This is a long review but we wanted to share everything we wanted to know while planning for this trip of a lifetime.
We arrived in BA a day early to remove all stress from any delayed flight scenarios. We used Defrantur (firstname.lastname@example.org) for transportation (to/from airport and to/from cruise terminal, one night hotel and day room for Feb 13). They recommended the Gran Hotel Buenos Aires ($80 of the total $280 cost). It is about a block from the Marriott and Howard Johnsons where many Cruise Critic folks stayed. The Gran is a local hotel and we were pleased with the seventh floor room. Frederico at the Front desk speaks excellent English and was very helpful with bags, information and advice. It was quiet, great shower, comfortable bed (but flat pillows). I had read some reviews about slow elevators but we had no problem at all and gladly recommend the property and Defrantur. We returned there for a day room ($60 U.S. included in the above rate.)Transportation was comfortable and efficient and less expensive than other services. When we came back for the day room the AC did not work but they quickly sent up a maintenance person and then moved us when he couldn't fix it promptly. The outlet adapter needed are the two angled prongs / \. The desk let us use one for a deposit.
We paid 200 pesos (about $50 US) for the open-top tourist bus. It can be a hop-on hop-off but it is too unreliable to use it that way. There are three routes that do NOT follow the schedule in the brochure. The noon "green route" bus was an hour late and the ear pieces for multiple languages did not work. So a "guide" in broken English told about each of the sites and stops. It lasted about 90 minutes and we enjoyed it anyway. There was a brief stop at the Recoleta cemetery. We bought a beautiful national-themed nativity at one of the stalls in front of the church for 48 pesos. The red route also was late but the ear phones worked and the two hour tour showed all of the locations we wanted to see. It included a brief stop in Caminito district to walk around and look in the shops. Probably better to use the Defrantur day tour for a little more money.
Embarkation on Jan 30, 2011 on the Celebrity Infinity was easy and organized. The new terminal (opened 2011) at Buenos Aires is consistent with any large airport. Covered areas for the baggage and a large waiting room with plenty of seating replace the horror stories of 2010 waiting in long lines in the rain. When you first enter, you give the checked bags to a porter. (One porter stands by a box repeating loudly, "tips go here"). Then you are directed to step 2 where you complete the health form and are given your group number to embark. We arrived at the port about 1:15, were given group 7, and were on the ship by 2. After check in they take your passport to complete immigration for the Falklands. We got it back mid cruise. You still board a bus at the terminal which takes you to the ship. The bag was at the stateroom door (7120) by the time we finished an excellent Buffet lunch on deck 10.
Room 7120 is a very good room mid-ship on the starboard side. The balcony is well covered by the larger balconies of the Concierge level rooms above it. (Good for rain, bad if you want more sun). The metal wall forward provides additional privacy. The aft balcony wall is opaque glass. There were two chairs and a small table. We are very grateful Celebrity does not allow smoking on balconies. The room is very well designed with adequate closet space and storage for two. Beds, two bed stands, small couch, coffee table, desk and chair, small fridge (our stateroom attendant let us take out their items so we could put the cokes in we brought on), TV, two lamps, ice bucket and four glasses. We were comfortable with two people and rarely had to do the shuffle to allow movement. It would be crowded but functional if the suspended bunk is lowered from the ceiling or the single couch bed unfolded. There are electrical outlets above the desk and one in the bathroom (good for a night light), so an extension cord or outlet strip is handy for phones, computers or other electrical devices. (The two outlets behind the bed are used for the lamps). There is a safe in the closet. (It remembers whatever code you entered each time, not the one you intended to enter, so be careful) :) The bathroom seems larger than Princess or Royal Caribbean ships we have used. Amenities include soap, q-tip/cotton balls, small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion (preferred by us to the dispensers on other ships). There is a clothesline at the top of the shower. (Celebrity when you refurbish, it would be good to weight the shower curtains or add a convex curtain rod to prevent the curtain from crowding the shower.) The pillows and bed were comfortable. It will be interesting to see how they make a very good room even better with upcoming refurbishing of the ship. Our efficient stateroom attendant kept the room meticulously clean with morning cleaning and evening turn down service (with chocolate). Our only concern would be the AC service seemed inadequate on the hottest days of the cruise.
Internet packages on board are expensive. There is a reduced price for purchasing it the first day. The ship had pretty good wireless speed for email even in the heart of the Antarctic. I didn't attempt anything else online. There were several hours when the Internet and some TV satellite was not available.
Dinner in the Trellis restaurant is very slow but a treat. They said on the interesting galley tour that they cook the order when it is received and everything is made from scratch. Slower, but you can tell the quality. Our waiter, Sunjay from Mauritias, and his assistant, Roberto from Dominican Republic, were excellent. The left side of the menu remains the same every day including a Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, the option to get extra vegetables (green beans, peas, broccoli) steak, chicken breast, salmon, and apple pie, CrÃ¨me Brulee, ice creams and sorbet. The right hand had a good variety of appetizers, starters and entrees. A separate dessert menu lists those temptations. Each meal was well presented and our table of six was very pleased with most of the entrees. Two commented the first night's fish was dry. Entrees enjoyed included NY strip, Prime Rib, Turkey on Penne pasta, Seafood Alfredo, Prime Rib, Beef short ribs, Duck la Orange, Churrasco, linguini, and a lot of other great entrees.
The two brunch buffets (sea days) in the Trellis are crowded but great. Don't miss the one day crew-hosted pool side picnic buffet too. We had a superbowl viewing in the theater with hotdogs, cookies and other snacks. Formal nights included mainly tuxes and suits, a few sport coats and sweaters with a tie.
The trip through Patrick Watts email@example.com to the penguin rookery on Falkland Islands was an adventure. I went to the Rendevouz lounge at 6:30 a.m. to get the ticket for the first tender. Ride over took about 25 minutes. Cool, rainy day. Three hours off road in 4x4 vehicles to see about 3000 King, Gentoo, and Magellinic penguins. They were cute, funny and curious about us. We saw chicks too. It was pretty fun going up and down steep inclines, through creeks, and around ponds. I expected it to be more civilized. Port Stanley is quite British. The land looked like the area around Tintagel Castle. There are more penguins than residents. The only disappointment, we were on first tender but still had to wait until Patrick got the last tender folks taken care of. So we had a very short time in Port Stanley.
We like Celebrity better than Princess or RC. Food is hands down better. Service is better too. Lots more storage space in the room. We were pleased to have Fox news to keep up with news.
According to our lecturer, we crossed into Antarctic at 10 a.m. on Feb 3. The waves in the Drake Channel are not as rough as is usual in the area. It is difficult to walk in a straight line and they made an announcement to use handrails and women not to wear high heels. Winds are about 20 mph and temp is about 50. I stayed on the balcony wrapped in wool blankets provided by our steward, Darkham from Indonesia. There was a beautiful clear sunset.
We were at Elephant Island well before 7 a.m. We saw Shackleton's first and second camps, penguins, whales and a variety of birds. Our Starboard balcony was perfect. If you are on Port (mnemonic device, port has the same number of letters as left) go to constellation lounge on deck 11 EARLY or go on deck.
After Elephant Island are the S Shetland Islands, also on Starboard. Great icebergs, glaciers and wildlife. Then into Bransfield straight and into Gerlache straight the next morning. Starboard still great views.
For the rest of my life I will remember the beauty and majesty of what we experienced in the Antarctic. We had an incredibly beautiful day cruising from South Shetland Islands to Paradise Bay. The weather was crystal clear with blue skies. The sun was greeted at 4:30 a.m. with snow capped mountains as we sailed south looking at the continent and surrounding islands. There were large and small icebergs, and I counted more than 20 crab eater seals (According to our lecturer, Crabe is another name for Krill so these do not eat crab). We saw a small pod of whales and saw them blow several times. I was able to stay on the balcony glued to the binoculars for a couple of hours at a time before hypothermia set in. We had great views from inside the stateroom too. It is so incredible to listen to the ice strike each other, the waves wash against the bergs, feel the spray and smell the air. Starboard still the best place to observe the Gerlache straight and Paradise Bay. As we departed we went through an ice flow for twenty minutes or so. It was the remains of a great sheet of sea ice that was melting. It had large and tiny icebergs and was fascinating to sail through. The Captain went very slowly and used the bow thrusters to help push away the light ice. It began to snow as we left the Antarctic and sailed north into fog. We came within 90 miles of the Antarctic Circle and 600 miles of the South Pole. Not sure why they couldn't plan to take us across the circle.
The following day allowed the Drake Passage to introduce us to 70 mph winds and waves to 17 ft. We took our Bonine (like Dramamine but doesn't make you sleepy, get it at Walmart) and enjoyed the adventure.
Ushuaia is beautiful. It is very reminiscent of Juno, or even Anchorage, AK. It is only a five minute walk into town. This is the port to get your souvenirs with Antarctica on them. There are several large shops that say "Antarctic Souvenirs." We enjoyed the one hour double deck tour bus for $10 U.S. per person. You catch it on the main road, San Martin and includes a ride out to the little airport across from where the ship docks. You can get great pictures of the city, and the ship, with the mountains in the background.. There are several great chocolate shops with hot chocolate. The fin del mundo (end of the world) sign is to the right passed the small kiosks as you exit the docks. There is a nice craft market to the left as you exit. Plenty to do in town for the time you are here if you choose not to take an excursion. The folks who took the catamaran tours were very pleased
The following day to Cape Horne was memorable. The Port side balconies have the best seats this time. Head for the Oceanview restaurant or out doors on decks 11 or 4. The Constellation room on Deck 11 is crowded and the windows fog.( It would be better if Celebrity suspended smoking rights in there on days when it is packed with non-smokers.) Even though it's cold outside, the view and pictures are worth it. We enjoyed the lecturers on Antarctica and the commentary as we cruised.
Puerto Madryn is a pretty seaside town with free wifi along the road near the visitor's center. The ship provides a free shuttle out of the industrial area where we docked. We were let out near the visitors center. Just behind the visitors center is a small shopping mall. A few blocks up the street into town was a market in the plaza. We took the free shuttle out to the Ecocenter. We enjoyed the 15 minute ride along the beach and enjoyed the information about the whales and birds and enjoyed the view from the balcony and tower. Watch your hat getting on and off the ship. Several hats were donated to the local seal population by not catching them fast enough. Dinner mates enjoyed their penguin tours. I think Punta Arenas in Chile is the better option for the itinerary though.
The Montevideo dock has a shuttle from the industrial pier if you don't dock right at the entrance to the city. Groups of local young folks greet the ship with a free map and advice. The port lecturers give you good information. We enjoyed walking to independence square, looking in shops, getting online and visiting a local grocery store. The port market is work a quick visit. There were three other ships there with us so the streets and stalls were thick with tourists.
We got back to BA about 3 a.m. for the scheduled 5 a.m. docking time. The first folks off the ship began about 7:15. We carried our bags off. Defrantur was an hour late but apologized. We were glad to have the day room so we could have a leisurely day in the city, take a nap, and get a shower before heading to the airport. FYI, you cannot carry on your walkie talkies in EZE airport. Put them in your checked luggage.
The Infinity is a great ship and this was a great cruise. The only complaint is the lack of a self-serve coin laundry on board like Princess provides. We like that the buffets are served instead of allowing grimy hands handle the serving utensils. We like that they greet you at each restaurant with a squirt of hand sanitizer. We liked the classical strings and acapella groups. We are elated they prohibit smoking on balconies and pleased they limit smoking to the port side, but they need to continue to limit indoor smoking as second hand smoke data is now indisputable.
Don't forget binoculars, sunscreen, sun glasses, hat, Bonine, a clock for the room, extension cord/outlet strip, hand and feet warmers, painters shoe covers for penguin excursions, some newspaper so you can kneel down, a map of the peninsula area, (the one on the ship was great but sold out fast. Try www.antarcticonnection.com before you go.) Do not hesitate to take this Itinerary or this ship.