Review - Panama Canal – Celebrity Infinity – December 7-21, 2003
Dec 6 – San Antonio to San Diego - Flew to San Diego a day early in case there were flight delays or other problems plus we wanted to embark as early as possible the day of sailing. Due to a large convention in San Diego, we could not find a room at a hotel downtown or near cruise terminal. We ended up at the Hampton Inn on Greenwood. Not the best location or hotel but chose it for the price, free shuttle from airport and to cruise terminal. Since we had visited San Diego previously, we did not do any sightseeing that day, just rested and visited with the other couple we had booked the trip with, my husband’s sister, her husband and their daughter.
Sunday - Dec. 7 – Embarkation – Casual Night - We caught the hotel shuttle to the cruise terminal shortly after 11 AM and were unloading our luggage by 11:30. There were already people there. The ship was not due to arrive until 2:00 although it actually pulled into port around 12:30. Boarding began between 1:00-1:30.
There were long tables of representatives to check us in. They did not have computers and were manually checking everyone in. It will save you lots of time if you do the on-line embarkation form, print out a copy and BRING IT WITH YOU. Even if you do it on-line but don’t have the copy with you, you will have to manually fill out the forms. Since we had the print-out, all we had to do was give our credit card information.
They placed a Blue Sticker on our ship cards and that signified the order of boarding. We thought we would be the first group to board as we were there so early but some people who arrived later than us actually boarded earlier. The first group to board was the Red Stickers 1-7. These passengers appeared to be physically challenged or passengers with small children. The second group to board was the Yellow Stickers 1-7. I believe these people were in the Suites, Concierge cabins, and high ranking Captain Club members. (We’re low ranking CC members). The next group was the Blue Stickers. Finally! Sorry, I don’t know the colors after blue.
Complimentary snacks and beverages were available while you waited. There was a sign on the table that said “Ship sold out – no upgrades available” but the representative said to check with the Guest Relation Desk if interested in an upgrade.
As soon as we boarded, we, and the other couple we were traveling with, went straight to Guest Relations to inquire about an upgrade. We both had a 1B balcony cabin but were interested in the Family Veranda cabins that were still showing available online. Guest Relations said it would be $1000 per cabin to upgrade and initially we said “No, too much” and then, “Can we see the FV cabins”. After comparing our 1B balcony cabin to the Family Verandas, we called the Guest Relation Desk and said, “we’ll do the upgrade!!” Ordinarily, we would not have done an upgrade but we had such a good cruise price to begin with and the larger room and huge aft balcony (over 240 sq ft) won us over with it being a 14 day cruise with so many sea days and the canal itself. We figured it came to $35 per person per day! We’d just spend less for drinks, souvenirs, and shore excursions. Our cabin was FV 8183, their cabin was a corner FV 8177.
We met our room steward, Marino, and asked if he could get us padded cushions for the lounge chairs and extra hangers. He obliged on both counts. After doing a little unpacking, we headed up to the buffet for lunch, then to the Dining Room to check out our table assignment, bought a coke sticker for my husband at the Cova Cafe and then headed out to San Diego for a little sightseeing.
I purchased a bottle of Terramia Pinot Grigio (an Italian wine) that I “planned” on drinking during sail-a-ways on our balcony but figured if they took it from me while boarding, I’d just have it in the Dining Room and pay the corkage fee (more on corkage fee and wine steward later). I did not try to conceal the bottle at all and sent it through x-ray and security with not one glance from anyone.
We had a special treat that evening around 7 PM when we were able to view San Diego’s Christmas Boat Parade from our balcony. All the boats were decorated in Christmas lights and sailed very close to our ship, probably making the coast guard and security people somewhat nervous. Initially we were to set sail at 8 PM but due to all the snow and bad weather in the northeast, the ship did not sail until around 9:30 PM, probably waiting on passengers who were delayed, so did not get to see the sail-a-way from San Diego as we had late seating. Main Seating first night 7:00 PM – Late Seating 9:00 PM
We lost 1 hour sleep as we were requested to turn our watches forward 1 hour before retiring.
Monday – December 8 – Sea Day – Formal Night – The mandatory Lifeboat Drill was scheduled for 10:30 AM. First cruise I’ve been on that it was not done before leaving port.
The Cruise Critic Party was at 11:30 in Michael’s Club. There was a big turn out and it was fun to finally put a face to a screen name. Everyone was relieved to see the newly-weds (MrsT and Andy) made their flight out of Philadelphia despite all the snow and airport closures. There were snacks and beverages. The staff seemed so “surprised” at the number of people who came and how we already seemed to know each other. I believe the ship staff still does not have a “clue” what Cruise Critic and the Message Boards is all about. After about an hour, we were taken to the Grand Stair Case where an official picture was taken of the group.
In the afternoon, Captain Club members were treated to complimentary wine tasting event. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, eating and learning our way around the ship.
Tuesday – December 9 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – Casual Night – This was the only port where we were tendered to shore. The famous Los Arcos and Land’s End could be seen from the ship. There was only one other ship in port that day. When you get off the tender there are lots of guys trying to sell tours. We wanted to see Los Arcos up close and go to Lovers Beach. Lovers Beach is rated as one of Mexico’s “Ten Best” by Conde Nast Traveler. The water taxi guy wanted $10 initially but we bargained for $8 each round-trip. We paid up-front. He sailed around Land’s End and Los Arcos and gave a limited commentary and would stop for pictures. He dropped us off at Lovers Beach. He asked us how long we’d like to spend there and we said 1.5 hours – thinking that would give us plenty of time. He said he would be back in 1.5 hours (which he was). He gave us his card with his boat’s name on it. Actually we could have spent more time at Lovers Beach and 3 hours would have been better than 1.5 hours. There are two sides to Lovers Beach, the rough Pacific side with heavy surf, a strong undertow and erratic rip-tides and the calmer bay side where you can snorkel. We spent most of our time on the Pacific side taking lots of pictures of the rocks and watching surfers. I tipped $1 to a guy that helped me off and back on the boat at Lovers Beach. There is no food or drinks at the beach to buy and saw only one vendor selling silver.
After returning to port we walked to the town (just a block or two away) and did some shopping. Went to Cabo Wabbo Bar/Restaurant where sister-in-law bought t-shirts. Did some window shopping but didn’t buy anything. Brother-in-law and niece did the Ship’s Kayak Shore Excursion Tour and said it was fun. Enjoyed Cabo San Lucas and wouldn’t mind visiting this port again. Last tender was at 5:30 – Ship sailed at 6:00.
That night there was an Island Party at 10:30 on the Pool Deck with a fruit and sherbet buffet. There was dancing to the music of Legacy the wonderful band that plays everything from reggae to country to rock. Instead of the Activities Staff personnel encouraging the passengers to get up and dance, they had their own “party” dancing with each other and completely ignoring the passengers. This was the first of many examples of how the Activities Staff did (or didn’t) do their job.
We lost another hour of sleep as we were requested to set our watches forward 1 hour before retiring.
Wednesday – December 10 – Sea Day – Informal Night – Participated in some of the day’s activities such as Trivia, champagne ring toss, digital camera Q & A, etc. Husband played in first of two slot tournaments and went to an enrichment lecture, etc. When husband showed up (early) to “basketball with activities staff”, the activities staff never showed up!
Thursday – December 11 – Acapulco – Casual Night – Thanks to reading the Ports Of Call Section on the message boards and the postings from the Operations Manager for Acapulco Port Authority, our day in Acapulco was great. He had posted that if cruise passengers asked for him on the pier, he would help with finding a reputable driver for private tours. Within minutes of being asked for, he arrived and was very professional and helpful in finding out what we wanted to do and then arranged a driver and tour for the four of us for the day. He also told us of a festival that was being held that night in town and if we wanted to go, but were leery of going by ourselves, to let him know and he’d go with us! Our driver drove a late model suburban vehicle and spoke very good english.
We were driven along the bay and stopped at Las Brisas, Senor Frogs, to the new resort hotels and to the Cliff Divers and then later to a shopping market. Photo stops were made along the way. At the cliff divers my husband and I opted to watch the divers at the La Perla Restaurant. For $12 each, we were seated at a table in the shade with a great view of the divers. We were served two drinks. The other couple decided to go to the observation deck to watch the divers and while our view point was probably better, they were closer to the divers. The entire tour lasted a little over 6 hours and we paid $100 including tip for the four of us.
It was around 3:30 when we were dropped back at the pier. We went back to the ship, ate a late lunch and then decided to walk along the bay near the ship. I bought some silver jewelry from a street vendor – who knows if it’s real silver or not (it was stamped), but it looks good and the price was more than reasonable so I’m not too concerned over its authenticity.
We then found ourselves in the area where the festival was being held – Festival for the Virgin of Guadalupe – all the little children were dressed up in traditional Mexican garments and the little boys’ faces were painted with mustaches, beards and side-burns. There were photo booths set up with different themes and the children were having their pictures taken. There were colorful balloons, toys and food being sold. We did not see any other “tourists or ship people” there and it was enjoyable taking in the sights and sounds including all the firecrackers. We never felt the least bit uneasy as the locals basically ignored us. After enjoying the festivities, we thought we should get back to the ship as it was getting close to our dinner time.
The ship sailed at 11 PM. There was a Tex-Mex Party from 10-Midnight on the Pool Deck with Mexican food and country western music.
Friday, December 12 – Huatulco, Mexico – Informal Night – Huatulco was not in the original itinerary but was added this Fall. This is the latest resort being developed by the Mexican government and has a 30 year master plan and a $200 million price tag. The area consists of 9 bays, a few developed already but most not. We arrived late morning and the ship docked at a brand new pier. We were the only ship in port. There is a nice sand beach and calm water at the end of the pier with beach lounge chairs, and tables and chairs in the shade if you want to have lunch or a beer. There is a little shopping area just a couple of blocks from the pier. At the shopping area, the people have the usual souvenirs but the shopkeepers were not that “pushy” while browsing. The prices seemed the best and while some things were “marked” with a price you could still negotiate.
There were six of us in our group that day. We decided to hire a water taxi to take us to the different bays where we could stop to snorkel, swim or sit on the beach. The problem we had in Huatulco was that not everyone who deals with the tourists speak English and while we THOUGHT we knew what we wanted to see and do, it was not communicated very well to the man who was making the arrangements with the boat driver who could not speak ANY English. We were under the impression we could go to ALL or MOST of the 9 bays if we wanted and that we had the boat for ALL day. The price was $10 each person ($60 total). The boat driver thought we were to go to ALL the BEACHES in THREE of the BAYS and he wanted more money if he was to take us to any additional bays. At least that was the conversation we had with him through sign language and very broken Spanish. After about 2 hours, we had him take us back to the dock where we had a “conversation” with the tour operator who refunded some of our money. As it turned out, it would have been impossible to see all 9 bays in one afternoon and we should have stayed at one of the bays at one of the beaches and where we would have had a delightful afternoon. Regardless, we still had a scenic boat trip and some beach time so not all was lost but it was very frustrating for a while.
After getting our “refund”, we did some shopping and then relaxed on the beach by the ship for the rest of the afternoon.
Everyone agreed that Huatulco was one of our best ports and everyone wished to come back again soon…..Be careful what you wish for.
Saturday, December 13 – Sea Day – Formal Night – My husband has a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite Receiver) and every morning he would check our position and compare it to the ship’s position that was shown on the TV. It was around 8:30 AM and we were sitting on our balcony having breakfast when he checked our position. He said, “This is strange, the GPS shows we are 3 nautical miles from Huatulco”. After telling him, his toy was worthless, I got up and looked around the side of the ship and said, “The GPS is right, we’re back at Huatulco!” Seems a passenger became seriously ill (heart-attack?) at 1 AM and the ship decided to turn around and go back to the nearest port which was Huatulco to take him off. It was a couple of hours before we were on our way again. What we didn’t realize at the time is that we had lost too much time back-tracking and would not be able to make our port of call in Costa Rica as scheduled.
We received a letter that evening stating that because of missing Costa Rica, each cabin would be credited with $100 shipboard credit and there would be two complimentary cocktail hours the next night. We would have rather have gone to Costa Rica but it was a nice gesture on Celebrity’s part. What this also meant was that we would have 5 sea days in a row (counting the canal) before we would get off at Aruba.
We spent the day doing the usual shipboard activities such as trivia, napkin folding classes, golf putting and competing in the blackjack tournament. Celebrity has the most boring ship board activities!
Sunday, December 14 – Sea Day (Would have been Costa Rica) – Casual Night – Instead of visiting Costa Rica we had another sea day. Not much to talk about as we just relaxed on our balcony watching the wake and participating in the same-old-same-old activities. At 2:30 after playing Pictionary, my sister-in-law and I went up to the Pool Deck to see what the “Poolside Fun with Activities Staff” would be (at 2:45).
We were sitting there waiting for the announcement as to what the activity would be when the activity staff announced since there wasn’t anyone interested in Poolside Fun, it was cancelled for that day. My sister-in-law and I and another man went up and said we were there for the activity….just waiting to find out what it was going to be. The activity guy said no one else seemed to be interested and besides the “passengers on this ship didn’t like to participate anyway” and so there wasn’t going to be an activity. This kind of ticked me off and I told him maybe if he would just make an announcement what the activity was, he just might have participants. The staff had already made up their mind that they weren’t having the activity. When I said I was going to make a “complaint”, he handed me 3 t-shirts (one for each of us) and said, “Will that make you happy, now?” How rude. Of all the cruises we have taken (this was #12) I have never seen an activity staff so unprofessional.
We lost 1 hour sleep as we were requested to turn our watches forward 1 hour before retiring.
Monday, December 15 – Sea Day – Informal Night – Just another day at sea. Restful and uneventful. That evening at 10:45 they had a 50’s – 60’s Sock Hop that was fun. Didn’t get to bed until 1:00 AM.
Tuesday, December 16 – Panama Canal & Cristobal Pier – Casual Night – The highlight of the cruise – to transit the Panama Canal. I set a wake up call for 5:30 AM so that I could see the Bridge of the Americas as we sailed under it. I was about 20 minutes too late. As soon as the phone rang, I jumped up and ran out to the balcony and there in the distance was the Bridge. Oops. As with most mornings we had ordered breakfast to be delivered and evidently everyone else on board had also. Took our breakfast over to my sister-in-law’s cabin since their cabin/balcony was a corner one and we could really get a good look at the workings of the canal. Spent much of the day watching the working of the locks and was surprised at the beauty of the lake.
Around 7:00 PM we were able to get off the ship at Cristobal Pier (a re-fueling stop?). There is a nice handicraft market right there are the pier and some entertainment. There is also an internet café that was $3 for ½ hour. They had t-shirts for $5 that were pretty good quality. You could bargain somewhat for the t-shirts and handicraft items but not too much, just a dollar or two off asking price. My husband went to the ship’s doctor instead of to the pier that night.
Dr. Visit: When we were in our cabin, we’d keep the sliding glass door open to the balcony to hear the water. One evening before the canal, we had been going in and out of our cabin to the balcony with the door open when I decided to close the door. Poor husband didn’t realize I had closed the door and walked smack into it and about knocked himself coo-coo, even made his nose bleed a bit. We even joked that I probably gave him a concussion. So when a day or two later he complained of being dizzy and the room spinning to the point of being nauseous (especially during the canal transit when he tried to look down over the ship), I got worried, thinking he had indeed gotten a concussion. He went to the ship’s doctor that evening. After checking him out, it was determined it wasn’t a concussion (thank goodness) but probably a slight inner ear infection and he was having a bad case of vertigo. She gave him some sea-sick tablets and by dinner, and $73 later, he was completely well.
Wednesday, December 17 – Sea Day – Informal Night – Lazy day – did the usual trivia games, golf putting, slot tournament and eat.
Thursday, December 18 – Aruba – Casual Night – Arrived approx. 7:00 AM. Everyone was excited to finally get off the ship after 5 days (not counting Cristobal Pier). We decided to do the beach scene. After a leisurely breakfast, we got off the ship around 10 AM and hired a taxi to take us to Palm Beach where most of the high rise hotels are located. The taxi ride was $10 each way. We were dropped us off between the Radisson and Wyndham Hotels. We rented a beach chair that also came with a float for $10 for all day. My husband doesn’t like too much sun so he was more than content to lie under a shady palm tree while I laid on the float in the beautiful clear, sea-foam green water. When I wasn’t in the water, I was walking the beach taking in the sights and taking lots of pictures. Had we wanted to be more active, there were jet skis you could rent, banana boat rides, water skiing, scuba diving, parasailing, etc. We stayed at the beach until 2:30. We walked over to the Radisson and easily got a taxi back to the ship.
After getting a quick bite of lunch, we headed back out to the market area at the pier to look around. Ended up at an internet ice cream café and checked our email. It was basically $1.25 for every 15 minutes of use. We used 45 minutes worth – time flies when you’re on the web. Still, so much cheaper than the ship.
It’s very windy in Aruba and on the top deck at sail-a-way the wind just about blew our hair off our heads. My husband said I looked like a troll doll !!
Realized I had not had even one sip of the wine I’d purchased in San Diego, so decided to take the bottle to the dining room and pay the corkage fee of $12. Wine steward took the wine and although it had been in the mini bar for 10 days, he decided it needed more chill time. When he finally got around to opening it (at main course) he tasted it and said it had a high sugar content. I told him, I preferred a sweet wine to a dry wine and that is why I picked it. Instead of just pouring it, he kept talking about the high sugar content. Remember, this is an Italian wine I have purchased before and like which is why I bought it this time around. It was really embarrassing for me for him to continue to make a big deal of what he considered my “poor choice” of a wine in front of my table mates.
Tonight we got 1 hour of sleep back – Got to set our watches back 1 hour. We needed an extra hour of sleep.
Friday, December 19 – Sea Day – Formal Night – It finally dawns on us that we have only two more days of the cruise left. Where did the days go? Time for serious pool deck time and the sun tan we’ve been putting off. Except….it’s cloudy and cool outside. We shuffle from inside from the trivia games to outside to sit under the cloudy skies while Legacy plays their wonderful Reggae music that makes you want to get up and dance and so I do….with the teen-aged kids who also love the music and love to dance. They don’t seem to care a 55 year old woman has invaded their group and even seem to welcome me. Not too many others around the pool today and as with the other sea days, no problem ever with finding a deck chair by the pool. There were no chair hogs on this cruise. In fact, we wonder where everyone is this afternoon.
Saturday, December 20 – Sea Day – Casual Night – We awake to find it cloudy, rainy and cool today. Might as well use this time to start packing so we won’t have to do it tonight. By 11, I’ve got everything packed except for what we’re wearing tonight and tomorrow. Talked to Humberto with future cruise sales and book a cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas for September. Pool deck completely deserted and it looks like a ghost ship. My sister-in-law and I go to the Thallostherapy Pool and enjoy the warm water and water jets. Later, I go out to pool deck and listen to Legacy play for the last time…no dancing today, though, just trying to stay warm with the beach towels wrapped around me instead of under me.
Sunday, December 21 – Disembarkation – Since we were spending the day and night in Fort Lauderdale, we are among the very last to disembark. We went through immigration at 8:30 in the Celebrity Theatre. We stayed in our room and sat on our balcony until 9:35, our “scheduled” time to disembark. Our cabin steward did not seem to have a problem with us staying in the cabin. They finally called our “color” close to 10 AM. No problem finding luggage and clearing customs but flagging a taxi was a different matter. No rhyme or reason here nor one line to make it more orderly. It was every man for himself and despite not being in a hurry, it did not seem too long before we were on our way to the hotel.
Observations: The average age of the passengers on this cruise appeared to be 65-75 years old. There were at least 3 and up to 5 passengers who died while on this cruise (depending who you talked to). The service and food in the dining room was very good after a rocky start (Asst. Waiter was replaced after 5 days of very poor service). Did not eat in the SS United States Restaurant but niece and a friend did and said service and food was exceptional.
The Good Things: Loved all the ports of call and most of the sea days. Loved the free ice cream from noon to 6 PM every day. Loved the 2 PM “sorbet on parade” on pool deck. Loved the cold towels when returning from port. Loved the padded deck chairs. Loved our large cabin and balcony. Loved having breakfast delivered in the morning and eating it on the balcony.
The Bad Things: Celebrity really needs to update and have more options for activities on sea days as it’s the same thing over and over. The activity staff needs better training. Some of the lectures were extremely boring and some of information given was erroneous. Better prizes should be offered for participating and winning in the activities…key chains and pens just do not cut it.
Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.