I was on the "ill-fated" Summit cruise that was affected by pod issues, resulting in two missed ports and various other "problems" including only a distant view of the Hubbard Glacier and a late (night-time) sail through the inside passage. While these issues were disappointing, they were not enough to significantly hamper my enjoyment of the trip. More troubling (to me, at least) was the pervasive negativity of a large group of disgruntled passengers who met frequently and publicly to complain about the situation and discuss possible courses of action. Still, I found the ship, the trip, and the entire experience to be quite good to excellent.
Just as some background, I'm a 37-year-old guy traveling with my 64-year-old father. I have cruised twice before (both times on Carnival), and my dad has cruised twice before, (once on Cunard many years ago, and more recently on Princess). I think that both of us are relatively easy to please, although we are certainly not lacking in all standards...
EMBARKATION - We showed up way earlier than we had been told to, and the ship had arrived a bit late from Hawaii, which led to some waiting. Interestingly enough, the very first people I spoke to while waiting happened to be from our roll call! So already, before even boarding, I had some Cruise Critic friends! We waited outside for about an hour, then were allowed inside to do our paperwork. This step took no time at all. We then were handed "A" cards (first group to board) and asked to wait in a seating area. This wait turned out to be quite long (at least 45 minutes). Because the line kept moving and more people (group B, group C) came over to the seating area, all the chairs were soon full and there was barely room to stand. Finally, they allowed group A to make their way onto the ship. If they hadnt been ready (or close to ready) to allow people onto the ship, I think it would have been better to keep them outside... We got our picture taken and then proceeded up an escalator to make our way onto the ship. Shortly after we got up there, we heard a commotion behind us. We couldn't see what had happened, but it turns out that people kept boarding the escalator even though there was no room at the top to clear away, and a pile-up with some injuries resulted. I never did learn how serious these injuries were, but I hope a lesson is learned and that security guards (from the port, I would think, rather than from Celebrity) are placed at this escalator.
We entered the ship, I got a mimosa, but we were told that we couldn't go to the room yet. I would have loved to have at least dropped off my carry-on, but I didn't want to inconvenience the room steward, so I waited. We went to the spa first to purchase Persian Garden passes (as I thought - incorrectly - that there were only a limited number available at the $99 rate). We then went to the excursions desk to book a tour that hadn't been available online. Next was the Normandie, where we reserved a dinner for later in the week, and finally, the computer lab where I signed up for a class and my father signed up for a package plan of internet minutes. In a very short time, we had spent an AWFUL lot of money!!! We then went to the Buffet for lunch (which was just average -- more on that later).
CABIN - After lunch we made our room down to our room, Aft corner FV #7199. Well, I had been told that this was a great room, but I wasn't really prepared for how great it would be. It is really a suite with two completely separate rooms as well as an ENORMOUS balcony. My dad and I were going to have two twin beds, but after seeing the room, he decided that he would be happier sleeping on the fold-out couch in the sitting room with me in the queen bed in the bedroom. Fine by me!!! The room was very smartly designed, making it even roomier than it would otherwise have been. There was an abundance of counter space, drawer space, and closet space. I had been concerned about having room for all the stuff I had packed for a 13-day Alaskan cruise, but it was no problem at all. Even the tiny bathroom was functional. My only problems there were the fact that you had to lower the toilet lid to flush (what a stupid design, but that was the case throughout the ship) and the fact that the temperature in the shower was very difficult to regulate (either scaldingly hot or a bit too cold with very little middle ground). I wouldn't say that the decor of the room was fantastic. It was fine, clean and everything was in reasonably good shape, but it clearly hadn't been decorated with the highest of standards. That was fine with me, but I expected Celebrity (with all of the hype) to be better than Carnival in this regard. Instead, it was pretty even between the two lines (and I haven't sailed with Carnival since they upgraded the bedding).
My cabin steward was Elizabeth and she was EXCELLENT. She wasnt the most warm and fuzzy cabin steward I have seen, but she had a great personality and a nice sense of humor. She far exceeded our needs and expectations.
SAIL AWAY After a very easy and uneventful muster drill, I got to enjoy the sail away with a group of Cruise Critic folks from the roll call on the 10th floor aft deck. It was a beautiful afternoon, and aside from a blowing flag that was determined to attack us, it couldnt have been more lovely. I was very glad to meet some of these people here (and again at the CC party the next morning), but with a couple of exceptions (notably, my T-Pool buddy Carol), I didnt get to hang out much with these people over the course of the cruise. Next time, I hope.
DINING ROOM At our first late-seating dinner, we were taken to our table, and I have to admit, I was not pleased. Our table was close to the entrance of the Cosmopolitan on deck 5, and you couldnt even see most of the beautiful room. I would have MUCH preferred to have been seated more aft in the main part of the restaurant. Moreover, we were at a 6-person table, and I would have preferred a bigger one, as I really enjoy meeting my tablemates. The four tablemates we had seemed perfectly nice, but quiet. They all spoke English fine, but it wasnt a first language for any of them. I dont think we had much in common. I considered asking to switch tables, but I didnt want to hurt anybodys feelings. As it turned out, I grew to really like our tablemates a lot, and I wasnt disappointed that we had decided to stay. From the beginning, I really liked our waiter and assistant waiter. Our waiter was quite formal and stern, but the assistant was a big clown and VERY funny (although still extremely good at his job). It made for a good mix. The food selection was extremely good. I eat seafood, but no other meat, and I wasnt sure how many choices I would have. As it turns out, when I added the vegetarian menu to the regular menu, I nearly always had two or more choices I could eat per course. The food quality was mixed, although certainly much better than what I normally eat. Some courses were fantastic. Others were just good. I dont think I had more than one or two dishes over the entire cruise that I DISliked, so that was pretty good. My main comment for the dining room would be that I would have preferred to have SMALLER portions. I was usually getting full during the salad course, stuffed beyond capacity by the entrEe, and forced to skip dessert because there was just no room. With smaller portions, I could have eaten all five courses without feeling TOO stuffed. If others wanted more food than offered in the smaller portions, they could always order more than one of any given course& I also think this would cut back on waste. I find a great deal of waste to be downright IMMORAL, and I was distressed to see just how much food leaves the table uneaten (and thats not even considering how much is probably wasted behind the scenes).
NORMANDIE ROOM We dined here twice, and Im really glad we did it. The room is beautiful and the service is the best Ive ever experienced. The selection (for me, at least, given my limitations) was trickier. There were a number of appetizers that appealed to me, but not a lot of entrees. I think I exhausted them in my two visits, and would have had to repeat if we had gone back. I wonder if I had asked for a second appetizer instead of an entrEe, if that would have been acceptable? Given the size of the appetizers, it would have definitely been enough food& As for the quality of the food, I enjoyed it, but it was definitely not the best food I have ever had. I was disappointed by the goat cheese soufflE. Based on the word soufflE, I expected something light and airy with some kind of bread-like characteristics. Instead, it was very dense and custard-like. It was quite tasty, but I was expecting it to be the be-all-and-end-all the way I have heard it described. Other dishes were very good, but I wouldnt say great. My father would disagree. He ordered the same thing both times we went (foie gras and Dover sole), and said it was the best he had ever had. My favorite part was the cheese course. Im not a big cheese fan, and I simply let the cheese steward choose for me, and I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the variety. Bravo!
SPA CAFÉ This was one of my favorite places on board to eat. The food here (particularly the desserts) was quite yummy. Once again, portion size was too big, especially since they are trying to be light and healthy. I do think the set-up here was bad. There is just a narrow walkway between the serving area and the drink station. It often ended up congested as patrons getting food, getting drinks, waiters, and even just folks trying to cross to the other side of the T-Pool area jammed it up. If they ever re-design, they should move the drink area&
BUFFET I thought this was the worst food venue on board. Neither the selection nor the quality was particularly great, and the traffic flow was AWFUL (due largely to the waiters who were there to help people carry their trays). If people need to have their trays carried, they should hand them over promptly and GET OUT OF THE WAY. Instead, we ended up with crowds of people and waiters standing around waiting to move (should I get that extra roll?) oblivious to how much they were in the way!
PASTA/PIZZA/DELI/WAFFLE/SUSHI/ICE CREAM STATIONS I really appreciated this variety, and it was nice to know that there would always be something good to eat. I availed myself mostly of the sushi (basic, but pretty good quality), but when the mood struck, it was nice to get pasta made to order, etc.
CASUAL DINING Never did it, so I cannot report.
COVA CAFÉ PASTRIES I DID avail myself of several almond croissants. Yum! OTHER SHIP FEATURES:
GYM/SPA/T-POOL I spent a great deal of time in this part of the ship. I think they do a great job of utilizing the space to keep it functional and pleasant. The gym was busier than I expected, but at most times of day, it was very adequate for everybody. It was well laid out and very nice. I wasnt that thrilled with the Persian Garden, as it was kind of dull (although pleasant enough). It was almost always empty, so there was nobody to talk to, and it was too dark and moist except in the outer room to read or do anything else. If it were free, Id avail myself again, but I dont think Id pay for it. I would simply settle for the free sauna in the changing room, which was quite nice with a window out to the ocean. The locker room itself, though, was not maintained often enough. There were always wet floors and towels strewn about. The guests should clean up after themselves, but absent that, there should be cleaning staff checking in REGULARLY. I had two spa treatments (a facial and a seaweed wrap), and neither one was beyond serviceable. I have gotten facials at a number of spas, and this one did not compare favorably. I hadnt really understood what a Thallasotherapy Pool was before I experienced it, but it was actually really nice. I would prefer fresh water to salt, but the added buoyancy was interesting. The hot tubs here were nice, but Im not sure why there was so much sand in them. The area around the T-Pool was a great place to relax with a book or a friend&
CASINO I spent an inordinate amount of time here! I had horrible luck, but the dealers were SO nice (especially Helen) that they made losing money much easier to swallow! I dont play slots/video poker, so I cant really comment there. There were 4 blackjack tables 1 regular, 1 single deck, 1 non-smoking, and 1 higher limit (usually $10/hand), although they werent all open most of the time. There were also 2 Three-Card Poker tables, a Caribbean Stud table, 2 Roulette tables, and a craps table. I actually feel that they should have had MORE Blackjack tables. The Caribbean Stud table was almost always empty (if it was even open), the second Three-Card Poker table wasnt open EVER on the whole cruise (as far as I can remember). Even the second Roulette table rarely got any play. The blackjack tables, especially the sole regular table ($5, multiple-deck, smoking allowed) were FAR AND AWAY the most popular tables when they were open.
COMPUTER LAB It was really nice to be able to use their computers FREE to upload and organize photos. The interior computer room where they held classes was fine, and the instructors there were very helpful. The 24-hour computer room with windows overlooking the sea was GREAT.
CINEMA It was a great, comfortable room. Unfortunately, I didnt make it to any movies, but I did attend one lecture here.
CELEBRITY THEATRE It is an EXCELLENT space. I saw several of the shows here, as well as a few enrichment lectures. I almost always sat towards the front, but I think that all of the seats were pretty good.
SHOPPING EMPORIUM I was not impressed with this area (although Im not much of a shopper, and Im clearly not the one they are designing it for. I just found it confusing. The different stores are not clearly defined nor labeled. At one point, I wanted to buy some Chapstick. I had NO IDEA which store would have it there wasnt one that was called Gifts and Sundries, for example. Eventually, I found it in the duty-free liquor store behind a display of Scotch. Right! That makes sense!
ATRIUM AREA (INCLUDING COVA CAFÉ, GAME & CARD AREAS, ETC.) This was a lovely part of the ship, but not one I utilized often (with the exception of the computer room). Part of the reason for this was that it was the preferred meeting area of the disgruntled passengers, so I tried to stay far away.
LIDO DECK/SPORTS DECK This, too, was a nice part of the ship that I never used because it was Alaska in May. On a Hawaiian or a Panama Canal itinerary, Im sure Id be there all the time!
CONSERVATORY I completely dont get this space. They advertise it like its such a great feature, but WHAT PURPOSE DOES IT SERVE?! Its not a place that guests can hang out or anything there is basically no furniture. The two times I went up there, there was NOBODY THERE. Im confused&
BARS & LOUNGES My favorite one as far as the appeal of the room was THE BAR AT THE EDGE OF THE EARTH. I thought it was slightly over-the-top but still fun and beautiful. I sometimes went up to the beds at the front of the room overlooking the bow with a cup of coffee and a book and just relaxed there in the mornings. My favorite bar to DRINK was the Martini Bar. I have to admit, Im not a big drinker, and I maybe had 7 or 8 cocktails over the course of the 13-day cruise, but after I discovered the Martini Delight, that was the ONLY drink I had from then on&
ENTERTAINMENT I probably went to about half of the main shows. I would have gone to more, but too much of the time, they scheduled the show for late-seating guests for 7:00 (BEFORE dinner). Well, the reason I prefer late-seating is because I dont want to have to rush to get ready for dinner, and I CERTAINLY dont want to have to rush because of a show& I much preferred the nights when the shows were after dinner. To me, the taste of Cirque du Soleil was the best show. The production shows were mixed. The singers were quite talented, but not tremendously appealing or exciting. The dancers were just okay rarely was the whole group in synch, and its not like they were doing such difficult dances! My favorite element of these shows was the aerialist team of Rebecca and Phillippe (and I doubt I am alone in that assessment). The stunts they do are so gorgeous and unbelievable that they took my breath away every time I saw them. Whatever Celebrity is paying them, it is NOT ENOUGH. I didnt see any of the musicians or comedians.
ACTIVITIES I didnt really participate in any of the trivia games/crafts/etc. Its just not my style. Fortunately, there were always other things I wanted to do.
ENRICHMENT SERIES I made it a point to attend 4 out of the 5 lectures given by Nature Lady Leneh Trowbridge. It would have been all 5, but the first one conflicted with my Cruise Critic party I caught it later on TV. This was a real highlight for me. I learned so much, and it made the sights I saw in port so much more meaningful. I couldnt recommend this series enough. Im not sure if she will be with the ship throughout the season, but if she is, seek her out. There was also a physicist on board giving enrichment lectures, but I didnt go to his. PORTS:
SAN FRANCISCO My dad and I rented a car and drove out to Napa Valley, as he is a wine connoisseur. It was gorgeous, and I had a lot of fun (although I drank too much wine at the tastings). I would have liked to have seen more of San Francisco itself, as the weather was FANTASTIC, but by the time we drove back, it was almost time to leave. The docking location was awesome right next to Fishermans wharf.
KETCHIKAN Cute town with some nice little shops, but nothing too out of the ordinary. We did an excursion with a raft ride and a rainforest hike. The excursion itself was fun (we saw a BUNCH of bald eagles), but the drive to get there was quite long, and the fact that people were complaining ON THE TOUR BUS about the problems with our cruise was a bit much to take. Even if they were not willing to let it go and try to enjoy themselves, they should try to allow others to do so& Once again, we had absolutely gorgeous weather (a rarity in Ketchikan).
JUNEAU We bought a pass to ride up to the top of the mountain, saw some spectacular views, and watched a Tlinget film. I wanted to hike around on the trails up there, but my dad thought it was too dangerous given the snow levels. We then explored Juneau a bit before returning to the ship for lunch. After lunch, we took an excursion involving a helicopter ride and a landing on the Mendenhall Glacier with a hike (approximately 45 minutes) on the glacier. It was potentially quite fun, but we had an older gentleman in our group who was probably not up to the task physically. He was much slower and had a few problems (falling down and the like). None of this would have bothered me much, but on top of that, he would always dilly-dally around with his video camera and absolutely refused to follow directions, even when all of our safety was involved! Seriously, when we got off the helicopter and were told to proceed directly to a spot about 30 yards away where our gear and our guide were waiting, he took 3 steps from the helicopter, turned around, and started filming! We were still under the rotor, and him standing there blocked every other person from getting off and going where we were supposed to go. To me, that was dangerous. If I were running the tour, I would not have allowed him to proceed& While we hiked, he fell behind (partly due to his camera shenanigans), and we had to wait for him repeatedly, thus shortening the distance we covered on our hike& It was still a great trip, though. The glacier itself was fascinating, and my first helicopter ride was interesting. Somebody else on the helicopter said he saw a family of bears crossing a stream, but he didnt bother mentioning it to the rest of us! Can you believe that?!
SKAGWAY I really enjoyed the tiny town of Skagway, and I thought it had the best souvenir shopping of any port we visited. We also took the BEST excursion here! We basically took a catamaran ride across the fjord (seeing eagles and mountain goats, along with amazing scenery) to the town of Haines, then rode a bus 25 miles upriver, then floated down the river in 8 person rafts through the heart of an eagle preserve. It was such a gorgeous day, and the feeling of being right in the middle of nature was unmatched (the rainforest we hiked in Ketchikan had an actual wooden boardwalk built through it so it wasnt so natural, and the glacier in Juneau constantly had people and helicopters coming in and out). This river felt isolated enough that you could feel like youre seeing the real Alaska. Moreover the guides who paddled the rafts were AWESOME. They are all young people who spend their Summers out there because they absolutely love it. Their passion is infectious, and they know SO MUCH about everything we saw&
HUBBARD GLACIER While this is not a port per se, it was a destination. We didnt get in close, and I wasnt particularly impressed. However, if people hadnt been complaining so much, I dont know that I would have realized how much we missed -- I will say that I learned (almost by accident) that they opened up the front of the ship where helicopters land for viewing of the glacier, and when I got there, it was a right party! Now, I dont think this was announced anywhere, and I think that most of the people there were Captains Club and suite guests -- If they were the only ones invited, Im a bit put off by that. I find that quite exclusionary. If everybody was invited, Im not sure why I didnt hear about it sooner. Does anybody know?
INSIDE PASSAGE Once again, not a port, but what was supposed to be a full day of phenomenal scenery turned into an hour or two of full-on gorgeousness before we had to go to dinner and then it turned dark. This was a disappointment to me, as I was really looking forward to the opportunity to see so much&
VICTORIA I absolutely loved this city, and could see myself living here. We shopped and explored in the morning, then did a whale-watching excursion in the afternoon. The excursion was VERY successful, as we got to see a huge pod of orcas over the course of close to an hour. We may have even seen all 26 members of the pod, and we got to witness a variety of behavior including 3 separate breaches! Wow!!! We also saw bald eagles, seals, and various other wildlife. The problem, though, was that this tour was TERRIBLY OVERBOOKED. They brought about 45 passengers, and the boat probably shouldnt have carried much more than 35 TOPS. Even if EVERY seat was utilized on the top deck, the back deck, and the interior cabin, there wasnt enough room for everybody to sit (I stood for most of the 3 hour + excursion). Never mind the fact that as crowded as it was, we certainly couldnt pick a preferred viewing location! I would have given this tour a very high ranking if there had been 25-30 people aboard&
DISEMBARKATION We ended up waiting quite a while in the Celebrity theater while they called tons of colors and numbers before ours. Im really not sure why we couldnt stay in the cabin till our number and color was called. I believe that is how they do it on Carnival. Still, it was no big deal and the process once they called us, including customs and immigration, was amazingly quick and efficient. I was very sad to end the trip, though, so I wasnt going to be happy on this day, no matter how well everything went! If only I could go back and do it all over again!