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The Flying Pirate

Summit Review - 1/12/2013 Sailing

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So instead of doing a traditional review, I like the format that several others have taken recently and posted a complete review with pictures of their cruise. Hopefully you will find this informative and interesting.

 

First, a little about me to give you an idea of my perspective, my wife and I are experienced cruisers, we are Diamond on Royal Caribbean, Elite on Celebrity, and Star Mariners on Holland America. I am a Private Jet Pilot, for a company you more than likely haven’t heard of and as a result travel nearly constantly. My wife is an international auditor for a major company and also travels quite frequently. Because my occupation demands high customer service 100% of the time, my view of great, acceptable, and poor service might be different than yours. It is just my opinion so please don’t get offended. Also because of our travel schedule and the fact we eat out in restaurants all over the world, we generally choose to avoid the Main Dining Room on the ship. Now having said that, we did visit the Main Dining Room on the Summit one night and the service was excellent, the food was very good. We were able to join my parents and Grandmother who had selected early seating for dinner and enjoyed their company. In a reservations snafu we booked Celebrity Select Dinning and they opted for early seating.

 

The dinner selections on most of the ships we have been to, especially on the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Ships have a fabulous selection for dinner at the Buffet. We like the relaxed atmosphere, additional diner selections, and the made to order choices that aren’t available in the Main Dining Room. Plus on the Summit as on several other ships there are outdoor tables available. For me personally sitting outside, enjoying the warm humid Caribbean air, cooled to a comfortable level by the Trade winds, while enjoying a nice meal with the significant other, is something that everyone should be fortunate enough to experience. Yes I know that many of you love the Main Dining Room and being waited on hand and foot. I don’t enjoy that, I also prefer to not wear a jacket and tie and get all dolled up for formal night. So we don’t pack formal clothes. I did bring a dress shirt and tie to wear to the specialty restaurants. I know many of you love getting dressed up, but that is not something we enjoy doing on vacation so we skip that part. That is to me the beauty of a cruise vacation is you have so many options to customize the cruise to suite your likes and dislikes.

 

I personally avoid crowds, which is why we have not sailed on Royal Caribbean’s ginormous Oasis Class ships. Because of that I spent zero time at the pool on the Summit. Every time I walked through the pool area it was quite crowded. I have no idea how early in the day you have to get there to stake out a poolside chair. The good news is there are sundecks both forward and aft of the pool area one or two decks higher that were very open. So if you are looking for a less crowded spot to find a chair and relax with a book, those options are available, you just have to walk a little further.

I was disappointed when we boarded that the Helipad on the bow of the Summit was considered a “Crew Only” area. On many of the other ships we have sailed on, the Helipad was a favorite spot to watch the sail away from port. They did make it available one day of the cruise, but we missed it due to a scheduling conflict with one of the other activities on board.

 

Speaking of activities on board, the Summit had the best Cruise Director I have ever come across. Caissie Stafford did a fantastic job. She had the boundless energy typical of the job, with a charming and enthusiastic personality. We left the ship wondering if she ever sleeps and how she survived romping around the ship all day in her incredibly high heels. She was by far the best Cruise Director we have come across in all of our cruises. Unfortunately, she is currently on vacation, back home in her native Australia. So if you are traveling on Summit anytime soon you won’t have the privilege of meeting her.

 

We found the crew in general to be in high morale, from the Captain to the deck hands. The ship itself is in good condition and showed signs of being well maintained.

 

For this cruise, we booked an Oceanview Stateroom, my parents and Grandmother were also booked on the cruise although they were doing a back to back cruise with the following week. My Grandma booked a Veranda Stateroom and my parents opted to book an interior room directly across the hall from my Grandmother. We booked stateroom 3136, which is on Deck 3 near the conference center. This is in a block of rooms that were added when the Summit underwent her recent overhaul. I highly recommend those rooms if you are thinking of booking an Oceanview room. They were very quiet, and in a very convenient location, just down the hall from the Grand Foyer and a short walk to the aft staircase/elevator area. The rest of the group was booked up on Deck 9, my Grandmother was in 9167 and my parents were in 9163. They were very disappointed in the noise coming from above them. It was really bad in my parent’s room, 9163. That area is directly below the galley for the buffet and the noise started about 3:00am with the rumbling of carts. My mom said it was like trying to sleep below a railroad yard.

Casino. The only time we spent in the Casino was to walk through it to get from one end of the ship to another. We are not gamblers, so I have no idea if the tables were hot or not.

 

Overall we enjoyed the cruise. Several people have asked which we prefer, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean, and both my wife and I are in agreement that we like the smaller ships of Royal Caribbean better. Our favorites are the Radiance Class ships. But that is something for another thread. The Summit was a wonderful ship, with a great crew and we enjoyed our cruise. One thing that we miss on Royal Caribbean that we are happy to report is still happening on Celebrity is the nightly chocolates on our pillows in the stateroom each night. RCCL did away with the chocolates several years ago as a cost cutting measure.

 

We are also not traditional cruisers in that we skip formal night. I know many of you love the idea of getting all dressed up. We have to get dressed up for work a lot, so when we are on vacation we choose to skip all that. Again one of the best parts of a cruise vacation is being able to customize the experience to your personal likes and dislikes. We choose to use all that space in the suitcase we gain by leaving suits/ties/dresses/shoes etc at home, by filling it with fun stuff like snorkel gear and things like that.

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OK so with the basics out of the way, on to the day-by-day review of the cruise.

 

Friday

 

Since we live in Wisconsin and they no longer offer non-stop flights from Chicago, we decided to fly to San Juan the day before the cruise, to allow time for the “airline experience. “ Thankfully the flight down was uneventful although we were late getting to the gate connecting in Charlotte and had to hurry, we made our connection as did our bags. Getting up at 3:30am to make a 5:40am flight did make for a long day.

 

At the airport we got in line for a taxi and were able to get all 6 of us and all the bags packed into a large taxi van. It was nice keeping the entire group together in one vehicle.

 

After shopping for a pre-cruise hotel, we decided to cash in some Hilton Honors Points and stay at the Condado Lagoon Villas at the Caribe Hilton. There were 6 of us in our party, my wife and I, my parents, Grandma and a family friend. The Caribe Hilton was nice, and paying with Honors Points made it a good deal. I wouldn’t say it was worth the $264 price per night we saw online but it was a nice hotel. For that price it didn’t include breakfast, which was no big deal for me, as I usually skip breakfast but my dad “needs” breakfast to get going. Saturday, we got up at the hotel and walked to the Subway for breakfast, since breakfast at the hotel was $20 per person for a continental and $28/person of you wanted the hot breakfast buffet.

 

On Friday night we returned from dinner to find a band playing in the courtyard. It was really, really loud. There was no way anyone could sleep through that. I called the front desk and they said the band was playing until 10:30 and I was impressed when at 10:30 they went quiet and we were able to get some sleep.

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The grounds of the hotel were filled with various birds and there were several ponds in a tropical setting that were filled with koi.

 

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Although I was surprised to see this big old turkey come out of the bushes to see what I was taking pictures of!

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Saturday

 

Saturday morning after walking to a nearby Subway for breakfast, we spent some time walking around exploring San Juan. About noon we headed back to the hotel and got everything packed up. We hired the same taxi driver that picked us up at the airport to dive us to the pier. It was close enough we could have walked it but we had enough bags for a 40 man dog sled team, so the big van was a wise choice.

 

When the taxi dropped us off the line to check your bags was surprisingly short and we took care of that quite quickly, followed in short order by the security screening, then the check in, the obligatory "Welcome aboard" photograph. This time the entire boarding process from getting out of the cab on the curb to standing onboard the ship was about 15-20 min. Not a record for us but not too bad. As soon as we boarded we dropped the carry-on bags off at the stateroom and then went upstairs for lunch. We ate at the Oceanview Cafe, which is what they call their Buffet style dining room. We found the food to be quite excellent. One of the things we had heard about the Summit was it makes its own ice cream on board, and serves it either in a dish or a cone with a multitude of toppings. I tried the chocolate and it was magnificent. Of course it wasn't exactly approved for my "diet" but sometimes you have to say to heck with the diet and enjoy things.

 

After lunch I got a call from my dad, he forgot to pack any long pants on this safari and my mom was none too pleased, since you aren't allowed in the main dining room with shorts on. So he jumped in a taxi and went to a K-Mart and bought himself a pair of khaki pants. That crisis averted we went back to our room to discover our bags were still missing in action. They would finally show up nearly 7 hours after we boarded, but at least they made it.

 

At 7:30 we had to report to our lifeboat stations for the mandatory lifeboat drill. Normally we have been assigned to a station under one of the lifeboats. This time we are assigned one of the lounges as our muster station. I am not sure why we need to report to the bar in an emergency, maybe we are going to row the lifeboats and they want to give us a sugar high from sodas before we abandon ship, or they figure if we are sinking we should drink before we abandon the ship, either way it was strange.

 

After our lifeboat bar call, we headed to a different bar, “Michaels Club" which serves craft beer from around the world. As a homebrewer, I have become a bit of a beer snob, and I was impressed with the selection they had at Michaels. If you are curious here is a link to their beer menu, http://beyondships.com/files/Michael_s_Club_Menu.pdf But it was the focal point of the ship for a few hours Saturday night because it was there that they were showing the NFL Playoff games. Being native Cheeseheads, we watched the first half of the Packer Game at Michael's and finished the game in our room.

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Sunday

 

This morning we got up late, about 9:30, and went to the Normandie Restaurant for breakfast. This is where they were having the Captain’s Club Breakfast. The ship has a number of Specialty Restaurants on board, and the Normandie is styled after and filled with furnishings from the original SS Normandie which plied the North Atlantic in the 1930's and 1940's before being lost in WWII while being used as a Troop ship. The Normandie was in New York being worked on, when a fire broke out onboard. The New York Fire department responded quickly as did several fire boats. Unfortunately the fire boats could pump 4-5 times faster than their land based counterparts which was highly effective at putting the fire out, unfortunately it added tons of water to one side of the ship and not the other causing the ship to roll over on its side and sink. After the war it was determined to be too expensive to repair her so she was sold for scrap. Her dining room was virtually undamaged in the fire and sinking so many of her furnishings were sold. When the Celebrity Summit was built, the company purchased as much of Normandie's old dining room furnishings as they could find and recreated her dining room on their new ship.

 

After breakfast we went to a Cruise Critic meeting, we had a good turn out with 56 people showing up in spite of not all the invitations getting out on time. (My Parents got theirs that night after it was over, which we heard from several people had happened to them too) I was impressed; this ship really took the event seriously, and was attended by the Captain, Cruise Director, and several members of the senior staff. On other ships we have only seen a junior member of the Cruise Director’s staff, or maybe the activities manager.

 

Then at noon we attended a lecture at the theater presented by the Captain called "The secrets of Navigation" he talked about how they plan their routes, how they navigate to ensure they stay on course, and what factors affect their route, like weather, hazards to navigation, protected areas. As a professional pilot, I thought It was very interesting, and it confirmed my theory that their procedures and ours in the airplane are very similar although the speeds are very different.

 

We ate lunch at the pool, they have a place called the Pool Grill, which serves hamburgers and hot dogs and that sort of thing. We both had hamburgers which were quite excellent. We had the special, which included fried onions, bacon, chipotle sauce and optional cheese and mushrooms. They were much better than the usual cruise ship burgers.

 

After lunch we were invited on a tour of the ships galley. In all of our cruises we had never had the opportunity to visit the ships massive kitchen before so we jumped at the chance. The kitchen is located below the main dining room and is connected to the dining room via several escalators. It was as expected very large, and lots of stainless steel. It was fun to see what goes on behind the scenes onboard.

 

Part of the tour involved a presentation from the various specialty restaurants to promote their products. The specialty restaurants cost extra so they were "selling" the idea. After seeing the presentations we decided to book one of them for my birthday on Thursday.

 

Each night as Celebrity Elite Members, we were invited to a "Captain's Club" cocktail party. The party was quite nice with lots of hot appetizers and sushi to snack on as well as complimentary drinks. It was much nicer than a “Diamond Event” on Royal Caribbean. We haven’t been on a ship that has a Diamond Lounge, so we can’t compare.

 

For Dinner, we decided to skip the Main Dining Room, as it was formal night and my wife and I decided not to dress up. Instead we went to the buffet which in the evening is quite nice. Last night we went to the custom pasta bar, tonight we tried the stir-fry station. They have all the ingredients laid out and you tell the chef what you want and they make it fresh. Both the pasta and the stir-fry were excellent. The stir fry chef is from Calcutta and was so excited to talk to someone who had been there he kept adding to my order. I think the dish he created was large enough to feed much of India. I didn't eat it all but it was fantastic. We elected to sit outside, and found a quite table out on the aft deck. It was overcast tonight with no moon so there wasn't much to see, but it was nice to have dinner with the sounds of the ship moving through the ocean below us, enjoying the warm humid air, cooled to a comfortable level by the Tradewinds blowing across the deck. It was very pleasant way to enjoy a meal.

 

After dinner we went to one of the lounges and enjoyed a flamenco guitar player from Uruguay. He was quite entertaining and very talented. My favorite songs he played we're a flamenco arrangement of the theme from the old Clint Eastwood movie, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and a unique version of Louie B. Armstrong's "Wonderful Word"

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This was the first time we had the opportunity to tour the galley. Several people traveling with us, said they didn't want to go, because "it's just a lot of stainless steel" and there is a lot of stainless steel. But it was quite interesting and I thank the crew of the Summit for making it happen.

 

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As expected the crew areas were very spartan.

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Monday – Barbados

 

We arrived in Barbados after one day at sea. Because of the rather intense itinerary on this cruise we decided to book a couple of the excursions in the afternoon rather than the morning, just so we could have a couple of more relaxed mornings on board. In Barbados we booked the Sea Turtles, Shipwreck and beach tour. When we arrived at the dock to check in for the tour we had to wait about 20 min. Then someone from the tour came up and announced that due to conditions they were going to change the tour. They would take us snorkeling at two sites but there will more than likely not be any turtle sightings, and they would not be able to beach the boat for safety reasons. But if anyone would like to cancel their tour they could get their money back. We decided to continue with the tour as planned, since I have dove with Sea Turtles more times than I can count and couldn’t really care less about stopping at a beach. I mean we are on a boat tour if we wanted to go to the beach why not book a beach day somewhere?? Oh well, apparently more than half the group was deeply offended by the lack of turtles or losing the prospect of beach sand in their swimming suits, so 35 of the 55 people bailed out on us. And I really have to thank them, because we had a great time, and had a ton of room on the boat.

 

As promised the conditions in the water were less than ideal. The visibility was murky (for that area) we had 15-20 feet of visibility, in an area that normally sees 50+ feet of vis.

 

The first stop was over a pair of wrecks. The first one, the Tug Berwyn, was sunk more or less accidentally during WWI. I say more or less as being an old wreck the locals have all sorts of stories about the crew scuttling the ship for various reasons, and now that it has been down nearly 100 years the stories have been embellished and changed, I am sure the truth isn't nearly as entertaining as the sailors falling in love with local girls and sinking the ship in order to stay on the island.

 

The second wreck was a newer wreck, sunk intentionally for use as a dive site and as an artificial reef. Originally named the Pelican, the tug was renamed the Bajan Queen, and used as a party boat before falling into disrepair and suck as a dive site in 2002. Both were fun to snorkel over even with the lower visibility.

 

The second site was an artificial reef off of a beach on the south side of the island. After the second snorkel stop they attempted to beach the boat, but quickly gave up due to the weather conditions. So they just made a leisurely sail back to the dock with the typical post dive open bar. The crew was friendly and we had a lot of fun. Even though the trip didn’t go as planned I would highly recommend it.

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Tuesday

 

Tuesday, we woke to a beautiful sight outside our window, the picturesque harbor of Castries, St Lucia. Set in a gorge between lush green mountains the harbor is one of the prettiest we have seen. We quickly got dressed and applied large quantities of sunscreen, and headed for the pier. We had to meet a tour at 8:15 on the dock.

 

We found a tour on the cruise critic “connections roll call” for this cruise, through Mystic Man Tours, that was a day trip on a large catamaran sailboat that started as a whale watching cruise and then went to a beach for snorkeling. My parents and Grandma were also signed up so we had to get the whole gang off the ship, with all the grace and speed of a charging herd of turtles.

 

We were met by someone from the boat tour and walked a short distance (100 yards or so) to the waiting sailboat. We got everyone aboard, Grandma gamely jumped aboard with the help of the boats crew, and once settled in we headed out onto the open sea. It is so much different being out in an open air sailboat, only a few feet from the waves than it is plowing through the waves in a ginormous steel floating resort. Shortly after clearing the harbor we began to see schools of flying fish leaping from the water at the sound of our hull moving over their school. The flying fish were fun to watch, they are only a few inches, maybe 4-5 inches long at the most, and they have large fins which they use as "wings" and "fly" in ground effect just above the water. Some were capable of gliding 150 feet or more.

 

Once we found the flying fish it didn't take long before we spotted Dolphins which were feeding on the flying fish. They came right up around end under the boat and put on a great show. Just to see if we were paying attention, several of them jumped out of the water in playful flips right behind the boat, although only a few people saw it with so much attention focused forward.

 

The whales never did show, their union must give them day off, or they were performing at one of the other islands, being endangered and all, they can't be expected to be seen all the time.

 

As we made our way south we approached two soaring mountain peaks, the Pitons on St Lucia, the highest soaring nearly 3000 feet above the sea. Nearing the base of the Pitons, we came around a bend and into a small cove with a beautiful black sand beach. The boat captain carefully guided the twin bows of the catamaran up onto the black volcanic sand and dropped the ladders allowing us access to the beach. High above us, looking down on the beach, the exclusive Jade Mountain Resort with each suite taking up an entire floor, the rooms feature walls on only three sides, the fourth side being open to face the ocean and feature an infinity pool allowing you to swim right out of the living room and enjoy the specular scenery. We did some checking and anyone can stay there for about $2000/night.

 

As soon as we were giving permission to go ashore, we were on the beach and in the water. I spent the first 5 minutes getting the fine black sand out of my fins, but after that, the snorkeling was amazing. It was like swimming in a very large, very clear aquarium. In fact I saw several fish that I had never seen before except in the guide books. All too soon we had to be back on the sailboat for the voyage back to Castries and the shop. One the way back they took us on a bit of a tour, including through one of the yacht harbors that hide in the various coves around the island.

 

After we returned to the port, we took a taxi into town and went to the straw market. Basically a large warehouse filled with vendors selling trinkets, t-shirts, hats and various other things tourists tend to buy. I bought another patch for my dive gear bag. We have been collecting patches. From various places we have snorkeled and/or scuba dove. We elected to enjoy the weather and walked back to the ship.

 

We once again had dinner at the buffet area instead of the main dining room, and after dinner came back to the room where we ordered an extra blanket from the housekeeping department because our air conditioning in the room seems to be an "all or nothing" type setup so rather than trying to average it out the extra blanket made it comfortable for sleeping.

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