Background Information: I have been a big fan of cruising since my first family voyage at age eight. For me the concept of being somewhere different every day but staying within the controlled environment of the ship is ideal. In the last few years I have been on Princess twice and Cunard twice, one of each on my own. I usually look for a balance of itinerary, ship, timing and price when choosing, but this time my heart was set on going around Cape Horn--and Celebrity made me a far better offer for a single rate than Princess or HAL. Thus, this review of my first cruise on X--around the horn on Infinity.
Travel to Port of Embarkation: With my last minute booking direct airfare from the U.S. to Buenos Aires was astronomical as I was embarking on a holiday weekend in Argentina. CruiseAir routed me through Lima at a far better price than I could find on my own. Even with changing planes after midnight both ways I preferred breaking up the long nights of travel anyway.
Stateroom: I had booked a guarantee inside cabin and was very pleased to end up assigned to a category 06 oceanview cabin. Now as a solo traveler I pretty much only use my cabin for the "four S's" so of course the furnishings, storage space, and bathroom & shower size were all more than adequate. The features of the interactive TV were nice, but the set was very slow to react after selecting either "menu" (for services) or "channel up/down" (to watch TV) which you must do every time you turn it on. And everyone crows about how Celebrity supplies a hand-held hair dryer, but it sure is easier to just hang it up on the wall after use than to find a clear space on the desk to set down a hot appliance--the scorch marks I left on the black notebook in my cabin attest to that.
Dining: Here's where the going gets grim. I chose Select Dining as second sitting was full when I booked. Prepay my tips? More than happy to; I've never reduced or removed them on any cruise. But does the fact that everyone on Select has prepaid tips reduce accountability among staff in that section of Trellis Dining Room? Plenty of evidence that it does. On the first formal night I waited thirty minutes for a table--remember I am just one person, more than willing to share every night--and all three formal nights waited more than ninety minutes after ordering to be served entrees, and did not leave the dining room until nearly 11:30. The final nail in the coffin was on the last formal night when the cruise director (everybody: HI STEVE!) picked up the mic to bring out the entire galley staff for the parade of Baked Alaska. Everyone downstairs in fixed seating was finished with dinner, but we upstairs in Select were still waiting for our entrees. And by the time we were served, finished and offered dessert, the Baked Alaska was finished as well! Waiters and head waiters all went beyond the call of duty to apologize--and of course remind us that any lapses were to be blamed on the kitchen and should not be reflected in the surveys we will be receiving in our staterooms. Oh, and back to the travails of the solo traveler in the MDR: I ate in Trellis ten of the 14 nights, and half of those I spent either at a table for eight all alone or at a table for two. Hostess was again quite apologetic as to "no one ever wanting to share that late in the evening"(I usually came to dinner around 8:45).
Breakfast in Trellis was actually better than in the MDR on other lines: prompt, accurate, and almost everything the proper temperature. Not so my one attempt at lunch: an exasperated waiter with obviously far too may tables kept bouncing around the table asking us randomly for our starters, main course and dessert. Needless to say we all spent the afternoon passing our plates around until something resembling what we ordered ended up in front of us. The nadir was "Elegant Tea" where they were prepared for maybe 100 people but nearly triple that showed up. One waiter walking around with tea cups, another with the box of tea bags, and a third with a woefully small pitcher of hot water. By the time all three had passed by in the proper order, sandwiches and pastries (identical to those on the buffet each afternoon) had run out. Now call me crazy, but I think when an event is titled "Elegant Tea" it should involve at least some of the following: live music, freshly brewed tea, and something other than the regular daily "afternoon snack" to eat. As mentioned, said afternoon snack is found daily at the buffet restaurant--along with the same pasta, curries, stir-fry, and sushi also found there every single day and night. Woe unto those looking for an alternative to the MDR not enamored of Asian or Italian food.
The saving grace turned out to be Bistro on Five. The presence of this low priced ($5 cover) alternative spot to the mad crush of the breakfast and lunch rush hours may actually sway me to return to Celebrity. (Well, probably not, but it's the closest thing I could come up with). Any combination of soups, salads, grilled sandwiches, crepes, and desserts on the menu will be promptly cooked fresh to order in an open kitchen. Please don't suggest that they remove the cover charge because the space is so underused: despite never seeing more than a half dozen people in there at any given time, they did run out of some ingredients for the dessert crepes!
Activities: Infinity listed four guest speakers onboard: three gentlemen who were quite well-spoken and knowledgeable about the history, geography, flora and fauna of Patagonia--and one huge ringer. Come on Celebrity, billing the "destination expert" whose job it is to shill for the shore excursion department as one of the enrichment program speakers is a no-class move.
As I am not enamored of trivia or gambling, I spent a bit of my free time relaxing in the covered therapy pool on deck 10. Even though I am used to ships that have said pool as an extra-charge amenity of the spa, my issue is not with the noisy masses that get to use it for free. The much bigger problem is that it now shares space with the AquaSpa Cafe--meaning you get shirtless guys in Speedos in the food line, and diners with plates of food and bottles of beer pulling up their chairs right to the edge of the pool. Not the environment anyone could be looking for in a posted "quiet--therapy area".
Service: Best described as robotic. All the effusive "Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening"s can wear on you over 14 days--especially with so many encounters ending with an abrupt apology for their not being able to satisfactorily complete the task at hand they were charged with. My cabin steward and his assistant faithfully made the bed and emptied the bins every morning and left a chocolate on my pillow every night. Other than replacing a damp bathmat with a fresh one it seemed my bathroom mostly went untouched--I doubt the toilet was scrubbed more than five or six times in two weeks, which we all know won't cut it with the vacuum system's penchant for odors. Obtaining bar service when dinner ended so late for me was a crapshoot--usually by 11:30 the bar waiters were too busy rearranging chairs to notice anyone coming in, and approaching the bartender directly always netted a frosty stare and a grunt when he or she realized that an ingredient for the drink you want to order had already been put away for the night.
Entertainment: Plenty of live music in various venues about the ship; pop/rock band, salsa band, and dance combo all were fine. The guest entertainers and production shows were all pleasant diversions, nothing more or less. It seems that a goal of the choreography was to have as many people on stage at once all doing different things; to me it served to distract from whoever was the featured singer or dancer of a particular number. I did appreciate the surprisingly skimpy costumes on the dancers, though. And yes I was well aware that almost every night was to feature a pre-dinner show for those who prefer to dine late. Rather than force myself to eat dinner earlier than I prefer, I went to the 7:00 show and then dinner without complaint, yet I must report that it only reinforced my preference for cruise lines that have a 10:30/11:00 show each evening.
Port and Shore Excursions: Oh dear. I will not go into whether I liked or disliked the excursions I chose, nor make an issue of the two I pre-reserved that were cancelled for reasons beyond anyone's control. I will however cite but a few of the examples of the total failure of the shore excursion staff onboard. Our arrival time in Montevideo was changed on boarding day from 8:00 to 10:00. Most of the excursions were scheduled to leave between 9:00 and 10:00, so tickets with revised times were delivered to the staterooms. Turns out whatever the ticket said was irrelevant as the decision was made to have everyone meet in the theater by 10:30 and dispatch them all at once. Didn't matter that the Uruguayan authorities suspended disembarkation for some reason right after the first few people were off--we were all ordered out of the lounge to queue up in the hallways where we were left standing for nearly 90 minutes before the gangway was reopened. In Ushuaia arrival was delayed by a freighter blocking our berth; at least we were allowed to sit in the show lounge until the gangway opened. In Punta Arenas there were two buses for my particular excursion; the second one was not called for more than half hour after the first--and when I arrived on shore the first bus was still waiting. Turns out both buses were held because not everyone ticketed had shown up. Why cite three seemingly coincidental petty occurrences? Because in all three cases, even though the tours left late, the ship was calling our guides and ordering them to have us back on the ship at the scheduled return time (well before all aboard) even though the tour departed late through no fault of the operator! Is it too much to ask to let us get our money's worth after all these delays in clearing the ship--which I now refuse to believe is actually a coincidence but due to mismanagement at the top; if it is too difficult to make the necessary arrangements with your port agents, why are you in the cruise business? Oh, and the disembarkation tour in Santiago was supposed to end at the airport at 4:30 for flights departing after 8:00; we didn't arrive at the airport until 5:45 which the guide seemed to believe was the correct time--thank goodness my flight wasn't until 9:00.
But the memory I will most take from this cruise--while thoroughly enjoying all of the ports and scenery in spite of the debacle accounted above--was of spending 30 to 60 minutes each port day morning sitting in the showroom waiting for my tour to be called while one of two different young ladies from the excursion desk was shrieking at the top of her lungs into the microphone for us to not claim our stickers until our entire party was together and to have a seat and not block the exits over and over and over. At least a dozen fellow passengers I spoke to pointedly stated that that would be the first comment on their survey--how someone charged with such an important task acted as if speaking to a room full of disruptive pre-schoolers.
Thus my first impression of Celebrity Cruises: lots of talk, ranging from condescending to apologetic to downright shrill, but little substance. I do really hope to read on here in the near future that the crew of Infinity and the other recently upgraded ships has progressed from expertly apologizing to actually solving some of the issues onboard. Because if the ideal itinerary and timing come up again I would like to be able to consider Celebrity then. But as of now that's just not going to happen.