Ports of Call
The motto of Celebrity Cruises is to "exceed expectations." Though I had cruised many years ago on Carnival Cruise Lines, and my husband Kris and I had both cruised on Royal Olympic, I must say our expectations were met and much exceeded by the style, class and panache which have become Celebrity trademarks.
John Chandris, of the renowned Greek shipping family, created Celebrity Cruises in 1989. His promise at that time was to exceed passengers' expectations. He successfully accomplished this feat by offering passengers higher standards of food and service than they were accustomed to in the mid-price range. For example, Celebrity's ships (Century, Galaxy and Mercury) were the first mid-price ships in the 1990s to offer suites with butlers, grand spas, large collections of private art and elegant and sophisticated touches such as a cigar club, and champagne and martini bars.
Though Celebrity was acquired by Royal Caribbean in 1997, they still maintain high standards as well as their own identity.
Infinity is one of the new Millennium-class ships, debuting in February 2001. Measuring out at a grand length of 965 feet, it can carry up to 1,950 passengers. Not only does Infinity offer all the grand touches that Century, Galaxy and Mercury have, but it boasts a solarium, a health club and glass elevators, which allow for sweeping views of the sea. Infinity, as well as the other Millennium-class ships (Summit, Millennium, Constellation) offer the largest suites at sea. And 56 % of the rooms have private verandahs.
Most passengers on a Celebrity cruise are in their mid-40s. There are children on Celebrity cruises, though they are not seen with an omnipresence they have on, say, Carnival or Disney. Celebrity offers special programs for toddlers through teens, as well as offering a special staff for the needs of younger guests.
Art AboardClassy is the first word that comes to mind when describing Infinity. There is a grand elegance that graces this ship. Nothing is loud, bold or overly flashy.
Modern metal sculptures are purposely placed and poised in seemingly every corner. Prints and photos hang on every wall, most are originals. Mosaics, too, are laid out on floors and decorate walls. And, all these elements command a second glance.
Art is everywhere. So much so, in fact, that the first few days you will notice nothing else. And then this creative explosion seems to fade into the background, and you almost seem to take it all for granted as if seeing such vast quantities of quality art was commonplace.
A fun and entertaining means of discovering and obtaining new art is offered aboard Infinity. Art auctions will occur a few times during each cruise. All artwork is offered by Park West At Sea, a fine art company operating art auctions aboard cruise ships. Works begin at $100, and sometimes are offered for less. Savings can be found at 40% to 80% off many popular works, including those by Dali, Goya, Picasso, Rembrandt and others.
Plaza DeckAs this is the first deck most passengers see upon entering the ship, no amount of class nor style has been spared to make an impression. Grand and towering floral arrangements by French floral designer Emilio Robba grace the deck, adding touches of whimsy and life. While none of these arrangements are composed of real botanical specimens, it took a touch of the hand to prove that they were indeed composed of manmade and natural materials.
Infinity's specialty dinner restaurant, the S.S. United States, is on this deck. This intimate and cozy dining experience is by reservation only, with an added service charge of $25 per person. Though we did not have a chance to experience it, we heard nothing but rave reviews. The food is of an even more upscale quality than the sit-down dinner option. Please note that it's best to make reservations early at the S.S. United States, as seats rapidly fill up as the cruise progresses.
Guest Relations, Shore Excursions and a bank share this deck, and I must admit that it's nice to have access to all three in one area. Hours for each service varied, but were always posted on the ship's daily itinerary.
A grand, illuminated marble staircase with marble steps in the Grand Foyer was the architectural highlight of this deck, and this staircase leads up to the next levelthe Promenade Deck.
Promenade DeckA grand piano rests at the top of the staircase leading to the Promenade Deck. During various moments music could be heard echoing melodiously down the grand staircase, spilling into the foyer below. Large, billowy white curtains extend down to the Plaza Deck, creating a frame around the open deck design.
Celebrity Theater is on this deck. It is in the bow of the ship, occupying this level as well as two others. It features a large, semi-circular stage and amphitheater style seating. Glass-topped tables provided for every two seats allow show attendees to enjoy their drinks without precariously balancing them on a knee or fellow passenger.
The Photo Gallery is on this deck as well, and at certain times of the day you can venture in to find photos taken of yourself and fellow passengers. All are for sale, some having been taken at embarkation, others during dinner or open photo sessions. At these open sessions a line forms for those interested in having a photo taken in front of various backdrops. Those enamored with cruise ship nostalgia can even choose from a backdrop which features a sepia-toned photograph replica of Titanic's grand staircase.
Michael's Club is a dark and expectedly musty cigar room on the Promenade Deck. Only those who wish to partake in this activity will likely be found there. Painted murals grace the walls, as well as wood trim, cream-colored pillars and plush chairs, which round out the room.
Next is Fortunes Casino a quiet place while at port, and a bustling center of hot activity while at sea. Since onboard gambling is not allowed in most ports, nighttime sailing brings the slot machines and craps, poker and blackjack tables to life. The casino's theme is Ancient Egypt. Tasteful and elegant, the room gives the feel of gambling inside an ancient Egyptian tomb. On the floor, a multi-colored marble inlay of a lotus greets casino visitors as they enter. Shiny brass gleams everywhere. The carpet is a repetitive pattern of cartouche-like designs. Bold and bright lighting gleams overhead, encouraging a festive and exciting atmosphere.
A computer bar/internet café is also available on this deck for those who need or want a web connection. Flat screen IBMs are available for a per-minute rental fee.
The Rendez Vous Lounge is a welcome spot for those waiting to enter the late dinner seating at the Trellis Restaurant, or those leaving the early dinner seating. Marble-topped tables are arranged throughout, as are plush red, blue and gold chairs. A wooden dance floor takes center stage, and behind this stage the dynamic and thoroughly entertaining Adam and Angela play jazz and dancing favorites.
The lower level of the Trellis Restaurant is in the stern of the ship. A grand two-sided staircase connects the lower and upper levels of the restaurant. All seated breakfast, lunch and dinner meals happen here. Tables of two, four, six or eight are arranged on the two levels, and during dinner a quartet plays. The room is grand and not stuffy. Decorative elements are minimal, allowing the grandness of the room to be its greatest asset. Large, round portholes line the walls, allowing those visitors lucky enough to glance through them a view of the passing sea and islands.
Entertainment DeckThe Emporium shopping plaza is for those who love to shop, browse or just be dazzled by material things. Jewelry, watches, liquor, clothing, souvenirs, handbags, perfume and beachwear are all offered. Master chef Michel Roux consultant to Celebrity's menus has his own cooking store nestled in this shopping plaza. Cookbooks and cooking equipment are sold here.
Cova Café Milano, a quaint meeting area for coffee lovers, offers cappuccinos and other hot drinks. High stools line the coffee bar, and passengers can be seen relaxing and enjoying conversations with fellow guests.
A pastry bar is offered nearby, too. One can enjoy a sweet confection while overlooking the two decks below, which are adjoined by the grand staircase.
A Champagne and Martini Bar are on this deck as well. While sipping cocktails, those who lounge in this area can enjoy the sounds and sights of the Rendez Vous lounge located a deck below, and visible through a circular opening over the dance floor.
Penthouse DeckOn this deck is The Tower, a two-floor game room with tables for cards, Monopoly, Scrabble, backgammon and chess. Rich wood paneling and comfortable red couches make this area a cozy retreat.
Panarama DeckFor lovers of books and the printed word, there is the library, Words. Soft couches and shelves of fiction and non-fiction works comprise this two-story area. A staff member is available at various times to allow passengers to check out reading materials.
Resort DeckA highlight of the ship even for those not interested in aerobic activity or beautifying pursuits is the AquaSpa. Cardiovascular equipment and nautilus machines are here for those wishing to keep tone and fit, even while vacationing. Those who love, or even dread, the treadmill will feel inspired to hop on after viewing the floor to ceiling glass windows which afford a spectacular view of visiting ports and the vast ocean. Yoga classes are offered aboard, too, as well as personal training both at an additional fee.
The AquaSpa is a full-service beauty salon and day spa. Haircuts and blow drys, facials, massages, pedicures, highlights and permanents are offered for additional charges.
AquaSpa, even for those who don't wish to take advantage of their services, is a quiet and peaceful area of the ship. The delicate scent of aromatherapy permeates the air, causing an immediate desire to be pampered.
Breezes Pool Area is the place to be for those who enjoy people watching. Most everyone walks by this area, it being the central thruway to the buffet lines. Hundreds of padded deck chairs and towels are assembled in straight, soldier-like fashion across the deck. Four hot tubs and two saltwater pools one wading and one six-feet deep are popular spots, partcularly during the at-sea day. For those who enjoy privacy, arrive early in the morning. This area will swarm with people as the day progresses.
Oceanview Café and Oceanview Grill form the casual dining centerplace of the ship. Buffets are offered throughout the day in this area. During busy meal times, seating can seem scarce near the buffet lines. The effort required to secure a table (particularly one with a window view) caused us to wonder if anyone actually dines at the sit-down breakfasts and lunches in the Trellis Restaurant. But wander down to the back of the ship, and tables do open up. Best of all, there is an outdoor dining deck there, too.
Sunrise DeckFor late night partiers there is the Constellation Club. This disco/lounge/bar plays music into the wee hours of the morning. One night we went there, and there was a scattering of brave souls tapping their toes on the dance floor. Another night, and there was hardly space to groove your stuff. Apparently attendance depends on the collective mood of the ship.
Music lovers who love music, but not dancing, can hang out in Notes a quiet, two-story music bar. Headphones are available from Guest Relations and after obtaining these, passengers can peruse a listing of hundreds of CDs. All are available for private listening pleasure.
A sanctuary of floral respite is the Conservatory. Emilio Robba's floral designs, as well as fresh flowers, are offered for sale. Charming two-seater cabanas are here, where passengers can sit and enjoy the bright, natural light and towering artificial and real flower sculptures.
A golf simulator, where one can learn from a pro, is available on this deck, as well as a video arcade, shuffleboard and a jogging track.
Fun Factory, a one-stop playground for the younger passengers, offers games, climbing equipment, TVs/VCRs, art stations and its own supervised staff.
Sports DeckPerched atop it all is the Sports Deck. Basketball and volleyball are offered on this, the utmost level of decks. Looking 12 stories below, you may well feel as if you are playing in the heavens, or at the least you'll be enjoying the fresh air.
FoodTruth be told, I chose Celebrity because I was told their food was the best. I was not disappointed. Rack of lamb, filet mignon, pork roast and lobster were just a few of the entrées available. A choice of four to five appetizers, soups, salads, entrées and desserts were offered at each dinner seating, and to choose amongst such grand gourmet offerings was not easy.
Now, the food cannot be compared to the most touted gourmet restaurant available stateside. After all, the ship is preparing food for massive quantities of people. With this said though, Infinity's food is exceptional. Ingredients are high quality, presentation is artful and service was superb.
Dine at the sitdown dinners as often as you can. They are worth it. You are paying for high-class food, so enjoy it. While the ship offers a casual dinner buffet (by reservation only), we never partook of it. It seemed a waste, when such fine food was already available to us.
Breakfast and lunch are served sit down in the Trellis Resatuarant. While the offerings are a bit more upscale and gourmet than what you'll find at the breakfast and lunch buffets, the buffet selection cannot be beat. Meats, pastas, salads, fruit and pastries galore are arranged with mouth-watering artistry. And for those on a tight time schedule, you may not want to spend the time dining at the sit-down breakfast or lunch, which can take upwards of an hour.
The grand highlight of food aboard the Infinity is, of course, the grand midnight buffet, showcased toward the end of the cruise. This is where ice sculptures, fruit carvings and plated masterpieces adorn the Trellis Restaurant. An anxious line forms early to snap photos of food displayed with such amazing creativity and style.
ServiceWith a two-to-one passenger-to-staff ratio, it seems at times there are more employees than passengers. Service is of the utmost quality. Polite and not too obsequious employees catered to passengers whims and needs. I overheard a few times how impressed fellow passengers were with Infinity's service. Those on the servicing side of the spectrum were, more often than not, seen smiling and greeting passengers with genuine enthusiasm.
For passenger convenience, Infinity offers cashless cruising. This allows guests to spend money on drinks, merchandise, photos and shore excursions by using their cabin card as a sort of credit card. At the end of the voyage, a total bill is sent to your room and you pay by pre-arranged credit card or cash. Since this cashless cruising card is the exact same card as your room key, it's safer than walking around with wads of cash and a loose credit card. We found it most convenient and an excellent idea.
Infinity has entered the high-tech realm by allowing passengers to book excursions not only at the shore excursion deck, but through interactive television sets in each cabin. Descriptive videos of shore excursions play around the clock on the TVs with such alarming repetition that sometimes it seems you don't need to leave your room to see the ports of call!
After all those buffets and meals throughout the day, it's hard to imagine being hungry at 2 a.m.; but it does happen. For those who feel an attack of the munchies, Infinity offers 24-hour room service. You don't even have to pick up the phone to order, either. The interactive room TVs take the place of a telephone, allowing you to order using just a remote control.
EntertainmentComing back after our trip, we went not only through buffet withdrawal but also entertainment withdrawal. Broadway-style shows, comedy routines and magic acts are offered up nightly, and we soon felt spoiled. All shows are created exclusively for Celebrity Cruises. And it shows that a lot of hard work and planning has gone into each and every production. The costumes and sets are outstanding. Music, singing and dancing acts are there to entertain you, and each cruise employee is extremely talented and can be seen enjoying what they do. All you do is sit back and wonder how you're going to enter into "real life" once the ship docks on the last day.
SummaryI was so impressed with my experience aboard Infinity, I was tempted to book another cruise right then and there aboard the ship. (They do offer this service, by the way, and you receive $200 shipboard credit if you book at the time of passage.) For my husband and me, Infinity was classy, sophisticated and elegant with much grace and style. I wandered the ship amazed by the art, the architecture, the food, the entertainment really, everything! It's true that Celebrity exceeded our expectations, and Infinity is a ship for those who have expectations to exceed.
PHOTOS courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Infinity, click HERE.
Lisa Fabian is production editor at Offshore a magazine for Northeast boaters. She and her husband Kris await the time until they are on the high seas cruising Celebrity once again. Lisa may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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