Celebrity and Southern Caribbean have Won us Back!: Celebrity Summit Cruise Review by MandyGirl

Celebrity Summit 5
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Celebrity and Southern Caribbean have Won us Back!

Sail Date: March 2009
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: San Juan
Ship: Celebrity Summit

Cabin: 2A balcony - 9024 Itinerary: Southern Caribbean with San Juan embarkation (St Maarten, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire, Aruba, day at sea) Prior cruising history: All seven-night cruises to Caribbean (1-southern, 2-western, 3-eastern) and Alaska. About us: Mid-30s math teacher limited to school breaks and airline employee who married one another on a cruise in 2003 and booked this for our anniversary, leaving our toddler at home with grandparents. This was our first time to leave our daughter for over 48 hours, and chose this cruise so we would be in port each day should something arise we needed to catch a flight home. Let me first preface this review by sharing this: In December 2001, we cruised Celebrity Galaxy out of San Juan for a 7-night southern Caribbean cruise. We booked it in January 2001, paying about $800 for an inside cabin. After 9-11 happened, we chose to continue with the cruise. No discount or credit or upgrade was ever given to More us. Yes, our fault for booking months in advance. Once onboard, we learned local specials had recently been $199 (inside), $299 (outside) and $399 (balcony) with a $99 rate for 3rd/4th passengers, so we essentially paid quadruple for our inside cabin. The ship clientele on that 12/14/01 was 80% local residents and 20% other (according to our room steward). Being our first Celebrity experience, it was not what we had read about. We saw lots of jeans in the dining room (even on formal night), dancing on tables by the pool, groups singing louder than the pool band, loud dinners in the dining room, smelled drugs being smoked out on the aft deck (no, they were not cigarettes or cigars), etc. We wrote two letters to Celebrity to no avail. All seasoned passengers at our dinner table said they would never cruise Celebrity again, and especially not out of Puerto Rico. Well... we tried Celebrity again in 2006 for our "babymoon cruise" and enjoyed the ship (Infinity) immensely. I somehow coerced my husband to try San Juan again for this cruise, saying that at least if we book a balcony if it's the same nonstop party crowd we can at least retreat to our own balcony. Our good friends reminded us of how miserable we were on our Galaxy cruise in 2001, and they would not join us. So yes, we were extremely skeptical of cruising out of San Juan again from that 12/14/01 experience... Note: this review of Summit 3/14/09 represents our personal opinions of this specific cruise

Travel to San Juan: To save money, we pieced together two separate airline tickets from Dallas. Although we would have loved to fly AA nonstop from DFW to SJU as we have in the past, airfares were not within our budget (over $800 each booking months in advance). From Dallas, we flew Southwest (March 13) on a green pass won from the Luv Classic fundraiser for Ronald McDonald house (like a Rapid Rewards ticket with no blackout dates or seat limitation - as long as a seat is available to be booked, one can use the green pass). After arriving in Orlando, we stayed in a king-size room at Fairfield Orlando Airport for $49 with my husband's employee discount. This nonsmoking hotel provided free breakfast beginning at 5:30 AM along with free 24-hour airport transportation and computer with internet. Several restaurants were in short walking distance, and we had dinner to kick off our vacation at Tony Roma's. Out of Orlando on March 14 (day of embarkation) we flew the 8:00 flight on Jet Blue nonstop MCO-SJU. This was our first experience on JetBlue and thoroughly enjoyed it. Because our tickets had dropped $67 within 90 days of purchase, they credited our TrueBlue account so that we could use the difference for seat upgrades. We upgraded our seats at check-in to the "more legroom seats" for $20 each. This could not be done at the kiosk, but rather the ticket counter since the agent had to phone TrueBlue to verify our credit. The flight was not full as there were at least 15 empty seats. We chose this flight because it was first of the day, had several "back-up options" in case something went wrong since we were flying in the day of the cruise, and Jet Blue also flies to our first port of call (St Maarten) should that be necessary. This was our first time to ever fly in the day of the cruise, so we wanted backup plans. We also made sure to not check any bags - yes, we packed for a 7-night cruise using one regular backpack, one Kelty daypack, and one carryon sized roller bag that easily fit in the overhead bins. Two people, three carryons, with one backpack being small enough to fit under the seat (personal-sized carryon).

Our flight: http://flightaware.com/live/flight/JBU737 Transportation to pier: Once arriving in San Juan (a few minutes early) we proceeded to ground transportation and found the taxi cab stand. Fare to the Pan American pier was $20 plus $1 per bag. Obtain the receipt, get escorted to cab, and off you go! We arrived to the ship prior to the main doors being opened.

Embarkation Day: We arrived around 11:15, and the main doors opened at about 11:30. We were seated in a huge room with white chairs, sitting at the end of row one. At about 11:40 they had the first row stand up and enter the lines for paperwork and room keys. That was completed quickly, so we headed across the checkin counters to the alcohol shop and purchased a 12-pack of bottled water ($6), two bottles of wine for about $11 each (allowed by Celebrity at embarkation only) and one small bottle of Bailey's ($8). The lady in the shop said the ship would not care since it is a small bottle, but to hide it away anyway. We kept it separate from our wine bottles. At the second x-ray machine (onboard ship) the Celebrity staff did look in our bag at the bottles to be sure we had wine only, but they missed the Bailey's that went through the scanner in a backpack. We received a glass of champagne with no notice that cabins were not ready, so we proceeded to our cabin and dropped off our bags. It looked ready for the most part, so we hung up hanging clothes from the roller bag and put the wine/Bailey's in the vanity cabinet. After closing the door, we went to the Waterfall buffet area for lunch. (AquaSpa grill was not ready when we passed). At 1:00 a message was made that all cabins were ready, but we were enjoying lunch on the aft deck. After finishing lunch, we returned to our cabin to finish unpacking. My husband noticed our bottles were missing. I called our room steward at 1:45, and we had them back by 2:15. They apparently thought they were left from the previous guests... even though we already had our baggage in the room (clearly visible). Again, since we had only two backpacks and a small rollerbag, we had not given any bags to the porters to be delivered to our cabin.

At 4:00, we had our informal CruiseCritic.com get-together where we got to meet Texed (Ed and wife Jacque), Beachbum1978 and husband Jared125, ILCruiser (John and wife Bev), RickCanada, sally47, Ozark74, and some others. We had our get-together at the Mast bar overlooking the pool where my husband enjoyed my Bahama Mama (that I wasn't fond of) and I ordered a different Malibu-cranberry-pineapple concoction. At 5:15 we had muster, which took about 30 minutes from start to finish. The first part was in a meeting location (for us, in the Theatre) and the second part was standing under the lifeboats out on deck. While in the theatre, we chitchatted with the folks next to us, which is when we learned that was ad_arrow from our rollcall. We made our Normanie reservations for our anniversary night (March 20 - sea day - 6:00 PM). This had not been available online previously, so it was nice to book once onboard. We also were invited to join Texed's table (412), so we ate there instead of our previously assigned table (436 by Normandie statue). We never made it by to meet those folks (table of 8) but absolutely loved our table, and especially our tablemates at our new table!

Cabin: Category 2A - 9024. Yes, this has an overhang and is under the salon. However, we loved the cabin and would absolutely book it again. Yearly visits to the dermatologist have us very aware of the sun, so we appreciated the overhang. It did not impede our view at all. Being under the salon was not a problem at all, although we did hear someone in heels walking by a couple times. It was definitely not like being under a pool deck though! We really enjoyed the close proximity to the AquaSpa area - just around the corner and up a quick flight of stairs. Storage was more than plentiful, and the shower was large enough for the two of us. The shampoo and lotion dispensers were mounted but no longer being used - instead we received small bottles of lotion, shampoo, and conditioner along with soap. We did have to ask for our safe to be fixed (apparently low battery) and the fridge was not as cold as we normally would have at home, but it was fine. Ship: The ship is in excellent condition. We mostly enjoyed reading the history of the Normandie on deck three, relaxing at the AquaSpa on deck ten, and having predinner drinks listening to the band on decks four and five (RendezVous Lounge and Martini Bar). We prefer the t-pool to the main pool, and only spent one afternoon by the main pool (Aruba day). I appreciated being able to be in the casino without gagging from smoke, although I never made any donations to the casino.

For spa experiences, see ports below - St Maarten (we enjoyed the spa that day). We also took time on embarkation day to tour the kiddo area (aft deck eleven) since our daughter will probably be joining us on our next cruise. Wow, that place looked great! It was our first time to go inside the kiddo area onboard any ship, and the crew answered all of our questions.

Meals: Breakfast was usually waffles on the aft deck, along with some protein. (Thanks to Texed for introducing us to the fresh waffles on Celebrity!!) If we needed a quick snack prior to breakfast, I would run up to the AquaSpa cafe for breakfast and bring items back downstairs to enjoy on our balcony. One morning I did get waffles and bring back to my husband to surprise him in bed - it was our anniversary. He had already gotten up and was sitting outside, so we enjoyed them out there. When possible, I would have lunch at the AquaSpa, enjoying their freshly prepared fish. The tilapia and broiled cod stand out in my mind. A couple of times my husband enjoyed the pool grill just for a change-of-pace, and we did have the buffet a couple of times and brunch on our sea day. Dinner was always at our table in the main dining room except for one night when nothing jumped off the menu at me (night four). We went upstairs to the Waterfall Bistro for $2 each to try it. Not as upscale, and supposedly waiters in training, but still a good meal. Being the alternative restaurant, some were dressed in more casual attire, and some were louder than what we observed in the dining room, but it did not hinder the dining experience. Our final night was our anniversary, so we enjoyed a 6:00 PM reservation at Normandie. We were there almost three hours, enjoying sunset from our table for two. Food was over-the-top delicious and worth trying, although I don't think our tummies could have handled the richness more than one night. For the main dining room we had table 412 with Wawan. Ironically, Wawan had been our assistant waiter on Infinity in 2003, and my husband remembered him mostly because of how he rolled his r's when saying various things like "crème brulee". Each meal was superb, and I enjoyed trying different foods that I would not normally cook at home. There was no course that I had to send back or turn away the entire week. Our tablemates were awesome!! We enjoyed meeting them and hope to end up on another Celebrity cruise with them in the future. I will add that with recent higher blood pressure, I thought I would be good and try the "no sodium" dining that Celebrity offers by calling at least 45 days in advance. I could not tell a difference unless I dined somewhere without preordering no sodium! Then my ankles would swell some. No sodium is definitely worth a call to your travel agent to arrange, as it does not cost a dime and helps out your heart. Our area maitre'd was George. He took my meal order each evening by brining over the following night's menu (around dessert time), and also gave recommendations as needed. George also came and found me in the alternative restaurant on night four to get the following night's order! He was great. I will say that the following night when waiting on each course to arrive, I would have no recollection of what I had ordered, so it was always a pleasant surprise!! There was only one night that the menu did not look appealing to my personal tastes, and although we could have ordered from the "every night offerings" they have, that was the night we chose to just try the $2/per person alternative dining.

Onboard entertainment: We only attended one show, and it was just fine. We are accustomed to the Cirque shows in Vegas, and the aerial acrobats were great onboard! We really did not attend anything other than the band in the RendeVouz Loung (deck four). At dinner, we enjoyed the string quartet, and did take time to take in a movie on the sea day. With me being a teacher and my husband working evenings/weekends, we very rarely get to see a movie together with our conflicting work schedules, especially now that we have a child, so this was nice to enjoy. And although not entertainment, we really appreciated not being bombarded with announcement every few minutes! It was nice only having one or two announcements a day. Ports: St Maarten - we won 50% off a massage through the AquaSpa on embarkation day, so we did couples massage onboard ship to start the week, relaxed at t-pool with few people onboard, and did do a little shopping but electricity on the island was out since 7:30 AM so many shops were closed (very few shops at pier - suggest going in town). We had previously visited Maho Beach to watch airplanes (see pics at sunsetbeachbar.com) and decided this time to just enjoy a semi-empty ship. Be sure to enter the raffle when boarding for AquaSpa! The couples massage was 50 minutes for $270, so half-price almost made it reasonable. Otherwise, a massage was 50 minutes for $119 (per person) so they do charge more to have you both in the same room at the same time. Had my husband enjoyed the Rasul treatment, we would have done it again (did it on Galaxy) but last time it just zonked him out. We did not do the Thermal room - it was $99 per week or $30 per day. No specials were ever offered for either of these, even at the AquaSpa auction later in the week.

Dominica - We did an amazing hike with Levi - Roseau Valley Best tour - and cannot recommend him enough. He was CPR and first aid certified, friendly, encouraging on the hard hike, took pictures for us, etc. This was $60 each, and included Middleham Falls (labeled "strenuous" on the ship shore excursions), Titou Gorge (swimming with life ring into the gorge where Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was filmed), and Trafalgar Falls (and natural hot springs). The $60 per person price included everything (transportation, guide, entrance fees, beverages) and lasted about 7 hours. We also tipped $20 at the end. Levi's van (with A/C) held about 14 people but we only had 9 on our tour. I will also point out that when hiking back from the falls, we passed one group where it seemed there were 30 people, and three uniformed guides who seemed to be there for "the job" and not necessarily because they loved hiking and people. Levi took time to get to know each one of us, and we learned about things along the hike (berries to eat, trees and Indian history, vines to swing like Tarzan, etc.) We will definitely book another tour with Levi when we return to Dominica. Again, I cannot recommend Levi enough- I felt safe, my husband also enjoyed the day, we got dirty, and loved every minute of it. That particular part of the island receives 450 inches of rain per year. A good pair of Keens is worth the investment (like Keen Newports). We did the most strenuous part of the tour first (Middleham) and Levi had it all timed where we were the only ones enjoying each of the sites. Also, some guides would not have allowed swimming at the falls, but Levi was right there with us, encouraging us. Here is Levi's website: http://www.bumpiingtours.com/cruise-ship-visitors.html By comparison, the ship offered each of these three attractions as their own separate tour, with Middleham Falls being $44 each (no Titou Gorge or Trafalgar Falls). As always, with any hike, you need to evaluate your physical well being. I do not workout regularly (did before our toddler was born) and am in mid-30s, but did have a stress test last summer and know how I am with inclines such as our hiking in Zion and Sedona in the past 6-8 months (have to stop and catch my breath every so often). I communicated with Levi ahead of time, was honest, and had switched to a different tour, but after meeting him he asked me if I was sure. I knew he was looking me up and down to see if I looked fit, and he thought I would have no problem. He was right, there was only one time on the Middleham hike I had to be the one to ask for a stop (about 1-2 minutes) but otherwise stayed right on Levi's heels the entire hike. I just didn't want to be the one "dragging the rear" or asking for stops. But yes, it was a challenging hike with inclines, and constantly watching your footing, but I also did do the "extra" things like scrambling over rocks to go swim in the 58-degree water at the falls, climbing up into the cave, and diving off into the falls. Once we got back onboard, I was so hungry I could have eaten one of everything that was still out for lunch buffet. I think I used about a million calories on that hike, and was only slightly sore the next day or two. (Think of a stairmaster for about an hour - that's Middleham). We would not have had the energy to do Champagne snorkeling afterwards ($7 more) but did enjoy grabbing lunch. The last stop had souvenirs, which is where we purchased our magnet we always get when visiting somewhere new. The T-pool in the AquaSpa was a welcome return!! (And several times during our cruise was hotter than the hot tubs!)

Grenada - We were off the ship at 9 AM (with ziploc baggie of rolls/snacks for beach) and took a taxi to Magazine Beach ($20 each way). There, we relaxed under shade on beach towels (could have rented loungers for $5 each - by Aquarium Restaurant - previous reports had said these were $10 so it must vary), and the cab picked us up at 1:00 (which was just after ship tour arrived - which was about $44 per person for ship tour including a beverage). We went back onboard to enjoy lunch on the ship (saved us money in port and some time to enjoy the ship while others were still off the ship.) As a FYI, according to TripAdvisor, the Aquarium Restaurant is rated #1 of the 29 restaurants on the island, but we didn't even look at a menu. We didn't bring our snorkeling gear, but it looked like you would have to snorkel out quite a ways to get to anything and you needed fins - quite a little current. We chose Magazine Beach over Grand Anse because we wanted a less crowded experience, which we received (until the tour group arrived about 12:45). http://www.grenada-beaches.com/beaches/magazine-beach/ After arriving back at the ship, we asked our driver to drop us off at the spice market. We bought some cumin (part of our rub mixture when grilling steaks) and spice necklaces (3 for $10). Those smelled great in the cabin back on the ship hanging on a light fixture!! Also, I had bought a shell necklace from a guy on the beach (Dexter) and had three others approach as well, but I was broke by then. I later figured out I spent too much, but that was okay. What's an extra ten bucks? He probably could have used the money, and I was able to sit on my rear on the beach while he showed me his assortment as opposed to going vendor to vendor and bargaining. We were surprised to have four vendors approach us, whereas we knew it would be like that at Grand Anse... part of our reason for going to Magazine instead.

Bonaire - We did Discover Scuba with Blue Divers (our divemaster was Bas from Holland) who is PADI certified. He picked up at 1:00, had us back by 5:45, shopped at market, all onboard by 6:45. http://www.bluedivers-bonaire.com/eng/diving.html ($80 plus $10 marine park fee ship tour was $129 plus marine park fee). We had done Discover Scuba in Cozumel with someone who was not listed on the PADI website and had a blast, but it was not nearly as thorough as this course. In Cozumel, it was literally reminding us how to breathe with a regulator (since we had done Snuba before), a few hand signals, and off the boat we went. With Blue Divers in Bonaire, we watched a 20-minute PADI video, spent at least 20 minutes going over things person-to-person, got fitted for booties, fins, wetsuit, and all that other stuff, then drove to a dive location (shore dive). After getting in the water, we went out a little ways to a sandy area, descended to the floor (about 6-8 feet), and practiced a few skills (regulator retrieval, using the divemaster's octopus, and something else). If he felt we were ready, we proceeded on our dive from there, which we did. I concentrated on my breathing, long slow breaths, and after an hour still had over 1000 on my gauge for oxygen! I could have kept diving!! Bas kept our camera that we had purchased, and took over 50 pictures of us diving. After he felt comfortable with us and our diving, we used the camera. (Underwater SeaLife digital camera good for up to 75 feet deep - we stayed under 40 feet in depth.) If returning to Bonaire, we will definitely dive with Blue Divers again. Our safety, and following all of the PADI guidelines, were of their upmost concern. While we had fun diving in Cozumel, we now know much more about diving and can definitely tell a difference in diving through a PADI instructor or someone else. It was a completely different learning experience.

Aruba - We just went shopping for souvenirs. We previously did Snuba at DePalm (snuba/snorkel to shipwreck) and rented jeep to see natural bridge, lighthouse, island sights.

Sea Day - We enjoyed a movie (we never get to do that at home!), brunch, Normandie for dinner, relaxing on balcony (chairhogs in full force for shady beach chairs prior to 8 AM lots of chairs saved with towels, books, and a sandal here or there typical of any cruise when you have passengers with the me-me-me attitude and like to save unused chairs by main pool for hours on end). We also picked up future cruise material to have something to read... and I've already been online researching!!

Disembarkation: We had JetBlue booked for 11:20, and everyone always says nothing earlier than noon. We were the first two off the ship (7:43 AM) having gotten in line on deck four midship at 7:00 instead of reporting to the theatre at 7:30 as we had been told (lavender group three). Again, having only our carryon items (two backpacks and one small rollerbag) we were quickly in a cab. We were at the gate by 8:15. Yes - walking off the ship at 7:43 and at the GATE (through security) by 8:15. Can't beat that. Flights home were fine (JetBlue to Orlando, 90 minute connection to Southwest just a few gates away, and then Southwest home to Dallas). Lots of travelers in Orlando being Spring Break. We had a quick dinner after getting off the plane (we were starving!) and were home before 8:00. For some reason, room service did not work this morning... on waffles... and my bed feels like it is swaying. I think the only thing that will help is to book another cruise.

Overall thoughts: We had an absolutely wonderful time on Celebrity Summit's southern Caribbean itinerary. There are no negatives to report. I'm a "glass half full" type of girl, and I realize for many , their glass if half empty. Yes, if you look hard enough you might find a strand of carpet out of place or a window that wasn't washed in the past thirty minutes. However, the Summit looked outstanding, the crew worked their rears off, and my hubby and I had a great anniversary week. We would love to book the Summit again once our daughter turns three so she can enjoy the kiddo program, and will definitely cruise with Celebrity - AND out of San Juan - again in the future. This cruise was the complete opposite of our Celebrity Galaxy experience from 12/14/01 as I shared in the opening of this review. Thank you, Celebrity, for winning us back.

Please excuse any typos that have been made. I am now officially going through cruise withdrawal and I awoke with my bed feeling like it was rocking gently like the ship. Less

Published 03/22/09

Cabin review: 2A9024 Deluxe Ocean View with Balcony 2A

Great location with an overhang from the salon above to protect you from the sun. Easy access to elevators, and just up a quick flight of stairs to the AquaSpa area (pool, spa, healthy breakfast/lunch alternative)

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