Summit 14-night Classical Mediterranean
Barcelona to Venice, Oct 3 to Oct 17, 2009
Concierge Class 9th deck
Background: This trip was the first cruise for my husband and I, and I did quite a bit of research on Cruise Critic and elsewhere prior to selecting this itinerary with Celebrity. We selected this particular itinerary for time of year, length, variety of ports, overnights in Rome and Istanbul, and pace that included 3 sea days. I had concerns based on threads on this board bemoaning the deterioration of the Celebrity brand in general and the condition of the Summit in particular. With a goal of reporting back to the Cruise Critic community that provided me with volumes of useful information for my planning, I tried to partake of many activities and be a careful observer of onboard life, both positive and negative.
Overall: We rate our experience as excellent, but not outstanding. There are some areas that Celebrity could improve (details below), but nonetheless we are looking forward to possibly sailing with our 3 school age children on a shorter North American itinerary next year.
Embarkation: Painless. We arrived at the port in Barcelona around 1 pm, and were offered cold water or fruit punch while we filled out a short health questionnaire. Within 10 minutes we were on board and offered a glass of champagne or a mimosa.
Luggage: It was delivered while we were having lunch, so we don't know exactly when it arrived, but it was within 90 minutes of when we dropped it off at the port.
Ship Condition: The Summit just turned 8. The inspiration of the French-built Summit is apparently the glamorous 1930's French oceanliner 'Normandie'; the Summit's interior design is Art Deco from that era. The original, beautiful large bronze statue of a woman from the Normandie is prominent in the 4th floor MDR. It is a quite nice ship, not "wow!", but refined, elegant, and generally in very good condition. Yes, there are areas where you'll see a little rust, numerous rails needing varnish, an uneven carpet seam here and there, etc. but these should be considered normal I think (though they may be a bit behind the curve on the railing varnish). There were workers painting or taking care of things all the time. In 5 years, people will probably be making the same comments about the Solstice and the Equinox.
Stateroom: CC class. We found the stateroom to be well arranged with plenty of storage and hangers. Our suitcases fit under our queen-sized bed. The bedding and sofa were in excellent condition. The carpeting, while clean, had seen better days and was worn. The sheer drapery curtain was missing several runners that made it a struggle to open and close. Hardware on one of the closet doors was broken such that the door did not completely close. The shower was spacious enough and my tall husband appreciated the Grohe shower sprayer that had a height adjustment and good water pressure. There was always enough hot water and it was the correct temperature from nearly the moment the water began flowing. The towels had seen better days and could have used more fabric softener, but the plush bathrobes were nice. We asked for different pillows and were offered several choices. The most annoying element was that the exhaust fan in the bathroom did not work and despite requests, it was not repaired. Thus we endured more odor and foggy mirrors than should have been necessary. On a few days it seemed as though septic odor wafted back through the system into the bathroom. The old CRT TVs should be replaced with modern flatscreens. The balcony had two padded chairs and a table large enough for snacks or cozy dining. Flowers in the room and bathroom were fresh and changed as necessary throughout the cruise. There was a basket of fruit that was kept fresh, though we didn't eat much of it. The much-maligned canapEs of the CC boards arrived in the afternoon and were perfectly fine as far as canapEs go. They consisted of items such as salmon or blue cheese concoctions piped onto dry bread circles, garnished chunks of cheese, baby corn wrapped in turkey, caviar on cream cheese, bay shrimp on cucumber, melon and prosciutto ham, etc. Not scary.
We were below the Waterfall Cafe and experienced little noise other than transient footsteps with two notable exceptions: once a heavy object landed with a loud thud, and the morning of departure there was a lot of staff activity that actually woke us up much earlier than we were planning.
Service: Our stateroom attendant, Nicasio "Nick" was absolutely excellent and we both wished we could have taken him home with us. He kept our room spotless and although we didn't make many particular requests of him, he executed those that we did have flawlessly.
As non-EU citizens, our passports had to be collected and held while we were in Greece and Turkey. A note arrived on our door with a drop-off place and time. Very quick to do as was the process to pick-up our passports.
Overall, the service was helpful, friendly, and efficient.
Food: This category deserves several paragraphs based on out experiences and the numbers of threads on the CC board relating to menus, preparation, etc.
Main Dining Room - We ate most of our dinners in the MDR, late seating. We had a table for two on the 5th floor near the railing that provided excellent views of the room below, the staircase, and the Captain's table. We found that we regretted late seating, which started at 8:45. Due to the intensity of the ports and the length of the dining service (usually 90 minutes or more) we were a bit tired to fully appreciate it. We were also one of the last tables to be served in our service area.
As far as the food itself, it was generally very good, with some notable hits and misses, and odd lapses. For example, on our first evening, I ordered the Fleet Executive Chef Jacques Van Staden's recommendation (his dish recommendations are noted on the menus) of Tangiers-style lamb shank as my entrEe. The lamb shank was large, meaty and tender on a bed of couscous. I had a vague sense of something lacking, however. That same evening, my husband had spaghetti that was no ordinary spaghetti. It had pancetta, chopped eggs, and other ingredients and it had him practically licking his plate. Another evening with both had beef fillets topped with oscar; my husband's serving had an appropriate amount, but mine had just a dab of crab and no sauce. The most predictable flaw was soups or entrees arriving lukewarm.
Notably excellent items were an appetizer of avocado wedge topped with crab louie, French onion soup, Chicken Chiquita, duck medallions, mushrooms in puff pastry, and a cheese tart. Misses include an oversalted lobster bisque and a portabella mushroom terrine that was slimy but pretty looking. Only one evening did we not find something from the daily menu that didn't appeal to us and several evenings it was hard to make a decision. Anytime we had beef, it was tender. I had read reports of tough beef that was hard to cut, but in our experience that may be due to the dull steak knives that my husband described as a "mildly menacing butter knife". The menu was different each of the 14 nights. One night I had Beef Wellington that had an unwelcome addition of a piece of hard plastic in it. The plastic was shown to our waiter and the maitre d' who soon came over to apologize. Another time, our waiter strongly suggested that my husband order a second entrEe as a hedge against his first choice. Desserts were decent enough, but occasionally were too similar to the previous evening's choices, so we sometimes skipped them.
Our waiter Renato was efficient, but we found his assistant, Carolina, to be more personable. The sommelier, Arie, actually seemed irked that we wouldn't buy the expensive wine he was pushing. My husband is knows wine and found a red and a white that was reasonably priced by the glass (to the sommelier's annoyance we think); we normally only ordered one glass each. Buying a wine package may have saved some money, but often our entrees were so different that we wouldn't have both wanted the same wine with dinner. The sommelier was also pushing wine tasting events and we were turned off by the "hard sell".
Waterfall Cafe - Abundant choices for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, many hot items, omelets, breakfast pizzas and quesedillas, waffles, several types of Egg Benedict (on crab cake, Italian, German, etc.), French Toast, blintzes, fruits, hot and cold cereals, British section. The breakfast didn't change throughout the cruise, but there was a wide variety. For lunch, hot buffet, pizzas, pasta and stirfry, salad bar, made to order sandwiches, cold prepared salads. One day there was an Octoberfest section. We had dinner here three times. Besides the pasta, salad bar, stirfry, and pizza, there was sushi and a small, usually themed (Mexican, Indian, Greek, etc.) buffet (3 or 4 main dishes, hot side items, 3 or 4 cold prepared salads) during peak dinner hours. The food was generally of good quality, but it could be hard to get a waiter's attention, trays and dishes were unbussed, etc.
Waterfall Grill - Burgers, hot dogs, nachos--things like that. We had heard the burgers were good, but found them so-so the one time we tried them. One seaday there were chicken fajitas that looked good with all the accompaniments, except tortillas. The servers had no idea when, or if, tortillas would be forthcoming, so we passed.
Aqua Spa Cafe - Unfortunately, I did not get to eat here. I saw it, the food looked good, others said the food was good, and on the one day I went I was too late and it was closed.
Normandie - We didn't eat here, mainly because my husband was getting tried of long drawn-out dining experiences.
Main Dining Room for "Express Breakfast" and Lunch on sea days - The express breakfast is a simple meal of juice, coffee, eggs, bacon, and toast or Danish. Fast and good enough for an early port day. My husband was hankering for a good burger lunch by the second sea day and found the cheeseburger and fries adequate. I had a turkey panini that I enjoyed it more than he did his burger. We also had breakfast once in the MDR.
Cova Cafe - We had tapas here twice; the first time with the only truly "bad attitude" employee we encountered on the Summit. I saw the afternoon pastries and they looked delicious, but was never hungry enough in the afternoon to have any.
Brunch - On the second sea day, there was an elaborate brunch in the MDR. Good thing we arrived at the 10 am opening; our dinner waiter spotted us and ushered to a tableï¿½a couple we took a private tour with told us that later on seating was impossible and they missed out.
Mediterranean Festival - The night we were docked in Istanbul there was music, regional dancing, and a buffet of Turkish foods in the pool area.
Evening Dessert Extravaganza - The last formal night. There were chocolate fountains, tarts, mousses, cakes, Eclairs, brulees, etc. with ice sculptures in the Bar at the Edge of the Earth.
Alcohol: We live in a high cost-of-living area, so to us, the drink prices were similar to what we'd pay in a hotel or restaurant. They have drink specials everyday (such as 2 for 1 margaritas or a bucket of beer where you get one bottle free). When we came into Istanbul 2 flutes of champagne were $6. Not bad. Though we did talk to a Scottish couple who voiced that $5 for a beer was outrageous. So depends on your perspective, I guess.
Coffee: The much maligned beverage has earned it's rap. IT IS THAT BAD. We never had a single cup that was good. I had read on CC that good coffee was available at the Cova Cafe; turns out they only have coffee drinks, you can't get a regular cup. When I asked at the Cova, where possibly, we could get a good cup, the employee enthusiastically told us of the instant Nescafe coffee in the Waterfall Cafe. I know Fleet Chef Van Staden described in the forums a while back the reasons for the coffee woes, (water pressure and such), but as a person who grinds her own and has tried many varieties of beans, I think that the issue is simply low quality, STALE, coffee. PERIOD. The supreme insult came when I went to the Bar of the Edge of the Earth to observe our late evening passage through the Dardanelles. I was charged $3.00 for a cup of this liquid waste, served in a white wine glass of all things!
Fellow Passengers: Average about late 50s, but numerous honeymoon couples as well. I saw few people that used a walker or cane.
Kids: Very few. Maybe 20, including the Captain's own toddler son.
Shows: Attended the Celebrity Theatre encore performance on last formal night. Musical variety. Vocals stronger than choreography. Decent sets, considering that this is on a ship. One element with two aerialists received the most applause.
Other venues we listened to included entertainment at the pools, the Rendevous Lounge, the aft 10 deck, quartet with an excellent electric guitarist who soloed, and piano/vocals at Michael's Bar.
Pools: I never hung around the main pools. I was looking for quiet to read and relax and on seadays and the main outdoor pools were a noisy, party-type area with the band. I used the Thallossotherapy pool and spas which I enjoyed plus the sauna which afforded a picture window view of the ocean. There were plenty of towels, and my only complaints are that the pool and spas weren't running one time when I was looking forward to using them and the pool butler came through too seldom in the T-pool area.
Ship's Excursions vs. Independent Travelers: This is an area where Celebrity could improve. We know that ships want you to take their tours, but that's not for everybody. Not for us, anyway. But if you weren't on one of the X tours, you were second class. We couldn't disembark before the tour groups. The most blatant example was at the port of Naples. We go to the 1st deck ganyway per announcement only to be told that since we're not on a tour we need to go to the 3rd deck. Then there weren't any signs about which way to exit and terminal employees waved us in the direction of the excursion buses. We were meeting a small group for a private tour and apparently the signs to direct us "independents" out of the port were removed at some point. One couple in our group almost didn't make our party because of this. During the "shopping lady's" (Fiona McKenzie) presentations, she would omit certain info that would be helpful (for example, that there's a cheap and easy tram into the Old City Istanbul) in favor of stressing how passengers "needed" to buy their X shuttle tickets for Istanbul. The map distributed for Athens had a major error on it. There are other examples. The best defense is to do your homework ahead of time.
Activities: We attended a chef cooking challenge in the Celebrity Theatre (moderately entertaining), two art auctions, a galley tour that was diminished only because the chef's English was almost incomprehensible to us and others. People kept asking each other "What?" "Do you understand what he's saying?" "What's he talking about?". Bridge tour (informative). Movie. Catholic mass. It seemed that the activities we were most interested in were scheduled at the same time on sea days.
Crowds: I heard that the ship was almost sold-out, but it hardly ever felt crowded. I often asked myself "Where is everybody?". The exception was lunch when arrived Istanbul. It was crowded at the Waterfall Cafe and it took a little strategy to find a table. Also about a 15-minute wait to be tendered in Croatia.
Internet: Only bother with it if you need to. Expensive and slow. Two of my sessions were complete busts that I really don't think I should have paid for.
Smoking: I've read that Celebrity's new policy is non-smoking. Maybe I misunderstood what that means, but smoking was allowed on Decks 10, 11, and 12 (outdoor bars, pool, and lounging chair areas).
Tendering: We were tendered at Villefranche, Mykonos, and Split. We only waited once, about 15 minutes to be tendered in Split when everyone seemed to be leaving at once.
Disembarkment: Celebrity asked guests to complete questionnaires so that people with early flights could receive priority, or could purchase the ship's transport to St. Mark's Square. We had already figured out we were going to take the Alilaguna water bus to St. Mark's Square, so we had no special disembarkment needs. We gathered at the appointed place and were able to leave at our leisure within a 20-minute or so window. Our luggage, having been sorted by color and number codes, was waiting in the port terminal.
We felt that the disembarkment process was a bit impersonal and that the staff was concentrating more on the new guests that would be arriving that day. Our last evening we didn't even get our canapEs, turndown service, or our last port info sheet delivered to our room.
I started a thread on the Celebrity board in case anyone has specific questions that I didn't cover here. Happy cruising!
CC 9145. Nice location to elevators and easy access to Deck 10 dining and pools.