by John Gawne
June 16, 2008
We booked this cruise as my daughter's high school graduation present. The flight from home to JFK in New York was delayed four hours and we would miss our non-stop connection to Venice, so I called the airline to rebook us and they found a flight on Air France with a plane change in Paris. The connection was tight but we made it dashing through the airport, and arrived in Venice, without our luggage. In fact, there were 50 cabins on the ship whose luggage did not arrive before sailing. It was not located and forwarded until 4 days later. I contacted the 24 hour assist line at Travel Guard and they tracked it down and arranged to have it forwarded to Santorini. The ship provided free overnight laundry and provided me a tux and my wife and daughter dress shoes for the formal night.
While my wife and I had packed 2 days clothes in our carryon, my daughter hadn't bothered and had almost nothing extra with her, so we spent the second day in Venice buying some clothes for my daughter, underwear and socks, and a dress shirt and tie for me. It did get us out of St Mark's Square and into the side streets and shops of Venice. The first informal night was that night. There were 3 informal nights and 3 formal nights on this itinerary.
We had booked a category 2C balcony cabin, 6047. The cabin had a single sofa bed and the queen. If the sofa bed was open there was no space for the coffee table, and the room steward put it on the balcony. Closet space was adequate for the three of us and there were robes. There is an interactive TV and besides free movies, CNN International was available.
We had been assigned to a table for six for dining, but after seeing the maître 'd the first afternoon, we were assigned to our own table, at a table for 4. As this was the longest cruise we had been on I was curious if there would be much repetition on the dinner menu. My wife prefers to eat fish, and there was a different fish offering every night, including lobster. Prime rib was offered 3 times, but there was a variety of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and even duck, as well as a pasta choice every night. They did offer on various nights crepe suzettes, cherries jubilee, and baked Alaska. Service was superb from our wait staff, wine steward, and bar waitress. The had a brunch one day in the dining room from 10 to 1pm with a wide variety of offerings from omelets to carving stations. They also had one night they called a "white night" where everyone was encouraged to wear white and they served an international buffet in the pool area with the lounges removed and tables and chairs provided, instead of dining room meals. There was musical entertainment and several international food stations, including Greek, Italian, and French.
There is a grill in the very back of the lido-like buffet area which some people overlook. In the mornings it has French toast and waffles, and made to order sandwiches at lunch. The pizza station offers 3 or 4 varieties of pizza by the slice and will even make a pizza to order. My wife was pleased that they often also offered grilled veggies.
There were 3 omelet stations in the morning that can make any eggs to order, and they offered smoked salmon or gravlox every day, something I have missed on some other cruise lines.
In the solarium pool area, near the spa, they also offer health conscious light lunch food for several hours at mid day. The warm thalassotherapy pool in the adults only solarium was my favorite spot on sea days.
Entertainment consisted of 2 review-style shows which also included two aerialists. The other nights were a variety of comedians, musicians, and singers. There were a variety of music and dancing venues, ranging from oldies, to rock and pop in the disco, to classical. The Martini Bar is a popular spot, and offers martini flights of 6 samplers, and a champagne flight. The Cova Café offers Italian wine flights. They had three wine tastings during the cruise in the dining room in the afternoons. The first was a festival style, the first we've encountered aboard ship. They had wine stations from Italy, France, Spain, Australia, and the New World and light appetizers and you could go from table to table for almost 2 hours. The second features Reidel glassware and premium wines, and the third was a food and wine pairing session with various food items to compare with three wines.
Although we were berthed in Venice, the ship provided shuttle tenders to/from the town for $20 per person per day. In Dubrovnik they provided shuttle buses for $10 per person. We tendered in Santorini, and Villefrance, but they used commercial tenders and service was quick. All other ports we were berthed at piers.
When the ship leaves Venice it sails right through Venice, past St Mark's and the other islands. The view from the ship is excellent.
I hadn't been to Dubrovnik in over 30 years and it is still a marvel. We toured the Franciscan Monastery, walked the town, had lunch, and found bathing suits for my wife and daughter who were still without luggage. They don't use Euro, but rather Kuna, and it is not usable elsewhere. Credit cards are widely accepted, however.
This was my first visit to Santorini and the scenery of this volcanic island is spectacular. The white painted masonery town on the top overlooks the steep cliffs with the ship anchored below. There is a funicular for 4 Euros or a donkey ride for 5 Euros up the side of the cliff. We shopped on cobblestone pedestrian only streets and visited several churches before having an outstanding lunch of tzatziki, grilled cheese, village salad, and local wine. The weather was very hot. We rode the donkeys down the hill at my daughter's urging. It might have been less intimidating riding them up!
In Athens we had hired in advance a half day tour with George the Taxi Driver, whom I had used before. We drove from Piraeus to the Acropolis where we purchased a ticket for 12 Euros, and only 4 for my 18 year old daughter, which also admitted us to the Agora and Museum later. From the Acropolis we went to the Temple of Zeus and the Olympic stadium where the modern Olympics were resumed in the early 1900's, and then to the funicular ride up Mt Lykovetos (6 Euros). We also stopped at Syntagma Square to watch the changing of the guard in costumes at the tomb of their unknown soldiers. We then spent the afternoon walking through the Plaka and the Monistraki flea market area and a late afternoon Greek lunch before taking the Metro back to Piraeus for .80 Euro each. The ship was docked too far to walk, so we took a taxi from the Metro station to the pier for 6 Euro.
In Naples we docked in an industrial port area, while the MSC and Costa ships were able to berth at the terminal. We walked to the train station and purchased train tickets for a round trip ride to Pompeii. The tickets were 4.8 Euros each and the train took 45 minutes. The entrance to Pompeii is a block from the train station and admission is 11 Euros per person. Another very hot day but we enjoyed the walk all around this amazing city destroyed by lava from Mt Vesuvius and not rediscovered until the 1800's.
After the train back to town we took a taxi from the station to the Castle of the Egg on the waterfront and walked along the waterfront, finding a sidewalk café for pizza and wine in the birthplace of pizza! After lunch we walked to the San Carlo Opera House, and by the castle area and took a taxi back to the ship. I had been to Naples many times while in the Navy, but this was my first trip to Pompeii.
The next day was an early arrival in Civitavecchia for the visit to Rome. We had hired a car and driver from Bob's Limos and Tours, owned by an American, for 9 hours and a guided tour of the Vatican by a professional guide. We spent 4 hours touring churches, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, and more. At 2pm we met our guide and had a detailed explanation of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica. We took time for a late afternoon lunch in a nearby trattoria and then the ride back to the ship.
Livorno was also an early arrival for our visit to Florence and Pisa. We had another car and driver from Bob's Limos and Tours for 9 hours. We drove to Michaelango Plaza overlooking Florence and by the old walls and past Pitti Palace, then into the city. We had time to walk the pedestrian area by the churches, the Accademia, the Uffizi Gallery, and across the Ponti Vecchio. We then drove into the Tuscan countryside to a villa and estate winery where we had an Italian luncheon of antipasto, pasta, chicken and salad and three wines. After lunch we drove to Pisa for a brief photo opportunity with the leaning tower, the baptistery and the church, and then back to the ship. We actually had about a 10-1/2 hour tour, with the only delay due to heavy traffic heading into Florence in the morning.
In Villefrance we anchored and took a short tender ride from the waterfront. The beach is within easy walking distance. Instead we chose to walk to the train station and buy roundtrip train tickets to Cannes for 12.8 Euros per person. The trains are modern and air-conditioned. In Cannes we walked from the station to the waterfront and marina. The building where they hold the Cannes Film Festival has a red carpet on the stairs and everyone poses on it. After a walk along the waterfront by the classic hotels, we headed back to the train station and took the short ride back to Nice. Again we walked to the waterfront and stopped in a few stores and had lunch in a café on a plaza. We caught the train back for the very short trip to Villefrance and back to the ship.
For debarkation they provide everyone with a meeting place and time to be called to disembark. Since we had a post-cruise hotel booked by the cruise line, we were the last to leave. The transfer took us to the Grand Hotel Havana, about 4 blocks northeast of the Plaza de Cataluna. While the rooms weren't available till 3pm, they stored the luggage. We walked back to the Plaza and purchased tickets for the hop on/hop off double-decker tourist buses. There are three routes, and we rode them all, transferring from line to line. The tickets were 17 Euros each and it took about 4-1/2 hours to ride them all, taking photos along the way, but not getting off to sightsee. It was a great way to see the whole city, and in several previous visits to Barcelona I had not really gotten beyond the Ramblas and the Gothic quarter. After finishing the bus tour we strolled the Ramblas and had lunch at a sidewalk café there. Then we went back to the hotel for a swim in the rooftop pool and then to dinner at a restaurant that has been in business a very long time and has hundreds of photos of VIP's hung on the walls, Las Caracoles. We taxied back to the hotel as we were to be in the lobby for the airport transfer at 7:10am. As the hotel breakfast opened at 7 we asked for a bagged lunch. They had it ready in the morning but the transfer bus didn't show up on time and we had time eat in the dining room where a hot buffet breakfast was included. The ride to the airport is short. The flight back to Newark from Barcelona was uneventful, but once back in the US we were again at the mercy of the not on time domestic airlines and arrived home about 3 hours late.
In summary, we had a great time on the Celebrity Summit. The ship is in great condition and the service is excellent. Every crew member we met was very accommodating. The were trying some innovative things like a toga night in the disco, the White Night dining, a brunch, and the "wine festival" wine tasting. The florist was able to provide corsages for my wife and daughter. The Assistant Maitre 'd was at our table every night and ordered some special dishes for my daughter. Currency was exchanged on request at the Guest Relations desk, at the rate of about $1.61 USD to the Euro. The food was very good, but the presentation could have been with more flair. The itinerary was excellent with two ports I had not visited despite having lived in Greece for 3 years and visiting a number of ports while on Navy ships. Venice and Santorini were my first visits there. Well done, Celebrity, for a fine graduation trip for my daughter.