My wife and I traveled with another couple on the Celebrity Infinity Nov 7-22 on the route through the Panama Canal. Prior to departing, we read the posts on Cruise Critic, to understand how to spend our limited time and money to best advantage. Now that we have completed the cruise, we hope our comments below help you plan for and have the best cruise experience:
1. 15 days is a long time for a working guy like me to take away from the office - the Officers and Crew of the Infinity made it a very enjoyable experience and worth the time and money we spent. I would do it again.
2. We had ports of call in Cartagena, Columbia, Colon, Panama, Panama Canal Transit, Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We specifically chose not to take the Shore Excursions, intending instead to explore at our leisure. We grabbed a cab and had the taxi driver take us to well known tourist sites, monuments, downtown shopping and entertainment areas, etc. This worked well in Cartagena, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo, as they are all bigger cities. Puerto Quetzal, Puntarenas and Colon are pretty run down port only cities with very little to offer. The Shore Excursions take you far from these ports to tourist sites. While having the ship's passengers take Shore Excursions results in a nice revenue stream and low cost of mooring for the Cruise company, for people like us who preferred to explore on our own, staying on the ship for those ports of call was our choice. Staying on a 5 star resort ship with pools, restaurants, entertainment and unlimited food is a great thing if there is nothing more interesting ashore.
3. Shore Excursions - as I said above, we did not take any ship sponsored Shore Excursions. That is not to say that we did not inquire. The thing that impressed me the most about the Shore Excursion representatives is that they were accurate about describing the tours, enabling us to make decisions which were best for our vacation. I encourage you to take Shore Excursions if that is your interest; they looked great.
4. Beverage Package - this is a lively topic on Cruise Critic. After reading the posts, my wife and I decided we don't drink that much and if we wanted a beer, specialty coffee, glass of wine or mixed drink, we would buy it by it the glass. It worked out well for us. We were quoted about $1600 for the premium beverage package; after reviewing our bill, we spent about $600 on beverages, thus saving $1,000. While on board, we met couples with and without the Premium Beverage package. The thing I found a little cumbersome was that, even the cruisers with the Premium beverage package still had to hand over their Sea Pass card to "pay" for their drinks and go through the charge card signature process for a $0 charge. The water on board the ship is purified. We drank tap water at the dining table and in our room; the tap water on board tastes great.
5. Celebrity Select Dining Package - We got this package and are glad we did. We especially liked the SS United States restaurant. The Qsine Restaurant food is excellent although the "culinary journey" is a little bumpy. Try it for yourself! Sommeliers - the wine stewards are excellent, especially in the SS United States Restaurant and Cellar Masters. Take their advice! Set a pace for yourself to use Celebrity Select Dining credits evenly throughout the cruise to ensure you aren't rushing to book Select Dining reservations on the last night of the cruise.
6. Don't overpack. There is a convenient laundry service on board. The prices are reasonable; about 30% higher than what I pay at my local dry cleaner/laundry. I was happy to pay for the convenience of having my clothes picked up, laundered and returned to my stateroom.
7. Negotiate/Maximize Shipboard Credits with Celebrity or your travel agent. We got $200 which was not enough. I would have loved to have had $600-$700 of Shipboard Credits to use on spa services, shopping, drinks, etc.
8. Bring Cash! I used it for taxis, tips, drinks, food while off the ship and to pay duty on my purchases. (more below)
9. Bring a check book! Duties, Customs and Immigration. If you buy +$800 per person on board (I bought two expensive watches in the ship's retail store), you will be flagged and asked to meet the Customs and Immigration officer on debarkation day to pay your duty in cash or check only. The first $800 ($1600 per couple) is exempt; the next $2000 is assessed at 3% ($60) and anything above that is assessed at 5.5%. You are on your honor to put the accurate amount of your purchases on the US customs and immigration declaration form.
10. Expensive purchases in the ship's retail shop - if you make an expensive purchase in the ship's retail shops (Columbian emeralds, luxury watches, topaz jewelry and the like) you can negotiate some freebees with your purchase - comped dinner at a Celebrity Select Dining restaurant, tour of the ship's bridge, dinner in the galley cooked by ship's chef d'cuisine, wine and cheese pairing tour, drinks in the lounge with one of the ship's officers, etc. are some ideas. This is great fun and makes your significant purchase more meaningful and memorable.
11. Tipping - I wish I had some cash left over to tip personally those crew members who make my cruise so enjoyable. Near the end of the cruise, there is an opportunity to tip those crew members by filling out a form.
12. Research the ship before you cruise - the Celebrity web pages are full of information; you'll have to poke around a bit to find what's available. Here's a challenge - without using the search bar, find the Premium Romance Package.
13. Research your ports of call before the cruise - up to you, but if you know a little about where you are visiting, that might make it more meaningful, interesting and fun.
14. Most of the shows were fantastic. Jeremy Oren at Café Al Bacio is fantastic!