This was my first cruise on Celebrity, I've previously sailed on Holland America. Thus, this review is somewhat of a comparison of my experiences on both lines.
Embarking: San Juan is very accessible. Found out that Celebrity actually asked for a hard copy of my boarding pass, which I didn’t bother to print. I had to break out my laptop to show them, and even then they still had to write some information down manually. Otherwise, since the boarding time was pretty stretched from 11 AM to about 6 PM, there were no long lines and it took like 15 minutes total. Once on the ship, however, our room wasn’t ready until almost 2 PM. I prefer the more paperless approach and earlier readiness of the room on HAL, but with proper preparation it’s not a big issue. Very slight edge to HAL.
Internet: Celebrity didn’t have a ship app available for the Summit. Plus to HAL. Internet Speed was decent enough, especially in public spaces, for me to connect to email and work VPN. I think SpeedTest results were about 2.5-3.0 Mbps. Generally, this is a win for Celebrity.
Casual Dining: The Ocean View Café was a bit mixed compared to HAL. It’s superior to HAL in terms of grilled-to-order meats available for lunch and dinner, and drink stations are more accessible. Desserts are better on Celebrity’s buffet. HAL is far superior with its breakfast offerings and Asian foods. While HAL’s buffet has more limited hours, the 10:00 – 11:00 late night offerings are more complete on HAL than on X. HAL also wins with the Dive-In Burger, since Celebrity’s burger stand doesn’t do grill-to-order without some cajoling and the fries are nowhere as good as the Dive-In’s. Celebrity has better premium coffee and gelato stands, especially the free treats available at the coffee stand. So if you’re more of a burger-and-fries person, HAL wins the snack department. If you crave the sweet stuff for snacks, X wins.
Main Dining Room experience: Celebrity had better meat-based dishes, but HAL has superior seafood and appetizers. Celebrity did offer as “always available” shrimp cocktail and escargots. The dishes were very lightly salted on my Celebrity cruise, which can be a very good or a very bad thing depending on one’s taste and health requirements. Lobsters were bigger on my HAL cruises. Even for a first-time cruiser, I noticed that while for the most part still tasting good, I can understand other reports of cutbacks on the level of offerings in the Celebrity MDR, such as serving certain types of non-premium seafood selections. Unlike HAL, Celebrity has on paper better MDR dining options for Aqua and Suite class passengers, a subject for debate at another time. Like HAL, even though I had “any-time / select” dining, I was able to secure reservations for the early 530ish time at the same table each night. My regular waiters were fantastic, able to accommodate my sometimes-rushed meal schedule while at the same time very attentive. So food-wise, HAL is better but service in MDR on both lines have been excellent for me.
Shipboard Activities: No question, Celebrity beats HAL by a mile here. First of all, with about the same number of passengers, Celebrity had about 2-3 times the number of staff dedicated to passenger activities. For devout Catholics, HAL’s onboard priest would be a plus, however. Our CD Patrick and his associate manager Manuel were outstanding emcees / game show hosts. There were multiple events that included active participation from ship officers. There were like 4-6 Trivia-related events each day (including port days) and with my cabin mate and me doing well, we were able to win a nice beach tote bag and t-shirt, along with several deck of cards, a lanyard, and several of those “X” medal ribbons. A much nicer haul than the small pins we usually receive from HAL. The shows, dancers, and singers on Celebrity were of higher quality. Live music was available throughout the ship at night. HAL is better with classical music, and the BB King set is great, but it just doesn’t have the variety. For example, one night I just wandered out to the stern outdoor buffet seating area, and there was a fantastic duo performing acoustic numbers superior to main stage performances on HAL. The Summit’s activities really helped create some good memories for me.
Fellow Passengers: Demographics-wise, like HAL there weren’t that many kids on the cruise (I heard there were 53 onboard). I did like that smoking was limited for most of the ship spaces. Mostly because I wasn’t sailing with a group this time, I had more personal encounters with fellow passengers. Met some really nice and sweet folk onboard, especially during dinner and trivia. Highly related to the itinerary ending in New Jersey, a lot of passengers were from the PA-NJ-NY area. A bit more blunt and pushy at times, but also more willing to chat and get raucous and energized during large game show events like 80s music night and the Marriage game. Can’t compare since passenger demographics at the upscale mass market segment are more dependent on itineraries than cruise line.
Disembarkation: So much better at FLL than Bayonne. First of all, FLL has Global Entry, Bayonne doesn’t. We also had to wait in line about 20 minutes for the passenger bridge to clear, something that never happened on HAL. The long line did move somewhat decently once we were inside the terminal. I guess the powers that be wanted us to experience the “tired, poor, huddled masses” vibe at the nearby Ellis Island.
I had a Deck 2 ocean-view cabin. It seemed smaller than the HAL OV cabins on the Vista and Signature class ships, and a bit more dated. The Summit really needs the refurbishment for its cabins expected in early 2019. The bed was not as nice and firm as the ones on HAL, and there was less storage space. The shower and toilet worked fine. The S-class ships would have better cabins, I’m sure. One plus is that the window was quite large and provided a real feel for being at sea and not at an apartment. Our cabin attendant was highly visible and fixed up the room very quickly between our trips to the dining areas. Service-wise, he was on the same level as the better attendants I’ve had on HAL. On the whole, slight edge to HAL here.