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REVIEW: Panama Canal & South America (Repo) - Celebrity Infinity, Nov 23, 2017

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For the uninitiated, my wife and I are early-to-mid-40-somethings who try to take a cruise every year. She’s a geologist and I’m a police dog handler. We’re both pretty introverted and prefer the calm, non-party atmosphere of Celebrity. This was our eighth cruise and all have been with Celebrity. I have a sense of humor that may not be to everyone’s taste. At heart, I’m a pacifist and I try very hard not to offend. Any embellishments I make are meant purely for humorous purposes and bear no malice. Now that you’ve been forewarned, let’s get going….

 

My wife was not at all thrilled when it was my turn to pick the next cruise and I went through with my threat to do a South American itinerary. Her consolation was the Panama Canal transit she’s been after and a full two weeks away from work. The cruise I chose was the 15-night re-positioning itinerary on Infinity and I stayed up late the night it came open to make sure we got the cabin we wanted. Unfortunately, repos didn’t come with the Pick 3 promo, so we had to do the perks on our own.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t totally confident in my choice. We both had the Canal on our cruise bucket list, but we’d always planned to do the Fort Lauderdale-San Diego route or it’s reverse. But I’m a big proponent of stepping outside our comfort zone, so I convinced her to roll the dice with one that ended on a new continent for us.

My ultimate South America goal is to go around the Horn and drop down to Antarctica. But that will have to remain on the list for now, since those don’t run when we have the time to go.

 

Day 1 (Thurs 11/23): Houston to Fort Lauderdale and Embarkation

Wx: PC/50F (IAH), CLDY with showers/82F (FLL)

Also in port: Independence OTS

My God, I hate waking up early, but the 4am alarm brought with it that giddiness I used to (still) feel on Christmas morning. Naturally, the cab I’d ordered a week earlier was nowhere to be found. A call to their dispatcher confirmed he was still on the way and would arrive shortly. It’s OK. We plan for shenanigans like this. It’s a good thing, because the cabbie was an absolute doofus and was as slow as molasses in January.

Check-in at IAH was a breeze, for once. It was Thanksgiving Day, and while most folks traveling for the holiday were already where they needed to be, I was concerned we’d still face a mob. But kiosks were open and waiting, as was the TSA Pre-Check line. As the crowd was so light at this hour, it didn’t really save us much time, but we were just happy we finally got to use it.

There was a storm system in the Gulf and our departure was delayed a few minutes while they took on extra fuel for the detour around it. I passed the time watching a family in front of us and across the aisle. It was a family of four, with mom, dad, and twin girls about three years old. For some reason – maybe he’d won a bet – dad was in First, while mom and the Spawn of Satan sat in Cattle Class with us. Dad came back to deliver something (not a tranquilizer, obviously) before they closed the door and he bore the sheepish look of a guy who would never live this down. One of the twins was in full Princess Mode and could not be pleased. Mom handed her a cell phone, which was promptly spiked into the floor like she’d just scored a touchdown. Maybe mom added a little happy serum to their apple juice, but they settled down for the rest of the flight. I passed the time watching “Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back” and the credits just started to roll when they turned off the wifi for arrival.

Our bags rolled off the carousel just late enough that we missed the waiting Celebrity transfer bus and we had to wait about half an hour for the next one. That’s actually not entirely accurate. We waited until it was time to follow the little old ladies in scarves to an outdoor waiting location, where we stood around for another twenty minutes. But we were still in pretty good spirits, because we had all of our bags, which was a step up from last year’s trip, when United left a suitcase on the ramp in Houston. But I digress…

Check-in at the terminal was pretty easy and there were no hang-ups. We chose the Elite line over the Concierge line, which was considerably longer. We were on the gangway in less than 20 minutes. Infinity was parked at Terminal 18, which I believe is reserved for the Oasis-class RCCL ships when they’re in port. Independence OTS was berthed at 26, I think, and was far enough that we weren’t bumping into each other during check-in. By the time we boarded, we were able to go directly to our room. Cabin 8172 is an aft-facing Concierge-class (C1) cabin on Deck 8.It’s our favorite spot on M-class ships, because we love the wake view, we’re a quick trip to Oceanview via the aft stairs, and we have a deck between us and the Oceanview Bar. The cabin was in near-perfect condition, with the only issue being a slight odor from the bathroom. My wife said she couldn’t smell it, but it was a musty, body odor smell and it offended my sensitive olfactory system.

Shortly before it was time for the muster drill, our attendant, Petr (from Czech Republic, where too many vowels in their names are superfluous), came by to make introductions and ensure we were happy with the cabin. This is the first sailing we’ve been on since Celebrity did away with assistant attendants, which took me by surprise. We also did not have the usual bottle of sparkling white wine and it was not missed.

After the muster, we went back up to the room to enjoy the sailaway from the veranda. We changed into our “smart casual” wear for our 6pm dinner seating. As usual on the first night, the foyer outside the MDR was mobbed. The staff did a decent job getting everyone in and we were led to our table, #507, on the second level. Our table was a two-top on the port side wall and had one of the big, circular windows. An older couple soon sat at the next table and they didn’t seem pleased with the location. I made an attempt at conversation, but they didn’t seem interested, so I let it go. The following evening, they were at a table just inside the main doors. I can’t see how that’s an upgrade, but to each, his own. Anyway, it took a while for our waiters to visit the table, but it was the first night and it was a circus. We first met Jonathan, our assistant from Philippines, and soon after,we met Asep, from Indonesia. Service was incredibly slow. I understand the first night is more hectic, but this was abnormally slow.

My wife had her favorite French onion soup, the special – turkey & dressing for Thanksgiving, and chocolate cheesecake. I had the French onion, escargot, turkey & dressing, and pumpkin pie.

After dinner, we walked off all of those calories, making a lap around the shops of Deck 5. Exhausted from along day of travel, we retired to the cabin.

More to come...

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Oh, it is sooooo not fair - I was enjoying it but like any good series- it is to be continued l

 

 

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Oh, it is sooooo not fair - I was enjoying it but like any good series- it is to be continued l

 

Fear not, noble reader! I'll be posting installments daily. I've found posting the entire review at once leaves some feeling weary. It also makes it easier to answer questions by drawing it out, I think. There are 21 typewritten pages, so it may take a while.

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Thank you for a tantalizing review so far! LOL

 

Appreciating it very much...

 

bon voyage

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I was on the same cruise and stayed on for the next cruise. Always interested in hearing how others view the same cruise. Of course we each have different experiences and preferences. Personally, I thought it was one of our very best cruises!!!

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Enjoyable reading so far, looking forward to more installments

 

 

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I am also looking forward to the rest of the review we will be boarding the infinity in less than a month!!!

 

 

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Day 2 (Friday,11/24): At sea

Wx: PC/80

 

Having a sea day right off the bat is always a blessing. We slept in a bit and made it to Oceanview for breakfast with little time to spare before the lunch spread was put out.

 

 

Afterward, we moseyed (we're from Texas, so we can mosey) down to the theater for a presentation on the Canal. The presenter was a gentleman who grew up in the Canal Zone and I found his talk was informative and comprehensive without being over the top. I came into this cruise with a vague understanding that back in the early 1900’s,the US built the canal. That’s about everything I had. By the end of the presentation, my interest was piqued and I had a new appreciation for the effort and lives that went into it. I won’t go into detail here, because it would go on forever. But this presentation did its job of setting the table for the transit in the coming days.

 

 

On the way back to the room, we stopped by the cabins of some couples from our Cruise Critic roll call to pay for our private tours.Having been increasingly disappointed in a number of Celebrity excursions in the past and there being very few of their excursions on several of these ports, I convinced my wife to stray from the security of a ship excursion and try some private tours. Our roll call was the most active I’ve seen on CC and I think we had nearly 2500 posts by the time we sailed. Two ladies in particular spearheaded the private tours and were very successful.

 

 

We wandered the ship, stopping occasionally to read a few chapters, then moving on to find something new. We found ourselves in the main foyer at a sparsely-attended Xbox bowling tournament, which I ended up winning.The wife made me stop wearing the little X medal, or I’d have worn it for the rest of the trip to let everyone know about my athletic prowess.

 

 

That evening, we dined again at the MDR. She had French onion, Ceasar salad, and the NY strip. I had escargot, my favorite – Thai spring roll, seared salmon, and the chocolate cherry trifle.

 

 

We skipped the show and lounged in the cabin until we fell asleep.

 

 

More imminently....

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Excellent pictures! Great compositions and quality!!what camera do you use?

 

I shoot with a Canon 5D mk IV with a 28-300mm as my main lens, though I carry a 100-400mm, 24-105mm, and a 8-15mm fisheye, too. I also use my iPhone 7+ quite a bit for shots to share on social media.

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Day 3 (Saturday, 11/25): Grand Cayman

Wx: MC/85

Also in port: AIDAluna

 

We awoke to the news that heavy seas forced us to anchor on the south side of the island, rather than the usual west end. Since both were tender ports, that part didn’t matter, but the lack of the usual port facilities was less than ideal. Boarding the large tender boat supplied by a vendor on the island was one of those experiences that was like a fraternity stunt to see how many people we could cram onto one boat. We did have a great view of the dent in the hull from where Infinity gently kissed the dock in Ketchikan. And by "gently kissed" I mean "rammed and destroyed." At the landing (I can’t really call it a port), there was a Spartan restroom facility and a long bench. No shops. No restaurants. No bars. Just an oyster shell parking lot, a bench, and an hour wait with the Germans from the Aida ship.

 

 

Finally, our excursion bus arrived (this was a Celebrity tour) and we were off. Starting in the wrong spot on the island I think trimmed our time table. We got a glimpse of Seven Mile Beach, but no visit. We were let out at a piece of beach that we couldn’t get to, so I’m not really sure why we stopped here. Some couple took our given five minutes to make a ten minute stop at the Subway across the street to pick up lunch for four. For once, we weren’t “those people” who held up the show.

 

 

The next stop was a turtle farm, which was a lot like a small Sea World with turtles and iguanas. What they didn’t talk about much was how these cute turtles weren’t necessarily being raised to release and populate the ocean. Many would end up as dinner on the island. But it was a nice stop and playing with the baby turtles was a highlight of the day.

 

 

Next up was a visit to Hell and yet another reason we have grown to loathe Celebrity excursions. For those unfamiliar, Hell is known for a peculiar rock formation that looks like jagged stone spires. Part of the experience are the little gift shops with Hell-related merchandise. We really looked forward to this stop, both for the geology and for the novelty of buying Hell things as tongue-in-cheek tchotchkes for friends and relatives. Our bus driver/guide first pulled into an empty parking lot of what I presume is the shop he has a deal with, only to remember that it was Saturday and the Dark Lord who runs the place (a guy who dresses in a red tuxedo) was closed. Saturday is his Sabbath. Seriously. No big deal, as there was another place two doors down that was open. And here’s what we hate: we had ten minutes. Ten measly minutes to check out the formation and cram ourselves into a tiny shop. The line was long enough that we gave up and got back on the bus. What a waste.

 

 

The next stop was a little better, which was a boat trip out to Stingray City to swim with the rays. I’m glad we got to go, because I was told by a friend who went a couple of weeks later that the government closed the site due to “environmental” concerns. We piled onto a very utilitarian double-deck boat with little in the way of comfortable accommodations; the seats were benches constructed of two-by-fours. I think my butt went to sleep early on in the 20 minute trip out to the sandbar. The submerged sandbar made it a comfortable depth to wade without having to tread water. I’m 6’5”, so that’s relative, but I didn’t see anyone struggling to stand with their head above water. There were about a dozen other vessels moored and the whole place felt like a Spring Break college kegger. The rays were on us immediately and were plentiful, which is to be expected if they’re being fed regularly. We’d received tips on how to feed them comfortably and I must admit it was really fun to feed them. The guides brought a bucket of squid for us to feed to the rays. I held my squid in the recommended fashion and a big, hungry girl didn’t hesitate to partake. She slurped up the squid and I guess thought I still had a piece, because she latched onto the back of my hand. Stingrays’ mouths are underneath, so they can’t really see what they’re doing. They eat with a sucking force and she tried to give my hand a hickey. It wasn’t painful, but was surprising. She let go once she realized I wasn’t a squid. Another one sucked my thumb when I didn’t hold the bait correctly. We stayed about 20 minutes before we were summoned back to the boat.

 

 

On the way back to the pier, we had to make our obligatory sales stop we’ve come to expect on Celebrity excursions. This one was at a rum cake shop and – while we chose to stay on the bus – the speed at which others came back on told me there was nothing to the stop but the opportunity to buy rum cake. Safe to say we didn’t miss anything.

 

 

The tender back was uneventful and looking back, was run efficiently. Back on board Infinity, my wife headed to the gym and I took a nap.

 

 

Dinner was in the MDR. She had French onion, Ceasar, and the pork loin. I had a spring roll, escargot, seafood orzo, and trifle cake. The missus saved her dessert for later at Café al Bacio.

 

We dropped into the theater for the first evening show, which was magician Jay Mattioli. He was entertaining enough, but I found the homemade props he uses a little cheesy.

 

To be drawn out at a later time...

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Day 4 (Sunday, 11/26): At sea

Wx: PC/85

 

With another sea day on tap, we slept in, then had breakfast in OVC. Much of the morning was spent poolside, where I managed to miss a significant portion of my abdomen when I applied sunscreen. The result was an awkward burn that looked like post-mortem lividity more than anything else.Being right at my waist, it made wearing pants hell, but I thought I might not be welcome everywhere without them. We also went to the iLounge to look up potential future cruises. Much of the 2019-2020 schedule wasn’t released, but Europe and I think the Caribbean were out.

 

 

Dinner that evening was in Qsine. The previous evening, we were leaving the MDR and one of the ever-present specialty restaurant servers was at the entry, peddling reservations. She smiled and something clicked in my brain. I’d seen her before.

“Wait…were you on Summit in October, 2014?” She thought for a moment and said, “Yes…I think I was.” Fabi from Jamaica was our waitress in Qsine during the Canada & New England sailing we did and I remember thinking at the time she was a great waitress. I think she was stunned I remembered her. We booked this evening’s dinner with her and made sure she would be our server. My wife had her favorite lava crab, fish & chips, and one meatball (because they’re baseball-sized, you see). I had my favorite lobster escargot, sliders (I must remember to stop ordering these), and the painter’s mignon. We split a chocolate tombstone for dessert.

 

 

Day 5 (Monday, 11/27): Panama Canal Transit

Wx: CLDY & Drizzle/80 > PC/90

 

We awoke to find we were already approaching the first locks of the Canal. Unfortunately for us, November is the height of the rainy season for Panama and it was doing so. We threw some breakfast on plates and took them out to the pool deck, where we could stand under the Deck 11 overhang, out of the rain. The on-board historian was narrating the passage from the Constellation Lounge and was broadcast over the ship’s public address system. The Captain wanted to open the helipad, but wind and rain kept it closed for the first part. As we entered the first lock, the rain began to taper off and we were able to enjoy the view from Deck 11 and the small deck around the forward mast.The stair to the small deck was crowded and I was a bit taken aback that some had the audacity to act like I was the bad guy for trying to get up the steps.

 

 

The passage was fascinating. There were tankers and cargo ships ahead of us and behind us, as well as beside us heading northbound. We were quite an attraction ourselves. Crew from passing ships took selfies with us in the background, since we were eye-level with them.

 

 

Once we cleared the Gatun locks and entered Gatun Lake, we dropped anchor. The historian explained to us that some larger vessels were coming through and we’d have to wait until they passed before we could continue. The hour wait gave the rain some time to thin out and by the time we weighed anchor, the sun was beginning to peek through the clouds. We took the opportunity to grab lunch in Oceanview, then went out to the helipad, which opened after the rain.

 

 

It was peaceful, watching the countryside roll by. At least until we reached Gamboa and the inmates at a small prison camp began whooping and hollering at us. Some of the other passengers waved and whooped back for some reason. Tourists....sheesh.

 

 

We stayed out on the helipad until we passed through the Miraflores locks, at which time we went back to the room to enjoy the remaining part of the passage. The view from our aft veranda was great, as we expected.As we went through the final two locks, I heard a crowd cheering somewhere. More prison inmates? Soon after, what I assume was the Canal’s visitor center came into view and the observation platforms were packed with tourists. I later found out Coral Princess was in port at Panama City.

 

 

That evening, we dined in the MDR. She had a Caprese salad and rigatoni. I had the same, except with escargot. We did dessert later at al Bacio.

 

 

The evening show was an impressionist comedian, who was pretty good. Afterward, we repaired to the cabin where I watched the first half of a dismal effort by my Houston Texans.

 

We're over the hump, so to speak. Stay tuned....

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We're so looking forward to the transit! Could anyone go to the helipad or was it by invite only?

 

Open to anyone and everyone. Caveats were you had to be physically able to climb steep stairs, as well as step over the "knee-knockers" in the passageway. Closed-toed shoes were also a must.

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Open to anyone and everyone. Caveats were you had to be physically able to climb steep stairs, as well as step over the "knee-knockers" in the passageway. Closed-toed shoes were also a must.

 

 

 

Thank you! That's fantastic! We were on the helipad for the Sounds in Fiordland National Park on our New Zealand cruise and it was a wonderful experience!

 

 

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Please tell me more about the "lava crab". I plan to dine in Qsine when on Reflection in several months.

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We did the repositioning tour on the Infinity from Valparaiso, Chile to Ft. Lauderdale about 5 years ago and had a great time. I'm enjoying and following your review...it brings back some wonderful memories!

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We did the 14 night repo from Ft. Lauderdale to Valparaiso in Dec. 2008. That was our favorite cruise ever. We visited Cartagena on that trip instead of Grand Cayman. Your review is bringing back fond memories. In regard to the wine not being in your cabin on arrival, you now have to ask for it and it will be provided. (We trade it for a bottle of Prosecco or a bottle of red). Enjoy the rest of what I'm sure will be a wonderful cruise.

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I'll post the next installment hopefully later this morning. The text is on my desktop PC and I haven't been able to get to it.

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