Beautiful Summit in all her new glory!: Celebrity Summit Cruise Review by jazzbeau

Celebrity Summit 5

Overall Member Rating

Beautiful Summit in all her new glory!

Sail Date: January 2012
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: San Juan
This was our first Celebrity cruise. We did a 10-day Mediterranean cruise on Oceania last spring which was our main comparison. We were concerned that although Summit is small for Celebrity, it is much larger than Insignia--but we never felt overwhelmed or crowded. Every aspect of this cruise was equal to or better than the level on Oceania, and the price was considerably lower even with the extra charges, so we consider Celebrity an excellent value for luxury cruising.

In the review that follows I will call out the particularly excellent features and the things that we didn't like. This may give the impression that there were a lot of things to complain about so let me state clearly up front that we had a great time, Summit is a wonderful ship, Celebrity is our new favorite cruise line, and we will be back.


The embarkation process was very smooth, even though this was the dry-dock shakedown cruise and work was continuing. We took an More early-morning flight from NY and were able to board as soon as we got to the ship (just before 2 pm but others were already on board), with no lines or hassles. The cabins were available immediately, although luggage was delivered throughout the day (ours was among the last, just in time to change for late dinner). Had lunch, went back to the Pan Am port building to buy bottled water, explored the ship a little, and attended the Muster Drill.

We were very impressed by Celebrity's attention to the Muster Drill. Every passenger was checked in at least twice on the way into the muster station, the presentation was thorough, and we were given a complete printed version of everything they said. The crew stayed at the end for further instruction. This was very reassuring.


We and our friend had inside cabins on deck 7 (we had initially accepted the Celebrity website's default choices on deck 9, but changed after reading cabin reviews on another website that warned about noise from lounge furniture being moved around early in the morning). These cabins--7101 and 7127--were completely quiet and located close enough to midship for a smooth ride.

The cabins were similar to our inside cabin on Oceania Insignia, and completely satisfactory for our needs. The mattresses were brand new, firm but not hard, and we slept very well throughout the cruise. The new color scheme is nice and contemporary. The bathroom is very functional, and the shower stall is larger than on Insignia so I didn't hit my elbows. The new shower curtain kept the water where it belonged. We would gladly take either of these cabins again.


We went to Bistro on Five for lunch on embarkation. It was empty and I think we were the first passengers ever to dine there, so it was surprising that the crepes smelled of old oil. None of our three lunches was particularly good so we never went back there.

Select Dining in the Cosmopolitan MDR was mostly excellent. The first night we had excellent service from our waiter Melvin, so after a less satisfactory experience at another station we always requested (and got) him again. We never had to wait for a table to open up. The food was better than Oceania, despite their gourmet claims. Plenty of interesting choices every night. Some items were truly excellent, a few were disappointing (having been spoiled in Maine we should have known not to order lobster, but it wasn't even cooked properly). Overall the food was at least very good. It was generally served hot; soup was always hot because they pour it in the bowl at your place from a thermos. One night I asked for a substitution of mashed potatoes instead of boiled, and that was no problem. Quantities were sufficient and we were encouraged to ask for more or different if anything was not satisfactory.

Qsine was a hoot. We went in a party of seven, which allowed us to sample a wide selection of the menu. Service was very attentive. Two examples of the stellar service: one menu choice includes lamb chops which wouldn't have been enough for everyone--so they brought extras without being asked; when my wife asked if something contained tomato, the waitress immediately brought her an extra item that she knew was tomato-free. The quality of the food was much better than the description of Qsine led me to expect: filet mignon, lamb chops, authentic Indian recipes; not a loser all night and so many offerings that even if you didn't like something you could get stuffed on everything else. My only reservation about Qsine is that it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun if we had gone as a two-top.

Normandie is to die for. There have been some snarky comments about other rave reviews, implying that the reviewers don't know from top restaurants, so let me state my creds: my favorite restaurants are Radius in Boston, Citronelle in DC, Eleven Madison Park in NYC, and Michael Mina in San Francisco. Normandie is on that level. Everything we had was excellent. We never splurged on the 5-course wine pairing dinner, but they were happy to let us order a second appetizer course to achieve a similar result (it was too much food). I will single out the rack of lamb because of comments in other reviews about the MDR version only including 2 chops; in Normandie you get 4 chops which add up to a very satisfying portion. We made another reservation before we left, and would have gone a third time except that they were sold out. Next time we'll book three nights in Normandie before sailing.

We had all our breakfasts in the buffet (which is called Waterfall Cafe on the deck plans and Oceanview cafe in Celebrity Today). There was a large selection of meats, eggs and pastries. Fresh fruit was disappointing: we rarely saw fresh berries and they were not top quality; even the melons and pineapple weren't fully ripe. I felt that all the pastries were overcooked, but this is true of many of the bakeries where we live (except that at home we can shop at the other bakeries). There were at least five kinds of sausage but I didn't really like any of them (or the bacon); and the waffles that some reviewers rave about did not appeal to me (I prefer the ones at Hampton Inn). Luckily there was almost always Eggs Benedict so I only sampled these other choices for informational purposes... All the above comments are based on our likes and dislikes; your mileage may vary. We never tried the buffet for lunch or dinner.

Coffee was consistently terrible in the buffet. There has been a thread about this, but I wasn't sure what they meant by terrible. It wasn't too strong or too weak, it was that it tasted bad. It also varied from day to day in strength and flavor (one day for some reason it was pretty good, but only the once). The chamomile tea was weak, even with two tea bags. The ship's water also tasted bad, so I don't know how you could make good coffee or tea--but they do in Normandie (where the Chamomile Tisane was excellent).


We aren't big on shows or casinos, and we like to dine late so the shows are often over by the time we finish dinner. We did attend parts of two of the shows on Summit and were impressed by the quality compared to Oceania. But I'll be snarky here and state that these are definitely not "Broadway quality." Entertaining, yes--but nothing like a real Broadway show.

The dance classes were enjoyed by DW, and there was such a wide range of ability that even my two left feet could have joined in. Luckily I had the camera and instructions to take pictures...

The Cruise Critic reception was scheduled at 8 pm early in the cruise in the Rendezvous lounge. I popped in between dinner courses as the group was being welcomed by the Cruise Director. It's a nice gesture, but it's very difficult to find a time that works for everybody.


Three cheers for Celebrity's very restrictive smoking policy. It was great to be able to visit every single area inside the ship and never worry about being assaulted by secondhand smoke, and on deck there was enough of a breeze that I didn't have to choose my path to avoid the smokers. I'm glad that the whole industry is moving this way, so Celebrity won't feel any pressure to backtrack on this excellent policy.


We did our shopping in port, so we only browsed through the boutiques on board. A check of liquor prices at a duty-free shop in St. Thomas showed that Celebrity is fairly priced.


We also brought our own camera, so we weren't tempted by the efforts of the shipboard photographers--who were getting a little pushy by the end of the cruise [no, I don't want my picture taken with someone in a dolphin suit]. Oceania has dropped this "service," do we only realized in retrospect how much we enjoyed its absence...

Shore Excursions

This was an area where Oceania really fell down: the range of offerings was slim and prices were dramatically higher than you could do on your own, and as a result they were often cancelled due to poor sales. Celebrity was much better: many more choices and fair prices. We did most ports independently either because someone from our roll call had made arrangements or because we just wanted a quiet day at the beach or shopping, but the two Celebrity tours we took (described below) were excellent and well worth it.

Announcements and Muzak

First the good news: announcements were kept to a minimum, and since they are only in English they are short and sweet. Canned music, on the other hand, shows the schizophrenia of Celebrity's attempt to reach out to a younger clientele: it was often too loud and the styles didn't match Summit's classy decor, but it also wasn't authentic enough to really appeal to those who like that stuff. There were a couple of computer-generated tracks that were really annoying (one sounded like a new synthesizer-based dental drill; the other like a violin section tuning up for 10 minutes at a stretch). We complained about the sound level in Normandie one night, and it was lowered; a few minutes later someone else must have complained, because it was replaced by Classical music which fit Normandie much better--please make that change permanent!

Post-Dry Dock Teething Problems

I expected to see much more last-minute work going on. The aft end of Deck 11 was roped off the entire cruise while they completed the new AQ cabins there, and that also blocked off the new aft Deck 12 (with the rumored basketball court which I hope is not real). There was constant painting, but this is true of all cruise ships trying vainly to prevent the inevitable oxidation process that salt brings to steel. The only real problem on this shakedown cruise was a complete failure of water pressure on day 2, which prevented showers before dinner on the first formal night; we were told that the kitchen coped by cooking with Evian, which given the bad taste of the tap water would seem like a good idea all the time. But all in all this was an incredibly smooth shakedown cruise, and kudos to the entire Celebrity team involved in the Solsticization program. Less

Published 02/06/12

Cabin review: 097101 Inside Stateroom 9

7101 and 7127: quiet location, standard functional layout, nice new furnishings

Read All Inside Stateroom 9 (09) Reviews >>

Port and Shore Excursions

Donaldson of Nature Isle Explorers was an excellent guide, informative but most important strong and caring toward the weaker swimmers fighting the current across the Ti Tou Gorge pool.

Someone in our roll call heard about the Papillote Wilderness Retreat rainforest garden, and since none of the standard excursions go there she arranged a custom tour that started with a scenic drive to Ti Tou Gorge (great timing - we had it to ourselves, then as we left a bunch of buses with about 100 people arrived), more scenic views on the way to Papillote for an hour-long guided tour of the gardens and resort followed by lunch, then to nearby Trafalgar Falls, and back to the ship via the Botanical Garden (which is really more of a park for picnicking). The ship had a similar excursion that omitted Papillote, so this was a very good deal. Papillote was great for a tour and lunch, and if you want to spend a few days on Dominica it would make a great base of operations. They have several hot mineral pools on the property (with iron, not sulfur, so there's no smell), and their packages include all the other sightseeing opportunities on the island. Johnny Depp stayed there during the filming, and Mick Jagger more recently.

Ti Tou Gorge is a don't-miss, even if Johnny Depp isn't there anymore. You wade into the stream on smooth rocks, swim through the narrow gorge to another area where you can stand and rest, then swim across the strong current from the waterfall into a small grotto. The guide had a life preserver on a rope that he used to pull us across that last current; this was essential for some and very welcome for all. Going back the current is pushing you, so there's no problem for anyone.

Trafalgar Falls is a pair of good-size waterfalls (the "father" is 125 feet tall, narrow and graceful; the "mother" is 75 feet tall, wider and much more powerful--is there something Freudian about the naming?). This area is so popular that they now limit morning visits to ship-sponsored tours only; that forced us to leave it for after lunch but as a result it wasn't terribly crowded. The area has been developed in an eco-friendly way to accommodate the large volume of tourists without turning into Disneyland. You can walk out to a wooden viewing platform with relatively little exertion. You can also walk down to the base of the falls and swim in cold and warm pools (we didn't have time to consider this, but it looked like it would be both strenuous and dangerous on a steep path of slippery rocks). The swim at Ti Tou Gorge had been enough exercise for one day, so we were happy to view the falls from above.

Time for another quiet day, so we took the water taxi from the pier over to Grand Anse beach. This is a lovely beach, very wide but not very deep, with vendors all along who rent chairs and umbrellas. There are also shady areas under trees, which are free. We compromised by renting chairs without umbrellas, under the trees. There were various vendors and bars along the beach, and some vendors and bar staff circulated through the beach--but we didn't find them pushy and many people were grateful for the bar service. We asked the water taxi to drop us off at the Carenage area on the way back, because the ship's map showed a major spice market there. We never found the spice market, or anything else of great interest in the Carenage, but it was a short walk back to the pier area where we found plenty of spice vendors. My recollection from Caribbean visits several decades ago was that the vendors near the pier were tourist traps and you needed to get downtown for better deals, but that seems to have changed. Many ports have developed sparkling new shopping areas right at the piers with branches of the downtown stores. This means you have the flexibility to do some sightseeing and then shop within sight of the ship, with no worries about missing the "all aboard" call.
Read 531 Grenada Reviews

Celebrity offers several shore excursions with airport drop-off. Since we had flown in directly to the cruise we decided to try the Old San Juan Walking Tour. The brochure says this is only available for flights after 2:30 pm, but we decided that our 2:25 flight was close enough to risk it (even after carefully phrased disclaimers from the shore excursion staff), and indeed we got to the airport in plenty of time even if there had been lines at security. The tour was excellent. Our guide, Steve Fleming, is a transplanted New Yorker (small world again) who vacationed in Old San Juan for many years and moved down full-time two years ago. He was thus able to give us both the Puerto Rican and US perspectives on the history and sights. He obviously loves old forts and he made El Morro come alive. This was just enough of a taste of Old San Juan to make us want to come back. Maybe for the next cruise we'll fly down a day or two early. A word about the timing. Celebrity lists this as a two-hour walking tour starting at 8:30 am. You might think that means you arrive at the airport at 10:30, but on reflection you'll see that that's impossible. You're only getting on the bus at 8:30, so the walking tour doesn't begin until 9. If you are lucky to have an enthusiastic guide, or unlucky to have a passenger go missing for a bit (we were both), you'll only be getting back to the bus at 11:30 or 12. Traffic is light on Saturdays, so the trip out to the airport should be quick (but the accident we saw in the other direction on the freeway could easily have caused a delay). Still, with all these extras we were at the airport by 12:30 with plenty of time for the Agricultural Inspection (no line), check in (no line), lunch at Subway, Security (no line) and walk to the gate.
Read 2979 San Juan Reviews

We joined a roll call group for Big Beard's Half-Day Buck Island Snorkeling Tour. This port has a well organized taxi federation to get you from Frederiksted over to Christiansted, and if you have booked an excursion you are directed to the bus that's going direct to your operator. The Big Beard excursion was excellent. The 17 of us had plenty of room on the boat with a choice of sun or shade (we saw other boats that were crammed and/or had no shade at all). Captain Caitlin and Mate Andy were very solicitous toward the weaker swimmers and less adventuresome. Overall I think everybody had a good time and was glad they had gone. But you should know that the Buck Island reef has a strong ocean current that requires steady swimming to get out to the best parts (and even to stay in place once you're there). The good news is that the current pushes you back toward Buck Island, not out to sea, but this is not a restful snorkel float like Trunk Bay on St. John. It was hard work, but it was worth it for a healthier reef with lots of fish. Afterward we had lunch at the brewpub in Christiansted. We weren't able to shop there because most places are closed on Sunday. Luckily the tent vendors at Frederiksted were in full swing when we got back, and I had a "small world" moment when the woman at a jewelry stand spotted my CUNY cap and we discovered that we had gone to the same elementary, junior high and high school back on Long Island. DH bought a very nice coral and freshwater pearl necklace from her, and we have an eager mentor if we decide to retire to St. Croix! A nice finish to a nice day.

We tried to schedule a quiet day after each busy one, so this day started with a late breakfast and then shopping in the sparkling new port shopping area. This is the nicest, most convenient shopping on all these islands. There is so much stunning jewelry that you can't help getting swept up in shopping fever. We particularly liked Glitter Jewelry, where Yosh was persistent but not too pushy and ended up finding a nice fit to our taste.
Read 1321 St. Kitts Reviews

We discovered St. John on our honeymoon cruise, and loved it so much that we went back the next year for two weeks at the Cinnamon Bay national park cottages. We debated whether going back now would trigger Thomas Wolfe Syndrome ("you can't go home again"), especially since one of the tour books says the Trunk Bay coral has been damaged by overuse--but since our friend had never been to St. John we felt that we had to give it a try. The Celebrity excursion goes right from the pier to Cruz Bay on St. John and then takes you on an open-air bus to Trunk Bay, for only a little more than you would have to pay to take a taxi to Red Hook, the ferry to St. John, and a taxi to Trunk Bay, so we felt the convenience was worth it and it was a lovely hassle-free day. The Trunk Bay snorkeling is not as pristine as I remembered it, but it was still very enjoyable. I especially liked being able to float motionless and let the fish get back to their regular activities--I was able to see so much more this way than while fighting the current at Buck Island. Two very different kinds of snorkeling. I'm glad I did both. Serious shoppers probably want to spend the day in downtown Charlotte Amalie, but there is now a small but interesting shopping area at the Havensight pier. Some of the same brands of jewelry stores as in St. Kitts, but much smaller (although the H. Stern outlet store had a stunning blue topaz necklace for $27,000--hardly what I consider "outlet" levels).

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