Posted June 8th, 2013, 10:00 PM
My original review included some pictures, but when I copied it into Cruise Critic, the pictures did not copy with the text. If you would like to see the review AND the pictures you can email me at: [email protected]
While we have cruised the Mediterranean extensively, this was our first time cruising the British Isles. While we have cruised primarily with another cruise line, our neighbors wanted us to try Celebrity. We arrived in London’s Heathrow and had arranged for a private service to meet us and drive us to Harwich to meet the ship. It was a two hour drive and by the time we arrived at 11:00, it was time to board the ship. Embarkation went smoothly and we had time for a leisurely lunch before they announced that our rooms were ready at 1:00. Our bags arrived about two hours later. I will save my comments related to all things about the ship until the end of my review.
We lost an hour leaving the U.K. and sailing to France for our first port of call. Since we have been to Paris twice before, we decided to sign up for a ship’s tour that featured Giverny and Rouen in Normandy. It was close to a two hour drive, but it was worth it. Our first stop was Monet’s gardens and home in Giverny. The tulips were in full bloom so the time we spent here was wonderful.. We had plenty of time to wander through the grounds and visit the gift shop. After lunch at an old water mill, we drove to Rouen, an old French town, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and site of a beautiful cathedral, which we had time to tour and take pictures and then do a little shopping. Then it was back on the bus for the two hour drive back to the ship. This tour did require extensive time on a bus, but La Havre is about two hours from Paris or the Normandy coast, so it can’t be avoided. Our guide did a nice job of providing a dialogue during the trip so the time passed quickly.
THE BRITISH ISLES ON CELEBRITY’S INFINITY
This was a tendered port so we had to wait for the ship’s tours to go ashore first. This port didn’t show me much when planning the trip so we decided to just walk into town from the pier (about a 10 minute walk) and do some window shopping. The value of the dollar to the British pound doesn’t make purchasing anything too restrooms we could find were in Creasey’s Department Store on the top floor in the cafeteria.
This small Irish port has the distinction of being the last port of call for the Titanic before it began its ill-fated transatlantic crossing. There is not a lot here, but we learned that the train to Cork, which is right behind the cruise terminal, offered a 20 minute ride into Cork for 7.70 euro leaving on the hour and half hour. St. Patrick Street, across the river from the Cork train station offers a wide variety of shopping amongst the locals. When we returned, there were some shops to check out inside the cruise terminal.
In the afternoon, after lunch on the ship, we had signed up for a ship’s tour: Scenic drive and Blarney Village. On the way to Blarney, it started to rain and when we arrived, we needed our umbrellas to get to Blarney Woolen Mills, which was a big three story department type store selling cloths, souvenirs, crystal, housewares, etc. The quality was good so it was a good stop for the ladies who wanted to do some shopping. While we didn’t get to kiss the Blarney stone, we did get to sample a good local Irish coffee at a nearby pub.
We had arranged for a private guide when we arrived in Dublin and he was waiting for us when we got off the ship. Our guide was Michael Fox with Boyne Valley Tours (www.boynevalleytours.com). Michael is a local who was born and raised in the boyne river valley so he knew the area quite well and we spend a wonderful day seeing some of the local sights, which included Newgrange, a Neolithic period site which predates the pyramids of Egypt. We arrived before the tour buses and he also took us to several other interesting spots including Trim castle. While a bit cool, it was a clear day with lots of sunshine. He has an excellent website and he was quick to respond to our emails. It was one of the best tours of the entire cruise and I highly recommend him.
For many, the first thing you think of when you hear the word, ‘Liverpool’, is the Beatles. While it was tempting to visit the places where they played and get caught up in “Beatlemania”, we resisted the temptation and opted instead for a ship’s tour to North Wales and Conwy castle. It was a beautiful drive through the Welsh country side and we were surprised by the number of sheep. Our tour guide told us there were more sheep in Wales than people! Conwy castle was our first stop and is comprised of the ruins of what was a large structure situated near the water. After our castle tour, we had time to walk around the town and do a little shopping. You can still see the remains of the old wall that once surrounded the entire town. Then it was on to the town of Betws-y-Coed (try pronouncing that one) where we had lunch and had some time for browsing the shops which were pretty touristy. Then it was back on the bus for a beautiful drive back through the country side to the ship. Being from central California where our rain ends in May, we have been impressed by how everything is so green and apparently stays that way through the summer, unlike California where everything is golden brown by now.
ST. PETER PORT, GUERNSEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS
In Belfast, we had arranged a private tour with a couple from our Cruise Critic Roll Call and Frank met the six of us at the pier. We lucked out with another rainless morning and it seems like each port we docked in had had rain the previous day so we felt very fortunate. The company that we had chosen for this tour, www.belfastattractions.co.uk, had come highly recommended and we were not disappointed. They had carefully selected nine stops so as to maximize what we were able to see that day and we even had time for a sit down lunch. Like most of our previous tours, we were taken out of the city to see the beautiful countryside and the Irish coast was as green as you have seen in pictures and videos. At each stop, we had time to take pictures and, in some cases, to use the restrooms. Before returning to the ship, Frank took us back into Belfast, where we saw some of the political murals and learned more about the ‘conflict’ that led to so much heartbreak and turmoil. Believe me, this is a part of a Belfast tour that is not to be missed and it left a lasting impression on all of us.
While Greenock is the port for Glasgow, we opted to tour locally, since it would have been a two hour bus ride just to get to Glasgow. We selected a ship’s tour: Loch Lomond and Inveraray Castle and were treated to what would be the warmest day of our cruise, close to 70 degrees! Our tour took us through glens,
Loch Lomond, the largest in Great Britain before continuing on to Inveraray Castle, which is still occupied and filled with wonderful furniture and decorations. After the castle tour and a lunch stop, we had some time for some shopping in the nearby town.
After days of touring and early mornings, it was a relief to have a day we could sleep in and have a relaxing breakfast without having to rush off to an excursion. Thank goodness the Infinity has two pools, one of which is covered, because this day was overcast and cool and with the ship moving, also very breezy so the main pool was deserted due to the weather. We spent most of our day lounging near the covered pool and enjoying the two hot tubs in between naps and meals.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND
This was our last port of call as we were nearing the end of our cruise. We selected: Highland Castles and Loch Ness for our last excursion. We toured two more castles…yes, the British Isles are filled with castles and the last two were exact opposites. Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness was a ruin,but Cawdor Castle was still occupied and fully furnished. Each castle stop had a gift shop and we had time to do a little shopping for souvenirs and no…we did not see Nessie!
The last day of our cruise was another day to relax and start thinking about packing up for the trip home. The big event on this last day was the wonderful brunch that was served in the main dining room and is not to be missed. The room was filled with food of all types and featured beautifully carved ice sculptures. It reminded me of what the midnight buffets used to look like. Have a light breakfast that day and save some room for this last bit of decadence.
Disembarkation went smoothly and we were off the ship and claimed our bags in less than an hour. Our private ride back to Heathrow showed up on time and we were checked in awaiting our flight home in a little over two hours. One thing worth mentioning…don’t plan a flight home much before 2:00 pm as the traffic back to Heathrow can often be congested and it can be a stressful ride back to Heathrow if you are running late.
This was our first cruise with Celebrity and we were impressed with the quality of the food and the entertainment. We booked an ocean view without a veranda and we were glad we did because of the cool weather which was not conducive to lounging on your deck. While the beds were very comfortable, we were not impressed with our particular room, 2115, as we were intermittently bothered by an annoying noise that seemed to originate below us on deck 1, but when we reported it, maintenance could not locate the problem. Guest services offered to move us, but that was more trouble than it was worth and we resorted to wearing earplugs most nights. The covered pool was a real bonus for this early season cruise since the weather was too cool to use the main pool. We used more ship’s tours than we normally would, mostly because we couldn’t always find good guides in some of the ports. I will say that all the ship’s tours were excellent and less expensive than the tours on some of our previous cruises with other lines and when a meal was included, it was very good. We were somewhat annoyed with the fact that Celebrity charges too much for meals in their specialty restaurants and even charged for high tea because it included champagne. Why not charge extra for the champagne and make the tea, sandwiches and sweets free? While Infinity recently underwent a renovation, we noticed some wear and tear beginning to show. The crew and staff were very friendly and responsive, but one thing that seemed to be a major screw up was when I went to Guest Relations to purchase English pounds and was told that they had run out of pounds! It seems to me that since they do this cruise more than once, this should never have happened. I was able to get money from an ATM the next day, but it was still an unnecessary annoyance from a convenience point of view.
INVERNESS/LOCH NESS, SCOTLAND