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Cher Dombrowski

Age: 54

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Infinity

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

We sailed on a one week cruise on the Infinity to the Southern Caribbean on November 3, 2001. Although there were a few minor annoyances, overall the vacation was absolutely fabulous. This review is aimed for future Infinity cruisers – heavy on specific tips, light on comparisons to other ships.

Let me describe us first, so you understand the context of some of the choices we made. My husband (Chuck) and I (Cher) are in our mid-fifties and have been married for four years (so we still count every vacation as a honeymoon). Chuck sells Spectrometers (instruments that do chemical analysis) and I retired from my job as a Project Manager in September. Although we have cruised three times before, on Carnival and NCL, we had no plans to take another cruise for a while.

Six weeks before the cruise, a co-worker of Chuck’s was passing through Kansas City (our hometown), and mentioned that he (Rick) and his wife (Hwei Ping) were going on a cruise – on the exact ship and itinerary that I had already decided would, someday, be our next cruise. We decided to join them. (In a weak moment, Chuck said “That might be nice.” He gave me an opening and I “charged” right through by the end of the week.)

We got a great deal on the cruise. We booked a Category 7 Guarantee (Outside Cabinet on the lowest Deck) for about $600 pp. We also booked our airfare and a 2-night pre-cruise package through the cruise line. When we got our tickets from our travel agent (Holiday Cruises of Kansas City), we were thrilled: our flights were very convenient and, most importantly, we had been upgraded to a Category 2B – a balcony! (It would have cost us $650 pp more if we had booked a 2C Guarantee.) I personally believe that booking a guarantee rather than a specific cabin made it easier for them to give us an upgrade.

Pre-cruise San Juan:

When we arrived in San Juan on Thursday afternoon, we never found anyone at the baggage claim area with a “Celebrity Cruises” sign for our transfer to the hotel. We ended up waiting over an hour for the bus that never showed up even after three calls. We finally ended up just taking a cab to the hotel … not a very promising start. On our last phone call – to the 800 number – we were told that we should have paged Celebrity from the baggage claim area. This was not in the instructions on the travel voucher so I don’t know how we were supposed to know that.

We stayed two nights at the El Convento Hotel in Old San Juan. This hotel was an excellent choice – we can not recommend it enough! Originally a convent, it is over 350 years old and has a great location right across from the Cathedral. It was extensively restored in 1997 at a cost that averaged about $275,000 per room. The five-story building surrounds a beautiful interior courtyard. Restaurants, bars, and shops are on the first two floors. The 58 rooms are on the third through fifth floors.

From the concierge/front-desk, you walk along a balcony overlooking the courtyard to your room. Our room was small but beautifully furnished: a high comfortable bed with lovely linens and a huge carved headboard; an antique armoire which hid the TV, VCR, and stereo; a desk with a modem connection; a small table with two chairs; and a very comfortable easy chair with good lighting for reading. The bathroom was small but fully equipped with a hair dryer, second phone, thick towels and very nice toiletries. The closet, though small, had a mini-frig (but no mini-bar), a safe, and an iron and ironing board. The old-fashioned louvered and balconied window looked down on an alley but even that view was charming – Old San Juan architecture across and walled gardens below.

The staff at the hotel was excellent – always helpful and professional. Each evening they served complimentary wine and cheese on a charming third-floor (guests-only) terrace with comfortable wrought iron tables and chairs and flowering vines cascading down the walls. This was a great way to meet other guests who were also going to be on the Infinity. Two flights up from the terrace was a small pool and hot tub with a great view and even more flowers. There was an honor bar available by the terrace the rest of the evening and a very nice continental breakfast in the morning.

We ate two dinners and a lunch at El Picoteo, the tapas bar on the second floor of El Convento. The food was very good, and the variety excellent. The beef tips and the chicken pie were especially good and the tapas portion was plenty for a full meal. The scallops were excellent on Thursday night but overcooked on Friday night so if they're not great, send them back. We had excellent service except for Friday night when the waitress's elevator did not make it to the top floor. On Thursday night, while having dinner, we met some other passengers who would be on the Infinity – Aron (whose Aunt Pauline would have a Penthouse Suite) and “Chuck’s Harem,” five beautiful, intelligent, funny women, sans husbands, with whom we ate dinner on Friday night.

If you have time in San Juan, be sure to walk around Old San Juan. The area is relatively small and the architecture is charming and streets very clean. There are lots of shops and in every shop they were more than willing to make a deal. The prices in San Juan were consistent with the rest of the islands, so if you see something you like, don't bother waiting to check prices on another island after you sail. A tour of the fort, El Morro, will only take about an hour but should not be missed. It was just a couple blocks uphill from El Convento. There are also two free trolleys that travel through Old San Juan with stops at the best sights.

Although we did not do it ourselves, we met several people who took a tour of the Bacardi Rum Factory and they thought it was great. Although you can take an organized excursion from a tour company, it is faster and cheaper to do it on your own. The key is to take the ferry across the bay and take a taxi from there to the factory. The tours (or a taxi from Old San Juan) drive you around the bay to the factory, which is the long (and expensive) way around. At the port area (on the southern side of Old San Juan), just ask “Donde es el bote de paso a la fábrica de Bacardi? {Where is the ferry to the Bacardi factory}?”

Our friends Rick and Hwei Ping stayed three nights at the Wyndham Old San Juan, right across from the pier and were very pleased with their choice. They said that their rooms were fine and that there was a very nice casino. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a lot of restaurants open nearby, which was their only complaint.

We were very happy that we had decided to do the pre-cruise. By the time we were ready to leave for the ship, the vacation was already a success. We were already relaxed and had made some wonderful new friends. I had packed a separate small suitcase just for San Juan, so getting ready to check out was easy … although it was hard to leave such a lovely hotel. The Infinity would have a tough act to follow.

Embarkation:

Again, we had troubles with our transfer. Although the travel voucher said that we would be picked up at 1:00, when we called (after waiting 20 minutes) we were told that it was really not scheduled until 2:00 but that they would have someone there at 1:30. We were surprised that Celebrity uses a local company that is so disorganized. But all was forgiven when we got our first sight of the Infinity – breathtaking. Carnival’s Holiday was at the next dock and it was just dwarfed by our magnificent ship. Princess’ Ocean Princess was nearby and, although lovely, it also was clearly an also-ran. The process at the pier was excellent. Embarkation actually started at 12:30 and we arrived at the pier a few minutes after 2:00. Until we actually got on board, we never had to wait in line for more than 5 minutes for anything (metal-detector, sign-in, pictures). If you're going to want pictures, they have a $ 99 package that's a good deal that includes the embarkation photo. So, if you think that you're going to get the package, ask the photographer to take more than one picture so you have a choice.

At the top of the escalator is a booth giving out free samples from the duty-free liquor shop. Have a taste of the "Tropico." This is a mix of rum and fruit juices that I thought was very good and not too strong. No matter what it says in the cruise documents, passengers were openly bringing liquor and soda on board with absolutely no problem. (We saw guys bringing cases of beer onboard.) The duty-free shop had bottles of Tropico for about $8 (compared to about $5 for a single Mai Tai on the ship). They also had six-packs of soda for a reasonable price (compared to $1.75 for a can of soda on the ship). If you want to drink in your cabin, the duty-free shop is the place to go. Also, if you bring your own wine to dinner, they will serve it to you for a $6 corkage fee – most wines onboard started at $30 a bottle.

We did have to wait in line for almost a half-hour to get through the metal detector on the ship because they were taking digital ID pictures that were matched to your boarding pass. So, if you're going to shop at the duty-free shop, do it before you get on board so that you don't have to stand in line twice. Be patient because this will be the longest wait you'll have until Friday morning.

Saturday – On Board at Last:

Once you have your ID picture taken, a steward will escort you to your cabin. Since your luggage won’t be there yet, it’s a great time to explore the ship. There should be a copy of the Celebrity Newsletter on your bed to let you know what’s going on. If you get onboard before 4:00, be sure to check out the buffet at the Oceanview Café on Deck 10. This will definitely keep you full until dinner.

Hopefully, you packed your swim suits in your carry-on bags because the hot tubs and Thalassotherapy Pool are open and waiting for you. They’re also giving tours of the Fitness Equipment. If you’re going to get any Spa treatments, this is a great time to make the appointments.

From the time we got on board, it took about two hours for our luggage to appear outside our door. I’m going to describe our 2B cabin in excruciating detail because you still have time to decide what to pack. I think the cabins in lower categories are the same size and layout.

Above the TV is a large cabinet to store your purchases from the duty-free shop. Below the TV is a mini-bar with the normal overpriced stuff but it does have enough space to store a few cans/bottles of your own. To the right of the TV is a cabinet about two feet wide with the safe, a shelf with life jackets (to be stored under your bed after the life boat drill) and six small drawers (about six inches deep each). To the right of that is the closet which is about four feet wide. The shelf on top has two extra pillows, an extra blanket, and more life jackets. The top rod of the closet has 21 wooden hangers, 7 of which have clamps for skirts. There are rods at the back of the closet that fold out to make a lower second rod. I really regret that I left my hanging shoe bag at home (about $8 at K-Mart with pouches hanging down from a single hook). It would have been much easier to find shoes and small items if they were organized rather than piled up on the closet floor. There is a rack on the back of the closet door for ties if you brought several dozen.

The bathroom is small but had plenty of storage space. There are two corner shelves for toiletries, a large counter next to the sink, a large two-shelf cabinet under the sink, and several hooks on the back of the door. There is also a good hair dryer but there are no outlets in the bathroom for electric rollers and/or curling irons.

On the bed were two very thick beach towels to use on shore excursions. The two nightstands each have two nice deep drawers. Unless your suitcases are extra-deep, they can be stored (along with all those life jackets) under the beds. The wall opposite the bed was mirrored floor-to-ceiling in order to create the illusion of more space.

The desktop is very small: with a laptop and electric curlers there was only six inches of top left over. There are small shelves for additional storage under the desk. We could only find two (three-prong at least) outlets next to the desk. The best thing that we remembered to pack was a one-to-three extension cord.

Besides the newsletter, there will be two other books to check out in your cabin. One describes the Infinity in detail. The other holds stationary, postcards, and a deck plan. Empty this book out immediately because when you remember to pack the materials on Friday night it will have disappeared along with your beach towels. There was one channel on the TV that played (and replayed) detailed descriptions of the next day’s shore excursions. On another channel, there were descriptions of the ports, including shopping.

We found our table assignment on a card on the desk. We were at table # 436 which was on the main floor just beyond the glass table at the foot of the stairs. This was an excellent location but surprisingly, although it was a table for eight, it ended up that only four people were sitting there. I would suggest that after you get your table number, check with the Maitre D’ to see where it is located. If it’s not in the center part of the main floor, ask if there are any seats available at better-located tables. The Maitre D’ and the all-important seating charts will be in the Rendezvous Lounge before dinner the first night at a table aft (towards the back) on the port side (left as you’re facing the front of the ship).

Dinner was open seating for the first night. Everything we ordered every night was excellent, so I won’t make any specific recommendations other than to be sure to order every course, even if you’re just going to have a taste or two. In particular, even if you’re full, be sure to order a dessert – they were outstanding. For wine, if you like Chardonnay, # 31 was excellent. They offer to sell you Evian but the regular water was just fine.

Having misplaced Rick and Hwei Ping, we were seated with a group of five from England that we really enjoyed meeting. They had chosen this particular cruise because they could visit with their son, Andrew Lee, who was the Dance Captain. This group was a perfect example of one of the advantages of Open Seating in the Dining Room – you get to meet charming people.

After dinner, we had Jamaican Coffee (excellent – Kahlua, Rum, Coffee, Whipped Cream) in the Rendezvous Lounge as we listened to a really good duo. From there we went to check out Michael’s Club, which is elegant and quiet and usually almost empty. It’s a wonderful place to have a nice relaxing conversation.

The lifeboat drill took place at 10:30 pm. At about 10:15 they started removing ashtrays from the smoking areas, turning on the lights, and reminding people that they had to finish their drinks because they would not be able to take them to their muster stations. I bring this up because 10:14 is not the time to order a very expensive snifter of brandy that should be slowly sipped.

They take the lifeboat drill very seriously, as they should. I thought it was funny that, in this day and age, they still had the women line up on deck in front of the men. (In case of a real emergency, the men should be instructed to pass their credit cards forward.) We were treated to a great sight – the Ocean Princess sailed at 10 – all the lights were turned on, the ship is all white, the water in the bay is black, and the San Juan shoreline is in the background – what a bonus!

As soon as the lifeboat drill ended, we headed up to Deck 10 for the party (and later, buffet). The band was great, the cruise staff was helping out on the dance floor, and everybody seemed to be having a great time. The average age of passengers seemed to be about 50 but the range was from a few small kids to the couple who won the rum cake because they had been married the longest – 52 years. This couple, whom I met the next day, were perfectly willing to dance to the Electric Slide in order to qualify for their prize. I would suggest that, no matter how tired you are, you at take at least a few minutes to check out this party. We only stayed until the casino opened a little after the ship sailed at 11. (None of this 12 miles out business.)

Gambling:

Chuck and I are not gamblers at home but, on a cruise ship, we love the casino. You get to know the dealers and the other players. The odds are generally not as good as in Las Vegas but the dealers and the smallness make it a very pleasurable experience. Most of the dealers were from English-speaking countries, especially Australia and South Africa. They have plenty of machines (slots and video poker) and tables for Caribbean Stud Poker, Blackjack, Roulette, and Craps. They do not have any tables for playing regular poker. We were not aware of it until we got on board but you can get up to $1,500 in chips per day charged to your onboard account. This is fee-free, compared to bringing Traveler’s Checks or using the ATM.

I am a math major at heart so I play strategically rather than by hunch. Chuck plays my way because I usually come close to breaking even, never lose a lot, and sometimes win a lot. Of course, the best strategy is not to play at all. I only played four games because I knew the best strategies (from reading books on gambling, especially by Frank Scoblete) and because the odds were worth the entertainment value.

Caribbean Stud Poker: This is Chuck’s favorite game. The strategy is simple to remember which makes it easy to socialize with the other players. Unlike blackjack, nothing that you do can affect another player so the camaraderie is excellent – the players against the dealer. We have a simple (but mathematically optimal) strategy:

1) Only Ante $5 – The maximum payout on a bet is $1,000. If you ante $5, your bet will be $10. If you are dealt a Royal Flush, the payout on the bet will be 100x for $1,000. If you ante $10, even though your bet was $20, and even though 100x is $2,000, you will still only get $1,000 because that is the maximum payout on a bet. When I was explaining this to another player, the dealer looked at the rules and said “I’ve been dealing for six months and never noticed that” … DUH!!

2) Bet Any Pair – Although with fours or lower you are more likely to lose than win, you will lose less over time by betting than by tossing them in.

3) Bet A-K Only If – You will lose more often than you will win but it’s still better to have bet-and-lost than never-to-have-bet-at-all.
a) You also have the Dealer’s Card (even if it’s an Ace or King).
b) You have, at least, Ace – King – Jack – 8. This means that your third card is either a Queen or a Jack and your fourth card is a Jack, Ten, Nine, or Eight. If your third card is a Queen, your fourth card must still be at least an Eight.

4) Do Not Bet The Jackpot – When we were on the Infinity the jackpot went from $20,000 to $23,000. Statistically, the jackpot must be at least $235,000 before the $1 in the little slot is a good bet. Here are some math factoids to keep you from betting the jackpot:
a) Between the two of us, we played about 1,280 hands (2 people x 8 sessions x 2 hours x 40 hands per hour). We were extremely lucky and got 3 Full Houses and 7 Flushes. If we had played for the Jackpot, we would have won $325 for a net loss of $955. The difference between coming out ahead and coming out behind was not betting the jackpot.
b) The chance of getting a Royal Flush is approximately 1 in 650,000.
c) The chance of getting any Jackpot (even a Flush) is 1 in 273.
d) The chance of getting $25 for a Flush is 1 in 509.
e) For 2.6 million hands, the “Payback” on a $25,000 Jackpot bet is about 25%. Even the tightest slot machine will have a better payback. Would you play slot machines that advertise a 25% payback?

Although the payback on this game (without playing the jackpot) is about 95%, we think it’s a lot of fun and, if you start with $100, you can play for a really long time before you run out of money. Overall, we came out a little bit ahead but only because we didn’t play for the jackpot.

Blackjack: I played this game almost every night and broke even. Surprisingly, the rules (double on anything, split up to three hands) were the same as in Las Vegas. They play with six decks. I played using BBS (Basic Blackjack Strategy) from Frank Scoblete’s book “Guerrilla Gambling.”

I did not count cards but I did increase my bets when I was on a winning streak: 1-1-2-2-3-3-4-4-5-5. For example, on the first hand I would bet one unit, on the second hand I would bet one unit, on the third hand I would bet two units, etc. My friend Rick calls this “climbing the mountain.” I got to climb several times but only got up to four units once.

I also limited my losses to ten units. For example, when I was betting $10, I quit when I lost $100. The catch is that when I would finish a winning streak, I would restack my chips so that I would keep (in a separate unbettable stack) any winnings over my $100 limit. When the $100 bettable stack was gone, so was I. This way I always left when I had just lost $100 in a row. But my “winnings stack” was anywhere from $0 to $395. Any time I left with more than $100, I was ahead. Although BBS is generally accepted, “climbing the mountain” is my own personal betting strategy. Overall, I broke even which is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Video Poker: I lost $60 in these machines until I realized how bad the payback was. All the machines have the same payback on Jacks or Better: less than 75%. Compare that to the average machine in Las Vegas that pays 95% or better. The chance of getting a Royal Flush (with perfect strategy) is 1 in over 40,000. That’s a lot of button pushing to get a payback of $1,000. I’ve got a strategy for Jacks or Better but will not include it here to protest the low payback.

Slot Machines: Let me begin by saying that at about 2:00 am on Wednesday morning, I hit a 10,000 coin jackpot on a Quarter machine and won $ 2,500. Now that I have your attention, let me describe the two slot machines that we called “The ATMs.”

To locate The Quarter Machine: Enter the Casino from the starboard (right when facing forward) side of the Rendezvous Lounge. Just as you enter it, there is a ramp going down. To the left of the railing of the ramp are two slot machines. Both machines are called “Free and Easy” but you want to play the machine on the left. To make sure that you are playing the right machine ask Augustino (a very tall, thin, blonde waiter) if it’s the machine on which “Miss Cheryl” won the jackpot.

We played this machine 20 times with a $20 deposit ($400 invested). Not counting the jackpot, we collected about $600. It’s hard to find an investment that returns 50%. Our sessions were split pretty evenly between (1) ending up with $0, (2) approximately breaking even, and (3) at least doubling our investment – up to about $120 twice. There were only two times that we put in $20 and did not get at least one “Free and Easy.”

To locate The Dollar Machine: Go down the ramp and through the casino toward the front of the ship. The last machine on your left, facing the front of the ship, is exactly the same machine as the quarter machine but takes dollars. We played this machine 8 times with a $50 investment, using a $ 50 “stop-loss.” For our $400 investment, we cashed out a total of about $600. There were two sessions in which we never even got one “Free and Easy.” Twice I left with over $200.

Sunday – St. Croix

We found St. Croix to be very disappointing. The scenery, shopping, excursions, and activities are much better on the other islands. The next time, we’ll probably just stay on board and relax. Even though we’re still in port, the casino opened at 2:00, when they offered lessons.

This was the night of the first formal dinner. Everyone was really dressed up. Almost all the men were wearing suits and some (maybe 20%) were in tuxedos. All the women were gussied-up. We had early dinner which started at 6:00 so we got to the Captain’s party at about 5:15. We got seats in the Café Milano on Deck 5 and enjoyed the free champagne and canapés. Everyone looked so elegant – this should not be missed! {The late seating, by the way, was even dressier – about 40% tuxedos.}

This was our first meal at our assigned table. The location, on the lower level right in front of the glass table at the foot of the stairs, was excellent. Rick and Hwei Ping skipped dinner this night because his suitcase with his formal clothes had been left behind somewhere and his tuxedo hadn’t arrived in time for dinner. We had four other empty seats at our table for the whole week – what a waste of a great location and fantastic waiter.

Juan was from Uruguay, incredibly charming, very handsome, and provided excellent service. Unfortunately for future passengers, this would be his next-to-last week before his vacation. He was training for the S.S. United States Specialty Restaurant, so you might be able to meet him next year there. The hours that he had to put in were a real shock: Breakfast from 6:00 to after 10:00, Lunch from 11:30 to after 2:00, training in the afternoon, Dinner from 5:30 to 10:30, plus some nights also working the Midnight Buffets. If he got more than four hours of sleep at night, he considered himself very lucky. Despite these hours, he was unfailingly cheerful (although by Friday night he looked very tired). Although perfectly professional, he took some time every night just to chat with us about himself and his job – we really enjoyed our conversations with him. I could only compare him to the other waiters that we had during open seating meals in the restaurant and realized that he was clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Our Assistant Waiter was very sweet (although his English was rather weak). We never had to ask for more water, a dish to be cleared, or anything else. His big job was to serve the dressings and sauces – he seemed very proud of them … if you were willing to take an extra spoonful or two, he also gave you a beautiful smile. If his English becomes more conversational, he will make a great waiter some day.

Rather than list what we each had each night … everything that we ordered was excellent! Your choice should really just be what you have a taste for that evening (with a little guidance from your waiter) – although you can’t go wrong with the Chef’s Recommendations that are printed on the left side of your menu. One evening, Rick’s medium-well turned out to be medium-rare. He didn’t mention anything about it to Juan until he was done eating. Rick has a towering figure – broad shoulders and well over six foot. It was really entertaining to watch him cower under the force of Juan’s polite scolding: “If we do not serve you exactly what you desire, tell me immediately, my job is to ensure that you are 1000% satisfied.” 

Sunday night, after dinner, we saw the first big production show in the Celebrity Theater. The seats were very comfortable although I think that the best view was from the middle of the lower balcony (on Deck 4). The show had scenes from several Broadway shows and we thought it was great. There are five singers and ten dancers, good costumes and scenery, and some nice lighting effects. It only lasted about an hour. Be sure to see the “Spectacle of Broadway.” All the singers and dancers were excellent but we were on the lookout for “Andrew” – he was absolutely outstanding!

The Infinity daily has a coupon in it for the casino. This is the only night that they had the coupon. By the time we realized that we could get something for free and went down to Guest Relations at 5:00 pm, all the “Sunday Specials” inserts were gone so we had to make do with just the one coupon. The coupon is for a $5 match-play between 10 pm and midnight. When you use it, win or lose, you get a two-for-one drink coupon. So even if you lose your bet, you still break even because of the free drink.

Monday – St. Lucia

St. Lucia was beautiful. We took the catamaran sail to Soufriere and the Morne Coubaril Estate. The middle section of the boat had seats, shade, and the open bar. There was also lots of open deck for people who want some sun. The view of St. Lucia was breathtaking and we were under sail for most of the trip. Once in Soufriere we went in very comfortable air-conditioned vans to the drive-in volcano where we got a very nice guided tour with a nice view of bubbling vents. It was short but we really liked it. There were locals selling stuff at the entrance but we just said “No, Thank You.” After that, we reboarded the vans for our trip to the plantation. Here we got another guided tour, this one lasting over an hour. The demonstrations were very well done and very informative.

After the plantation, we got back on the catamaran for a buffet lunch. The food was very good – especially the breadfruit, which I had never had before. Then we set sail again to a very nice beach for an hour of swimming. They did not have any rafts or snorkeling gear on board, so, if you want equipment, you will have to bring your own. We skipped swimming and just stayed on board to read – somebody had to guard the Rum Punch in case of pirates. After that we sailed back to the ship. For the entire day they served unlimited rum punch, juice, and soda. We highly recommend this Shore Excursion.

We talked to several people who took the “Land and Sea” instead and they were all very happy with their choice as well. We got back about 3:30 which left us just enough time to check out the nice shopping mall right at the pier.

Monday night’s entertainment was a Ventriloquist that we skipped but our friends Rick and Hwei Ping went to the show and really liked it.

Tuesday – Barbados

Between the rum punch on the catamaran and a long night in the casino, I needed to sleep in on Tuesday morning but Chuck went on the morning tour to Harrison’s Cave and the Flower Farm. Luckily for him, part of “Chuck’s Harem” was on the same tour so … no chance of being bored. He really enjoyed the entire tour – most especially, the cave tour. They gave him a hard hat and drove him through in an electric tram. He also enjoyed walking through the Flower Farm that is really more a Botanical Garden than a farm. I checked out the shopping mall at the pier and thought that it was very nice – plenty of stores with a nice variety. Although the walk down the pier was not too long, they also had a free shuttle from the ship to the mall.

In the afternoon, we took separate tours. Chuck went on the Snuba Adventure. This was good for someone who is not a certified scuba diver. The face mask, breathing apparatus, weight belt, and fins were the same as for scuba but the oxygen tanks floated on a raft on the surface. He was attached to the tanks by a long air hose.

I don’t like to swim so I took a ride on the Atlantis submarine. This was fantastic! You get about 45 minutes under the water and go down to 150 feet, much deeper than divers can go. The submarine was very comfortable, the water crystal-clear, and I’ve never seen such beautiful coral and so many fish. The second mate, “Len” described everything as we saw it. I highly recommend The Atlantis Submarine.

Coming back, I shared a bus with passengers who had gone on the Jolly Roger party cruise. They were still having a great time! Rick and Hwei Ping went on the “Kayak and Turtle Encounter Tour.” Despite the fact that she had another near-drowning experience, they both had a great time and were very proud that they were able to keep up with “the younger crowd.”

Chuck wanted to check his e-mail that afternoon and get some work done but the internet connection was down. Actually, it ended up being down for the rest of the week – due to server problems in Miami. When we talked to some of the crew members (who shall go nameless) they said that they have computer problems a lot. So … don’t plan on working – after all, you’re on a vacation. The Internet connections on land that we were able to find allowed access to the internet but did not allow him to plug in his laptop which he needed to be able to do to get through his firewall.

That night, because we had enjoyed the “Spectacle of Broadway” so much, we went to the “They’ve Got Rhythm” production. This was very disappointing. Besides microphone problems, the costumes were boring, the sets dreadful, and even the choreography was poor. Since it was the same talent, it was certainly not their fault – the production itself was at fault. I would suggest that you skip “They’ve Got Rhythm.”

That night, we were really hot in the casino. This was the night that I won my jackpot. Besides 25 $100 bills, I got a free T-shirt that said Celebrity Jackpot Winner. Because we were in international waters, it was tax-free. That was the night we could do no wrong and closed the casino at 2:30 am. (Thank god we could sleep late the next morning!)

Wednesday – At Sea

They had several classes during the day: Napkin Folding, Culinary Demonstration, Mixology, Vegetable Carving, Ribbon Roses, and Wine Appreciation. In the afternoon, there was a Slots tournament and a Blackjack tournament. We missed the Elegant Afternoon Tea in the dining room. People who went to it thought it was just great!

I entered the Blackjack tournament. For $20, you received $1,000 in fake chips. You get seven hands to play. At the end of it, they count your money. The names of the seven highest winners go on a board. The players for the next round have to win more to get on the board. The key seems to be to play as late as possible so that you know how much you need to win. Unlike regular Blackjack, in this game, it does not pay to play conservatively. For the last round, the amount to beat to get into the final was only $1,775. (I know because it was me – but I got bumped out on the very last round). For the final, the top seven players start over with $1,000 in fake chips and play seven hands again. The prizes were 1st - $500, 2nd - $300, and 3rd - $100. Although they started playing at 3:00 pm, they did not play the last round until about 4:30 pm.

On our first night in San Juan, we had met Aron at dinner at El Picoteo. He invited us to a cocktail party in his aunt’s Penthouse Suite on the afternoon at sea. Chuck went to this and it was fantastic. The suite itself is incredible: huge teak decks, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, a wet bar on the balcony, a private exercise room, a grand piano, huge sitting and dining areas, and everything was flawlessly appointed and decorated. The party was elegant and perfect: live music, drinks, food, and a charming host. Good news for Chuck – his entire harem was in attendance.

The dress code that night was Tropical Casual, so it was a great night to show off your favorite loud and splashy purchases. Although we skipped it, people who saw the comedian that night thought he was hilarious. Up at the pool was a great party and a really spectacular Fruit and Sherbet Buffet.

Thursday – Antigua

Another great island. In the morning all four of us took the Panoramic Drive to Nelson’s Dockyard Shore Excursion. The drive itself is not very scenic, but Nelson’s Dockyard is worth the trip. This is an excellent restoration and the short guided tour is good. You also get a free drink – more rum punch – at a beautifully restored building. There are two more stops for spectacular views. Locals were selling T-shirts etc. and some very reasonable beaded jewelry. Although they are rather aggressive in trying to make a sale, I thought the jewelry was nicer, for the price, than anything I had seen in any of the islands’ shops. Just before we got back on the ship, we checked out the internet café. This turned out to be a single computer that did not allow you to plug in your own laptop so Chuck still couldn’t work – but they had great Mango Lime Daiquiris. We got back to the ship in plenty of time for a nice leisurely lunch in the dining room. This tour was well worth the time.

In the afternoon, we were on a quest to meet “The Yoda Guy.” In the shopping area right at the pier is the Island Arts Gallery. It’s on the second floor, in the building just pass the round covered bench area on the street that is an extension of the pier. In the loft above the gallery you can meet Nick Maley. He did makeup and special effects for all three Star Wars movies and is both a talented artist and a fascinating conversationalist. We bought:
some original Star Wars memorabilia for my son’s 25th birthday on which Nick wrote a personal message (he was absolutely thrilled – I am now the Mom of the Year!),
a numbered print of his autobiographical painting for ourselves (# 37 of 195),
two small unlimited edition prints of the same painting for our children (on which he autographed and wrote personal messages for them)
a map of the southern Caribbean (on which he drew our route and a personal message). Do not miss a visit to “The Yoda Guy.” If you have time before you leave, check out his web site at www.yodaguy.com.

After our great time with Nick, we went up to Hemingway’s for a relaxing drink on the balcony. I thought that the Hemingway’s Special was great. On the way back to the ship, I jogged to the left and discovered the shops at Redcliffe Quay. This was a very nice little shopping area compared to the rest of the pier area. I suggest that you start your shopping tour by hanging a right at the end of the pier, walking along the wooden dock to the shops. When you’ve finished there, you can still cut through to get to the more tacky Heritage Quay on your quest for The Yoda Guy.

That evening was the last formal night. Dinner included Broiled Lobster Tails, which were excellent. I warned our waiter that I would need more than one – No Problem! Actually, you could order any main course and still get a lobster tail with it. At the end of dinner, the chefs and maitre d’s were introduced, followed by a parade of waiters to thunderous applause. {Our waiter, Juan, by the way, was absolutely outstanding. Unfortunately, by the time you cruise, he will be on vacation.} Do not miss this Dinner!

Although we had been disappointed with the Tuesday night production, we gave the Celebrity Showtime one more chance. “Classique – The Creation” was the best show we have ever seen on any cruise! The production was flawless, the talent exceeded themselves, the specialty act was dynamite and our hands got sore from clapping. This was also the night that we took an up-close look at the flames on the wall and discovered how they worked.

Finally, I had to drag Chuck from the casino to “Le Grand Buffet.” From 11:45 to 12:15, you can view the buffet to take pictures or videos. Do not pass up the chance to take pictures/videos of this incredible display. By the time we got there at 12:30, passengers had already started eating but it was still gorgeous. There were 12 separate ice sculptures, mirrored platters of appetizers with fantastically carved garnishes, a selection of main courses including Beef Wellington, at least two dozen different desserts, and a Bread Train that you might miss but is great. It only took us about 15 minutes to get through the entire line.

Friday – St. Thomas

Friday morning we had to present our passports before getting off the ship. This was the only time that we thought the process was very badly organized. Of 1,850 passengers, every U.S. citizen had to show their passport to one Immigration Officer. I assume that Celebrity can’t control the number of Immigration Officials but they could have reduced the amount of waiting time or at least made it more pleasant.

The day before, you will receive a letter in your cabin that you must bring along the next morning. It tells you what time to go to the Celebrity Theater. We were scheduled for 8:45 and showed up about 8:30. The line snaked back to the Casino. Since they didn’t look at the times on the letters, we could have gotten in line sooner and saved some time.

They are not kidding about bringing the letter with you. Rick and Hwei Ping forgot their’s and had to stand in line twice. When we read the newsletter, we thought that everybody had to be cleared through Immigration before anyone could leave the ship so there was no reason to rush. This was not true. Once you are cleared, you can leave. Although they didn’t announce it, if you had tickets for a morning shore excursion, you could go out with the next group as soon as you gave them your letter and got a group number. Everyone else had to sit in the theater for at least a half hour waiting for their group number to be called. They were showing CNN but the wait would have been better if they had had some of the entertainers performing.

I would suggest that, no matter what time is on your letter, you get in line by 8:00 am. If you have a morning shore excursion, cruise right through with the next group.

We had a morning shore excursion to Coral World. This was great. The tour allowed 90 minutes which was just enough time to see everything. We did not sign up for it (and it was cancelled anyway because of rough waters) but they also offered Sea Trekkin’. They give eight people special shoes and helmets and lead them on a walk along the ocean floor. Next time we’re in St. Thomas, we have to do this. We had just enough time to get a “Shark Bite” – a really good drink from the Shark Bar & Grill. After this, we made two stops for pictures (fabulous views) before getting to downtown Charlotte Amalie. The drive back to the ship from downtown took over a half hour because of traffic. Coral World is great but I would take a cab instead, include Sea Trekkin, take my time at Coral World, have the cab driver show me the great views and skip downtown.

In the afternoon, we went shopping at the 50 stores at Havensight Mall right at the pier. (There is a free shuttle from the ship to the mall.) There was lots of variety in the stores and the prices were very reasonable. Just behind the mall is Cohen’s Discount Store. This store was great – more liquor selection than any of the other shops and a great selection of hand-painted clothing (with the artist right there to do custom work). We didn’t learn the best St. Thomas shopping tip until the next day in San Juan at the airport – a couple who had spent a week on St. Thomas told us that the best liquor prices were at the K-Mart (their example was a bottle that was $48 at A.H. Rise and $32 at K-Mart).

Our luggage tags were in our room when we got back so we started packing. I had packed an empty duffel bag for our dirty clothes so we had extra room in our regular suitcases for all of our purchases. This made packing a lot easier. We also kept one small rollabout for last minute packing in the morning. We got our big bags out to the halls before dinner so we were able to have a nice relaxing evening.

Saturday – Homeward Bound

In the morning, we sorted what we still had in the room into two groups: things we wanted in our carryon bags for the plane and things that we wanted to pack in our rollabout to be checked at the airport. At 8:00 am, the steward knocked on our door and we were ready to leave. We followed our waiter’s excellent advice and went to the dining room for a nice leisurely breakfast. By the time we finished, they were just about to call our color.

We sat around for an extra half-hour visiting with our friends. That way when we went down to collect our luggage, it was really easy to find since the area had been cleaned out. Leaving the ship, getting our luggage, and handing in our customs form was just a walk-through – no waiting at all. We did have to wait in line about a half-hour for the bus to the airport. (There were two separate lines depending on which airline you needed --- be sure that you’re in the right line.)

We got to the airport about 11:00 am for a 2:00 pm flight. The wait to check-in at American was about 30 minutes. We then had to wait about 30 minutes longer for our baggage to be checked. The wait for the metal detector was only about 5 minutes. If we had a later flight, it would have been a good idea to get to the airport by cab, complete the check-in, store the carry-ons in a locker, and take a cab back to Condado or Old San Juan until about 90 minutes before our boarding time.

Regrets

“I have a few … but then again … too few to mention.” We had a great time but (despite the song lyrics) there are a few things I would have done differently:

When arriving at the airport, when I couldn’t find the Celebrity greeter, I should have used an airport page to find him/her.
I should have skipped the tour to the Camuy Caves in San Juan and gone to El Yunque and the Bacardi Factory instead.
I should have signed up for the $ 99 picture package and taken more pictures of the ship. (I bought their package of 22 generic ship photos instead.)
I should have spent more time in the Thalassotherapy Pool and had lunch from the spa. – Skipping St. Croix Shore Excursions would have been a great time to do this.
I should have brought a hanging shoe bag.
We should have had more breakfasts and lunches in the dining room.
We should have had dinner in the United States specialty restaurant – this is my biggest regret.
We should have gone to the Elegant Tea Time on Wednesday. (Although this does conflict with the end of the Blackjack Tournament.)
We should have danced more – I blame Chuck for this!
I should have brought some walkie-talkies for when we got separated. Twice we had lunch at the same time but in two different places.

Our Favorite Experiences

It’s hard to narrow the list down to only ten. I’ll have to use just about every complimentary adjective I know (and do some combining) but here are the memories that we will cherish (in chronological order).

El Convento – We loved everything about this fabulous hotel in Old San Juan: the location, the ambiance, the staff, the room, socializing with the other guests at Wine & Cheese, and El Picoteo.

The Infinity – At first sight, she was clearly the most beautiful ship in San Juan Harbor. Once on board and exploring, we found the layout very well-organized, a variety of different interesting areas (including lots of quiet places for relaxing), and fantastic design and decorations (including absolutely fabulous artwork).

The Balcony – Sometimes you get more than you pay for. Although our cabin itself was the standard 170 square feet, the additional 38 square feet of the balcony made all the difference. Chuck spent time almost every afternoon just relaxing on the balcony, having a drink, reading his book, and watching the ship leave port. My favorite balcony-time was at bedtime – I’d get in pj’s, pour a bedtime drink, and just watch the moonlight on the water – this was especially gorgeous on our first night out when I could see the lights of Puerto Rico in the distance.

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