We arrived in Buenos Aires a day early in order to see a bit of the city and to try to recover from a series of flights (17 hours air time plus five more hours waiting in terminals). We stayed at a small boutique hotel called the Recoleta Guesthouse. We were well treated and the location was such that we could walk to several tourist sites. It is also reasonably close to a subway station if you are so inclined. The Recoleta people arranged for transportation to a tango show (glad we went but I don't care if I ever see another one - my wife probably disagrees!) and, the next day, for a cab to the terminal. And thus our cruise adventure began!
Embarkation: This was our first cruise on Celebrity and our 13th in total. We had always assumed that Celebrity was somewhat upscale from its sister line, Royal Caribbean, on which we had sailed five times and we looked forward to the experience and the destinations. Alas, our first impressions were not positive. The embarkation experience was terrible! After finally finding the correct place, our cabbie - who incidentally did NOT try to extort any extra money and seemed embarrassed by the confusion - dropped us off at the end of a long line in front of a warehouse. This line progressed slowly to a luggage drop-off area whereupon you returned outside to yet another line. Passengers eventually worked their way to various crowded service desks and, once again, reversed course, this time crossing a queue and walking through an opening in a large metal wall that divided the warehouse in two. And what was on the other side? A large empty room. So while people were standing in the rain getting soaked, there was a large, dry room available. (Actually, Celebrity does use this space as the post-cruise luggage pick up area.) Then, onto a bus for the kilometer long ride to the ship and yet another line and another soaking from the rain. Really, Celebrity. You are supposed to be experts in queue management but you've obviously forgotten at least two simple rules. Never have people walking in reverse directions in the same queue and, if at all possible, avoid queues crossing. Both are invitations to line jumping of which there were numerous examples.
The Infinity: When we first booked the cruise, I was curious as to what I might expect from a ship of that size (1950 passengers, 91,000 tons) and age (launched in 2001). As it happens we had sailed on the Brilliance of the Seas (2500 passengers, 90,000 tons with a 2002 launch date) and the Carnival Spirit (2670 passengers, 89,000 tons, also launched in 2001). With its size advantage and fewer passengers, one would expect better service and, for the most part, Celebrity delivered. The ship itself doesn't have the WOW factor of the Brilliance but it is comfortable and easy to get around. I understand that the Infinity has a major refurbishing scheduled and not a moment too soon - it is definitely showing its age. .
Our cabin (2015) was an interior and obviously low in the ship. My parsimonious nature paid a good return as our location offered a relatively smooth ride on some of the heaviest seas we had ever encountered. Cabin 2015 is slightly undersized relative to others but quite comfortable with the exception of the pillows which were very thin and hard. Attention Celebrity: steal some pillows from Holland America or, at least, their idea of offering a choice of pillow firmness. This does not have to wait for the refurbish - do it now. Consistent with the rest of the ship, our facilities were in need of attention, especially the shower. The toilet seat was so scratched as to invite speculation that it was stolen from an outhouse at a fishing camp in northern Quebec. We were unable to control the room's temperature but the eventual installation of a new water regulator solved this problem.
The Food The dining room and buffet offered excellent food both in terms of quality and variety. Of my 14 dinners in the dining room, only two were mediocre - a seafood medley that was overcooked and a sirloin steak that was trying to masquerade as filet mignon but was way too tough. My wife commented to our waiter (Cedric) about the relative shortage of vegetables on her main course. Within a few minutes, Cedric appeared with a plate filled with carrots, broccoli, and asparagus, all cooked to perfection. A similar plate appeared automatically every night - nice touch! Cedric and Abdul served us well.
Entertainment If you like music, this was the cruise for you. In addition to the house band, there were at least three other groups and two solo acts (piano and guitar) on board for the full voyage. Each was very good in their own way with my favorite being the Latin American group who played in the Constellation Lounge. In addition, guest performers included a classical violinist, a classical pianist, a singer, and a comedian who was very good but only put on one show. The ship's entertainment group was excellent in putting on four different programs plus a couple of short appearances. One other note, there were two guest speakers, a geologist and a naturalist, who gave numerous talks. Both were excellent and attracted large audiences.
The Itinerary This cruise was eventful. After leaving Buenos Aires, we sailed for the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately, we were told that fog and high seas would prevent the operation of tenders and that we would skip this stop. We were very disappointed as we had hoped to see this remote part of the world (but, I'll bet, not nearly so disappointed as the passenger who lugged an extra suitcase to drop off at the brother of a neighbor back home). So on to Elephant Island. Or not. More high seas and the decision was made to divert to Ushuaia several days earlier than expected. This decision touched off some very loud complaints and suddenly, security guards were evident throughout the ship - something we had never noticed on previous cruises. I befriended one guard and later asked if the rumor was true that a number of passengers had been kicked off the ship in Ushuaia. He smiled and said that Celebrity would never take such action but that several passengers had left for medical reasons and several others left due to "itinerary changes."
Fortunately the weather in Antarctica cleared up and we set sail (is that still an appropriate phrase?) to Paradise Bay and the Gerlache Strait. The six hours we sailed these waters were magical with enough ice bergs, whales, penguins, and seals to last a lifetime. I suppose our acquaintance with Antarctica is the equivalent of someone from Japan sailing around Alcatraz and saying that they had seen the United States but it was great nonetheless.
Off to Puerto Madryn and the penguin rookery. Due to a warning of poor road conditions and fearing a breakdown of local transportation, we decided to play it safe and go with the ship's tour. One advantage of taking a tour rather than hiring a cab is the knowledge obtained from the tour guide. In our case, we had a young school teacher who did a great job. BTW, the roads were actually pretty good.. Oh - and we did see magellanic penguins. Thousands of them. Puerto Madryn is clearly not set up for tour ships - the local retailers were closed from one o'clock until three or so and there was not a single Diamonds International in sight :-) The countryside is a near desert with plastic bags and other bits of garbage stuck on every bush.
So sailing north along the coast of Argentina should put us out of the rough weather, right? Nope. In our path was a strong low pressure system that gave us our highest waves yet despite the fact that the ship diverted from its intended route. Of course, a late evening dessert buffet was scheduled and was highlighted by staff hanging on to the ice sculptures for dear life. I actually felt some sympathy for Celebrity. Many passengers were most unreasonable in their complaints as if Celebrity somehow controlled the weather. The various diversions and the heavy use of the ship's stabilizers undoubtedly ran up their fuel bill substantially. And they certainly didn't make much on their casino operations. The total slot payout for the entire14 days was under $100,000. Our cruise on the Liberty (with twice as many passengers but only 7 days long) totaled $1.4 million. Perhaps that is why there were no refunds or 'make-ups' for missed ports, something we did experience on previous cruises.
Montevideo at last. We walked around, visited several "leather factories" and a large facility with perhaps a dozen barbeque restaurants. Real tourist stuff in what seems like an interesting city.
Other Kudos: - I suspect the staff has a "six foot rule" as anyone associated with the ship - entertainers, officers, crew - greeted you warmly regardless of where you encountered them. - the staff in the photography shop were most helpful. They would show you how to use your camera, charge batteries, etc. They also produced a great cruise DVD that focused on scenery rather than belly flopping contests. They were rewarded for their efforts by selling close to 600 copies, an all time high for the Infinity. Other Quibbles: - a complaint that I think I have had on every cruise is that the main lounge, the Constellation on the Infinity, is not smoke free. On several occasions, we tried to spend some time in the lounge but were forced to retreat. This was also the venue where they held the ballroom dance classes for some reason (BTW, Katie and Craig from the dance troupe did a great job as teachers) leading to some new dance moves as you tried to wave away the smoke. The spittoons are gone, so why not the ash trays? - the ship's art collection is abysmal (don't bother going to the garage sale!) - the TV in our cabin was so old that I think it ran on kerosene. No big deal as we didn't watch it much anyway but it did seem out of place. - the clocks on the promenade deck were operating but always at the wrong time. If you can't keep a clock running properly .....
Some Tips for New Cruisers. Cruise Fact #1: you will never see these people again. Cruise Fact #2: you paid good money for this cruise, you deserve a good return.
Let's start with deck chairs. Not all deck chairs are created equal. Here are some tips to ensure that you get your fair share of the premium locations. Go to the library and grab a book at random. Any book will do. Do NOT sign out the book because if you do they will expect you to return it. As early as you are able, go to the pool area and spread a towel or two on the desired deck chairs. Open the book and lay it on the chair. A rumpled t-shirt is also a nice touch. Now, go to the buffet and commandeer a prime table. Have a leisurely breakfast - at least two hours. Ignore those people walking around with trays looking for a place to sit. Remember the two cruise facts - and besides, it is not your fault that the ship designers undersized the restaurant. After breakfast, wander down to the shops and see what is going on sale today. Then spend some time looking for your pics in the photo gallery. Are you now ready for a swim? Your deck chair is waiting for you - unless some rude person has moved your stuff.
Experienced cruisers can also be spotted in the theatre shows. These events offer a great time to catch up on your text messages. This will annoy other guests but don't worry about it - read the cruise facts again. Oh. You can ignore the cruise director's suggestion that you do not use flash photography. Flash away! They never kick anybody out of the theatre. If someone actually does say something, well, just shrug and pretend you don't speak English. Love these international cruises.
If you enjoyed these tips, buy my book (and I hope you know I am joking).