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Ken Aitchison

Age: n/a


Number of Cruises: n/a

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Infinity

Sailing Date: August 17th, 2001

Itinerary: n/a

My wife, Helen, and I recently returned from a cruise to Alaska and back from Vancouver (where we live) on Celebrity Cruises' new Infinity. At 91,000 tons she is the largest ship on the Alaska run this year. We have cruised to Alaska 11 times before; we find the cruises to be a convenient way to try new ships. This year we wanted to try Infinity.

We last cruised Celebrity four years ago, and found virtually everything about the Galaxy first rate. The only thing we did not like was the ultra modern art. Interestingly we found the art on Infinity very appealing. We found the food on Galaxy absolutely superb, by far the best we have ever had afloat. Unfortunately the quality of Celebrity food ‹ at least on the Infinity ‹ has declined sharply.

The ship is magnificent, but the quality of the cruise experience is definitely lower than it was when we last cruised with the line. Whether or not that decline is related to the purchase of the cruise line by Royal Caribbean I don't know, but corners are being cut. The decline is most noticeable in the quality of the food. Four years ago the food was superb; it definitely is not now. We had to send meat dishes back because they were so tough that it was almost impossible to cut through them, let alone chew them. We normally eat all meals in the dining room, but we were so disappointed with the food there this time that we went to the buffet for both breakfast and lunch. The food there was better, although as with all buffets it was seldom hot. Mankind has yet to discover how to keep food hot in buffets.

The buffet room is the well-named Oceanview Cafe, aft on Deck 10. The room is first-rate, and offers comfortable seating with great views. Four serving areas keep the food lines moving, and a fifth serves those who want to sit out on deck. For breakfast there are two separate serving stations that prepare omelettes to order. Two other serving areas provide pasta at lunch and pizzas at other hours. Two other serving stations serve ice cream or frozen yogurt at noon and during the afternoon. The buffet offers a wide variety of foods.

Tea in the dining room was always cool; not once was the water boiling, as it should be for tea. I ordered hot chocolate once but it was not even lukewarm. We mentioned the problem to the maitre d', but nothing changed. I can honestly say that dinners in the dining room were very disappointing. I can't remember really enjoying any of them. Most nights I did not even finish what was served. On the final evening my wife and I shared one meal because neither of us could face eating an entire serving. The quality of the food has declined so much that I wonder if Michel Roux (the internationally renowned chef who plans the entire Celebrity food service and menus) knows what is going on. His reputation is being sullied daily. The meals being presented are planned by him, but I doubt that he has ever served them the way our meals were served. As I mentioned earlier, the meat dishes were particularly disappointing. They were both tough and tasteless. Another man at our table had to send back a steak because it was virtually all gristle, and he literally could not cut it with a knife. Michel Roux, Celebrity passengers ‹ those on Infinity at least ‹ desperately need you. My guess is that the top quality ingredients Celebrity used to use in preparing food have been replaced by lower quality ones ‹ cheaper cuts of meat, for example.

Cruise fares have become so competitive now that the cruise lines are having to make up some of their lost revenue in other ways, and one of the obvious ways is to cut costs on the ships. I think that the quality of the food purchased for the Celebrity ships is a far cry from what it used to be when the line was owned by the Chandris family. Helen and I had lamb one night that was obviously mutton; the portions of meat served were larger than any lamb I have ever seen, and were very tough. I can't remember even one dinner that I really enjoyed. Several times Helen skipped her entree, and I usually did not finish mine.

The range of choice in menu items has been restricted. Such dishes as Beef Wellington, Chateaubriand, and Lobster Newburg were noticeable by their absence.

I should add that the odd individual item in the dining room was quite good. The cold fruit soups, for example, were delicious, as were several of the hot soups (the pea soup especially). Overall, however, the famous Celebrity food of Michel Roux was not served.

Having painted a rather discouraging portrait of Infinity so far, I must in fairness say that we enjoyed the ship. She is really a beautiful vessel. I don't find the exterior of the vessel as attractive as that of most of the other new ships, but the design and the decor of the interior, especially the public rooms, are most impressive. We even liked the art! Infinity's vast art collection is really an appealing one; I think most people liked it. As is the case with all the large ships now the design of the various rooms seemed to swallow the almost 2000 passengers aboard (the ship was full), so that we were never conscious that we were part of a huge crowd.

One feature I especially liked was the beautiful woods used in various parts of the ships. A particularly outstanding example was a dance floor in the Rendevous Lounge that was made of various colours of wood that contrasted beautifully with each other. Each piece was flawless, and the overall effect was wonderful. Another beautiful example was a spiral staircase that joined two sections of the library located one above the other on Decks 8 and 9.

All the public rooms were beautifully done. I doubt that anyone aboard was not really impressed by them. The furnishings matched the quality of the design of the rooms and each room was very comfortable. Because the ship is so large, in particular because it so long (965 feet), there are many public rooms. Not one was disappointing.

Our inside cabin was a good size and very comfortable. The first night on a foam pillow gave me a stiff neck and a headache. Fortunately our cabin attendant was able to get me a pillow made of some other material, and that solved the problem.

I have been a fitness buff all my life, so one room I used every day was the excellent gymnasium, Deck 10 forward, immediately above the bridge. The gym has an aerobics area and the best collection of exercise equipment I have ever seen on a ship. All of the machines were well used throughout the cruise. An indication of how well equipped the gym is is the fact that there are 14 treadmills. A word of caution, however. The treadmills look out over the bow of the ship. Four years ago on another Celebrity ship that had treadmills in the same location I became so enthralled the first morning out looking at the spectacular scenery of the Inside Passage to Alaska that I forgot about where my feet were. Without knowing it I gradually moved to the left, until my left foot came down on the
stationary part of the treadmill. I had the treadmill going at a fast speed so I was instantly thrown off the treadmill. I pulled everything pullable in my left leg, and could barely walk for the remainder of the cruise. I still suffer frequent severe cramps in that leg. In other words, enjoy the views, but don't make the same stupid mistake I made.

Except for days when we were in port, all 14 of the treadmills were in use most of the time. However, it was possible to sign up for a particular treadmill time for the following day, so I did that each day.

The new gas turbine propulsion system is a wonder. It really does eliminate virtually all vibration. I could hardly believe such a large ship could go through the water so smoothly. It does rock somewhat, as all ships do, but the pitching is so gentle that people simply are not aware of it unless they deliberately look through the windows and observe the land and sea moving slowly up or down. What a wonderful change from the disastrous Olympic Voyager, the last ship on which we cruised!

One feature of Celebrity that has not changed is the service provided by the crew and staff. It is still outstanding. Every individual is the essence of courtesy, friendliness, and helpfulness, and has obviously been trained to provide the best possible service, regardless of what his or her position on the ship is.

A feature of Celebrity that I like very much is that public address announcements are kept to a minimum. That is in stark contrast to many other ships, which insist on blasting passengers with announcements all day and evening. I particularly resent someone from the cruise staff reading the schedule of activities that passengers have received the night before in printed form. Fortunately that does not happen on Celebrity ships.

We found the entertainment on Infinity disappointing, but I hasten to add that most other people found it to be terrific. The entertainment is aimed at people younger than we are (we are in our 70s), and that is a sensible decision. I suppose the kind of entertainment that appeals to us no longer appeals to most people. There were three "production" shows, but we did not enjoy the voices of all but one of the five lead singers. One of the female singers had such a strong voice that she did not really need a microphone at all, but unfortunately her voice was not the least bit musical in our opinion. After seeing the first show we did not bother to go to the other two. One of the individual entertainers was a young man who has won 17 international piano competitions, including one for Chopin's works. There is no doubt that he has a prodigious talent, but he tries to outdo Liberace. His over-the-top theatrics, combined with constant "banging" of the keys to produce incredibly loud sound and unbelievable speed (he prides himself on being the fastest pianist in the world), seemed to be very impressive to most people, but the young man put both Helen and me right off. As with the female singer, he produced incredibly loud sound but little music. Again, to be fair his performances were real hits with most of the audience. He included magic in his act, and he proved to be an excellent illusionist.

Unfortunately the weather was not good for most of the cruise, despite the fact that August normally provides very good weather for Alaska cruises. Fortunately it was sunny when we left Vancouver, so sailing out of the harbor was very scenic. For the rest of the week, however, we had only the odd glimpse of the sun. We had low clouds (which hid much of the scenery) or rain much of the time. As we were eating dinner on the penultimate night of the cruise the captain came on the public address system to warn us that we would go through a major storm area during the night, and that the seas would be quite rough. Fortunately the storm was not nearly as severe as had been predicted. We went to bed early to avoid the unpleasantness of rough seas and slept soundly all night.

The day we saw the Hubbard Glacier, the widest tidewater glacier in North America, was cloudy but dry, so people really enjoyed that day. We did too, despite having seen that glacier several times before. It really is a magnificent sight.

The Alaskan ports are quite small, but as always people seemed to enjoy them all. The train ride in Skagway was especially popular. The stretch of narrow gauge track from Skagway to the Canadian border is especially scenic, and the passenger train is very popular as a cruise ship shore excursion. The passenger cars are replicas of those used when the railway was first built to carry miners to the Gold Rush in the Klondike that began in 1898.

All the other shore excursions proved to be popular too, as they always are, especially the flights over the glaciers in either helicopters or small fixed wing aircraft. A wide choice of shore excursions is available, and all of them seem to be enjoyable.

The cruise had some disappointments, but it was enjoyable. Our main reason for taking the cruise was to try the new ship, and by and large Infinity did not disappoint us.

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