Let me preface this by saying that this was only my third cruise - I had done a week-long cruise to Alaska and four-day quickie to Mexico, both with Royal. This was my first Celebrity cruise, although I know they are sister lines. So this review won't have the in-depth "compare and contrast" detail that some of the other reviewers can provide. Also I haven't been on a cruise in the last four years. And I also know that some of the things I'm complaining about below, might be a result of the recession, and perhaps all the lines are succumbing to this behavior (upselling everything!).
I have long wanted to visit the Panama Canal and this sailing fit with my schedule, so we took it. My only disappointment in the itinerary is that we did not stop in Panama - I thought a stop in Panama City would have been more interesting than two stops in Mexico.
We flew from Los Angeles to Orlando and spent a few days at Universal and Epcot, then took a 6-hour train trip to Fort Lauderdale. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Cruise Port in Fort Lauderdale. The Hampton Inn picked us up from the Amtrak train station and also took us to the cruise ship the next day in their very cool shuttle van - this is a complimentary service. The hotel is also right next to a Winn-Dixie grocery store, a Big Lots, and Dollar store and a really good Thai restaurant called 84 Thai. We'd stay there again if we ever had to leave out of Fort Lauderdale. The stores are convenient for any last minute purchases.
Embarkation was easy, straightforward, lots and lots of staff, all very friendly. We boarded the ship and got Purelled to death on our way in, but I guess better to have death by Purell, than the Norovirus. The main lobby was filled with lots of tables and upcoming events - We felt a bit bombarded with the upselling pitches as soon as we boarded - the beverage package, the wine package, the exercise class package, the spa packager, the this, the that. It was a bit overwhelming to come on board and run that gauntlet. I think I would have felt better if they had given me a packet of all the materials to take up to my room for me to review at my leisure and decide which packages to purchase. There was also this time element urgency, like you have to do it before 3:00pm today or it won't be available to you. That's just not right. It makes the "pitcher" appear like a used car salesman.
After we got to our room, we did decide to sign up for a wine-tasting event and a wine-paring and dinner at the S.S. United States. The sommelier who sold us this event remembered us and our names for the following 16 days and every time he saw us, he tried to sell us on another wine event. Are these guys making a commission on these? It got to be such a joke that we learned which shifts he had and which side of the ship he was working and did our best to avoid him. It was a smidge relentless.
Muster drill was painless and we were off. We attended the Cruise Critic party on the 11th deck and met a few folks from the Cruise Connections Board, but we still wanted to explore the ship, so we didn't hang around for too long. I also signed up for the slot pull which was fun - but boy howdy, are those slots tight!
One of the first things we noticed was that were very few places one could go on-board, with the exception of the library, the internet cafe, and one's cabin, where there was quiet. Most of the public places had the most inane Muzak playing all the time. I could only assume that there must be some research study out there that shows that music must make people purchase more alcohol - because it was everywhere. My ears felt assaulted constantly.
On our last cruise to Alaska on Royal's Radiance, we had amazing food just about every night at dinner. The dinners in the Infinity's main dining room (Trellis) for us were really hit and miss. There was duck on the menu one night, which I ordered because I adore duck, but it was really really bad. Then another night, I had one of the best steaks of my life - so it's just hard to say it was good or bad - but it was definitely inconsistent. Our waiters, Roberto and Rafael, were professional and charming. They were good body-language readers. They knew when something was not quite right and always offered to bring you something else. My husband asked for milk with his meal the first night, and every night thereafter they brought him milk without his asking. He appreciated that.
I thought the course selections in the dining room were adequate, but the majority of desserts were sort of just okay. Lots of things that appeared to be made way in advance and frozen and thawed out. Which I understand (especially after the galley tour) is how most of the food is stored, but since the desserts aren't really cooked they all just sort of tasted like thawed out creamy this or that. I was sort of bored with the dessert selection.
There is an ice cream station in the buffet area with about half a dozen ice cream selections every day. The flavors were good, but the quality was very very icy or grainy. So on the one hand, having home made ice cream was awesome, if you like crunchy ice in your ice cream.
We had room service breakfast in our cabin a couple of times, especially the morning we went through the canal - and those few times were god-awful. The scrambled eggs were such a strange texture, that we thought they might be powdered eggs - so next time I ordered eggs over easy and I could have used them as a frisbee. We ate breakfast in the main dining room once and it was just not good, so for the rest of the cruise we opted for the buffet. It may not be fine dining, but at least there was enough variety that you could get what you wanted. There were always eggs and omelettes made to order and plenty of fresh fruit.
I've seen some folks on this board say the buffet at lunch was good and others say it was just meh. I guess it's hard to please every body, but what I liked about it was that there was always enough variety to make each day a bit different. I liked the Indian-style food I had, and the fact that I could make my own green salad every day. I liked the guava-orange juice, but the ice tea was powdered and it was just disgusting. If you wanted soft drinks or bottled water, you have to purchase a beverage package which we didn't do since we so rarely drink soft drinks. So in the buffet, you had very limited beverage selections unless you wanted to pay extra. Coffee, tea, milk, OJ, OJ/guava cocktail, lemonade (meh), ice tea (yucky) and plain water. There are always sommeliers walking around to bring you drinks from the bar, including soft drinks, for a fee. There's a "drink purchase" display on your table and if you don't want the sommeliers hassling you, you turn it on its side.
Any time you walked anywhere near a food service area, there was a "Purell Attendant" to squirt the stuff in your hands or offer you a Purell wipe. I never heard of anyone getting sick - so I guess it worked. I must assume all the lines do this now.
The ship was exceedingly clean. I thought there were plenty of nooks and crannies to escape or plenty of opportunities to socialize and mingle - so I thought the layout and design of the ship was very good. I thought the buffet and eating area was much better designed than the Radiance - there were lots and lots of tables with ocean views, and we never had to look long to find a place to sit.
There are lots of other "stands" where, again for a fee, you could purchase fancy coffee drinks, fancy ice cream, etc. We never tried these because the practice just irritated me. If you want to serve good food to people, raise the price and serve it to everyone for free. Why make it be special? I never tried the fancy ice cream - I wonder if it was just as grainy and icy as the free ice cream. I have to assume it was being made in the same ice cream maker in the galley. I guess I'll never know.
I expect to pay extra for alcohol and photographs if I choose to use them - but the idea that we have "free" coffee and then "special" coffee just bugs me. Maybe all the ships do this now - I don't know.
We thought the music and shows were just sort of "blah," although we did enjoy the 2 comedians. We nearly walked out of one music show just because it was so boring (Joey Van?), but some other folks at our dinner table seemed to enjoy that particular performer, so like with everything, you can't please everyone all the time. The Cruise Director (Patti) was very engaging and approachable. They have a little bit of something for everyone so you can find what you like and stick to that.
One of the really cool things we liked was the enrichment lecturers on board - especially Al Goldis, the baseball lecturer. I studied up a bit about the building of the Panama 'Â½anal (I recommend Mc'Â½ullough's book "Path between the Seas") and was really looking forward to the "Uncle Marty" presentations. He's a native Panamanian and had lots of really really interesting information. His lectures were absolutely packed. We went to the first one, and while the details in the lectures were absolutely fascinating, his presentation style made me want to turn him around and put batteries in his back. It was like he was one of those walking, talking toys that had started to run down. He talked to us with this pedantic, patronizing voice as though we were third graders. And he spoke so slowly, with the most agonizing pauses between words and sentences. I saw quite a few people in the audience asleep. We never went back, although I'm quite certain he had a lot of interesting information. He also narrated us navigating through the 'Â½anal, which we could hear on "some" loudspeakers, and on our T.V. while we were in our room. (I"m not sure all the speakers were working on board ship - and I do know for certain that none of the clocks worked.) I beg 'Â½elebrity, please get someone beside Uncle Marty to do this for you. His voice is very grating and shredded my last nerve. However, his content was very interesting. I don't think I was the only one who felt this way - a lot of people we talked to said they thought he was annoying.
In Columbia, we did the culinary experience where we were met at the ship and taken to the Cartagena Fish and Farmers Market, and then the chef took us to his restaurant and cooked for us. It was a very very enlightening experience, and I recommend it. In Costa Rica, we did the Coffee Plantation tour, which was also very interesting. On this bus ride, we got to see a lot of the Costa Rica countryside, not to mention the coffee plants where your local Starbucks coffee is grown. Very cool!
The Panama Canal was the highlight for me though. I love infrastructure things, and when you've read about how much it took to get the darn thing built, and then you see it, and most things on it are original and over 100 years old, it just boggles your mind that you are actually driving across a whole country on a boat!!!! I would go through it again and again and forget the rest of the cruise. It was the highlight of the trip for me.
Wear sunscreen and wear a hat. You're outside for a long time - and it's a long day. But so much fun!!!!
I live fairly close to Mexico, so it's not such an exotic destination for me - I actually liked staying on board ship when everyone leaves. It's as though the ships breathes, and sighs and collects itself - and it's so very peaceful. We stayed on board for the most part during the two Mexico stops.
Our cabin was on the 8th deck portside with a veranda. Our cabin had a lot of storage space. I thought it was okay. The bed was certainly more comfortable than the bed we had on the Radiance. We had a room with a connecting door, so we could hear some muted conversation from our neighbors occasionally. One of the really really bad things about the connecting door was that on the nights where there was going to be a time -change (four times, I think at least since we kept going back and forth across time zones), the room attendants leave the T.V. on in your room tuned to one of the ship's stations that portray the time. And that station plays the same eight notes of digital flute music over and over and over. So if your neighbor stays out late, and you want to go to bed early, you get to hear the flute music over and over from their T.V. That was not so much fun. We finally complained to our room attendant and he said they were required to leave the T.V. on, but that he'd lower the volume of our neighbor's T.V. for us. Celebrity - take a note. Connecting rooms - the T.V.s can be heard. Can't you leave the T.V. on with the sound muted?
We chose the port side of this cruise (going from east to west) because we thought it would be fun to sit on our veranda, drink wine, and watch the sunset as we went up the Pacific coast. If I was going to do it again, I'd probably get a starboard cabin. With the exception of the last couple of days, the port side of the boat doesn't face true west, and once it does, the wind and weather are much cooler and it wasn't as comfortable sitting out on the veranda with the colder wind. Especially once your body has been acclimated to more tropical climes.
Speaking of that - if this is your first time taking a Panama Canal cruise, and you go all the way to Seattle, you may want to bring a sweater or two with you. Once you get north of San Diego, the air is much cooler. I know that's an obvious statement, but a lot of people on our cruise ended up buying sweatshirts on the last leg of the cruise.
When we booked our room (8111) we were told it was an unobstructed view. Which it probably is, except that there was thing - I don't even know what it was called, that was tied up a few cabins forward from us, that looked like it rolled up and down the boat (for cleaning maybe?) and it was tied up forward from us. It looked like a big metal stairway or cage or something that someone could stand on - You could see through it but it definitely blocked our view as we moved through the canal. I have dozens and dozens of pictures of it...... I still don't know what it's called. But our view was partially obstructed. I suspect this "thing" moves all over the boat and they never know where they're going to tie it up.
There was no electrical outlet near the bed. My husband uses a cpap (breathing) machine, so we had to get an extension cord from our room attendant and string it across the room to the dressing table where there were only two electrical outlets. I almost tripped on the cord a couple of times in the middle of the night until I remembered it was there. Also, if you have to plug in more than two things at a time, this could be a problem. You may want to bring an current adapter because there are other plugs on the dressing table for european outlets... I suppose that would have helped if we had thought of that.
Our room attendant was wonderful. We were in the Concierge class, so we had fresh fruit and ice delivered to our room every morning, and canapes in the afternoon. We got fresh flowers every couple of days. Everything was always very very tidy and clean. I actually didn't miss the towel animals - flowers are much nicer!
The T.V. had quite a few stations on it pertinent to activities on the ship - and if you missed a lecture, you could always catch it on T.V. I never was able to find a schedule of when the lectures were going to be replayed, so it was always just an accident if I could find something I had missed.
I was sort of disappointed that we could never hear the Captain make his noon announcements - the speaker volume were just a problem all over the ship. Sort of hit or miss. And the only announcement we ever heard in our room was the muster drill call. If we were in our rooms when the Captain was talking, we had to open our cabin door. There is a little dial on our wall to adjust the room speaker, but it never really did anything.
I thought the ship's staff were all excellent - in fact everyone smiled and said hello whenever they passed us in the hall or on the stairs. The only bad experience we had with a staff member was the poor
maitre'd who had to argue with people about dinner seatings - not his fault for being frustrated with so many people yelling at him. We had booked our room a year in advance and requested the early seating and we were told it was confirmed. When we got on board ship, we were told we were assigned to second seating. My husband said the maitre'd was not helpful. He complained a couple more times and finally the supervisor in the area of the Trellis heard about our reservation snafu and reassigned us to a table at the early seating. Yay!
We did eat one night at the S.S. United States with the wine pairing. I thought three of the four courses were excellent. I'm not a huge fan of risotto, so I thought it was just okay. My husband thought his salad course was also just okay. But the entree was fantabulous. The service was five-star. We had lovely dinner companions that night and everything else was just perfect.
We did not eat at Qsine, although everyone who we talked to who had said it was quite delicious. We talked about doing it, but I think tapas style dining is something that is more successful with a big party and not just two people. I heard it was $40 a person - and toward the end they were offering a lot of discounts. Perhaps they should lower the price point? I probably would have gone if it had been less than $40 per.
The gym was very good - they use all Life Fitness equipment with a lot of variety - very very clean. I only had to wait for an elliptical machine one time. On the second to the last day, four out of the eight ellipticals were out of service. I went to the gym almost every day at all different times and never saw anyone waiting for a treadmill - they had about 12 of them. My only complaint is that the room could have been a little bit cooler, since there are so many floor to ceiling windows - it does get hot in there. I didn't attend any of the classes. The pools were good - loved loved loved the indoor salt water pool and could have stayed in it all day.
Would I go back on Celebrity again? Probably - but I might want to try a different class of their ships - I've read that some of the other ships have bigger cabins. Again, we had better food on Royal, but that was four or five years ago, and I've read that many of the cruise lines have cut back on food due to the recession. I thought the staff on Celebrity were excellent and the design of the ship was really varied. There wasn't the openess and "light" that Radiance has, but some of the other physical features of Infinity were superior to Radiance.