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Old December 27th, 2001, 01:05 PM
Dave Graham
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Default Infinity Dec 15 & 2 San Juan hotels

The following are a few comments from our recent December 15 Celebrity Infinity cruise, especially aimed for wheelchair users. I am a paraplegic (T6). I’ve found cruises area an excellent vacation vehicle for wheelchair users because so many of the newer cruise ships are so accessible for wheelchairs and they tend to dock near downtown areas on the islands, so access to these downtown and other areas is easy.

We arrived three days early, which proved to be an excellent idea, as it felt by the third day that we already had a great vacation and the cruise was actually a very pleasant addition. We had stayed at the San Juan Marriott five years earlier and had enjoyed it and found it to be very compatible for wheelchairs, as it was this time.

We tend to like the Marriott better because most of its wheelchair rooms are in the new Cabana wing and face the pool and the ocean. Of course this means one can spend about $20 more per night than for the couple of wheelchair rooms in the older section that faced the city, but the additional cost is more than worth it. The rooms unfortunately have two double beds, rather than one king sized. I say unfortunately because we take our vacations for rest AND recreation. But we are always prepared to adapt to the situation. The rooms in the Cabana wing have wheelchair showers, etc. and the balcony is easily accessible, with a magnificent view of the pool and ocean.

The two level pool has a gentle very wide ramp into the part that is about 1 to 3 feet deep. It also has two thick tired water and sand wheelchairs available for use. Although if one wants to roll onto the beach one has to be taken down a set of about six stairs or has to go outside to the street alongside the hotel, which goes right onto the beach. The buffet breakfast is an excellent bargain at $15 per person. There are also lunch buffets. The hotel also has an excellent dining room called Tuscany that features northern Italian cuisine, as well as a pizza bar. You can also order these excellent pizzas through room service.

On Friday evening we stopped at the Marriott’s lobby espresso bar for coffee and pastries and listened to their outstanding Latin jazz band, with an exceptional (electric) marimba player and bass player and singer and a strong rhythm section. Later that evening watched from our room as the Galaxy departed San Juan.

We also visited another hotel we had stayed at earlier, the Caribe Hilton. This hotel also is well suited for wheelchairs. When we were at the Caribe Hilton five years ago the very spacious rooms faced a lovely garden. The almost hidden garden is a small treasure in that it is filled with trees, flowers and plants around a small pond with a wooden bridge over it. The small park’s inhabitants include white peacocks and black swans. It is a beautiful island of solitude for a traveler.

The Caribe Hilton also has a small historic fort behind it. The entrance to it is locked, but I hear that security can be requested to open it, which would be nice as the path to the fort and the main level are wheelchair accessible, even the upper level is if you don’t mind a steep ramp.

The Hilton has added a large infinity pool and on our recent visit we noted there was a hydraulic lift into the pool. The hotel also has a private beach behind a breakwater separating it from the ocean. Further on, a nice path allows one to roll along beside a rocky and picturesque shore to the property. As a resident of Ontario, Canada, where every building is built to withstand winter, I found it startling to find a hotel lobby with one side completely open to the elements. It was a refreshing feeling. The Hilton also has a variety of excellent shops.

On Saturday we boarded the Infinity. It was a smooth boarding. We found the cabin (#7137) to be very nice and loved the balcony and the patio door. The desk had the TV facing me at an angle off to the side, just like at home. We put the luggage under the bed, but had trouble with one part, and would discover why later. Had lunch in cafeteria (good roast beef).

We had selected the late seating for the cruise and enjoyed it, but were pleased on the first night to be given a choice of first or second open seating for that night, so picked first and had supper around 6 p.m. where we met couple from Sudbury, who left Toronto during a snow storm on Saturday and almost didn’t make it. We also crossed paths with a chap from a Midwestern state who was in a wheelchair. He and his wife had had our cabin last time and commented it had more room than the one beside it, that was also beside the elevator. But when we had a chance to see it later didn’t see that much difference, although there was a difference and the elevator would probably have blocked the view a bit. So if you have a choice of 2C and 2B select the cabin second from the elevator on either side. Also if you have a third person, the seat/couch opens into a single bed. It should also be noted that 2C cabins look directly over the lifeboats, while 2B cabins are one level above.

The couple showed us their sky suite, which was just above and a bit down from ours. It had a bigger TV screen and darker wood, but the balcony was the same size and the cabin, while bigger, didn’t seem to be that much bigger. Their cost would have been $800 more, but the cabin also came with a butler.

I noticed they had a ramp to their balcony. Our cabin did not and there was a 2 to 3 inch lip to the balcony door. They said our cabin should also have a ramp and to ask our steward about it. So when we went back we thought of checking under our bed at the thing that had obstructed our luggage and found it was the ramp!! We could have gone all week and assumed there was none. As it was the ramp made it very easy for me to go on the balcony and then return to the cabin. I really got to love that balcony and the feeling of being able to be outside. But I also enjoyed the view from our cabin through the open or closed balcony door and glass panel beside it.

Our cabin itself was very nice with good room for movement, excellent desk/TV/patio door placement, lots of room at side of the bed for transfer, and good paper storage space beside desk. The bathroom was very large, although I and my wheelchair just fit into the shower. The bed height was just below that of my wheelchair, so transferring to the bed was easy, but transferring back to my chair was a bit more difficult, but possible, although I finally tended to use a transfer board. The other couple had had them put an extra mattress on their bed for height, but for me that would have made it too high. Each of us has different preferences, which always makes general statements about rooms etc a bit difficult. The wheelchair shower was tight but workable. The bathroom itself was exceptionally large and even had room beside the toilet seat. The seat itself was about 17” high, but this was an estimate on my part.

During the day we also discovered the Cova Café, which would become a favorite spot for us, with its excellent pastries, including croissants and cakes and the cappuccinos. Some tables were low, but some were high and gave me room for my knees. Throughout the dining rooms and cafeteria etc I found the tables to be of a comfortable height.

In Fredriksted, St. Croix I like staying in the town because it is very wheelchair accessible and has a nice sea wall walk and a path leading between the fort and the ocean. Although one can’t go all the way to the nearby beach as there are stairs to the short bridge at the end of the path. But five years ago we went along the road from town and entered the beach area from the road. The shuttle from the ship to the town end of the long dock is wheelchair accessible.

In St. Lucia I would not attempt to walk/roll into the town centre, especially if the ship is moored across the bay. Because of the short but heavy rains during parts of the year the gutters, even downtown, are very deep and wide, with very few “bridges” across them and practically no curb cuts. But there is an excellent shopping mall, nicely landscaped, right off the ship. But if you get the chance, hire a cab and tour some of the lush vegetation on the island. It is beautiful. We had our cab drive to Marigot Bay and back, which included driving through their largest banana plantation. The beach there, while picturesque, is inaccessible, but the drive there and back was wonderful.

In Barbados there is a “Flower Forest,” that is beautiful and is accessible. Their map even has the best paths for wheelchairs indicated. But remember it is about a 45 minute drive from the dock. But if you go north first and then cut across you get to see the beaches and countryside on the way.

In Antigua the dock leads right into the mall and on into the main street and is quite accessible (with a few exceptions in the city, where we moved to the road for short durations). If you like arts and crafts, there is an adjoining mall, the Redcliffe Quay, that used to be an old slave market. The mall is a lovely oasis and has several interesting local shops.

In St. Thomas, downtown Charlotte Amalie is wheelchair accessible, but be careful if like me you cannot use taxi vans as there are very few cabs available. We almost missed our ship five years ago when we couldn’t find an available cab. And the path from the dock to the downtown is broken at several points, so for us is inaccessible. Just remember to give yourself enough time to find a cab to return to the ship. It took us 45 minutes to find one and there is usually a traffic jam on the road to the ship. But the fine and extensive mall beside the dock is very accessible.

Our last time in St. Thomas we had a cab take us to the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Beach Resort, and enjoyed a lunch there and the hotel in general. This time we took a cab to the Mountain Top and to Drake’s Seat for the excellent views of St. Thomas and nearby islands.

On leaving San Juan the lines at the airport ticket counters are long, but we were whisked past the lines to the first available opening.

All in all, a memorable cruise on a magnificent ship with a great staff. I highly recommend it.

P.S. If any of you are interested I also have written a review focusing on the food of the Infinity, especially the specialty restaurant, the S.S. United States. I’ll post the review in the Celebrity section.
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Old December 27th, 2001, 02:00 PM
pns
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Default Re: Infinity Dec 15 & 2 San Juan hotels

Dave,

Thank you very much for an excellent review -- very thorough and detailed! I almost felt like I was actually there your review was so very clear.

I plan on printing your review for reference purposes in the future.

Once again -- thank you!
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Old December 28th, 2001, 08:36 PM
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Default Re: Infinity Dec 15 & 2 San Juan hotels

Excellent review - this will definitely help people in the future!
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