Celebrity's Summit Revisited

| November 4, 2005

Celebrity's Summit

Celebrity Cruises is bringing its stylish Millennium-class ships to a new port starting this fall: Los Angeles.  The line is hardly new to the west coast, having sailed out of San Diego and San Francisco. But it recently inaugurated its first departures from Los Angeles’ port of San Pedro, with three Mexico cruises aboard Celebrity Summit.

"Summit will sail Panama Canal and Hawaii cruises from Los Angeles through spring 2006," a company spokesperson said. "Infinity, another Millennium-class Celebrity Cruise ship, will also begin sailing from the port of Los Angeles with two Panama Canal cruises at the end of October. The ship will commence Hawaii itineraries from the port of Los Angeles starting in December 2005 until spring 2006. So in terms of the line’s ‘best hardware,’ we will have two of our best ships sailing from Los Angeles through spring 2006." The line’s other two Millennium-class ships are Millennium and Constellation.

We went on one of Summit’s Mexico departures – visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas – and found it to be a thoroughly satisfying cruise experience, with all the frills you’d expect from a first-class vessel – especially with the extra amenities and services of Celebrity’s ConciergeClass.

The Port

Main Lobby Staircase
For those flying into Los Angeles International Airport, the port facility at San Pedro is only about a half-hour’s drive. Granted, traffic on L.A.’s freeways can get snarled much of the time, but with a transfer booked through the cruise line, you’ll be on a motorcoach that can take advantage of multi-passenger-vehicle express lanes.  The port has been making improvements, too. Last year, it opened a new cruise ship promenade along the water; this fall, it added an extension of the pedestrian promenade down Harbor Boulevard ending at Fifth Street, close to downtown San Pedro.

We whisked through boarding procedures in a few minutes, having pre-registered on Celebrity’s web site – a handy time-saver that’s now available for passengers boarding any of Celebrity’s (or sister company Royal Caribbean’s) ships. 

The 91,000-ton Celebrity Summit can handle 1,950 guests in accommodations that range over 11 decks; 80 percent of its cabins are ocean-view.  That includes some 55 suites, ranging in size from 32 Sky Suites (254 to 362 sq. ft.) to a pair of massive Penthouse Suites at 1,690 sq. ft.  The latter are equipped with everything from a baby grand piano to a butler’s pantry to your own exercise equipment, as well as a personal computer with Internet, a printer and a fax.


The Computer Room
Passengers in Celebrity’s ConciergeClass balcony accommodations get a raft of special amenities and services, like a welcome bottle of champagne, fresh flowers, a handy leather case to hold your key card, personalized stationery, even a special "pillow menu" so you can order something you like instead of standard-issue pillows.  In the bathroom you’ll find a nice selection of toiletries, frette bathrobes, a second hair dryer and extra-large Egyptian cotton towels. Your luggage gets express-delivered, you have a separate check-in line, and you receive preference in restaurant seating, tender access, shore excursions and the like.  Concierge Class is sort of like a concierge-level hotel room, but with more extras.  My favorite benefit: You can order fresh-squeezed orange juice with your room service breakfast; the only other fresh-squeezed I saw was available in the Spa Cafe – for $2.95 a glass.

Service on the four-year-old Summit was uniformly good, from our ever-attentive cabin steward (he raced to our door when he saw us coming down the hall, so he could open it for us), to the busy but capable dining room staff, to the busboys in the popular Waterfall Cafe & Grill, the ship’s large buffet restaurant (we saw one busboy take it upon himself to quiet a passenger’s whiny infant by fashioning a napkin into a talking rabbit).  Hotel manager Danny Elias told us that Summit’s crew comprises more than 50 nationalities.  A happy crew means more satisfied passengers, and we were told that quarters for the 1,000 crew members are nicer than on most vessels, with carpeted cabins that have private bathrooms, TVs and VCRs; public rooms including their own Internet cafe; and activities like language and management classes.  He said that as a result, Celebrity has the lowest crew turnover in the industry.

The Food

Main Dining Room
Celebrity has always had a reputation for food, under the general stewardship of noted chef Michel Roux, and Summit did not disappoint. In the attractive dining room (the Cosmopolitan Restaurant), the prime rib was top quality (it must be aged at least 40 days, the hotel manager noted), and the turkey-with-cranberry-sauce would pass muster at any Thanksgiving table.  The waiters even put on a traditional Baked Alaska parade, serving up big slabs of the treat to everyone who wanted it for dessert.  (For stay-at-homes, it is possible to order some dining room menu items in your cabin via room service.)

Even better was the dining experience in Summit’s Normandie Restaurant, now a fixture on Millennium-class ships. With memorabilia from its historic namesake liner on display in the entryway, Normandie serves up a gourmet dinner with a flourish (waiters deliver plates simultaneously to everyone at the table).  Entrees here are a cut above the dining room, with choices like rack of lamb, chateaubriand and coquilles saint-jacques.  You’ll pay a $30 per person surcharge to eat here, but it’s probably worth it.  If you want a more special menu that includes paired wines with each of the five courses, that involves a $27.95 surcharge on top of the $30.

The Summit’s daytime mass-feeding venue is the Waterfall Cafe & Grill, where most passengers lined up for breakfast and lunch.  The latter service included four lines for the general courses; a separate sandwich counter; a pizza counter; and a popular pasta-and-Caesar-salad station that stayed open through dinner until 1 a.m.  There’s also an ice cream and frozen yogurt counter. In the evening, part of this area is reserved-seating casual dining with table service, and the lunchtime sandwich counter turns into a sushi service.  For those who seriously watch their diets, there’s a healthy-eating cafe at the thalassotherapy pool in Summit’s AquaSpa area.  There are no hot dishes, but they’re all good for you – from chilled soups to apple-and-walnut salad to citrus marinated salmon and tortilla wraps. You can also order up a fruit smoothie ($3.95).

Always Busy

Fruit Carving Demo
We had three sea days on our seven-day cruise, but there was no shortage of on-board activities.  I spent a lot of time in the computer center checking email and such (at rates ranging from 50 to 75 cents a minute, depending on how much time you buy, Internet access is pricey; on shore in Mazatlan we found a cybercafe with rates of 10 cents a minute).  The ship also has a separate computer classroom, with a variety of courses (some free, some not – e.g., training in the use of Adobe Photoshop Elements was $20 a session). 

You could also play basketball, ping-pong or shuffleboard; use the golf simulator or the well-equipped fitness center (which provides group classes in aerobics and yoga as well as personal training sessions for a fee, and even has a pair of "relaxation capsules" at $30 for 25 minutes); go to a personal enrichment lecture; learn how to carve fruits and vegetables; take in a movie in the cinema; pick up a good  book at the library; get into one of the many events or games organized by the cruise staff, from bridge to bingo to arts & crafts – et cetera, et cetera.  Lots of people simply plopped down by the pool in the morning and didn’t leave until sundown, rising only to get a burger or a beer at the outdoor grill. Others fell victim to the siren song of slot machines paying off at the ship’s large casino.

The Aqa Spa
The fitness center was just part of the Summit’s extensive AquaSpa (operated by Steiner) – a 25,000-square-foot area that offers 16 treatment rooms as well as a salon and that big thalassotherapy pool, which sits under a glass ceiling.  A glance at the list of spa options indicates that the staff will do pretty much anything you want done – individually or as a couple.  Treatments range from a 30-minute milk bath at $35, to a two-hour exotic coconut rub and milk wrap ritual, with full body massage, for $263. You can even book your own private steam room for two and rub mud all over each other. 

Evening entertainment was pretty much standard fare – musical revues, singers, a comedian -- OK, but not memorable.  For a while, Celebrity had been providing something unusual – performances of the renowned and creative Cirque du Soleil in its Deck 11 observation lounge, which becomes a late-night disco.  Those shows are in hiatus.  "That was a test of the waters," Hotel Manager Elias told us.  The Cirque du Soleil performances "will continue, but we’re going to bring it to another level," he said. Recent reports indicate a retooled Cirque show will return to Summit by late November – this time in the theater.

Just one more thing to look forward to as Celebrity keeps refining its on-board experience.

To read CruiseMates’ ship review of Celebrity's Summit, click here.  For more information, go to www.celebritycruises.com.

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