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Part 2 Installment, Infinity 2/29/04 South America

Traveling Fools

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I have broken my trip journal into 3 installments. Installment 1 is pre-cruise (Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls), Installment 2 covers the 14-day cruise around the Horn, and Installment 3 focuses on the 2 weeks we spent in Peru.

For those who have no interest in reading the journal, my summarized review of the is the forward to Installment-2 The Cruise.

Installment 2: The Cruise


Travel Agent: 5 Stars—Cruise Quick—got a great price and all of our $500 in on-board credited.

Boarding: 5 Stars
Baggage Delivery: 5 Stars
Food Quality: 3 ½ stars
Room Service: 4 Stars
Wait Staff: 4 Stars
Sommelier: 5 Stars plus!
Assistant Maitre D: 5 Stars!
Cabin Steward: 3 Stars (no personality/failed to pay attention to detail)
Persian Garden Spa: 4 Stars
Champagne Bar Staff: 5 Stars
Tender Operations: 3 Stars
Disembarkation: 2 Stars, a real goat rope
On-Board Entertainment: Didn’t attend

Cruise Director: Needs an attitude adjustment. Needs to eat some humble pie and reign in his ego. He is not the main attraction. Passengers are not members of his fan club on a cruise to rub elbows with him.

Future Sales/Capt. Club Rep: Ditto

Corporate Integrity (pre-cruise): 4 Stars (problems with specialty restaurant coupons)

Corporate Integrity (cruise): 2 1/2 Stars (problems with future sales and honesty relative to pre-existing propulsion problems, lack of candid communications regarding those problems.)

Follow thru on commitment: 2 ½ Stars

Cleanliness of Ship: 3 Stars

Quality of Cabin (9094): 3 Stars—Would not recommend this cabin. Too much noise and odors from grill on Deck 10. Smaller balcony.

Concierge Class: At current price, perks offset cost. Would hesitate recommending if price for this class of service increase.

Passenger Demographics: More culturally diverse than run of the mill Caribbean cruises.

Dress Code: Most passengers observed evening dress code in the Trellis, but not throughout the ship. Did not observe any enforcement of dress code in Trellis at breakfast or lunch.

Quality of Ports of Call: 4-5 Stars

Shore Excursions:
1) Iguazu Falls: A) Ship sponsored: N/A; B) Port Compass: Improvement needed local tour operator did not speak English and we were placed with guides who had difficulty with English.
2) Buenos Aires: A) Ship Sponsored: N/A. B) Port Compass: Gaucho Tour--very good, City Tour—Guide’s command of English need improvement. C) Recommendation: Use hotel concierge to schedule local excursions. You will get same or better quality and at a better price. Note: Gaucho tours are available 7 days a week through your hotel.
3) Montevideo: A) Ship sponsored: Did not take, but Ship’s Montevideo Gaucho excursion got great reviews. B) Port Compass: Some improvement needed. Insist on small group, or arrange your own. C) Arranged Dock Side: Plentiful, at least half the cost of ship sponsored, and safe.
4) Puerto Madryn: A) Ship Sponsored: N/A. B) Port Compass: Improvement required—customers transferred from a very nice bus to a rattle trap. C) Arranged Dockside: Plentiful, less expensive, and safe.
5) Port Stanley: Never made it
6) Ushuaya: A) Ships Sponsored: N/A. B) Arranged Dockside: Plentiful, less expensive, and safe. Many favorable comments about Beagle Channel catamaran excursion.
7) Puerto Montt: A) Ships Sponsored: N/A. B) Jamie: Do not recommend. C) Arrange Dock Side: Exercise caution. At all other ports of call there is a steady stream of excursion vehicles going to and from the excursion sites. If there are mechanical or other problems it will be observed and assistance rendered. Puerto Montt is too populated, cosmopolitan, and has many routes of travel. It is hard to distinguish cruise ship passengers from other tourists, visitors, or members of the local population. Thus I think a disabled vehicle is less likely to be noticed and more difficult and time consuming to get back-up transportation to you.
8) Valparaiso: A) Ships Sponsored: N/A; B) Jamie: Do not recommend;
9) Santiago: You can do on you own.

Highlights: Iguazu, Cape Horn, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Trujillo

On board Internet Services: Didn’t use, but was told by those that did it was costly and slow.

On shore Internet Services: Very available and inexpensive

Will we sail Celebrity again?: Questionable. We value integrity and believe Celebrity lied to us. Problems with the propulsion units of Celebrity’s Millennium class fleet must be resolved before we book another cruise on a Millennium class ship. We found the attitudes of the Cruise Director and Future Sales/Capt. Clubs/Guest Service Rep to be offensive.

FEB 29th: DAY 8 (of our trip)---Buenos Aires---Boarding:

Took it easy during the morning and repacked. The ship docked the day before, so the disembarkation of those passengers already on board went off without a hitch. The lobby of the hotel was jammed with people wanting to check out and passengers who had just disembarked. It took over 30 minutes to check out and well over an hour for our luggage to be brought down from out room.

The boarding process in Buenos Aires was painless and quick. We had e-tickets and had to pick up baggage tags. That took all of 1 minute. The longest phase of the boarding was completing the Immigration documentation for Argentina and Chile. All-in-all boarding took less than 30 minutes. We never felt pushed or rushed and we were in our stateroom by noon.

As we boarded an announcement was made that Celebrity had made arrangements with the Government of Argentina wherein after stowing our gear we would be permitted to disembark and go back into town. We had no need to do so, but others did. In fact, shore excursions were being sold dockside. As it turned out the Immigration officers on the dock went on strike until the agreement permitting passengers to disembark was reversed. This caused conflicts for several passengers and was the source of quite a few complaints. The ship was not scheduled to depart until 11:00 that night and many passengers arriving in BA that morning and early afternoon boarded the ship first with the expectation of being permitted to go back ashore.

Our stateroom is on Deck 9 and is Concierge Class. The bottle of champagne in the room at time of boarding was a nice touch. I did note the binoculars that are supposed to be in the cabin were missing. Our stateroom attendant came by and introduced himself. He really didn’t do much more than that. He never provided an explanation of what extra services came with Concierge Class.

Went to the buffet, had lunch, and returned to our stateroom. Our suitcases where outside the door. (Last cruise we were one of the 1st on, but our luggage wasn’t delivered until just before 6:00.) Popped open the champagne, unpacked, and then went exploring. Opted to subscribe to the Persian Garden Spa.

We were at a table for 6, but only 4 of us ate the first night. 2 of our tablemates, Nigel and Pam Fuller, are from the United Kingdom. They are a very nice couple.

We departed BA on time and all was well.

March 1st: DAY 9---Montevideo:

Woke up to find we were still en route to Montevideo. It is a relative short run from BA to Monte Video and considering we had left BA on time the delayed arrival was unexpected. As we disembarked, there was an announcement that due to our late arrival departure time had been had been extended for 2 hours.

We took an “extended” city tour with lunch that we had arranged with Port Compass. We ended up on a large bus containing an alumni group. We were the only outsiders. The bus was one of the nicest we have ever been on. Traveling with a group is a pain. Every stop made takes longer to negotiate. This group was no different. If there was a shopping stall, someone from the group had to be in it while everyone on the bus waited.

Montevideo is not at all like BA. It is smaller and poorer. It was what we had expected BA to be like. Our recommendations for Montevideo are that you hook-up with someone on the dock and do a private tour of the city. Everyone we talked to that took the ship’s Gaucho excursion raved about it. That is something else for you to consider doing. Shopping in Montevideo is limited.

Following the excursion we found a local Internet operator and got caught up on news from home. Cost was $1.00 for 30 minutes.

We got back to the ship and relaxed in the Persian Garden Spa. The ship was supposed to depart at 6:00. However, it was obvious from the number of semi-trailers containing supplies that had to be loaded and a tender that had just started fueling the ship that we were not going to leave on time. Sure enough we didn’t leave until after 9:00.

Our dinner table filled out to 6 tonight. The 2 new comers were a mother and daughter from Mexico (Virginia and Gabriella). Their command of English is poor, but they are friendly.

We met a Mexican couple at the Champagne Bar after dinner and had a blast for several hours.

March 2nd: DAY 10---At sea en route to Porto Madryn:

Today was a sea day. I got up early for a haircut. Following that we did the Persian Garden Spa thing for a couple of hours. We basically chilled all day long. We have noted hearing a lot of noise coming from deck 10 and from the piped in music in the passageway. Doris doesn’t want to book another cabin on deck 9 because of the noise.

The Cruise Critic gathering was at 1:00. There was a good turnout. Barry S. and his wife had been on Infinity’s ill-fated Acapulco debacle when propulsion problems with the ship forced early termination of the cruise. We spent some time talking about that.

Ironically, at 5:00 the Captain made an announcement informing us that only one propulsion unit was operational, that he had reduced the speed of the vessel from 22 to 16 knots, that we would not be stopping at the Port Stanley, and that we might not stop in Puerto Montt. He then told us we would receive some form of compensation to be determined later and that evening there would be 1-hour of open bar before each dinner seating.

It was obvious the problem with the propulsion system was known about before our crossing from BA to Montevideo. Thus the late arrival in Montevideo.

That night the bars were jammed. Our last cruise with Celebrity had been a New Years cruise and every evening before dinner the bars had been packed with passengers having pre-dinner cocktails. However, on the first 2 nights of this cruise very few passengers had been in the bars having pre-dinner cocktails. (There had only been about 10 of us in the Champagne Bar the first 2 nights.) Tonight at precisely 7:30 the bar was jammed packed. Passengers were ordering and being served multiple drinks. One guy, and don’t you know it had to be an American, made what I took to be a somewhat very disparaging remark directed towards us “regulars” standing at the bar about us being free loaders. The guy was upset the “regulars” were being served before him. The guy had no clue that the evening before I had slipped a $20.00 tip to the bar tender, or that every evening the six-some at the other end of the bar had been spending big bucks on top quality champagne. It was a classical example of someone engaging their mouth before their brain. The guy realized he screwed up, got the drinks for his table, and retreated from the bar. Everyone else was very civil and patient. Kudos to the bar staff. They handled the crush of people efficiently and professionally!

I saw Barry S. and we commented on our conversation earlier in the day about the Acapulco incident. Barry was of the opinion that rather than going around the horn with mechanical problems we would return to BA.

Needless to say most of the evening’s conversations centered on the Captain’s announcement and speculation of its ramifications. For many Brits and Argentines, the news that we would not be making a stop at Port Stanley was a major let down. Many of them had booked this cruise specifically because of the port call there. There are many back-to-backers aboard who are less than happy knowing they may be compelled to disembark in Valparaiso. My wife and I, as well I am sure are many other passengers, are disappointed. However, we do not want to dwell on the issue and become negative about the situation.

Many, if not most, of us are not pleased with how Celebrity has been handling this situation. There is a general sense the whole cruise started with Celebrity lying to us. They deliberately withheld the information about the problem from us before our departure from BA. We all boarded with the expectation Celebrity would fulfill their contract with us. Rather than tell us there was a possibility (probability) they might have to cancel one or more ports of call, Celebrity made the unilateral decision to proceed thereby denying us an opportunity to make an informed decision to either take the risk or reschedule. In a word Celebrity has been deceitful.

Now I know, some of you will call my attention to the fine print on the documentation containing the caveat that itineraries can be changed as required. Or, that we should be grateful for the opportunity to spend leisurely days at sea, basking in shipboard life. Well folks, those pigs don’t fly. There have been no weather related events forcing a change. There have been no life or death emergencies requiring a deviation. There have been no acts of war or terrorism resulting in a change. There have been no unforeseen catastrophic mechanical problems justifying a change. However, there was a unilateral decision by Celebrity to proceed knowing that a pre-existing mechanical problem would result in significant changes to the itinerary. I won’t even speculate about the prudence of navigating around, or skirting, Cape Horn, the Straits of Magellan, and Chilean Fjords with a disabled propulsion system.

It will be interesting to see what shakes out.

MARCH 3rd: DAY 11---At Sea:

We were originally scheduled to be in Puerto Madryn today, but the problem with the propulsion system keeps us at sea today. Tomorrow we are scheduled to arrive in Puerto Madryn.

Spent the day taking it easy. Went to the gym and spent several hours lounging in the spa and around the pools.

An attorney from Argentina has started a petition she intends on presenting to the Captain regarding the change in itinerary. Doris looked at it and said it contained at least 10 pages of signatures. The 4 Brits sitting at the dinner table and others in their group are livid! They are bell makers and ringers, made one of the bells in Port Stanley, and had planned with Port Stanley locals a memorial service to honor British war dead.

MARCH 4th: DAY 12---Puerto Madryn:

We docked in Puerto Madryn at about 5:30 a.m. and passengers began disembarking just before 8:00. As we were leaving the ship, 3 engineers from the company that manufactures the propulsion system were boarding.

We took an excursion to Peninsula Valdes with 2 of our tablemates. We arranged it dockside. Cost was $43 per person and included access to the park. Lunch was not included. It was a long, dusty, and bumpy 2-hour ride one way and about another hour from point to point. On the way to the park, we past a disabled bus containing pax’s from a ship sponsored excursion. We saw sea lions, sea elephants, and a colony of Magellan penguins. We also saw herds of lama like animals and several small ostrich type birds. The ocean is clear and unpolluted. The wildlife just amazing.

Puerto Madryn is relatively small, but with excellent infrastructure. We didn’t do any shopping, but I saw scores of people reboarding the ship at the end of the day packing large bags of treasure they acquired locally. Internet cafes are abundant and charge about a $1.00 per hour. The ship runs a free shuttle to and from town.

There were no pre-dinner crowds in any of the bars tonight, just the regulars. We all had a laugh about all the free loaders. The Captain made an announcement stating we were continuing as planned. No one, regardless of language spoken, knows what he means. Everyone chuckled about the ambiguity of his statement.

MARCH 5th: DAY 13—At sea en route to Cape Horn and Ushuaia:

At sea today. This is the day we should have stopped at Port Stanley. The weather and sea conditions have been just beautiful. They would have not impeded us going ashore there. Temperatures began dropping slightly in the afternoon and there was a small rain shower after dinner.

Just took it easy, did the Persian Garden Spa thing, went to a future cruise sales pitch, and got caught up on the journal.

After dressing in my suit for dinner and while Doris was getting ready, I went to the Future Sales Office to book a 14-day Scandinavian/Russian cruise for 2005. What luck, there was no line and Michelle was in. I knocked on her door was asked to enter, but never asked to sit down. I complemented her on the view she had of the ocean and was told where as she was a VIP she had a special office. I took her comment as a joke and began to get down to business. Michelle told me the Scandinavian/Russian itineraries were not out yet, but should be before the end of March. She started to give me a coupon (good to the end of the March) that would verify my intention of booking while aboard and thereby convey shipboard credit to me. I told her I wouldn’t be getting back to the states until April. She told me that as long as I made my booking before April 2nd the coupon would still be good. When I told her that after being away from home for close to 6 weeks contacting Celebrity wouldn’t be one of the top things on my list of priorities, she became very dismissive, put the coupon away, and told me there was nothing she could do. When I asked if she could make an open booking in 2005 for me (I have done this before with Celebrity) or if she could email X’s corporate HQs to get an extension for me, she said no. I was stunned at her response and rude attitude. Amazed at how dismissive she was of me, I paused, looked at her and told her that I had found there generally were exceptions to every rule, but that it sometimes took a little effort to get them. She got my message, but made no further effort to assist. I told her thanks and left. It was clear to me that she actually believed herself to be aVIP. She had no idea of who I was or what class of cabin we are in. The whole incident left a sour taste in my mouth and has made me consider taking my business elsewhere.

A funny thing happened this evening. We had been invited to a special cocktail party hosted by the Captain and scheduled to be held in the Constellation Night Club. We got there, showed our invitation and were directed to the reception. We recognized some of the nightly regulars at the Champagne Bar, exchanged greetings and small talk. We ordered drinks and I noticed there were no ships’ officers anywhere in sight. I sensed something was amiss, inquired and was told it was a private party. Our bar mates were as amused as us. We had our drink and retreated to the Champagne Bar.

I ordered frog legs as an appetizer. Something from them got lodged in my esophagus. I could breathe OK, but could not swallow. Drinking water didn’t help, in fact drinking anything just resulting in the urge to regurgitate. Ended up having to leave the dinning room twice. Never did get beyond the frog legs. Whatever was causing the blockage remained lodged overnight.

MARCH 6th: DAY 14—At sea en route to Cape Horn and Ushuaia:

Leisurely day at sea. Seas were a bit rougher through the morning and afternoon. Weather was cool. Long pants and long sleeves have taken the place of shorts and polo shirts. Many pax’s are wearing ear patches.

Took in an afternoon dance class. The combination of the ships motion, crowd, looking down, dancing, and noise made me dizzy. I lasted 5 minutes and had to sit it out. Doris kept on trucking. Napped away most of the afternoon.

Attended the Captain’s Club cocktail party this evening. It was held in the Constellation Club. The place was packed and seats scarce. Learned later that the same had been true for the main seating cocktail party. We are very close to the Horn and around sunset began navigating in that direction.

At dinner Nigel confessed to also feeling a bit woozy during the afternoon. He and Pam did a back stage tour of the theater. He said the tight, close quarters back stage is what pushed him over the edge. He too napped the afternoon away.

Just a note on food and on-board services.

1) The quality of food seems to have dropped in comparison to our last cruise. Portions are fine; it is just the quality that seems to have suffered. Our tablemates and several others we have met on board have voiced the same opinion. However, others in our Cruise Critic roll call group think the food is very good.
2) In respect to customer relations, Infinity’s staff could take a lesson from the Ritz-Carlton regarding guest questions or complaints. If a guest requests assistance from a Ritz employee, that employee assumes ownership of the issue until it has been resolved. It isn’t kissed or passed off. Just the opposite can be said about Celebrity, especially in respect to the sales office. Our British tablemates, both very experienced cruisers (have sailed around the world, are at least Elite Class with Celebrity, and currently in a suite and on a back-to-back) have a 14-day Russia/Scandinavian booked for May ’04. They received an email notifying them their May cruise is overbooked and pressuring them to take a down graded cabin. They were given a short suspense time and told if they didn’t respond their cruise would be cancelled and that they would lose their deposit. They went to the on-board sales office and attempted to get Michelle’s assistance in resolving the issue. She attempted to pass the buck by telling them it wasn’t a problem the she could help with and that they needed to contact their travel agent. They think, but are not absolutely sure; they were able to get the issue resolved.

MARCH 7th: DAY 15—Cape Horn and Ushuaia:

Had coffee delivered to the stateroom at 6:30 a.m. and at 7:00 began to round Cape Horn. We were able to enjoy the entire experience from the comfort of our stateroom. Wind speed ranged from 58 knots on up and seas were rough. We tilted to both port and starboard sides. Spray from the waves came up as high as Deck 9. Skies were overcast one second and clear the next. Changing light conditions had a spectacular effect on the view of the shore. Our distance from the shore ranged from as far away as 1 mile to as close as 800 meters.

Our stateroom was located amidships. Between that and the ship’s stabilizers the sense of any rocking motion was minimal. We had a taste of how bad navigating the Horn could be and for that we are glad. We would have felt cheated if the seas had been smooth and skies clear.

The Captain circumnavigated the Cape and then turned toward the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia. At 2:30 we stopped briefly at Port Williams to drop off the Chilean pilot and clear Chilean Customs and Immigration. Port Williams is a small village and Chilean Navy Base, nestled against the mountains. It appeared very neatly organized and clean.

Temperatures dropped and passengers broke out their hats, gloves, and parkas. As we proceeded up the Channel passengers moved into the Constellation Night Club and onto the upper sun decks on the bow of the ship. I reckon there were more cameras on the topless deck than on other days, but then there were no sunbathers up there to complain.

Our approach into Ushuaia seemed slow and deliberate. Once again, the ever-changing light conditions had a spectacular effect on the landscape. We docked at about 6:15 and passengers began streaming ashore shortly thereafter. It is a short walk into town and unless you are physically handicapped you don’t need transportation. It was Sunday evening and all the locals had flooded the “city” and were cruising San Martin Street (the main drag). A few even went down to the dock to see the ship.

Ushuaia is built on the slop of a mountain, has many chalet type buildings, and narrow streets. It reminded me of a small ski resort. We walked around a while and went to an Internet café. It cost us $2.00 to use 2 computers for 1 hour. We got caught on news from home and returned to the ship.

After dinner, we went up to the Constellation Club. There was an “End-of-the-World” party consisting of Latin music and a buffet. While loud, it was entertaining. One thing that amazed us was the number of people who had finished eating dinner only an hour before who were pigging out at the buffet. We also noted that most people were not ordering drinks.

MARCH 8th: DAY 16—Ushuaia:

We were awakened at 7:00 by a telephone call. No one was on the other end. It was just a signal to alert us that we had voice mail. The messages had been left at 10:00 the previous night. We were really pissed about being needlessly awakened out of what had been a very sound sleep.

At 9:00, we met Nigel and Pam dockside. The wind was up and temperatures had dropped lower. Almost all passengers were bundled up. We organized a cab and drove up toward the glacier. We elected not to take the ski lift up the mountain and 1-hour walk to the glacier. Instead we had the driver take us back down the mountain a short distance where we took photographs. From there we went to the old prison and maritime museum. We recommend both these attractions. Some of our cruise mates took the Beagle Channel Catamaran excursion and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can book this excursion dockside for a fraction of what the ship and Port Compass charge. You will be on the same catamaran as those other passengers.

We next walked through Ushuaia, grabbed a cup of coffee, and then did some shopping. The shopping here is totally unlike the Caribbean ports-of-call. Hopefully it won’t change.

Back at the ship Doris took a nap and I hit the spa. Both the steam room and sauna were HOT! Overheard a Pool Butler tell another passenger in the men’s room outside the sauna that it was not safe to drink the tap water. Many of us have been filling our glasses up and drinking that water without any ill effects. The Pool Butler was stunned to learn this. Oh well.

We departed Ushuaia at around 3:20, about 20 minutes late. Headed towards the NW arm of the Beagle Channel. At 6:30 we were supposed to pass and be able to see Holanda, Italia, Francia, Alemania, and Romanche Glaciers. The Captain made an announcement that winds were in excess of 50 knots, that passengers should not be outside in the public areas, and to be careful opening and closing doors to the outside.

At about 6:20 we started observing glacier fields. The fields ran from the peaks midway down the mountains. Fairly impressive. At about 7:00 the cruise director announced our pending approach to the series of glaciers. Mist and fog obscured views one second and the next it was clear. Unlike yesterday, sunlight was not breaking through. The glaciers ran down to the channel and were impressive. Evening began to rob us of daylight and when we did pass the most spectacular glaciers it was too dark to take photographs and barely light enough to see. Had we departed Ushuaia on time we would have been able to see them all in daylight.

Over dinner we discussed the quality of food and shipboard service. Our table agreed that for the most part service aboard ship was very good and that without exception the crew (stewards, waiters, pool butlers, bar personnel, etc) have great attitudes. The quality of food, however, seems to have slipped. One of our tablemates was speaking with a German aboard who explained his company had lost the food service contract and was in the process during this cruise of turning operations over to the new provider. (We tried several times throughout the remainder of the cruise without success to get more details.)

MARCH 9th: DAY 17—Punta Arenas:

Arrived ahead of schedule. Tender operations began at about 10:15 and went smoothly. Pam, Nigel, Doris and I were ashore before 11:00. We had priority boarding privileges and followed the instructions on the back of the card we had been given; i.e. went to Michaels Club for assistance. Discovered we could have just gone directly to deck 1 and boarded.

On shore we hooked up with a cab driver. Initially we were only going to see a bit of the city. However, after 5 minutes we has seen most of what there was to see in the city, decided it was going to be a long day, and told our driver to take us to the penguin colony. It took about an hour to drive there and 20-30 minutes to walk out to the colony. It was windy and cold! Anyone saying different either wasn’t there or is lying. There were not many penguins to see, but we still found it interesting and worthwhile. Bottom line, a tour of the city and trip to the colony cost us $40 per couple.

Once back into Punta Arenas we ate a late lunch at a nice place near the waterfront. In comparison to every place else we have been on this trip, it was very overpriced.

Following lunch we walked around the city. There are several old buildings that have been well maintained and look very interesting. The type of buildings you wished had talking walls. We hit up an Internet café and checked in with the folks at home. Each time we have checked email, Doris’ brother in Germany has been on-line and she has chatted with him. Today his two sons were with him and immediately looked up where we were in the atlas.

We walked around Punta Arenas for a while longer and then caught the tender back to the ship. 2 other couples noted there was no hot chocolate when we boarded. So much for the subtleties of reboarding.

Our tablemates reported having a conversation this morning with a lady who claims to take a cruise a month, primarily on Princess. According to our tablemates, she rates the food and presentation as good, no higher. She had higher expectations of X.

We departed Punta Arenas on time. 3 different people told us later that 6 people missed the last tender and were left dockside. They were part of an excursion that returned to the dock in time to board the last tender, but broke away to do some last minute shopping. As the story goes, their traveling companions warned them about missing the last tender. However, they were of the opinion the ship would not depart minus 6 pax. The ship gave their passports to the ships agent and left without them. They had to pay the pilot boat $1,200 to take them out to the ship.

MARCH 10th: DAY 18: Straits of Magellan and Chilean Fjords

Navigated the Straits of Magellan and 4 Chilean Fjords (Nelson, Esteban, Inocentes, and Trinidad). This is the same route taken by Magellan in 1520. We have not taken an Alaskan cruise so have no basis of comparison. The Fjords were less than a mile wide and usually narrower than that. None of the mountains adjacent to the canals had snow on them. Most were heavily forested. Many of the secondary ranges were either snow capped or glacier fields.

The depth of field afforded by being on the topless deck was spectacular. At times you could see that bodies of water between the near by banks of the Fjords the secondary ranges of mountains. One Pax reported spotting a small whale. There were plenty of swimming seals to be seen. We never saw one village or house.

Punched into the Pacific Ocean 2 hours earlier than scheduled. I checked my chart to see if we had taken any kind of a short cut, but could not tell if we had or not.

At noon the Captain announced that we would be stopping at Puerto Montt, that there would be an open bar Friday night 1 hour before each seating, and that each cabin would receive an amount of ships credit to be reflected in a memorandum that was being delivered to each cabin. At first reading, non-suite staterooms received $150 per cabin, suites at least $200. Some pax’s were not happy and intended on seeking more. Some pax’s thought compensation should be per pax and not cabin.

The dinner menu tonight was the best yet. A great selection was offered, escargots, shrimp, veal Oscar, pan seared scallops, tenderloin, and duck. I arranged to have a little of each. The veal really sucked, it was tough as shoe leather and with very little crab. The duck was simply delicious.

MARCH 11th: DAY 19: Chilean Fjords—Puerto Montt

A leisurely day at sea, spent pool side, in the Persian Garden, and napping. At 5:00 we met with some of the Cruise Critic Roll Callers who have been meeting each evening in the Constellation Night Club. At 5:15, two Orcas surfaced just off the port bow. What a sight.

Learned from Dennis of Panama that several unannounced changes to the cruising itinerary was made yesterday and today resulting in less time spent cruising the Straits of Magellan and Chilean Fjords. Guest Services initially attempted to pass it off, but finally referred him to “Mary”. “Mary” agreed with everything Dennis brought up and acknowledged the unannounced changes. She encouraged him to write a letter of complaint and submit it to X’s corporate office.

We discussed the quality of shore excursions, as well as the X’s compensation for missing Port Stanley. Everyone who took the Beagle Channel catamaran enjoyed and recommended it. They did say to buy tickets dockside and not through the ship. It cost less than half and you are on the same boat. Some were unhappy with the trip to the Otway Penguin Colony (caves). It was cold, windy, and they expected to see more penguins. This excursion would be better early in the season. Those that took the train to the end of the world were disappointed. Several cruise mates who had organized excursions with Port Compass expressed disappointment. PC delivered a basic package, but not the smaller, more individualized service expected. Those that took PC’s excursion to the penguin colony in Puerto Madryn related they boarded a new, clean bus dockside, but after leaving the dock were switched to a dilapidated bus with cracked windshield and no air conditioning.

In respect to the compensation, a couple of our Cruise Critic Cruise Mates considered it adequate. Others thought X should have offered more. Three reasons in addition to those already mentioned were offered; 1) savings in fuel by completely avoiding the Falklands, 2) X saved more than $75 pp in port charges by skipping the stop, and 3) other delays and changes that were made to the itinerary because of the propulsion problem.

There was consensus that X has done a poor job in executing some of their commitments and services. Examples: no cool towels or hot chocolate when reboarding, some rough edges on food service in the main dinning room (food is not hot when served and no garnish on the plates). One other couple had also experienced disappointing service from Michelle in Future Sales. The perception is she does just enough to get by and no more. Anything requiring a little extra effort she shirks off. I remain so put off by her attitude during me meeting with her that I am considering taking my business elsewhere.

At dinner, our Mexican tablemates told us that a group of Latino pax’s had met with 2 Celebrity representatives earlier in the day about the changes in itinerary and compensation. They described X’s reps as being arrogant and rude. The group was told if they didn’t like the compensation offered to write letters to X’s main office.

Our British tablemates were equally unhappy. They are in a suite and taking a back-to-back. They went to guest service and asked for the next leg’s itinerary. They were told no itinerary was available wouldn’t be until next week. When they asked for a copy of the original itinerary they were told it was unavailable. Our tablemates composed a letter of concern and complaint addressed to X’s corporate office and called down to Guest Services to get X’s fax number. They were told no one had that fax number, to bring their letter to Guest Service, and that Guest Service would send the letter on to corporate HQs. Not satisfied with this response, our tablemates insisted on speaking with a supervisor or manager. After waiting several hours for someone to contact them, they went down to the desk and were told by a supervisor that no one on board had the fax number. Next, they paid Michelle a call. Michelle told them they had to talk to someone with more stripes than her and took no further action to assist them. Poor service to passengers who have spent over $30,000 for this back-to-back cruise and have another 14 day cruise booked for May of this year.

MARCH 12th: DAY 20: Puerto Montt:

We had made previous shore excursion arrangements with 3 other couples from our Cruise Critic roll call group through Jamie, a local vendor who also operates a local Internet Café. We all meet in the Celebrity Theater, precluding use of our VIP tender perks. If there was ever a day they were needed it was today. It took over an hour from the time tender tickets were issued until we actually boarded the tender and what seemed another 10-15 minutes to get ashore. Bottom line it was 9:30 before reaching shore. We hooked up with our guide, Dr. Robert E. Lee Bryce, and headed to Jamie’s Café where we were told another couple from our roll call group would be joining us. “Dr.” Bryce and I walked back to the pier to look for and get our other 2 traveling companions. On the way, he volunteered that he had his wife was from the area, they had lived there for 5 ½ years, he specialized in natural medicine, and only had one colon procedure scheduled for that evening. After waiting for 15-20 minutes we decided to return to Jamie’s, start the tour, and come back later to pick up our 2 missing companions.

When the 8 of us got to the van we decided it was too small for 10 pax’s and told Dr. Bryce there was no way 10 of us were going to fit into it. He called and informed Jamie and we were on our way.

1st stop was the local hospital, which sits atop a hill and offers a great vista of the harbor and the ships at anchorage. By this time it was apparent that Dr. Bob was a talker. He had qualified himself to everyone as not being a medical doctor, but as having a close relationship with local MDs who often referred patients to him.

While driving around and through Puerto Montt and in between sharing some of the area’s local history with us, Dr. Bob told us all about several of his patients. He was quite proud of how his treatments had saved a couple of them from death. Dr. Bob also shared with his philosophy regarding the daily consumption of 13 liters of water followed by at least 20 urinations. Something he thought we all needed to know.

We arrived and spent some time in Frutillar. Germans established the town. Many of the homes in town, especially along the lakefront, are European in style. The streets have German names and there are several German restaurants. It was about 11:30 A.M. and the smell coming from those restaurants was mouth watering!

From Frutillar we drove towards the falls and Osorno. The countryside is very pretty and worth a drive through. We stopped at lakeside restaurant for lunch. 2 busloads of people from the ship were just leaving and we thought we would have the place to ourselves. Not so, the staff was busy setting the tables for the next crowd. The only tables available for our group of 8 were outside.

It was a sunny day, but still cool and I needed to go to the van to get my fleece pullover. When I got back to the table, one of our traveling companions was telling Dr. Bob that since going on the South Beach diet she has been suffering from dry, flaky skin. This got Dr. Bob going on the need to eat only natural foods…nothing processed. He suggested our companion increase her consumption of whole grain foods and fish containing oils. Then without missing a beat and to everyone’s surprise, Dr. Bob asked if her vagina was dry. A hushed “No” followed several seconds of total silence. Dr, Bob thinking he was on a roll jumped right into yeast infections, their treatment (yogurt), and several methods of applying the yogurt (use your imagination!).

Earlier one of our traveling companions had asked Dr. Bob about some painful bumps that had manifested themselves on his hands and fingers. One of which over the years had caused one of his little fingers to stiffen with a slight curl. Well, Dr. Bob jumped right into the cause and treatment for that aliment. This provided a segue for him to discuss penal imperfections, such as the one Monica Lewinsky claims Bill Clinton has.

At this point we suggested it was time to get on with the tour.

On the road again we drove to the falls. While very small in comparison to Iguazu, they are pretty. What makes them striking is the glacier blue water pouring through them. For those of you contemplating taking a South American cruise, I would recommend taking one in November or December. These falls and the surrounding river during the spring and early Chilean summer would make for a spectacular sight.

On our return to the ship, we made a brief stop along the way so those that wanted could take some photos of a heard of lamas. Back in the van, I started to nod off. My naps were interrupted by Dr. Bob’s non-stop lecture on holistic medicine. It turns out Dr. Bob is a big proponent of urine treatment. Without anyone asking for an explanation, Dr. Bob told us about several terminally ill patients that MD’s had only given weeks to live and who he saved by prescribing natural potions laced with the patients’ own urine. The last bit of wisdom Dr. Bob shared with us is why, at age 62, his hair is so thick and natural looking. Yes folks, each time he urinates Dr. Bob takes a couple of swallows. Fortunately, no one asked how he does it.

We got back to the pier 30 minutes before the last tender and were greeted with a long line of pax’s waiting to return to the ship. We didn’t do any shopping, nor did we have time to use the Internet. The tender line moved relatively fast and it took less time to reboard than it took to get ashore.

The trip through the countryside had been interesting and worthwhile. I would recommend it. One note, I would be more concerned about missing the last tender at Puerto Montt than at the other ports at which we stopped.

Jamie, I know your heart is in the right place, but stick to Internet and telephone services….in other words, don’t quit your day job. I can’t recommend your services to others.

This was the last formal night of the cruise and the second night of free pre-dinner cocktails. You guessed it; there was SRO in all the bars. Passengers were better behaved this go around than they were the first time.

MARCH 13th: DAY 21---At Sea:

A lazy day at sea. We went to the spa, packed, and just took it easy. I learned at the informal afternoon meeting of our cruise critic shipmates that the back-to-backers had been informed there would be no port call in Quito. This means 10 out of 14 cruise days will be at sea.

Our British tablemates, who are doing a back-to-back, were not happy with the news one port call has been cancelled. They are displeased with Celebrity in general and if they can cancel their May cruise without sustaining a penalty will do so. Guest Services finally provided them with a fax number, but it is for Celebrity’s British operations. Guest Services refused to give them a stateside fax number claiming everyone in Miami has their own, individual telephone and fax number. Sounds bogus to me. I can’t imagine there isn’t a common number (telephone and fax) for Guest Services.

We exchanged mailing and email addresses, said our good-byes, had a nightcap, and hit the rack. A time change gave us an extra hour of sleep.

MARCH 14th: DAY 22---Valparaiso and Santiago:

Disembarkation was a goat rope. We were at our appointed station at the prescribed time. A 10-minute wait turned into a 30-minute delay. The ship’s rep could offer no reason for the delay, but assured us we shouldn’t have a much longer wait. He was right, Doris and I grabbed out bags walked down to Deck 3 and disembarked. No one was checking colors. We boarded a bus and were driven to the terminal, which is too far away from the ship to walk. Once at the terminal Customs and Immigration clearance was painlessly quick.

We hooked up with Tom and Grace, another couple who had been waiting for us for over an hour, and headed off for a tour of Valparaiso and environs, a winery tour, and a quick tour of Santiago. We had organized the transfer and tour through Jamie. The van was spacious enough, but reeked of diesel odor. It was soon apparent that while our guide’s heart was in the right place, his command of English was not at the level a professional guide’s should be.

We drove the narrow windy roads of Valparaiso, stopping at a vista affording a Kodak minute of the port and the Infinity. Valparaiso is old and tired. Its’ residents appear to range from impoverished to poor. Houses were wooden or brick structures built on very steep hills and bluffs. Our driver told us there is no zoning or building codes. How the house stick to those steep hills is anyone guess. A fire of any size or earthquake has the potential of producing a major catastrophic event.

Regardless of how old, tired, and impoverished the Valparaiso appeared, its’ streets were paved and it was clean! One point I found interesting is that while the capital of Chile is in Santiago, the congress (House of Representatives and Senate) convenes in Valparaiso.

We drove up the coast what couldn’t have been more than a mile or two and to Vina del Mar. What different world! Following an earthquake in 1906, the wealthy inhabitants of abandoned Valparaiso for Vina Del Mar. It is clean and very European looking. I found it similar to the French Rivera. We had lunch at a pleasant seaside restaurant at a near-by beach and headed for Santiago.

The drive to Santiago (appx 110 kilometers/66 miles from Valparaiso) was torturously slow. The highway was state-of-the-art and uncrowded turnpike with speed limits ranging from 100 to 120 KPH. Our driver, however, drove way below those speeds. As we entered the wine country, I noticed most wineries were closed. It was Sunday. We did observe one on a hill that had some cars and perhaps vans parked outside. I did not see anything as large as a bus. We passed a smaller one close to the highway that had one bus and several vehicles parked out front. When we finally got to the winery of our guides choosing there were several cars and one small bus parked outside. A guard told our driver and guide it was Sunday and the winery was closed. When asked, the guard said the people on the small bus where members of a private party. The guard also told our guide that none of the other wineries were open and that we had to immediately depart the parking lot.

Our driver and guide began consulting with one another. Grace and I checked the fact sheet received from Jamie. Sure enough it specified a stop at a winery and a week or so before leaving the states I had discussed the winery tour telephonically with Jamie. He assured me that even though it was a Sunday that the guide would take us to one that was open on Sunday. Oh well, on with the show. We told the driver to press on to Santiago.

Once back on the turnpike our driver resumed his snails pace. It only took minutes before I decided to say something. Fortunately, Doris beat me to the punch. She told our guide and driver to pick up the pace and drive the speed limit. The guide advised us that we had no time constraints and that slower pace would be better to enjoy the countryside. Anyone who knows me knows this was the wrong answer. Before I could make a knee-jerk response, Doris in her oh so diplomatic way told him to pick up the pace, that we would much rather spend the extra time in a Santiago coffee shop. Tom joined in, saying they preferred to wait in Delta’s 1st class lounge. The driver chimed in saying it was safer to drive slower. Doris told him not to speed, just drive the speed limit. He picked up the pace for about 5 minutes and then slowed back down. A short time later the small bus that had been parked in the winery’s parking lot passed us. Guess what, the passengers were all from the Infinity.

As we neared Santiago, our guide graciously informed us that to compensate us for the missed winery stop he would give us a small tour of the city. Grace told him that according to Jamie a short tour of the city was included in the price of the transfer. We were not sure he understood, but decided to just suck it up and go with the flow.

The driver pointed out some significant buildings and streets. He stopped at the Palacio de la Monedo (Palace of the Coin, but referred to by many as the Presidential Palace). It had been bombed during the coup of 1973 and only recently restored. We were able to walk into and through the ground level courtyards. All four of us were impressed.

From there it we headed to our hotel and the airport. At the hotel we bid farewell to Tom and Grace who were flying back to the states later that night.

After checking in, Doris and I had coffee and light snacks down in the lobby. The coffee was great! Next, we explored the hotel’s common areas and found a couple from the ship at the hotel pool. Ironically, it was the couple that claims to take a cruise every month that our British tablemates had told us about. We chatted for a few minutes and returned to our room. We were tired, not the least bit hungry, and just wanted to have an early nightcap, and fall asleep watching some TV.

Ice machines in Ritz Carltons are usually tucked away in hallway pantries. We checked all service rooms and could not find one, as we approached our room a plain clothed security officer came out of the elevator and confronted us. We explained what we had been looking searched for. He radioed the all clear to the security office, escorted us to our room, got the ice bucket and left. Before departing he told us many of the doors to service areas and all fire escape doors had sensors.

Minutes later there was a knock at our door. I opened it expecting to find the security officer with the bucket of ice. Instead, it was room service with a bottle of champagne and some fancy pastries. I told the room service chap he had the wrong room and he asked if I was Mr. Willey. I replied I was and he presented me with a card. Looking closer at the plate of pastries I saw “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate. Doris’s birthday had been on Feb. 26th and this was clearly a gift from our daughter who works for the Ritz on Amelia Island. What a truly pleasant and unexpected surprise!

MARCH 15th: DAY 23---Santiago:

Relative to the past couple of weeks, we slept in today. Got up about 8:30, had breakfast, and took the metro to the center of the city. Santiago has a very clean, efficient, and inexpensive metro system. A one-way ticket cost about 45 cents.

1st stop was a pharmacy. I needed cold medication for a respiratory problem I had picked up onboard.

Next stop a street side locksmith. I had to replace the padlocks that had been cut when we had boarded Infinity. The cost for 4 locks was marginal and we had a blast talking with the old guy who owned the small, closet size shop. He had a tie on and was very friendly. All of his siblings and mother have lived in the Orlando, FL area for 30 or more years. He alone stayed behind and now he has no desire to move. While we were talking a busty woman in a short cut pullover walked by and they exchanged greetings. I looked at him and told him I knew why he did not want to leave Santiago. His face turned beat red and he burst into laughter. We got our locks, shook hands, and moved on.

Because all public museums in Santiago are closed on Mondays (a factor Celebrity should consider when creating itineraries) we had somewhat of a disappointing, abbreviated day in Santiago. The Metro and taxis makes navigating Santiago easy. We saw the high lights of the city, crossing paths several times with other groups from the Infinity. We ended the day and phase 2 of the trip people at a sidewalk café people watching over several beers and a light dinner.

End of Installment 2.

Infinity--South America--Feb 29,2004
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This has been one of the best reviews I have read in years. Frank, clear, factual, not whiney, and humor to the point of "laugh out loud." You seem like an incredible individual who know how to travel and enjoy the great moments and not duell on the bad. Thanks again. Hope part three gets you home with no problems. Maybe you'll run into Dr. Bob...what a riot. Michael

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We were on the Feb 1-15 South American Infinity cruise and thought it was one of our best cruise experiences. Have no negative comments about anything. We did think the food was average, but edible. Some nights dinner was good. We have decided that the food is not a highlight of a cruise and do not have great expectations.

Hi to all the CC members from our cruise that read this. Miss you all.
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What was the name of your CD?

And I would agree that X needs to get the acts of the Future Cruise Consultants together! We were on the Millie in November and had intentions of getting prices for our Infinity cruise in 2005 because friends of ours are already booked. He got us one price and then my husband asked about the price for the same accomodations we were in, the Celebrity Suite. The idiot didn't give us much of a deadline date: 2 days after we arrived back in the States! A week after we got back,I called X. Good thing I got a great Customer Service Rep. He was able to get us not only our same Suite, but also got us the onboard credit for booking a cruise onboard ship!

I hope that things get better on the Infinity when we sail in 2005!

And now Infinity 2005!
Millennium 2003
Century 2002
Summit 2001
Century 2000
Zenith 1996
Horizon 1994
Horizon 1993
Sunward 1992
Star Princess 1990
Maxim Gorky 1974 & 1975
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Our CD was Nick Weir.

Last year on the Summit, the future sales consultant was great! She went above and beyond to help us and even gave me her card with email address. I emailed her twice with questions and got prompt, professional service. I was really shocked with Michelle’s rudeness.

I just think these 2 are overly impressed with themselves and consider themselves stars. Somewhere along the line they have forgotten they work in the service industry.

Infinity--South America--Feb 29,2004
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Great detailed report Traveling Fools. We had dinner with the Hotel Manager on the Constellation 2 weeks ago who assured us that the propulsion system will be fixed on the Infinity while she's in drydock. However, it does sound like it will be an ongoing maintenance issue in the future.
Also, it sounds like most of your ports were tendered. Was that because of the size of the ship? Were smaller ships able to get to the docks?
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We took the Infinity Mar 14 trip from Valpariso
to Ft Lauderdale. As with you, Celebrity dropped a port on us because of thruster problems. They kept the problem a secret until we got on the ship. NOT VERY HONEST. We would have cancelled if they had let us know and rebooked for the return to SA. Also after a few days about half the souls aboard had respitory problems, We spent half our time dodging the coughers. Other than that it was a good trip. [email]mike7139@aol.com[/email]
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We will be on the Infinity 4/25, which is the first cruise out of dry dock. I am really hoping all will go well.
I have read on other posts as well that the CD is not good at all.I know that X reads the boards and am surprised that he is still in that position.
It sounds like you had a good overall experience, thank you for the review!
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It's not that Nick Weir (the CD) is "not good". It's more that his personality and style are more lively than we're used to. Some of Celebrity's CDs are so quiet and unassuming that they almost seem to recede into the background. Nick is not only an energetic live wire, but a decent singer as well (even had his own show one night in the theater) and his ebullience makes him more visible than most CDs. His brother, Simon, is the CD on Summit.

Personally, I found him most helpful and considerate in one-on-one environments. I was on the 3/14 Infinity cruise.
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We were on the 2/1/04 Infinity sailing and I found Nick Weir to be a delightful and entertaining CD. I have been on over 20 cruises all around the World and thought he was at the top of my list of CD's. I spoke to him several times and never found him to have an elitist attitude.
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  • 9 months later...
In your very helpful articles about the Infinity S American cruise you reference a Cruise Critic Meeting once on board the ship. How do I receive information on these meetings and how do I join?

We will be sailing on the Infinity in back to back cruises from Buenos Aires to santiago and to Ft Lauderdale 2/13- 3/13 2005 after a week in BA from 2/7-2/13.

Additionally, it seems like you really enjoyed the X spa. Was there a charge, can you get weekly or other deals to use it daily ?

Finally, you mentioned that you bought wine & champaigne in BA to bring on the ship. How was this done? Did you have special carrying cases or just put it in your luggage. It was obviously searched since you mentioned the locks being cut.

Thanks again for the great articles they were very helpful.
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Elenjensen: Hi there. My wife Debbie and I will be seeing you on board the Infinity in BA.

I have three answers for you. First, about the Cruise Critic meeting. You can register for a Celebrity Connections gathering at this URL:
You fill out and submit an on-screen form. You may need to be patient with this -- it often is sooo s-l-o-w that the system times out with a message saying that the cruise critic event is full. That's a lie. Just try again, maybe at a different time of day. Eventually your submission will be successful and you'll be included in the gathering. You'll see that there are over 30 folks signed up for the party on the first leg of your double cruise.

Second, my wife and I take wine with us everywhere we go, including on cruises. (We're in the wine business.) We pack the wine in shipping cartons -- cardboard boxes containing styrofoam inserts for wine bottles -- and then put the cartons in our luggage. Sometimes we just check the cartons themselves. Then we just let the wine go on board with the rest of our luggage. It ends up safely in our stateroom. You can buy wine shipping cartons at many liquor stores, and at packaging stores (e.g. The UPS store).

And third (which you didn't ask), you may want to take a look at the Roll Call message board(s) for your cruise(s). There is LOTS of useful info there. Here's the URL for the thread about your first leg:
For your second:

By the way, those of us who have been gabbing for months in that first thread are planning an extra, pre-cruise party of our own. It'll be at 7pm Saturday Feb 12 at the Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center. Join us!

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