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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby Gillzajoker » 10 Jan 2015 16:36

Hi All,

Here we go again!

Uneventful drive to Alicante for our Easyjet flight to LGW. Slight problem with Assistance as 7 of us were taken in a minibus and abandoned for 40 mins. in a deserted cold corridor until a buggy arrived to go through Customs and on to Baggage Claim. Dark mutterings from Fred as, apart from that, both our cases had been damaged in transit and wouldn't wheel properly.

Then we took National Express to the Central Bus Station at LHR. I'd been given a phone no. by our hotel for a discounted taxi firm to there, but when I rang they wanted a mobile phone no. to contact us. Obviously my PAYG phone was still in Spain! In the hotel info. they had mentioned there was a free bus service from Terminal 5 (which we had passed en route!), so we took the shuttle to there, and then got said bus which luckily stopped quite close to hotel.

We had a pub meal just over the road, and then an early night. The hotel operates a free mini bus between 6.00-10.30 and 18.00 and 22.30, so off we went and arrived at LHR T3 at 9.50 (for our 12.05 US Airways flight to Philadelphia, and thereafter connection to San Juan, Puerto Rico. After being sent to 3 different Zones through misinformation, we queued and got to the desk at 10.20 and presented tickets and passports. And there the 'fun' began.

"You haven't got an ESTA," - (US Visa Waiver Programme) - said the girl. "Oh yes we have," says I. (Pantomime time), "oh no you haven't. says she. "Oh yes we have and I've even written the relevant Authorisation Numbers inside our individual passports", says I, pointing them out with a flourish. "Well, it doesn't say so here,", says she. (The Computer Says NO!). {The Form suggests you print off for your records but states it is not necessary to carry it, but being a belt and braces person, I thought I was playing safe by recording the numbers!)

So after conferring with girl at next desk she said I must have written the numbers down wrong and go up to the customer computers and check. So off we went, with cases, found the computers, put in £3 and pressed everything I could to no avail. A young lad had just finished using one so I asked him for advice - he tried, but in vain. So, put £3 (grrr) in another one, and finally got on ESTA site, put in relevant info. and sure enough both had Authorisation Approved, with correct numbers and date and time of payment. Of course, couldn't print off there so goes back down to desk and says it's all in order and she says she'll send for 'someone official' to go with us and check it out again. So we waited and waited, stood standing for over 45 mins. and in the meantime waved our flight goodbye!

All this time the staff there were very abrupt, unhelpful with a couldn't care less attitude. Eventually she rang someone else and we told to go the US Airways ticket office in another Zone. By this time I was a wreck what with all the stress and standing around, so Fred parked me in a seat and went off to deal with things. There the attitude of the staff couldn't have been more different, and they pulled out all the stops to sort us out. They checked out our details on a Smartphone, and our ESTAs showed up there, just not on the 'official' computers. They said 'it had never happened before!!! One girl, Caroline, was great, very reassuring.. She suggested that the best way forward was for us to apply for new ESTAs, so I trustingly gave her my credit card and she went into the back office and did the deed.

She said she'd get us on the next flight to Philadelphia but Fred explained we were only going there to get a connection to San Juan. So she checked out all the sites but couldn't find a flight with a connection (there are no direct flights to there). Luckily last year US and AA merged so she went to the AA desk and finally managed to get us on a flight to Chicago (and a connection to San Juan the next morning) which was due to leave NOW (14.25). She explained she wouldn't have time to arrange a buggy for me, but she was keeping the Gate open, so could I cope? Off we galloped, boarded and they shut the doors and took off immediately. Anyone who thinks I am a wimp/fraud for having Airport Assistance should have seen the state of me then, as I was virtually in a state of collapse by the time I sat down!

Then once we got to Chicago (late) we had to arrange an overnight hotel, luckily there was a volunteer desk who sorted us out, so we had a quick shower and went straight to bed and next morning went back to the airport for our connection flight. By this time it was late afternoon, so we just had a walk around the area and a meal. Then because we were still in our travelling clothes, (which no doubt could have stood up on their own), I spent an exciting evening doing laundry in the basement!

Our taxi to the port arrived early, so by the time we got there we only had to wait about half an hour before we boarded the ship, welcomed with a glass of champagne. This and the disembarkation were the easiest, quickest, and most stress-free ever. We had lunch and explored the ship - nice layout - before our cabin was ready. This was larger than usual, as you entered there was bathroom at one side, wardrobes at the other, then widened out with a settee one side and dressing table on the other, then about a 3' space before the twin beds and bedside tables. ( As usual it was an inside). I unpacked and explored some more before our 2nd sitting dinner (8.30) in a two-tier MDR. I had asked for a table of 8 but, as often is the case on the first night, only one other couple, John and Sylvia, from Southampton turned up. Then we went to the theatre for the introductory Show.

Late that afternoon there had been the usual Lifeboat Drill so we made our way to the Theatre, which was our Muster Station and presented our cards to a guy on the door, who checked us against his list and declared we were not on there! He wrote down our names and I thought that was that, but a couple of days later we had a letter delivered to the cabin saying we hadn't attended, and that it was mandatory, blab blah blah, and we should read all the safety info. etc. etc. and sign the form. This I did, informing the Safety Officer we had attended but were not on the list.

Next day was a sea day, so I went to the Cruise Critic Meet 'n' Mingle, but there were not many people there, and none with whom I had 'chatted' previously. Quite a few of the officers attended, including the Captain who was very friendly (only looked about 20) and chatted to everyone. I asked him if Fred could have a tour of the engine room, but he said it wasn't possible for security reasons, but he would arrange for him to have a tour of the Engine Control Room, and sure enough, we got an invitation later in the week. You could often see him round and about the ship (on one 3 week cruise we never saw the Captain once, so this was a pleasant change). He always introduced his Noon Announcements with "This is the voice from above", which amused everyone. I went to the quiz for the one and only time, as it was held at 10am and 3pm, which was when almost everyone was out and about in port, so no goodies this trip. Spent the rest of the day sunbathing (found myself a lovely little spot up front on the top deck, all on my own) and reading, It was Posh Frock Night, but we only got the one free glass on entry. At dinner that night another couple, Robert and Marian from Spain, joined us. This was followed by an excellent Production Show.

We then arrived in Barbados, and we took a taxi tour of the island and then went to a beautiful quiet beach where Fred had a quick swim...

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...and then we had a long leisurely walk back to the ship. That night, and thereafter, the evening Show for 2nd sitting diners was at 7 p.m. instead of the usual 10.30, which was odd, and a bit of a bind, as after having a day out, we didn't always want to get ready so early, so that was a bit of a downside for me.

St. Lucia came next, and we had a trip booked here. We took a long drive 600' up and into the Rainforest, then climbed to 1400' in an aerial tram. There we were kitted up in a rather fetching (not!) blue hairnet, crash helmet and harness...

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...then (6 of us) walked down a track to the first zip line platform, accompanied by guides Leah and Geoffrey. We zipped along 9 lines in all, and it was very exhilarating and scary (for me) at the same time. It was also very strenuous as I was hanging on for grim death...

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...(apparently not necessary - Fred did a 'Look, Ma, No Hands') and I had aching muscles for two days thereafter. We gave the early show a miss so had dinner and chatted for the rest of the evening.

Then Antigua, (famous for its 365 beaches) where again we did an island tour visiting Shirley Heights, Nelson's Dockyard and the usual haunts, again lovely beaches...

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...and I was interested to learn that you can take your state pension between the ages of 55-60, at which time you also get at which time you also get free phone, free electricity, free water, plus a $200 grocery voucher every month. As long as you have paid into the system for the previous ix months, foreigners have the same entitlement, so certainly sounds a great place to live! We made the early show, a great Beach Boys tribute act, and after dinner went to the game show-type offering afterwards, which was a version of Strictly with officers dancing with guests. There were a couple of other activities during the course of the cruise which involved officers v. passengers. In one respect it I thought it cheapskate entertainment, but in another but it was nice to see them being so friendly and interacting with passengers.

Thereafter followed St. Maarten. This is the smallest land mass in the world shared by two different nations - Netherlands and France. the Concordia Agreement of 1648 stipulated there could be commercial activity on either side without any border problems or red tape. This is the oldest treaty in the world. From the port we walked to the beach and spent time here, and strolling along the boardwalk flanked by shop and bars. Fred snorkelled but as there were two ships in that day, the visibility wasn't good. The early show was a magician and later in the evening there was a comedian.

Then came St. Thomas, and we each had individual activities booked there. Fred went Scuba diving and I went on a B.O.S.S. (Breathing Underwater Submersible Scooter) trip. Our group took a boat quite a way out and had a safety talk and divided into two groups. Then the Scooters...

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...were taken by divers a short distance away and the first lot swam out to them. As the only non-swimmer, a diver held my scooter close to the steps at the back of the boat, and I was supposed to duck down and under the 'goldfish bowl' part. Unfortunately I kept couldn't manage even that simple task, so was physically manhandled into position and plonked on the seat part. I finally managed to open my eyes and for the first time in my life realised the wonder of being underwater. The scooter was operated by pressing a button on the handle bars, and you steered it like a car. The divers led us first over a sunken wreck, and then over a reef, where they attracted lots of fish towards us. One diver then picked up a sea urchin, which stuck to his hand with suckers, and he brought it to each of us to have a stroke. The whole experience lasted about 30 minutes, then we returned to the ship to let the second group have their turn. Again I had difficulty getting out from under the goldfish bowl so once again was forcibly removed! That apart, the whole was a fabulous experience, and I'd love to do it again sometime.

Because we were staying onboard for what they deemed to be a second cruise, we were invited to a sail away party on the helicopter pad, and plied with lots of free cocktails! The evening should have featured a Production Show, but without notice, it was cancelled due to a problem with the sound equipment, but after dinner there was a daft game show and a repeat performance by the same comedian - this time the 'adult' version, with very little difference in content but including a lot of swearing.

Next day we were back in San Juan and everyone had to exit the ship and go through Customs before those who were staying on were allowed back. We went for a walk to the Old Town and visited Fort San Cristobal, Fort San Felipe del Morro, and the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, dating back to 1521, which contains the tome of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.

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A small train ran between these sites but were all very crowded. So we joined the ship again, and once more welcomed with a glass of champagne before again being summoned to the Lifeboat Drill.

Yet again we went, handed over our cards and once again were NOT on the list, so when we got back to the cabin I rang Guest Services and explained the situation, and they promised to look into it. So the next day I was not expecting another letter accusing us of missing it, so again I wrote a strong letter criticising their system. It was not until the last late afternoon when I was busy packing that I got a response, apologising for the problem and assuring me that steps had been taken to ensure it wouldn't happen again. However, as I pointed out, once was bad enough but for it to happen a second time was serious, as if we had been in a 'Costa Concordia situation', then no-one would have been looking for us!

Next day we arrived at St. Croix (pronounced Saint Croy, not as in the French St. Crwa) The only island on this trip I had not visited before. It was discovered yet again by Christopher Columbus in 1493 (overlooking the Caribe Indians who had been there over 800 years. It's only small, 26 x 7 miles but the largest in the US Virgins. The English took it over in 1541, then the Dutch in 1642, followed by the Spanish, then the French who sold it to the Dutch, and finally the US took it over during WW1. Fred was doing a Kayak excursion so I did an island tour. The capital is Frederikted, which has a fort, likewise the second largest town of Christiansted. We visited a rum distillery, Botanical Gardens, the Rain forest, and stopped for lots of photo opportunities.

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There are a lot of mongooses on the island, but they moved too quickly to get a picture.

Then came St. Kitts, a very lush island with a population of 40-45,000 and 75,000 monkeys. In the port area there were lots of men with them dressed up which you could hold for a photo for a dollar, but the poor things look half drugged, and I later heard they had their teeth extracted so they wouldn't bite, so I certainly wasn't going to support that venture. We took a tour in an open-sided bus, passing a Catholic Church and the largest Anglican Church in the Caribbean, then the Court House with attached prison. There were lots of black sand volcanic beaches, and there is a University of Medicine and University of Veterinary Medicine, allegedly the best outside US, both which have lots of American students as the fees are so much cheaper than back home. Right on the cost were a number of small 2-bed houses (more like our version of a mobile home/static caravan. These were social housing costing $22k and could be bought for only $20 per month. We next saw the site of Bloody River where 2,000 Caribe Indians were massacred by the English and French. Finally an outlook point where a spit of land separated the Atlantic from the Caribbean.

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A mediocre Elton John tribute act was that evening's entertainment.

Dominica was our next port of call. Again discovered by Christopher Columbus, it was dominated by the French and English in turn. We took a scenic tour through the rain forest and saw coffee, cocoa, avocado trees. We learnt that the crushed leaves of the hibiscus plant makes a substitute for shampoo. We saw the Trafalgar Twin Falls, known as Mam and Papa. The island has 9 dormant volcanoes and unlike St. Kitts, no monkeys. There was lots of bamboo, growing well over an inch a day. We went to see the Hot Sulphur Springs, blowing steam all the time...

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...and then on to the Botanical Gardens where were housed parrots, which are the national bird of the island. It was the Magic Show again that night, with no variation.

Grenada, known as the Spice Island came next, small - 21 x 12 with a population of 100,000. The main industries are tourism and agriculture, in particular, breadfruit, bananas and papaya, plus coffee, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and kapok trees.. It is very lush, having 160" of rain per year. The island is divided into six Parishes, St. George (the capital), St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. David, St. John and St. Andrew. There are lots of monkeys, armadillos, and mongooses. Hurricane Ivan did a lot of damage in 1984 but the island has mainly recovered now. They have social medicine, but no welfare (except for the sick and elderly) Public transport is in the form of minibuses. Again we did the scenic tour through the Nature Reserve, which is almost 4,000 acres of rain forest called the Grand Etang. This also has a large lake which is the remains of a volcano and supplements the water supply.

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The National bird is a dove and there are a lot of wild Mono monkeys there, but when cruise ships come in they have learned to come for bananas. Next we went to the Annandale Waterfalls where locals dive into the 15' pool for tips.

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We next had spice demonstrations and tastings before ending up at Fort Frederick, built in 1787 by the French. The US invaded the island in 1983, apparently to get rid of Cubans and Communists. On the way back to the ship we passed through a 250' tunnel which connects the east and west sides of the parish, used by both vehicles and pedestrians. Nothing much in the way of entertainment again that evening. And that was that.

So, to sum up, the ship and crew were friendly, the itinerary good, the food good, but in my opinion it was let down by the mediocre entertainment, (except for the Production Shows, which were excellent) and in particular the Cruise Director, Ken Mills. He was loud and brash, shouted instead of speaking and would have been more suited to hosting a 3-year old's birthday party. Each time he came on stage he yelled, 'Are you all here to have fun', then I CAN'T HEAR YOU - ARE YOU ALL HERE TO HAVE FUN', this repeated until the cheering and whooping (especially from the US and Puerto Rican contingent) satisfied him. Then everything and everybody was 'AWESOME, AWESOME', repeated ad nauseum. Also, although it didn't particularly bother me as I was out and about in most ports, there was absolutely nothing to do during the day. There were lots of things listed, every half hour, but in the main these were, paying things in the Spa, or Fitness centre, and things like 'have a sneak preview of the art auction, or visit this shop for a 'tanzanite extravaganza', or an 'expose' on such and such a watch, or the 'unveiling' of this or that jewellery in one of the many shops. The only things you could actually call an activity was a quiz at 10am and one at 3pm - not much good when you are on an excursion, or a half game in the tiny pool at 4mp. and that was it! Also the Library, which was on two floors (allegedly) had less than 200-300 books in it, and those 'stretched' between four languages, so that was disappointing too, as I always get through a lot of books. I had been given to understand from various quarters that Celebrity was one of the top lines (excluding the really posh like Regent, Crystal, etc.). but perhaps it was just this ship that fell widely off the mark? So I would not choose this particular ship again, and would need a lot of persuading to even choose Celebrity itself from this experience. However, apart from these small quibbles, I still enjoyed myself, although Fred less so, but that was to be expected!

Next morning (Saturday) we arrived back in San Juan and after an early breakfast were transferred to the airport for our first flight to Charlotte, N. Carolina, then the connection to LHR arriving 07.05 the next day. Then we took a coach to LGW thinking to put our cases into Left Luggage and spend a few hours in town. Because of work being carried out in North Terminal we were told there wasn't that facility and it was suggested we take the shuttle to South Terminal. This we, did, but on finding that each item of luggage (and we had 4) was £9 for 2 hours, we said sod it. and made ourselves comfortable in the restaurant area, having a meal mid afternoon, until our flight back to Spain at 18.00.

Now for the idiot of year award. On going through Customs I was asked what I had in my pocket. I said I didn't think I had anything, then, on checking, pulled out...... my travel alarm clock. Oooops! I'd forgotten that, as I'd put my watch to UK time that morning, it stopped and refused to go again and, as I hate being without the time, had grabbed this from my hand luggage But the stupid thing was, in my jewellery box I had my TWO 'posh evening' watches, one gold and one silver and diamanté, and it never entered my head to choose one of those!!! Luckily, they realised I was a geriatric twit and not a would-be bomber, so just put it through the scanner and gave me it back. After the flight was a two and a half hour drive back home and we finally arrived, totally shattered, at 01.00 Mon (with Fred vowing never to leave the premises again!!!).

Love Gill
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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby Dave » 10 Jan 2015 17:02

Thanks hugely for the fascinating read Gill, and I did read it quite thoroughly... :D

I'm sorry about the problems you encountered with US documentation but it confirms my intention not to experience it myself. ;)

I found your comments about Celebrity interesting too since our next cruise is with them (albeit a short one) and I'm looking forward to seeing how their 'modern luxury' -style compares with the 'freestyle' cruises we've enjoyed of late.
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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby bobbyoscar » 10 Jan 2015 17:26

Thank you Gill for your great review and photos.

What a dreadful start to your holiday; I think I would have been in tears from frustration at being treated so badly regarding your documentation.

From some reviews that I have been reading elsewhere, Celebrity seem to be getting some quite negative reviews of late. We are due to cruise with them later this year, so we shall see......
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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby Mungo » 10 Jan 2015 17:43

Thanks for sharing. :D

Sorry to read about the ESTA problems. :shock: I need to get a new one although hubby's is still valid. Sorry Celebrity didn't live up to expectations for you. I often think many activities, shows etc are at strange times on most cruise lines.
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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby grannyM » 10 Jan 2015 18:17

Thanks Gill for that concise review of your cruise and port visits. It's a pity the entertainment was not up to what you usually enjoy. As we know things can differ on different ships of the same line so perhaps you have been unlucky with Summit. It will be interesting to see what the members who have cruised with Celebrity have to say about the comparison with other Celebrity ships.

I have to agree with Glynis about the whole ESTA experience. No wonder you were exhausted by the time you actually got on a plane, albeit, not even the intended one.

I know Fred took a lot of persuasion to join you on this particular cruise so I hope his vow 'not leave the premises' changes with time. ;)
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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby JollyJill » 10 Jan 2015 18:18

That was a brilliant read Gill. I read some of it out to P and my son who is here at the moment.

What a performance over the ESTAs! I can't believe that you had to miss your flight over what was essentially a computer hiccup- not a good start eh?

However, it looks like you had a great time overall.
I was particularly interested in your BOSS excursion when you were on St. Thomas. Like you, I don't swim very well and am not keen on snorkelling (tried it once). However, reading about your experience on the underwater scooter has given me the encouragement and confidence to give it a go when we are on our World cruise next year, so thanks for that.

Once again, thank you for taking the time and trouble to post such an interesting and thorough review. :)
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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby judgegeoff » 10 Jan 2015 18:34

Thank you for your most instructive and interesting report Gill :clap: :clap: :clap: . I am sorry that you had problems with the US Immigration system, I always take a printed copy of our ESTA approvals, I don't trust computers (or, at least, their operators!).
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Re: Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby tomvet » 10 Jan 2015 19:01

What a drama! Now I can take these things in my stride but that would have been enough to arrest me for public disorder.
So you missed your flight. I can live with that! I can live with the reroute via ORD! Whether US and AA are partners or not, after denying you boarding, they can and should re-route you any way that suits you. Anyhow you were rerouted via ORD, it is not clear if you had / had not to fork out for your hotel in ORD. The airline should have coughed up for that also.

I find the airlines will try and reroute you on the route that is least expensive regardless of how inconvenient it is to you. Did they even try and establish flying via Madrid on the direct flight to San Juan. Sounds daft particularly when you started out in Alicante! Or the BA flight via Barbados! Or KLM via St Maarten?

I think its critical when you are flying a route that involves connections that you are aware of other routings and insist the airline explore all options! BTW the staff really love to see me at the other side of the desk! :lol:

Once in LHR where the airline had to o/night me, I requested to be accommodated in a good standard hotel! The agent rather smart arsedly asked 'What would you describe as a good standard hotel?. I replied 'The one that you accommodate your pilots in'. I got a Premier Inn, the pilots stay in the Sofitel! :twisted:
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Re: Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby sevenseascoaster » 10 Jan 2015 19:28

Really great an interesting review Gill thanks, shame about the start problems, you must have great patience, I would have blown!

As to Celebrity, they are not renowned for their entertainment I'm afraid, this never bothers me as generally its all been done before. Summit is one of the older fleet, but should still have been up to scratch. Personally prefer the modern ships such as the Solstice class, but been even some of those now need an update.

Its good to try different ships as we all require different aspects and unless you try you'll never know which suits you best :) .
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Gill's 2014 Christmas Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Summit - with Fred

Postby adogap » 10 Jan 2015 20:07

Thank you for a very interesting review Gill. Terrible start to your holiday but you were determined to enjoy yourselves regardless. Your ports of call were of particular interest to me as we are visiting Caribbean for the first time later this year.


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