Celebrity Infinity April 25-May 11 Panama Canal/Repositioning
A Fine ship with a few needed mid-course corrections
Aqua class 9043
Paul and Rachel
I originally was not going to write this review until much later but several cruise critic fans while on board asked me when I was going to publish my review; when you have loyal fans, keep them happy,
My wife and I booked this cruise October 2010. We enjoy TAs but the 9 or 10 hour flights to Europe are killers. So we looked at other alternatives. The cruise we are on not only provided the length of a TA but included the Panama Canal which is on our bucket list and took us to two of our favorite cities: San Diego and Seattle. Finally, no flights over 3 hours long. We were sold. We later upgraded to Aqua class when the price differential ($100 pp) was too good to overlook. We had heard about Aqua, Blu, and Persian Gardens on Cruise Critic and had to check it out. We are Diamond on RCI and this transferred over to Elite on Celebrity.
As our tradition, we came in the day before, booked the airline through frequent flyer miles 11 months ahead and stayed in a hotel with frequent user miles. We were invited and wished we could have attended the dinner and airboat Everglades pre-cruise event the night before our cruise but regrettably our flight tickets were purchased a year earlier and our arrival into Fort Lauderdale and the events coincided. Next year we will plan to incorporate these events. Air on time. Hotel adequate. We walked to a restaurant 2 blocks away by the canal as we arrived late (6pm) to the hotel. With about twenty other Infinity cruisers, we took the 10am shuttle the following morning to the cruise port and were on the ship by 11am. Quick and relatively painless.
Instead of the buffet, took the Mrs. to Bistro Five. It is extra ($5 pp) but very reasonable. It has paninnis, crepes, soup, and salad. Very light fare. Delicious. We ate there several times during the cruise when we were in the mood for light cuisine.
The Blu restaurant and Aqua. We planned and booked 5 cruises on Infinity for 2013 (B2B2B and B2B). The question in our mind was Aqua or not? Blu is an outstanding restaurant. Nouvelle cuisine. I am a meat and potatoes guy. How many filet mignons can you eat on a cruise? We were also put off by the 2 to 2 1/2 hours for evening meals. (the second time we went my filet mignon took 1 hour 45 minutes before it arrived). We found the restaurant very busy and unorganized during the evening. When we left customers were lined up 10 deep waiting to get in. If you are going to pay extra for the privilege of enjoying BLU, it does not create loyalty with a long wait. Are there too many eligible or not enough tables? Either cut back on numbers or add tables (one solution might be to give a ticket to SS United States when overloaded--since this specialty restaurant is way underutilized) (note to self: The Maitre D recognized me late in the cruise, asked me when we were returning and said he would talk to the chef about getting the steak done perfectly. We returned a third time to see if the third time would be the charm and if anything has changed. Note, the third time the service was impeccable, all the servers were organized, dinner went like clockwork, the filet was perfectly cooked as I wanted it, and we were out in a little over an hour. We will rethink Blu and suggest you try it first to draw your own conclusions)
Don't get me wrong if you enjoy nouvelle cuisine and want to be pampered, this is a great place to do it. However, even if you came opened the doors at 6, You would be hard pressed to finish by 8 ( when Music trivia was held), and then would have to see the 9pm show after a few minutes of casino. By 10 when the show as finished, and you wanted to go to Persian Gardens and the salt water therapy pool and jacuzzi, but they shut down at 10:00 p.m. I know I know use it during the day. Rachel and I preference to do so at night just before bed, it is very relaxing and no one else is there!!!) This presents the second dilemma for Blu: if you have the time and want to enjoy the nouveau cuisine meal, go ahead but don't plan using the pool or spa after the Theatre at 9 p.m. Finally, we are not status conscious. Others might dislike the buffet and wish the five star restaurant atmosphere of BLU.
By the way, BLU will not allow you to share a table with non-Aqua guests, that is, unless you are traveling with them. Part of the fun of traveling is sharing a table and meeting people.
We found a wide variety of foods in the casual dinning buffet (Chinese, Indian, Japanese Sushi, an excellent grill for salmon, steaks, and chicken, salad bar, pasta station). If Celebrity Infinity would extend the hours to 11pm for the spa and Persian Gardens as I commented numerous times, this might change our opinion and choices. (Also if we could be assured in getting in and out in an hour in time for the 7pm show, our thoughts would change).
The Persian Gardens is a relaxing environment but we enjoyed the free salt water therapy pool and jacuzzi just as much. In the end since Celebrity was offering a 3 category upgrade, we choose the low end Verandah, was upgraded to highest Verandah, selected the cabin we wanted, and saved $1k pp per set (and received $450-500 OBC for this special deal). I told the Boss I would pay the extra $99 for Persian Gardens pass for the TAs and get the best of both worlds. Elite gets Continental Breakfast in the SS United States. The cold breakfast varieties were great!
We enjoyed going to lunch in the main dining room and meeting different people each day while enjoying a delightful meal within an hour. Blu will not let you sit with other guests, that is, unless you are traveling with them and they are in Aqua class.
The cabin was standard (both Verandah and Aqua cabins are same size . . . your run-of-the-mill bedroom and small balcony). Aqua does come with a long list of amenities. Check on line for the list. Our cabin attendant was outstanding and keep the room spotless.
Activities on the ship. We are avid trivia players and found trivia on the infinity, at least for this cruise and these passengers, was much less prevalent than on other cruises we had been on. We enjoy trivia but when asked about modern culture (Waku Waku? Courtney Love's first album--who is she? or Rappers), once again we could care less and imagine most of those on board were as clueless as we were. We suggest the trivia questions be aimed at the demographics of the passengers. Later trivia was much better. Hard questions are good but one trivia, the questions were so difficult and "unbelievable" (this is a pun for those who were on the ship and know what I mean), that the winning score was 11 out of 20 with average being only 5-7 (too hard and it becomes very frustrating).
Cruise Director Patti did an Outstanding job. Kudos especially to Elena, a member of the cruise activities staff who always had a smile on her face and worked very well with the passengers. Note: Entertainment iffy. Too many single entertainers and not a single group; too often we had repeat performers. I'd have to rate the entertainment for this ship near the bottom of all of our experiences. For this demographic (we were almost the youngest in our fifties), the entertainment often was off. One show had a impersonator make an appearance as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber . . . two characters our generation either knows nothing about or could care less about. The comedians at least were clean and germane with their humor (Fred especially good). Singers and Dancers excellent. Boogie Wonderland was one of best shows I have seen on the high seas. High raves to the cast. Several of the acts (the ventriloquist and Johnson the comedian later on the cruise) ventured into religion, politics and politically incorrect topics; we walked out of one and did not return to a second show held for the ventriloquist for the same reason(Johnson did perform the last night and must have learned his lesson as he stuck to safe topics and was much better). Stick to safe topics that will not alienate many of your audience. The cappella men group was excellent though as was the guest pianist. We really enjoyed the show with these two and would have enjoyed more like it. I would suggest the cappella group do a whole show on the Jersey Boys, that would be fantastic.
Casino fine and service helpful. Slots are the tightest I have seen on any cruise. After our cruise critic group finished our slot pull (fun but disappointing) and based upon several experiences, I calculated the slot payoff ration at about 60-63%; since most mainland casinos have 90+% payoff, this just indicates how tight these machines really are. Beware. Expect to lose lots if you play slots here.
Ports: Cartagena, Columbia Hot and Humid. We did a private tour (Dora) through cruise critic. Cost was good and quality excellent. Did an overview of the city and area. All of us were so hot, we agreed to cut the tour early to get back to the ship and shower. Nice place to visit but do not want to return. . . Too Humid!!!!!
Panama Canal. A must see. The transit started at 6am and completed at 5 p.m.
Will do it again in 2015 after the new canal is built and is in operation.
Costa Rica: Hot and humid ( miserable at 8am???!!!). This was May 1, I hated to think of being here during the true summer. Had another private excursion. Excellent but long day with the hot humid weather. Jungle cruise down a tropical rain forest river and saw crocs from 12 feet away and saw many other native tropical birds and wildlife. Very real not touristy or hooky.
Mexico: We had two Mexican ports. Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Luis. Puerto Vallarta was a replacement for Acapulco which was dropped because of all the violence. We were leery of going far from the port . We decided at the last minute to purchase two ship excursions. Although we will probably never see these ports again, it was worth it to view these cities and learn about the culture. Disappointed in our Cabo tour. It said, "Restaurant stop." I and most others presumed food was involved. We did stop, complimentary beer, went out and took pictures, and rebounded the bus. Oh yeah, you could buy a small packet of cookies for a buck. Deceptive advertising. And then back to the ship. 2 1/2 hour tour when it said 4 in the guide. Definitely one to avoid. Well over priced for value received.
San Diego: one of major reasons we booked the cruise. Had lunch with two of our nephews and our nieces. Unfortunately the ship had a shortened visit here (left at 3) so could not go to Coronado and visit the Del. Really wish they would have extended it a couple of hours. But it was pleasant seeing our family and enjoying the spirit of San Diego again. (Had customs inspection here that lasted until nearly 10am; cut back the time to view the city to just barely over 4 hours).
The last two days (from San Diego to Seattle), the seas were rough, very windy, waves high, yet the stabilizers worked perfectly and little swaying resulted. Kudos to ship and crew. Due to the high winds and waves we were nearly 3 hours late in arriving in Seattle. They got the passengers off in record time. I know people were upset about missing flights an delays but I believe Celebrity and its personnel worked double time trying to make up some of the lost time.
Disappointments: As always, the cost and slowness of the Internet is upsetting. It is universal through all the cruiselines and ships we have experienced. I work online and must have a connection. Work that should have taken only 30 took over an hour (this at 6am, who else is online at that hour?) (I complained and guest relations indicated they would add minutes back to my account and after 2 days I finally received 30 additional minutes instead of 60 I asked for) But I have adapted and download when can and work offline than upload. Still I constantly comment on offering a one price all you can use internet ($10-15 day) for those like me who make their living online. But no takers to date. Good news: WIFI works in staterooms so did not have to walk all over the ship trying to find hotspots.
Other disappointments. Pricing is high, especially for wine/beer tastings. In the past i have attended other wine tastings on other ships for $10 pp which were extremely good. Costs on board the Infinity were $20pp (lower it and get better receptivity). Even beer tasting at $13pp seemed too high for us (5 beers but one ounce of each). Consequently we did not attend. The new Wine Cellars shop adjacent to Bistro 5 has a nifty idea: a circular wine offering that pours by the shot, glass, or half bottle(Italian designed Enomatic wine machines). Sort of like a wine vending machine. Fortunately being Elite we have a special social hour from 5-7pm with all the wine and beer you can handle. That was sufficient for us.
General comments: The Ship is in generally good shape. Rust spots and some unpainted areas on the exterior (since she was less than 6 months out of drydock one has to wonder, what did they do during Dry Dock!?!). The new additions from the Solecitizing (Bistro 5, Gelateria, Blu, Ice Bar, Qsine, new Ice Martini bar) are excellent additions (The Apple iLounge is great except they used half the library to do so). I do wish they had not cut Constellation Lounge in half to place the kid's areas (moved from where Qsine was placed). We used to have 180 degree vistas available. Still you can see forever from the lounge and was quite convenient when viewing the Canal transit. They need to get their clocks synchronized. Every clock on board had a different wrong time. For those of us who like late night swims, keep the spas, whirlpools, and therapy pools open until 11pm (that is not asking too much is it?)(it almost felt like they closed the ship down at 10:15pm). We couldn't hear announcements in our room; this needs to be addressed (pun intended). Finally, you can access Celebrity and RCI for free through the Apple Macs in the iLounge; why not also be able to access without charge Cruise Critic as well?
The specialty restaurants are overpriced (at $40 pp). Not widely used and I understand at those prices. Should cut them down to $25 and no more than $30pp; anecdotally we understand these two restaurants are woefully underutilized; lowering the price point would easily add more bodies; Qsine got great reviews and is a great concept but overpriced. Started offering 25% off and 2 for 1 to get business. Better to lower list and not discount so heavily. We did go there for our anniversary and was totally stuffed after four tapa rounds.
They gave us a card to list our comments. I did so (see above two paragraphs). When I turned it in at guest services, they began to tell me why this and that could not be. I said, "You asked for my comments and I gave them. Don't give me the brush off if you asked."
The guest services button on the phone goes to a single operator who sits behind the front desk. The operator discerns who you need to talk to and when possible will answer the guests questions. Very time consuming and inefficient. Even room service goes through this operator who takes your order. If you see the label on the phone "guest services" or "concierge" you expect to get a staff member in the department who's extension you have dialed and not the operator. If you have buttons for different services, have the service go to these different services, not to the same (one and only one) operator. And although our verandah was comfortable and spacious, we do wish an ottoman was available to prop our feet upon . Consider adding day of the month panels on the floor of the elevators (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) like your Royal Caribbean ships have ...very helpful to a passenger to know what day it is.
Many cruise passengers did not understand proper cruise etiquette. Coming to the show fifteen minutes late and parading in front of those in the back to get a seat down front does not go over well with those who arrived properly early. Those rushing on elevators before others have gotten off also deserve a Bronx cheer
Is etiquette a thing of the past? One often wonders.
All in all, I would highly recommend the Celebrity Infinity. We enjoyed her so much we have booked 5 more book cruises on Her for 2013. Good value for the money. Perhaps even in 2014-5 we will be on her again. I do hope they will correct the small (or not so small) items mentioned in this review (Please do get your clocks fixed so one knows what time it is onboard)(and better entertainment). .
See you this time next year!!