This cruise sailed from Harwich which suited us rather nicely as we stayed with a friend who lives near Norfolk. Coming from Falkirk involves a lengthy drive so pre-cruise accommodation is essential and staying with a friend saved us some money.
My concerns about Harwich Port started when I was offered this cruise and called the port to arrange parking (they have little to no information on their website). I was told that I was too late to book parking, but if I turned up on the day it wouldn’t be a problem, and that parking cost £79.75. This didn’t seem especially well organised, but we arrived at the port, joined the shortest of the two queues, and eventually arrived at the payment booths. Here payment was taken by credit card (cash was also an option) and the whole process was very straightforward and quick (other than the odd passenger who apparently didn’t realise that they had to pay for parking).
From the payment gates there just a short drive where your luggage is taken on to a trailer and then you can proceed to the car park. Parking is quite a distance from the ship, so transport is provided in the form of a shuttle bus. I’d rather have terminal parking like that offered by Cunard and Celebrity in Southampton, but this isn’t available at Harwich.
Check in was very quick and straightforward – we got seen immediately and after completing the health questionnaire and having our photo taken were issued with our Sea Passes and told to join the security queue at the back of the check-in hall. There is a one-way path from check-in to security, passing the obligatory photographers and speciality dining and drinks package sellers, all of which we avoided with skilful agility.
Security was a longer affair, mainly because a vast number of people arrive at the x-ray machines and suddenly realise that they have to re-organise their entire collection of hand-luggage to find the iPad that has to be removed and placed in a tray, a process that seems to take about 10 minutes per passenger. It seems that the huge instructional signs adorning the walls of the security queue are insufficient in preparing people for this process! That all said, I wonder if it’s time to increase security capacity when ships are processing a couple of thousand passenger, all eager to get a head start on the buffet.
Arrival on the ship was typically pleasant, with mimosas on offer for those interested in relaxing. Staterooms were ready fairly early on, so after a short wander we offloaded in our cabin.
We were in cabin 3073, an Ocean View Stateroom located on the port side of the ship, halfway between the midship foyer and the forward stairwell. The area was quiet, with very little passing footfall. The stateroom is located immediately below the Fortunes Casino, however we did not hear anything from the ceiling.
I wondered if I might dislike not having a balcony, something I have always had as a minimum on previous cruises. For me a balcony would still feature on a cruise that was my main holiday, however I would certainly consider an Ocean View stateroom for a cheaper, second holiday. The huge porthole window let in plenty of light and, while I missed the fresh air, we didn’t notice it nearly as much as I feared we might. Air conditioning is available and this was left at the lowest setting as we like to be cool when we sleep.
The stateroom has a good amount of storage, with a double wardrobe by the door, plenty of drawers and more flat space in the cupboard above the TV. All of the storage was easily accessible and none felt impractical or poorly thought through. The bed was arranged with the headboard against the wall (originally this was two single beds, but a call to guest relations put this right sometime during dinner) and was spacious and comfortable. The TV was an adequately sized flat-screen interactive model, allowing ordering of room-service and viewing of account, helpful when keeping tabs on all those little white slips that build up over the course of a cruise. Below was a the mini-bar which, as I discovered when I threw caution to the wind and grabbed a beer without checking the price list, wasn’t horrendously prices – the beer cost me $4.50, less than I would have expected. There are no tea or coffee making facilities in the stateroom, which I like as it doesn’t clutter the precious little available desk space. Suitcases can be easily stored under the beds.
The bathroom was, I assume, a fairly standard cruise bathroom unit, and rather disappointing after our wonderful bathroom on Celebrity Eclipse. There is a wall of units with a bin and some impractical under-counter storage, and two class corner shelves that come stocked with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shower cap, cotton buds and cotton balls. There are bars of soap by the sink (one for the shower). The shower is a small rectangular space with a shower curtain and large ledge at the bottom preventing water from entering the rest of the bathroom. I hate shower curtains and any new ship that installs them should answer to some sort of human rights court for crimes against comfortable showering. The shower itself was actually pretty powerful for a cruise ship, and I didn’t generally have any issue cleaning quickly (other than the sticky curtain). The provided toiletries weren’t used much, as we like what we use at home and brought a supply on board.
All in all, a comfortable and practical stateroom.
Celebrity Infinity is a fairly old ship now, having been built in 2001. She was refurbished in 2007 with many features from the Solstice Class ships added. All of this has left Infinity looking great for her age. She’s well maintained, the carpets all look fresh and vibrant and cleaning staff can be found everywhere cleaning from morning until night. She might not be as light and airy as a more modern ship, but she’s not far off.
At the top of the ship there is a large observation lounge called Constellation. This has sweeping panoramic views facing forward and a great place to watch a sail away from with a book and a cocktail. The space seems quite versatile too -we witnessed live music, game shows and a night club in the lounge! Unfortunately the lounge doesn’t offer a full 180º view because of an installation of the kids club in the port side. Still, it’s a lovely venue and probably one of my favourite hangouts while on board when not participating in the many activities that are available.
Most of the other spaces are on decks 4 and 5. Renzez-Vous has a show lounge feel to it, and is much darker than most areas on the ship. Here you might commonly find a party band or singing on stage, but was also home to other non-music activities too, such as a cooking demonstration. The lounge can be very busy in the evening when entertainment is on, but generally not very busy otherwise.
Michaels Club is a dark beer lounge on Infinity, offering an impressive range of beers from around the world, along with a few beer tasting events during the cruise. Unfortunately the lounge doesn’t seem to open until 7pm, and is used for private functions during the day. We didn’t spend much time here, preferring the other areas of the ship (and Alex doesn’t drink beer). The space was also used for entertainment, especially the ship’s string trio.
The Martini Bar and Crush is a very modern area of the ship, situated on deck 4 overlooking the foyer. It could be very busy in the evenings, especially post dinner, where orders were prepared with great flare. Table-side shaking of martinis is also a common feature, and some of the drinks are delicious (Raspberry Lemonade martini was delicious). The bar is also made of ice (well… coated with ice) which is rather cool. Crush is a vodka bar and has plenty of bottle in a centre trough filled with crushed ice. Really good fun!
Cellar Masters is a venue that we didn’t experience much, but offers wine tastings all day through the use of Enomatic wine machines which store wine at the correct temperature and dispense variable sized and prices measures of wine, allowing to to sample anything from a sip to a glass. They also serve tapas from 5pm (prices by the dish) but we didn’t get a chance to try this and didn’t see anyone else trying it either. The Enomatic machines require the purchase of a card (minimum $10, I think) which is refundable if unused. Why they can’t just link it with your sea pass I don’t know as this would be far easier.
There are two main pool areas on board Infinity. One outside area with two hot-tubs and two small pools (one of which would be suitable for swimming in), and a fair number of loungers. Some of the loungers were under the balcony from the deck above but had a great position next to the windows. The inside area was a little odd, with another two hot tubs and one large pool. We didn’t use either area much as the weather wasn’t great and even the indoor area was inexplicable cool. Even then it didn’t feel like there was a lot of space and on a cold-weather cruise those who want to use the indoor pool area should be early risers as the loungers, especially those by the pool, and limited in numbers and disappear very quickly.
The outdoor spaces on Celebrity Infinity aren’t hugely inspiring. There is a jogging track around the outside of the ship on the top which was used fairly regularly (not by me). There is also a sports deck which confused me for a little while as most of it consists of loungers at the front of the ship. The forward section of the sports deck is great for watching sail-aways too, with it’s elevated position and open plan making it easy to walk from one side of the ship to the other, while maintaining full views on both sides. The sports part of the sports deck is in the aft section where you’ll find a multi-purpose court with basketball hoops, football goals, a variety of balls and a darts board! There is only one of them, so it wouldn’t take much for this area to be in-use. Perhaps in warmer weather cruises they limit the time spend on the court, as I imagine this could be frustrating if they don’t.
For those who enjoy shopping Celebrity Infinity has the typical sort of shops. Lots of jewelry and clothing. There’s a tax-free alcohol store (which does scheduled free tastings). For the gadget lover there is an authorised Apple reseller on board selling everything from iPods to MacBook Pros. I considered buying a new MacBook air which had launched a week or so prior to sailing, but the store was still carrying the old model. Clearly not as up-to-date as an Apple store, but with substantial savings on the UK prices it might be a good place to stop if you’re considering a new laptop. The team at the Apple Store also run regular training sessions, all but the first of which is chargeable, and all focus on using iPhone and iPad rather than Mac.
Overall, the ships was impressively decorated, with art on every wall. Everything was very well maintained and I didn’t see any signs of neglect while I was on board.
Over the course of the eleven nights on Infinity, we tried almost all of the venues that were on offer for food. The exceptions to this are the tapas available in the Cellar Masters bar, and the burgers available at the pool grill. We didn’t see the tapas at all, but the burgers looked fantastic at the pool grill, with freshly cooked meat and plenty of toppings on offer. It was always pretty busy, but weather dependent so on cooler cruises might not be available all the time as it’s located in the pool area.
The main dining room (Trellis Restaurant) is a beautiful two-level space with a grand staircase coming down from the upper level entrance to the lower level. The upper level wraps round the lower, forming a balcony overlooking the main dining room below. The restaurants location at the rear of the ship allows for a wall of glass at the back, giving wonderful views of the ships wake. Unfortunately tables in the lower level under the balcony are likely to have this view obstructed. Service in the Trellis was provided by a waiter, assistant waiter, sommelier, and drinks host. Our waiter, Ketut, was wonderful (if a little difficult to understand at times) and attentive. Our assistant waiter didn’t stand out so much. The sommelier was great and the drinks host (Marija) was possibly the friendliest person I’ve ever met on a ship and, despite the fact that we didn’t order anything from her, stopped every day to chat about how our days were etc. The food in the Trellis was largely excellent, with only the odd dish not being to my liking. Any time food was left over they would quickly ask if everything was alright and offer something else. I found the temperature perfect, but some guests we met towards the end of the cruise has issues with cold food, but this was quickly and permanently resolved after being mentioned to their waiters. Celebrity do seem to take feedback seriously!
S.S. United States is a contemporary French restaurant situated on the port side of deck three. It’s quite a long, narrow space, meaning most of the tables have some sort of sea view. If you’ve dined on any of the Solstice Class Celebrity ships, the menu and service is basically identical to that in Murano. The food here is outstanding, with many dishes expertly prepared table side. On our two visits the service was exemplary; the best we’ve experienced so far. If you only visit one speciality restaurant while on board, make it S.S. United States. You will not be disappointed.
Qsine is a very different dining experience, also available on Solstice Class ships. You order and eat tapas-style, where the dishes are brought in no particular order and designed to be shared among everyone at the table. This restaurant would be best experienced in a larger group as some of the dishes are quite substantial and you’ll struggle to sample much of it before giving up and being rolled out the door! The emphasis in Qsine is certainly more on the presentation than quality, with every dish presented in a unique and individual way. The quality is still largely very good, but don’t expect to be blown away – it’s not why you’re there. You come to Qsine to have fun and try some interesting dishes, chosen from an iPad menu. If you know what to expect you’ll enjoy it a lot, but if you’re only willing to try one speciality restaurant, make it S.S. United States.
Bistro on Five is a low-charge ($5/head) café selling mostly crepes but also paninis and soups. The crepes are wonderful, and cooked fresh while you wait. They have a variety of sweet and savoury, and you can eat as much as you want for your $5, making it great value for money. Typically we would go for a savoury and sweet crepe, but if you wanted to have a main meal you could start with soup, then a couple of crepes and a desert. It’s open pretty much all day and late into the night too, so the best place for a late-night snack.
Oceanview Cafe is the buffet restaurant on Infinity, and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate here regularly for breakfast as it was fairly quick, but avoided lunch and dinner mostly. The food was fresh and hot, with stations available at peak times of all three meals offering cook to order food in addition to the normal buffet selections. The breakfast selection was reasonably good and the food was fresh and tasty. I did find that it could be challenging to get a seat at peak times, and the whole restaurant seemed rather chaotic. To get toasted bread, bagels or crumpets you had to join a queue and have someone do it for you which seemed a little unnecessary, and meant that some of your food could get cold before you managed to get toast! To be fair, there are signs on every table asking patrons to vacate tables when they have finished eating, but this was largely ignored and not enforced by staff. My main complaint about the buffet (despite my complaining, the food was actually very good) is that the meal times seem oddly restrictive, and late-night service is practically non-existent. One evening at around 12:30 we were met with a couple of stale slices of pizza and some antipasti. Don’t expect the traditional midnight buffet feast that you might expect on other ships. They didn’t even have biscuits out!
Hopefully that will give you some food for thought…
We thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment on Celebrity Infinity, more than we’ve enjoyed entertainment on any other cruise we’ve been on. There were several production shows that were produced and performed to an outstanding quality – I especially liked the west end/Broadway show which had some masterfully crafted medleys and a great selection of songs. The on-board talent was very good when we were on board, but these shows can change from time to time so your millage may vary.
We had several guest entertainers on board too. Diane Cousins was a comedian and singer. Her singing was by far the worst of her jokes, but the rest were pretty funny and included a little bit of poking fun at the audience and the band. David Knight was a comedy hypnotist and performed very well, giving everything you’d expect from a hypnosis act while keeping it all family friendly at the same time. Greg Scott was a violinist with an energetic performance offering pieces of music from around the world (including some film scores too). Great fun! Ric Steel is probably my favourite of the acts we had. He’s a charismatic and incredibly talented singer who belts out plenty of favourites, mostly with a country theme. He performed all round the ship as well as on the main stage and became a favourite of ours! Finally, Greg Bonham was a Australian trumpet player and singer and was just not that good. He couldn’t sing very well, but even his voice trumped the trumpet! He tried and failed to interact with the audience, leading the a fairly difficult to watch performance.
Our cruise director, JC, was the most visible of any I’ve seen before. He was very friendly and fun, and we enjoyed tuning in to his morning show with activities manager Pete to see what was ahead for the day. Pete was even more visible and led many of the activities around the ship, some of which I got involved in (winning a medal and rather fetching t-shirt). Pete also put on a show in the Constellation Lounge where he did a Derren Brown-style act with mind-reading and the like. This was incredibly good, and shows that Celebrity adapt their activities depending on the talent that they have on each ship.
Most of the activities around the ship were great fun, but both cookery demonstrations that I attended were awful. The chefs that were running them didn’t seem to have the charisma to deliver an engaging presentation while doing whatever demonstration was on offer. On both occasions the audience were left in uncomfortable silence while the chef got on with the practicalities of the demonstration. I felt quite sorry for them, and got the impression that it might not be what they signed up for when they boarded as a chef. On cooking activity which was well done was the cooking competition in the theatre which was great fun and featured two executive chefs battling it out with audience help. The narration came from activities manager Pete, meaning the show kept going even then the chefs were concentrating in the background.
We also had a chance to see some of the Behind the Podium presentations. There were two speakers on board, Graham Sunderland and Jim Kennedy. Graham’s passion is nature, and he gave talks on glaciers, icelandic wildlife, migration and other interesting topics. We didn’t see them all, but he delivers with some good humour and wonderful images. Jim Kennedy took the ‘best speaker’ award this cruise, however. He’s the former director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre and general space evangelist, trying to get more people interested in and excited by space. His talks were interesting and well delivered, and I would recommend them to anyone with even a fleeting interest in space exploration.
Service on Infinity was, on the whole, exemplary. There were very few occasions where we received anything other than genuine, outstanding, friendly service. It was refreshing to be walking down the hall and have everyone from officers to cleaners saying hello and smiling. We had a couple of bad experienced in the Theatre with the drinks service, where service was a little slow (and one occasion where they order was wrong, although this was corrected) but these are minor incidents on an 11-night cruise.
If I had to pick a couple of people to receive specific praise, they would be Marija (mentioned above from the Trellis) and Gabor, the waiter from our first visit to S.S. United States who was one of the friendliest, most engaging waiters I’ve ever discovered. Both got a mention in our guest satisfaction questionnaire, and both received a handsome tip for their great work.