December 31, 2011
An escape to the warm tropical seas of the southern Caribbean and New Year's Eve at sea; that was our Christmas present to each other this year and we were very excited about it. We had only one other cruise and that was about six months earlier on Holland in the Med, so were still pretty new to the whole cruising thing, but if Celebrity was anything like Holland, we knew we were going to have fun. Well, we did have fun, but if our experience was at all representative of Celebrity, we won't be going back.
Now let me begin by telling you that the ship, Summit, was on her last voyage before heading into dry-dock for a renovation. That having been said, I will refrain from comments that pertain to the ship specifically, though in all honesty, it was clean and well kept. We had no issue with that at all. In addition, the service was, for the most part, fantastic. Our major concerns centered on two areas; food and operations.
The food was, well, acceptable. Now for anyone who has never been on a cruise before, you may be thinking "Acceptable sounds…acceptable." But that's not true. Cruise ships all about the food. But even that statement is somewhat subjective, so let me give you a few specifics.
For openers, the variety of food was limited. Or there were sever food stations and each had something different, but they were the same each day. Breakfast is kinda tough to fill with an ever changing variety. You got you pastries, pancake-like items, eggs, fruit, cereal, etc. But lunch and dinner can (and in our opinion should) be unique. If only one station had a dish that represented the food from the area, that would be very interesting. For example, while on our Med cruise with Holland, both lunch and dinner included dishes from Greece, Turkey, Croatia, and Italy as we pulled into each respectively. Surly on a Caribbean cruise the ship could have had at least one dish that was representative of the islands; jerk pork, sea bass with mango chutney, even Roti (an Indian-like dish that is actually a local standard). When I mentioned this to a senior restaurant staffer (I'll not mention his title so as to protect him, but he's since left the ship and is now on another Celebrity vessel), he asked if I thought people would actually each local dishes. My wife and I and the other couple dinning with us that evening all looked at each other then back at him as if he were mad. "Of course!" we assured him.
Ok, so enough about variety. The food quality was hit of miss. On the same evening that we chatted with the aforementioned staffer, four of the six of us dinning together that evening ordered the lobster. Two of us sent it back and the other two simply stopped eating. It was awful. It was not edible. But that's not the half of the experience that night. Though what I'm about to tell you was not the norm, it does bear telling. Service that evening was exceptionally slow. We waited a very long time (at least 15 minutes) to get our entrée, not fed, just the entrée. There were courses before the entrée that came just fine, but then we waited. When asked, we were told it was due to the popularity of the lobster, I can only imagine that it was the pre-sampling popularity not the post, which was driving everyone to order it. Never-the-less, lobster is always a popular item and they should be prepared for that. Given that the food is "free" and lobster is so expensive, naturally everyone is going to order it. So, we wait for lobster that's inedible and two of us send it back. Bad enough, but it gets a little worse. Our waiter never returned to see how we liked our meals. Ya know how the waiter always returns to your table to see if you need anything (usually within seconds of your plate arriving and prior to you having a chance to taste anything)? Our waiter disappeared. I'm certain he was busy with other guests, that's completely understandable. But when his assistant (each table has a waiter and an assistant) took back the two lobster dishes, even he could have asked if we wanted something else. Nodda! Now in fairness, a couple of nights prior to this, we had an opposite experience. Basically the same restaurant, different server, he was wrath-like in his attention. So chalk it up to a bad night.
Another food area that really lacked excellence was up on the cafeteria. Each ship usually has a large cafeteria-style restaurant where there are several food stations and it's pretty much self serve. Now, I come from a food service back ground so I understand the challenges associate with buffets. It's difficult to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold and keep everything from drying out, yadda, yadda, yadda. Difficult, but not impossible. On Summit, it just wasn't done right. The only way to ensure hot eggs was to have them make an omelet; the only way to ensure fresh pizza was to wait for it to come out of the oven, and the only way to get hot pancakes was to get them somewhere else. Ironically, when we had this very discussion with the aforementioned senior staff member, he agreed with our lamentation. Incredibly, he too had had a bad experience with each of the items I mentioned. His response? "There was nothing I could do." This was a senior restaurant staff member. He was a boss. If he couldn't do anything to correct an issue he himself experienced, what does he expect the passengers to do? I gotta tell ya, we were pretty flabbergasted when we heard him tell us that one.
Other food related issues a more centered around poor planning. There were a lot of kids on board and as such, things like ice and ice cream were very popular. Naturally they're popular with adults as well, but the sheer volume of people quickly overwhelmed the resources. The ice machines ran out, the ice cream was soft, or gone, or was behind long lines with only a few servers. A question of logistics.
So, enough about the food. The other area of frustration was in the ships operation, Holland just had this part down to a science. At check-in, we all stood in line waiting, waiting, waiting for the staff to check us in. While there were many people doing the job, they just didn't seem to have an efficient flow about the process and as a result, it was a long wait. But even when we did finally get through, the staff dropped the ball. They gave us out key-cards and sent us off toward the ship. When e got to the ship, we realized they'd not told us our room number of how to navigate the ship, nor were there any crew members stationed to direct us! Now, my wife and I are seasoned travelers, so we quickly found our room number and a map, but that's not the point. On Holland, a crew member escorted us to our room, giving us a quick navigational lesson in route.
A final note on operations. It seemed that things were just "tougher" on Summit. When you go to a five star hotel (and nearly all cruise lines make just such a claim), you expect a simple response to all your requests (whether literal of figurative) and that is, "No problem." I'd like a bottle open and wine glasses brought to my room. No problem. I'd like coffee and pastries to breakfast. No problem. I'd like to have dinner with some new friends we met on board. Problem? Most cruise lines have two dining options; timed or open. The timed option means you have a set dinning time and table each night; 8:30 at table 12 with the Smiths and the Jones'. Open means you can dine whenever you wish, though you may have to wait for a table. We opted for open and while on the cruise we made friends with a couple that had chosen timed. In order to have them join us, we had to call guest services who then called the restaurant to facilitate our request. Come on people! It's just dinner! That was pretty frustrating.
So I've written a lot that may lead you to believe that our experience was bad, but that's not the case at all. We had a wonderful time, it just wasn't the quality that we'd come to expect. Perhaps if we'd traveled first with Celebrity before Holland, we wouldn't have the same high expectations. Then again, this was our first cruise on Celebrity and perhaps we should give them a second chance. Perhaps the next time we cruise on Holland we'll have a less wonderful experience (hope not). It is not my intent to dissuade any one from a Celebrity cruise. There are many, many people who love Celebrity and wouldn't consider sailing with anyone else. I hope that like any caring business, Celebrity considers our experience and takes the appropriate actions to ensure the quality of their line is not tarnished. As for my wife and I; as I said earlier, perhaps we'll give Celebrity a second chance, perhaps not.