Fascinating Antarctica, Average Cruise Experience : Celebrity Infinity Cruise Review by rubysue

Celebrity Infinity 4
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Fascinating Antarctica, Average Cruise Experience

Sail Date: February 2014
Destination: South America
Embarkation: Buenos Aires
Background Information: We are veteran cruisers, late fifties, no children, and have done many cruises over 30+ years on a variety of cruise lines (Oceania, Disney, RCI, Princess, Holland America, Cunard and a few others). This cruise (our 24th) was our first on Celebrity and also our first cruise that originated in South America.

Cruise Itinerary: We selected this cruise, which was round-trip from Buenos Aires, based on its price and itinerary, which included two days cruising in the Antarctica region (no landings) and cruising around Cape Horn, Chile. Having traveled last summer on a fantastic Oceania Nautica cruise as far north as 80 degrees 28 minutes (near the polar ice barrier), we wanted a complimentary cruise as far south as feasible. The cruise also featured stops in Ushuaia and Puerto Madryn, Argentina; Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; and Montevideo, Uruguay.

Travel to/from Buenos Aires: We used award program miles to book roundtrip flights on United in More business class. We flew from our home city to Houston, which was the gateway city for our 10+-hour flights to and from Buenos Aires. Both flights had delays due to mechanical issues and we also experienced long intervals of turbulence (often severe) in both directions.

Hotel in Buenos Aires: We arrived two days prior to the cruise and stayed at the Sheraton Libertador. We used a transfer service by bus to a central location in the city, then had a car transfer to the hotel (very reasonably priced). This hotel was centrally located and perfectly adequate for our stay. The staff was very friendly and helpful. We stayed on a concierge floor and had free breakfasts in the concierge lounge on the 21st floor, as well as a happy hour. The staff arranged a 3-hour city tour for us that was quite good. We also had an excellent dining experience in Buenos Aires at I Latina, a restaurant that has very high ratings on Trip Advisor. The tasting menu, featuring foods from many places in South America, and wine pairings from Argentina, was superb.

Transfer to the ship: We took a taxi from the hotel to the check-in terminal building (a short distance from our hotel).

Embarkation Process: We started the process in a long line outside to check bags, then were able to go through security almost immediately because we were booked in an Aqua Class cabin. The next line, for cruise check-in, was also very long and the person behind the counter told us we would turn in our passports to Guest Services until we reached a port in Chile. We told her we were not going to any ports in Chile and she seemed very flustered. At check-in, we were also given VIP tags, which turned out to be very fortuitous. My DH is a tech journalist and he had arranged for an interview through Celebrity with their staff members about their iLounge and Innovations store on Infinity; for that reason we got the VIP bonuses. Apparently, Celebrity is trying out the VIP process for suite guests and others who qualify and it was a lovely bonus. After getting checked in, we went into another long line for passport control, then we did turn in our passports until after our stop in the Falkland Islands. Because I walk with a cane, we were given priority in the passport line, which was very helpful. Finally, we were ready to board the ship, but where was it? At this point, we found out that you had to take a bus over to the dock area and then board the ship. Fortunately, there were no rain showers at the time, because boarding was outside. The Buenos Aires port area mixes container vessel processing with cruise ships and it looks like the cruise ships have lesser priority. Once we were on board, a crew member escorted us to Michael's Club because of the VIP tags, where we could wait until the rooms were ready. Here we met some of the wonderful staff members that we became familiar with, including Anca, Andrea and Cathy. Our room was ready around 1:30 pm and our bags finally showed up right before we sailed (after the safety drill).

Ship Information: Celebrity Infinity is one of the Millennium class ships in the Celebrity fleet that has been "solsticized". The ship carries approximately 2100 passengers, with about 1,000 in the crew. The public spaces are nice and elegant, with interesting art works throughout the ship. In a few places, the ship looks like it should have some maintenance, but its appearance overall was very good.

Cabin: Our cabin was on deck 9, midships, starboard side and was in the "Aqua Class" category. The midship elevators were very close by, which was convenient. We would not pay for this type of category again if we chose to cruise with Celebrity in the future. The cabin was very standard, with a small couch and desk near the balcony doors, a king bed (more like a queen bed), which was not very comfortable, and a small bathroom. There was ample storage space. The bathroom had a persistent unpleasant odor during the entire cruise, which we complained about but it never went away. Deck 9 is right below the pool deck and, fortunately, we had many days of the cruise where the pool deck was not being used due to cold temperatures. When it was warm, you could hear deck chairs being dragged across the deck and could also hear the band music in our cabin (with the balcony doors closed). Our balcony was small, but did have a regular table and comfortable chairs. The pool deck also has a large overhang over deck 9. This was a blessing when we were in Antarctica, but did restrict views from the balcony. Apparently, the Aqua Class cabin amenities include bottled water, fresh fruit and varieties of room-temperature (not iced) tea, plus you can eat in Blu. We don't use spa facilities, so we did not take advantage of any of the Aqua Class programs. These extras do not justify the extra fare, in our opinion. We also had more than our fair share of creaky bulkheads (our cabin was right by a structural section divider), a persistent sound of water pumps (for the pools above?) and an annoying moaning/whistling noise through our balcony door when the wind blew.

Dining: Overall, the dining experience on Infinity was mediocre. We did not dine in the Trellis dining room at all and our three dinners in Blu were very disappointing, although the restaurant is beautiful and the staff is excellent. The food in the Oceanview Cafe (buffet) was pretty good and we often ate casual meals there or, later, brought it to room when I became ill. Our best meal was in Qsine, a specialty restaurant added in 2007. This was a memorable experience, with a fun concept using iPads to order, excellent food and a spectacular view. We dined here early in the cruise, which was fortunate, as we had to cancel another specialty restaurant reservation later in the cruise because of illness. Room service was great for breakfast (very prompt and friendly delivery) but very slow for any other meal.

Beverage Packages: We decided to buy the Premium beverage package in advance as it covered soft drinks, coffee and tea drinks at Cafe al Bacio, and bottled water, in addition to wines by the glass, beers and other alcoholic drinks. The wines by the glass were quite limited and seemed to be of varying quality across the ship. I enjoy red wine and would find a good Pinot Noir in one lounge, then ask for what I thought was the same wine elsewhere and end up with a very mediocre glass of wine. The coffee and tea choices were nice and Cafe Al Bacio is an extremely popular hangout on the ship.

Service: Overall, the service on Infinity was extraordinary and among the best we have ever had on a ship. Everyone goes out of their way to be helpful and courteous and most crew and staff members seem genuinely happy to be there working on this ship. We especially want to thank Anca, Andrea, and Cathy and Crofton for their consideration. Our cabin steward was very nice, as was his assistant, although I think it was challenging for them when I was confined to the cabin towards the end of the cruise (more on that later).

Activities and Entertainment: We did not participate in many activities on board (pretty typical for us on a cruise). We did see one show, the Pampas Devils (a dance quartet), and enjoyed it immensely. We attended one lecture and were very unimpressed with one of the the alleged "experts" on Antarctica, who prominently misspelled the name of a famous Antarctic explorer on his slides and also had many facts that were incorrect. The naturalist on board was pretty good and did point out some fascinating features and wildlife sightings during our time in Antarctica. The two-story theater on board was very nice; we also watched as much of the Super Bowl as we could tolerate in the theater (being Broncos fans) and they did a great job with special food and beverage service. We did not use the casino and only did a minimum amount of shopping on board. As part of the VIP services, we did get a tour of the engine control room and the bridge (with the Captain); these were very interesting tours, especially as we are both engineers by training.

Internet package: The internet services offered on Infinity were a giant step backwards from other recent cruise experiences. DH keeps in touch for his job and we both like to contact family members and I also write a travel blog that is updated regularly. The packages were expensive, no unlimited package was offered, and the service was often extremely slow.

Ports: The primary attraction on this cruise is the opportunity to see Antarctica and it was beyond description. It was very cold, cloudy and windy the day we were there (with snow and ice on the open decks), but we had plenty of wildlife sightings (whales, seals, penguins) and the scenery is spectacular in the Palmer Archipelago, through the Gerlache Strait and in Paradise Bay, off the coast of the Peninsula. We achieved a southern latitude of 64 degrees 50.4 minutes, which was a fantastic number to bookend our northern latitude limit. Our original itinerary also had us cruising by Elephant Island (famous from the failed Shackleton Endurance expedition), but a forecast of bad weather cancelled this part of the cruise. Instead, we cruised by Deception Island, an active volcano in the South Shetland Islands. The island itself was not very interesting, but we had a thrilling sighting of thousands of chinstrap penguins in the water. Our crossings of the Drake Passage were fairly mild, although very strong winds did occur the morning we arrived near Antarctica. In the other ports: We took a ship excursion in beautiful Ushuaia, Argentina, which included a catamaran visit to islands in the Beagle Channel with large sea lion and cormorant populations and a bus tour of Tierra Del Fuego National park. It was a good tour, but we regret not having gone to Martillo Island to see the penguin colonies. We chose not to go on our ship tour that we booked in the Falkland Islands because we weren't feeling well that day, but did enjoy seeing Port Stanley ( it was a long tender ride). We also had a day-long tour from Puerto Madryn to the Valdes Peninsula and saw plenty of wildlife including penguins up close, but had a mediocre lunch at an estancia. We did not leave the ship in Montevideo (not by choice). We can highly recommend the "Best of Buenos Aires" ship tour if you have a flight after 8:00 pm from EZE airport on the day of disembarkation This was one of the best excursions we have ever taken (more about it in the disembarkation summary).

Illness: In 24 cruises, this is first time one of us has had a serious illness (serious enough to go to medical at least). I began feeling sick early in the second week of the cruise (sore throat, cough, other symptoms). I toughed it out for a couple of days, but finally went to the medical center right after we returned from our excursion in Puerto Madryn on February 13. At this point in the cruise, we had two more full days until we disembarked in Buenos Aires and one more port visit. I was diagnosed with influenza after a nasal swab test and was running a temperature around 101.5 degrees F. I had a flu shot in the fall of 2013 and had to fill out a form for the CDC because this was a variation of the types of flu used in those vaccines. I was also told I was confined in a mandatory quarantine in our cabin for the next 48 hours and if I did not show improvement (or my DH got ill), they might have to report it to the medical authorities in Buenos Aires. We were both given Tamiflu and began what I call "flu jail". We had a private tour with 22 other passengers from our Roll Call that we were looking forward to in Montevideo, but had to forego the experience (DH is a wonderful companion and did not feel it was appropriate for him to go on his own). After starting the Tamiflu, I felt better almost immediately and counted down the hours until I was cleared by medical, which happened with only a few hours left in the last evening of the cruise. The medical charges were $350, which we are claiming on our trip insurance. There were a variety of illnesses on this cruise that we found out about based on conversations we had with fellow passengers (before and after the quarantine), including several other people with influenza, many passengers and crew members who had another respiratory illness, some cases of Norovirus, and also some passengers (myself included) who had asthma problems throughout the cruise (my asthma is normally very well-controlled). Nine days at sea confined mostly indoors does not lend itself to a healthy ship, in my opinion. The cruise after ours (another Antarctica cruise) apparently had a statistically significant Norovirus outbreak towards the end of that cruise, necessitating later boarding for the next cruise and mandatory disembarkation of B2B passengers for the day. Apparently, I will be receiving a cruise voucher from Celebrity towards a future cruise prorated on time I spent in quarantine, but this has not yet been sent to our TA.

Passengers: A few words must be said about our fellow passengers. First, our Roll Call group was fantastic and very active for almost two years prior to this cruise and we enjoyed meeting many of them and hope to see them on future cruises. The passengers were a diverse crowd, representing many countries from all over the world. We also had many passengers who were very rude and pushy and lacked common courtesy for other passengers, especially on the day we did the tour in Ushuaia (many people literally raced to the catamaran and again to the buses, leaving the less-abled passengers like myself to hope we could find a decent seat). This behavior was also evident on elevators, when disembarking buses and when getting on and off the ship. I saw quite a few women using public restrooms and not washing their hands afterwards (no wonder illnesses were spreading). There were more than a handful of people in the casino during our short time in Antarctica, which seriously begs the question as to why they were on this cruise.

Disembarkation: We disembarked on Sunday, February 17 and did the bus in reverse to the terminal building, where we boarded the coach for our tour (our bags went on to the airport). I was feeling much better and we enjoyed the "Best of Buenos Aires" tour, particularly the visit to the enchanting Estancia La Mimosa north of the city. The food and wine (an amazing feast), the beautiful grounds and animals and the gaucho entertainment left everyone in a very happy mood for the drive to the airport. At the airport, our bags were sitting out in the open and were not being watched by anyone and there were no representatives from Celebrity to help people with their flights (ours were booked independently so this was not an issue, but apparently this was a problem for those who booked their flights through the cruise line).

Summary: We have mixed emotions about this cruise and the trip. We enjoyed seeing Antarctica and the beautiful scenery and wildlife there and in other places in Argentina. We liked Buenos Aires and found the people to be very nice in that city. We didn't enjoy the food on Infinity (with a few exceptions) and the quarantine was not fun but the service was exceptional. Our cabin was merely average (and became quite confining after 48 hours). Our flights were problematic. We're glad we went, but we would probably not go again on this particular itinerary or if we did want to re-visit Antarctica, we might splurge on an expedition cruise. Celebrity also did not convince us they are on the "must cruise" list for the near future, but we may consider a cruise on one of the newer ships. Less

Published 03/18/14

Cabin review:

As noted in the main review, the Aqua Class cabin category was not worth the extra expense.

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