by Susan Wurst
May 1, 2001
After much anticipation the day finally arrived for us to leave for the Alaska repositioning cruise May 1st on the Infinity.
Background: Myself (age 34) and my husband (40) took my parents on this cruise for their 40th wedding anniversary. My husband and I had only cruised one other time on the Sovereign of the Seas, and my parents had never cruised before. We picked this particular sailing for a couple of reasons. The first was that it was one of the few cruises going to Alaska over my parents May 5th wedding anniversary. Second, was that it stopped in Seattle, where my sister and her husband and two kids live. Third, I chose Celebrity because for this particular cruise my priority was something a little more upscale rather than constant activity, so I did my research and chose the Infinity May 1 -May 11th sailing to Alaska.
Embarkation: Piece of cake. The only other embarkation I had ever experienced was with Royal Caribbean in Port Canaveral which was a completely hideous experience. We arrived at the Pier from the San Francisco airport via limo. Even though this is not a normal port for Celebrity, I was surprised at how quickly it went and how organized they were. We were onboard in ten minutes at approximately 12:15pm. I did hear from other passengers who arrived after us that once the busses from the airport arrived embarkation was taking a couple hours. For once the luck of timing was on my side.
Once on the ship we were greeted by a Celebrity employee who showed us to our cabins. We were booked in two Category 3 staterooms, 7201 and 7204. When we entered the rooms I was amazed at how spacious they were. There was a huge amount of storage space, way more than we could possibly have used (and I tend to over pack). The balcony was huge as well. I had been a little concerned since our rooms were right next to the category 3 corner cabins that our view would be obstructed by those balconies with the portion that juts out, but this wasn't the case. My initial view from the balcony was Alcatraz, which got me even more pumped up for the upcoming trip. The weather in San Francisco that day was absolutely gorgeous (unfortunately by far the best weather we would experience during the entire trip!) The cabin had two beds which were made up into a King as we had requested, the tuxedo's I had rented for my dad and husband were in our rooms, and there was a nice bottle of wine in each room from our travel agent. I had prebooked the shore excursions online and our tickets were in the cabin. Very slick! Our room had our dining room table assignment card, but my parents room did not. So while I went off in search of where they were doing the dining assignment changes, my mom and dad settled on their balcony lounge chairs with a glass of wine and watched the boats sail by.
So up to the Rendezvous lounge I went. I found the area where they were dealing with dining assignment problems and put my name on the waiting list. There were probably about 20 other people sitting in chairs waiting for their names to be called, all of them looking extremely grumpy (RELAX people, you're on vacation!). I found out from the guy taking names that my parents did have the same table we did, but it was a table for 4 (I had requested a large table in anticipation of us getting sick of each other). In addition to that the table was located right next to a large waiter station, so I decided to wait it out and see what other tables were available. Since the wait would probably be about a half hour I went to the table that was taking reservations for the United States restaurant and made a reservation for the night of my parents anniversary. (more on that later). I then dutifully took my seat and waited my turn. Remember, I had literally just gotten off of a plane, and I was wearing jean overalls and a T-Shirt. The woman I sat down next to looked me up and down and said "I was told by my travel agent that Celebrity was a more upscale cruise line and the guests would be more dressed up" I am not kidding she actually said this to me. Fortunately, most of the guests I met were great people, and thanks to some of the internet message boards I met some fantastic people online ahead of time (hi Noel, Beav, Linecoach, Jeff and the many others) After about 5 minutes of waiting I was beginning to feel very sorry for the poor guy who was doing the reassigning. Apparently people take their dining room assignments as a matter of life and death because this guy was getting yelled at by almost everyone who came to him. I was sitting fairly close to the table he was stationed at so I was able to amuse myself with the stories people came up with. I'm still pondering what possible medical reason there could be that someone couldn't eat dinner before 9:00 at night! Anyway, eventually it was my turn. I explained to him that I had requested a large table and we were at a table for 4, and that if at all possible we would prefer to not be right next to a waiter station. He looked at me, rubbed his eyes and said (and I quote) "you nice lady, you no give me headache, I give you really nice table". So...what I was rewarded with for being one of the few people who didn't yell at the poor guy was table 411. A table for 4 next to the captains table, with a gorgeous view out the huge 2 story high windows in the aft of the dining room. (lesson: you'll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar)
I took the opportunity to explore more of the ship and was not disappointed. The decorating is well done, each public room has its own unique look and feel to it. Every staff member I passed, looked me in the eye, smiled and said hello. I went back to our rooms, grabbed my parents for the bon voyage and sailing under the golden gate and went up to the pool deck. We watched the ship sailing under the golden gate (a weirdly patriotic and awesome experience!), then went down to get ready for dinner. As soon as the ship got out of the bay, the ocean was VERY rough, and I mean VERY rough. Later, our waiter told us that out of the 1800 guests on the ship that night, they had 600 people not show up for dinner. I left dinner early (what a shame with that great table) and spent the rest of the night in our cabin. I can only speak for our two cabins, but there was ALOT of vibration in the cabins. So much so that at times we had things fall off of the desk or the sink in the bathroom. It was mainly when we were in rough seas, coming into port, or in calm seas, but the captain had us going full speed. I don't want to understate this but I don't want to exaggerate it either, but just to make people aware who are considering booking the cat 3 cabins and the cat 1's overlooking the back of the ship that in certain circumstances there is a noticeable vibration. Would I book another Cat 3 in the future knowing that there was a vibration present? In a heartbeat. I won't bore you with the gory details of our sea sickness so I will fast forward a bit here to the ports.
SEATTLE: What can I say, it's my favorite city in the country and from having a sister who lives there I know it very well. We spent the day walking around downtown finding an excuse to stop for a drink or lunch or dessert or coffee or more dessert or another drink.
VICTORIA: We rented a limo (Royal Limousine) and did a 4 hour city tour. I would highly recommend this limo company. They hire people who are retired who have lived in the area for a long time. Our driver was retired from the Coast Guard and had lived in Victoria all his life. We were able to see a lot of this charming city that on a normal tour wouldn't have been available to us. At $50 Canadian per hour, we paid for the 4 of us about the same amount of money that we would have paid for the ships bus tour.
SITKA: We had to tender into Sitka (very cold) since the tenders were not completely enclosed. There isn't a lot to do in this town. We took a cab up to the Raptor rehabilitation center which is not much more than a small building, some birds in enclosed fences, and a walking trail through the woods. If the tour guide takes their time the tour lasts about 15 minutes. The cost of admission is $10.00 per person, but since it goes to the ongoing costs of running the center we didn't feel ripped off. After we stopped in a local hole in the wall bar (my husbands passion when we are in different cities is going to the most run down looking bar he can find and talking to the locals.) after the bar stop we had had enough of Sitka and waited in line for about 20 minutes in very windy very wet 45 degree weather to tender back. Back in the comfort of our floating resort, we decided we deserved some of that yummy Celebrity pizza which we ordered from room service. It went well with the rum and cokes we had smuggled onboard.
SKAGWAY: We took the White Pass train tour. As everyone says, sit on the left hand side of the train on the way up. Even though you switch sides at the top of the pass, for some reason the view going up is much better than going down. Although I thought I would be very board on this tour, I enjoyed it a lot. The scenery was spectacular and the narration was well done. We even ran into some heavy snow at the top of the pass (I'm from Minnesota, so when I say heavy snow, I mean HEAVY SNOW!). We went to the Red Onion saloon which was nice and then found our way to the Skagway Brewing company. This is a combo bar, restaurant and store, attached to a small Victorian looking hotel. I would recommend this as a stop, and the clam chowder was awesome. We went in and out of many of the shops and made it back to the ship just in time.
JUNEAU: My mom and husband took the city bus tour which they said was awful. Their bus driver spent the whole tour talking about her son, and not pointing out any of the sites that they were passing. My dad and I took the helicopter glacier tour. I booked this independently of the ship, and booked it directly with Coastal Helicopters. (Ask for JAG as your pilot) I would highly recommend this tour. It was an awesome experience. It was just me, my dad and Jag, and it was his first tour of the season so he was as excited to be on the glacier as we were. We spent about 25 minutes exploring the glacier before our return trip. We had a 1:00pm flight and I guess were fortunate since due to weather they cancelled the later afternoon flights (yes the crummy weather was still following us) We did the obligatory Red Dog Saloon stop (good beer!) then some shopping then headed back to the ship.
KETCHIKAN: All four of us had opted for the "Back Country Jeep Safari" tour. This was a new tour being offered by the tour company ATA (owned by Princess Cruise line) but was offered through Celebrity. We were the first group ever to go on this tour (our jeep had 80 miles on it). They still didn't have all the kinks worked out, since this was a new tour, which I am taking into consideration for this review, yet I don't think I would recommend for people to go on this tour for the following reasons. The tour book said a 3 ½ hour tour with a combination jeep ride, canoeing and nature hike. They split our bus of 26 people into 2 groups. Our tour started out on the jeeps. We only spent about 20 minutes actually jeeping, with one stop to look at the scenery. Then we went to a lake where we changed into rain gear (believe it or not it was hailing at this point). All 16 of us got into a canoe and canoed about ½ mile across the lake to a dock. We got out of the canoe, and they had a little hut type structure set up, with a large table with some food on it and a woman standing over a camp fire cooking soup in a big pot. We took our life jackets off and did the "nature hike" What the nature hike consisted of was a trail that was carved out and actually boardered on the sided with wood rail road ties. The trail was as long as it takes me to walk around the outside of my house. We then had ours soup (which was still cold) our hot chocolate (which was luke warm), then got back into the canoes and went back across the lake, where we got on the bus and rode back to where they park the jeeps to pick up the second half of our group who had taken the jeeps after they had canoed. In my opinion they could knock out the canoeing and the "nature hike" and just do jeeping. This seemed to be the general consensus amongst most of the people on the tour. For the 4 of us I paid over $500 for this tour, and really didn't feel like we got our moneys worth. The weather finally cleared up and we had a great rest of the day in Ketchikan. We LOVED this city and are actually planning on going back for a long weekend later this summer. The crew of the Infinity hangs out at Annabelles where we stopped for a drink, and we saw our room steward, our assistant waiter and the woman who runs Michaels there.
A few more things that may be of interest to you.
FOOD: The food in the dining room was great for Lunch and Dinner and the service was always perfect. I found the dining room a bit loud and clattery, but this could be due to the location of our table. We were on the first floor of the two floor dining room and were in the section that was open to the ceiling on the 5th floor. Our assistant waiter Jose made it a particularly enjoyable experience. The breakfast in the dining room was marginal and after a few days we started eating at the buffet for breakfast. The buffets in the Oceanview Grill were average buffet food, nothing exceptional, but nothing hideous either. The day we were in port in Seattle we knew we would be returning to the ship too late for the early dinner seating so we made reservations for dinner in the Oceanview Grill. Do yourself a favor and skip this experience. The food wasn't very good and you had to go up to the buffet line to pick up your soup, salad and appetizer, then they brought the entree to you. After having eaten in the main dining room for dinner the food was disappointing.
ROOM SERVICE: We used this a lot. You can order your food over the TV, but after doing this once I found it easier just to pick up the phone. The second night of the cruise my mom still wasn't feeling up to venturing to the dining room for dinner so we called their cabin steward and he brought us the dining room menu. We wrote down our order for him with a request that he not bring our dessert (Cherries Jubilee) until after we had finished our dinner (which he did). Everything arrived hot and was wonderful. We ordered probably every item off the menu at one time or another and the food was always good. It was really nice ordering the fruit and cheese platter each night to go with our before dinner cocktails.
MICHAELS: My husband is a wholesaler for cigars and when on vacation both he and my dad will indulge in the nasty habit. So each night after dinner we went into Michaels. This is a great place to relax and is extremely under utilized. They have an awesome ventilation system and the room is not smoky at all. The bartender/waitress in Michaels was awesome. After the first night she knew what each of us drank and would just ask "the usual?" AAAAAAHHHHHH the joys of being pampered.
ENTERTAINMENT: The main shows were good. The Broadway one is a must see. I had seen many of the shows they spotlighted actually ON BROADWAY and I was impressed with the show (if that's any indication of the quality). My only complaint about any of the entertainment was the Stan Duo. These two guys seemed to ALWAYS be playing in the Rendezvous Lounge. They played there each afternoon and almost every night. In my humble opinion they are kind of lousy. This may be unfair and may be coming from the fact that we heard them so often (we usually passed through the Rendezvous to get anywhere on the ship). I think maybe Celebrity should make the investment to have 2 different groups rotating the time in the Rendezvous (and make sure one of them doesn't have an electric organ!). The other house band Onyx was incredible. Their diverse repertoire was incredible. The fact that they can play for the sock hop (a must see is the Cruise Director Jim Cannon in his nerd routine at the sock hop) and they played equally great for the Caribbean night. All in all I was impressed with the level of entertainment.
SS UNITED STATES: The one word I would use to describe this experience is "incredible". We ate here on two separate occasions. The service is of a level I have never experienced before (and I travel and eat out quite extensively). The feeling of being pampered was out of this world. To give you an indication of the level of service, they have one guy whose only job is to walk around with the bread basket and keep offering you more bread! It is a long dining experience (both times is was two and a half hours) but it doesn't seem that long, and after the somewhat rushed service of being in the first dining room seating, was a welcome change. I didn't think the food could be much better than in the main dining room, but it was. Make sure someone in your party orders the goat cheese souffle and the chocolate souffle. I had the Shrimp Scampi the first night which was good but not exceptional, and the veal the second night which was out of this world. This dining experience is well worth the additional $25.00 per person, if you enjoy a more refined relaxing and "fu fu" dining experience, and should not be missed.
CONCLUSION: I am sure you are saying FINALLY at this point. I really didn't mean for this to be this long, but I remember what information I wanted to know when I was doing my research and tried to include that here. How would I rate this cruise? Excellent! Which I'm sure is a little confusing given my nit picky comments at times. And those negative comments were just that....nit picky. I go on vacation with relatively high expectations, but I don't let the little things get to me. Yes the weather sucked, oh well....yes some of my fellow passengers were rude and condescending, oh well...yes the Stan Duo drove me nuts....oh well, I didn't HAVE to walk through the Rendevous lounge. The ship was great, the service was incredible, Alaska in my opinion is a must see. Would I book Celebrity again. Yes, although there are other cruiselines I would like to try before I go back to Celebrity. (I like change and new experiences) Please feel free to email me with any questions, I will be more than happy to answer them.