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Mike & Hazel

Age: 30

Occupation:Both work in Radio

Number of Cruises: One

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Infinity

Sailing Date: September 13th, 2002

Itinerary: Alaska

Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: September 13th, 2002

We were first time 30 something cruisers, whose normal holiday (vacation) would be a self organized fly/drive affair to an 'off the beaten track' location within Europe. This year we were lured to Celebrity's Alaskan cruise by an offer that put it just within reach financially. Alaska has been on our must see wish list for many years so this trip proved just too tempting to pass by.

If you have cruised in style recently, you may want to skip this paragraph. You hear people describe a liner like Infinity as a floating hotel, but that doesn't come near to an adequate picture of life afloat. Imagine a top 5* hotel, filled with 2000 guests, but instead of having one lounge, a bar and a restaurant etc, it had many. To put it another way if you were imagining your hotel had 20 floors, think what it would be like if 10 of them were set aside for common areas, lounges, bars, cafes, an interior garden, pools, health clubs, cinema, theater, indoor driving range, library etc. Now throw in a floor or two of shops - not your Woolworth’s, more like Harvey Nichols or Selfridges. Now think that for those 2000 guests this hotel has about 1000 staff catering for their every need, a room attendant who will introduce himself to you at the start of your stay and deal with any problems you have with your accommodation; a waiter, sommelier, and Maitre 'de who again you are on first name terms with, to ensure your culinary needs are met, and any number of other staff who seem only to pleased to help in any way. Already you're imagining a pretty special hotel, now add more open areas scattered around, like a couple of chess tables set off a stairway, no end of recliners on wide airy balconies, and you'll begin to see that you can quite easily escape the 'madding crowd'. Now, and this is the hard part, imagine this luxury hotel is mobile. Tired of the view from your window - not if it's always changing!

To start off with the Vancouver Cruise terminal was very well organized, and it took about an hour to get through the form filling and US customs. The identity card system was explained to us - one card for charging onboard purchases unlock your room and clock you on & off the Infinity - they take a digital picture of you using the card when you first board the vessel to cross check for security purposes preventing anyone else sneaking on using your card. After that you are guided to your cabin. At the time of booking we upgraded from an inside to an Ocean View Stateroom and were pleasantly surprised to find we'd been further upgraded to a deluxe (with balcony) at no extra cost. If you are in two minds as to which accommodation package to go for I would pay the extra for the balcony every time. Inside the rooms are pretty much the same, with loads of storage, shower/toilet en suite, couch, desk, minibar, TV and a nice firm bed; but whereas the inside cabin has no window & the Standard Ocean View has a large (4 ft) porthole window, in the deluxe you get full length floor to ceiling patio doors plus the added balcony space.

The standard of finish in all rooms is very high, with abundant use of wood and ample lighting. Soundproofing was outstanding, with only the sound of the vacuum toilets from adjoining cabins breaking through. The aircon in our cabin worked well and was capable of supplying both extremes of temperature, although some couples we talked to had problems with theirs. Sandy our cabin Steward made himself known to us within half an hour of getting to our cabin and we found the welcoming literature helpful. Our table number for dining in the Trellis Restaurant had been left on our door and we took a while to spot it but worked it out in the end. The TV was playing the ship's information channel when we arrived and again this proved useful. The TV itself had a fair number of channels offering free movies, TNT, sports, several music stations, shipboard shopping and activity guides, discovery & news. There is a weather update channel which comes from the bridge and shows a live view facing forward over the bow of the ship. There is also interactive network with access to your Stateroom account (detailing all your purchases), pay movies - with parental lock for the rude ones, booking shore excursions, even pre-ordering wine for your evening meal. We took a quick look around then headed for the buffet lunch - more about the food later. We got our bags delivered to our room about 2 hours before we sailed, which seemed pretty good considering they must had to deal with about 3-4000 bags in total. Some people were still waiting for delivery after the ship left port, but I heard no complaints of lost luggage.

On our 7 night cruise there were 2 casual, 3 informal, and 2 formal evenings - the first and last nights being the casual ones. Dress codes don't seem to be too religiously adhered to, and smart suit & tie will suffice for the formal nights. You could get away with chinos & a polo shirt on the casual nights. The service and presentation in the Trellis restaurant is consistently high and only out shadowed by the SS United States - the specialist restaurant. If you enjoy your food, we suggest you secure a late sitting - only because the 6pm main sitting is too early to recover your full appetite after lunch! On your first evening you are introduced to your waiter, his assistant, your maitre'd and your sommelier. They will explain the menu, make recommendations, and answer your questions. Our waiter, Nelson, was cheery and welcoming with a good sense of humor, and he was always concerned that we enjoyed our meals. If you take to a particular dish, he would have a second helping standing by. Anything you didn't like was quickly whisked away & replaced. The 5 course meals include appetizer, soup, salad, entrée & desert courses. Throughout the cruise the meals in the trellis restaurant were excellent, with the exception of the pasta entrée one night. Of particular merit were the cold fruit soups, the prime rib and just about any of the deserts. Breakfast in the trellis was also a treat. Wine that you order, but don't finish is held over for you until the following night, and the variety and quality available is impressive. Of the other restaurants and food bars on board, we ate at the Mast Head grill for a few lunches - including the 'bon voyage' buffet - and once for breakfast. We also had a couple of healthy days when we swam first thing then breakfasted in the Aquaspa.

The culinary highlight of the cruise was our visits to the SS United States restaurant. No where else during your cruise can you reap such huge rewards for $25! From the moment you are ushered to your table, it is evident that you are in for a treat. Michel Roux has created a menu that has been pruned down & refined from that available at his London establishment, but lost none of the magic in the process. Your waiter will recommend the cheese soufflé and the rack of lamb, trust him. Wines are recommended with each course and range from the mid twenties all the way up - that’s per glass! That said, the list superbly matched to the cuisine and the sommelier is on hand to make recommendations. Don't miss the cheese course either! Topped off with a choreographed service from first class staff. All round you would be hard pushed to find a finer diner on land or sea. Book your place early, especially on sea-bound days. Food wise, the only low point was an attempted breakfast at the grill on the morning of the Hubbard glacier visit, and that was only because everyone had the same idea and there were no tables free. Bottom line the food ranges from good to amazing and there's plenty of it.

Throughout the cruise evening entertainment was provided by way of short Broadway style shows, modern and dance bands in the bars, and late night discos. We didn’t sample much, but what we saw was of a good high standard and added to overall cruise experience. There was also regular Bingo sessions, offering some great prizes (like a free cruise). Only the karaoke had us scampering away in panic. There were a couple of wine tasting classes which were most informative, and even computer classes for those who wanted to brush up on basic skills.

The three port visits are generous, offering loads of time in Juneau, Skagway & Ketchikan, each with their own set of professional excursions. In Juneau we opted for one of the whale watching expeditions. Initially we were concerned that because the operator offered a money back guarantee that we'd see whales, it might involve some form of harassment to the animals. Nothing could have been further from the truth and we watched our humpbacks from a respectable distance. It has to be said though at this time of year (mid September) you have to be pretty unlucky not to see whales when traveling around the inshore waters of SW Alaska. We got much more of a thrill later that day when we went up the Mount Roberts Tramway (cable car) and hiked up to Father Johns cross. Across some scrubland about 300 yards away we saw two black bears, probably males, being wonderfully territorial. No organized tour would come close to this totally spontaneous - and thankfully distant - encounter. Shopping in Juneau, as with all the ports, seem heavily tilted towards the American market, with emphasis on jewelry and cheap t-shirts.

In Skagway, the train seemed very popular as an excursion, but its schedule clashed with our plans. Instead we went on a float down the Chilkat River, through bald eagle country. The trip took us from Skagway to Haines by ferry, and en route we saw as many whales as we had in Juneau. From Haines a twenty minute bus ride, with our guide giving us a pretty good idea what real life is like in Alaska after the cruise ships go south for the winter. Finally after a picnic lunch, you get to float down the Chilkat and watch some professional fishermen at work - the densest, most active collection of Bald Eagles in the whole US of A. Plenty of evidence of bear activity too. If your daytime job involves a high degree of stress, then this trip is a must - truly a life saver - take it. Take a camera with you as generally it’s a very calm ride (although there are no guarantees you wont end up with wet feet.

Our morning at Hubbard Glacier was another memorable experience. Breathtaking, massive, and hugely powerful - The sound of the ice calving varied from low rumbles to loud artillery like cracks and the crew said we got closer to it than any previous visit that season. The depth of colours, blues of every shade, is hard to imagine and is not exaggerated in the brochures. The temperature on deck falls by a few degrees and this was the only time on the trip when thick winter clothes were required.

To complete the trilogy of animal tours, we opted for the bear watching in Ketchikan. Apparently on all previous Celebrity cruises Infinity had to anchor in the bay whilst it's sister ship, Summit, berthed on the quay; but because it was late in the season, we shared the dock with just one other liner. Previous float plane tours had been cancelled that day, so our tour was actually the first take off. The flight was pretty rough and when we got to the bay where we were to have watched the bears (drawn in by a salmon hatchery) the sea was too rough to land, so we headed back to Ketchikan. Our tour cost was refunded in full, even though we were airborne for about 40 mins. Ketchikan had more of a range of shops, with some fine saloons too. If you want to try some of the local food you can try Annabelle’s on the dock front serves great chowder. That evening was the second formal night, and the one where the catering staff pull out all the stops. The midnight buffet is something to behold, with ice sculptures and tables laden with food displayed in the finest settings.

Once you sail from Ketchikan you’ve got another day’s leisurely sailing through the Inside Passage. That evening you pack your main cases and leave them out for collection, just leaving an overnight bag. When you wake up the next morning you’re berthed in Vancouver ready for disembarkation. We waited on deck and had an al fresco breakfast whilst waiting for our number to be called before reluctantly leaving the Infinity for the last time. Again things ran smoothly at the port and we were re-united with our cases and through customs all within 30 mins. We had opted to stay on in Vancouver for another week, and this is well worth considering if you’ve traveled from Europe for your cruise.

I know this was our first cruise, but we can’t think of much else the Celebrity team could do to improve things; we’ll give them 9 out of 10 so they still have something to aim for!! Yes there were a couple of things – it would have been nice to have Tea/Coffee making facilities in the stateroom, and whilst we were expecting to pay for alcoholic drinks, we were surprised that we had to pay for sodas. That aside, we will have no hesitation recommending this cruise to our friends and are saving up for the next time – well done Infinity.

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