, and feels somewhat Disney-fied to me, as if any moment we might see Mickey and Donald in salmon-fishing outfits, manning the cannery. But the exhibit on the cannery was interesting, and we would have loved to have more time to explore the trails around the area. Given the short port time and the amount of things to do, one probably doesn't even need an excursion in this port.
Ketchikan: We didn't have an excursion planned for Ketchikan, so we decided to just wing it, which turned out to be a good idea, given that we didn't arrive until around 11 a.m. or so. We ended up renting bikes from the Lumberjack Show, and biking out to the Totem Pole park. Word to the wise: the Lumberjack show closed at 3:30 that day, so we had to have our bikes back by then. So, we only had a quick 1-hour ride. The rest of the time we shopped for gifts for family and so on. Disappointingly, however, most of the shops were closing at around 6, so despite our extended port time (due to late arrival) at a certain point there was nothing open so we just got back on the ship.
All in all, it was a wonderful vacation and we really enjoyed our time on the Summit. However, when planning our next cruise, I do think that we will explore other cruise lines as well to determine if there is another line that might take service and cuisine to the next level.