Review of Infinity's South American Cruise January 17 - 31, 2005 -- Valparaiso to Buenos Aires -- Cabin 8139 -- 1900 passengers (1970 is capacity) by Ken Montgomery firstname.lastname@example.org
Overall Rating: Outstanding ship and crew, great food, great scenery, weather was mostly cold.
Preparation: Thing to bring that you might not think of:
Color copies of you passports -- they take your passport at check-in and give you some crummy black and white copies of your passport 3 days later. If you get delayed and miss the ship leaving port, you are screwed without some good identification. Your driver's license and a good copy of your passport might get you on a flight to the next port where you can re-board the ship.
Trail Mix -- you'll need it on excursions when lunch is served 6 hours after you had breakfast on the ship. Mix walnuts, almonds, dried fruit like cranberries, raisins, sunflower seeds and other stuff you like, stay away from chocolate that might melt and make your hands messy.
Water bottles -- a couple of leak- proof plastic water bottles that you can use on the plane and on shore excursions, it's there when you need it and you know the source of the water.
Power strip if you bring a laptop or small music system like an Ipod with external speakers -- we played the system every day while we were dressing or getting ready for bed, there is nothing like having your own music. The power strip was handy and many of the plugs on these chargers are quite large, so the power strip is needed.
Wire Hangers -- the closets on Infinity have ample room for 2 people's clothes for 2 weeks, but not enough hangers. There are fold down hangers allowing you to make a lower rack of hanging short clothes. I've seen people recommend bringing plastic hangers, but they are bulkier and you will likely take them home with you at the end of the trip, where as the wire hangers will be left behind.
Workout clothes -- great gym, free, you want to look like you belong in a gym. Gym gloves help with some of the equipment and the free weights. I brought a 32 oz water bottle for cold water while working out. This bottle was also used to store many little items in the suitcase.
Small clothespins -- wash and hang workout clothes rather than on the clothesline provided in the shower, the clothespins allow the clothes to get twice as much air as just hanging the shirts over the line.
Parka with hood, knit hat and gloves, you'll need them for several of the excursions and for going out onto the deck early and late in the day when the temp is in 30's and 40's and the wind is 25 to 40 mph.
Meds: If I had another chance I would have packed some Imodium and some Pepto-Bismol -- more on that later.
Packing Bags -- we packed our parkas and sweaters in these bags that you can squeeze the air out of, saved a huge amount of luggage space.
Don't Bother Bringing:
Umbrella -- the wind is generally so strong that the umbrella is useless; a raincoat with a rainhood is your best bet. I found one day to use it, and even then a raincoat would have worked better.
Lots of walking shorts -- the ship doesn't want you wearing them except in the gym and the ship cautions tourists not to bear their knees or shoulders if you going to public places like cathedrals. Bring one pair of walking shorts for a shore excursion where you won't be out of place and a couple pairs of shorts for the gym and pool.
Duct tape and bungee cords -- several cruise reviews mentioned that these were great things to bring, but we never used them.
Foreign Money -- virtually everyone takes the American dollar.
Shoes -- (for men) they take up so much space, here's what you really need:
One pair of casual shoes that can be used for walking shoes on shore excursions, in the gym and at casual dinners -- a good looking pairs of tennis shoes will do, or a nice pair of walking shoes, Sketchers makes some great slip-ons that fill these requirements
One pair of dressy black shiny shoes for informal and formal nights.
One pair of sandals for the pool deck.
Tipping -- If you agree to tip the standard amount, you can just have the ship charge that amount to your credit card that you registered when you boarded. This way you get the airline miles and you don't have to try to get change that is close to the recommended tip amounts and you have to bring all that extra cash. The service was so good that I gave each of the persons an additional amount.
Maps -- It's nice to have good maps of South America before you leave home, especially of the fjords. Try getting them at home (from the auto club or on-line). Good maps in English were very hard to find, and they were usually encased in plastic so you couldn't see if the map met your needs. In Buenos Aires, there is a good downtown map free at the Port Terminal building, which is where you catch cabs to go into town. The Port Terminal Building in Valpo had some good maps and photo CDs, but we thought we would have similar shopping opportunities wherever we went (wrong), buy them in Valpo.
Tuxedo Rental -- I arranged to rent a tux jacket and shoes from the company that works with Celebrity. This worked great, it saved me from having a wrinkled tux jacket to deal with. The shoes were a little wide, I should have brought thicker black socks and that would have solved that fitting problem. I brought my own tux pants, shirts and cummerbunds. There are 3 formal nights. Many men wore dark suits instead.
Embarkation: All passengers that we talked to were told a few days before departure that no one could board until 3:00 p.m. Since we arrived in Valpo at 9:30 a.m., we really tried to figure out how to spend our day productively. Celebrity opened the check in lines at 11:15 a.m.; the check in process took about 10 minutes. We received our ship credit card, seat assignment card for the dining room and surrendered our passport. Bring a photocopy of your passport in case you need some ID during your shore excursions and sometimes to get back on the ship. We were then put on a bus and were transported to the ship, which was at the other end of the harbor. We walked right up the gangway and presented our cards, they took our security pictures and that was it. We were on the ship at 11:30. No bands were playing, but they were passing out Mimosas, champagne and juice. A buffet lunch was served from noon on Level 10.
First Day To Do's -- The computer team offers 4 free one-hour hands on classes. Sign up as soon as you get on board; they are gone by the end of the first day. We took the class on downloading and managing digital pictures in XP. The class was very good. The free class on Windows and e-mailing was worth what you paid, so many true beginners in the room that anyone who regularly uses e-mail and was looking for some tips got no useful info.
Shows: Celebrity ships keep the same production shows for 3 to 4 years, the cast changes every 6 months. The shows between the production shows vary depending on who is available. So if you take 2 cruises on the same ship within a 4-year period, you may see the same shows, but they are outstanding so seeing them again wouldn't be a problem.
Show Reviews: 1st Night -- Preview show, too zonked from the long trip to appreciate all the performers. 2nd Night -- First Formal Night -- Broadway Spectacular -- Awesome Show -- Don't miss it! The Cast of Infinity put on a great show with segments of 6 great Broadway shows -- 42nd St, West Side Story, Grease, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misables and Chorus Line -- all in 60 minutes, with different sets and costumes. The show was so good, we went to both performances. The early seating seemed to have more people and the early show was packed. The second show was only about 60% occupied. 3rd Night -- Magic show by Gossamer magic, very good, sit up close if you can. 4th Night -- Violinist Hanna Starosta -- high energy up beat show featuring classical and popular music -- good show -- worth an hour of your time. She also did a daytime show later in the trip. 5th Night -- The second production show, "Lets Rock" fun show, wouldn't buy a CD of the music, great energy, costumes and dancing. Didn't recognize some of the numbers (from my era too!). 6th Night -- The "Dynamic Voice of Helen Jayne" it didn't work for Judy, or me but I'm sure many people enjoyed it. 7th Night -- Some guy playing some weird instrument, another bust of a program, good thing the NFL Championship games were on TV. 8th Night -- Production show by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers -- great show. The piano bar in Michael's Club was also excellent entertainment. 9th Night Comedian/Singer Joe Mulligan, who just flew into Ushuaia two days earlier, was very funny 10th night -- Variety Show with an aerial artist and the Pampas Devils -- great show. 11th night -- Another variety show, not great, some good stuff, worth an appearance, set the clocks one hour forward tonight, surprised me! 12th Night -- last production show, very good, saw it twice, stayed up for the grand midnight buffet, big show 13th night -- Argentina male singer, Daniel Buchette, best singer of the entire trip was the whole show. Set the clocks back one hour to be on Buenos Aires time. 14th night -- review show and 3 acts, then the cruise director showed a videotape that the photo crew put together, $24.95, it was mostly pictures of your fellow passengers in action. (Pass).
Healthy Dining -- The main restaurant, Trellis (Deck 4), has one menu item in each category that they consider to be relatively healthy. The Oceanview Cafe, Deck 10, is where many people have breakfast and lunch, buffet style. They do make Eggbeater omelets, the eggs to order station is way in the back of the restaurant and most people miss it the first day or two and just take the scrambled eggs in the main section of the buffet. They also have some great oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. For lunch you can find healthy items in their buffet. The best bet for a healthy lunch or breakfast or snack until 8:00 p.m. is the Aqua Spa Cafe, also on Deck 10 (forward). Seating is around the enclosed deck swimming pool and spas. Service is self serve buffet style. The food is fantastic and very healthy. Overall Food Quality -- No matter where you ate the food was wonderful, never had anything that wasn't at least good. Most of the time the food was very good to excellent. The lobster was disappointing (from the Caribbean).
Wine with Dinner -- Rather than ordering wine by the glass, where your choices are much more limited than if you buy bottles, you can ask your wine steward to save the rest of the bottle for the next night, which they will gladly do.
Aqua Spa Health Club -- First class facility! No charge to use the workout facilities, which are excellent. They do charge $10 for certain classes like Yoga and Pilates. Yoga is really hard to do on a rolling ship, so skip that one. Pilates was excellent and is a good way to try out this way of working on your core. The weight machines are Nautilus and they have very tricky devices to adjust the seats. Look for a bicycle brake like handle, squeeze it and adjust the seat. Worked out there once at 9:30 p.m., and saw most of the singers and dancers that had the night off. When the weather is decent, deck 11 has a running/walking track where you can get your cardio, and the breeze will keep you cool.
On Board Sicknesses -- There is no way to know how many people got sick on the cruise, toward the end of the cruise I got hit with diarrhea and nausea. Same thing happened to a friend of ours. We heard about many passengers being confined to their cabins while they were fighting whatever virus they picked up. If you go to the infirmary and they think you could be a risk to your fellow passengers, Infinity quarantines the sick person to their cabin for 3 days and their travel mate for 24 hours. The ship's crew was constantly disinfecting everything that people touch, but still get sick.
Cabins -- We had 4 suitcases full of stuff and the cabin absorbed it all, lots of places to store stuff. The brochure says there is a refrigerator, but it is the typical overpriced MiniBar, with very little room for your stuff. It also mentions a VCR in the room, ours didn't have one, Videotapes are too bulky to carry and there was no place on the ship to check out tapes, so I guess the brochure is out of date on that item. The beds were very firm, which we liked. Our dinner tablemates didn't like the hard mattress and their cabin steward put a foam pad on the top of their mattress and they slept great after that. You could get CNN International and ESPN International via satellite, which worked about 60% of the time. They had music channels and internal shows as well. We had a balcony, which was wonderful. The cabin stewards were great, they serviced the room 3 times per day. We tipped them above the recommended amounts.
Shore Excursions -- 1) Puerto Montt -- The port was cold cloudy and windy as hundreds of people waited for one of 10 excursions that Infinity offered. There is very little to see in the city. The city that was devastated in a 1960 earthquake of 8.4, and now looks like Tijuana without paint, but does serve as the launching point for tours of lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped volcanoes and a river rafting trip of the Petrohue River, which we took along with 33 other rafters. The ship had to tender passengers in. The harbor was very rough, which slowed the tendering process down and everyone was 60 to 90 minutes late for their tours, which screwed up the whole day. The ship was due to leave at 6:00 p.m., but most of the tours didn't return to the tendering dock until 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., the ship didn't leave until about 7:30 p.m. Many early seating diners were late for dinner. We got into the Trellis Restaurant around 6:45, and still finished dinner by 8:15. The waiter was pushing us to make sure we didn't delay the late seating folks, which was understandable.
The rafting trip was awesome, except for the "horseflies" which were all over you on the river. These flies were like cigarette butts flying around, when you swatted them, you knew you hit something. A few people got bit, with no ill effects, but what a nuisance for the guides that run that river. There were no other boats on the river that day.
The river was Class 3 rapids this day, and the rapids were one after the other. The water was so clear it was blue and you could see the bottom. The scenery was unbelievable, you could see snow capped volcanoes continuously, the best I've ever seen on a rafting trip. The rafting company served a lunch with wine at about 3:30. Most people hadn't eaten since breakfast unless they had brought a snack along. The ship forbids you from taking fruit on or off the ship, so you'll need to preplan your shore excursion snacking program. We made up a trail mix package at home and split it into several Ziplock bags for these trips and the flights. This was one of my better moves.
Most experienced cruisers love to shop. It's what we do. There is nothing to buy in this city, two crummy little shops on the shore near the tender pier and most people came away from these stores empty handed wondering, "How am I going to spend these Chilean Pesos that I got at the airport?" The South Americans have not geared up to take advantage of the cruise ships that are calling on their cities.
Others that took shore excursions to Puerto Montt generally rated their experiences in the 5 to 7 range (10 scale); everyone got a dose of the horseflies.
2) Punta Arenas -- Another port where tenders were used, the water was calmer than Puerto Montt, so the tenders were not backed up. The weather was cold and windy and cloudy. We booked the Infinity shore excursion PA-4 Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve. From the tender port, we took a bus to another part of the harbor to pick up a ferryboat that would take us on a 2-hour boat ride to Magdalena Island. The tour is advertised with a "box lunch," which we received upon boarding the boat at 8:30 a.m. Pack your own food! Lunch was a large chocolate bar and a sandwich in a plastic box, with 6 layers of white bread with butter in between the bread. I didn't see anyone eating it.
They packed us in the boat for a cold somewhat noisy 2-hour ride out to the island. Bring a book to read. We braved the cold and stood on the outside of the boat and saw some dolphins. We arrived at the island around 10:30 a.m., and we were all standing in the well of the ferry where the cars would normally be parked, so we couldn't see out the sides or the end of the boat. They lowered the loading ramp so we could walk onto the beach, as they lowered the ramp, we could hundreds of Magdalena Penguins looking at us, it was breathtaking! We had 90 minutes to walk around the island; the penguins were everywhere, so cute. There were about 70,000 penguins on this island. Each penguin family had a little burrowed out home, where they raised their chicks which were full size within 2 months of birth, but still had some fur and couldn't hunt for themselves yet. The penguins would leave and go north in April and return in October to lay eggs and raise their new chicks.
The wind was really strong, about 50 mph, and it was cold, so wear your parka with the hood up and tied down to keep the wind off your head, bring a knitted cap. Don't bother with binoculars, as you are so close to the action, there is no need.
Got back to the tender dock at 3:30. There were 3 or 4 little shops that had stuff for tourists and we gobbled them up. Most of the shops in the downtown area close on Saturday afternoon. People who went there in the morning enjoyed some shopping.
3) Ushuaia, Argentina -- Infinity docked at the pier, so much easier on and off, very cold and windy, observed 5 glaciers on the way into the port this morning, all on the left side, spectacular port views with volcanic mountains in the background. We took Infinity tour US5, the Penguin Rookery Navigation. We boarded a very nice catamaran with comfy seats. The boat took us to several islands to see birds, seals and then about 2000 Magellan Penguins in the Beagle Channel. The brochure says, " a complimentary snack will be served onboard the catamaran," that never happened. You could purchase food and beverage on the boat. Good old trail mix came through again. We left at 10:45 a.m. and returned at 3:00 p.m. Plenty of places to shop in Ushuaia, even though it was Sunday afternoon, high quality stuff along with the usual tourist stuff. Downtown is one block from the pier. Standing on the deck taking pictures was so cold, bring gloves that you operate a camera with, wear parkas and knit hats. You probably could have this tour on your own, there were several catamarans waiting along the pier that were doing tours, no doubt cheaper. Binos were useful on this trip. Reading material good to have for the long boat rides, 2 hours each way. You can only look at the same scenery for so long.
4) Port Stanley, Falkland Islands -- cold and windy, some sun, not as cold as the previous 2 stops, we did the City Highlights tour, which lasted 2 hours, not much to see in Port Stanley, not much to buy either. The tendering process was 30 minutes each way. The hot tip was tour FK-4, Sparrow Cove Penguin Adventure. A launch picked up 20 people right from the ship (no tender to mess with), and took them to Sparrow Cove, where they boarded 4 wheel drive vehicles for a 30 minute ride over rough road. Then they had an hour with the penguins and then the 4-wheel ride back. The 3:15 tour got the pax back to the ship at 5:50. Sign up early for this trip; it did have 6 times to choose from.
5) Puerto Madryn, Arg -- All the shore excursions involved long bus rides, so we passed on the excursions and did the walking the town routine. The dock was too far away from town to walk, so shuttle buses were provided for those not taking the shore excursions -- about a 30 minute wait in line for the shuttle buses, which were slow and broke down frequently. We had great weather (70's & sunny) and walked along the beachfront. Weird little city, shopping was not much, 3 cruise ships were in harbor, if they knew what to sell they could have sold um, but they had the typical leather stuff and heavy clothes. There were over 5,000 tourists in town and no one in Puerto Madryn figured out what these tourists wanted to buy. Lots of Internet cafes for $0.70/hour vs. $0.70/minute on the ship. At that rate you could even read your hometown papers.
6) Montevideo, Uruguay -- Did the 3-hour city highlight tour. Big city, 1.2 million, not well maintained, some nice neighborhoods, beautiful national legislative building. Not many shopping opportunities. Weather was in the high 80's with corresponding humidity. Okay to wear shorts, you wouldn't be able to go into the Cathedral, but it wasn't on our tour this day.
7) Buenos Aires -- Last two days of the cruise were spent in Argentina's capitol, with rainy cool weather, the days before we arrived we in the low 90's and humid. We took the Tiger River Delta tour, which included a one-hour boat ride. Tour would have been great if not for the on again, off again rain, the windows on the bus kept steaming up, so it was hard to see. Since it was Sunday, most shops were closed. The shops at the port terminal building were very nice. Our dining companions did the 6-hour gaucho trip and loved it, had a great meal and some great wines and watched some Argentine cowboy action and even some Argentine dancing.
Security Note -- Colonel Reid, who gave the shore and cultural talks, told us about a scam that was happening in Buenos Aires. Tourists would be standing in a public place under a tree and somehow would get paint on their clothes from the trees. A young couple of locals would rush up to them to help clean them up and with 5 seconds would go through all your pockets looking for cash. This exact scene happened to an older couple who had missed that talk and the thieves got away with about $70 in cash that was in the man's front pockets. Fortunately they were not hurt. Do not carry loose cash in your pockets!!!
Debarkation -- We bought the Buenos Aires Highlights tour, which included a transfer to the airport. Unfortunately, the weather was even worse than the day before, with a very windy & cold rain, that made umbrellas a joke. We should have brought raincoats. Since all your bags have to be outside your room by 10:00 p.m. (or so), the night before and the fact that you were only supposed to bring one piece of carry-on luggage on the bus, we had to pack light and the rain gear didn't make it. The wind was gusting to 50 mph or so. Just after we left the ship, the 2 gangways that Infinity was using got twisted up in the rain and rendered useless and the people that hadn't left the ship yet were stuck for 90 to 120 minutes while the Infinity crew scrambled to get a new gangway lowered from deck 11 in the wind. A van collected the people who were supposed to be on our tour and they caught up to us just before lunch, which was the last stop before the airport. Checking in at the airport was fast and easy.
Days at Sea Tuesday -- first week -- nothing to see from the ship, weather is cold on the ship, good day to use the gym and really learn about the ship. First formal night. Thursday -- first week -- drizzly, cold nothing to see until about 4 p.m., when we entered a channel, view was good from both sides, sun came out about 7:30 p.m., which really enhanced the view, still cold and windy on deck. The Constellation Lounge, Deck 11 all the way forward was popular. Dress is informal, which means coat and tie for men, but many guys came casual. Total darkness happened around 10:15. Friday -- first week -- entered a fjord and had a great view of the Skua Glacier, especially from the left (port) side, the people with starboard cabins had to go on deck to watch this glacier. It was cold and sometimes wet on deck. We spent about 2 hours checking out this glacier and then left for Punta Arenas. Dinner was casual dress, and the late night entertainment was a '60s sockhop. Monday -- second week -- after we rounded Cape Horn at 7 a.m., it was cold and windy but the seas were only in the 5 to 10' range. We stayed in sight of islands for several more hours before reaching the open Atlantic. So many things to do on the ship! Tonight was the second formal night. Wednesday -- second week -- nothing to see -- we headed north, good weather, ship deck still cold because of ship-created wind, more people getting tans, many things to do on the ship, 3 lectures. Friday -- second week -- weather getting warm, high in the high 70's, Captain's Farewell party, last formal night, lobster was not that good, if I had second chance, I would have selected the salmon, Baked Alaska was nice. 3 lectures during the day, lots to do.
Left Side Cabins vs. Right Side -- Left side was better on the first Friday, for about 2 hours. First Sunday, on the way to Ushuaia, several glaciers on the left side zero on the right side. The ship passed these glaciers starting at 5:30 a.m.; we got up early and watched the show from our balcony. On Monday morning, we rounded Cape Horn with the right side facing the Cape. The Captain did a 360 around the Cape! The right side cabins scored big! In Buenos Aires, the right siders won out, their cabins faced the City, whereas the left siders overlooked this really ugly industrial setting. We thought left was going to be so great because it faced the land all the way around, but unless you are in islands, you are sailing too far from the land to see it. I would take right side if given a second chance.
NFL on board Infinity -- Starting at Sunday at 5 p.m., the ship broadcast both the NFC and the AFC Championship games live via satellite into all rooms and into the cinema. Thank you Infinity!!