by Leigh Turner
April 2, 2004
This was our second cruise with Celebrity and it exceeded almost all expectations. We elected to take an 11 day western Caribbean excursion from Fort Lauderdale. The ship is truly magnificent in design and decoration. We also booked a sky suite which is about the size of an average motel room but includes a decent outside private balcony and an acceptable couch/coffee table area for snacks or lounging. Although certainly not spacious, the room was attractive enough to be a pleasant refuge if one decided not to go to the pool or just wanted to relax. Suites include the services of a butler which seems a bit pretentious but was a very nice touch. He welcomed us aboard, kept our wine bucket filled, brought us finger sandwiches and pastries at 3, canapes at 6 and chocolate cake and milk at 11, all automatically.
Embarkation was painless and quick. Our first stop was Key West (been there, done that) which was packed, followed by Cozumel - a more littered version of St. Thomas. Only get off the ship in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica if you are going on a tour. The town is tired, dirty, and depressing. Next was Colon, Panama with universally enjoyable tours - we went bass fishing in Gatun Lake and had a ball - everyone we spoke to also raved about their tours. Next came Aruba which was fun and interesting. We could not get off the boat at Grand Cayman due to high sees (there are no large piers there so access to the island is only by tenders); then back to Lauderdale.
As to the Summit, despite having almost 2,000 guests on board, we rarely felt the least crowded. The layout and amenities of the ship are extremely well done and the decoration and cleanliness amazing. There are numerous cocktail lounges and common areas with new disoveries almost daily. Food service and quality were uniformly better then expected. Although the portions in the main dining room are not large, there is always the option of ordering more at no charge. The Normandie fine dining restaurant is well worth a visit and the Boulevarde restaurant on the 10th deck is a lovely respite for a quiet dinner. We had sailed on Infiniy before and felt that the overall food quality had improved this year.
The staff were some of the best we have ever experienced, exceeding even that of four and five diamond hotels. From the cocktail servers to the room attendants, every member of the staff without exception was courteous, polite and professional. This attitude even included the casino - whereas dealers, croupiers etc. in mainland casinos are often bored, surly and only interested in depriving you of your money as quickly as possible, on Summit they were charming, helpful, and willing to let you ponder a bet.
Nitpicking criticisms: Celebrity is by and large a line that caters to adults. Although there were a fair amount of children on board, it is clear that they do not seek out the younger market. We found therefore screaming kids at the pool, unsupervised by their parents to be a real although occasional annoyance. They should restrict the main pool from all children under 12 and give them their own area. The Captain's Club is a rip off - don't bother. For the extra $ 35.00 or so that it costs to join, have a couple of drinks at poolside or hit the slots instead. We scheduled a tour in Cozumel and were informed they had already left when we arrived, both the tour operator and the ship blaming each other for the screwup. Another tour was cancelled claiming not enough people signed up. Both of these cancellations were irritating. Lastly, some of the onboard lectures are simply excuses to try and sell you something. I had expected an interesting lecture on Rembrandt one day and a lecture about amber another, and instead, listened to a sales spiel in each case for reproduction etchings and for the on board jewelry store.
All in all it was a wonderful experience. We give anyone our highest recommendation and fully expect to join the Summit next year to tour the eastern Carribean.