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Ellen Hall

Age: 40

Occupation:Consultant

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Infinity

Sailing Date: September 5th, 2004

Itinerary: Alaska

Review of vacation with Mom, my 40th birthday – 9/4-14/04
Cruise – Celebrity Infinity – roundtrip Vancouver, BC – 9/5-12/04

Rated on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest rating.

Rating of the vacation as a whole – 8 - I only down-graded the rating a little for the return flight home on Air Canada because even though it was a huge mess, it still didn’t ruin the enjoyment of our vacation.

Rating of cruise by itself – 9 – Not a 10 because there were a few areas where Celebrity could improve, namely making more informative announcements during boarding to let late-comers know if their boarding ‘color’ has already been called and paying more attention to specific requests of pre-ordered packages.

Overall impression - This was an excellent vacation! The weather was great the entire trip, except for the Monday we were to fly home. That was the only day it rained. The temps were in the 40s/50s at night and 60s during the day, except at the glacier where it was cooler. About the only thing we would change for the next time we cruise to Alaska is if we want to extend the trip we’ll add the day (s) on to the front-end of the vacation and not stay any time post-cruise. Both times we’ve cruised to Alaska we decided to add one day post-cruise with the idea of making getting home less stressful. Unfortunately, both times were a complete mess that ended up in an unscheduled overnight stay before we could get home. We’ve decided that the next time we will just go directly home the day we leave the ship and hope for the best, which will be, with any luck, better than our past trips.

Celebrity Air arrangements (pre-cruise) – 6 – We generally prefer to book the air thru Celebrity because if there are any problems, like the cruise being delayed, re-scheduled, or cancelled, it is Celebrity’s responsibility to make the flight changes. If you book on your own, you will have to make new arrangements on your own and you may lose your money on the original flights. We did shop for flights to decide if we should book them ourselves or thru Celebrity, but Celebrity’s price was about the same as what we could have gotten on our own, so we booked thru them.

Pre-cruise flight was BWI to Phoenix to Vancouver, BC on America West. The pre-cruise flights weren’t too bad, except that there was only beverage service (no food) and we were only given 50 mins in Phoenix to get from the arrival gate to the departing gate for the next leg. It was enough time, but only barely, with about 5 mins to grab some airport food. The quickest thing we could find was french fries and they were only ok.

Celebrity transfers (pre-cruise) – 4 – Overall very inconvenient, both pre- and post-cruise. The bus will get you where you’re going as long as you don’t mind waiting a long time for it to arrive. The convenience of having your transfer arrangements made for you is lost when you are standing around waiting and waiting for the bus to arrive.

Pre-cruise, we waited at the airport for 50 mins (after a very long day of air travel and almost no food) for the next transfer bus to arrive. If we hadn’t already paid for the transfer, we would have taken a taxi and been at the hotel by the time we finally got on the bus at the airport. The next morning, we waited for nearly an hour after the Celebrity appointed meeting time, for the transfer bus and as there were very few seats in the lobby most people had to stand and wait. Again, if we hadn’t paid for the transfer already, we could have taken a taxi and been at Canada Place long before we actually arrived there. We would like to have arrived at Canada Place by 11 am, but it was noon when the bus pulled in.

Celebrity hotel for pre- and post- cruise stay – 9 – The hotel we stayed in was the Sheraton Wall Center in Vancouver. The hotel was very nice and so were their restaurants for breakfast and dinner. If we had it to do over again, we’d choose a hotel nearer to Canada Place, like the Renaissance Vancouver Hotel where we stayed on our first cruise to Alaska 6 years ago. We just really liked staying closer to the cruise ship port.

Embarkation - 7 - The Celebrity staff at Canada Place could have been a bit more helpful. The ones who checked you in and gave you your Sea Pass cards were great, but when we went into the general waiting area we didn’t know that they had already called our color ticket for boarding. We waited around for 15 mins while they called other colors before I decided to ask if our color had been called. When we were told it had, they let us in line right away to go thru customs. Knowing that people arrive continuously throughout the day, every time they announced a new color that was eligible to board, they should have announced all previous colors as well. After we cleared customs, we had our boarding picture taken then we walked the gangway and boarded Infinity!

Cabin and cabin steward – 10 - #9097 – Concierge Class on deck 9, the Sky deck, amid ship, about 8 cabins forward of the glass elevators. Our cabin steward was Sugeus, from Bali (I think) and he was excellent! He went above and beyond to be sure we enjoyed our vacation, especially Saturday when I didn’t feel well. The cabin was always neat and clean and if he saw us coming, he would open the door for us. The cabin was spacious with plenty of storage. We moved the glass coffee table closer to the veranda door to be out of the way of my klutzy feet. The veranda was absolutely essential for us. Whenever we were in the cabin, the veranda door was open, no matter how cool it was. We loved the fresh air and hearing the water and other boats and seaplanes. Mom and I both like to sleep in a cool room, so we left the veranda door open all night long. We had Sugeus bring us some of the plaid blankets from the pool deck and we kept those over the sofa to take out on the veranda if it was chilly. The chairs on the veranda had nice padding, but they did get a bit wet from the sea spray. The CC class rooms had welcome aboard champagne (chilled and waiting), fresh flowers, afternoon canapés and nicer towels and robes. We didn’t use the special room service or the priority tendering or disembarkation. The beds were very comfortable with an extra pillow top and when I asked for an extra pillow, it was no problem. When we arrived in the room we found our shore excursion tickets, as well as our invitation to the Cruise Critic gathering.

I want to make special mention of the in-cabin TV. There were channels for news, The Discovery Channel, and replays of the talks on the lifeboat drill, shopping, ports and excursions. But the channels that we left the TV on the most were the bridge cam and the map with the GPS references. The bridge cam was nice because it allowed us to see ahead of the ship as well as out the port side from our veranda. The GPS map channel was the other channel that we left the TV on and it was cool because you watch the ship moving on the map. We had a map of the Inside passage with us so we could compare that and the TV map to see the names of the islands we were passing.

Buffet – 9 – We ate at the buffet for all of our lunches except for those days when an excursion we were on served lunch. We ate at the buffet for breakfast every day except for one, when we chose to try the food in the dining room. The buffet food was fresh, and there were a nice variety of things to eat for both breakfast and lunch. The waffle bar at breakfast turned into a sandwich/salad bar at lunch and the omelet bar turned into a pasta bar at lunch. The pastry bar for breakfast turned into an ice cream bar at lunch and there was a specialty bar at breakfast and lunch that was Asian themed most days and was a taco bar one day.

Dining Room and dining staff - 9 – Our table was #574, a table for 6, and our table mates were John and Marcia from Vancouver, BC and Toni and Steve from Philadelphia, PA. Our waiter was Francisco from Guatemala and our asst waiter was Pinto from India. The asst maitre’d was Luis for Portugal and he stopped by the table every night to make sure everything was ok and to tell us about the next day’s activities. The food in the Trellis dining room was good to excellent. The only meal that was only good was a chicken dish that was a little tough, though the taste was very good. I didn’t think of telling the waiter about it, but when another lady at our table mentioned it to Francisco and I agreed with her, he fussed at us for not telling him sooner so he could get us something else. He was adamant that every meal be exactly to our liking!

I can’t remember which meal I had which night, but I do remember that I had lamb, prime rib, halibut, salmon, a pasta dish, the previously mentioned chicken dish and, of course, lobster. I had heard everyone say that you could order two lobster tails, and as the lobster tails I’m used to seeing are small, I ordered two. I had also heard that they might be tough and rubbery. I’m happy to report that the lobster was delicious, not tough or rubbery, and they were both about twice the size that I expected. I couldn’t eat all of the second lobster tail and probably wouldn’t order two of them again.

There was always a chilled soup selection on the menu and I tried most of them. The chilled rhubarb soup was a new experience for me but I found that I liked it. The salads were good, with different lettuces and dressings each night. Shrimp cocktail was available every night, whether it was on the menu or not and could be substituted if you didn’t want a salad or soup selection that night. We ordered dessert every night, they were all delicious and we left dinner every night stuffed!

We did eat in the dining room one day for breakfast. It was a good breakfast and the service was excellent, but we felt that the dining room was too formal for breakfast. We preferred the relaxed buffet atmosphere in the morning and the food was just as good or better, with more selection.

Specialty Restaurant – SS United States – 10 – I made our reservation for the SS United States about a month ahead of time by calling the Captain’s Club and they gave me a confirmation number for my reservation. We chose Wednesday, our Hubbard Glacier day, at 7:30pm. When we got on the ship we went to deck 3 and checked at the restaurant and they confirmed our reservation. The atmosphere was elegant with a young woman playing the harp. We had one asst. maitre’d, one waiter and one asst. waiter to wait on two people! The meal included one choice of soup or salad, one appetizer, a main course and a dessert. I don’t remember exactly what we had, but all of it was delicious. As a bonus, they gave us an additional appetizer of escargot in a puff pastry and then an additional dessert between us of a tray of Michael’s Bites (a two layer dish of dainty confections). It was very nice of them, but we were too stuffed to really enjoy them. Mom’s main dish was cooked tableside and that was interesting to watch. It was a nice change of pace from the dining room, and the food was excellent, but I would probably only do it once a cruise as the food in the main dining room was very good as well.

Entertainment – 8 - We didn’t go to any of the evening entertainment venues so I can’t review those, but we did attend the Cruise Critic gathering on Monday morning that was very nice and we also watched an ice carving demonstration on the pool deck.

Motion sickness – 8 – I tend easily towards motion sickness of all kinds, car-, air-, and seasickness. I always wear the Transderm patch when I cruise and while the Inside Passage is a very smooth trip with almost no motion at all I don’t want to take any chances! The last time we went on an Alaska cruise it was a northbound trip and we spent two evenings in the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska. They were two rough nights and even with the patch, I was queasy and didn’t want to eat. This time, I took Meclazine (Anti-vert) with me and if I was worried that I might get sick, I took two of them. I did that before each excursion because the boats were small and I was afraid that there would be a lot of motion. The only time I was sick at all was Friday during the night until Saturday by about 11 am. We were outside of the Inside Passage and experienced 20 foot swells. I took the Meclazine when I woke up, but didn’t really feel better until we were back in the Inside Passage.

Casino – 7 - We went to the casino 3 nights, before dinner because I had received a casino credit as a gift for my birthday. I’m not much of a gambler as I work too hard to throw my money away. But we had fun and I broke even.

Aqua Spa – 10 – We took a tour of the Aqua Spa on the first day. I’ve never had a massage and though the treatments looked interesting and I’m sure they would make you feel good, they were not for me. We intended to use the treadmill/stationary bikes but we never seemed to make it there. We did make excellent use of the Thalassotherapy Pool almost every day. I believe we only missed the last two days, when my cold was really in gear and I didn’t feel good. The T-pool was very warm and relaxing with 4 pipes pouring water down in each corner and two beds with bubbling water coming from underneath for soaking. Very relaxing! Some people on the Cruise Critic message boards mentioned that the color faded out of their bathing suits from the water in the T-pool. I didn’t find that to be the case, but I did rinse them in a vinegar/water solution before I left home. We enjoyed food from the Aqua Spa café several times and the food was very good. The selections were light and usually there was one or two for vegetarians. Mom got some sushi there and said that it was good.

Hubbard Glacier - For us, the best way to enjoy the Hubbard Glacier is outside, on one of the public decks. From your veranda, you would only see one side, whereas on a public deck you can move as the ship moves for great viewing the whole time. As we were approaching Disenchantment Bay, the RCCL ship Radiance of the Seas was leaving. The ship had picked up two natives from the village of Yakutat to offer commentary at the glacier. The Hubbard Glacier was awesome! They told us about two sections of the glacier that they expected to calve that day; they had been watching them for the last few weeks. And before we left that day we saw about 10 minor and about 6 major calving events. We started out on deck 11 forward, but it got too crowded and people were rude. So we went down to deck 10 (the pool deck) and it was almost empty! We went from side to side as the ship turned; we had excellent viewing and got great pictures and video. We were prepared with hats/ear muffs, gloves and sweatshirts, and we each bought a fleece vest from the ship store because they were having a half price, end of year sale. It was a truly awesome day!

Excursions in port – 10 – We really enjoyed all of our excursions. We pre-booked on the Celebrity website and the tickets were waiting for us when we arrived in our cabin on Sunday. Some people believe in booking excursions on their own, feeling that they have more flexibility and the cost is less; that is fine for them. We prefer to book thru the cruise line because if there are any problems with arriving late back at the dock, or if the port is cancelled or days changed, it is Celebrity’s responsibility, not ours and we don’t lose any money. Please see Portreviews.com to find a review of our excursions in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka.

Ship cleanliness and appearance – 9 – The ship was very clean and the staff was constantly polishing and vacuuming. One morning while we were eating breakfast outside on the back of deck 10, we saw a fellow cleaning the stairs that go up to deck 11. When he finished the main part of the stairs, he took a long pole with a small brush attached to the end and cleaned the areas that he couldn’t normally reach. In every port that we docked in, the crew washed and hosed down the hull. There was a lot of salt spray on the outside of the windows, but “duh” it’s a cruise in salt water. I heard people complain about it, but it didn’t bother me at all.

Staff not previously mentioned – 10 – Every staff member we encountered was smiling, friendly and offered a greeting. We had a small problem with guest services and a pre-ordered birthday cake, but since it was resolved (more than resolved, even) I still give the staff a 10. We attended two talks given by the ship’s naturalist and she was extremely informative and enjoyable.

Wildlife Sightings from Infinity – 9 – From everything I have read, we were extremely fortunate in wildlife sightings from the ship itself. We saw many eagles, both flying and perched on trees. We saw dolphins several times and one time it was a pod of about 100 white-sided dolphins swimming, jumping and playing in the water as the ship went by. We also saw a pod of about 20 humpback whales feeding. They were at a distance, but they were plainly visible and it was exciting!

Disembarkation – 8 – We were staying one day post-cruise, arranged thru Celebrity. We were supposed to disembark the ship at 10:00am according to the info left in our cabin, but we ended up waiting in the Cinema on deck 3 until about 11:00am. We heard that there was some sort of mix-up with the transfer bus. I thought the wait was excessive since we cleared out of our cabin at 9:30am to let our steward turn our cabin around. This was more a problem with the bus transfer to the hotel than a problem with the disembarkation procedure.

Post-cruise tour (not thru Celebrity) – 9 - We contacted West Coast Nature Tours thru bcpassport.com about a month before our cruise and booked a tour to Grouse Mountain, Capilano Salmon Hatchery, and Capilano Suspension Bridge. They picked us up from our hotel, and other tour guests from their hotels and we went to the Salmon Hatchery first. Then we went to Grouse Mountain, where we rode the tram to the top and walked around for a bit. We watched a lumberjack show and then we rode the tram back down. Then we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. They have some historic displays on both sides of the canyon. The bridge swayed as we crossed but it was fun. Then we were taken back to our hotel. This tour was fun and the bus driver/tour guide was entertaining and informative.

Celebrity transfers (post-cruise) – 5 – We waited for nearly an hour longer than necessary for the transfer bus to go from the ship to the hotel. We could have taken a taxi and been at the hotel and checked in before we actually got on the bus. The next day’s transfer to the airport was the smoothest of all the transfers. We waited only about 10 mins after we checked out of our room for the bus.

The moral of the story – try taking a taxi instead of the Celebrity transfers. I understand that the cost is about the same, if not a little cheaper and it certainly takes less time.

Celebrity Air arrangements (post-cruise) – 3 – Post-cruise flight was Vancouver, BC to Toronto, Ont to BWI on Air Canada. Post-cruise flight from Vancouver was smooth and because we only had an hour to change planes in Toronto, we knew it would be tight. Unfortunately the flight left 30 mins late and arrived in Toronto 15 mins late. Things went downhill from there. Not only did we have to change planes, but we had to walk a mile to get to a shuttle bus to ride to another terminal (about 15 mins). Then we had to claim our luggage, go thru customs, re-check our luggage and go thru security. We were told as we picked up our luggage that they would call ahead to the gate to let them know we were on the way (there was another couple on the same flight as Mom and I). We asked an Air Canada agent if we had missed our flight and she told us “no” and to hurry to our gate. So we walked another mile as fast as we could to the gate, only to find that the plane had left and no one was at the counter. That was the last flight to BWI that night.

Then we had to walk a mile back to the Air Canada ticket counter. The ticket agent said that since we only arrived 15 mins late it was our fault that we missed our plane and they would re-schedule our flight for the next day, but we were on our own for a hotel. This is where we blew up! The ticket agent got his manager (low and behold it was the lady who told us to hurry to our gate) and she told him to give us hotel and meal vouchers.

The hotel they sent us to was the second nightmare of the extremely long day. It was a short shuttle ride to the hotel and we arrived after 9:30 pm to a fairly long check in line. By the time we checked in, we had 10 mins to get to their restaurant and place an order before the grill closed. So we didn’t even go to the room until after we ate. Then we went to the 3rd floor and tried to open the door, but the key card didn’t work. I went back down and the desk clerk was surprised, but re-keyed the card to another room, same floor. When we opened that door, it was to find the room occupied with other people’s belongings (luckily the people weren’t in the room). So we both went back down again, I was really peeved by now, and the desk clerk was surprised to see me…again. This time she gave us a room on the ground floor, the door opened and the room wasn’t occupied. I was really freaked out by this time, worried about someone trying to get into the room on us, so we locked the room as tight as we could and tried to get some sleep. We were only in the room for about 5 hours (our re-scheduled flight was very early) and it was time to get cleaned up and get back to the airport.

We checked in at the ticket desk, got our boarding passes, went thru customs and rode the shuttle over to the other terminal. The other terminal only had one place to eat and the food looked several days old. When we were finally were able to board the plane we found out it was a turbo prop plane. I was worried about it being a rough flight, but the final leg of our flight home to BWI was just fine, if a day later than expected.

The moral of this story – purchase air deviations if possible to add more time between connecting flights when making your air arrangements thru Celebrity. I believe that if we had had more time between connecting flights, our whole ordeal would have never happened.

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