Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Celebrity Summit - Thanksgiving Cruise - Penthouse Suite – #6147

All in all, I think our decision to stay in the Summit's Penthouse Suite, #6147, was a bad one. Now, all of our cruises with the kids would need to be in the PS – we simply wouldn't be happy anywhere else on the ship now that we've stayed there. Our next cruise on the Summit will be in August 2014 but it will just be Seth and I without the kids – definitely not a reason to get the PS again but the lowest class we were willing to go to was the Celebrity Suite – so we booked 7138 and 7140 (adjoining suites) for that cruise with our friends, Wade and Charlie.
As soon as we walked into the suite and saw the beautiful star tile work on the floor in the entryway (which was huge) – we knew we were home. To the right was the dining room with a table large enough to seat 8 people. The amount of storage space was unbelievable. There was also a desk at the end of the dining room which had a couple of outlets – it was a good thing that I had brought along a power strip. Neither bathroom had outlets – the only other set of outlets to be found were at the vanity in the master – and there were only 2. The baby grand piano was a very nice touch but we really didn't use it a lot – even turned down to the lowest setting, it was a little too loud. The piano's auto player is ancient – using floppy discs that are stored in the piano bench. Each floppy disc had a limited repertoire – probably a half dozen songs and that was it. 

It took us almost to the end of the cruise to figure out the small buttons located in various places on the wall in the dining room, entryway, and in our master bedroom. 4 small buttons the size of the my fingertip were lined up vertically and were simply numbered “1-4”. 2 additional small buttons next to them with arrows going up and down. In short, button 1 turned on the lights to bright, 2 and 3 dimmed the lights successively, and 4 turned them off. We could never get the arrow buttons to really work. There's a small delay between pushing the button and the lights responding.

The adjoining living room was a good size which also seated about 6 people comfortably and there was a flat screen tv to watch. The sofa pulled open to a double sized bed which wouldn't be big enough for both kids so we asked our room steward to bring in a roll away bed for Rhys to sleep on which worked out ok. It was a little weird for them because they didn't have a dresser to put their things in and the closets that they used (as well as the bathroom) was on the other side of the entryway.

The living room opened out onto the veranda which was enormous and wrapped around from the master bedroom side all the way around to the other side of the living room. There were 4 lounge chairs, the hot tub, a round table with 8 chairs, and 2 cushioned chairs with foot rests and a couple of small tables. No exercise bike although when we first boarded – we saw them outside our suite in the passageway between the 2 sides of the ship. The kids figured out the hot tub very quickly and were in it first off.

 When you stand at the backside of the ship and look back and up, you can see all of the verandas from the other suites and there were oftentimes people standing outside on their veranda and could see onto our veranda although the loungers and chairs were all under an overhang and were more private. We occasionally had things dropped onto our veranda from above – fruit peel, spilled drinks, etc.

On the left side of the entry way was a small hallway with 2 closets, a door to the extra bathroom, a door to the pantry, and a door to the master bedroom. The extra bathroom did have a shower. The pantry had a full sized refrigerator stocked with soda, wine, small bottles of liquor, and our 2 full-sized bottles of complimentary liquor – vodka and Dewar Scotch. We never opened the Scotch and the guys drank about half the bottle of Vodka. Towards the end of the cruise, Wade and Charlie brought over their bottle of champagne and our butler changed it out to a bottle of Pinot Noir which we brought home.

The master bedroom had a king sized bed. I had read conflicting reports online about the bed with some reporting a king and others reporting a queen. We definitely prefer a king sized bed and this one was very comfortable. We turned the A/C up as soon as we walked in and it was comfortably cool the duration of our trip. The bed was flanked on both sides with dressers that had a bunch of cabinets and drawers. The flat screen tv in front of the bed also had some cabinets and there was a large closet right next to the entry door.

The door leading to the bathroom first led into a dressing room with a 2nd closet, a smaller 3rd closet that just had a dresser and the programmable safe, and a vanity table. The mirrors on either side of the vanity opened like a medicine cabinet and there were more drawers on either side of the vanity. I actually had trouble remembering which drawer I put which things in – there were so many and I think half of the drawers went unused. The configuration of that 3rd closet was a little weird – the door going into the dressing room was heavy and you couldn't pull the drawers in that closet open without shutting the other door.

The bathroom was gorgeous – 2 sinks with, yes, more drawers, glass countertop, glass enclosed shower, large hot tub and another smaller flat screen tv over the tub. The windows opened out to the rear of the ship and the shades were controlled with buttons on the wall. There was a toilet in a separate room and even a towel warmer on the wall. Our bathroom was stocked with Bulgari products.

Our butler was Peter Fernandes from India. I had read a lot of differing opinions about what a butler's role was and whether we needed one or not. Peter was very soft spoken and polite. He never hesitated to do anything that we asked him to do. I had written down a few things for him in an introductory letter – just a few of our preferences, a little bit about our family and who we were traveling with including our itinerary for the week since we didn't book any of our excursions through Celebrity.
I think Peter did a fine job. I had read where other butlers were insightful regarding things on the ship or in port – we didn't encounter that. I'm not dissatisfied with Peter but he wasn't stellar. He did offer to help Seth unpack and hung things up for him in the closet as Seth unpacked. I had already gotten my things hung up and unpacked before Seth got his suitcase. All but one morning, we ordered breakfast in our suite and twice we invited Charlie and Wade over for breakfast. Any time we invited them over for a meal, we tipped Peter extra in cash because I did feel that was above what his “job description” was.

On the evening following our first excursion in St Croix when we were supposed to dine in the MDR (and it was a formal night) – we were tired, sunburned, and didn't feel like going to the MDR. I went to the MDR and canceled our select dining time and got a copy of the menu. The woman at the MDR was very appreciative that I had stopped by and when she found out that we were in the PS – she immediately got me a copy of the dinner menu to take back to the suite. We wrote down our order and I called Peter, he came over to our suite and I gave him our list and I had expected for him to just drop our dinner off but he came in, set our dining room table for 6 and served our dinner course by course. That alone was what made having a butler worthwhile for us...that ability to order in, have friends over, and be seated at the dining room table being served. We tipped Peter pretty well (I think we gave him $60 that evening).

I called Peter just one other time and that was to let him know that we needed one more disembarkation luggage tag. We did ask him to swap out a bottle of champagne for some wine instead, sent a couple of jackets and shirts to be pressed, sent 2 bags of laundry to be washed, and asked him to restock the refrigerator with coke, diet coke, and diet sprite. He did remember some of our preferences each day – we always got cappuccino in the mornings with breakfast, he figured out that we liked shrimp and salmon and brought us extra, and realized that Amina and I like to drink tea so on the days that we weren't in the suite when he came by for 4 pm canapes, he left a selection for us on the dining room table as well as a cup of hot water and a tea bag. When we had first embarked, I asked him about fixing our beverage package (we got the classic package instead of the premium one that we had upgraded to). He wasn't really able to help us out with that and I went to guest services to get that one sorted.

On the afternoons that we had some free time before dinner, I spent a lot of that time out on the veranda. In the penthouse suite, I really felt like I could just hang out. In other cabins, it was always so confining feeling – like tripping over each other - that I would take my laptop with me and to a secluded area on another deck to sit and work on my blog or read something. The kids could hang out in the living room watching tv, while Seth lay in bed watching tv, and I could be out on the veranda. I loved that.

There were other perks staying in the PS. You're classified as VIP status which is different than Captain's Club Elite status. Even though we were still CC Select tier, we got the Elite perks including use of the private lounge (which we didn't ever take the time to use), invites to exclusive events (which we didn't have time to make), coupons for free drinks (excluding martini bar, specialty restaurants, and the MDR and only to be used between 5-7 pm – the kids used them), and 2 sets of coupons for other Elite perks like laundry service (30 items), pressing (2 items), free internet (90 minutes), etc. As VIP/suite members, there was a separate entrance when reboarding the ship but we didn't see anyone use it because the line was pretty short at the times we returned. The one time that the line was really long was in St Thomas and they didn't have the special VIP/suite entrance set up.
In Normandie – the penthouse suite guests have a specific area that they seat you at – right in the middle of the dining room in front of the gorgeous wood paneling. We ate at that table 3 times. I do have to admit that it just FELT cool to tell someone our room number whenever they asked – I think the entire ship's staff knew which suite it was. :-) We loved the penthouse suite and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Day 8 - Celebrity Summit Thanksgiving Cruise – Saturday, 30 November – San Juan, Puerto Rico to Atlanta, Georgia

We left the cabin at around 8 am and made our way to Michael's Club where they had strong coffee and some pastries and juice. Because we were “VIP”s – we could disembark whenever we wanted to. There was nobody else in Michael's Club when we were there. On our way to Michael's Club, the Rendezvous lounge was full of people with every seat occupied as they waited for their disembarkation number to be called. This was a nice perk of being in the VIP class – we disembarked at our leisure.
I dropped off the Celebrity questionnaire for the most part rating everything except the MDR as “excellent”. I had left a small tip for Socorro, our room steward. We found our luggage easily and were directed immediately to a taxi that would take us to the airport for which we paid $45 again for all of us including our luggage.

We were coming to the end of a fantastic cruise. In retrospect, although we probably saved a bit of money, we should have booked an excursion in St Thomas. We had received a call and message on our phone earlier in the week from the Concierge who specialized in local, private excursions. I had thought about booking us a private excursion through the ship but then decided that we would just “wing” it in St Thomas which didn't really work well for us. We've already decided that on our August cruise on the Summit, we would eat at Normandie and Qsine twice each and then find 2 restaurants in Bermuda to have dinner avoiding the MDR altogether. Clearly, we've reached the epitome of cruise line snobbishness.

We narrowly made our connecting flight in Miami but, predictably, our luggage didn't make it to Atlanta on our flight so we waited around the baggage claim for about an hour to collect our luggage.  We went straight to Rathbun's Steakhouse for dinner from the airport and arrived exactly o time for our 6:15 pm reservation.

I tried the ribeye trio - "wet aged", "dry aged", and american wagyu - with a side of seared foie gras.  We all shared a bunch of appetizers and side dishes which were all wonderful.  

Day 7 – Celebrity Summit Thanksgiving Cruise - Friday 29 November – Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

It was nice to be back in the US again – our 4G was working now. After our group breakfast in our suite, Wade and I went to the future sales desk to book our next cruise. The special offer they were giving was hard to pass up. We decided, though, after looking at the celebrity website, that the better date for us to go to Bermuda would be in August – there was a cruise leaving on my birthday, the 31st and Wade's birthday was the next day – in addition, this cruise was $500 less expensive per person than the one in June. Celebrity also would give us a free classic beverage package and an additional 25 cruise tier points per person. We booked adjoining Celebrity suites.
We had decided to go to St John. The weather was kind of yucky – raining off and on and cloudy. We disembarked and found the taxi stand – it was $10 per person one way to go to Red Hook where you catch the ferry to St John. It took about 20 minutes to get to Red Hook and we hit it exactly right as the ferry leaves on the hour – we got there about 5 minutes before 11 am. We paid our $7 per person for a one way ticket to St John and boarded the ferry. It was a short ride – about 20 minutes to get to St John. On the way, I was reading about St john and trying to find out where the best snorkeling was as we had our snorkel gear with us. 
We met up with a guy who walked us over to his friend's store for Charlie to buy swim trunks and snorkel gear – it was a fair hike from the ferry stop to the store. He then walked us to the taxi stand and we boarded an open air van for the 20 minute ride to Cinnamon Beach for another $7 per person one way. I had asked about Trunk Bay but the guy told us that it was $6 per person to get to Trunk Bay and an additional $4 per person entry fee. Cinnamon Beach was $7 per person with no entry fee and would likely be less crowded.

It started pouring rain when we got to Cinnamon Beach and continued to rain off and on for the rest of the time we were in St John. We snorkled a bit and then rented a stand up paddle board for Rhys to try. Unfortunately, we only got to spend about 2 hours at the beach before having to head back and catch the 3 pm ferry back to St Thomas. Seth, Amina, Charlie, and Wade had returned to the ferry station earlier so that they could return Charlie's snorkel equipment and have lunch. We met up with them at about 2:45 by the ferry station.

We returned to St Thomas and took another taxi back to Charlotte Amalie, did a little shopping, and then reboarded the ship. The ship had a bit of a mechanical problem and didn't leave at 5 pm as scheduled. We spent the time packing our things up and then showering and getting ready for our last dinner on board in Normandie.
We enjoyed 2 bottles of wine with our last dinner on board. We also had another 2 rounds of their caviar service – Marky's russian osetra karat caviar gold and tried out the Chateaubriand for 2. Amina and I shared the 6 stars dessert.

We got back to our suite and finished packing. I had asked once again at Normandie about our free dinner in a specialty restaurant and was told that the maitre'd would fix the problem. I had pre-booked and pre-paid all 4 of our specialty restaurant dinners but we got one night free for being Penthouse Suite guests. We also asked them about the location of the disembarkation lounge. As Elite members, we could meet in the Normandie in the morning but as suite members (which included Charlie and Wade whose reservations were tied with ours) – we were invited as VIP members to Michael's Club. The staff told us that Michael's Club would be less crowded and it was just a short walk on the same deck to the ship's exit. It would have the same continental breakfast as Normandie. We attached our special VIP green 2 luggage tags and our suitcases were whisked away at 11 pm.

Day 6 – Celebrity Summit Thanksgiving Cruise - Thursday 28 November – sea day

I hadn't been running all week so I took the opportunity in the morning to go to the gym and run on the treadmill for about 40 minutes. The ship was moving along pretty well with just a gentle sway. Running on a treadmill is kinda the pits anyways but with that gentle roll back and forth, it just adds another twist to running – I usually have to run with one hand on the treadmill just for a little balance.

After I got done, I went back to the suite and just hung out on the veranda – I pulled one of the loungers into the shade and watched a movie on my ipad until Seth woke up. I showered and got ready – we had reservations at Normandie for lunch at noon. We were recommended to eat there rather than the buffet because it was a sea day and it would likely be very crowded in the buffet.

Lunch was relaxed and yummy.  I tried their beet salad with goat cheese as well as the lobster tail.

 Afterwards, we went to browse the sales on the pool deck where I picked up a dark grey Celebrity polo shirt for Rhys. We also walked through the emporium and I picked up a Summit magnet to add to our collection.

At around 2:10, we met on deck 9 forward for a tour of the navigational bridge. It was interesting to see the computer basically steering the ship. One of the officers explained what our heading, speed, etc was and also told us how long it takes to become a captain of a ship like the Summit.

After our tour, I went back to the suite and just hung out. We were actually going to eat in the main dining room for dinner since it was Thanksgiving. I can't remember who it was that mentioned it to us but we were told about a cruise with 4 sea days and a couple of overnights in Bermuda. This sounded really good to us and so I had grabbed a flyer about the Bermuda cruise. We looked at it over lunch and talked about going in June so Wade and I went to the future sales desk and got information about it – we were looking at adjoining Celebrity suites on deck 7 but the sales woman suggested to us to wait until Friday because of the specials that would be coming out on the last day of the cruise.

Our dinner in the MDR was disappointing. The double baked blue cheese souffle was pretty good. The frisee and endive salad was ok. The pork loin was ok. Charlie had lobster which came out cold and the service was REALLY slow. We did have a good bottle of red wine with dinner.

We put our order for breakfast out and had invited Wade and Charlie over for a last cruise breakfast.

Day 5 – Celebrity Summit - Wednesday 27 November – St George's, Grenada

We dragged the kids out of bed this morning and after getting our things packed up for our excursion and putting 2 bags of laundry out for cleaning (free with our Captain's Club coupons – up to 30 items per bag), we went up to the cafe for breakfast and met up with Wade and Charlie.

We were a teeny bit late getting out to the duty free store because Amina couldn't find her driver's license. When we did get there, our tour guide, Selwyn, was there to meet us for our private tour of Grenada. We boarded a pretty big van and off we went for our 6 hour tour.

The day was pretty warm and it seems like there's no functional A/C in any car in the Caribbean – it's a good thing that the breeze coming in through the windows are pretty cool. We drove for what seemed like a really long while on some of the craziest, most twisted and narrow streets we've ever been on. To drive in Grenada means understanding the intricacies of curves, frequent braking, too-numerous-to-count speed bumps, navigating around parked cars and pedestrians, and using a series of brief car honks and flashing headlights to tell other cars what you're doing. Now, not only did Selwyn do this, but he was able to do it whilst telling us all about the history of the country (he seemed to have a real knack for remembering dates) as well as pointing out the incredible number of fruit trees, spices, and edible plants on the island. Selwyn told us that there was so much fruit on the island that most of it actually spoils because they cannot be collected in time. Every other tree on the island seemed to have something edible growing on it.

We drove up to Concord Falls and looked around (cost of entry was $1 per person), bought some spices (cocoa balls, assorted powdered spices, and whole nutmeg, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks) and pure vanilla ($5 for about 6 ounces), and Selwyn showed us what a nutmeg and cocoa pod looked like on the inside.


 We then went to a nutmeg processing plant and were taken on a brief tour showing us how almost the entire process of harvesting nutmeg and mace was done by hand – the only process not done by hand was the cracking of the nutmeg but all of the drying, sorting, packing, etc were done by hand right down to the manual painting of the nutmeg sacks.

Leaper's Hill was our next stop – at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean where the Caribs were defeated by the French and decided to jump off this cliff rather than be captured.

We then drove to the River Antoine Estate to tour the rum distillery ($3 per person exit fee). Unfortunately, we were there right around noon on their lunch break and the huge water wheel (the oldest functional water wheel in the western hemisphere) wasn't on. A distillery tour guide walked us through the process of sugar cane being hand cut and then fed into the press operated by the water wheel. The sugar cane juice then flowed into the boiling house where it was hand ladled from vat to vat getting hotter at each stop. I picked up the ladle to feel how heavy it was – I could barely lift it. The juice was then brought into a storage area of concrete vats for fermentation. Nothing was added to the juice – it was just time and yeast in the air that fermented the juice. The juice was then distilled and filtered twice and the product was between 75-88 proof – illegal to take off the island per our tour guide. As with the nutmeg plant, the amount of manual labor was unbelievable.

After our tour, we were invited to taste as much rum as we wanted. We tried the 20 proof rum punch first and already got smacked in the face with the potency of the rum. The 60 and 80 proof rum almost set my hair on fire. I think one bottle would probably last us 20 years. It was comical that they let us have as much rum as we wanted – we barely took a sip and were just about knocked over. I'm sure a single sample bottle lasted a week or longer for them. I couldn't imagine how it is that pirates were able to drink so much of the stuff.

Selwyn then took us to the Belmont Estates for lunch where we sat in the open dining room and enjoyed the breeze. We got to try sour sop juice (not sour at all – it was milky in color and sweet – nothing citrus or tart at all), nutmeg milkshakes (the nutmeg flavor was almost overpowering), virgin pina coladas, and chocolate milkshakes (with chocolate from their own cocoa trees). Lunch consisted of soup (split pea or green banana – they were out of calaloo soup) followed by an “assisted” buffet, and dessert for about $20 per person.

I had the green banana soup which really didn't taste like banana at all. Green banana seems to be treated more like a potato than a banana – it really just gave the soup consistency like pureed potato and the only flavor was really the spices they added. The buffet included salad with dressings including a nutmeg dressing, green banana salad (more like potato salad), and a golden apple and cucumber salad but I swear those weren't golden apples – they tasted like pineapples. We also sampled some mixed vegetables (sweet potato, green bananas, etc), carrot ginger rice, chicken in coconut curry, grilled fish (didn't like the fish), stewed beef, and garlic beans. The lunch was really pretty good. My favorite was the stewed beef.
Our last stop after lunch and browsing the shops at the Belmont Estates was the Grand Etang national park where we went up to the information center to see Crater Lake ($2 per person entry fee). The information center at the top of the hill had been rebuilt (as much of the island had) after Hurricane Ivan.

Selwyn then dropped us off at the dock and we thanked him for a very informative day (and praised his driving skills). We picked up a few things in the shops at the dock and re-boarded the ship.

I was able to get on the internet for a little bit while we were still docked using our Captain's Club free 90 minutes – the signal really wasn't too bad. We met Charlie and Wade at Cellar Masters for the Chef's Table dinner that we had bought upon embarkation. We had a little champagne and toasted with the ship's maintenance officer, Nick, as well as the executive chef. We were then led into the Cosmopolitan restaurant into the galley and down the escalators to deck 3 where we were, literally, seated at a table right in the middle of the galley.

 The dinner was a lot of fun and the food was good – it was just so noisy in the galley and they assigned us seats where I was seated in between both kids. Wade and Charlie were across the table from us. They poured a sauvignon blanc and a toscana pretty freely and supplied the kids with as much soda as they wanted.

We started with a flambeed prosciutto wrapped shrimp that the Executive Chef, Abdul from India, cooked for us and even served to us. The appetizer was a salmon and crab dish which was delicious. For a short time, I had Rhys convinced that the orange/red fish roe were actually fish eye balls. I had the arugula salad with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar dressing which was pretty good. My entree was a Loup de Mer (sea bass) on an eggplant and tomato ragout. The sea bass was different than the other sea bass that I have had in the past – it was pretty thin. For dessert, one of the Chefs de Range flambeed some strawberries for us and I had a crepe filled with ice cream and served with flambeed strawberries – that was one of my favorite desserts of the cruise.

Arugula Salad with goat cheese

Loup de Mer (Sea Bass)

They took a group photo of us in the galley which we received a copy of the next morning. At the end of the meal, each couple received a copy of the Celebrity cookbook – signed by the Executive Chef and Chef de Range – and each lady received a red rose. The dinner was nice and I learned a lot about how things work in a galley – our Chef de Range, Nenad – answered all of my questions about the different uniforms and grades of chefs.

It was about 10:30 pm when we finished, said our goodbyes and headed off to bed.