We are experienced Celebrity cruisers and found that for the most part, our Infinity Panama Canal cruise gave us the excellent experience we anticipated. There were a few disappointments that were balanced by exceptional moments that gave us overall a great experience.
We flew from Columbus, Ohio to San Diego the day before embarkation. Late flights followed by even later luggage proved the point about arriving a day early. Since we had no time for touring San Diego we chose the Best Western Yacht Harbor because if offered a free shuttle to the ship. The shuttle was actually a nine passenger van that was fully booked until mid-afternoon unless we rode separately, which was what we chose to do. Since I was taking the first seat, I took our three suitcases to get them into the delivery system as early as possible. Every other time we have cruised, there have been porters waiting at the passenger drop-off. This was not the case in San Diego. I had to manipulate the three bags nearly a city block, wind through a security line, walk another distance into the terminal and double back to the luggage drop. Since we had printed only one copy of our boarding pass, I then had to go back out and wait until my husband arrived on the next shuttle so that a security guard could hand it out to him. Next we waited in another long line to get into the boarding area. Once inside there, we were able to skip ahead a bit due to our Elite status and Aqua Class cabin. As it was early, we then waited until 11:30 a.m. to board.
Once onboard, we chose to have lunch at Bistro on 5 while we waited for cabins to be ready. We were among the first to arrive and the restaurant never got busy while we were there. However, service was incredibly slow; it took ninety minutes to complete our meal. An hour into lunch, the announcement was made that cabins were available and even though we had ordered our dessert with our main course, it was nowhere in sight. Once it did arrive, I was surprised to discover that my dessert crepe was filled with strawberries instead of the bananas as described on the menu. When I asked, I was told that the stock of bananas had not yet arrived so strawberries were being substituted. Fortunately, I am not allergic to them so when asked if I wanted to order something else, I declined because I wanted to get to my cabin and did not want to spend another half hour in the restaurant!
We had the good luck to be able to reserve cabin 1140, one of the aft Aqua Class cabins on Deck 11. Overall, it was a delightful choice. We had an extra-large balcony with wonderful views and a convenient location. Even though we were directly above the Oceanview Bar, we were never disturbed by the noise from there. We were directly below the Sun Deck on 12 but only heard some minor noise from there one morning. Our cabin attendant was quite efficient and helpful with our needs. My biggest complaint was that it was difficult to keep the cabin reasonably cool. We kept the air conditioning at its highest setting at all times and were diligent about closing the balcony door completely but never got quite comfortable. I think a contributing factor was the fact that on both sides at the aft of Deck 11 there are doors to stairs to the outside that were not always closed completely. Since the outside weather was extremely hot, the hallway was always warm. Also, the wifi did not work particularly well back there. Mostly, I used my smart phone to go online so I waited until I was somewhere midship to log on.
As Aqua Class guests, we dined in Blu and were delighted to see Popa, the Maitre D from our Silhouette transatlantic last fall was sailing with us again. This was our third experience in Blu and the best of them all. Every single server was efficient and personable plus the food was excellent. One night we had to wait for a table and on two other nights we wanted to dine with a large group so we checked with Popa in advance. In both cases, he asked us to come at 8:00 and our table was waiting for us.
The great highlight of the cruise was the passenger mix onboard. We met a number of other Aqua Class guests while dining in Blu and had great fun with some Captain's Club members at the Elite cocktail parties and breakfasts. The cocktail parties were in the Constellation Lounge where the service was mediocre but our group bonded with one of the bartenders and he took good care of us. Elite breakfast was in the S.S. United States restaurant. We usually had breakfast in Blu first then went there for a cappuccino and to visit with our new friends. We also got to know a good crowd from our Cruise Critic roll call and planned some onshore activities with them.
As regular Celebrity cruisers, we have gotten used to exceptional speakers on board during the longer cruises and anticipated a similar situation this time. This was the biggest disappointment of the entire trip. The Panama Canal expert, Uncle Marty appeared four times. His style was condescending and self-absorbed. When he wasn't name-dropping, he was delivering the same material he presented in earlier lectures, just in a different order. There was also a professor of Geology on board who talked about the formation of the Earth and volcanoes among other subjects. His first presentation was so dreadfully dull that I never bothered with another one. The exception was Al Goldis, a former baseball manager. I am not really interested in baseball but I thoroughly enjoyed his presentations. His shortcoming was that instead of using the usual PowerPoint slide show, he used a flip chart and wrote on it as he talked and that was sometimes hard to see.
I wasn't crazy about the Cruise Director, Patti Honacki, but that may be due to the fact that we got off to a bad start. At the Connections party, she told us that it was up to us to run the event; they were just providing a room. At every other Connections event, we've had coffee, pastries, several ship officers and a warm welcome from the Cruise Director. This time we got nothing. On the positive side, it provided us a good chance to exchange information about private excursions and to talk about Cruise Critic without ship staff around. Patti disembarked the Infinity the same day we did to go to Alaska but I think she'll return for Panama Canal cruises. Even though I didn't care for her, the rest of the staff was friendly and accommodating, reminding me of the old Celebrity motto of 'Exceeding Your Expectations'.
We had a mid-afternoon flight home so we waited until the last possible moment to disembark. If there was any chaos in that process, we were too late to see it.
We were not allowed to take a planned shore excursion due to medical history so simple wandered about the port for a while. Since we had not carried any money with us, we had a simple answer to anyone offering tours "no cash". We heard from others that there was some free wifi available but we did not take advantage of it.
We had a wonderful walking tour of the old town area with a pleasant guide. We were picked up and dropped of right at the ship, simplifying life on an extremely hot day.
It was a very hot day and we were not feeling well so we simply wandered about.
We simply walked to the nearby mall and visited a Starbucks for the wifi. There are a number of shopping opportunities near the port for anyone who needs to pick up some necessities.
On the whole, it was a good day. The standout portion was a boat ride to see crocodiles. The rest of the day was fine but paled in comparison.