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Jared McGrath

Age: 28

Occupation:Software Engineer

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Summit

Sailing Date: November 9th, 2002

Itinerary: 10 day Eastern Caribbean

The itinerary we selected was a ten-day cruise in the Eastern Caribbean. We embarked from Ft. Latter dale on a Friday aboard the Celebrity Summit. This was only my second cruise (although I was traveling with my wife and mother-in-law, who have cruised 14 times prior) my first being aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. Having started my cruise life on the largest ship sailing, I was a bit concerned about the Summit being noticeably smaller.

The process of embarkation is noticeably different since 9/11. My wife and I had talked of flying down to Florida the day before, but in the end decided to fly the morning of the cruise and using the bus vouchers instead of a taxi. We will not be doing this again, as the only bad part of the cruise was the sorting through of endless luggage at the port (which is not the fault of Celebrity).

My concerns of traveling on a “smaller” ship were all for not. Upon boarding the Summit, I honestly could not notice the difference. I believe this was partly due to the fact that the ship has less passengers, so the passenger-to- space ratio was just about the same as the Explorer.

If this is you first time aboard the Summit, allow me to say that their web site does not do the ship justice. The interior is absolutely elegant. Like all modern ships, it does have some aspects that are pretty standard: the Waterfall Café layout was like most café layouts. The library and Internet café were also de facto. But it was the more European ambiance that struck me as soothing and relaxing: The Milan Café (for espresso) and Michael’s Club (for cigars) became my favorite indoor places of relaxation.

The crew was top notch. While I only have one other cruise with which to compare, my more experienced wife agreed that the crew and attendants really went the “extra mile” to be friendly and helpful.

If you are use to the bigger ships (as I am), you will probably notice more movement, especially on the days at sea. This was a shock for me and it took about three days to finally get my sea legs. However, the movement, while noticeable, was more soothing and drawn-out than choppy and short. Actually, the first night back in the States it was rather difficult to sleep due to the fact the room was not gently rocking.

On this particular itinerary, we spent the first three days at sea, followed by a new port each day, and then two more days at sea. I am seeing the benefits of this, as opposed to some sea days interspersed with the ports, as it made for a prolonged anticipation of the next segment.

My wife and I had a stateroom on deck seven with a veranda. I enjoyed this a great deal, as each morning and evening, I would spend half an hour unwinding there. The stateroom itself was pretty standard, but inviting. One note: the bathroom was particularly large for a cruise ship, which was a nice change.

As I learned from my wife before my first cruise, second seating for dinner is an absolute must. We enjoyed the four to six p.m. hours by the pool when all the first seating folks were in their cabins getting ready. This was particularly great on port days, since we never felt rushed to go anywhere or get back to the ship.

The dining room was very charming, and offered a recovered statue from the S.S. Normandy (more on the Normandy later). We were seated at a table for seven. I have found that after I get settled on the ship the first day, I start to anticipate what sort of dinner mates we will have (a little fear in the back of my mind that they will be unfriendly or such). Not to worry on this cruise: our tablemates were two couples from Chicago and Florida – Tim and Marty, and Jim and Sandy, respectively. We had a blast with these folks and the dinner conversation was wonderful. Tim was celebrating his birthday while on board, and we had a great time. They were experience cruisers and knew all the great bars in all of the ports.

The food in the dining room was very good indeed. Please keep in mind, however, that about half of the meat dishes are served with a more European- thinner cuts and a little more marbling that my palate was use to. All in all, however, the food was noticeably better than Royal Caribbean, and the staff was very prompt and friendly.

The casino was very inviting and the craps table was very generous (at least to me). The staff made an extra special effort to get to know you by name.

While I didn’t possess a particular desire to try out the Aqua Spa, my wife and mother-in-law spend at least two hours each day there. Based upon their testimony, it was a great place to unwind.

The Summit is a little more compartmentalized than larger ships like the Explorer. At first, I thought I would not like the reduced openness of the ship. But it only took two days for me to appreciate the layout. The Emporium possessed some pretty good shops for jewelry and such and was more of a boutique nature than expected.

Now, as for the entertainment: I can only tell you second hand (through my wife and mother-in-law) that the evening shows were ok. A couple of nights they claimed the shows were very good, and a couple of nights they left early. So, on average, they get an okay grade. As for myself, I found after my first cruise that after dinner is a great time to explore the ship and relax, rather that sit in the theatre.

If this is your first time on Celebrity, please get a wake-up call for the mornings in port, as Celebrity’s “no announcements” policy is just that – no announcements. I think overall this is a good idea, but it is rather difficult to determine when the ship has been cleared through customs at a given port, since the announcements are almost non-existent.

The Summit’s piece de resistance is the Normandy restaurant, available by reservation only and with a service charge of $25 U.S. per person. My wife and I have never really bought into the specialty restaurant aboard a ship, since the food in the dining room is usually pretty good. However, my wife and mother-in-law had a “girl’s night out” and decided to try the Normandy. My wife would not stop talking about it and before I knew it, we had 6:00 pm reservations for the following evening. In addition to the wonderful elegance and the original S.S. Normandy panels, the whole evening was worth it. The wait staff was energetic and friendly (more so than the already friendly wait staff in the dinning room). And the chateau briand was a gastronomic delight (and this is from a man who is a connoisseur of meat). It was an absolutely wonderful four course, two-hour meal and with the early reservations we were able to join our dinner mates in the dining room (although we only had coffee).

Our first port of call was St. Maarten. Now, I am a beach bum at heart, and was looking forward to the only beach I had visited in the Caribbean before: Magen’s Bay in St. Thomas. But I had heard of Orient Bay in St. Maarten and it was the first place we headed upon arrival. Orient Bay (which has several individual beaches along a two and one half mile shore) is a clothing optional beach. This made me somewhat nervous and excited at the same time. Anyway, I highly suggest taking a taxi (two persons will cost you approximately $12 U.S. a piece, but if you wait at the taxi dispatch center for other people from the ship heading that way, you can get it down to $6 per person). We asked the driver to drop us off in the middle of the bay (at Bikini beach, I believe). Keep in mind that if you wish to rent some beach chairs, they will run you about $5 per chair.

The beach was absolutely beautiful. White sand and very clean shores with no rocks or such. The surf was just right – calm for a few minutes, followed by some pretty nice waves for a minute or two. The scenery was fantastic – there is a small island off the beach only about a mile or two away. One note: solicitation is not banned, so be prepared to deal with local sellers of hats and beads. Also, remember the S.P. 45 sunscreen if you plan on taking advantage of the clothing optional nature of the beach – my wife went topless for the better part of the day and that S.P. 4 sunscreen would not have cut it.

Our next port was St. Lucia. We made our way via taxi to Choc beach and a little bar and grill called “The Wharf”. This is a good water sports beach, as the pebbly nature of the water does not make for good swimming. We rented a wave runner and had a blast. We also quite serendipitously met up with our dinner mates and had a few drinks. Piton is the local beer, and it was not bad with a slice of lime.

We next visited Barbados, and tried our luck at Payne’s bay and a little hotel (the name of which escapes me at the moment). This was an ok beach – pretty decent swimming, and water sport rentals. One note on Barbados – the taxi drivers are pretty rude compared to the other islands I’ve mentioned and you must be very firm and insistent with them to get where you want to go.

Anyway, I can’t say too much about St. Kitts (our next port of call) other than it looked pretty nice from the ship (I decided to take a break that day and lounge around the ship).

And of course, the last port: St. Thomas and Magen’s Bay. If you have never visited Magen’s bay, you must go. If you have, you do not need my prodding. This is one of my favorite beaches of all time. Taxi fare is about $5 per person for a 35-minute drive. Beach entrance fee is $3 per person. Get there early for a good spot. This is a “no motorized” beach, so you will not have to compete with boats and jet skis. There is a great little pizza/burger stand there with fabulous pizza and onion rings. Chairs can be rented as well as lay lows. The water, as usual, is pristine and you get to swim with a few fish and manta rays if you are lucky ( I ran into a manta ray while in the water and just barely got a look at him before he took off). The beach itself must be raked daily, as you never see or feel so much as one rock or pebble.

All in all, my experience aboard the Summit was the best so far. If you are looking for a touch of elegance and perhaps the friendliest staff at sea, I would whole-heartedly recommend the Summit.

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