We sailed this 17 night Panama Canal to San Francisco cruise, back to back with the next 11 night Alaska cruise. I'll review each cruise separately, but my overall impressions are based upon our total 28 night experience onboard the Celebrity Infinity. We sailed with our adult daughter who has a physical disability, so one of our two cabins was an accessible cabin, 7137. Infinity is a Millennium Class ship, which from an accessibility standpoint, is not nearly as accessible as any of the Solstice Class ships. None of the public bathrooms have an accessible power door opener - so you have to wrangle the door open on your own which is very difficult to do if you're in a wheelchair. Whereas on Solstice Class ships, ALL of the public bathroom doors are equipped with an auto opener. On Infinity, very few of the doors that lead onto the decks are auto opening, whereas on Solstice Class ships, yes, you guessed it, all public deck doors are auto opening. Also on the Infinity as on all Millennium Class ships, there are innumerable metal stops or thresholds on the public deck floors, everywhere throughout the ship, including the cabin hallways - which are major barriers to those that have physical needs - you have to be constantly looking down, being aware, so as not to trip or get your wheels somehow stuck or impeded. The door to our cabin was also not auto opening, whereas, they are auto opening on the Solstice Class ships. And inside our cabin, the hinges on the bathroom door are on the opposite side of where they need to be to make access comfortable. My daughter uses a walker and she had to roll past the door, turn herself around, reach and swing open the door, then go in - it's hard to picture, but trust me, the planning was very bad - something that was rectified across the board, on the Solstice Class ships.
For the ports of call, we primarily booked Celebrity sponsored shore excursions ahead of time. We are able to discern from our at home research, who the tour providers are that Celebrity contracts with to run the excursions, in the ports - we check prices and have always found Celebrity's prices to be in line with the prices the contractors charge, so there is no reason for us to not book with Celebrity. On the Infinity, as we have found in general on all of the ships, the Shore Excursion staff was exceptionally well informed and very helpful and sensitive regarding our daughter's physical needs. On this cruise, we were extremely disappointed that the port of Puerto Vallarta was cancelled. There was apparently a violent drug cartel uprising and it was deemed unsafe for our ship to dock, thus giving us an extra sea day. Since this itinerary was already sea day heavy, this was a disappointment, but the Captain's Club Hostess, Claudia, worked overtime to make sure passengers were happy - we for instance received an invitation to a tour of the Navigational Bridge, which we gratefully accepted. The Celebrity Life Activity Staff, led by the intrepid and uber talented Rachel Ball, also went into overdrive on this newly non-port day, coming up with lots of additional fun things to do. So, though Puerto Vallarta never happened for us, the crew worked hard to keep the passengers happy - as, in fact, they always do!
The Panama Canal was the highlight of this cruise, no surprise! We docked in Colon for a full day, leaving the passengers free to explore the country on tours. Then, the next day, the ship made the transit through the canal. Bill Fall, a former Canal Zone resident and expert regarding the area and the Canal, gave several talks in the theater about the Canal, before and after transit day. And on transit day, he gave narration from time to time, along with a local Panamanian resident, about what we were seeing and experiencing. The Panama Canal is truly one of the 7 Engineering Wonders of the World, something not to be missed if you have the chance. We recommend reading David McCullough's book, "The Path Between the Seas" in order to fully appreciate this marvel. The Captain opened up the helicopter pad area at the bow of the ship to all passengers for the transit, which was terrific!
We booked Select Dining, enjoying the flexibility you get with it. Our favorite actually is Aqua Class so we can eat in Blu, but there are NO handicapped accessible Aqua Class cabins on the Millennium Class ships so for us, Select was the next best thing. With Select, contrary to what some people say, you can always get a table in the server of your choice's station, if you want to, and request it when you book your table from night to night. You therefore develop a relationship with your server, they learn your preferences, etc. Our server in select, the wonderful Samson from India and his assistant server, Johnny, observed that our daughter needed help cutting her food - from that point on, Samson would serve her then immediately pick up her knife and fork and cut her meal for her - he was incredibly thoughtful and sweet. He also recognized that of the trio of hummus, butter and herbed cream cheese that is served with the nightly bread basket, that I had a strong preference for the hummus - so often, he would present me with my own personal ramekin of hummus!
As far as the Oceanview Buffet goes, well, the food itself was pretty good, but, we do not enjoy the layout at all of the buffet on the Millennium Class ships. The lay out of the buffet on the Solstice Class ships is so much better - but, I know, it's because the ships themselves are bigger, allowing for a more spacious layout, a better traffic flow, less congestion. On the Millennium Class ships, we try to avoid the buffet at all costs as it gets crowded and frustrating - I find myself saying that I'm simply not that hungry, that the annoyance is simply not worth it.
As far as specialty dining goes, we love Q-Sine, it is our favorite Celebrity specialty restaurant. Fleetwide, the absolute best lamb chops are to be found in the 'M Box' in Q-Sine - baby lamb chops, perfectly flavored, perfectly executed - moist, tasty, succulent! The service is excellent, we LOVE the side car cocktails, a great evening whenever we go. Lunch is now sometimes served in Q-Sine on sea days, but that doesn't work for us, as you are prone to eat more than you should, and to do that at lunch, meh, that ruins the whole day. Save this experience for dinner, enjoy! The SS United States, we find to be too traditional.
There had been problems the past several cruises on the Infinity, with the norovirus. There were several passengers on board this sailing that supposedly had it, so measures were in place, of differing restriction levels, to control it. Sanitization measures were extreme, from staff placed strategically in high traffic areas on the ship with squirt containers of sanitizer, to days when there were no salt and pepper shakers on the tables, etc. It was clear to us that the real problem is the itinerary - ships which sail the South American and Central American itineraries often encounter noro problems - people get off the ship, eat or drink something they shouldn't, get sick and spread it due to not washing their hands properly. Don't get me started on how many people I see ROUTINELY coughing into their HANDS. I find this appalling and 'so yesterday'. Where have these people been living with their heads in the sand?? I wish Celebrity would get aggressive about teaching people that you must cough into your elbow or a napkin - NEVER into your hand. Onboard on the in-room TV, there was a health info spot about washing your hands so as to not spread germs, which was extremely cute and fun to watch, with a catchy tune - but it did not include the message about coughing into your elbow - plus, I guarantee you that the message was generally lost, as I'm not sure how many people even watch the in-room onboard channels, sadly. I do think that especially on the South and Central American itineraries, that Celebrity needs to get overtly aggressive about spreading the message about washing your hands and coughing into your elbow, so as to avoid the ship turning into the SS Dysentery. No one likes extreme sanitization measures - aggressive health messages are superior, better to prevent the situation in the first place.
There was no Top Chef At Sea on this sailing due to the noro concerns. We were told that because it involves food prep, they had to cancel it. We enjoy this activity, my husband competed and won it on another Celebrity voyage. Like no cloth hand towels in the bathrooms, the removal of which we thought was odd, this too fell victim to the noro restrictions.
The cruise director, Kyle, was excellent. We would often watch daily spots on the Cruise Director Channel a few times, as they were so funny! He was fast paced, informative, clever, and when he would speak in the theater after the shows, he got right to the point, knowing that people wanted to get on with their evenings. He would deliver the info about the night, and port info for the next day when applicable, quickly, humorously and succinctly. I know that Kyle is a cruise director who fills in for the regular cruise directors so that they can go on vacation, so we were very lucky to experience him at work. He filled in for the regular Infinity cruise director, Esperanza - who actually returned from her vacation for our 2nd cruise, remember this was back to back for us. I was able to see why Kyle has this job of filler-inner, because you have to be adept and flexible, able to step in and take over, no time for a learning curve. Kyle has those skills.
As usual on Celebrity fleetwide, we very much enjoyed the big shows put on by the production staff in the theater, as well as the musical groups that played throughout the ship, such as Ear Candy and the house band, D'Revelations. We also enjoyed the comedy and magic acts in the theater, but the individual musical acts that were brought on board to play in the theater left us pretty cold, as we felt like we were watching individual acts from the Ed Sullivan Show - but, that's just us - many people seemed to enjoy them very much!
Our two cabins were very well maintained. Besides the awkward bathroom door hinge placement in the handicapped accessible cabin, we also found the cabin less spacious and therefore harder to maneuver in, than the handicapped accessible cabins on the Solstice Class ships. You may be asking yourself by now why we sailed on the Infinity at all, being a Millennium Class ship, since we obviously prefer the Solstice Class ships - because of the itinerary. The Solstice Class ships are too big to fit in the Panama Canal, and the Panama Canal is what we wanted to experience. Throughout the ship, we often saw ongoing maintenance being done, painting, cleaning, etc, which is a good thing.
Disembarkation at Pier 27 in San Francisco was quite a mess. Being back to back passengers, we were not effected too much as our plan was to leave the ship to spend the day in San Francisco, and reboard Infinity in the late afternoon for the next cruise, to Alaska - nevertheless, we were supposed to be able to get off at 7:30am, but it was 8:10am before we were allowed off, spurring several phone calls between me and our day tour provider, causing him to have to readjust his schedule for his other customers. The big issue was how passengers who were leaving the ship for good, were not able to retrieve their luggage! Rumors were rampant, I still never got the full story - but the luggage wasn't able to be offloaded from the Infinity, something about it being low tide and the dock equipment wasn't able to get the luggage off! Many people had to fly home WITHOUT their luggage! It was a slow painstaking process to get the luggage off, it having to be lifted UP out of the holds of the Infinity, onto the pier. The other issue facing the debarkation process was that the CDC was onsite to inspect the ship due to the noro outbreaks. The crew - even the entertainment crew had to join in - causing huge delays for the next passengers to get onboard. Boarding didn't begin until 3pm! May 15 was a bad day for Celebrity, due to the luggage not being able to get loaded off as it should causing disembarkation delays, and the CDC health inspection causing the entire crew to engage in extreme sanitization measures causing embarkation delays. The ship left for the next cruise, to Alaska, over two hours late! But, having been a passenger on both cruises, I can say that the passenger experience was still excellent, and the cruises were both greatly enjoyed. Read Less