Our Group: 3 retired couples, ages 62-68 - 1st time for us traveling with others. Two of the couples were from Phoenix and the other couple from Washington state. Made a big difference in the cruise, especially on multiple sea days, plus we were able to get a dining table for 6 in the MDR together. We have done 5 prior cruises, all on RCI so were anxious to try Celebrity for the 1st time. As platinum members on Royal we were made Captain's Club members at the select level, a nice benefit. My wife and I drove from Phoenix the night before, stayed in a motel and boarded in the morning. Utilized a one day one way rental from Alamo which was reasonable and handled all the luggage for both Phoenix couples, the other Phoenix couple flying in on departure day. We all brought the allowed 2 bottles of wine on board as well as water and soda. This is all acceptable and a real money saver for the customer.
Embarkation in San Diego - could have been smoother and better with more communication. Once inside the terminal building having received our sea pass cards we were seated and assigned group number 21 at 1020am (we arrived early). Group 1 was boarded at 1130am, then groups 2,3,4,5 with our group 21 going after group 5. The ladies broadcasting the group numbers were yelling at this mass of several hundred people, no signage, no megaphones. Our group boarded at 1240pm, we ate and entered our interior cabin at 150pm. The ship left at 600pm, one hour late.
Dining: we had a table for 6, 600pm dining. All evening meals except one were taken in the MDR with Mario and Stefan as our waiters. Food quality was the best we’ve had on any of our cruises, service was very good as it has always been on RCI. One half of the menu was the same each night, the other half changed and provided a good variety of appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts - generally every item served was good to outstanding. Thanksgiving night was the only time our group ate in a specialty restaurant, the Qsine on deck 11. This is an very unique experience with the menu and ordering done via I-Pad, some of which did not work at all or work properly. Food in Qsine varied; mostly good to very good, some very unusual. Presentation and serving in Qsine was very unique too. We received a discount off the $45 price with discounts seeming to be available regularly depending on the night. My opinion - worth trying once. During our transit of the Panama Canal the dining staff went all out for a brunch in the MDR complete with many ice sculptures. A tremendous presentation and experience as we rode through the canal. This brunch is not to be missed. One of our snack favorites was the Café Al Bacio on deck 5 with complimentary sweets in the afternoon; the coconut cake was the best !! Our group also did a breakfast of crepes in Bistro on 5 one morning, nice atmosphere but the service seemed slow with only three tables being served. We did find the placement of the tables in the MDR a little too close, could have been further apart.
The Ship: 11 decks but a few options to go higher on a limited basis. The Infinity had a make over several years ago but has been maintained well and is kept clean. It has a short walking track open air on deck 11. The ship does not have all the glitz bells and whistles of the brand new ships but is very comfortable, attractive and a good ship with sufficient venues for music and bars for drinking options. Gym area seemed adequate, we used it one time, spa, casino, large theatre for the evening events. The ship was large enough to provide the customer what was needed but not too large.
As compared to RCI: many fewer ship wide announcements, this was good. One daily Captain’s message at 10am. As this was early December, Christmas decos were put up by contractors who boarded the ship in Colon and left the ship before leaving Colon.
INTERNET & PHONE: Outrageous as expected; internet packages could be purchased that provided some savings. Using a coupon as a result of being Captain’s Club Select I purchased 38 minutes for $24.95 minus a 25% discount, which was still a very high net cost per minute but was useful. Internet speed generally slow to very slow. 4500 total Nautical Miles covered in the 15 days. A bonus for us as non-smokers: very limited areas for smoking and the casino was a no smoking zone the entire trip - all of the time.
The Infinity cruiser on this sailing: Almost entirely adults, perhaps 25 children were spotted. Guessing the average age to be 60-65. Mostly US, Canadians, UK and Aussies with Asia being well represented as well.
Entertainment: I did not have high expectations for a ship this size but was surprised by the consistent strong to outstanding performances and variety we were provided with each night. Of all 15 nights of performances I would say only one was weak. The Infinity musicians were also tops. Cruise Director Pete mixed it up and did a great job of choosing some very good entertainers for our enjoyment each evening. The different lounges frequently had music of varying types so everyone could find something to like at a given lounge.
Bar drinks came with the usual 15% add on but we found happy hour pricing, 4-5pm and 4-6pm provided good options for regular inexpensive drinks of martinis and wines, some as low as $4 and martinis at $5.50 each. So a good option to avoid a large bar tab for the cruising customer. We did not find this many options for low priced drinks on a regular basis with RCI.
Ports/Itinerary: We chose this cruise primarily to experience Celebrity and do the Panama Canal. Other stops, in order, included: Cabo San Lucas, Puerta Vallarta, Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, Puntarenas, C.R., Colon, Panama, Cartagena, Colombia. We did only two shore excursions; one through the ship in Colombia and an independent one with our group of four in Costa Rica in our own mini van with Chris of GioTours. Otherwise we walked off the ship at each port and did only the shopping near the port area. Having done Costa Rica with only 4 of us plus driver and guide Chris I would say no comparison with the ship’s product we took in Colombia. Now I know why we try to avoid the ship’s tours and it’s not just because of the normally higher cost involved utilizing the ships product. One exceptional thing Celebrity did as we transited the canal on December 2nd - we were provided with an ongoing live narration by a lady working for the canal as we traveled through it from 715am until 445pm when we exited. This narration was throughout the ship and really added to the crossing. I understand some lines do not provide this narration and it made all the difference as we traveled. Being this close to the equator, our southernmost point being 7 degrees north latitude, I expected it to be hot and I was not disappointed. Being in the sun was at times brutal but Cartagena took the award for the very hottest and most uncomfortable. Also, be prepared for regular, sometimes relentless hawking by the local vendors, even if you are in a large tour group you are fair game, this is at all ports. My opinion - all of the ports were worth seeing once - though we did greatly enjoy our 7 hour tour with GioTours in Costa Rica. This cruise had a very good balance of sea days, never more than two in a row, mixed in with regular port stops.
The Crew: One thing I really appreciated about this cruise was the high profile and access to the Captain and his senior officers. The Captain could be seen almost anywhere on the ship and was easy to talk to - I spoke to him at least four times. On some cruises you never see the Captain and seldom even hear from him so this made this Captain and this sailing outstanding. The waiters, pool butlers, housekeeping were from all over the world. I would say they were friendly and helpful as a rule. At times listening closely was necessary to fully understand what they were saying.
We had only one day of 80 knot winds (per a senior crew member) so the decks were closed off and the ship was not level as it traveled, but we did not get sick. This high wind condition lasted 10 hours or so and occurred off the coast of Acapulco. On the open sea windy was the norm and somewhat bumpy - generally up on deck 11 in the open, winds were 30 mph and seas were 1-2 meters high.
I appreciated the fact that events, dining, docking and leaving ports always seemed to be on time, as scheduled, with the exception of departing San Diego. Being on time seemed to be important to Celebrity. Thank you!
Departure in Fort Lauderdale - we chose the 1st departure time of 815am, got to the Celebrity Theatre at 810am. At 850am we were instructed to move to the departure ramp, cleared customs, claimed our bags and walked outside to a long line for taxi cabs. The wait for a cab was about 20 minutes. Four of us shared one cab, it was cozy but the least expensive way to go. Fare to the Ft. Lauderdale airport was $15 plus tip for 4. Arriving at the airport at 945am we found long lines outside to do bag checks with Southwest and a long line inside as well. We chose inside to avoid the outside heat. Though the line was long it moved along and in 20 minutes we were at the ticket counter. After the ticket counter we moved to the security line with another short wait as we were designated TSA PRE SCREENED. Once inside the secure area we tracked down something to eat. All options were very busy by this time, 11am, and there were generally lines at the four or five choices. Was hard to find a table to sit at, all being occupied so we shared. Gates were all packed, you were lucky to find a seat. When 10 or so cruise ships all unload on the same morning a person must expect the airport to be packed and it was. I give credit to the airline employees, airport employees and TSA for handling all of us as efficiently as they did, there is just so much that can be done with crowds of this size. For us I will try to avoid using the FLL airport for departing in the future on a Saturday or Sunday if at all possible. Perhaps West Palm Beach or Daytona Beach should be considered.
Overall a great experience that can be highly recommended. We have already pre-booked our next Celebrity cruise for August of 2014 to take advantage of the on board reduced deposit and OBC just as Royal provides. Thanks to the staff of the Celebrity Infinity for doing such a good job on our first cruise with you.