Our Favorite Port: Bermuda

Here we are at the end of my five part series, and we’re ending it with the trip that I started this blog with, Bermuda. We all agree this is our favorite to date, and it was a pretty easy choice. Since I’ve already talked about this port in-depth in my Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 posts back in June, I’ll do my best to bring new material to this entry.

When we were initially looking for a graduation cruise to take our daughter on, we were looking at Alaska. Jen and Bayley had never been there, and everyone who’s been on an Alaskan cruise seems to love them. After a bit of deceptive questioning to avoid letting Bayley in on the surprise, we came to realize that she’d prefer something tropical. My wife and I started the search over, quickly coming to the realization that we wanted to do something different from the normal Caribbean itineraries we’d been doing. We did consider cruises out of San Juan, since those go further south to ports we haven’t been, but most of those were out of our budget when adding airfare. That was when my wife brought up Bermuda. We’d talked about this in the past, but weren’t sure how we’d like a cruise where you basically park in one spot for three days. In researching it, she found it to be a favorite of a large percentage of those who posted reviews on Cruise Critic. Many people talked about how they’d been to Bermuda multiple times on cruises, which is something we really hadn’t seen with any other U.S. based itinerary. We were sold.

This itinerary started with two days at sea. On the morning of day 3, I got up early to watch the sunrise as we arrived in port. If you cruise to Bermuda, I highly recommend being up early and getting out on deck or a balcony to watch the sun come up as you pass around the island. The arrival provided some of the best views of the trip in my opinion, and as you can see, the Norwegian Breakaway beat us in to port:

1Sunrise2Island3Sunrise4Arrrival

5Island6Island

Getting back to the point of this post, this island is our favorite port of all time for a few reasons:

  1. The people were all incredibly warm and friendly, and you never felt unsafe. Wherever we went, people were always smiling, and willing to help you out with information or directions.
  2. The transportation system is second to none among ports we’ve stopped at. I talked about this in my previous posts, but when you first get off, there are transportation stands just off the ship where you can buy bus/ferry passes. If they can’t get you where you want to go, you probably don’t need to go there. We made use of the bus and ferry every day we were there. These are the same buses the rest of the island uses to get around, and the same ones kids take to and from school.
  3. A friend of mine at work is from Bermuda, and always talks fondly about the island (except maybe the cost of living 🙂 ). I’d heard about a few of the different landmarks on the island, like Somerset Bridge, so we made time to stop and see a couple of things most visitors aren’t aware of on his recommendation.
  4. There’s a ton of stuff to do. Even with 3 days in port, we still didn’t see everything we’d planned to. We definitely want to visit again and work on that list some more.

Number 2 above is a huge deal in my opinion. Going in, we had zero guided excursions planned, private or cruise sponsored, due to all we’d read about how good the transportation system was. When it was all said and done, we only took one guided tour, a last minute choice to take a jetski tour on our final morning there. As I mentioned in the Day 3 post in July, that tour was excellent and worth the extra money that was spent on it. Outside of that, everything else we did was on our own, utilizing the transportation system and our feet to get us where we wanted to go. It was nice to not be on a set schedule, not having to hurry to meet tour operators. We basically got off the ship whenever we want and headed out, and returned whenever we wanted.

This cruise also represented the first time we’d been parked in the same port for more than a few hours, which we all found pretty cool. On the first and second day in port, there was no stress about getting back to the ship before it left, since it wasn’t going anywhere. It was an awesome way to see Bermuda.

I think that about covers it. I highly recommend reading my three posts about our days on the island (linked in the first paragraph in this post) to get an idea of what we did. It’s been fun going over these five ports and reliving our time on these islands. My next posts will come some time next week and cover our upcoming trip to Daytona for the Rolex 24, a 24-hour sports car endurance race. In the meantime, here are a few more shots from Bermuda!

1Night 2Front 3Govt 4Fire 5BandS 6Bermuda 8Hamilton 9BandS 10Ship 12Beach 11Beach 13Beach

Visiting Bermuda – Day 3

From the start, we’d decided to hold off on going to the beach until the last day. Most of what we’d read going in suggested not going on day 1, as that was the busiest time, so we decided to heed the warning. As mentioned in my last post, we’d stopped by the watersports booth at the docks the evening before and booked an early morning jet-ski tour, so we had that on tap as well.

We got up a little before 7, and headed up to Lido for a quick breakfast after getting ready. We were supposed to have room service delivery before 7am, but it didn’t show. I think they finally got to the room at 7:30, but by that time we’d already grabbed some food from the buffet. The meeting time for our jet ski tour was 7:45, and even with the kids being slow to get moving, we made it on time. Upin arrival, they went over some basic safety procedures, gave us all life vest, and we hung out for a few minutes while they prepped the jet skis. Once they were ready, we boarded in groups. My wife and I on one, and my daughter and her boyfriend on another. There were a handful of others in our group as well, so once we were on, we did slow circles in the harbor while we waited for everyone else.

Here’s where I should stop and make an important point. If you can’t swim, you probably shouldn’t be out in the ocean on a jet ski. One of the couples in our group included a woman who apparently can’t swim, and in true Murphy’s Law form, as soon as they got on the ski and were pushed off the dock, they rolled it. With the ski completely upside down, they were left to climb back up on the dock. We felt for the woman, after she got helped back on the dock, she sat there hugging the railing for a bit. I’m sure that was terrifying, but it would have been far more scary if it had happened while we were well off shore. The man with her decided to come out on his own, and seemed to have a blast.

Back to the tour itself, we took a 75min tour of that section of the island with one of the guides from KS Watersports. It was spectacular, taking us into Ely’s Harbor, and then out to the HMS Vixen, which was intentionally sunk out there in the late 1800s. While at the shipwreck, the guide feeds some bread to some local fish as well, and they know it. A ton of fish were out there hanging around waiting on it, and once he threw the bread, they were swarming like a bunch of piranhas going after it. After that, we circled back around and came around the end of the dock area, which gave us great views of the two cruise ships. Here are a few screen grabs from my GoPro that I’d strapped to the front of the ski, including one showing the swarm of fish when bread was thrown their way.

Bridge Fish Returning Shipwreck ThumbsUp

Again, it was a great tour, well worth the money. Our guide was excellent, and when he noticed that we were kinda stuck behind a couple of slower skis early on, told us he was fine with us breaking out of line to pass them and go faster if we wanted. I love jet skis, and was more than happy hit full throttle and oblige :). Good times were had by all!

Our tour over, it was time to hop the #7 bus for Horseshoe Bay Beach. Upon arrival, it really didn’t seem that crowded to us. Up near the entrance where the food/showers/restrooms are was where most people seemed to be set up, but walking down the beach a bit wasn’t an issue. Before doing so, we decided to climb the rocks to get a cool view of the beach. The first two shots are from the top of the rock, the last is looking back at the rock itself after we walked down the beach a bit

BeachFromTheRock TopOfTheRockTheRock

After we got back down, we decided to walk down the beach. Having read up on Horseshoe before we came, I knew that if we walked past the end of the beach, we’d hit a section of small coves, and a smaller beach that few people would be on, so that’s what we did, and it was well worth it. While it was still very humid, it was a beautiful day. We found a little spot on the beach with an overhang, and set up shop.

Beach Beach2 beach3 Cove

One tip, and this is probably an obvious one since they have a captive audience: bring your own food if you can. The food at the stand is fairly expensive, which we expected going in. We just didn’t have time to stop and get something on the way.

Horseshoe is awesome, and we were glad we chose it. We’d hoped to make it to Church Bay beach in the early afternoon, but were so happy with Horseshoe that we decided to stay put. Just gives us something to do next time! Anyway, about 2pm, we decided to head back to the ship so we could clean up and be out on deck for sail away. I will say that when you’re already hot and tired, the hike back up the hill to the bus stop is brutal. I admit I wanted to pay the $2 per person to take the shuttle that short distance, but was overruled. We hiked back up, and were met with a large line for the bus back to the dock. Once again, the local transportation board was prepared. While we had to wait 10-15min for it, they had an empty bus ready to go as an express back to the dock.

Once back at the dock, the kids got off at Clocktower Mall to stop and get some fudge from the shop in there (excellent fudge, btw). After they got off, we all realized that I had their passports, so I hung out over by the ship and waited for them to walk back over. While waiting, I snapped one last shot of the ships:

Ship Panoramic

Once they arrived, we headed back to board the ship one last time. As I hope I’ve conveyed in the past few posts, we had an awesome trip, and absolutely loved Bermuda. It’s a beautiful island with incredibly friendly residents, and we definitely plan to visit again!

Cruising the Summit

I’ve been going back and forth on what to write here. What I don’t want to do is make this a duplicate of my Cruise Critic review of this sailing, as that seems like a waste of typing. I’m still waiting for that to be published, so if you’re interested in my traditional review of it, keep an eye on the list of my CC reviews, hopefully it’ll be published soon (update – it’s published as of 6/24). That also shows reviews of our previous three cruises in case anyone’s interested. That said, on to the Summit.

After the afore-mentioned fun in Annapolis, we headed up to New York to catch the Summit for a 7 night cruise to Bermuda. We headed up a day early, in part to get a few hours to hang out in NYC, and also because we believe in giving ourselves plenty of time just in case something happened. As anyone who’s cruised before knows, the ship won’t wait for you if you’re late boarding, and I had no interest in missing two sea days and meeting the ship in Bermuda. Good thing we did, as we suffered a punctured tire an hour north of Annapolis and had to stop in some small town along the way and get it replaced. Things happen, and this is a prime example of why we like to get to our departure city a day early whenever possible. After that 3 hour delay, we made our way to a friend’s apartment we were staying at in Long Island City and had a fun few hours in NYC Saturday evening.

With Sunday morning came our departure day, and we were all very much looking forward to it. There’s something about stepping on to a ship that causes everything I might be concerned with in real life to just disappear. The idea of being totally disconnected until we arrive back in port is cathartic in a way that’s difficult to put in to words. This time around even more so, primarily because a few short minutes before we actually stepped on the ship, I was certain it wasn’t going to happen. My daughter occasionally gets motion sickness from riding in cars (but cruise ships have no affect on her), and apparently the drive from Manhattan to Bayonne triggered it again. After our boarding group was called, we got in line to take the bus from the terminal to the ship, and as we were about to get on she suddenly felt very ill, and ran to get to the bathroom thinking she was going to throw up.

See where this is going?

The woman managing the line saw it, and asked if our daughter was sick. My wife instinctively said yes, and I immediately had visions of the ship leaving without us. They had no idea what was wrong, and had to assume it was Noro. We were then directed to some seats off to the side to wait for the ship’s nurse, and ultimately the ship’s doctor. After about 45 min, she was cleared by the doc (who’s very friendly, BTW), and we were allowed to board. Whew.

That first day and a half on the ship had us reconsidering our choice of line. The CC review covers each specific topic in more depth, but the sailing we chose (June 8th) was prior to the area schools getting out, which meant fewer families. We had an idea of that going in, and really had no choice, as my daughter’s working as a counselor at Woodward most of the summer, and had to be there the day we got back. Regardless, the average age on the ship was quite a bit higher than that of our last three cruises, all of which were over Thanksgiving break. That first 36 hours, the ship just felt dead. Activities were light, including only one trivia session on the first full sea day, and the overall energy level just wasn’t where we’re used to. On the second sea day, things picked up quite a bit (thankfully), with more trivia, and more activities overall. The activities staff really busted their butts from that point on to keep people entertained. By the time we got to Bermuda on Wednesday, our tune had changed for the most part. I do admit that when we docked in Kings Wharf, I looked over at the water slides and ropes course on the Breakaway with a tinge of jealousy, even with NCL being at the bottom of lines we’ll cruise again (more on that in a later post). For a sample of the things to do on board the Summit, here’s the list of what we did prior to arriving in Bermuda:

  • Attended trivia twice and got killed 🙂 (there were only three the first two sea days, if I recall)
  • Attended the flash mob practices
  • Won the Amazing X Race (only one other family showed up)
  • Took the galley tour, highly recommended
  • Went to the crepe demo in Bistro, and my wife even got to go up and make a crepe
  • Watched the cooking competition
  • My daughter and her boyfriend attended a couple of dance classes
  • Watched officers vs guests pool volleyball

That last one was awesome. I’ve never seen a group of officers so involved. The captain was everywhere, very approachable, and funny. Kudos to Celebrity here, that’s a guy you don’t want to lose. I’d bet he and his “GoPro moments with the captain” were solely responsible for a few dozen DVD sales, too.

As far as Bermuda goes, I’ll save our time on the island for a separate post. What I will say is that we see why so many people do this cruise more than once, and it’s at the top of our list of places to visit a second time. It’s a very beautiful island whose residents are warm and welcoming. I also loved being docked in one place for two and a half days. Not being stressed about making it back to the port by a certain time each day was nice, and having a place to go eat “free” meals between land activities allowed us to save some money. Oh, and the cold towels they hand you each time you get back on absolutely rock. Bermuda’s a bit humid, and walking around the island for a few hours will leave you hot. I think those cold towels were my wife’s favorite part of the cruise, and she let the guys handing them to us know that each time :).

Moving back to the ship itself, boarding on the afternoon we left Bermuda was uneventful, and we didn’t encounter a line. We headed up to shower, change, and head out to watch for “pier runners”, but never saw any. Everyone must have made it back on time, although someone did get off wearing pool gear holding a beach bag of stuff right before we left. Hope everything was okay.

The final sea day featured plenty of activities, fortunately. List of things we did on the port days and the final sea day:

  • Watched the ‘Not so Newlywed Game’
  • Played in the “Family Feud” game, my team almost won the whole thing in spite of me
  • Went to the deck party, which was fairly dead in our opinion (second port day)
  • Played in ‘Mind the Gap’, which seriously needs to be pulled, way too corny.
  • Played the wheel of fortune-ish game hosted by the DJ
  • Attended round 3 of progressive trivia, got killed
  • Went to the captain’s talk on ship navigation. We both loved it, and highly recommend it, especially if Captain Dimitrios is there as he does an outstanding job
  • Watched the final officers vs guests pool volleyball game. Just as awesome as the first ones.

We did attend most of the evening shows, as well, but missed the production show on Wednesday, as we were in Hamilton. Overall the two production shows we saw were a let down, as they definitely seemed geared towards an older crowd. The singers and dancers aren’t the issue, they were great, but the actual shows and music just weren’t what we enjoy. The aerialists were great, as was the comedian.

So that pretty much leaves two things, the room and food. Hopefully you’re still reading 🙂

The room, 9156 (corner family FOV), was awesome. I’ll do a dedicated post on room selection later, but I think after this we’ll be looking for corner aft balconies from now on. The family FOVs on Summit feature huge balconies, and enough room for 5. If you want to see pictures of the exact room we stayed in, there are some really good ones in this thread. As the pictures show, the only downside in the room is that when the two sofa beds are made up, it’s hard to get to the balcony. That didn’t stop me from eating breakfast on the balcony most days. We absolutely loved it, and spent far more time out there than we did on the only other balcony we’ve had. The large field of view was awesome, and we even saw a few baby dolphins swimming by the ship on the first sea day! If you have any questions on the room, don’t hesitate to ask!

The last item on the agenda is the food. We went in with high expectations, as everyone we talked to said we’d be blown away considering our last three cruises were on Carnival. Honestly, we both felt like it was a bit of a let down. The MDR food lived up to the hype for the most part. We really liked it the nights we ate there. We did find a couple of nights where nothing on the menu really appealed to us, so we just grabbed food from elsewhere and ate on the balcony. Considering the view, no harm, no foul :). Oh, and huge tip: If you’re ordering room service during MDR dinner hours, you can order anything on the MDR menu (including appetizers and desserts) instead of ordering from the normal room service menu. Nice touch, Celebrity!

Moving on, the buffet is where the food fell flat, it just wasn’t that good. The breakfast items seemed the same every day, and while they did have different stuff at lunch each day, the overall quality just wasn’t there. We both agreed that the buffet on all three Carnival ships we’d sailed in the last three years was better overall, with one exception. The Summit is apparently a test ship for the new portioned servings in the buffet. We actually like that. You grab a metal bowl/tin/basket of what item you want and move on, no large communal bowl to scoop your food out of. The downside is that it’s hard to fit everything you might want on one tray, but that’s what seconds are for, right? We all liked that setup, but they need to work on ensuring the portioned food stays warm. Last three food items: The pizza stand was easily better than last year on the Breeze, and the pasta station was pretty good too. The pool grill was on the bad side both times I ate there due to the overcooked hotdogs and tasteless burgers. I’m a burger fanatic, and was only able to get through half of one due to lack of flavor. The argument that it’s hard to serve top-shelf burgers in a large-scale setup like this is lost on me, too, as other cruise lines pull it off just fine (Guy’s Burger Joint is a prime example).

I just realized I forgot the staff, so I’ll throw in a quick note. The staff was good overall, with the captain, officers, and entertainment staff being the highlights. The cruise director, Ken, was pretty good too. We’ve really grown to appreciate how a good cruise director can have a positive impact on a cruise, and Ken definitely helped to save our perception of this one. More on the staff is in the Cruise Critic review, so be sure to check it out once it’s posted.

I hope that covers everything as far as the ship goes. The Summit, while being nice and having an easy to navigate layout, is a bit small for our tastes, so I’d definitely like to try a Solstice class ship at some point if we cruise Celebrity again.

Also, please understand that none of the problems I expressed above ruined the cruise for us. Were the first couple of days slow? Sure, but we were still on a cruise, and still had a great time. A vacation is what you make it, not what you let someone else make it. We made ours great 🙂

Enjoy a few pictures from on-board!

Head pastry chef on the galley tour Central starcase The X Sunrise as we arrived in Bermuda Glassy seas, warm day Ahh, what a view Flash mob practice GoPro moment with the captain The captain talks about steering Yea, we ate out here more than once One officer makes a splashy entrance Panorama of a busy deck The captain introduces the officers

 

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