Last week, Aramco retirees and brats enjoyed the 5-day Aramco Hafla Cruise Reunion departing from Miami, FL aboard the Celebrity Summit. This beautifully equipped sailing vessel offered lovely accommodations, lively entertainment, memorable excursions and fine dining. Many Aramcons chose to arrive a day early to Miami and were guests at the Marriott Biscayne Bay, situated a short distance from the cruise terminal. Here, friends and old acquaintances gathered to socialize and reminisce the night away.
The next day, a delightfully warm and sunny Miami day greeted guests as they were transported by bus to the cruise terminal where the Celebrity Summit awaited their arrival. It was all-aboard in short order. While the crew graciously welcomed guests as they made their way towards their cabins, cruise coordinator Vicci Turner along with Judy Walker and a cadre of volunteers organized the reception room. In time, Aramco guests found their way to the reception area festooned with all things Aramco and an array of fun gifts - tote bags, beach hats and towels, sunscreen, water bottles, t-shirts, name tag lanyards, calendars, itineraries and signed editions of Ali Baluchi’s book, Heart and Soul: A Memoir. In fact, Ali Baluchi himself was present for the signing.
Throughout the day, guests explored the various offerings onboard the Summit. For instance, on Deck 4, you might enjoy a jazz piano bar or venture to the two-story theater at the opposite end of the ship to enjoy live entertainment. If you were looking to try your luck, a casino was also on Deck 4. On Deck 5, guests could find innumerable comfortable seating areas in which to meet and enjoy an espresso from the full-service espresso bar or a glass of wine or cocktail from the Cellar bar. A variety of specialty restaurants, as well as the main dining room, could be found on Deck 5 along with onboard shopping for baubles and luxury goods. Deck 10 was alive with activity from dawn until late evening. Deck 10 housed the outdoor pool and hot tub surrounded by lounge chairs and adjacent to a stage that hosted DJs, bands, friendly competitions, daily Zumba classes, and more. Around the corner was an enclosed pool and spa area intended for relaxation while awaiting any number of luxury spa treatments from massage to facials. No cruise would be complete without the notorious buffet - and here, Celebrity Summit did not disappoint. The buffet could be found on Deck 10, where any number of food choices were being offered daily from breakfast to dinner and even a late-night snack. Finally, on Deck 11, where endless views of the ocean were at their most beautiful, guests could enjoy the elegant Sky Lounge or take a walk around the deck to the sports courts and outdoor theater.
Following registration and a fun day of exploring the ship, Aramco guests were invited to dine in the lovely Cosmopolitan Dining Room at 6 pm where each evening’s meal included a selection of fine appetizers, entrées and desserts.
Tuesday was a day dedicated entirely to unwinding at sea; a day to float delightfully into relaxation while enjoying the full-service luxury of being onboard the Summit where crew members attended to your every need. Many Aramco guests met in the early hours for coffee, breakfast, a bit of exercise or to sit poolside, all the while catching glimpses of the most glorious sea. The constant lapping of the water against the ship's hull and the gentle rocking of the waves provided a beautiful backdrop to any conversation. In case you might have been tempted to drift off to an early bedtime, plenty of fun activities awaited Aramcons that evening at the Gala dinner.
The evening’s delights began with a reception of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in the Sky Lounge. Aramcons arrived dressed in their most elegant attire in preparation for formal photos. Then guests were asked to divide into groups by which camp they resided in - Abqaiq, Dhahran, Ras Tanura or Udhailiyah – for group photos. It was meaningful to see who among the crowd lived in the same camp, even if it was not at the same time, or who lived in more than one camp.
Following the reception, everyone proceeded to Deck 5 for a formal dinner at the Cosmopolitan but guests were advised to forgo the evening’s dessert offerings in anticipation of Decadent Desserts being hosted back up at the Sky Lounge, especially for Aramcons. Richard Doughty of AramcoWorld magazine, who was of great assistance during the reunion, delighted guests as the evening’s DJ with an expertly selected compilation of tunes that brought many Aramcons out onto the dance floor. It was the perfect end to a fine evening.
For those who signed up for excursions, the next two days began early to allow ample time for exploring ports of call. This Celebrity Summit cruise made stops at Cozumel and Grand Cayman.
Guests were met with rain in Cozumel. While some excursions were canceled due to rain, many proceeded as planned. Prepared or not, it was a downpour and you were bound to get wet. Fortunately for some guests, many of the excursions included water activities such as swimming in one of many cenotes or snorkeling. For those exploring the ancient Mayan ruins, at least the weather kept you from roasting under the hot sun. If your excursion included a ferry ride, we can only hope you weren’t among the many guests who turned green while being jostled about during the crossing. Hopefully, your exploration was well worth the weather you endured. Regardless, it wasn’t long before all were back on board, dry and ready again to set sail.
One especially nice offering aboard Celebrity Summit was a dining experience called Le Petite Chef. It was entirely unique and consisted of a multi-course meal that incorporated overhead digital media displayed directly onto each guest’s dinner plate. The animated show was a visual splendor complete with a storyline that spoke to each course of the meal and was presented by a very small (petite), animated chef who ‘walked’ on and off your plate and onto the table, all while describing the next dish in the progression. It was remarkable.
The ship arrived in Grand Cayman early the next morning and, thank goodness, the sun was out to greet everyone. Tender boats were soon bustling people to shore at St. George. Excursion offerings included a variety of snorkeling and diving opportunities, shopping, sightseeing, and even a tour of Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanical Gardens where lush greenery, flowering plants, plants from which spices and perfumes are derived such as All Spice, Ylang Ylang and ginger were in abundance. It wasn’t long before everyone was due back onboard for another lovely evening of sailing.
The last full day at sea was leisurely. The big event of the day involved everyone gathering together for a group photograph dressed in their Aramco Hafla Cruise t-shirts. Everyone gathered at the grand staircase and smiled for the photographer then departed to meet up again in the Sky Lounge where they listened to a speech presented by Ali Baluchi. Ali spoke fondly of Aramco retirees and their families, of their valued contribution to Aramco, and of their invaluable transferring of knowledge to the largely Saudi workforce that makes up Aramco today. He thanked everyone for coming to the reunion, noting how important it is to gather for these events, and spoke of the upcoming 2023 KSA Reunion. After a round of applause, it was once again time to gather for a final farewell dinner at the Cosmopolitan.
Most goodbyes were said in the hours following dinner or early the next morning at breakfast as the ship began disembarkation at 8:30 am. It was another fabulous Aramco reunion where the warmth of dear friends and fond memories will have to hold you over until the next time we meet.
Special thanks to Adele Tavares and Fred Bobb for their photo contributions.