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7 Day Inside Passage, Roundtrip from Vancouver aboard Celebrity Infinity

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Celebrity Infinity

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7 Day Inside Passage, Roundtrip from Vancouver aboard Infinity
Celebrity's Infinity is the line's second Millennium class vessel. Like the Millennium, its sister ship, new concepts, from a two-story library to the retro ocean liner-themed alternative restaurant to the all-glass seaview elevators, are replicated on Infinity. The line's fleetwide dedication to art, natural woods, and sleek near-Scandinavian styling lends this ship, like others, an elegant, contemporary air.

With this ship -- and other Millennium-class vessels -- Celebrity Cruises is taking on a mighty challenge. Is it possible to successfully offer an elegant, upscale cruise experience on a (very) large scale? On our trip, it seemed that Infinity was very much a work-in-progress. Continually changing rules and regulations are indicative of the struggle. For instance, the ship recently instituted a $20 fee for access to the spa's thalassotherapy pool -- the ship's only covered pool -- and the adjacent spa cafe, in an effort to control crowds that overpowered the area. As a result of numerous passenger complaints, Celebrity recently reversed that decision and has abolished the fee. In the library, staffers recently implemented a "locked bookcase" program, which limits passengers to very restricted check-out times, because "too many books walked away."

On the other hand, the ship's elegant design has yielded some genuine improvements. The shore excursion department is not relegated merely to a counter in guest relations; it gets a stand-alone "boutique" space, with comfy chairs and an ever-updated wall of brochures and catalogues of possibilities. The Emporium, the ship's 14,000 square foot shopping area, is beautifully designed and organized.

Overall, though, the feeling you get is that in trying to be all things to all people, Infinity is struggling with its identity.

One significant problem with Infinity since its launch - and for other ships in the cruise line's Millennium-class - has been a technological one. An innovative "mermaid pod propulsion system" incorporated on Infinity has caused repeated breakdowns -- and resulted in cruise cancellations. Celebrity Cruises has taken the relatively unusual step of filing a $300 million lawsuit against the mermaid pod creators. In the meantime, the company has assured travelers that the breakdowns represent no safety hazard and will continue to offer generous compensation to passengers whose cruises are cancelled or interrupted as a result of the balky system.
The Trellis Restaurant, the ship's main dining room, where formal breakfast, lunch and dinner is served, is lovely. The highlight of the two-tiered restaurant is a huge, paned showcase window that extends from floor to ceiling. Tables are mostly set for combinations of six, eight and beyond (more intimate settings are extremely limited).

Cuisine was generally excellent; the menu at The Trellis featured a nice mix of traditional and imaginative fare that included vegetarian options for each course. From the wait-staff team to the sommelier, service was seamlessly perfect and personable. Other options included The Oceanview Grill and Cafe, which is the ship's poolside buffet restaurant; the Oceanview also has themed stations (French one day, Italian the next), one that serves pizza, a poolside grill for burgers, hotdogs and fries, and an ice cream counter. AquaSpa, the ship's healthy eatery, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At night, the Oceanview serves as the ship's "casual dining" eatery; passengers order main courses from a menu and pick up appetizers and dessert at the buffet. Be forewarned: reservations are requested -- and become quite hard to come by as the cruise progresses.

Late risers could partake of pastries at Cova Cafe Milano; the noshing is free though; you'll have to shell out for coffee in whatever form.

The SS United States, the $25 per head alternative restaurant, is actually excellent, serving no-holds-barred four-course meals that include a cheese course -- a novelty for many Americans. While the experience is well worth the extra tariff, the overall tone of the restaurant is a bit condescending -- telling diners how to dress, explaining that a bottle of Cotes du Rhone red wine came from the, um, Cotes du Rhone region of France.
Public Rooms
The Grand Foyer, a three-deck atrium, lies at the center of Celebrity Infinity; its highlight is a sprawling onyx staircase. The main "business" area is here -- including the Shore Excursion boutique, bank, and guest relations. The Constellation is Infinity's top-deck lounge and is comfortable and contemporary with fantastic views on three sides; we loved the wooden section dividers with port holes. The Celebrity Theater is another success; seating 900, it spans three tiers. The highlight? The eye-catching sight of a series of flaming torches behind glass that, on closer inspection, are actually handkerchiefs lit by under-lights. Fortunes, the ancient Egyptian-esque casino, is your typical flashy onboard gambling den, possessing the usual (slots, blackjack, etc.). Less successful: A bunch of nondescript lounges -- the Rendezvous, the Martini Bar and the Champagne Bar, are lumped together, the relocated Notes CD library (which was constantly disheveled and poorly designed) is tucked away in a hard-to-find glass turret, and Michael's Club, which Celebrity describes as an "intimate hideaway" was such a "hideaway" that it was rarely populated by more than one or two people. Online@CelebrityCruises, the ship's Internet cafe, is attractively laid out but was seldom very busy. There's a stand-alone cinema -- with comfortable, rocking, velvet seats -- but the flick selection was extremely limited.
Unlike many ships where cabins are predesigned and all (save suites) roughly occupy the same square footage, the lower down you go on Infinity the smaller they get. Our deck 2 doll-cabin was barely large enough for two (desk drawers that can't open all the way because they are blocked by a bed, the inability to sit at the desk without leaning the coffee table onto the tiny futon couch, the minimal drawer space). Balcony cabins were similarly arranged but slightly wider and more comfortable, size-wise. We peeked at even posher cabins and the a view of the Royal Suite made us wonder if we'd gotten off Infinity -- and onto another ship. It was gorgeous, with separate dining area, plush living room furnishings, high-tech accouterments, in-room laptop, marble bathrooms with Jacuzzi tub, huge private balcony. Butler, etc. This is a ship where your investment into higher level accommodations really does make a difference. If space matters, that is.

Cabin service got off to a bad start (though it got better throughout the cruise). We had to request that our beds be made with bedspreads. Our worst experience was ordering breakfast room service; the woman in charge of our cabin disregarded requested delivery times (showing up as much as an hour early) and was rude on top of her incompetence. To give credit, however, once we mentioned the problem to the chief housekeeper in charge of our section the problem was immediately rectified. Staff at the Guest Relations Desk and at Shore Excursions were helpful, if crisp; one got the impression they were often overwhelmed.
One passenger was overheard saying that the variety of entertainment options presented were like a "three ring circus" and someone responded "no, a six-ring circus." I go with the latter. Activities mostly followed cruise ship standards (art auctions, bad hair day seminars, vegetable carving, wine tastings, bingo and ballroom dance lessons). The ship has a cinema that shows movies-just-out-on-video. Celebrity's nightly theatrical performances, ranging from Broadway compilations to piano concertos, won raves from passengers on my cruise. Another highlight was the performance of a harpist each night in the Cova Cafe Milano.
Fitness and Recreation
The AquaSpa, operated by Steiner, features a generous-enough work-out room (to avoid traffic jams on the treadmills each has a sign up sheet) with floor space for fitness classes. Surprisingly there aren't many -- the Daily Infinity lists just four each day. The spa also offers the usual services, from beauty salon to massage. One relatively funky addition is the Persian Garden aromatherapy room, which is like a steam room with different themed areas. It's an extra cost service. The AquaSpa, with thalassotherapy pool, AquaSpa Cafe, cabanas with floor-to-ceiling windows that can be closed off for privacy, and twin whirlpools require an additional tariff to enter. A note about the locker rooms. The women's, in particular, was quite small. There's a sauna -- with a great porthole view -- but no steam room. The floors are covered in tile that is dangerously slippery when wet and dirty towels and bathrobes tended to pile up in unseemly mounds.
Celebrity offers the basics, and its programs are downright dynamic but Celebrity is light on the kind of services strollers-for-rent, stores selling emergency supplies, etc., that can really make it easy for families to cruise. Children pay the third-or-fourth person per cabin rate. Under the age of 12, Celebrity recommends kids pay half of the usual tip amount. Celebrity Youth Program covers ages 3 - 17. Ship Mates (3 - 6), Celebrity Cadets (7 - 9), Ensigns (10 - 12), and Admiral T's (13 - 17) operating 9 a.m. - noon; 2 - 5:30 p.m., 7:30 - 10 p.m. on sea and port days. In-cabin sitting is available for $8 per hour (two kids max); requests must be made onboard through the ship's Guest Relations or Stateroom Services departments. Group baby-sitting is available in the children's playroom for ages 3-12 from 10 p.m. - 1 a.m.; cost is $3 per hour for one child, $5 per hour for two or more kids in the same family. "Parent's Night Out" is a formal-night only program where counselors host kids for a pizza party; there's no charge. Passengers who need to request high chairs and cribs, etc., must call Celebrity's Special Services department (800-242-6374) no later than 72 hours prior to sailing. Celebrity has an "unlimited soft drinks" program for those under 18; cost is $4.50 per day plus 15 percent tip.
Fellow Passengers
Across the board -- a delightfully diverse passenger base that included family groups, young couples, and anniversary celebrants (so many the ship actually held a party for them). There was a sprinkling of older folk -- and we observed the staff to be extremely kind and gentle with disabled passengers -- and there were lots of kids. Solo cruisers didn't stand out though there were dance hosts at appropriate venues (like the Constellation Lounge's pre-dinner big band fests). There was also an interesting international diversity -- and we're not just talking crew. We spotted numerous passengers from Asia and overheard German, Spanish, British-English and even Russian being spoken.
Dress Code
Celebrity takes the dress code very seriously and "The Infinity Daily" newsletter provides guidance on what is -- and isn't -- permitted on any given day. On a seven-day cruise there are two formal nights. Diners at the S.S. United States, the ship's elegant alternative restaurant, also are required to dress formally (while we saw a handful of male passengers in tuxedos, jacket and tie for men, cocktail dress or pants for women, is acceptable).
Celebrity guidelines suggest gratuities of $3.50 for stateroom attendants, $3.50 for waiters, and $2.00 for assistant waiters. The line also recommends tips of 75 cents for the assistant maitre d' and 50 cents for the chief housekeeper. All suggested tips are per person, per day.

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