Celebrity Infinity Cruise Review by Rutman: Celebrity Does It Right Except Wine!
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Celebrity Does It Right Except Wine!
It is probably important for you to know my family and I are seasoned cruisers. Over the past 16 years we've sailed a total of 26 times on Celebrity, Holland America, Cunard, Princes, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL, and MSC.
This was second sailing on the Infinity, our first being in 2009, and our 9th cruise with Celebrity. We picked this cruise largely because of the itinerary as this was the first Celebrity cruise in two years to go to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands. Celebrity has gradually become our favorite cruise line because of the food quality, but admittedly we've done a number of cruises with other cruise lines recently because the itinerary was not offered by Celebrity.
The Celebrity Infinity was refurbished in 2011, which was a good thing as our first sailing on her in 2009 left us less than impressed. It was a tired, old ship in need of TLC and the recent upgrade to "Solstice Lite" definitely was a big improvement.
The More public rooms are nicely done and the addition of the Cellar Master, Bistro 5, and Qsine is an outstanding touch. This makes the dining options aboard the Infinity much better than most of the competition. While the state rooms and some of the infrastructure is dated, the ship has everything and more as to what you would expect from an upscale cruise line.
We noticed only a few significant weaknesses which I will detail below, the biggest being Celebrity's wine service. If you are not a wine lover, this will not be an issue. But if you are oenophiles, as we are, you may want to consider another cruise line.
Being a frequent cruiser on Celebrity certainly slants our patronage toward Celebrity. The value of the Elite status in complimentary drinks, various discounts, free laundry, priority tender passes, and Internet discounts amounted to about $50 a day. The only downside was they ran out of Italian coffee midway through the cruise and substituted Uruguayan coffee, which was like drinking sewer water. It was just terrible and the majority of our shipmates agreed. We switched to hot chocolate for the remainder of the cruise. Even with that shortcoming, our Elite status will likely be a factor in future bookings just as keeping a high frequent flier status has become important when booking airline tickets.
While Elite status has its perks, and unlike on Princess, Elite status will not get you any preferential treatment during Celebrity's embarkation experience, which was one of the worse in our 26 sailings. It took two hours from start to finish. The lines were indistinguishable and we were forced to shuffle along with the masses hoping there was an end to the blocks long lines. When we eventually reached the end of the first line, it only resulted in cueing up into another long line, and another, and another! Forget going through the trouble of checking in online. It really didn't take off but about 3 minutes of time during the process. It took us four lines and two hours to finally get to the line to board the busses to the ship.
When we got to the ship we had to hike up the longest gangway I can remember. This wasn't all Celebrity's fault as this part of the experience falls squarely at the foot of the anti-tourist government of Argentina. This country is not exactly visitor friendly. It took us one hour to get through customs at the airport (normally about 2 minutes in other countries). If you can, I would avoid boarding any ship in Buenos Aires!
Wine Lovers Beware! Some of our baggage was confiscated by Celebrity because it contained wine. This was a first for all of our 26 sailings as we always bring on wine from our cellar to enjoy in the dining rooms. Security would allow us only to open two of our six bottles. This was confusing to us as in our prior 9 cruises with Celebrity we typically brought a case of wine, packed in an obvious wine shipper, onboard. We then paid their $25 corkage fee (the highest of all cruise lines), which on this cruise amounted to $300 in lost revenue to Celebrity. (In protest, we opened our two bottles in our room and then carried our wine to dinner!)
Being foodies, we also tend to eat in the specialty restaurants, which cost $80 a night for the two of us (again, the highest of any cruise line). We had pre-booked 10 nights in their specialty restaurants but cancelled half of them when we learned we could not enjoy our wine. All together Celebrity lost $400 in specialty dining income and $300 in corkage fees. It also cost them a reasonable amount of good will as we will be more incented to book wine friendly competitors, like Princess, in the future. We have already booked our next cruise with Holland America.
The ship is recently refurbished, so you would expect it to be in great shape. The public areas were well maintained and the decor was contemporary and pleasant. There were a lot of places to sit and read a book, or write a cruise review, while enjoying a cup of espresso or a drink.
Since it is an older ship, it does have some functional issues in the floor plan. It is just not as convenient to get around as the Solstice class ships. The elevators were always full and having to trek through the casino on deck four going to and from the theater was annoying. Like many older ships you had to negotiate around mid-ship interruptions on Deck 3 requiring you to climb a level of stairs and then descend back down to continue.
If food is your thing, like it is mine, then you will be in culinary heaven on the Infinity. You can choose from "anytime" seating or the traditional early or late seating. Or, just skip the main dining room altogether and spend your evenings in one of the three fantastic specialty restaurants as we typically do. There is also a private restaurant, Blu, if you book a suite. However we elect to spend our money on food and wine rather than a larger cabin, so I cannot report on the Blu experience.
In the main dining room, the Trellis, the food quality was slightly above average for an upper end cruise line. Their veal medallions on risotto were the best I've had anywhere. We happened to get lucky and draw a really outstanding waitress, Sheyla, who should really be working in their specialty restaurants. Her punctual service and knowledgeable guidance as to the best dishes on the menu were a cut above the service we normally enjoy. We named her our most outstanding crew member of the cruise.
The specialty restaurants available to the commoners are the Bistro on 5, SS. United States and Qsine. The Bistro has a $5 cover charge while the SS United States and Qsine have a $40 additional charge. While these charges are among the highest of cruise lines, the experience is well worth the charge.
The SS. United States has that Michelin star feel we've come to expect on Celebrity and Cunard. The food is the more French traditional gourmet and is on par with any great restaurant anywhere. The wait staff has worked hard to earn the privilege of being chosen to work in those restaurants. They typically are especially passionate about what they do.
Qsine is one of the most unique restaurants we've ever dined at on land or sea. It's a mix of fusion Mediterranean and Asian served in a tapas / family style. Most of the dishes are designed only for this restaurant and could never be used anywhere else. If you have only one visit in your budget for a specially dining experience, we would highly recommend you make it Qsine. While you can have all you can eat, choosing from 20 different options, our recommendation is to limit your selections to three or at the most four. Any more than that is just painful!
The newly remodeled CellarMaster has one of the better wine bars of any of the 20+ ships we have sailed. They have a large assortment of wine available in 1oz, 2.5oz, and 5oz pours, which allows you to inexpensively sample a broad variety of wines you might not otherwise have the courage to try.
One ubiquitous experience we missed that you find on most other upscale cruise lines is a Chef's dinner. Fortunately, the specialty restaurants on the Infinity were so good that this wasn't terribly disappointing to us. But it would be a nice event for Celebrity to add.
One thing we appreciate about Celebrity is the fact that juice is available anytime during the day at no charge. Some lines make free juice is available only in the morning.
As we mentioned earlier, we were especially disappointed with how the Infinity punishes wine lovers who want to bring their wines on board to enjoy. After bringing special bottles on board for 26 cruises, the Celebrity Infinity became the first ship to confiscate our wine. This resulted in us canceling most of our dining reservations in their specialty restaurants, where we also paid an additional $25 corkage fee to enjoy our wine with dinner.
One of my perennial complaints on Celebrity is the high price of their onboard wines, which are priced about 4x's retail. They also have the highest corkage fee of any line at $25 a bottle. Of course, since Celebrity will confiscate all but two bottles of wine you bring on board to enjoy, what's the point of having a corkage fee at all? Other lines, like Princess, are much more wine friendly with reasonable charges of 2 to 3x's retail and corkage fee of just $15 a bottle.
I also found it interesting that Celebrity doesn't make any distinction between a bottle of hard liquor or a bottle of wine. Two bottles of wine are easily consumed over one or two meals, while two bottles of single malt Scotch could easily last you the entire cruise. It seems to me Celebrity is shooting themselves in the foot with this policy. There are cruise lines that do make a distinction between hard liquor and wine, allowing you to bring on as much wine as you would like but limiting hard liquor to one bottle.
While Celebrity had a few wine events, notably the Port wine tasting was a good value and well done. But as far as the other wine tastings we thought they lacked content, quality, or were overpriced. While Mauricio, the head cellar master, was engaging and knowledgeable, we were basically unimpressed with the wine experience in general. Other cruise lines, namely Princess and Holland American, have had passionate and knowledgeable sommeliers and wine events that we've remembered and talked about for years after our cruise.
The fact that Celebrity confiscated our wine and these short-comings leaves me questioning whether we will keep booking with Celebrity. We already cancelled a wine themed tour of France with Celebrity. What's the point of having a corkage fee if they are going to not allow you to bring wine you purchase at the wineries onboard to either enjoy in their dining rooms or take home?
Our stateroom was on a lower deck, Deck 3. It was a relatively normal stateroom experience. One notable nuance is that we didn't need to set an alarm clock as the vacuum cleaner going off in the hallway every day told us it was 9 am.
Fitness and Spa
This is an area in which the Infinity is average, with one major weakness. The men's locker room is in need of a remodel. The fitness area has the same amount of cardio machines as much larger spaces in the Solstice class ships. This means you don't have the long waits to use the cardio equipment on most sea days that you do aboard the Solstice class ships.
They also have a good set of barbells and a reasonable variety of weight machines. They appear to keep their equipment in reasonable repair, however, there were several cardio machines and televisions out of working order during the entire cruise.
The men's locker room and saunas were one of the worst designs I've encountered while the functionality of the dry sauna was very good. The temperature was just fine and the sauna was in perfect working order for the cruise. On many other cruise lines the saunas just don't get hot enough to break much of a sweat, but this is not the case on the Infinity. II did not try the private steam and dry saunas which cost around $10 a day.
There were a sufficient number of lockers which were all keyed, but there were no keys ever available forcing you to leave your belongings unprotected. I would recommend that Celebrity follow Princess and install combination locks. This would make it easy on the front desk staff and protect the belongings of the patrons. It can't be that difficult!
The Infinity doe have a spa bar featuring a lighter, healthier fare. Unfortunately, there is no bar service featuring fresh fruit juices and smoothies. This would be a wonderful addition to their spa area.
We thought the entertainment was average and certainly a step below their Solstice class ships. The shows were not highly innovative and featured the normal array of comedians, singers, instrumentalists, and magicians. The troupe performances, while they had a lot of individual effort, lacked synergy and choreography. The sets were boring and lacking in innovation. The reliance on sound tracks was also disappointing from the experience of seeing a live orchestra which is common on other ships.
The theater is similar to most modern ships, which has two levels and spacious seating. The onboard entertainment found in the lounges was hit and miss, with some being painfully bad and others being quite good.
I run a small business and being connected to my staff is imperative, even on vacation. I depend on having a functioning Internet while on board any ship. The Internet on the ship was barely adequate as it was down a reasonable amount of the time. I would guess I got access once out of every 5 attempts to logon. I purchased the 2,000 minute, $400 package and was sorry I did. If you must have Internet on your laptop, you must go to the iLounge and sign up, it can't be done from your computer (as on the Solstice class ships) which is a drag.
I was, however, sooo glad that Verizon had a repeater on board so my smartphone worked perfectly. In the future, I will forgo the expensive and inefficient Internet package and just go with my smartphone.
The shopping experience is on par with most every other cruise line, boring! There is nothing exceptional to highlight here.
Ports of Call, Port Talks and Shore Excursions
The port talks on the Infinity were very helpful and informative. They were a great improvement over the Silhouette talks. Getting information on the ports was easy with the two lecturers on board. They gave excellent advice as to what to look and look-out for and how to negotiate when in port. As seasoned travelers, we appreciate cruise lines that push their shore excursions by starving you for general information on port stops.
We used the Internet onboard the ship to contact several tour companies that were highly rated by www.TripAdvisor.com. Another great place to book private tours prior to departure is by looking under "Tours" and on the chat boards on www.CruiseCritic.com. We've never been disappointed following the advice of previous travelers and typically save 25 to 75% off the ship's prices. We ended up doing extremely well by booking local tours ahead of time at about 1/3 the cost of the ship's prices. Our average tour cost $110 to $150 and the equivalent tours on the ship were $330 to $400.
Ushuaia is an easy port to negotiate as the dock is almost in the city center. There are a number of tour companies available just as you get off the pier. We booked with the only tour company, Pira Tours, that is allowed to actually land on the island where the rookery for the Gentoo and Magellanic penguins is located. In our opinion, this was the best penguin rookery we've visited as you get to walk amount the penguins on the beach as well as their burrows on shore. All the other tours (including the ship's) just float off shore for a while but don't land. The cost was a very reasonable $110. Be prepared to dress warmly. We've been to Ushuaia twice in the summer and it's always cold!
Paradise Bay, Antarctica, was certainly a highlight. Crossing Drakes Passage both going to and coming from Antarctica was a non-event. We were prepared for the worst, but as it turned out we had very calm seas. We have never seen so much wild life from a ship. Whale sitings were plentiful as were dolphin and penguins. There were many icebergs and ice flows. Paradise Bay itself was beautiful. We did not get close enough to many of the penguin rookeries to be able to identify the species, however, on many occasions flocks of Gentoos swam within a close distance to the ship. We were very satisfied with our time in Antarctica, even though we did not get off the ship.
Elephant Island was pretty much a bust. We did get to see a large glacier before the fog set in. That was it. We actually did not see the sun for over a week on this cruise, from Ushuaia to Puerto Madryn.
The Falklands were another highlight. We tendered there and the tenders were stopped for about 30 anxious minutes in the morning because the fog set in and then lifted enough to resume tendering. We were later told that had we arrived one hour later the captain would not have anchored as the fog and the weather would not have permitted him to do so. We hired a local guide, Sue, to take us to Volunteer point where we saw the majestic King penguin along with Gentoos and Magellenic. The ride out to the rookery took 2.5 hours, much of it overland. When they say don't take this tour if you have back issues, they mean it! Our cost was $130 each, about 1/3 of the ships cost. This was another highlight even though we only got 45 minutes on the beach to view the penguins before the horizontal rain shower started!
Puerto Madryn is a stop we've been to before when we went to see Punta Tumbo and the Magellanic penguin rookery there. It was amazing! We recommend getting off the ship early and beating the ship's busses. This time we took a tour to swim with the sea lions. We were somewhat apprehensive about the trip, but our apprehensions melted away to delight as swarms of sea lion pups swam out to play with us while we snorkeled among them. We kissed more sea lions, literally, than we could count! The cost of this was $150 which was less than Â½ of what the ship charged.
Montevideo, Uruguay is a real yawner of a stop. There is not much to do or see here. We would have liked to have visited some wineries but the private tours were over $400 each. The ship did have a tour of one winery with lunch included for $160, but as we suspected, the winery was more of a 'box wine' commercialized venue than a serious vineyard. We walked around town and ate some barbeque at the covered mall just one block from the ship and called it good. Less
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