This was a 10-night cruise on Celebrity Summit to Bermuda, Charleston (North Carolina) and Newport (Rhode Island) out of the Cape Liberty cruise port on the New Jersey side of New York harbor. Overall, it was an enjoyable cruise but it was not without its problems.
Because there is much to be said about this cruise, this review will be in two parts. Part One will discuss the itinerary and the Covid protocols established by Celebrity and the ports and along the way. Part Two will discuss life aboard Summit.
This cruise offered an unusual itinerary. There is much to see and do along the East Coast of the United States in terms of history, culture, restaurants and activities. Yes, you can fly or drive to these places from New York City but a much nicer and more comfortable way of getting there is via a cruise ship.
Why then are there so few cruises that call in the ports along the East Coast? The answer is that this lack of cruises is primarily due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act, often erroneously called the Jones Act. This is a 19th century piece of protectionist legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress. While designed to protect American passenger shipping against foreign competition, it serves no real purpose anymore. However, attempts to repeal it have consistently failed due to lack of interest in Congress.
What this law mandates is that any foreign-flagged passenger ship that wants to visit a U.S. port must also include a foreign port in its itinerary. Inasmuch as these days all but one large cruise ship (i.e., Pride of America) is foreign-flagged, it means the vast majority of large cruise ships cannot offer all-American itineraries.
On the East Coast, this means that cruise planners have to construct the itineraries for their ships so that the ship can reach a port in Canada, the Caribbean or the Bahamas as well as the desired U.S. cities. This necessarily limits the number of U.S. cities that can be included in an average-length cruise.
The cruise planners who developed the itinerary for this cruise made a good choice in the U.S. cities they selected. Charleston is full of history and has a charming historic district within walking distance of the pier where cruise ships dock. Newport has its glamorous Gilded Age mansions and associations with nautical activities.
The foreign port was also well-chosen. Bermuda is different than the islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Yes, it has beautiful beaches, coral reefs, golf courses and resorts with palm trees but it also has an additional element of sophistication. The people are polite and there is not the poverty that haunts many of the other islands. The infrastructure has been nicely developed without building cheap tourist traps.
Thus, this was a very appealing itinerary.
As the cruise industry has restarted, the protocols designed to protect passengers from COVID have evolved. For the most part, they are now less strict than when the ships first started taking on passengers again in 2021. Of course, the protocols on land have also evolved over this period.
In practical terms, Celebrity requires that guests sailing on its ships be vaccinated. The online check-in process requires that guests send a copy of their vaccination record to Celebrity. A flyer left in my stateroom indicated that the percent of vaccinated guests aboard was close to 100 percent. Inasmuch as young children and people with some medical conditions cannot be vaccinated, one would not expect the number to be exactly 100 percent.
Two days before the cruise, guests were required to take a supervised antigen test and bring proof of a negative result with them when they came to the cruise terminal to embark. (Presumably, other supervised tests such as PCR tests would also suffice). The staff at the cruise terminal scrutinized each passenger's proof before allowing them to board.
Once aboard, masks were optional. The crew, however, wore masks at all times.
The ship was fully booked and carrying the same number of passengers that she had before the pandemic. There was no mandatory spacing of passengers in the dining rooms or the theater. Overall, the environment was like it was pre-pandemic.
Summit in Bermuda. The ship docked at the Royal Naval Dockyard on the first day of its stay in Bermuda. (above). Due to the arrival of another ship with a prior claim to the pier, Summit anchored for the next two days and tendered (below).
Inasmuch as the ship was visiting three ports, the cruise experience was also affected by the COVID protocols of those ports. For Newport and Charleston, the protocols were much the same as they had been in New Jersey, the ship's port of embarkation. Masks were optional and reminders about social distancing appeared here and there. However, it was pretty much like it was pre-pandemic.
Bermuda, however, was a different story. Bermuda requires people coming to the island to obtain a travel authorization from the Bermuda government. To obtain such an authorization, cruise ship passengers on cruises going directly to Bermuda must take a COVID test two days before embarkation and send proof of a negative result to the Bermuda government. (In a change from my cruise to Bermuda last fall, supervised antigen tests now suffice). Once the government receives the proof, it processes the application and sends the passenger a travel authorization. A $40 fee is charged. All of this is done online.
Inasmuch as Celebrity already required that passengers take a supervised antigen test two days before embarking, the Bermuda requirement did not involve any additional testing. Seemingly, all one had to do was send a copy of the results from the test mandated by Celebrity to the Bermuda government.
Since you cannot even board a cruise ship bound for Bermuda without receiving an authorization from Bermuda, passengers are left on tenterhooks until they hear back from Bermuda. Judging from both this cruise and our cruise to Bermuda last fall, Bermuda has difficulties processing these applications in a timely fashion.
I sent in my test results as soon as I obtained them and received a reply that my application was fully submitted and was being reviewed. I checked the Bermuda website the next day and the status was still the same. I sent an email to the Bermuda government pointing out that I needed the authorization as I was sailing the next day. No response.
My travel agent was told by Celebrity that there would be people at the cruise terminal to help people who had not received their authorizations. However, that meant that up until the day of sailing, I would be unsure whether I would even be going on this cruise.
In the pre-dawn hours of embarkation day, I received a “provisional authorization,” which would allow me to board the ship but not to disembark in Bermuda. It indicated that further, review would be done by the Bermuda authorities. Bring all your documents with you.
When I arrived at the cruise terminal, I found that there were two lines at the entrance. One for people who had received a provisional authorization and one for people who had not received anything. The second line was much longer.
I asked the clerk at the check-in desk when and where this further review would take place. She said that it would be handled by Bermuda officials who were onboard Summit.
Inasmuch as there was nothing in my stateroom about any review by Bermuda officials, I went to the guest relations desk and asked when this would take place. An officer took my name and cabin number and promised that the Bermuda officials were aboard and that I would be notified when they wanted to see me.
I received no notification that day or during the sea day as we sailed to Bermuda. I asked again and was told that the onboard review would take place soon.
Finally, as we were sailing up the channel to the Royal Naval Dockyards in Bermuda I received an email saying that my application was approved. However, before I could get my authorization I had to visit the Bermuda website and electronically sign a document. Considering that Summit's internet connection had thus far been unreliable, this further step filled me with trepidation. However, I was able to get the authorization onto my smart phone.
Because of the Bermuda authorization process, there was much anxiety among the passengers as to whether they would be allowed ashore in Bermuda until the very last moment. More than a few passengers confided that they were not going to return to Bermuda as long as this authorization process was in effect.
One has to wonder what good the Bermuda authorization process did? As noted earlier, the cruise line already required everyone boarding the ship to take a test two days before embarkation. The Bermuda authorization process involved no additional testing. Thus, as a practical matter, all that the Bermuda process involved was having someone in Bermuda look at the same evidence of a negative test result that was submitted to the cruise line. No one conducted any further medical review. Furthermore, once we arrived in Bermuda, no one asked to see our travel authorizations. Therefore, the authorization process provided no additional protection for the people of Bermuda. It was just an exercise in annoying bureaucracy that creates anxiety for people seeking to cruise to Bermuda.
Since the cruise industry restart, I have visited numerous islands in the Caribbean and the Bahamas and none have had a requirement similar to that of Bermuda. If Bermuda is unsure whether the cruise lines are enforcing their own testing requirements, a much less intrusive process would be to conduct spot audits rather than inflicting this processing regime on cruise ship passengers.
Celebrity does not escape blame completely. Although I receive almost daily marketing emails from Celebrity, I received nothing about the Bermuda travel authorization requirement from Celebrity. I only knew of it because I had suffered through it on a previous cruise. Furthermore, once aboard Summit, the information I reeived from Celebrity about a further review by Bermuda officials was consistently wrong.
Cruise ship review - - Celebrity Cruises - - Celebrity Summit - - Bermuda, Charleston and Newport (Part One)