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Old November 5th, 2003, 10:44 AM
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Default Just back - Infinity - Panama Canal

Just back from our Infinity 14-night Panama Canal cruise (San Diego – Ft. Lauderdale) and it was, in a word, wonderful!
This was our 16th Celebrity cruise, but our first time on Infinity. Having sailed Summit and Constellation, we felt right at home on Infinity. It is a beautiful ship, elegantly appointed and in mint condition. Like her sister M-class ships, Infinity has an abundance of beautiful public spaces, plenty of deck space, and is easy to get around.
Food and service were what we’ve come to expect on Celebrity. Officers, staff and crew were very friendly and eager to please, without being obsequious. We’ve always found the Celebrity “family” to be friendly and accommodating, but everyone seemed particularly so on Infinity, something just about everyone on board was talking about.
Dining room food and service were excellent, and the lunch buffets were plentiful. There were several theme buffet lunches, as well as a soup ‘n sandwich line, pasta station and spa lunch available.
One night we ate in the specialty restaurant, the SS United States. It was a wonderful dining experience. Food and service were excellent. The restaurant accommodates perhaps 50 people and is, of course, a much more intimate room than the dining room which holds 1000 people. Meals are individually prepared to order (many dishes are finished tableside), as opposed to being prepared 2000 at a time! It’s the personal attention and individual touch that makes it such a lovely evening.
Virtually all passengers complied with the suggested/required evening dress code, though there were a handful of free-thinking, independent, non-conformist, nobody's-going- to-tell-me-how-to-dress-on-my-vacation types on board. The average age of the passengers on this cruise was about 65, just as you would expect on a canal cruise. There were perhaps 10 children on board, again what you would expect on a canal cruise, especially one while school is in session. Most passengers opted for main (early) seating dinner. In fact, so many opted for main seating, 300 had to be turned away and were given late seating.
Because of passenger demographics, it came as no surprise to us that the ship was rather quiet at night, thus, the casino and lounges were never crowded. Even Island Night and Tex-Mex night held on the pool deck, though fairly well attended, were a bit light on the passenger side.
The Celebrity enrichment program was in full swing on this cruise. In addition to Acupuncture at Sea, there was a Panama Canal historian, an estate planning attorney, a creative writing instructor and a motivational speaker. All of the enrichment lecturers made presentations on all the sea days. Kudos to Celebrity for adding so many interesting and informative lectures to an already chock full daily activities program!
This was our second transit of the canal, but the wonder of it all is still amazing. The day started early (as we passed under the Bridge of the Americas at about 7am), and ended late(as we left Gatun lock at about 5:30pm). Infinity is the largest of the panamax ships transiting the canal. There is about 6 inches of space between the ship and the walls of the locks as the ship passes through. It's an incredible experience, though admittrdly, it can get bit tedious by the time you pass through the final locks.
A quick word about our ports of call. Just a few weeks prior to the cruise, Celebrity added the port of Huatulco, Mexico to the itinerary. Big fans of sea days, (and not big fans of Mexico), we were disappointed that one of our sea days was being replaced by an additional stop - in Mexico, no less. Well, truth be told, we were most pleasantly surprised, as was everyone on board! Huatulco is a gem! As we did, most passengers thought it was by far the nicest spot in all of Mexico.
Huatulco is a small town, south of Acapulco. It built a new pier and started welcoming cruise ships about a year ago. As we pulled into port, we were serenaded by school children on the pier. They sang, waved flags and let go of their balloons as the ship edged closer to the pier.
Once off the ship, we walked through a lovely new marina area, complete with a beach, bars and shops. No in-your-face vendors, hair braiders or persons of questionable background trying to sell you things you don't want - legal or otherwise. We hired a driver and were amazed by the beauty of Huatulco - the perfectly manicured and landscaped roadsides, the picture-perfect vistas, the magnificent homes and upscale resorts on rocky cliffs overlooking the sea. The "downtown" area, while old and a bit dusty, was about 16 square blocks and was immaculate. The streets were safe and the people were delightful.
We learned that Huatulco is destined to become the Acapulco of the future, as the result of a carefully crafted 25-year plan that has already been set in motion. Too bad, it is the one spot in Mexico we actally enjoyed visiting!
Just after our canal transit, we stopped at Cristobal Pier in Colon, Panama. Clearly, this "port of call" is for re-fueling purposes only, since there is absolutely no other reason a cruiseship would stop there. The gangway exited directly into the "terminal" which was filled with vendors hawking their wares. We were there after dark, and were cautioned not to carry valuables with us or leave the terminal area. Enough said! We were off and back on the ship in record time.
This cruise ranked right up there with the best of them. There wasn't much Celebrity could have done to make it better. It's a rarity to be on a two-week cruise, speak to lots of different people, and hear very few complaints. Celebrity is doing something
right, and the new touches resulting from "rebranding" just add icing to the cake.
So, did we have any complaints, you are wondering? Not really, just two very minor annoyances, if you will.
Over the last two or so years, Celebrity has taken to scheduling pre-dinner shows for late seating passengers. We like to take our time getting ready for dinner, perhaps stop for sushi or a drink before dinner, and don't want to rush to get ready for a 7pm showtime. On this cruise, 12 out of the 14 shows were pre-dinner shows for late seating passengers. We thought that was a bit much. For whatever reasons the timing of shows for late seating passengers has been changed (and we've heard a variety of reasons why), something closer to a 50/50 pre-/post-dinner mix would be a lot more appreciated by passengers like us.
The other annoyance was the increase in the Connect at Sea pricing. In the past, we've paid $100/cruise for unlimited internet connection from our cabin (using our laptop). Celebrity now out-sources the Connect at Sea program, and charges $25/day for 50 minutes of internet service. Beyond that, time is charged at $0.75/minute. We were told by one of the computer folks, that the hefty price increase was due to the fact that Celebrity pays for satellite use not by time, but by volume of data sent/received, and that unlimied useage was costing a small fortune. A passenger who is a telecommunications mucky-muck and was somewhat put off by the pricing of Connect at Sea said that was nonsense - the higher cost for less access decision was just a revenue generating decision. Oh well.
Great ship, nice people, terrific food and service, good weather and the wonders of the Panama Canal all added up to a super cruise.
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old November 8th, 2003, 10:35 AM
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Default Re: Just back - Infinity - Panama Canal

We were on the same cruise and this is a good review. However, we disagree on some points.

While we thought the food quality was good, it was by no means outstanding. It also took forever to get dinner served. Dinner was taking well over two hours, which is way too long for us. After asking for a little faster pace, we were done in a comfortable 90 minutes.

We thought the stop at the Cristobal Pier was great for shopping for local handicrafts. Nice people, a safe environment inside the terminal, good selection, and good prices. There were a lot of people from the ship shopping there so apparently many others shared our good experience. They did not recommend that we venture outside the terminal.

We thought the port talks were poor, with the fellow doing not much more than pushing the shops which pay a fee to be "recommended" to the passengers. We found much better prices in non-recommended but reputable shops in Aruba.

We disliked the policy of having the captain's receptions after dinner, rather than before. And being held in the theater, they were certainly impersonal.

This was a good cruise with overall good service and a nice mix of ports and days at sea.
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Old November 8th, 2003, 03:35 PM
John Koagel
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Default Re: Just back - Infinity - Panama Canal

Glad you enjoyed it. My wife and I were supposed to go on the follow-up cruise on 11/2 that went from Ft. Lauderdale to San Diego for 14 days, but had to cancel due to illness.

Going to go next year though if they do it again, so we are glad you have so many good things to say about it. Did you also go to Acapulco as well as the stop near it - if so, hope you went on the tour in Acapulco and saw the cliff divers - we have seen that 3 times and were going to go again - one of the very best tours we have ever been on.

Again, glad you enjoyed it. John
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Old November 8th, 2003, 08:11 PM
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Default Re: Just back - Infinity - Panama Canal

John, yes we did see the cliff divers at Acapulco. Very good excursion. The best was the River Adventure trip in Costa Rica. That was the best of all of them for us. Also we enjoyed the stop at Huatulco, which seems to be offered only on west to east cruises. Very nice little place; very clean and very friendly people. Hope it stays that way.
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Old December 17th, 2003, 12:45 PM
Mike & Charlotte
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Default Re: Re: Just back - Infinity - Panama Canal

John, They already have all the 2004 itineraries for the Infinity (and other Celebrity ships) posted and in printed brochures. See your travel agent or log onto www.celebrity-cruises.com to check itineraries and departure dates. We are booked with another couple we met on the Mercury for a Ft. Lauderdale/Canal/Santiago cruise, departing January 3, 2005, and certainly look forward to the passage through the canal.

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