June 1, 2007, this was the day that my mother, myself and approximately 70 others would wrap up our Celebrity operated tour portion of our Cruisetour and board the Summit. We had flown into Fairbanks on May 26th and spent the days seeing a very small segment of Alaska's interior. (Remember approximately 1% of Alaska is inhabited.) Roberta, our Tour Director and Sheila, our driver had provided us with a week of boat rides (Riverboat Discovery III), city tours, panning for gold and enough scenes of Alaska's vast wilderness to boggle the mind. I know this isn't "cruise related" but I heard not ONE negative comment concerning Roberta or Sheila from anyone. They were supremely professional, fun to be with, informative while also sensing when enough talk was just enough. Anyway, onto our cruise.... Roberta said good-bye to us at our last loading of the motorcoach (they get cranky when you call it a bus), and left us in the capable hands of Sheila. She provided commentary while driving us safely to the last leg of our journey, delivering us to the port of Seward and the dock where Celebrity's GTS Summit was berthed. The bus pulled onto the dock early afternoon and we said our farewells to Sheila as Celebrity's cruise representatives met us and guided us through embarkation. We had a rear cabin, stateroom 7206 Concierge Class awaiting us. Embarkation went very smoothly and my mother and I were cheerfully checked in very quickly (I would estimate under 10 minutes). We then took the short walk from the side doors of the processing center to the gangway of the Summit, with the obligatory stop in front of various signs to allow the ship's photographers to capture the moment of our boarding the Summit. Upon entering the Grand Foyer we were greeted by smiling faces and glasses of champagne to set the tone and a subtle reminder to assure us we were now in the capable hands. We took our room keys and handed them over to the room staff that would walk us to our stateroom. Outside our stateroom upon our arrival was all our baggage waiting for us, as they had been delivered early in the day, so we would not have to wait for them to off-loaded from our bus we had been riding. Before our door closed, Victor, our room attendant was introducing himself and assuring us if we needed ANYTHING, that we were to pick up the phone and push one button (he demonstrated) and his beeper he kept pinned to his belt, in the small of his back went off immediately. We had been handed tickets as we left the embarkation building with an opening dining time for us to eat our first meal aboard. Victor informed us we could, as CC passengers head to the dining area at our convenience to eat whenever we pleased that first night. We opted to take a few moments, catch our breath and do some room/veranda inspection and a minimal amount of unpacking. The beds were separated per our request and on our desk where fresh flowers along with a card stating our seating information for our evening meals along with an envelope that contained our tickets for the various excursions we had pre-booked online months before our journey was to begin. The veranda doubled our living space as the aft facing cabins have huge outdoor spaces, covered partially by the deck above and much of the remaining overhead had canvas sections whipped to pole structures providing protection from the weather and the decks above. On the veranda were four adjustable lounge chairs, a dining table, two chairs accompanying that along with a small side table. After settling in, we headed down to their Cosmopolitan Restaurant to taste their fare. The first meal, (the general seating one) was a bit lack luster, taste wise. I chalked it up to it being nearly impossible to show off with people coming in over the course of the afternoon, however that meal, as did the next two evening meals had us walking away afterward going "It was okay, but...." The food was certainly edible, but lacked that final touch or flourish to put the meals over the top. Let me say right now, the breads and bakery department, responsible for all the pastries were just outrageously good from the start. They did not miss a beat. I heard one woman mention she didn't care for them due to the pastries not being sweet enough for her taste. I prefer the taste of fruits in my danish versus "sweet". So you'll hear nothing but accolades from me in that department. My sister had cruised with Celebrity on the Millennium a couple months previous and came away with the same concern about the food. "It was ALMOST really, really good... but" She thought it might have been that they had gotten a new executive chef on board and they hadn't quite worked out all the kinks yet. Sadly, I was afraid that it was just a general malaise that had settled over the whole of Celebrity's kitchens. I am more than pleased to announce however, that just about half way through our cruise someone in the kitchen started tasting the dishes prior to them being served. From that point on the plates were all spot on! Served at proper temperatures, seasoned properly and with a certain flair that put them in that category where you just KNEW the chefs were on there game. The plates were always pleasant to look at, now the taste was there to back it up. It was a pleasure to walk away from the evening meal with a huge smile on one's face, reflecting back on what you had just shared with table mates. Speaking of table mates, on our first night of scheduled seating,one of the two formal nights, we were the only two at a table for six. Herculano, our superb server, eased our fears that we would continue to eat by ourselves. We were, after all, there to meet folks; laugh together and share tales. Sure enough by the next night others that had eaten by themselves got moved to our table and we had just a terrific time with our new acquaintances from Ohio and Colorado. Both couples were wonderful company and a pleasure to share a meal with. Our last night aboard we opted to make reservations for the Normandie. I can't say enough positive things about the whole experience in the Summit's specialty dining area. This was the "finest" dining my mother had ever experienced and they absolutely made her feel welcomed and explained in very non-threatening terms how the evening was scheduled and the menu options. The maitre'd was warm, funny and very approachable. The whole staff there took great pride presenting what was surely one of the best evenings we had ever shared. It was truly memorable. The solo harpist was directly in front of us and played through out the evening adding nicely to the ambiance. If you are a wine drinker I would recommend paying the additional $29 dollar surcharge (above the $30 pp for the evening meal) for a five course meal married to a glass of wine chosen by the chef for each coarse. My mother isn't a wine drinker so we opted for the four course meal that exceeded our expectations. I have to say clearly, I went in there with pretty high expectations. My mom just loved the experience and the food and I was thrilled we had such a wonderful time. On the other end of the spectrum from the luxury that is the Normandie Restaurant is the 10th deck eateries. Buffet lines galore with pasta and pizza stations, shepherds pie, sandwiches, the ice cream bar along with many international foods available for you to try. Don't miss the sumptuous waffle station where the deep waffles are made fresh to your order as your turn comes in line. Want to eat healthy? They have a section at the forward end devoted for you. I personally didn't feel cheated by their curry chicken and rice plate. Try the figs in light syrup for a desert a time or two. You may change your mind if you thought healthy meant depriving yourself. Onto other things, but obviously food, coming first in my review hints at my priorities! LOL
The entertainment aboard the Summit was generally very good. The Celebrity Theatre is very nicely layed out. With excellent lines of sight from nearly every seat. I will admit now, I was hoping to have the daily schedule in front of me now to help refresh my memory of the names of some of the entertainment. I do not. There was the Theatre, there were performances by a ventriloquist one evening that was very funny, at times I was concerned that he might go past the point of good taste, however everyone rolled with laughter and he kept it edgy and fun without seriously over-stepping that boundary. There was a female/male team of "aerialists" that performed amazing feats and kept the audience captivated. Of particular note was young Mr. Meyer. (his name I recall clearly) I don't want to give too much away, but he's a musician that plays a unique instrument and had the majority of the audience in attendance giving a standing ovation at the end of the evening. The musical cast were in fine form and gave a very nice show and provided good entertainment. The Celebrity Theatre Band was just top notch for a cruise line. The musical director and pianist (one and the same) ran a very tight group of musicians. Kudos to her. The one group that I didn't really enjoy was a group of four young male a cappella singers going by the name of The Dischords. They certainly didn't sing discordantly, however as a former singer their blending wasn't quite there, their tune selection suspect at times and they generally didn't do much for me. They were certainly nice enough gentlemen and their enthusiasm was there, but just came up short in my humble opinion. The member with the curly head of longish hair, singing, I believe 2nd tenor didn't get highlighted nearly enough. When he did take the lead in a song, I tended to enjoy his portion the best.
For the "lounge acts", I generally really enjoyed them. There was a young man soloing with a guitar that had a clear voice, sang well and chose songs that were both appropriate for him and was very enjoyable in an intimate arena. Another group I initially had concerns with was "Guys and Doll". As I was passing through the ship I heard them and continued on, as her voice was a bit rough. Much to my pleasure, perhaps half an hour later I was passing back through and this time she caught my attention with her singing, in a positive way. As I sat down in the Martini bar, able to look down on their forum and ordering up a "martini flight" (a sampler of 6 different mini-martinis) I realized that on my first pass through the ship hearing them, they had just started their first set and were getting warmed up. After the lead singer's chords got going they presented a most enjoyable show with a small dance floor that often had several couples out dancing into the night. Her voice, after she his full stride has hints of Ernestine Anderson minus much of the vibrato.
On to the room and the one or two concerns. The layout didn't seem to be as tidy and sensible as compared to the staterooms aboard Holland America's Zaandam. The beds on the Summit were between the television and the sofa. That led to my MAJOR concern: My bed. My mother's was sleepable, however mine had so many lumps and the foam was so broken down I had to call Victor, the attendant to the rescue on two occasions. After two attempts of adding feather mattress pads (or were they simply feather duvets called to another purpose?) Victor made the bed semi-sleepable. Other than those two points the room was quite nice and the shower(only) was sized to make for comfortable showering.
The Summit had something in between the automatic gratuity charges that many cruise lines appear to use. Several days prior to disembarkation they leave a note in your stateroom saying that if you want to give the standard tips for all those that made your cruise something to remember, simply return a slip and they'll add it to your final bill. If not, the following day your attendant will leave a series of envelopes, nicely banded in your room to divvy gratuities as you see fit. It a nice option to be able to work it either way. We certainly appreciated the efforts of some more than others so opted to deliver our gratuities via the envelopes, ensuring those that performed above and beyond were properly compensated.
During the cruise, both berthed and tendered, operations allowing us to get ashore were smooth and seamless. If one is scheduled for an early morning excursion through Celebrity, they provided passes to ensure one was able to at the designated pick up area in plenty of time. The variety and depth of excursions available through Celebrity seemed more than sufficient for us first time Alaska visitors. The cruisetour and excursions provide a very nice overview of many different areas that Alaska has ready to be explored. Nature, history and cultures are wonderfully diverse and varied. If, on the other hand shopping is high on your priority list, Chez and her husband present many informational seminars on what stores ashore will assist you in making your jewelry, craft and fine arts purchases. Don't overlook the onboard art auctions if you're in the market for a new piece for your wall. They're great fun to participate in, or just observe.
Sadly, disembarkation must also be discussed. Not that it was handled poorly, simply that meant our journey was over and it was time to return to reality. As Allan, the cruise director said so succinctly, "Now it's time to make your own meals, make your own beds, and remember the chocolates that sat upon your pillow each evening."
Prior to arrival in Vancouver the ship's staff verified everyone's departure times and then issued tags for your luggage and cards for the passengers. It told you where to gather and the proper time to arrive. Don't get there too far ahead of your scheduled time, as you'll find the crowd is constantly shuffling in and out as various colors and numbers are called. Listen closely to the staffs directions, if you're to disembark forward or aft. Then it's passing through customs, inspections and on to your intermediate or final destinations. We opted to visit Victoria for a couple days post cruise, so after clearing customs we had a short wait for the Pacific Coaches motorcoach to arrive where we boarded and went via ferry to Vancouver Island. It is my understanding upon my return to home that there were 3 cruise ships that essentially were trying to clear Canadian Customs all at the same time. They apparently were understaffed and the nerves of many travelers got a bit frazzled. Hopefully this was a fluke, as when we passed thru Vancouver one year earlier (we were originally scheduled to be on the May 20th Summit cruise that was canceled due to pod problems) it was very smooth and what we thought was a huge crowd that would take us a couple hours to clear, we actually made it in well under an hour.
In summary,did we love the cruise? Absolutely! The tour portion also. The excursions? Fantastic. The food; nothing to complain about. The entertainment, nice quality for cruising. Our treatment aboard, very, very nice. With all that said, will I cruise the Summit again? Most likely not. Nor are we likely to take any other Celebrity ship that has the pod propulsion system. It is incredibly smooth, to the point when we originally backed away from our dock, and I was standing at the aft end, I didn't realize we were underway. Try that with a conventionally powered vessel. But you be four days away from a vacation that you've planned nearly a year ahead of time, got all excited about then to have them reach into your chest and yank your heart out and tell you it has been canceled. Due to a problem that has plagued this class ship for what? Over 10 years now? My question is simply, why can't you fix it? With the brain trust that HAS to have been puzzling over this issue for so long, when will it be behind you? When the fleet of the Millennium Class ships is retired?