Back on Celebrity – Back to Back (B2B)
After our fantastic inaugural experience on the Celebrity Reflection, our next trip on deck was supposed to be a return to Couples Negril. However, since we had such a great time cruising again, we decided to cancel the trip to Jamaica and book a cruise from Miami on the Celebrity Summit for five days in the Caribbean. After some coaxing, some of our family decided to join us making us a group of 12 . Later, after discovering a little extra vacation time, we would add five more days just to ourselves. Thus began our first BACK-TO-BACK (B2B) cruise.
We had booked an Aqua Class Veranda for our original itinerary, which included stops at Cayman Islands and Cozumel, sandwiched between sea days. When we started planning the second leg to Key West and Cozumel, the same cabin was still available, so we were set! We would be able to just step off the ship for a quick check thru customs and then back on board to enjoy the ship without ever having to pack between legs. (More on this later)
Welcome to Miami!
After breezing through baggage check and security, we were seated at the gate in plenty of time for our 5:20 a.m. departure from Louisville. My in-laws joined us on the flight, and after arriving in MIA we shared the hotel shuttle. If you are using a hotel shuttle, call before arrival and find out what pickup point they use. We stood at the wrong one for longer than I would like to admit. Eventually, we found our ride and headed off to the Comfort Inn and Suites.
Lucky for us, when we arrived, they actually had our room ready and allowed us an early check-in – which was awesome since it was so early in the morning. Bad news though, the family had actually booked just across the street at a similarly named sister hotel. So, if you are booking multiple rooms at the Comfort Inn and Suites Miami Airport, make sure you get the address correct as there are two directly across the street from each other.
Later, after the folks were checked in, we walked a couple of blocks down to Old Tom’s Sports Bar where we lucked into an awesome find! It was Sunday afternoon and NFL was in full effect. Of course, Miami Dolphins fans lined the bar, but we managed to snag a couple of stools and settled in for some great food and a couple of cold drinks with the locals. We enjoyed ourselves so much that after we cleaned up and the parents were rested, we went back later that evening for a late dinner.
Our accommodations also included a hot breakfast and transportation to the cruise terminal. So the next morning, we loaded up on some grub before we boarded the shuttle and were on our way to the ship. Miami had four other ships in port that morning, one of which was one of the world’s largest cruise ships, the Icon of the Seas. So, to say the port was busy that morning would be an understatement. The Summit would be the last drop-off for our shuttle, so we were able to see the entire operation in motion.
The Celebrity Summit – Millennium Class 2001
Celebrity Cruise Lines has perfected their embarkation process. We arrived right at our 10:30am boarding time and were on the ship within 20 minutes. We barely had time to use the restroom and quench our thirst before we were on the gangway and headed towards adventure. For my in-laws, it would be their first cruise, and I don’t think they could have made a better choice! After finding our keys at the door of our cabin, we were able to drop our carry-on luggage and head off to enjoy the ship.
Coming in at 91,000 tons, the Summit is part of the oldest and smallest class of Celebrity Cruise Line Ships, with the exception of the exploration vessels in the Galapagos. However, you would not know this ship is 20 years old. A couple of major overhauls in dry dock have brought this ship up to date with every bit of splendor you expect from a luxury brand. Being a smaller ship, the cruise experience is more intimate. While there are fewer venues, restaurants, bars and shops than the larger ships in the fleet, Celebrity Summit’s designers did a good job of spreading things out to make the ship feel bigger and more spacious. She holds only 2158 passengers and employs almost 1000 crew members. Even when the ship was full, it did not feel crowded, and the service standard was exceptional.
Sail away Miami – Not to be missed!
Celebrity Summit docks at the end of the long row of ships waiting to sail out of Miami and off to the Caribbean. When leaving the port, she pulls down to the basin and does a 180 degree turn. We made sure to get to the Sunset Bar early and settled in for the view. During the first turn at sunset, we were witness to a spectacular perspective of the Miami Skyline, Biscayne Bay and the Macarthur Causeway. The sun ducking behind and peeking through the Skyscrapers made for the perfect departure.
The Sunset Bar is at the aft of the ship just past the buffet at Oceanview Cafe’. A solo guitarist provided background music to the spectacle, and as we made the turn the view was a panorama of sailboats, islands of condos and the orange touch of the sun on the wake. We probably enjoyed the sail away from this port more than any we have ever done, and we cannot wait to do it again.
Aqua Class Cabin 9080 – Spa Life
Our first leg would be in Celebrity’s Aqua Class, or their spa cabin category so to speak. Our cabin had noticeably more space than the rest of the family’s standard Veranda Cabins. We were greeted with a complimentary bottle of vino, and later invited to a special sail away event on the ship’s Helipad. In addition to the twice daily cabin service, including turndown with chocolates on our pillows, each day our steward would drop off canapes and bottled waters for our afternoon snack and next day adventures.
The Persian Garden in the spa was ours to use at our leisure for the entire week as well, but we never really take advantage of spa perks. We are more fun in the sun types at this stage, but that may change as we get older and need more help to recover. Dawn did take advantage of the ship’s gym every day and loved the view out over the water as she walked on the treadmill. I instead took advantage of the food at the Spa Cafe` in the Solarium, or a to-go Cappuccino at Cafe` al Bacio as I strolled the ship decks. Unless of course I decided to take advantage of the plush bedding and the gentle rocking of the ship to get a little extra shuteye.
The Solarium is an adults-only area that includes a thalassotherapy pool. Other lines we have sailed with charge up to $50 a day to use this pool, but on Celebrity it is included for all above the age of 16. There are large bubbling sections to recline in, or slide over to the down spouts that give a massage you cannot beat after a long day of travel. Hot tubs flank both sides of the pool as well, so there is always a space to soak without kids if that is your preference. I highly suggest stopping by here early in your trip to wash off the stress of a long travel day. (Well at least if you are like us and have a long way to go to reach the ports in Florida)
Additionally, at the Spa Cafe`, you can get smoothies with your premium package or for a small charge with a standard package. The food however is free and included several delectable selections like yogurt parfaits, club sandwiches or turkey rolls. I opted for avocado toast with egg and tomato that was delicious, and you can just stop and grab it almost anytime. You can also grab coffee, teas and juices at the drink station here for a quick self-service refill on the go.
BLU – Dining for Aqua Class
While we did not take advantage of the spa amenities, we definitely indulged in the specialty dining reserved only for Aqua Class guests. BLU was as beautiful as it was delicious. The dining room is trimmed in royal blue and white with walls strewn with white crafted rose murals. Each touch is balanced by either blue or white, with blue candles and glassware, and white tablecloths and plates.
The menu at BLU includes healthy takes on classic dishes with a couple of full-flavored favorites thrown in for the diner less concerned with heart healthy options. You could order off menu in some cases, and could even request the main dining room menu in case something there had caught your eye. Daily menus are posted outside the entrance to all of the different dining venues to help you decide where you want to eat.
Open for both breakfast and dinner, there was rarely more than a moment that we wait to be seated. Our server Maryanto and the rest of the staff made sure we wanted for nothing. The Sommelier was on the spot to make recommendations based on your dinner order, or at breakfast, to gather a spicy Bloody Mary or Mimosas from the bar. Assisting wait staff always ensured sure you had plenty of bread, water or anything else you may need – even a pillow for your back if your chair was not perfectly suited for your comfort. Mr. B, the host, was sure to stop by and check on your every meal, anchoring the whole team for an incredible dining experience.
Summit at sea
We spent our days lounging beside the pool and our afternoons enjoying trivia in the Sky Lounge. With drinks readily available from a bar nearby, and a multitude of sun loungers, there was rarely a time when the deck felt crowded. The entertainment staff put cruisers through the steps and made burning calories fun, though we actually just sat back and watched sipping our pina coladas. And even though we were seated fairly close to the sound system, the setup projected nicely and kept the music from being overbearing.
Two pools allowed for plenty of space to cool off while soaking in the sun. There were plenty of showers to rinse off, and a couple of hot tubs – though as is customary on a cruise, they were usually full. Towel service is readily available, and the attendant will even roll a pillow up for you from an extra towel. You can enjoy the fun in the sun without worrying about losing your towel and getting a surprise charge on your final statement. (Unlike other lines that treat beach towels like cotton weaved treasure, making you track your towel, and your bill for an overcharge.)
The vistas from the Sky Lounge’s forward-facing floor to ceiling windows left you in awe of the magnificence of the expanse of sea awaiting you. Plenty of comfortable seating was available for a multitude of activities including the usual trivia or coloring at sea. While at night the dance floor came alive to the groove of the DJ or live bands. HINT: the restrooms here are more easily accessed than any other from the Mast Bar area.
At the other end of the ship, Deck 12 aft is where you will find the sports deck and Rooftop Terrace. Movies were featured on the big screen with ample seating on comfortable couches and even a few cabanas to kick back and enjoy the shows. Service came quickly from servers, or you could grab your own refreshments from the Sunset Bar downstairs.
Nightly as we explored the ship before dinner, we would window shop at several of the luxury brand stores available, and maybe make a couple of duty-free purchases from the more affordable options in the gift shops. We could hit the casino, or step outside for a leisurely stroll on the expansive open decks overlooking the blue waters churned by the ships bow. While enjoying a late coffee drink and biscotti, or a coconut macaroon and Chocolate Martini from Café al Bacio, we could listen to the live music from the string quartet in the atrium or look down at the Martini Bar action below.
After dinner we were treated to world-class entertainment. We were thoroughly impressed with the talent and range of the vocalists while equally astounded by the amazing acrobats that seemed at times to defy gravity and walk on air. The comedians performed nightly, but we kept missing them. The family made it to a couple of the shows and had a ball, but we were often on a different schedule due to our dining reservations.
Specialty Dining – Tuscan Grille, The Chef’s Table and La Petite Chef
Definitely take advantage of early dining reservations via the website or your travel agent, and if you can snag a table the first night at Tuscan Grille, you can save on a fabulous dinner at one of the best specialty restaurants at sea – skipping the first night confusion of the main dining room and ensuring a great first dinner with impeccable service. I love the steakhouse options, and the lovely wife goes Italian with Chicken Parmigiana. We get the best of both worlds with handmade pasta rolled daily and aged beef cooked to perfection.
The Chef’s Table is an event in itself. Dishes curated by world renowned Chef Daniel Boulud complete with wine pairings and presentation from the Executive Chef. It was an interesting night for us as we met a quasi-celebrity (who would like to remain nameless), but she shared some incredible stories, regaling us with insights from her attendance at White House Dinners and Presidential Events.
For dinner that is a show, checkout La Petite Chef. Animation and fine dining intersect as your meal is brought to life before your eyes. Four animated chefs from different culinary arts compete for your vote. Each course is preceded by a short cartoon of the chef preparing your dish that is projected onto your table and plates. As if by Hollywood Magic the final product aligns perfectly with what your chef presented. The food was delicious, and the service was a delight.
Be sure to plan accordingly. These are dining experiences that are not to be rushed but enjoyed as the highlight of an evening. Don’t expect to make the early shows and expect poor seating choices at the late ones if you can’t get the earliest reservations at a specialty restaurant and forget shows altogether if you book the Chef’s Table as it is a three-hour dinner at least. However, if you are a foodie, then you definitely won’t feel like you missed out. These culinary experiences become memories to last a lifetime.
The 2nd Leg
Every ending is a new beginning, and our cruise was no exception. Our family disembarked early, while we waited in a lounge with a few other couples doing a back-to-back cruise. After a few minutes we were escorted to the Retreat Lounge as our next five days would be spent in a Sky Suite 9119. We would sip champagne and enjoy a small buffet as the ship was cleared of the last passengers. While we were escorted off the ship and through a quick customs check, our luggage was transferred from our first cabin to our new cabin and our new Retreat Host, TJ, was there to greet us when we arrived.
Now our first cabin was perfectly fine, and quite a bit larger than the standard veranda cabin, but our suite was marvelous. The bed faced the oversized balcony, so our first views of the day were always of the beautiful seas as we made our way to our next ports of call. The bathroom had an actual whirlpool bathtub which thrilled my wife immensely. The suite’s layout was spacious and stylish, and the bedding was beyond comfortable. Our next five days were sure to be as wonderful as the last leg.
The Retreat Lounge, The Retreat Sundeck and Luminae
Suite guests on Celebrity have access to the private lounges, sundecks and Luminae. The Retreat Lounge was very comfortable with plenty of seating for guests to relax and wind down after a day at port, or a day at sea. Open 24 hours, you could always get a cocktail, coffee, tea, canapes, hors d’oeuvres, or even a small meal at the breakfast and lunch buffets. The Retreat Concierge team were there for every need, and the bartenders poured premium liquors in your choice of cocktail crafted to perfection.
Doors on either side of the bar led from either the main thoroughfare on deck 5 inside, or opened to the outer deck where you could enjoy a smoke, a book or just relax to the sound of the ship as she crashed through the waves. It was quite convenient to stroll the promenade and then dip inside the Retreat Lounge for a quick Mojito
At the very front of the ship on deck 12 we found The Retreat Sundeck, offering breathtaking views of the sea. While we basked on the comfortable sunbeds, clamshells, loungers and cabanas, lunch and drinks were served to order. The bacon jam that came with the specialty burger is amazing, and can only be enjoyed here or at Luminae on the lunch menu.
We took in the second leg sail-away from Miami the sundeck and would spend our hours at sea basking in the sun with barely a soul around, while receiving the next level service that The Retreat is all about. We could even spend time in the hottub without being crowded which we have found to be a rarity on a cruise ship.
Luminae is the specialty restaurant reserved for suite guests only. With a menu that changed nightly including selections crafted from the recipes of Chef Daniel Boulud, every meal was a delight. You honestly don’t need to book specialty dining if you have access to Luminae. Additionally, as was the case in BLU, you can order from the MDR menu if you would like. The server will not hesitate to bring you the nightly menus to choose from, so that meant Dawn could have her favorite (French Onion Soup) nightly.
Service was impeccable from the time Mr. Lobo greeted us by name, making us feel part of the family, to our team of waiters that anticipated every need providing a relaxed but professional dining experience whether we were enjoying breakfast, lunch or dinner. From fluffing your back pillow, to the amazing bread service, or the perfect glass of wine chosen by Mr. Red, the Sommelier on hand, they made every effort to take your experience to the next level.
Back to Louisville
After 10 wonderful fun filled days on the Celebrity Summit, it was time to go home. We carried our own bags off and thanks to Celebrity Cruise’s excellent disembarkation, we were in the shuttle on the way to the airport in less than 10 minutes. Unfortunately, after arriving a bit too early, we sat around waiting to check our bags. (Note: Miami and Ft. Lauderdale airports will not allow you to check your bags more than 4 hours early.) But we eventually made it thru security and into the terminal sections to find some grub. It just happened to be Thanksgiving Day, so we missed the traditional holiday, but we had a pretty good meal all things considered.
There are plenty of ways to get lost so we stuck close to the gate and waited patiently for our first flight, and then even more patiently for our second leg home. The airports were both eerily deserted. It would be a long day of travel, but done with the right person, a day full of love and companionship. The destination is only part of the journey.