First, we would recommend to all, if possible, to plan on arriving at your host port a day before sailing for two reasons:
After a good night's sleep, and a relaxing morning at the Ft. Lauderdale AmeriSuites, we decided to go to the cruise terminal about 11am, just to see if we would be able to board early. Procedures started about 11:30am, and were a bit confusing at first, but things smoothed out and we were on board the Summit before noon. Hint: If you are a "Captain's Club" member, tell the host/hostess when they hand you a number, which allows you to go to the head of the line.
Overall, this 91,000-GRT ship is very attractive and pretty well planned out. One drawback, in our opinion, is the lack of a centrum area; of the fifteen other cruises we've been on, most of the ships had one. The Millennium Class ships have a two-deck-high area with a staircase in the middle, and there is a closed-in feeling to it. Also, the "Guest Relations Desk," aka 'Purser's Desk,' area is not as open and inviting as on most ships. And, finally, there are bursts of "art," or "art deco," throughout the ship that make you say, "Why?" An example is outside the casino near the middle of the ship. The wall is filled with squiggles of color, and two plastic chairs are placed against the wall. We weren't alone in wondering why this would be here.
Everything else about the ship is beautiful: from the cabins and public areas to the open-air deck space. The itinerary appeals to those who like to island hop AND enjoy days at sea (two days at sea, followed by five islands, and then two more sea days). The food was excellent; Summit sailed nicely (even though the first two days had rough seas); she was spotless and still had that 'new smell' to her. And the entire cruise went without a single glitch - smooth sailing, so to speak, from embarkation to disembarkation.
Our cabin was #9040, cat. 1A, Sky Deck. This was one of the larger cabins we have had (other than suites). It was very roomy (191 square feet), with two beds made into a queen, a sofa-sleeper/couch, more than enough storage space, plenty of space to move around, a safe with a keypad to enter your own code, and an interactive TV (so you can access your shipboard account, book excursions and order room service, as well as watch pay-per-view movies and newly-released movie videos at no charge). Also there were a dresser/desk with chair, a large glass coffee table, plenty of mirrors and lighting, a good-sized bathroom with a shower that is large enough so the curtain isn't attracted to your body, and a refrigerator which is actually set up as a minibar. And all was brightly decorated, carpeted, and accessorized.
We removed all the items from the minibar, stowed them away and replaced them at the end of the cruise; you are charged for "missing" items. Before you do this, count the number of bottles and snacks, and if anything is missing (there's a list) tell your room steward/stewardess right away. The balcony, though not huge, was a little larger than standard balconies on other ships, maybe because it's a new ship. The balcony measures approximately 4.9' by almost 9', with two chairs and a small cocktail table.
Although stateroom #9040 was one of the best cabins we've ever had, the location was less than desirable, for several reasons. First, being on Sky Deck, we were directly below the Thalassotherapy Pool, and the staff started rolling the towel carts above us at 3am and it's like a train - you can hear them coming and hear them going - all directly above your cabin! Second, we had a little rough seas our first two days out of Ft. Lauderdale, which in itself wasn't bad, but the location of our cabin's balcony (more toward the bow) prevented us from using it too much because of the salt spray. But the next eight days were wonderful. And third, a problem for sun worshippers: because of the superstructure, there is about a 20' overhang above Sky Deck, so 90% of the day was shady, which didn't bother us. In hindsight, we would book an aft or stern cabin, probably on Panorama Deck or Vista Deck.
Public Rooms & Areas
The Cosmopolitan Restaurant
Pools and Hot Tubs
The Thalassotherapy Pool
Aqua Spa, Sauna & Gymnasium
Other Public Areas
Waterfall Café Bar
Celebrity On-Line Room
Conservatory (Floral & Gift Boutique)
Emporium Gift Shops
Dinner was very good to excellent. Beef selections were outstanding, fish/seafood was very, very good, and poultry (duck) was good. Everyone seems to be interested in the dress code for evening dining. For the 10-day cruise, it was, by the day:
Breakfast: We ate in the main dining room four mornings. It was the Eggs Benedict every time for me - fried eggs over medium for Barb, both with hash browned potatoes, bacon, toast and bagels, juice, coffee, and pastries. Everything was done perfectly.
Lunch: We never made it to the main dining room. This was a first - the only cruise of 16 where we didn't experience lunch in the main dining room at least once.
For Dinner, this is alternative dining: the main entrée is ordered, and the appetizers, salads, and desserts are all buffet. It is a limited menu, but very good. Reservations are requested for dinner seating. Anyone with a late shore excursion (like us) might want to consider the Waterfall Café, especially if they have early seating.
Lunch: Buffet style, with many of the same items every day, but the pasta bar is different every day. There is an ice cream bar (the good stuff, i.e., not fat-free, goes fast). Also, there is a theme food bar in the aft section of the Waterfall Café, which varies daily: Italian, Mexican, etc. Most food items are portioned out by the servers, and if you want a little more of something, you need only ask!
Breakfast: Fair to good; no changes in the menu items from Day 1 to Day 10. Most items are warm when you get them, but then you have to wait forever (seems like it) for toast or bagels, and then move on to another station for eggs the way you want them (where there is usually a line). Everything is lukewarm, at best, by the time you're done.
Very, very good hamburgers, good hotdogs, and pretty good pizza for lunch.
This is a more upscale dining experience - alternative dining with reservations and an additional charge. Jacket and tie are required all the time. Plan on dining for at least 2½ hours. Minstrels visit your table. Definite "ambiance." People who dined in the Normandie compared it to the finest dining they've ever had. Rated 5-star by everyone.
On other cruises, we do no excursions or just one or two. This time we did three!
Our cabin stewardess was excellent. She knew we were out early in the morning and, as do most of them, when we were gone for dinner. We didn't see much of her, but she and her assistant did a great job of taking care of our cabin.
Our dining room wait staff - waiter, assistant waiter, head waiter - were fair, at best. They got the job done, sort of, but without much enthusiasm, except for the sommelier - she was one of the best we've had the pleasure of dealing with. Again, talking to others, they gave their wait staff rave reviews. We just happened to get a combination of duds.
The rest of the staff and crew were all pleasant - they smiled, said "hello," but were not overly friendly. We really couldn't put our finger on it, but would have to say they were a little standoff-ish, but not offensively so.
Most longer sailings attract an older crowd, and this cruise was no exception. A very rough breakdown is: About 62% of the passengers were 50+ years old; the 30-50 age group was about 27%; and then a big drop off, to 8% for young adults (20-30); and about 3% were teenagers or younger.
This was probably the friendliest group of passengers we've come in contact with. Almost everyone struck up conversations with total strangers, whether it was in or around the pool areas, the Waterfall Café, out on deck, in the hallways or on excursions. People just wanted to chat. You could tell everyone was there for the same reason - to enjoy.
The Summit returned to Ft. Lauderdale around 6am and was cleared by Customs very early (a formality, since everyone had to 'visit' a customs official on board ship in St. Thomas). Since we had made air reservations almost a year in advance for a 10am flight, we didn't think we would have a prayer in making that timing, with the increased delays at airports now. But, midweek, we spoke with the staff at the Guest Relations Desk (Purser's Desk) about our predicament, and they assured us that there wouldn't be a problem. We were issued the appropriately-colored tags for early disembarkation. They started the process about 8:20am for those who needed assistance, and then our color was called, so we were off the ship by 8:35am. We zipped through the terminal, grabbed our luggage, hailed a van taxi ($6 per person), which whisked us to the airport and dropped us off at the curbside check-in, and we were at the gate with about 25 minutes to spare . . . all that even with the tight security. We made it, and probably broke a record doing it!
If anyone has questions about the Summit, feel free to ask. The next best thing to sailing is talking about it . . . and planning the next one.
PHOTOS courtesy of Barb Carter.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Summit, click HERE.
Wes & Barb Carter have written many reviews for the SeaLetter and may be reached at: email@example.com
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