by Michael & Frances
March 23, 2002
My wife and I live in Toronto, Canada are both in our 50?s and this cruise was on Celebrity?s Infinity. Our first cruise was last March on the Ocean Princess and we were very impressed and thrilled with that first cruise experience. It is only natural that we would compare the two cruise experiences and many comments in this review are as a result of what we had come to expect as a result of the Princess cruise last March. For those interested, there is a thorough review posted from last year?s Ocean Princess cruise that we posted on this site (see March 2001, Ocean Princess, Michael & Frances). We are big fans of good food and wine and deliberately chose Celebrity in order to vary our cruise experience The reason we chose Celebrity was that we were told that it was ?a notch up? from Princess, especially with regards to food.
The Infinity is a stunning ship. The fit and finish and quality of materials, colours, art work, are all enough to make you walk around in awe for the first couple of days of the cruise. Unfortunately we were very, very disappointed in the quality and availability of food on the Infinity. The ports of call on the southern Caribbean cruise are all very interesting although we did hear a few complaints about St. Croix from some other passengers. We will follow with a lot of details, but in comparison of the two cruises we have experienced, we would give the Ocean Princess cruise 95 out of 100, whereas we would give the Infinity cruise 79 or 80 out of 100. A noticeable difference in score to be sure.
FOOD & SERVICE
There was a huge difference in the quality and availability of food between Infinity and Ocean Princess. For starters, the ?welcome aboard buffet? ended on the Infinity at about 4 pm on the Saturday, and seeing as how we, along with hundreds of others, arrived after this time, it was not much of a welcome. The dinner that evening was open seating, and we joined a table of ten and made some great friends right away. I ordered prime rib that night, as did the fellow next to me, and we were shocked to find that it looked like it had been cut thin on a delicatessen slicer. We ate that plate of prime rib, and both of us promptly asked for another. The two thin pieces of prime rib made up what one would normally expect a prime rib to be. Horseradish for the prime rib did not ever arrive, even when requested. At the same meal the assistant waiter performed the interesting trick of pouring my wife a decaf coffee as requested, and then pouring me a regular coffee magically from the same pot.....some sort of special lever device I presume?
Be warned that salads were a general disaster on Infinity. Night after night, the salads appeared to be like rabbit food. Tiny pieces of lettuce, all chopped up into slivers...not a decent piece to be found. Caesar salad was offered one night, so that was a change. Soups were somewhat interesting, but another difference is that Celebrity considers a bisque to be tomato bisque, whereas Princess considers bisque to be shrimp bisque. Again, perhaps minor, but quite indicative to us.
On the night that the baked Alaska was served, the menu noted at least five desserts other than the baked Alaska. But when it came time for dessert, our waiter quickly informed us that the baked Alaska was the only choice that night and promptly served it to everyone. The menu also noted a cheese course each evening but this was never offered. I did inquire about it one night to our waiter and he quickly told me that it was ?a brie, a cheddar and something else? and he seemed quite surprised when we said we would have a plate or cheese. It arrived with three tiny pieces of cheese buried under a mound of grapes and crackers. Hide and seek for the cheese please.
The hours of availability of the food was another major issue for us. On the Ocean Princess the Horizon Court buffet was open 24 hours a day (the size and selection of course varied with the time of day or night) whereas on the Infinity you had to carefully plan your hours to eat at their buffet. It was ridiculous the number of times that the Oceanview Grille was closed. ?Closed ? was achieved by pulling down the white ?window shades? in front of all of the food. People could be spotted reaching behind the curtains to get a snack. If you went off board and came back on at about 3 pm for lunch you were practically out of luck. Besides the crazy hours at the Oceanview Grille, the burger grille at the pool only operated from 12 until 2 pm. Rather limited I would say. On the Ocean Princess this BBQ grille would operate from 11 am until 5 pm. The Ocean Princess was much more user friendly when it came to choosing what time you wanted to eat. The Infinity seemed to rely on the fact that you could almost always get a slice of pizza by the pool. Well isn?t that just great....a slice of pizza on a cruise ship line famous for fine food. It should be noted though that room service was available 24 hours a day from a fairly diverse menu, if you are so inclined to eat in your cabin.
There is a very nice place mid ships called the Cova Cafe to have specialty coffees, teas, etc. They offer pastries during certain limited hours at the Cova Cafe with your coffee, but when we were there we were told the pastries started one hour later. If you want to run the Cova Cafe and offer specialty coffees (that you pay for) then why can they not offer the pastries no matter what time you wish to enjoy your cappuccino?
One day in the whirlpool we were chatting to a passenger from New York State, who had been on the Millennium last year and was so thrilled, he booked this cruise on the Infinity. Well, he was not a happy fellow as he could not believe the difference in the food quality from last year to this year. We were glad to know that we were not misjudging all that was going on.
The exception to the rule was the absolutely fabulous SS United States specialty restaurant. But to experience this kind of service, you had to pay an additional $25/person, but I would suggest that it is well worth it if you really enjoy being pampered in a wonderful setting, all the while enjoying a limited but expertly prepared menu. Be sure to try the goat cheese souffle as an appetizer. If you like lamb, the lamb is also fabulous. The cheese course is another highlight of this dining experience, as each cheese on the trolley is described in detail by a very knowledgeable server. Wine service, general service, and attention to detail is the signature of this restaurant. The wine list is more extensive in this restaurant than the main restaurant, and the wine prices vary widely so that you can find a wine in the price range that you are comfortable with. Each course also has a suggested matching wine, all available by the glass or bottle. Dinner in SS United States takes about three enjoyable hours. This restaurant also offers some interesting salads, which are glaringly absent from the main dining room as previously noted. Tip: If you choose to make a reservation to the SS United States you should do it immediately upon getting on board as the reservations fill up quickly. The day of choice seems to be the day at sea, and those reservations go fast. You can phone directly from your cabin.
Another highlight was the gala midnight buffet on the Thursday night. It was an extraordinary exhibition of food art. They set it up and allow only photos for about 30 minutes before it is OK to start devouring it. It is complete with wonderful ice sculptures. Our only regret was that we were not very hungry as we were second dinner seating.
Note: You can take your own wine to the dining room and there will be a $6 per bottle corkage fee that you sign for. So if you feel like taking some good wine on board from home I think that it is worth doing. We took two good bottles with us from home. You can take the wines in advance to the dining room, or simply stroll in with them yourself at dinner time. We did the latter.
The cabins are wonderful. I think that all of the cruise lines have had so much experience at using every available square inch of space, that they have it almost perfected on all newer ships. Every nook and cranny is used for cabinets, storage etc. Be sure to open all doors. Once you have unpacked and got organized, everything is great. Our cabin steward and his assistant were very pleasant and took very good care of us...although all we every really asked for was an extra pillow. Our cabin was kept spotless, and the towels were changed a couple of times a day. The stewards seem to magically know when you are away from the cabin and quickly get their work done. They always greeted us with a pleasant smile and kind word.
As mentioned above the ship is stunningly beautiful. Every square inch,(except for Notes, the CD listening area, which is poorly done, almost like an afterthought) is exceptional. The details, materials, comfort, decor, etc. are all outstanding. Be sure to visit all all of the areas, and even if you do not smoke be sure to visit Michael?s Club, the cigar lounge, during the day. It is one of the most comfortable areas on the ship, and is a great spot for a quiet sit down during the day. You can enter it during the day via the sliding door beside the bar area of Michael?s Club. Be sure to allocate some time for lounging around the Aqua Spa. You will likely love the Thalassotherapy Pool. The lounge chairs on the ship are also wonderful.
The main dining room, The Trellis Restaurant, is beautiful. It is two stories tall, with a centre atrium and is situated at the stern of the ship, with big windows looking out to the ocean. This dining room is much nicer that on the Ocean Princess because it feels much more open and spacious, whereas on the Ocean Princess the main dining rooms are separated onto two floors, one storey high each. The Princess dining rooms feel a bit confining with their relatively low ceilings.
The casino is standard with the normal amount of glitz and noise, but what else is new? We found the slots to be pretty tight, but did hear of one guy winning $20,000 at black jack one evening. One can only think that if he was playing to that level that he might have lost about as much on another night.
We found the Promenade Deck to clearly not be a Promenade Deck. You could walk towards the bow and be dead-ended, and turn and walk to the stern, and again be dead-ended. On the Ocean Princess you can walk full circle on a beautiful wooden deck, but not on the Infinity. On the Infinity it is only good for a short walk.
The entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre is fabulous. Celebrity must have some of the best performers, especially the singers and dancers, at sea. We only missed one show (the night we went to the SS United States), but all of the ones we saw were wonderful. Try not to miss any of the shows.
If you ask at the Guest Relations desk, you can sign up for a Galley Tour, which we did. It only takes about 30 minutes andt is quite interesting. Try to take a later tour, i.e. about 4:30 as at that time they are getting organized for the first seating of dinner.
PORTS OF CALL
We have an expression that we adopted after our first cruise....?the ship is the main course, the ports of call are the appetizers?. For the Caribbean we put more emphasis on the ship and less on the ports. Our port experiences were as follows.
St. Croix: We were picked up by a friend who lives there and he showed us around the island.
Barbados: Took a ship?s tour to Harrison Caves and the floral gardens. A very nice tour and one we would recommend.
St. Lucia: Took a short tour and then went Reduit Beach. We shared a very reasonably priced taxi/tour with four other people from the Infinity who were looking to do the same thing as us. We all just met and got organized at the taxi stand outside the ship.
Antigua: We wanted a day of rest so just walked around St. John?s and went back on board and treated it like a day at sea.
St. Thomas: We went to Coral World on our own and really enjoyed it. If you like fish, stingrays, etc., you will enjoy Coral World. There is a beach next to it where you can swim and snorkel called Coki Beach, but I would not recommend going to Coki Beach unless you are going to Coral World as there are better beaches on the island. If you want to get off of St. Thomas, be sure to head to St. Johns. We went there last year and it was fabulous. We would have gone again, but as we said before, we like to try different things.
It was a great week on a great ship. How could you not enjoy leaving the cold weather and getting on a wonderful ship, cruising to Caribbean ports, meeting interesting people, and having a great time. The purpose of these reviews on CruiseMates in our opinion, is to inform, compare and share. Even though our cruising experiences are limited to two, it is only logical to evaluate the two cruises one against the other. It actually cost us a bit more to go on the Infinity, but all else being relatively equal, Celebrity?s Infinity failed miserably to match the Ocean Princess in food quality and food availability.
This is not to say that we would never sail Celebrity again, because that would be too harsh a statement, but given equal opportunities, there is absolutely not doubt that we will return to Princess.
Keep those reviews coming everyone, so that we can continue to learn from your cruising experiences. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!