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Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman

May 20-30, 2003
Hawaii and Transpacific to Vancouver


by Patrick Regan


10 days - from Honolulu to Maui, Kauai & the Big Island of Hawaii & then a 5 day high speed Pacific crossing taking us back to our home in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Since Sept. 02, we have cruised 3 times prior to this Infinity cruise; HAL to Alaska; Crystal Harmony, 14 days Panama Canal; and Celebrity Mercury - coastal California and Cabo San Lucas, r/t from San Francisco.

We want to cruise more and are looking for a "home" cruise line that's more affordable than Crystal etc. and still has some premium touches and better quality food. We weren't very happy with the food on the Mercury and are happy to report that the rumors we've heard about the Millennium class ships having better food are true.

The worst part of cruising for us is not the long line for embarkation and debarkation but having to fly great distances to get to the cruise. You might want to skip this section because it is basically a rant about a difficult trip to Honolulu. Aloha Airlines flew us to Maui from Vancouver, BC. We grabbed an Aloha inter-island connecting flight to Honolulu.

We were met by efficient Celebrity reps in Honolulu who looked after our luggage and took us to a van for the short trip to the Aloha Tower where the Infinity was berthed. A beautiful sight! The lines were long for security & embarkation but the magic of the Captain's club card put us in the shortest line and quickly on board.

We booked veranda cabin 8006, Category 2A which was about the same square footage as the recent Mercury cruise we took but the cabin storage and design were far superior. The similar sized cabin on the Mercury was so unappealing that we paid for an upgrade. We like the newer ships; cabin ergonomics are being improved in gigantic leaps.

The bathroom was cruise ship tiny but well organized, with chrome railings bordering glass shelves at shoulder level and counter level. It held our bathroom stuff easily. The compact shower over the tub was squared off and had room for my shower seat and I still had some leg room. There was a sturdy grab bar on the wall at the rear of the tub and what I thought was another grab bar. It looked just like the other one but it was vertical and held the shower head and its hose. It was just to hold those things but could easily be confused with the sturdy bar in the same tub. Be careful in there. Efficient, artistic, simple industrial design. Love those newer ships. In the cabin there was a storage closet or cabinet that held everything we had brought, and the wall opposite the bed was fully mirrored, giving a feeling of spaciousness. Our luggage fit under the bed. A love seat across from a mirrored wall with a vanity were in front of the sliding glass doors to our veranda. Sitting on the veranda as be glided into a dock at Nawiliwili is a particularly nice memory. Celebrity mentions in their brochure that they are choosing colors and mirrors that are geared to the smaller spaces, and they are right. It had a great feeling. Floor to ceiling sliding doors led to the pleasant veranda.

Our good friends Micky & Laurie joined us in a balcony cabin nearby. We had considered Celebrity's new Concierge Class which adds some amenities; thicker robes, extended room service hours, flowers, champagne etc. The cabin, however, is the very same but the cost is much higher just for a few goodies. Crystal has an open house where you can see different cabins during their cruises but the myriad of Celebrity balcony configurations is a well kept secret. A deck and floor plan on the internet can tell you a lot but the views and privacy factors are sometimes a shock on the first day. The expensive sky suites with oversized verandas are not very private. Those verandas are very visible from the big pool and recreation decks.

It was the most slipshod life boat drill we have ever experienced. It was held at the ungodly hour of 10:30PM, Hawaiian time, which was the same as 1:30 AM Pacific time and 4:30 AM, Eastern Time. It took all of our strength to remain awake late enough for the drill. We followed the instructions in our cabin and reported to the muster station and were told that we had reported to the wrong place.

The blithely officious staff sent us to yet another deck where we were instructed to return to where we first reported. Eventually we gathered under the lifeboats/davits and were then dismissed without any crew members taking passenger attendance for this drill. It was a true mess of people milling around, not sure where they should be. It's the first lifeboat drill we've attended that didn't have a ship's officer watching over the hotel staff during the drill at our muster station. There was no sense of the ships officers anywhere at this scary excuse for a drill. I shuddered to think what would happen in a real emergency. Celebrity needs to clean up this safety issue on the Infinity and to have it earlier in the evening, considering the average age of the passengers and the fact that most everyone had a long, long day flying to Hawaii from the east and west coasts.

We enjoyed juice/coffee and rolls some mornings on our veranda. We appreciated having separate room service wait staff and not having our cabin steward have to stop cleaning a toilet (as they do on some ships) and deliver our continental breakfast.

Bernardo from Goa, India, and his assistant Nigel from Bombay were great. They kept the steel water jug full and the cabin clean, with extra towels as needed. We wish the stewards could have a day off once in a while.

We would be glad to make our bed and straighten up one day a week on a cruise, so Stewards could have a day off every couple of weeks. They had 18 cabins to clean and never stopped smiling.

Our table for 4 was perfectly located near the Captain's table, and in front of the 2-decks-high floor-to-ceiling windows all the way aft for my wife and me and our friends Micky and Laurie. We were near a waiter's serving and organizing station but that never bothers us. We like them nearby. Ruby from So. Africa was our waiter and Jose from Spain was her assistant.

It's great not having a language barrier with waiters and assistants. Ruby had a glorious So. African flavored, universal English accent and Jose had been a language major at Cambridge in England and spoke perfectly nuanced English. I don't think Ruby will be a waiter for long... she was great and so people-oriented without being obsequious, & Jose's command of English and his great attitude should see him becoming a waiter soon. We'll be cruising Celebrity again and expect to see Ruby or female wait staff like her, moving up to a dining room asst. head waiter position. We have seen no women in this position on Celebrity yet and it's time they started promoting more female dining staff. Title 9 doesn't apply to ships registered in other countries so it's a slow process.

The food on the Infinity in the Trellis Room was good except for the quality of the beef. The sauces and soups were very good. We were served the best large, succulent lobster we've ever had on any cruise ship. Yummy! Too bad it's only served on one night.

The 4 of us booked one dinner at the alternative, $25. per head S.S. United States dining room. It's a lovely room with an art deco flair and music from the 50's. They try to overwhelm diners with very fancy service, attempting to match the look and feel of the room. The waiters and captains laboriously recite speeches that someone has carefully written about the various dishes they are preparing tableside. The bottom line is that the appetizers (goat cheese soufflé) and the desserts, crepes, chocolate soufflé etc. are great and the entrees weren't as good as in the Trellis dining room.

Two of us ordered steaks and had to send them back. We were informed later that they never should have served those steaks and that the butcher dept. was at fault. They eventually found us better ones. The first ones were really tough and impossible to eat. They do Zabligione tableside and the waiter stirs up the mix to consistency banging a spoon on the metal pan as he does it and it takes 10 minutes of hearing the click of the spoon against the pan. Then the process starts up at another table. Yikes!

I know some folks have never experienced fancy tableside food preparation but the SS United States is not the place to start. The waiters have a great attitude but are poorly rehearsed and don't have enough background in the food they are preparing; they just keep parroting the speech they have learned by rote while they prepare the food. They also want to simultaneously serve all the food in synch so if one thing is ready a waiter just stands there letting part of the order get cold while waiting for the other food to arrive so everything can be placed on the table at in synch. Sort of like watching a 3 stooges comedy while your food gets cold.

The SS United States needs less wait staff with more fine dining experience. One of our party asked for some crackers with the soup course and it totally threw the servers. We got the crackers eventually but it took a lot of patience waiting for them to fit delivering crackers into their tightly scripted dinner service. When you make the reservation they tell you to allow 2 1/2 hours for the meal. It's a long 2 1/2 hours. Save your $25.00 per person.

There is the Oceanview Cafe, starboard, aft of the buffet with a glorious ocean vista. It's open for dinner with a few simple, perfectly grilled items, chicken, fish, steak, etc. and a $2.00 per person gratuity charge.

Well worth the 2 bucks to eat on deck or inside, in the twilight, without having to wear long pants. Reservations need to be made with your Asst. Maitre d' or by phone during certain hours. It was much better than the SS United States. During the day the Oceanview buffet has a theme lunch available; European, Italian, Mexican, Asian etc. depending on the day of the week. It looks like Mexican or Asian or whatever food and there is plenty but it still has a certain institutional sameness.

Celebrity doesn't stint on places to eat... there's the Breezes grill with burgers, dogs, veggie burgers and pizza, next to the pool, the Oceanview Grill all the way aft of the Oceanview Cafe serving soup, salad and sandwiches; the Cova Cafe with a European type breakfast & our favorite place for eating healthily, the Aqua Spa cafe. Love that Aqua Spa!

The Aqua Spa was the place we went to eat at least one healthy, heart smart meal per day. A great example of spa cuisine. Not a groaning board like the buffet, just a great selection of healthy snacks, salads, soups and entrees.

The only place I ever saw the ship's officers was at the Cova... the rest of the time they are invisible except for the obligatory Captain's party. There is Sushi at the buffet in the evenings but no other Asian food except for one day at the buffet, in a theme lunch. There is also free ice cream served all afternoon, and pizza and a baked pasta dish are also available until 1AM. They have simple, acceptable, red sauce mostly, banquet level pasta station at the Oceanview Cafe. We would always check what Horace the starboard side pasta chef was making every day before we made a decision on what to eat when we chose the buffet for lunch.

There are a couple of omelet stations for breakfast and when we went to the buffet we liked to go to Anthony from Jamaica's station... he cheerfully made a great omelet every time.

Ruby our waiter said not to miss this buffet and we stayed up for it and stood in long lines to photograph the buffet and were then sent to the back of other long lines in order to actually eat. We skipped the food; we couldn't handle another long line at 30 minutes after midnight. We were PO'd. We wanted some of that good looking buffet. The worst part was that if we had gotten there later we would have been at the head of the food line; instead we ended up in the photography line which put us at the end of the food line. Penalized for arriving early.

The Grand Buffet could replace one evening meal in the Main room; that way everyone can enjoy it. Considering the age demographic of this cruise we'd like the buffets to be day and early evening events. The Grand Buffet and a couple more were held near midnight. I preferred the way Crystal did it during the day with all kinds of well prepared special buffets. Crystal also closes other dining venues during these spectacular buffets, giving some of the hard working staff time off. I recognize the fact that some of the serving staff has to work the buffet but many of them could be off.

It's not high tea on Celebrity. The afternoon tea on the Infinity is rather pedestrian. No scones except on the day they have the tea in the Trellis dining room and they taste more like Irish soda biscuits than scones, and the whipped cream is thin and doesn't stand up well. The rest of the time, tea is held in the buffet area with tea and bite sized desserts.

The "Infinity Daily" lists dining venues, events and shows, but only on a daily basis. They should do a weekly sheet outlining the dress code for each evening along with the entertainment lineup and the special buffets. It would be helpful in planning your dining room alternatives and entertainment in advance without waiting for the paper each day.

I know that some folks love to dress up, and I can stand one formal night, but 3 in 10 days? It's like kids playing dress up. Same with informal...why should we have to wear a sport coat for 5 evenings on a Hawaiian vacation? Tasteful cruise or country club casual should be the norm in the dining room and there should be one shorts night in the dining room, in my opinion. Tasteful cruise casual is becoming the norm on some of the smaller, upscale ships. Celebrity also forces you to keep your formal or informal clothes on in order to be admitted to the shows. Thumbs down on that. It's supposed to be a vacation. The age demographic is changing to a younger crowd and Celebrity needs a more contemporary approach.

Lovely facility with modern equipment... all the goodies. State of the art. The treadmills have the best views of the ship cutting through the sea. The recumbent exercise bikes are off in a narrow aisle where the lights in the low ceiling are so close that you heat up immediately using 3 of the 4recumbent bikes.

I always went early in the AM to get my pick of the bikes and to avoid having a mini flood light over my head as I exercised. There were no disinfectant or throwaway wipes available in the gym to clean the equipment before using it as there was on the Mercury. A lot of folks use this equipment, and Celebrity needs to keep something handy so passengers can clean off the machines before each use. And after, even. They had us fill out a SARs questionnaire but had no disinfectant in the Gym. Go figure.

The other reason to get up and get fitness out of the way early is the booming music that accompanies classes held in the same room that the exercise equipment is in.

We enjoyed the comedy magician, Carl Andrews, whom we saw on the Mercury... he did all different material and we truly enjoyed his unique act. We used to relax in the Rendez-Vous lounge before dinner watching the dancers twirling to the music of the Atlantic duo; a couple of wild & crazy guys from somewhere in eastern Europe playing everything from the Beatles to Swing era favorites. They each sang, harmonized, & they played 3 or 4 different instruments. Jason Richards held forth in Michael's Piano Club and guitarist Deak Dietrich could be found in the Ocean View bar aft.

We weren't much interested in the production shows... the singers and dancers worked very hard and the 8 piece Celebrity orchestra was good but the shows tried to do too much of too many things while changing clothes a lot. The sound system in the Celebrity theater was always too loud; the sound guy was also running the light cues instead of just being able to mix the sound.

We enjoyed it when the Celebrity orchestra played for dancing or when the cruise director did one of his numbers. Hell of a band. A line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid comes to mind, "These guys are good..."

Don Fluke was the best Cruise Director we have ever sailed with. He managed to be low key and upbeat at the same time. He kept it simple, short and very pleasant. We are not big on the activities, but Don's demeanor caused us to attend more organized events that we would normally. We won the movie trivia contest and the prizes were Celebrity travel alarm clocks, not the usual T shirts or ball pens. He came on one evening to introduce one of the headliners and performed a show stopping number (the Joel Grey part) from the musical Cabaret with and without a German accent. Fantastic! We always watch the video of the disembarkation info and he said it all quickly and easily. Kudos to him and his hardworking, equally low key but always positive staff. We're hoping to take a 20 plus day cruise in the next year or so and we would hope for a Cruise Director like him.

It's one of our favorite shipboard places... there are fiction and non fiction books on 2 decks presided over by Andrea who is a knowledgeable librarian. All kinds of books thoughtfully selected, from cheap popular fiction to interesting scholarly stuff. A quiet and peaceful place to relax and read. Far superior in space, ambience and selection to the older Mercury.

is getting more difficult what with a lot of tendering coupled with doubled security that we experienced in the Hawaiian islands. When you return to the pier to board the ship or to board the tender to the ship in Hawaii, there is an additional security setup on the pier to clear you before you go to the ship and present yourself to Celebrity security for another clearance. This is on the pier before you return to the ship, where you have to repeat the same process again almost immediately. This is the first time we have experienced the doubling of the security process at any ports.

Federal law requires Celebrity to check you with their security troops; by law they can't accept the fact you have cleared pier security and pier security refuses to accept Celebrity's clearance process. They want to do their own.

A knowledgeable merchant selling at the pier said that the double security is to keep the Hawaiian security people employed and that is why the pier won't accept only Celebrity security clearing passengers. It makes you think twice before venturing off the ship again for more shopping after lunch and a nap. Passengers coming back to the ship in waves have to wait in pier security lines, where they have to place all of their shore bought goodies on the conveyor to the X-Ray machine and pass themselves through a metal detector, empty their pockets again etc. and then repeat the process moments later when they reboard the ship. Aargh!

Docked at Nawiliwili... No tendering... many free shuttles to shopping... a beautiful ocean front Marriott hotel with a nice beach we were allowed to use... a pleasant afternoon with a light tropical breeze... wandered the huge semi open air public rooms of the hotel, admiring the sculpture, art & landscaping etc... photographed a beautiful koi pond & bought some Hawaiian slack key guitar CD's to get into the island groove.

We tendered to shore and checked out the huge open air market happening under the giant banyan tree situated in the center of town. Beautiful place. Extremely hot and humid.

There are two ports on the Big Island. Hilo is a more industrial port. We shuttled to Hilo Hattie's and bought some island wear and then wandered across the street to Wal-Mart where they had the best souvenirs with the lowest prices. And gorgeous all-cotton Hawaiian print fabrics, very well-priced. My wife bought all that was left of a couple of them and is trying to get more.

We took a glass bottom boat excursion at $25 per head. It was a total rip off. Nice little boat out to see a denuded, dead and almost fishless reef. There was nothing to see. Celebrity shouldn't offer tours that don't deliver.

We tip early in the week to insure better service. Celebrity has the cabin attendant leave the tip envelopes in your cabin wrapped in a band with the suggested tipping "guidelines" listed. They have added envelopes for a 75 cents per person per day for the asst. maitre d' and 50 cents a day for the chief housekeeper into the usual tipping mix. I think that's cutting it a bit fine. We always take care of the asst. maitre d' in our dining area when he deserves it, and the chief housekeeper's tip should be folded into the cabin attendant tip. Vacationing passengers shouldn't be asked to divide up and parcel out the tokes. Staff involved should be responsible. It they need to raise the cabin steward's daily tip amount in order to accommodate the chief housekeeper, so be it.

Celebrity seems to be trying to shame the less traveled passengers into this multi envelope system in order to keep their employees happy and to not effect Celebrity's bottom line.

The wait staff, buffet serving line and service personnel are obviously tired. There is no day off for them; a half day once in a while at best. Some of them working the cafes during the day are almost zombie like. They are fried. Close that dining room one day a week or combine other venues and buffets so that the troops can refresh themselves a bit. They never stop smiling though, because in the world they come from these are very good jobs that allow them to save money to buy a house etc. To me it smacks of indentured servitude.

Management style seems to turn out all of the troops all of the time so they can make sure that everything is covered even when the venue is not full of passengers needing service. Rotating the closing of the dining venues would allow time off and give the passengers something different. I don't know how many cruisers notice the crew but we've spent our  working lives scheduling motion picture and TV production crews and we know from our own personal experience how grueling weeks are with no days off.

These nice crewpersons are tired and it shows. Crystal manages to rotate the troops better but Crystal is also in my opinion the best managed cruise line. 

We think we have found a cruise home with Celebrity. We had a nice cruise. We particularly enjoyed the high speed run between Hawaii and Vancouver. The cruises for us are about the voyages and the ability to relax and wind down. Celebrity fits the bill better than most in this price range. The Infinity was a great cruise vacation. The Aqua Spa grill was a real treat. I'm resigning myself to the fact that it's banquet food in the dining room because of the reality of serving eight or nine thousand meals a day. Celebrity is better than most Las Vegas hotels in the food area. We thought the internet service was a rip off price wise and we miss the washer/dryer rooms available on Crystal, HAL etc. We also want more TV choices when the ship is in satellite or antenna range; it's easy to do in this modern world. We loved the library and the lounge entertainment a lot. We missed having a protected promenade deck where you can keep walking round and round and then plop in a nice lounge chair when the mood strikes you, away from the hurly burly of the well attended, organized hi jinks on the pool decks. The little jogging track on the top of the ship is not long enough and too windswept when the ship is making 23 knots and sun swept when in port.

We are looking forward to our next cruise sailing from Anchorage to Vancouver on the brand new Island Princess on Sept. 13th. We have the good fortune to live directly across Burrard inlet from Canada Place where we see all the ships coming and going in the summer. We watched the Island Princess sail in under Lion's Gate Bridge and dock at Canada Place here in Vancouver a month ago for her christening ceremony and it's a majestic ship. We can't wait.

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