My family of 4 set out for a special holiday adventure to South America. What we ended up with was outrageous treatment beyond belief. American Airlines and Celebrity Cruise line's incredible callousness and incompetence nearly completely wrecked our holiday before it even began. When we finally made it to the ship after two and a half days the treatment and service on board wasn't much better. This cruise line behaves like a company ready to go out of business (it certainly will if it keeps this up).This is going to be a long review, but bear with me because it is necessary to include all the details to fully illustrate the incredible degree of incompetence and indifference that my family encountered on this expensive cruise.
We were scheduled to sail on the Celebrity Infinity for a 14 day holiday cruise from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina which embarked on December 21, 2008. Scheduled is the operative word here. I had upgraded our cabin to "concierge class" because I wanted a balcony and decided that the extra amenities seemed worthwhile, particularly the priority embarkation and disembarkation that was promised. My two daughters, (ages 20 and 14) had an inside cabin of their own. I also purchased air transportation and port transfers and a two day add on stay in Buenos Aires from Celebrity.
The first problem was that we were scheduled to fly from Cincinnati to Chicago to Miami to Santiago on December 20. When the weather in the Midwest started getting dicey, I called my travel agent on December 19 to see if there was any possibility of being routed through a hub other than Chicago. No luck there except an earlier flight from Cincinnati to Chicago which ended up prolonging the agony in Chicago.
Our flight which was scheduled to leave Chicago at 3:45 pm ended up leaving after 7 pm with an estimated arrival time of 11 pm in Miami. Our connecting flight to Santiago was to leave at 11:25 pm. A couple hours prior to boarding the delayed flight to Miami, i called Celebrity and told them that I might miss the connection. Their office closed t 7 pm Eastern time and I told them the flight wouldn't even start boarding by them so I wouldn't know my situation before they closed. I was told just to call the same number and it would ring through to an after hours emergency operator if I had a problem.
After we boarded the flight to Miami, I asked the American Airlines flight attendants if they could arrange for assistance at the arrival gate in Miami to reach our international gate due to the tight connection. I have health issues that prevent me from running any distance. The attendants not only refused to assist, but were downright nasty. Since we were at the very rear of a large plane, I asked if at least we could be moved to a seat closer to the front of the plane. Again I was refused. My daughters and husband ran ahead to the international terminal while I tried my best to run. My daughter got to the gate, only to be refused boarding while others who were on the same connecting flight from Chicago and who had arrived at the international gate at the same time she did were boarded. (American Airlines excuse when I filed a complaint was that they were sorry that we arrived after the flight had closed. That is ridiculous when you consider that the people standing right next to us in line were allowed to board and we weren't). All in all, 15 people from our cruise were denied boarding on this flight. The American Airlines supervisor at this gate was even nastier than the flight attendants had been. It took over an hour to re-book everyone. Meanwhile I became ill from all the exertion and stress and I lay on the floor at the gate the entire time with chest pain and my head pounding, taking medication. No one from the airline even inquired as to whether I required assistance. It was almost 1 am by the time we got the new tickets. They made no attempt to put us on a morning flight which would have still allowed for the possibility of making the cruise which didn't leave Valparaiso until 9 pm the next day. Instead we were put on a 9:30 pm flight the next night (Sunday December 21) on LAN (this meant we'd still be in Miami after the ship left the dock in Valparaiso). I called the "emergency" number at Celebrity and instead of being put through to the emergency operator who was allegedly available, I got a "we are closed" message.
As soon as we got to the hotel, I checked our reservation on LAN's website but it wouldn't recognize the locator number. At 7 am Sunday morning, I called LAN and got the same answer-we don't have that locator number in our computer. So off we went in the shuttle back to the airport, and amidst hundreds of people trying to check in at American Airlines, we tried to get help. After being told by one agent that LAN did have the reservation and calling LAN again to be told the new locator number AA gave us wasn't valid, I finally found an AA supervisor who admitted the reservation had been put in the wrong database by the bungling AA employee at the gate the previous night. She reissued the tickets and we went back to the hotel. I was still not certain at that point whether we had confirmed seats on the LAN flight or if we were standby, which had been mentioned by the gate agent, so I called the "day of travel" number at Celebrity and inquired as to what I should do if I didn't get on the LAN flight that night. I was told that I should just go to the airport that evening and standby and wait. I told her that I didn't think that was a good answer because if I didn't get on this next flight, the ship would be out to sea and would be 1000 miles from the port by the next time it docked. Her answer was "just go to the airport and see what happens." I hung up on her and called my travel agent. The travel agent told me that she could get us seats on a LAN flight the next morning from Santiago to LaSerena but that it would cost nearly $800 for the four of us and we would have to pay out of our own pockets and hope to be reimbursed later. I said that I didn't like that idea and that we needed to get a more definitive input from Celebrity. Phone calls from the travel agency came in all afternoon. At one point the travel agent said that two travel agents (it was Sunday and the agency was closed) had come in and had as many as four phone lines going to Celebrity trying the resolve the issue. Ultimately, we got a call from the travel agent informing us that we did have confirmed seats on the LAN flight from Miami to Santiago and that once Celebrity was sure that we were on the flight, they would make arrangements to fly us to La Serena. Dream on.
At 5 pm we picked up our hand luggage that had been stored at the hotel and coincidentally met up with another family who were to be on the cruise and had been refused boarding as well. I asked them if they had checked their tickets, because I assumed that the same mistake had probably been made with their re-booking as had been made with ours. They hadn't. When we arrived at the LAN counter at 5:30 pm(behind scores of other passengers, even though we'd been told by AA that we couldn't check in there any sooner than 3 hours before the flight) we were relieved to find that we were on the passenger list. Unfortunately, the other family was not. They were sent back to AA to try and get re-booked again. Once we were finally at the counter, the LAN agent said that our tickets still weren't correct and we spent another half hour standing there while she reprinted the tickets yet another time. Then they made a big deal of checking all the luggage tags and recording the numbers from the AA luggage receipts, as our luggage was allegedly going to be transferred to this flight. With boarding passes in hand, we called the travel agent again and told her we were headed to the gate. Again we were told that a Celebrity Agent would meet us outside of customs in Santiago and guide us to the ship.
We boarded the LAN flight at 9 pm. The other family finally made it to the gate just as the flight began boarding. They had been hassled for two hours between AA and LAN before LAN finally issued them boarding passes, even though they too had been on the phone all day with their travel agent who had assured them three times that they had seats on this flight.
The flight on LAN was great (much nicer than the United flight on which we returned from the trip). Comfortable seats, a decent dinner (for airline food) and a complimentary glass of wine. Movies, videos, games and music on demand were on individual screens with remote controls. LAN was to become our best travel ally.
After deplaning in Santiago sometime around 8 am, we paid the arrival tax ($131 per person) and went off the retrieve our luggage. It wasn't on the flight. My husband went to stand in the huge line of passengers with missing luggage and suggested that I go through customs and get outside to look for the Celebrity agent. No Celebrity agent anywhere in sight. I did meet another man who had been on our flight who had also been bumped from Saturday's flight. He told me that our luggage was in the AA office. They had sent it to Santiago on the next AA flight (so why couldn't they have sent us on the next flight too?). I had no way of communicating this to my husband who was still back in the secure area of the airport. By that time I was in tears, and some guy who appeared to be airport personnel asked if he could help me. He wanted to direct me to a taxi of which he was probably getting a cut of the fare. My husband and daughters finally came out through customs, after having waited about 45 minutes in line to be told that the luggage was indeed in the AA office. In the process, we ran across another party of 4 people in the same situation, but they told us that American Airlines had given them free tickets to La Serena to meet the ship.
I put my 20 yr old daughter in charge to trying to contact the travel agency and Celebrity as I was so stressed at that point it was hard for me to be objective. She has traveled the world to such places and Burma and all over India by herself, so she's an experienced traveler and very level headed. Again, a continuous barrage of calls ensued back and forth (now on international roam prices) all of which proved to provide false information. We were first told that a shuttle was to meet us in front of the airport to drive us to La Serena (a 300 mile distance through the Atacama Desert) and that it would be arriving soon. It was now after 9 am. At the front of the airport we met up with another group of 4 people who were also on the cruise and had been bumped from the Saturday flight. They had been in front of the airport waiting for a Celebrity agent since 6 am. The other family of three joined us, too. There were now 11 of us waiting for the shuttle. Around 10 am my daughter called again and was told by Celebrity that the shuttle was on its way. Another half hour passed and everybody was getting anxious that we wouldn't make the boat in the time that was left even if the shuttle came. The airport agent and his taxi vultures had convinced us at that point to ride to La Serena in one of their vans for $100 per person and grabbed our luggage and started hauling it to the vans. As we were doing that, my daughter made another call to Celebrity, who insisted that the shuttle was still on its way. We wrested our luggage back from them and hauled it back to the curb in front of the airport. More time passed. The taxi vultures kept insisting that they could drive us to La Serena in time to catch the boat before it left at 4 pm. That was physically impossible at this point unless they drove 100 mph the whole way. I finally had to start screaming that I was going to call the police to get them to leave us alone. It was now after 11 am and my daughter called Celebrity again and this time was told that there was no shuttle on its way! They said they had no authorization to send a shuttle and that they hadn't even gotten in touch with an English speaking agent in Santiago yet. The Celebrity agent on the phone told my daughter to get in a taxi and to try to reach La Serena on our own. She told him that would be impossible at this point due to the distance we would need to travel in the time left and his response was "stop arguing with me and get a taxi or you won't ever make it!" My daughter replied that she wasn't getting into a taxi and going on a wild goose chase and hung up on him. (Apparently he told our travel agent the same thing and she was incensed at the way he had spoken to her). We were all on the verge of despair, but we still had the option of buying tickets for the 1:30 LAN flight to La Serena, so we headed upstairs (with piles of luggage) to the LAN counter. While we were standing in line waiting to buy tickets for the flight, we received a call from the travel agent relaying a message that she had gotten from Celebrity claiming that they were sending an agent who was now on their way to meet us at the airport and take us to the port. We told her we were going to buy airplane tickets and fly there as we saw that as our only viable option and only had a few minutes to get the tickets before the flight started to board. She called back again and said that Celebrity had insisted that the agent was on the way and that it was only 2 hours to the port. At that point I realized that they were under the assumption that the ship was still in Valparaiso, which is 2 hours from Santiago. Unreal!! My daughter told our travel agent that what Celebrity had told her was nonsense and that we were going to take our chances and fly to La Serena and also told her that we wanted confirmation that the captain of the ship had been contacted and that he knew that we were coming before we got on the flight. Fortunately for us, one of the LAN supervisors noticed us and the confusion we were experiencing, along with the others in the group, and took my husband to the ticket counter, helped him purchase our tickets and expedited our luggage check in. As we headed to the gate we got more phone calls from the travel agency. We were told that we had to make it to the port by three or else the customs agent would be gone, then we were told again that a shuttle would meet us in La Serena and take us to the port (which was some distance from the airport). We were also told at that point that the captain was informed that we would be arriving in La Serena at 2:30 pm and we would proceed directly to the ship. We were told that the ship would wait for our arrival.
We arrived at the La Serena airport after another pleasant short LAN flight. I went out to look for a Celebrity agent while my husband collected the luggage. Again, no sign of anyone from Celebrity at the airport. My daughter checked her phone (which had been turned off during the flight) and had text message stating that an agent was going to meet us at the Santiago airport, put us in a hotel in Santiago for 2 days and then transport us to Puerto Montt to meet the ship there!! There were now 15 of us assembled in La Serena trying to figure out the fastest way to get to the ship. Fortunately, one person in the group spoke fluent Spanish and negotiated hiring a van for us. Eleven people and piles of luggage went into a van and the remaining 4 took a taxi to the ship. We went careening through town, passing trucks and carts and a near miss of a crash or two before we finally got to the ship at around 3:15 pm. We were directed to the customs office. Fortunately the customs officer was still there. He stamped all of our passports and we headed back toward the ship and unloaded our luggage on the dock. An officer of the ship wandered over to us and gave us an incredulous look. She said that the crew had been told by the Celebrity office that we weren't meeting the ship that day. She said that Celebrity had sent a van to the airport and "waited hours and hours" for us and that we had never showed up! What airport? When? Really!! The captain obviously had no idea that we were on our way. All of this nonsense could have been avoided if Celebrity had just made the arrangements for us to connect to La Serena from the flight to Santiago when our travel agent contacted them on Sunday (and they were on the phone to Celebrity much of the day on Sunday, being put on hold and experiencing extreme frustration themselves). We would have avoided the long line to pay the arrival tax, the long line to get our luggage, and all the other frustrations, because if you had a connecting flight in Santiago to another city in Chile, you got to bypass all the arrival formalities in Santiago, and I am sure that they would have gone much more quickly at our final airport destination which was much less crowded.
They made Sea Pass cards for us and we boarded the ship and went to our stateroom. It was now nearly 4 pm and the ship was preparing to leave the dock. No one else from the crew greeted us or called or made any inquiries as to any further needs that we might have. In our cabin we found a bottle of warm champagne (a concierge class amenity) that had been left in a pool of melted ice in the ice bucket overnight. No one came to bring us a chilled bottle. (We later found out the travel agency had also sent us a gift of a bottle of wine which Celebrity bothered to give to us). I was thoroughly exhausted from all the extra travel time, stress, and frustration. I asked my daughter to call our travel agent and extend to her the courtesy of knowing that we had made it to the ship, since she had spent so much of her weekend trying to help us. (The travel agent later told us that she received a call a couple hours later from someone at Celebrity who acted "absolutely giddy" that we'd made it to the ship. She told the person from Celebrity that she already knew this because we had called her hours earlier and said she "went off at her" telling her that it was through no effort whatsoever by Celebrity that we had gotten there.)
After getting ready for dinner, we went to the guest relations desk because my daughter had discovered that her Sea Pass didn't reflect the beverage waiver that I'd filled out online for her before the cruise (if you are between 18 and 21 you can drink while in international waters if your parent signs a waiver) and also because I wanted to request a meeting with the hotel manager concerning the whole fiasco that we'd just been through. The beverage waiver hadn't been processed because I needed to present the form at the check in at the embarkation terminal in Santiago which obviously hadn't happened. It wasn't a big problem to take care of that issue (I just signed a new form and she got a new ID card), but in requesting a meeting with the hotel manager, I got the third degree from the guest relations person. She finally told me that I could only meet with the assistant hotel manager and that they would call me when he decided to meet with me!
At dinner we were escorted to our table (for 8) and sat waiting to order. Another party of 4 (who were speaking Spanish) was escorted to our table, gave us a dirty look and left abruptly. So we ate by ourselves the first night.
The next day was a day at sea, which I desperately needed to get some rest and collect my thoughts. I ordered a room service breakfast for my husband and myself, since I was still very tired and wanted a little pampering from the allegedly "special" room service selections available in "concierge class". The food took almost an hour to arrive and was cold and the order was not correct. This was a harbinger of what was to come with anything ordered in the cabin. It took almost an hour to get ice or a glass of juice in the afternoon (when you could contact the steward). After that initial experience, I ordered room service only one other time to get some pastries and fruit to take along on a very early morning shore excursion. Breakfast was on time that day but the order was still incorrect.
Later in the day, I met up with other "stranded" families, who also told me that they had tried to arrange meetings with the hotel manager and were given the same standoffish story. I called guest relations three times over the course of that day and finally just before dinner, they conceded to allow me to meet with the assistant hotel manager after dinner.
We had invited the couple and their daughter whom we had met in Miami to join us at dinner since they too had no one else at their assigned table. Before they arrived at dinner to join us, a man and his daughter sat at our table, whom we hadn't expected since they'd not been there the night before, and there were only two seats left so our new friends went back down to their original table. (We asked for the table to be set for 9 on subsequent nights so that the other 3 could join us, but that took 3 days for them to get right and ultimately they moved us all to a larger table on the other side of the dining room). On the positive side, the 9 of us all enjoyed dining together for the rest of the voyage.
At 8 pm I went to meet with the assistant hotel manager, Alexander Zeitz. My daughter had told some of the others that I had finally arranged a meeting and they were all on hand to join me. When Mr. Zeitz came out of his office he was very upset to see the group rather than just me and said he was uncomfortable meeting with so many people at once. The others refused to budge and he finally acceded although he behaved like he was about to be attacked by an angry mob. After listening to our stories, we got a very polite song and dance about how this was all beyond his control and that he would have to relay the information from the notes he had taken to corporate because it was obvious to him that we wanted to be compensated for our ordeal above and beyond the $150 per person compensation that was their standard refund for missing a night of the cruise. He asked for our receipts from the out of pocket expenses for the airline tickets and taxi and said it would probably be several days before we would hear anything from corporate because it was December 23 and the offices in Miami would be closed for the holiday. He admitted that the message that customs would close at 3 had come from him, so obviously someone on the ship had been in contact with Celebrity's land based offices! So why all the confusion when we got to the ship?? After the others left, I ask to speak further with him privately about our accommodations. I expressed my dismay at having purchased an upgrade when apparently I wasn't getting the amenities I'd purchased. Most of the times that I'd called the cabin steward, he didn't answer his phone, nor did the main guest services line answer. I ended up looking for the pantry and getting my own ice when I wanted cold water. The concierge line never answered either (so much for concierge service!). The fancy pillows and bed linens never materialized either. The one time that we did get through to guest services about locating a light switch and a problem with the sliding door's latch, they said they'd send someone to the room but never did. What I was mainly upset about was having read in the nightly newsletter that priority disembarkation at the ports had been suspended in South America. This was the main reason why I chose to upgrade to Concierge Class. Response-more song and dance about how this would disrupt disembarkation and take longer if they gave priority to everyone in Concierge Class (because they had made half the staterooms on the ship Concierge Class, ostensibly to extract more money from the guests for no tangible upgrade in service). He said that the steward would be told to bring me ice daily and apprise me of my selection of pillows. No pillows, but occasionally I had ice in the afternoon. I still had to get my own ice from time to time. Finally after a week of frustration in trying to reach the cabin steward for anything (and I really didn't ask for much other than ice or assistance with things in the room that were problematic), I was finally told by someone in guest services that my steward's phone was broken and the he had a new phone number. Why couldn't he have told us this at the outset?!
On Christmas Eve we arrived in Puerto Montt, where I had arranged a tour for my family with a private tour operator a few weeks before the trip and was looking forward to seeing the lake country of Chile more than any of the other port stops. Several of the other passengers that I knew had arranged for the same tour with this company. The morning announcer stated that if you were not participating in a tour through Celebrity's shore excursions, you could pick up a tender ticket in front of the theater, but they wouldn't be available until 10:30 am. We went to the guest relations desk and asked again if there was any possibility of getting a priority ticket, but were told-no, only guests in suites got priority tendering (this was different from what the newsletter stated of no priority tendering other than excursions purchased through Celebrity). I also asked what was the first possible time I could obtain a ticket at the theater for the tenders for non-excursion guests, and she said 10 am. We decided to go to the theater a little early and at 9:40 am we got a ticket for tender #16 (when they weren't even supposed to be giving out tickets until 10!). Finally we arrived on the shore and went out to look for our tour van. A man at the end of the pier was holding a placard for the tour company so we approached him. To my shock, he told us that the van had already left and that the tour operators had asked him to wait for us to see if we still wanted to go with him in his taxi. He gave us a decent tour but certainly not all that had been part of the original tour that I booked. He didn't have any arrangements for getting us lunch at the restaurant the tour operators used, so he discounted the trip to make up for the fact that we had to buy our own lunch. However, it was Christmas Eve and the restaurants for the most part were closed and it was 3 o'clock before we found a half decent place to eat. I spent the greater part of 6 hours jammed in the back of a Nissan with no air conditioning (it was an unusually hot day in the area), couldn't open the window much of the time because of the dusty unpaved road, and the trunk of the car kept unlatching! Frank, our guide (a Chilean native who lived in Canada for 23 years), was a great guy and we loved his narratives, so despite the discomfort, he got a substantial tip for Christmas Eve for his willingness to stick around and do his best to show us a good time. I was still pretty disappointed that I didn't get to see many of the sights that I'd hoped to see in this very quaint and scenic area (but I blamed that on Celebrity-not Frank). Back at the port, Alexander Zeitz was on hand to hand out cups of hot chocolate to the returning passengers. He asked me how my day had been and I told him that I missed my tour because of the tendering situation. He said that if I'd asked for assistance, they would have gotten us off the ship earlier. Really??? Isn't that what I'd discussed with him the night before??? I found out later that other passengers (who made it to the tour that we missed) had asked the hotel manager for priority tendering passes and she's simply given them out with the admonishment not to tell anyone else!
Back on the ship, it was Christmas Eve, and I had made reservation several weeks before the cruise to dine in the specialty restaurant, the S.S. United States, as a special holiday treat. We got dressed in our formal wear and went to the restaurant at 7:30 pm. There was only one other party in the restaurant and yet they tried to seat us at the first table which was sticking out into the foyer of the restaurant. I declined that table. This meal proved to be an extreme disappointment and certainly not worth the additional $120 that I had paid for the meal. The waiters were very professional and the service was very showy. It's too bad that the food wasn't on the same level of quality. My husband and I ordered the lobster bisque, which obviously came out of a food service package. My older daughter pronounced her foie gras as excellent, though. The younger daughter ordered a Caesar salad. The table side presentation consisted of pouring the pre-made dressing over the salad in a bowl and tossing it around, adding cheese and croutons and serving it. Not your standard table side Caesar salad routine. It was average. For entrees my husband and I ordered the Chilean Sea Bass, after inquiring if it was indeed fresh since we were in Chile. We were told that it was. The girls ordered Sole Meuniere and Steak Diane.
The sea bass was dry and not really good except for an interesting vegetable sauce. The table side presentation of the Steak Diane involved heating up a pre-cooked filet in some premade gravy with a few other garnishes. It was tasty but the filet wasn't top quality meat and was rather chewy. The sole was the only dish of distinction amongst the entrees. The French cheese course followed and actually was very good with a nice selection of fine cheeses. The dessert course was the most disappointing of all. My younger daughter loves chocolate soufflE and three of us dutifully ordered ours at the beginning of the meal to allow adequate preparation time. My husband ordered some sort of fruit dessert. At approximately 9:30 our desserts were served. My older daughter asked if she could order a glass of the Royal Tokay with her dessert which was $20 per glass. I told her to go ahead since it was Christmas Eve. The wine arrived in a lovely Riedel crystal glass and was superb (she let me have a couple sips). The three soufflEs looked great until we started to eat them. Under the top crust, they were completely raw. When the waiter came to collect the dishes (he didn't come to ask how our desserts were) I mentioned this to him and he asked if we wanted something else. We declined since it was now after 10 pm. So much for an awesome Christmas Eve dinner. A couple days later the head pastry chef was giving a culinary demo and I mentioned the raw soufflEs to him. His response was, "sometimes they get busy". Indeed. The ship of lame excuses.
We went up to the Rendezvous Lounge to meet some of our new friends and listen to some music until midnight Mass. I was explaining to our friends what had happened earlier with the tenders and how we had missed our tour. A lady came up to us and said she had overheard us talking and introduced herself as the wife of the cruise director. She said she was very sorry that this had happened to me and that her husband had been very upset with the way the crew had handled the tendering tickets that day. She wanted me to meet her husband and offered to buy me a drink. I told her that I didn't drink, but she insisted , so I ordered a Coke and waited with her until the cruise director arrived and we were introduced. He also offered his apologies and gave us his phone number and invited me to call him if I needed any future assistance. This was the first time anyone on the ship even acted like they cared anything about me as a guest. At 11:45 they set up a buffet of Christmas cookies and pastries, but we were headed to Mass and the line was long, so we couldn't partake in the goodies. At 12:45 am after Mass, we went back but the food was long gone. I guess that's a disadvantage of being Catholic.
Again, on the plus side, on Christmas morning, Santa Claus handed out nice gifts to all the children (allegedly over 200 children on the cruise). My daughter got a nice messenger bag which she used a lot on the cruise. The holiday brunch In the Trellis restaurant featured some spectacular ice sculptures, but mostly mediocre buffet selections. By around 11 am most of the tables had been used and hadn't been cleaned and reset, so we had difficulty finding seats. The rest of the Christmas festivities were unmemorable.
One of my chief complaints about the food on this cruise was that the food never seemed to be at the optimal temperature, neither at the buffets nor in the restaurants. Everything was lukewarm or marginally cold, and usually extremely under seasoned. At the grill near the pool they served hamburgers, hot dogs and other fast food items. They made a big deal out of putting the bun on small griddle to heat before they placed the hamburger of hot dog on it (which held up the line greatly), but it was still stone cold when you got it. If you asked for a cheeseburger, you got a cold slice of cheese on the burger. They had nachos which consisted of a warmer filled with fried flour tortilla triangles (that were so greasy they were actually good) and a melted cheese dispenser. The both the chips in the warmer and the cheese in the heated dispenser were stone cold. The ice dispensers were frequently out of order and galley pans of partially melted ice lay about on the counters for ice service. The Spa cafe occasionally had interesting and tasty fare that seemed to be prepared with a little more care than the other venues. I don't drink coffee, but a review book on cruise lines that I purchased before the trip said Celebrity had the worst coffee on the high seas. My husband agreed. One morning at the Spa cafe my husband saw a woman approach one of the attendants and ask who had made the coffee. The man replied that he had and she proceeded to tell him that it was the worst coffee she'd ever had. My guess is that they have bad coffee on purpose so that they can sell more in the Cova Cafe, which actually served good coffee for a price. The pastries in the Cova Cafe were frequently quite good.
My husband and I bought a pass to the Persian Garden for the entire cruise on the third day of the cruise. It was, in our opinion, overpriced at $249 per couple, but we wanted to spend time together relaxing in the steam rooms and sauna and the only other sauna option was in the men's or women's locker room. We were pretty disappointed with the spa. On our only previous cruise, we had all bought spa passes on the Norwegian Pearl whose spa was magnificent. Those passes were only, If I recall correctly, $60 dollars per person, and included exclusive use of the thallasotherapy pool, individual spa tubs, a private sunbathing area with a great view at the front of the ship, sauna and steam rooms, and other amenities plus an excellent locker and changing room. The Infinity only offered two small steam rooms and a sauna. The locker rooms weren't inviting and there wasn't a comfortable, private, dry area to change clothes. After a few days, my husband complained that whenever he went up to the spa, there were no locker keys available. After paying $249 for a pass, I felt that they could at least have a locker available for him and I called Alexander Zeitz. He assured me that he would "look into it". The next afternoon as he was passing me by the elevator, he mentioned that the spa had "re-keyed" all the lockers and getting a locker should no longer be a problem. My husband decided to just go up to the spa early in the morning, get a key and keep it all day and use my key card to get in the room, since you had to surrender your key card to get a locker key. At the end of the voyage, when I went to settle my account, I found that I had been charged a $24.95 gratuity on the spa pass, even though my receipt clearly stated that the gratuity was included in the total price of the pass and $249 was listed as the total charge. I complained but they refused to remove the gratuity from my bill.
Keys were another issue. They had to redo mine three times to get it to work in the disembarkation ID machine. My younger daughter got a couple of keys and none of them ever worked the entire time to allow her to charge anything. I received a notice in the cabin a few days into the voyage stating that they didn't have my credit card on file (even though I had filled out all of the information online weeks prior to the cruise) and that I was a cash account with a $500 spending limit. I surmised that this was because, once again, since I hadn't presented the paperwork with a signature at the check in at the terminal in Santiago, they couldn't process my credit card. I never did go down to straighten this out before the last night. I guess I just "got busy" like the pastry chefs. I didn't plan on spending anywhere near $500 at an enterprise that could apparently care less about my satisfaction as a customer.
Other than the spa passes, the only thing that I bought was a small souvenir for my daughter and a sugar free chocolate bar. I thought a good chocolate fix would help reduce my stress but to my dismay the bar was hard as a rock and had obviously melted at some point in its storage, from observing the white "bloom" that covered it. I returned it to the store and the attendant did graciously give me a refund.
Tendering continued to be a fiasco throughout the voyage. When we arrived at Punta Arenas, having learned a lesson from our previous experience, we just went down to the front of the theater really early, despite any announcements to the contrary, and got an early tender ticket. Later in the afternoon, we walked back to the dock after shopping in town with our friends and their young daughter. The weather was sunny and mild but I could see that a squall was looming out over the water. There were at least a couple hundred people standing in line on the dock which had only intermittent partial little shelters (like a line of bus stops with no sides and very short overhangs), waiting for tenders. The squall blew in a few minutes later and pelted us with rain, wind, and ice pellets until most of us and our shopping bags were soaked. I had purchased waterproof jackets for my husband and daughters especially for this trip, and they were glad to have been wearing them. The tender tried to come in, lurched, bounced, and struggled trying several times to dock before it was finally successful. My husband was afraid that the tender was going to capsize from the rough seas, but fortunately we made it back to the ship without incident. We were two hours late leaving port here because the anchor winch malfunctioned. At the last tendered port at Punta Del Este, again we had the situation of hundreds of people waiting on the dock for tenders. This time the sun was blazing, but at least there was a canvas shade. The last tender was supposed to leave at 5 pm in this port and the ship was to sail at 6, but the tenders didn't get all the passengers back on the ship until almost 6:30, even with extra tenders rented from local vendors that were put into service shuttling passengers.
I had arranged for another private tour to see the penguin rookery at Punta Tombo when we arrived at Puerto Madryn. Other passengers had asked to join me and by the time all was said and done there were 24 people traveling with me in the group. (because I had arranged the same tour as the cruise offered for $193 for only $90 per person). I tried to call the staterooms of the other passengers to inform them of a time and place where we would meet before disembarking. I wondered what was going on when I didn't get any replies to my phone messages. I later received a note on my stateroom door from one of the other passengers that said that my voicemail didn't work. I called another passenger who was also on the ninth deck and realized that her voicemail wasn't working either, so I assumed that the same problem existed on the whole ninth deck. I placed a call to guest services and they said-you guessed it-"we'll look into it". I mentioned the problem to Alexander Zeitz when I saw him later and he responded," We had a problem with that on previous voyages. They were supposed to have fixed that when we were in dry dock." Well, I guess that they didn't! And p.s. my refrigerator doesn't work either, it's about 65 degrees and my sliding door won't lock (because some broke the locking mechanism) and the wind whistles through the door! Another passenger told me that Alexander Zeitz had commented to them that there seemed to be far more passenger complaints on this trip than usual. I bet!
One of the elevators had a fire in the control box and stopped between decks while loaded with passengers, several days before the end of the cruise, and was out of order until we reached Punta Del Este (obviously they needed to obtain the burned out parts to repair it). Once the cruise reached warmer latitudes, we found to our chagrin that the air conditioning in our cabin didn't work adequately. I opened the balcony door for some cool air, but frequently had to close it due to cigarette smoke wafting in from other balconies (where smoking was not allowed).
New Year's Eve was interesting. Normally, the Constellation Lounge is off limits to anyone under 18 after 11 pm. The family that my older daughter spent a lot of time with on the cruise had a 17 yr old son and wanted him to be with them and their extended family in the lounge one evening. They hadn't checked ID's the previous evening and this particular night the crew decided to be stringent and kick him out. When the mother complained and got into an argument with the crew members, citing the fact that small children had been in the lounge on Christmas Eve after 11 pm, the crew member said that had been different because those youngsters were children of crew members! Again, a meeting with Alexander Zeitz ensued and a notice appeared in the daily newsletter informing everyone that parents needed to sign a waiver if they wanted their 12 to 17 year old child with them in the lounge after 11 pm on New Year's Eve. At 11:05 pm on New Year's Eve all children under 12 were kicked out of the lounge and were running around the hallways screaming that they were kicked out of the lounge. The next day a notice appeared in the newsletter admonishing parents to control their children; otherwise crew members had the authority to do so and would.
On the second to last night of the cruise, I received a letter from the hotel manager informing me that I was being offered 15% discount on a future cruise as a gesture for the problems we had suffered at the beginning of the trip. I was incensed. She got an immediate hand delivered reply from me indicating that I felt that was in no way adequate reparation for what had occurred or for the poor service I'd receive on the cruise. Alexander Zeitz had told one of the other "stranded" passengers that corporate had not wanted to offer us anything at all and this was being offered as gesture from the crew. He also invited us to join him in the lounge for a drink the following night before dinner in Punta Del Este. I wasn't too keen on this idea, but it wasn't an issue because the tenders were so late in Punta Del Este that I knew that he wouldn't be back on the ship until well after dinner started. He later came to our table and offered us a complimentary bottle of wine with our dinner. Again, I don't drink, so I suggested that the other family (who had shared our ordeal in Miami) who were now dining with us choose a wine to their liking since they were wine aficionados. My daughter suggested that she and I ask for a glass of the Royal Tokay with our dessert that had been so delicious in the U.S. United States. The sommelier grudgingly agreed and we were served two glasses of dessert wine. This was a harsh, acidic wine which was more likely a Muscat, which had also been on the wine list. There was no way that this was the same wine that we were served on Christmas Eve. The sommelier became upset and insisted that it was the Royal Tokay. I should have insisted that he pour me a glass directly from the bottle, but at this point in the cruise, I was so tired of dealing with these people that I just let it ride. In the middle of this last dinner aboard we had another exciting experience. The ship hit a mud bar in the channel which we were passing through in the Rio de la Plata (we could see all the mud churn up in the wake because we were dining in directly in front of the picture windows at the stern)and did about a 40 degree tilt to one side. Fortunately, we didn't capsize or run aground but the Poseidon Adventure came to mind for a minute or two.
Later in the evening, the cruise line presented the guest talent show as entertainment in the theater. My daughter was one of the finalists in the dance contest. There had been preliminary competitions in different categories throughout the cruise. It was an interesting show and I felt that it was a nice concept that apparently had been an innovation of the cruise director, Alan King. Afterward there was an appetizer and dessert buffet in the Constellation Lounge. Unfortunately for all the kids under 18, the show finished after 11 so they couldn't attend the party. There was a crème brulee bar and other marvelous artisanal desserts. It proved that the culinary team could put together quality food service if they tried.
The final aggravation was the last morning of the cruise when we were transported to the hotel for the post cruise package in Buenos Aires. About 100 of us were dumped into the lobby of the Emperador Hotel, again with no Celebrity representative in sight. Everyone waited in a huge line only to be told that we couldn't check in until 3. The representative showed up after an hour or so later when most people had finally gotten their luggage stored and had already left. She was present dutifully from 9-6 each subsequent day to sell tours. When we finally did get to check-in, we were pleasantly surprised at the excellent rooms we'd received.
The bottom line- South America was fascinating and we'd like to explore it in depth someday soon-on land! We met several wonderful people on the cruise with whom we hope to cultivate lasting friendships and our children had a wonderful time with their peers. Celebrity Cruise line appears to me to have serious management problems-extreme lack of communication, breaks in the chain of command, major inconsistency in enforcing regulations and procedures, maintenance of facilities and equipment so lacking that in some instances would border on negligent, and obviously bad morale among employees to engender such poor service and indifference to customers. In my opinion, the quality of service, food, lodging and amenities on the cruise weren't worth half what I paid and the incredible degree stress and aggravation they caused me at the outset degraded my enjoyment factor of what value remained to just about zero. I wasn't alone in my opinions. I encountered many other passengers in the course of the cruise who swore they'd never cruise on Celebrity again, or expressed intense disappointment that the cruise experience on Celebrity had seriously declined since previous cruises they'd taken. Read Less