The following are our joint observations (authored by Rich, edited and annotated by Marlee) from the 14 day Summit cruise that concluded September 28. This was our third 14 night cruise on Summit over the past twelve months, which provided the ability to observe the ship's evolution over that period. The itinerary held many highlights, including a crystal clear day at Hubbard and another in San Francisco. However, this post will focus on the ship and onboard product rather than the itinerary.
Before proceeding, I need to quote another, more (in)famous Richard and "make one thing perfectly clear". As you will read below, this cruise had a few warts, especially compared to previous Celebrity cruises. The phrase I used on the end of cruise survey was "some rough edges". These will be documented below. Readers should keep in mind that these were all relatively minor. Both of us continue to believe that Celebrity offers a very solid cruise product, and we both will enthusiastically recommend Celebrity to anyone seeking a great value in a traditional cruise product. Now, on to business...
About us: 52/49 years of age, sixth cruise overall, fourth cruise on Celebrity (remaining two on Regent). Marlee has Multiple Sclerosis and is mobility-limited, though not confined to a wheelchair or power-chair full time. Rich is a VP in the finance area of an S&P 500 bank; Marlee does not work due to the MS but has two Masters degrees.
Service: Celebrity's high point remains its onboard service. Nearly all the food, beverage, and cabin service staff is absolutely fantastic. Although I can (and will) quibble with certain food and entertainment choices, service of this quality will keep us coming back to X. Although it's almost unfair to single out specific individuals, I do need to recognize Jackviston, our waiter, as first among equals. This was our fourth Celebrity cruise. For the first time, our waiter learned our likes, dislikes, and needs (Marlee's medications have side effects that make saucy foods almost a must) by the second night of the cruise. He made recommendations based on our preferences, steered us away from entrEes that he felt would not be to our taste, and went out of his way to ensure that Marlee received extra sauce. If, after all that, we still received a dish that wasn't to our taste he absolutely insisted on bringing us an alternate entrEe. It was almost like having a long-time personal chef who is able to serve food to our taste without having to ask. "Wonderful" is the only word that describes it.
Our cabin attendant, Bernadeth, was also outstanding. Again, she learned our preferences almost immediately and executed to them faultlessly over the length of the cruise. Our bar servers also learned our preferences; one of them, Joseph in the Cova Cafe, even memorized our Sea Pass number so I didn't need to hand it to him each night. Service in the Lido was fine, as was the wine service at dinner. In fact, there were no service errors of significance over the course of a two week cruise. Pretty remarkable when compared to, say, ones last 14 meals in (non-fast food) land-based restaurants.
Accommodations: Our cabin was Concierge Class 6143 which is buried deep in suite country; just one Sky Suite was between us and the Penthouse. The cabin was very clean and well maintained. This cabin has two advantages: an oversized balcony with a teak deck that easily accommodated two chairs, two loungers, and two tables. It is also about a foot wider than a normal CC cabin, allowing us to walk past the bed normally rather than turning sideways as we need to do in a standard CC.
Unfortunately, the cabin also had one significant disadvantage - noise. The butlers' pantry is just in front of the Penthouses and butlers' carts with room service items wheeled past from early morning to well after dark. Because the corridors directly outside the Penthouses and Royal Suites are parquet (or marble in the case of the Penthouse) instead of the normal carpeting the carts would bang over each transition from carpet to wood. Additionally, there is a service corridor leading outside directly forward of the cabin. The butlers used this corridor to store carts and also to take short breaks in the open air. They were not careful about gently closing the doors; slamming doors were clearly audible in our cabin.
Although the period between 10 PM and 7 AM was generally quiet, Marlee has MS and needs to nap during the day. The noise level made this difficult most days, but especially on sea days. As a consequence, we will not select this cabin again. If the afts on 7, 8, or 9 are gone before we book, we will take one of the bump-outs such as 9043. We might also give 6135 a try. This cabin also has an oversized balcony but is farther forward (nearer to the end of the suite section), has no adjacent service corridor and therefore is likely to be more quiet during the day.
The cabin had the new bedding installed. What an improvement! We're taking our first HAL cruise in a couple months and I'll be very interested in seeing how X's new bedding compares to what most believe are the best beds in the mass market/premium segment. My guess is that Celebrity's new beds won't be all that far behind HAL's, if they're behind at all. Credit X for listening to passenger feedback and addressing the issue in a very positive manner.
Public Areas: As usual, we found Summit very clean and well maintained. Some of the public areas are starting to look a bit tired, in a way that probably will require a refurbishment to fully address. The only significant issue was the loosening of a small portion of the dance floor in the Rendezvous Lounge one evening. This was quickly patched, although the floor does suffer from many cruises worth of stiletto heels. Carpeting is looking a bit worn in some spots and is coming up at the seams in a couple areas. In one case we noted a duct tape repair (presumably temporary). However, no issues were significant enough to significantly diminish our enjoyment of the cruise. The crew works very hard to keep the ship immaculate, painting, deep cleaning, and other maintenance activities are highly visible activities during nearly all daylight hours.
Food: Summit does not yet have the Blau Group's new menus. However, Mercury does and Mercury was docked adjacent to us during our stop in Victoria. Daniel, Summit's Executive Chef (soon transferring to Connie, by the way) visited Mercury and returned quite enthusiastic about what he saw. He did not provide many details but indicated that the new items would be added alongside many old favorites. And that they tasted good. Marlee and I are looking forward to the updates.
Meanwhile, Summit has introduced a few new menu items since we last cruised in March. The best of these was a seared tuna entrEe with Asian-style seasonings. The fish was perfectly cooked - just a quick sear outside, nice and rare inside. I've never been a big fan of Celebrity's fish (fins and scales) entrEes and I have to admit that I tried this one with some trepidation. But it turned out to be one of the best dinners of the entire cruise. Other entrEes that I don't recall seeing in March (or earlier) include Cornish Game Hen, lobster ravioli, beef tips with beans and rice and Chicken Kiev; all superb.
Aside from the new items, I would characterize the dining room food this cruise as a notch below what we recall from our cruises this past March and last October. I believe that I formed this impression largely because the beef, which always used to be a highlight, was just okay this time out. Less tender than I recall. Same goes for the veal chop, which also used to be a high point. On the other hand, many of the appetizers and soups continue to be excellent, as do the chicken dishes. We never stay for desert, so we can't comment there.
Entertainment: This is another area that was distinctly below standards set during our previous Summit cruises. There were some high points. Jennifer Fair returned to the ship and presented a lovely program of "popera". Top Notch is still on board and still IMO one of the best party bands at sea. Finally, Guys and Doll (Regent cruisers may remember them as Si and Kathy) did a fine job in the Rendezvous. Kathy remembered Marlee from a 2005 Seven Seas Voyager cruise. Amazing!
Unfortunately, the highlights stop there. The Celebrity Orchestra struggled. Last October this group was tremendous, capable of playing just about any style, any song, anywhere. And playing it well. This cruise, though, there was a definite problem in their brass section. I lack the expertise to tell if it was the trombone or the trumpet, but bad notes were rampant. Sad, especially considering how good this ensemble used to be. The pianist in Michael's Club described himself as having turned "fully professional" just recently. It showed. He wasn't horrible, but he wasn't all that good either. He too missed a few notes every now and again. The string quartet was soulless. In March the ensemble played with verve and panache. Finally, Jefferson Ang was still on board. Although even then he was not a high-energy entertainer, in March he performed some uncanny imitations (okay, covers) of James Taylor, Jim Croce, and Paul Simon. This cruise he seemed unfocused and less competent than previously.
As for the main-stage entertainment, we missed a number of the shows because the CD (Alan King) started over half of them after dinner. We are late seating; with Marlee's MS a 10:45 show is simply too late for us. Of what we saw, Jennifer was definitely the highlight, along with a funny ventriloquist. Lowlights included a raunchy juggler (please don't ask). Also, should you ever hear the word "Xylosynth", run.
There was a point during the cruise when I started wondering if it was me. Maybe I had an unrecognized chip on my shoulder regarding the entertainment. But Marlee was noting many of the same things independently. The bottom line is that I believe my impressions are accurate. Certainly, I did not set out to find fault with the entertainers and I found them very enjoyable on previous cruises. Enough said.
Odds and Ends: Non-package internet prices are now $0.65 per minute, a slight decrease from $0.75 previously. However, the computers in the internet cafe no longer offer free use of programs such as Microsoft Word. Those wishing to compose e-mails or blog entries must now do so online, and pay for the privilege. I'm considering bringing my laptop next cruise so I can compose e-mail before I go online to send it.
The senior officers' cocktail party for Select and Elite Captains' Club members was at 11 AM. IMO, this seems a bit early in the day to start drinking, even on a vacation and a very strange time for this event under any circumstances. I hope the time for this event returns to shortly before dinner, similar to the regular Captains' Club reception.
There is now a small section of the Lido (portside aft, just around the corner from the sandwich station) that serves Indian food at lunch. It was not open every day but was a nice alternative on the days it was open.
Embarkation at Vancouver was a nightmare. Disorganized. One long line after another. I don't hold Celebrity at fault for this, the check-in process with Celebrity was fast and efficient. The issue was with the various U.S. and Canadian government officials and with the people hired by the cruise terminal to manage the crowds. Yes, there were three ships embarking from Canada Place that day, but there must be a better way to manage this process. There must be.
The hollandaise incident: I saved this tale for the end because it doesn't fit neatly anywhere else. Marlee and I both enjoy the eggs benedict at breakfast. For the first week plus of the cruise they were very good as usual. One day during the second week, our waiter served us the eggs benedict and immediately said something to the effect that "the sauce doesn't look so good". Sure enough, the hollandaise was badly broken, i.e. had separated. Implied in this exchange was that the waiter didn't want to serve it to us at all but was apparently required to do so. As soon as we agreed that the sauce was not correctly made the plate was whisked away and an alternative selection quickly prepared. Although we were disappointed that the waiter did not seem to have discretion to return the dish on his own, the story was over - or so we thought.
The next morning, the sauce was broken again. Not as badly, but still broken. This time we ate the dish (we had no time to reorder) but mentioned the problem to the Assistant Maitre D' on duty at the time, and later to Murat, the Assistant Maitre D' assigned to our table at dinner. Note that "mentioned" means just that - a polite exchange of information. We did not present ourselves as upset or angry, just concerned.
What happened next both surprised and pleased us. Murat's normal station at breakfast was the Lido on this cruise. However, Murat got up early the next morning to personally review with/retrain the responsible person in the galley in the correct method for making hollandaise sauce. Then, when we came in for breakfast, Murat came down from the Lido and personally prepared Marlee's eggs benedict (I ordered an omelet that morning). Not only was it the best eggs benedict she had ever had, anywhere, this incident typifies the intense commitment of Celebrity's service staff to setting things right, if not better than right. It also points out an improvement opportunity for the galley crew. Galley staff should be made aware that their inattention to detail has consequences. Although they rarely, if ever, see or are seen by paying customers, their product is an extremely important one that directly impacts impressions and enjoyment of the cruise and cruise line. Attention to detail should dominate the thinking and actions of the galley staff as much as it so clearly does dominate the actions of the service personnel.
Conclusion: Although not without a few glitches, we thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. We will be back on X.