by James W. Brodman
July 20, 2001
My wife and I just returned from the July 20, 2001 sailing on Infinity to the Inside Passage. First of all, I want to express our appreciation for the advice that we read here at CruiseMates prior to the trip. Much of it proved to be very helpful. We went to Vancouver on the day prior to sailing and stayed at the Delta Pinnacle Hotel, a very nice establishment located near Canada Place. The rooms have panoramic views and we were fortunate that our room let us see Infinity arrive at 6:30 on Friday morning. The hotel has a nice fitness center, provides robes and an umbrella, and advertises a very attractive rate on HelloBC.com. We got to and from Vancouver Airport very conveniently by cab. Embarkation was very smooth; we were on the ship at noon. Disembarkation was similarly easy. Captain's Club got us off the ship by 8:30 when there was no wait for a cab. On the previous Friday I had noticed a very long queue for taxis at 10 a.m. Citing the current bus strike, Celebrity is selling a US$14 bus transfer to the airport, but for us the taxi was a much faster and less expensive alternative. As a consequence, we were checked into our homeward bound flight by 9:10 a.m. and passed through U.S. customs and the airport tax counter with no hassle; others told us that an hour later the lines became very long, just as they had been for Canadian customs when we had arrived around noon the previous week. Vancouver itself remains one of our favorite cities; the walk along the seawall from Canada Place into Stanley Park is scenic and relaxing.
Infinity is a very nice ship, and this from the perspective of someone who booked a ROS and wound up with a mid-ship inside cabin on the Plaza Deck. The cabin "seemed" a tad smaller than those of the Galaxy/Mercury class and also somewhat plainer, but certainly adequate for two. The bed and pillows were comfortable, the mini love-seat on improvement on Mercury's chair, and the interactive TV very convenient. Storage space seemed sparser, the shower stall was a tad narrow and the "kleenex" somewhat coarse. But, since we did not spend many waking hours in the room, the facilities were more than adequate.
Space utilization on Infinity is a bit odd. The impact of its generous passenger/space ratio is mitigated by the many areas devoted to special uses and thus not really available to regular passengers: the cigar club, the speciality restaurant, the spa, the seemingly endless shopping arcade (who comes on a cruise to buy a stove or a bunch of pots?), and the ample conference center. As a consequence, Infinity has one fewer lounge/night club than the Mercury/Galaxy class and lacks an indoor swimming pool (other than that of the aquaspa). Thus, sometimes facilities got over-crowded. The very fine afternoon chamber music concert had to share the Constellation Club with the children's program and a very loud group of adults having drinks. Crowding in the casino also made it very difficult for passengers to pass through from the forward to midship area of Infinity. Fortunately the Thalassotherapy Pool has been moved back from restricted to general space. This is an excellent facility that we enjoyed immensely. Generally it was not overcrowded and few children violated the adults-only policy (although signage at the pool is contradictory, one banning those under 18 and another mandating that minors have adult supervision). The "new age" music was relaxing but not easily heard over the noise of the water or of the users. A light lunch is served here but seemed to have few takers. Evidently not many cruisers are interested in eating lightly or litely. The Constellation Club on deck 11 was a comfortable getaway and an excellent spot for whale watching or for viewing the Hubbard Glacier. The chairs behind the midship elevators on deck 3 also provided a comfortable nook. The Cova Cafe, where the resident harpist entertained, surrounds the atrium and lacks intimacy; frequently private chatter drowns out the music. The main dining room, the Trellis, was comfortable and dramatic with its large sweeping windows astern. Overall, the ship is pleasantly understated. The art, depending on your viewpoint, is funky or weird; fortunately it can be mostly ignored. The library contains an adequate selection of fiction and non-fiction. We did not use Notes, the CD library, which is tucked away in the former teen club quarters next to the Constellation Club; the fitness center is well-equipped and not particularly crowded. The theater is comfortable and provides good views from any of its many levels. The cinema, part of the conference center, was fine except for the dated collection of movies. The Ocean Breeze Cafe has excellent views and is nicely appointed, particularly in the rear section which also accommodates non-fee alternative dining in the evenings. Breakfasts here were quite good, lunch a little less so but still we preferred it to the longer and more rigidly scheduled service in the main dining room. This was also the locale for delightful afternoon teas (finger sandwiches, cakes, cookies, pastries, frozen yogurt). At the rear of the room are stations for used for omelets, pasta and pizza at various times of the day.
Food: We thought it was not as good as on Mercury. Individual items and entrees were excellent. At dinner, the salmon and halibut, seafood pastry, and rack of lamb were done well, as were some of the appetizers and desserts. The veal piccata, however, was chewy and many of the pork and the beef items were bland; the duck was both. Consistently good were the bread and rolls; the almond croissants were a special favorite. Food on the buffet generally was hot and even items like french toast and pancakes were of good quality. A good assortment of tea, along with hot chocolate and coffee, was available. I found the orange juice and lemonade to be watered down. The pizza utilized very fresh ingredients and was made more in a European than an American style. As one would expect, there was never a shortage of food and, in general, the quality ranged from good to very good. With wise selections, one can dine well. One hopes, however, that Celebrity will not reserve excellence for patrons of its new extra-cost restaurants. Some traditions, however, are clearly getting old - most especially the baked Alaska parade. Perhaps Celebrity could step out front here and inaugurate its own unique tradition. Another tradition, that of the Captain's Welcome Party, was fun and worth maintaining; one hopes that Celebrity will not follow Princess in curtailing this practice. Finally, being early risers, it was with some trepidation that we agreed to second seating for dinner. But the advice recommending a later dinner on the Alaska itinerary proved to be absolutely correct; we are glad that we did it.
Service: This was first rate in the dining room and in the cabins. Servers were ever-present in the lounges, sometimes too much so. Celebrity seems to put the "A" team on its new ships and this shows. One hopes that Infinity will maintain this level of service as the "A" team rotates off (as it is starting to do this week) to prepare to take charge of the Summit.
Entertainment: Shipboard entertainment, like the rituals of dining, seem to follow a standard formula: the singing/dancing review, the comic, the acrobats and/or jugglers. Infinity had all of these. Indeed these were individuals of talent and enthusiasm. The shows radiated a real energy, and the evening of operatic themes attempted to be innovative. As with the baked Alaska, it may be time to change the formula a little. A special performer, Kurt Bestor, did just that with a fine show; I could encourage more changes of pace like this. The Amber Quartet from Poland provided a pleasant background to dinner in the evening as well as with its own afternoon concert. The lack of lounge space prevented the orchestra from playing the usual big band music that we like; a smaller group, Opus, performed well in the Constellation Club.
Itinerary: These are small ports and subject to highly variable weather. One has to adapt and make the best of things. On our trip, we were rewarded with a magnificent view of Hubbard Glacier as the ship rotated several times at only a distance of a half mile and with wonderful scenery along the Inner Passage on the afternoons of our first and last day. The watchful passenger saw dolphins and Orcas. Ketchikan, the rainiest place in Alaska, greeted us with marvelous sunshine. Juneau, alas, was wet as always and our whale watch with Captain Larry caught up with a single humpback. Skagway was dry but very windy and so we shifted from a float trip to a hike. In short, the weather will rarely be perfect but the beauty and majesty of Alaska will shine through for those who care to look. Celebrity is to be commended for its low-key approach to tours. It provides an Alaska commentator and the usual shopping guide and then lets passengers do what they want. Everywhere there is, of course, shopping galore; the general impression was that the shops in Skagway were more interesting than the others. Beware that some stores refuse any refunds, and do not post this information.
Conclusion: My wife and I love cruising and we very much like Celebrity's style. Certainly there is more of the ka-ching factor (e.g., the rather blatant hawking of beach towels at $28 apiece, the omnipresence of the photographer, etc.) but it is still possible to ignore that sort of thing, stare out at the sea, space out in the T-Pool or hot tub, read a book, meet new people, and escape from the ordinary cares of life. That is, after all, why we do this!