I originally booked our cruise directly through Celebrity. The experience was reminiscent of buying a used car. After the agent informed me (1) that the cabin I was considering was the LAST ONE IN THAT CATEGORY and that he COULD NOT HOLD IT, and (2) that immediate booking would get me a $300 rebate, I agreed and charged the fare. Guess what? The cabin category remained available until the sailing date. Celebrity personal later told me that only one such cabin at a time was released into agent's inventory. Presumably, this is done so the agent can claim it is the last cabin in that category without, exactly, LYING. No materials were mailed to me, in spite of requesting hard copies. But email documents did not indicate anything about the $300. After six phone calls, none of them returned as promised, I demanded that the booking be cancelled without penalty, and a very nasty young lady finally did that. I immediately rebooked through a dependable online agent, lowering our fare $450 while upgrading our cabin from bowels-of-the-ship exterior guarantee to top-deck Concierge Class Veranda.
I should've just quit while I was ahead.
ARRIVAL: SMOOTH, BUT SIGNS OF BAD WEATHER ON THE HORIZON
We flew into Barcelona two days early to have a taste of the city before embarkation. Our room at the Barcelona Princess Hotel was stylishly modern, clean, quiet, and offered an invigorating shower massage and a spectacular view from the 20th floor, showing all of Barcelona bisected by the Diagonal and punctuated by La Sagrada Familia. If you book there, get a room and breakfast deal. As it turned out, our breakfasts at the Princess were the best meals we had for two weeks.
Embarkation on the Summit went very smoothly. We arrived about 3 p.m. for the 7 p.m. sailaway and encountered no crowds. Looking forward to our "Concierge Class" veranda cabin, we were not, at first, disappointed: The room was larger than standard veranda cabins and held a bottle of champagne and a bowl of fruit. The promised flowers were not there, though, and the "personalized stationery" turned out to be five sheets of Summit notepaper with our names laser printed in block letters. Although Celebrity advertises choice of pillows, we where never offered a choice, either during registration or onboard. And the marvelous upgraded showerhead could not have been the dribbling, non-adjustable one that nevertheless overwhelmed the clogged drain. The drain was cleaned after we reported it, but it clogged up again. There were also noticeable sewer smells in the corridor. The carpet was faded and the deck furniture was covered with frayed navy blue cushions spotted with white discoloration. As we settled in, a young women hurried in and dropped some drooping flowers into a tube-vase on the desk. She forgot about the budvase in the bathroom. When I called on the third day and requested a bud for the bud vase, a drooping, rotting rose was inserted there and remained until it fell apart. The stem endured for two more days before a replacement was brought at my request.
So went the Summit experience on Celebrity Cruises, "Starring You."
While we did not attend every mainstage show, we did manage to see most of them. Individual entertainers varied in quality, and we walked out after ten minutes on one forgettable female vocalist and quit early on one male vocalist. However, there was an astounding sleight-of-hand magician and two production shows that were the best I have ever seen onboard, particularly the one presented on the last of three formal evenings. Congratulations Celebrity Summit singers and dancers, musicians, and the entire production crew! Other entertainment around the ship was professional but nothing to write home about. Daytime events were limited to the very, very usual. The live string quartet was one upscale touch that still brought a whiff of class to the ship. Celebrity tends to fold the tent earlier than some other lines, with not much going on after the late production show. E.g., if you like karaoke....
INFORMATION FOR THE "GUESTS"
If you don't like hard selling, you will be very annoyed on Celebrity. From the moment you step onboard, you are a cash cow to be milked. While there were endless seminars and daily newsletters telling you where to shop (in Celebrity-approved shops, only!), there was very little usable information about the ports. History? A little. How to get into Florence, Rome, or Monaco? A crude map that showed the train station with no indication of distance and few, if any, street names—but showing all the approved port stores. One daily newsletter was good enough to list some sites you might want to see while you are shopping, and it was put in those terms!
You were repeatedly warned that going it on your own, you were not safe. TAKE AN OVERPRICED CELEBRITY SHORE EXCURSION OR HAVE YOU POCKET PICKED! JUST STAY ON THE SHIP AND PLAY BINGO! TAKE AN OVERPRICED CELEBRITY SHORE EXCURSION OR MISS THE SHIP!
More about the safety and convenience of the passengers, below. See PORTS: INCLUDING A TALE OF EQUIPMENT FAILURE AND "THE SAFETY OF OUR GUESTS".
THE FOOD: GUSTATORY DISAPPOINTMENT
We were at a table for six at the early seating, and immediately liked all of our dining companions. Our hopes for the cruise picked up, although the food was lackluster at best. Salads appeared to have been poured from a plastic bag, and several of our tablemates complained about meat being tough. I had colorless, fishy-tasting fish, and subsequent dinners included Coq au Vin that tasted only of salt, another highly forgettable chicken entrEe, dry pork chops that required a very sharp knife and elbow grease, and clear soups that tasted like brine. Deserts were the exception, with the pastry chef doing quite well. Cold soups were usually good, but since we were travelling in cool and rainy weather, I wanted a good warm cup of soup. Our one standard room service consisted of beef consomme (brine); clam chowder (library paste without any clam flavor whatsoever); two sandwiches (meat on cold, toughened toast with a slice of lettuce); and the accompanying tiny pile of actually soggy potato chip crumbs with one sandwich and cold fries that appeared to have been boiled and tossed in oil.
Thankfully, Concierge Class allowed us to order from the dining room menu for service in our room, although there was often a considerable delay. Better service was available at breakfast, when Concierge Class passengers had an expanded room-service breakfast available, including omelettes made with egg whites or egg beaters, fruit smoothies, and breakfast meats. I opted for this service several times after surveying the sad and endlessly identical breakfast service in the upper-deck cafe. Every SINGLE day, the same items were served. And in an attempt to seem high-class, Celebrity did not serve help-yourself style; you had to wait to have your eggs fried, wait to have your toast toasted, wait for a scoop of (mushy) hashbrowns, etc. But the time you assembled your breakfast, the first items were cold, not to mention the lines that formed. And there was not one item that tasted fresh. The only breakfast vegetables available during the entire two-week voyage were mushrooms, tomatoes, and potatoes. Bread, fruit, and cheese offerings were the same every day.
The coffee was very good.
Owing to the port-intensive nature of the cruise, we ate only a couple of lunches onboard. The spa cuisine available at the stern of the pool deck was very good, but available only a couple of hours daily. Other than that there were pizzas, hamburgers, and a distinct area that purported to offer Asian cuisine, but my husband is Asian, and he thought it was atrocious. I tried this menu once, and found that the items I had chosen appeared to have freezer burn, a very non-Asian phenomenon. Overall, I began to have the impression that everything in the buffet had been microwaved and then held on a steam table. Shades of Sizzler, which often seemed gourmet in comparison.
In the main dining room, by the way, on Celebrity, where "You are the Star," our waiter and assistant waiter never learned our names—although they were invariably polite. After 10 days, they began to realize that I took the light salad dressing (never offered on the first pass) and drank decaf, which they would scurry back to the station to get. Forget showmanship; cherries "Jubilee" was presented on a flat plate over a melting mess of ice cream, and bananas Foster was not flamed anywhere within our sight. The single exception was a parade of waiters carrying the obligatory last-night baked Alaska in a bid for higher tips.
And finally, the Grand Chocolate Buffet. Since the pastry chef was the one star of the Celebrity kitchen, I expected this rare late-night buffet to be quite good. But the buffet was held in the top-deck lounge, with a dearth of seating, very low lighting, and very loud music. Apparently, Celebrity hoped this would take your mind off the fact that there was very little chocolate available. Fruit kabobs were abundant, along with vats of no-taste "chocolate" sauce with the exact consistency of skim milk. There were no grand displays, no carvings, no large creations, no seats available, and no reason to even have a chocolate buffet if you can't do better than that.
Oh, wait, I forgot one reason: There were drinks for sale.
In general, the ship's personnel were friendly. Our stateroom attendant, Jose, was first-class. But most of the personnel seemed clueless or just wouldn't go out of their ways. Example: One day at breakfast, I asked for a dish of strawberries. I was told a) there weren't any, and b) they were only for lunch. (I never saw a strawberry at lunch time.) Finally, one attendant took the time to get me a bowl of berries. The ship also ran out of coffee cream in the cafeteria, ran out of green tea, etc. When we asked for shoreside information, we ran into blank looks. When we asked how far the train station was from the port, we were invariably told it was "ten minutes," although that proved correct only once. And so on.
We went on only one shore excursion, owing to the high prices of most excursions that did anything more than drop you off and pick you up five or six hours later (e.g., "Rome on your own.") We took the excursion in Athens that included the Acropolis, the adjacent ancient market area, a lengthy stop at an overpriced do-dad store where almost all of the participants stayed on the bus, and a detour that deleted sights on the planned route owing to a marathon race in Athens that day. Apparently our guide had not foreseen this, and no alternative was offered other than being dropped off at the Placket and finding our own way back to the ship. The Acropolis and Parthenon were breathtaking, both because of their history and grandeur and because of the steep climb to the top of the hill. Our guide, while knowledgeable, was somewhat difficult to hear and understand. Nevertheless, I would give this excursion a C+.
Buyer beware: Celebrity's description of shore excursions often describe many sights you will only see on your own. Read VERY carefully.
FUEL SUPPLEMENT: TOO BAD FOR YOU, THE "STAR"
In spite of the precipitous drop in the price of oil, Celebrity held out and would not return or even reduce the $140 per passenger fuel supplement on this trip. Their newest policy was lengthy and convoluted, requiring a drop in prices that endured past the end of a "quarter." However, before the end of the quarter (one week before we sailed), they dropped their fuel supplement for new bookings. This booking happened to occur in Fuel Supplement No Man's Land, and Celebrity needs the money to have the Summit put in working order. The involuntary donation was $280 per cabin, and it didn't depend on when you sailed, but on when you booked.
Are you getting the picture about dealing with Celebrity? Read on.
PORTS: INCLUDING A TALE OF EQUIPMENT FAILURE AND "THE SAFETY OF OUR GUESTS"
Our cruise was a late-season and port-intensive cruise, one that would be a challenge to many of the guests in the best of circumstances. Celebrity made one of most anticipated ports more of a "Survivor" episode, and cancelled another entirely owing to highly foreseeable continuing equipment problems.
Weather started off problematical and caused a widespread power outage which snarled transportation in Nice.
The night before we were to call at Florence/Livorno, we were cheerfully informed that owing to the weather, Captain Margaritas had changed our destination to La Spezia, where we would be tendered in to shore.
Vessels anchored in the harbor should be able to stay; ships have never had to be moved due to bad weather. But because they are exposed to open-sea conditions, ships in the two anchorages outside the breakwater, 0.6 n mi east and 2 n mi south of Tino Island, should evade at sea if heavy weather is forecast. There are no good alternate anchorages near La Spezia in which to seek haven.
Now, I know that Celebrity is not responsible for the weather. But when we arrived at La Spezia, we were loaded onto a tenders that were wet inside because of leaky roofs. People inside the tender were using umbrellas to protect themselves from the water coming through the roof. The tender pilot could not see out the window, and kept wiping it with his hand. Then he opened the "sunroof" to try to see his way. Finally, he actually sent a fellow crew member out onto the bow of the tender to manually work the windshield wipers, which either because of malfunction or weather were not operational on their own.
After a long, cold, and wet ride, we arrived at the disembarkation point in the Port of La Spezia. We were sent ashore across a floating gangway to...uh, the shore. There was no building, no Celebrity personal available, no taxis, no phones, no information, no restrooms, nothing. We managed to find a taxi about two blocks up the street, and we took it to the train station and headed for Florence, a distance of approximately 100 miles that would require almost three hours by train in each direction. We ended up with few hours in Florence after waiting for the tender, riding the tender, taking the taxi to the train and returning in time for the oft-mentioned last tender at 6:30...only to find a queue of about 100 people or more waiting on the quay.
As we joined the line, we were told that we couldn't board the tender owing to the bad weather. The line of people grew, standing in the dark and the rain, many with umbrellas.
Suddenly there was a bright flash of lightening, followed by a clap of thunder, and then another. Heavy rain poured down, and winds reached 60 mph (according to Celebrity personnel and my own observations). A heavy palm frond fell and hit a women in the head. When we asked if we could take shelter somewhere, we were told to stay in line. If we weren't there when the tender boarded, the ship would leave without us.
The storm continued. Umbrellas were blowing inside out. Waves were now breaking over the quay and seawater washed over our feet. The tender, lashed at the quay, was rocking wildly up and down. We stood in the driving rain. Besides the obvious misery, there was no restroom.
After an hour in line, two tour buses, parked on the adjacent street, opened their doors to us and allowed us to shelter inside. We arrived back at the Summit at about 8:30. Another tender had headed for the ship, but the storm was so severe that passengers could not be unloaded when it arrived.
We had dinner served in our room. I had a sinus infection and stiff neck for the rest of the trip.
Celebrity NEVER offered an apology or any compensation for this experience. They solicited comments from guests, and after I wrote about the experience, they said someone would call me. Guess what? No call. And when I called them ten days after the end of the cruise, they said they would make sure someone heard about my terrible experience, but offered nothing. Their sole unsolicited reaction was an offhand joke at the next night's show.
And by the way, two other large, well-known cruise ships whose passengers went to Florence that day docked at Livorno. If the weather was too terrible for us to do the same, a safe and adequate alternative should have been arranged. Such weather is not at all unusual on Italy's west coast at that time of year.
Nevertheless, skies cleared by the time we reached Rome, an incredible city. We road the hop-on, hop-off bus after taking the train into the city, and enjoyed a day of unforgettable exploration, culminating at the Pantheon, where a political rally celebrating the outcome of the recent election in the USA was in full swing. Naples and adjacent Pompeii, Herculaneum, Sorrento, and Capri was more challenging. A man tried to pick my pocket on the bus, but he would only have gotten my lipstick. The cash was in a much safer spot. We visited Pompeii (a guide is necessary to get the best out of this astounding site, but they are available for about 10 Euros at the entrance). We didn't need help in Istanbul, because we have close friends there, and Mykonos was definitely a laid-back, do-it-yourself port. I mentioned our excursion into Athens, above. And then there was Split!
No, there wasn't Split. The Summit failed to call at Croatia because of yet another episode of propulsion failure. We limped at half speed from Mykonos to Venice.
Please leave yourselves time to enjoy Venice. It is an unbelievable city from a watery universe, a transition back to living on land, full of masks, Venetian glass, and gelato!
We have been on three Celebrity cruises as well as sailing on Holland America, Princess, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival. WE WILL NEVER SAIL ON CELEBRITY AGAIN AND ADVISE YOU AGAINST IT. This was, by far, the worst cruise experience we have ever had, and what made it worse was the total uncaring disregard, even stonewalling, of the cruise line.
Celebrity cannot call itself a hospitality provider. You are not a star on Celebrity. You are merely an asterisk in the annual report.
Expanded room with standard veranda. Across from crew area where they prepared food. Veranda shaded by bay areas in cafeteria on the deck above. Beware: Adjoining cabin, and every sound (yes every sound) can be heard through the connecting door.