This was only the second cruise we had taken, the first being a week long trip from Los Angeles down south to the ‘Mexican Riviera’, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. That cruise, ten years ago, was on the Carnival Lines ” Elation”. The ship this time, the Celebrity ” Infinity” was somewhat larger but life on board was much the same.The “Infinity” is one of the newer ships afloat , having been built in 2001 , and the passengers were a different lot than we had encountered on the cruise to Mexico. They were decidedly older and more serious as was only to be expected on a cruise to Alaska rather than to sunny Mexico.There were some other differences that we noticed too.
Food and drink: An overabundance of food is one of the hallmarks of a cruise and on the “Infinity” , the food was as plentiful as ever. We noticed , however, that the portion sizes at the sitdown dinners were smaller than we remembered. A good thing because previously they were too large and resulted in a lot of waste. Those diners who wanted more, and there were a few of them , could order seconds or more than one appetizer / dessert / entree if they so desired. Generally, most passengers went to one of the many buffets for breakfast and lunch but met at night for a sitdown dinner. There was plenty of choice at the buffets. For instance, there were five or six breakfast buffet stations including an Asian one ( congee w/ different toppings and Asian -inspired vegetable selections ) , an Omlette stand where omlettes were made to order, an American style breakfast buffet with scrambled eggs, bacon , ham, potatoes , breads etc, an English breakfast station with bangers and mash and thick cut English bacon, and yet another station with croissants, brioches, bagels and other assorted breads.I enjoyed them all , particularly the bangers and mash w/ rashers of bacon , the omlettes made to order, the congee and the brioches, the King of Breads which one rarely comes across in the U.S. Lunch was similarly eclectic with pizzas, salads, a pasta bar, cold cuts and a selection of vegetarian and meat entrees. The pizza was surprisingly good , with a thin crisp crust and a wide choice of toppings.Dinners featured a choice of four entrees and a similar number of appetizers , salads and desserts. One afternoon brunch featured all kinds of fish and cold cuts and Alaskan King crab legs and it was a little off-putting to see many passengers loading their plates with the crab legs to the exclusion of everything else. Can anyone really enjoy gorging on food in that fashion ? I couldn’t help noticing the number of grotesquely obese people , at least a dozen of them on motorized wheelchairs, and they were not shy about loading up their plates. The cruise director joked on the last evening that the Seattle airport authorities had informed him that they would not be weighing luggage but that they would be weighing the passengers.
No matter how good the food is ,no matter how much variety there is one gets tired of eating at the same place all the time. After awhile one gets tired of the roast beef, the steaks, the halibut and the prime rib, delicious though they are.And so it was with us. About the fifth day out we craved something else and so we asked for some of the Indian food that the crew ate ( There were a large number of Goans , Indians from Goa, among the cabin crew). It was a nice change from the regular menu, good though it was. A word to Asian Indians who are contemplating going on a cruise: if Indian vegetarian food is a must for you, you are better off going on a Masala cruise which will cater to your tastes. It is unrealistic to expect a similar amount of choice on a regular cruise.
Passengers are not allowed to get their own liquor onboard though beer, wine and any type of hard liquor you desire may be ordered from the ubiquitous waiters who are always hovering around. If you insist on getting your own wine on board, there is a prohibitive corkage fee of $ 25 / bottle. I had thought on our earlier cruise that this yet one more way of extracting cash from passengers by forcing them to order single drinks aboard. Maybe so, but I think an even greater consideration is to avoid drunkenness on board. It is difficult to get drunk when a drink sets you back $5- $8 + a 15% gratuity.
Entertainment and activities: There was a whole slew of shows and activities to keep passengers entertained during the cruise and there was something for every taste.As far as shows went we attended a Las Vegas style song-and-dance review, as good as anything in Vegas though on a much smaller scale, and a magic / stand-up comedy double feature ( the comedian was very good , the magician ordinary). However the best time we had was at a series of nature talks given by the onboard naturalist, Brent Nixon. Not expecting very much, I missed the first talk in the series, on ” Golden Eagles ” . Those who did catch it were so full of praise that I made it a point to attend the other two lectures, on ” Killer Whales ( Orcas) ” and ” Seals , Sea Lions and Walruses”. Mr. Nixon, a former U.S. Army Ranger before he became a naturalist, illustrated his slides by mimiciking the actions of the animals he was describing. He undulated across the stage on his belly to show how seals move and he flopped, he barked , he grunted as he shared his vast knowledge of animal lore. He was both informative and enthralling as for instance he described what seal milk tastes like. (Not at all like milk; more like a concentrated fish extract because it has to resemble the food a baby seal will eat after it is weaned). Didn’t know that, did you ? If you are ever on a ship where one of Brent Nixon’s talks is scheduled , don’t miss it !
Every afternoon and evening there was one dance band or another providing music that passengers could dance to. Besides this there were contests of many kinds ( beanbag throwing, trivia , Who wants to be a millionaire , cooking contests etc. etc). There were classes in painting, beadwork , flower arranging, cooking , wine tasting, and God knows what else. There were also tours of the ships galley ( or kitchens) where one got some idea of how the complement of 129 cooks and helpers managed to turn out 9,000 meals a day.There was also a cardroom where guests could meet and play backgammon, pinochle, gin rummy or solitaire. ( Unfortunately,and surprisingly, we were unable to find another pair to play bridge with us.) For those interested in reading, there was a 2,000 volume library that, with its cosy atmosphere and its deep cushioned chairs, was ideal for reading. I managed to finish Stieg Larsson’s Scandinavian mystery, ” The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, a magnificent book with a most unusual heroine , a self taught computer hacker cum martial artist. It’s the middle book of a trilogy and I’m now reading its companion volumes.
The one thing the ship did not have was good satellite reception and hence TV. Not that one wants to be glued to a TV set on a cruise but it would have been nice to watch the Laker games.The only things to be seen on TV were CNN, ESPN and a mix of cable channels , all only occasionally. What was available round the clock was a shipboard channel incessantly going on about , shopping, touting land excursions that passengers could sign up for and giving a rundown of onboard programs for the day. I could have done without it , espescially since it came on as soon as the TV was switched on before one could go to the sports or news channel.
The best part of a cruise is sitting on the cabin’s balcony or on the upper deck and just looking out at the sea in all its moods. I particularly enjoyed seeing the ship enter a new port. The first glimpse of the buildings ashore, the warehouses , the jetty ,the ships already in port, feeling the speed gradually decrease to almost nothing , admiring as the captain and pilot slowly inch the giant liner into its berth with deft manipulations of the powerful bow thrusters… these are things that I could never tire of.Watching the ship’s propellors churn the sea into a frothy wake , marvelling at the vast expanse of the sea , drinking in the beauty of the snow clad peaks on either side , standing on the upper deck near the bow as the ship picked i s way among the floating ice of Tracy Arm Fjord are the lasting memories I will have of our Alaska cruise.