Cruise passengers passionately extol their favorite lines, but those on my Celebrity Summit cruise took this to a new level. "Extraordinary" best describes the amount and intensity of positive feedback.
I will cover areas of concern, but you will very likely love this ship, unless you prefer an "anything goes, young singles" environment or one where nearly every man wears a tuxedo on formal nights.
Above: I traveled in a standard outside stateroom, the top middle one.
Celebrity obviously hires right, trains right, and then lets the underlying warmth, helpfulness, and good humor of its people shine. This company has much to teach others in human resource management.
Service comes “correctly” but nearly never impassively.
When asked why they liked the Summit so much, passengers ranked “the people” first.
Celebrity treats its employees well and that produces a happy workplace. For example, the staff dines from the same kitchen that prepares meals for the main dining room. Hours are long, but employees enjoy more comfortable than usual cabins and other amenities.
With just two exceptions in my experience, passengers absolutely loved the food, which excelled throughout the trip.
I do not want to mislead you. A mass feeding operation does not bring five-star dining, but Celebrity customers really appreciate the quality of the food and service.
Except for pizza dough, which Celebrity sources from a favorite restaurant, and several sugarless ice creams, Celebrity prepares meals from scratch using fresh ingredients, with nothing, including baked goods, served from a previous day. This is how meals should be.
Moreover, the company makes sure all ships serve meals of equal quality. If you like a dish on one, Celebrity promises you will like it on another.
In one port, I did meet a couple traveling on Royal Caribbean who disliked that you cannot serve yourself hot foods in the Celebrity Summit buffet.
In my opinion, the Summit buffet offers a more hygienic serving situation, an area of concern when there are several thousand passengers and some 1,000 crew on a ship.
I like Royal Caribbean, but in my experience a minority of its passengers use the hand sanitizers available on the way into the buffet and the handles of the serving utensils they touch regularly fall into the food.
You can spend a lot while on the Summit for such things as fine wines, fancy jewelry, and the casino, but unlike some ships, you need not spend on snacks and drinks, like juices and water between meals.
Directly adjacent to the pool area, the Waterfall Café serves buffet meals, but also snacks and nonalcoholic drinks throughout the day and evening without charge. “Homemade” ice cream comes free all afternoon. A grill serves such things as nachos and grilled to order hamburgers from 11:30 onward. Another station offers pizza outside of regular meal hours.
Nor does the Waterfall area make you feel as if you are in a mass-feeding situation. A creative design divides up the serving and dining areas, both in and outdoors, some with outstanding views.
AquaSpa Café, Summit’s healthy dining option, cranks out your doctor’s orders next to the spa and fitness center also without extra charge. Even the regular buffet offers vegetable items for breakfast, in order to offer a lower fat meal.
Above: You'll find portholes in the floor in a portion of the Waterfall Cafe.
This rather elegant space offers three dining options, 6:30 set, 8:30 set, and the very popular “Select” option, where you may dine anytime you wish between 6:00 and 9:30, if basic tips are prepaid. You really can show up at any time and not have to wait long.
I loved the people I met with the select option. Moreover, the service seemed just as enthusiastic as would be expected without prepaid tips. (As with many passengers, I always tip extra for the type of service received on Celebrity.)
At dinner, half the menu features favorites served everyday and usually, the other half features more adventurous choices that change daily. I really enjoyed these. You will also have more dinner choices than many ships offer, as well as significantly more variety in the buffet.
Above: Table setting in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant. Don't worry. As for silverware, you move in from each side as each course is served and ignore the ones at the top of the plate unless the server moves them for your dessert or you see others use them for the same dish. Depending on what you order, you may not use all the silverware. Moreover, if you wait until everyone is served before starting to eat and don't talk with your mouth full, you'll do all right.
I thought it a shame that not many parents were dining with their children in this more formal atmosphere. Perhaps Celebrity's childcare may wish to offer lessons.
Above: A chef's station in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant kitchen. One person creates these using what is essentially a pocket knife as his only tool.
The Summit’s five-star option, the Normandie (named after the legendary former transatlantic liner) uses the same top quality ingredients found in the other restaurants, but Normandie chefs are able to prepare meals meticulously for no more than 130 guests each night.
The Normandie Restaurant, charges a $35 supplement, the only dining option to do so.
Above: Guests see this preliminary table setting when they sit down in the Normandie Restaurant.
Passengers love that Celebrity seldom uses its loudspeakers, in contrast to the midway barker atmosphere on some ships.
You will hear when you are able to disembark in port, midday brings a captain’s report, and that’s about it until the last morning, when groups are organized for smooth customs clearance.
I liked the selection of excursions offered and the quality of the ones used.
As with other lines, Celebrity guarantees that no one on its shore excursions will be left behind, if these are delayed.
Although it's hard to compare tours because their components vary somewhat, Celebrity pricing seems fair. Of course, with a larger group you should pay less booking independently, but with just several in a group, you could end up paying much more independently, but of course have the advantage of a less regimented tour.
Above: Sailing past the Jade Mountain resort on St. Lucia.
Experiencing St. Lucia on the Celebrity Cruises “Land and Sea to the Pitons” tour with Daisy Cadette, one of the most professional, well-organized, and knowledgeable guides I have met, was simply outstanding. Daisy helped me fall in love with the island.
No aspect of the Celebrity Summit brought more complaints than the Internet pricing.
After entering the elegant Apple-equipped iLounge, passengers often walked out when they found out the prices. In their body language, some actually recoiled.
I needed access every day, but worked either alone or nearly alone until the last day, when people flooded in to check on flights.
As with most ships, the Summit does not offer stateroom access. Access can be infuriatingly slow at times.
With this not being my first high-fee rodeo, I did all the usual tricks (for example, download then log out to work offline on numerous items and then log in to upload all at once), but this way of using the Internet lacks convenience and still costs a lot.
In fairness, other cruise lines share this problem, and I do not know the cost bases of providing Internet access on the high seas. I do know the Summit was able to offer a “special” of $19.95 for 45 minutes on the last day, some 30 percent less than the regular rate of 65 cents a minute. Royal Caribbean offers rates as "low" as 30 cents a minute.
These tell me Celebrity looks to the Internet as a profit center, in my opinion an incredibly misguided business decision.
What better social media campaign could a company create than to provide great service as Celebrity does and then have happy people email, post to Facebook, and tweet their experiences to all of their friends?
Sadly, that did not happen very much on this cruise.
In my opinion, unless it can significantly reduce its cost basis, Celebrity needs to provide Internet service at cost and to make sure its customers know that the line is not grossly taking advantage of their isolation at sea. Surely, an elegant Internet lounge with the latest laptops sitting mostly empty cannot be good.
Celebrity also needs to make sure passengers know that they must log out of access, not just close down the computer. Some asked that charges as much $500 be credited.
Cruise ships age quickly in a very competitive business.
Though Celebrity Summit first sailed just 10 years ago, others surpass the Summit in recreational activities per space available and other amenities, such as high definition flat screen televisions in regular staterooms.
The décor has faded in places, especially outdoors.
Although the ship still shines in its central indoor public areas with the elegance expected from this line, Celebrity plans to update the Summit during a January 2012 major makeover.
Coming are the Mediterranean-themed Blu specialty restaurant and updated staterooms and public areas. The Martini Bar gets an ice top.
For my wish list, I hope Celebrity moves a tennis court to the helicopter pad, with an easy way to convert back in emergencies. At the very front of the ship, this would create the most awesome tennis venue in the world.
I would also like beach (sand) volleyball and similar activities, in order to appeal to the more active crowd that cruises today.
Most of all, I would like Celebrity to keep the staff, but fix those Internet rates.
In spite of several complaints, I very much look forward to traveling with Celebrity again.
Learn about the cruise experience and about getting discounts on Celebrity and other lines with the Priceline Cruises FAQ.
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