Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: July 25th, 2003
We cruised Alaska’s Inside Passage aboard the Summit this July. This is my husband’s first cruise and my third. My first two were taken almost ten years ago with my parents.
We picked Celebrity after reading the many positive reviews of the ship’s service and food quality. Ultimately however, I am a disappointed because the ship did not live up to its reputation. It was a good cruise, but nowhere near the excellent cruise that I thought it’d be.
Cruisetour #13 disappointing
We signed up for Cruisetour 13, which in retrospect was a slight mistake. This cruisetour spent too much time in Fairbanks (which had nothing) and too little time in Denali (where you could have taken a long tour to see bears, etc). We started out in Fairbanks, where two activities were included: gold panning and steamboat tour visiting dog mush camp and a made up Athabascan Indian village. If you like Thai food, I suggest going to the Thai place in downtown. It’s quite authentic. The food at Chena’s also not bad.
The next day we boarded the beautiful high dome train to Denali. The scenery along the ride was just wonderful. After Fairbanks, what a nice change! Included activity in Denali was an extremely lame 3 hour bus trip into the Denali Park. As a result, we didn’t see any wildlife at all. Beautiful scenery, but disappointing. Our tour director did not inform us that we could have taken a bus service (provided by the park service for about $30) that would have taken us deep into the park for about 7-8 hours. People who took this long trip all saw bears and dahl sheeps. After the disappointing bus trip, we did have lots of fun on the white water rafting excursion (extra fee).
Next morning, we left for Talkeetna. The hotel, Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, was great. There wasn’t much to do in Talkeetna. We signed up for helicopter ride to view Mt. McKinley, but could not go because the ride was cancelled due to poor weather. So, we just walked around the tiny downtown, checked email, and had dinner.
Next day, we left for Anchorage in a deluxe motor-coach (Celebrity jargon for bus, basically). We were dropped off at this horrendous restaurant called Sourdough, which was extremely touristy, had bad food and bad service. Anchorage was very different from the other Alaskan cities. It had high rise buildings and a Nordstrom! Again, not that much to do in Anchorage since we didn’t really have time to do any shore excursion. So we walked around and shopped for gifts. There was a nice store selling fur/hide/skin owned by an old Japanese man. We stayed up really late to do laundry (Marriott only has 1 set of laundry!) and the next morning left for Seward to embark Summit.
On the way to Seward, the tour director said she had a “surprise” for us. They basically took us to a somewhat expanded zoo, where you can see caribous, deers, a bear, all behind cages. Also, on the way to Seward we saw some beluga whales at Turnigan Arm.
Embarkation was smooth
Embarkation was a surprisingly easy and quick process. Our cruise director have been collecting embarkation information since the day before and we practically ‘checked in’ at the Anchorage hotel. We got to the Seward dock quite early, and just had to go through security. In about 10 minutes, we were inside the Summit. There were waiters with champagne, but I think since we arrived really early, the ship wasn’t all ready yet. I could see boxes strewn about, and a lot of the mechanics were walking around.
We immediately went to the shore excursion office since we didn’t sign up for excursions online in time. We knew the excursions we wanted to do were popular (dog sled in Juneau, bear watching in Ketchikan, etc). We did get all the excursions that we wanted.
Our 3 bags were nowhere in sight. So we just walked around and made reservation for the Normandie. Dinner was open seating that nite, so we had dinner and still our bags were not there. The bags finally came, and we unpacked.
Cabin was excellent, balcony not private
Our cabin was probably the best part of the cruise. We had a stateroom with a balcony on the 8th deck. The size of the room was perfect. Clothes and toiletries storage was more than ample. The room also had a neat built in magazine rack that proved useful for many knick knacks. The bathroom was spacious enough for two people to get ready simultaneously. Our stateroom attendant was from the Phillipines and his assistant from St. Vincent. Both were very nice and efficient. Our rooms were cleaned twice a day. We always had fresh towels morning and night, and our water carafe was always filled. The attendant also remembered my preference not to have the duvet cover on the bed after the first night.
In general, sound insulation was great. Unless there were some children running and screaming along the corridor (which happened a few times), we felt the cabin was our sanctuary from the crowd.
The downside of the cabin was that the balcony was not private. There was etched glass partition between our balcony and our neighbors. I think all rooms on the Summit don’t have a private balcony. I could look into the balcony of a suite two decks down from me. Also, our neighbor violated the no smoking rule for the starboard side. Due to the cold weather throughout the trip, we also rarely used the balcony.
Food was average
Let me start with breakfast. We always had breakfast at the Waterfall Café on Deck 10, where they served buffet style breakfast. Food was plentiful and the servers were always cheerful. There were also waiters standing around to carry your tray for you to the table. Also, waiters with coffee and pastries standing around. The Café had a wide selection of food: cold cuts, pastries, cereal, fresh and canned fruits, eggs. The croissant was really good.
Lunch was downright disappointing. We ate at the Cosmopolitan, the main dining room, twice or thrice, and it was, as I said, downright disappointing. We also tried the Waterfall Café when it had Asian buffet, and it tasted so bad we went back to the Cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, the menu at Cosmopolitan that day was also lacking, so we ended up eating hot dogs from the Waterfall Grill. I didn’t try the Grill’s burgers, but their hot dogs were good. Their pizzas however, were pretty bad. Sometimes we also had lighter food from the AquaSpa Café. The taste varied, some days it was good, some days not so. The dessert there was good and they always had some variation of smoked salmon.
Dinner was a much happier occasion. I never had a bad dinner while aboard. They had a wide selection of appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Salad was just salad, nothing exciting there. Soups were allright. There was always a beef entrée everyday, and the 2 or 3 times we had beef, it was always good. Escargot appetizer was also very good. One night they served crab legs and the other night, lobster tail. The lobster was good, but the crab legs were just OK. Our waiter was from Honduras, and his assistant from India. The restaurant manager was from Portugal, and the sommelier from Austria. We liked our waiter and assistant very much. Our glasses were never empty. They chatted with us but never for too long. Sometimes we also asked for second orders (my husband really loved the escargot and I really liked the desserts).
We also had dinner at Normandie. We had to change our reservation since the restaurant manager at the Cosmopolitan insisted that we dined at the main dining room when they were serving crab legs. As I said however, the crab legs were just OK, not worth changing reservations for. The dinner at Normandie took about 3 hours. The food was great not excellent. More than serving food, I think the restaurant is about displaying service. They plated all your food by your table and sometimes cooked by your table too. So, if you like this kind of thing, then definitely go to Normandie. At the end of our 2 hours however, I was already antsy to leave. My husband had smoked salmon appetizer, ceasar salad (dressing made in front of us), and shared chateaubriand for main course with me. I had French onion soup (tasted very bland) and the main course. The chateaubriand was excellent, especially the foie gras. Dessert, unfortunately, was disappointing. I had the chef’s selection and my husband crepes suzettes. Should’ve ordered the chocolate soufflé, I think. Service was of course, excellent.
I do want to point out that the ship was quite friendly to diabetic people. Having a diabetic father, I know how difficult it is to find no sugar added desserts. Desserts after dinner at the main dining room always had no sugar added ice cream, and another no sugar added dessert. I ordered one of the no sugar added dessert, and it tasted quite good. During tea time between 4-5 pm everyday at the Waterfall Café, there was also a section marked no sugar added.
Shore excursions generally wonderful
We did quite a lot of shore excursions. Our glacier dog sled in Juneau was cancelled due to poor weather, so we ended up doing just a glacier landing with helicopter (I think it was JU14 Mendenhall Glacier: Ice really boring guide, and the catamaran was moving too fast for us to notice animals. The view was great). The kayaking part was much better. All the kayaks were 3 people kayaks, so we shared with another woman. We were given gears and taught how to paddle and steer the kayaks. Pretty easy! Then, we kayaked the Chilkoot Lake in groups of 3-4 kayaks with a guide. We were originally supposed to kayak in the river, but it was too windy that day. The kayaking was a nice experience, but don’t expect to see much wildlife here as advertised by the shore excursion book. There were probably 10-15 kayaks that day, and as you can imagine, we weren’t that quiet. We did see lots of eagles though, and that was great. You could really get and feel close to them. I would highly recommend the kayaking part. Even with the other people/crowd, you can still feel serene and peaceful, kayaking along a calm lake surrounded with mountains and soaring eagles. And you don’t get wet! We heard SK22 Glacier Point Wilderness Safari was also really good. Skagway itself was a nice city. It felt like a movie set for a Western movie almost.
In Sitka, we did halibut fishing. My husband loved fishing, and I tagged along. This turned out to be quite bad. We were a ship of 4 ppl and the captain. The sea was very rough, the air cold. Due to bad luck, our ship’s anchor was tangled with a nearby salmon trolling boat, causing us to lose 1 hour of fishing time. Due to this mishap, the captain had to change locations to avoid the salmon boat. The whole boat ended up with only 2 halibuts (both caught by my husband). On the other hand, the other halibut boat with Celebrity people on, about 600 hundred feet away, caught so many fish that they went back early. Fishing is always a gamble. Unless you are really a deep sea fishing enthusiast, I would not recommend the halibut fishing. I think we should have done the sportfishing for salmon instead. It was shorter, in closed waters, and I heard from a lady who was on it that they caught so many fish. Also, we barely had time to see Sitka since all time were spent fishing.
In Ketchikan, we did the lumberjack show and Neets Bay Bear Watching. Lumberjack was entertaining, but as expected, very touristy. The bear watching was exciting, but again, I wish I had just taken the long bus trip in Denali and saw bears there and save money at Ketchikan! There were a lot of bears in Ketchikan, and they were standing quite close to us, fishing for salmon. Neets Bay was a hatchery, so there was a lot of salmon and pretty much guaranteed bear sighting, but the surrounding wasn’t all that natural. The forest where the bears came from were across the river/stream from us. Behind us however, were tanks for the spawning salmon. If you want more natural setting, try the Tatoosh Island Bear Watching. Ketchikan itself was completely a tourist city. This makes for cheap shopping, but I barely felt I was in Alaska still.
Disembarkation in Vancouver went quite smoothly. People were given different colored tags depending on their flight departure time. Then we congregated in specified public lounges till our tags were called. Once the tags were called, we left the ship and picked up bags at the Vancouver port. All this was smooth, until we saw the line for the taxi! I think we waited for 1 hour for a 5 minute taxi ride to our hotel (Westin Grand Vancouver, good hotel with good price from Priceline).
We didn’t watch a lot of the shows. We did a lot of shore excursions and had late seating dinner, so most of the time we were too tired to watch the shows. The Newlywed game was funny, and we wish we had watched the comedian when he had his full show. He had a short performance during the last nite of the cruise and was incredibly funny. I think his last name was Gavin.
The spa was pleasant. I had a pedicure that still lasts until now (color selection was disappointing however). And both my husband and me had one of their daily specials massage. Pleasant experience.
The ship decoration took some getting used to. I was a bit taken aback when I first entered the Summit the first day of the cruise. I thought it was a bit too colorful and not classy enough. But after about 4 days, I got used to it.
The staff wasn’t very friendly the first two days of cruising. By this, I mean they didn’t say hello or good morning, even when we were in the elevator together. Maybe I expected too much, but I thought they were supposed to do that. By the third day however, I did notice the staff was more relaxed and friendly.
After talking to a headwaiter, we learned that their salary was only $50/month, and they completely depended on tips. So, please remember to tip generously!
Good, not excellent, cruise
Maybe I arrived with too high an expectation, but we were quite happy on the last night of the cruise to be going home. We had a wonderful time in Alaska, and a nice time on the ship. We hope to visit Alaska again, maybe by cruise, maybe by some other means. The next time we cruise however, we will definitely pick a smaller ship to avoid the overwhelming crowd of 2000 people!