Vancouver to San Francisco on the Celebrity Infinity
8/28/05 to 9/2/05
Ports of Call: Vancouver, British Columbia; Nanaimo, British Columbia; Victoria, British Columbia; Astoria, Oregon; San Francisco, California
We have always wanted to visit British Columbia, particularly Vancouver and Victoria. We presumed that we would get to this part of the world when we did an Alaskan cruise. However, we also decided to wait to visit Alaska until we could spend enough time to do a nice land tour at the same time. Last March, we stumbled upon this short six day repositioning cruise on the Celebrity Infinity. The price was reasonable, we wanted to take another cruise on Celebrity, and this itinerary would give Carol and me a chance to return to San Francisco, the city where we honeymooned sixteen years ago. It was an easy sale for our TA.
Once again, we had a very active Cruise Critic Roll Call thread www.cruisecritic.com; and before we sailed, there were 52 very chatty and fun people that we were talking to regularly on the boards. We couldn’t wait to meet our new friends. My very organized wife again put together a very thorough package for all of our cruise mates that contained pictures and info about each of us and which would allow us to know how to get in touch with everyone and to recognize each other on the ship. We had arranged a pre-cruise meeting the night before embarkation at the Sheraton Wall Centre hotel where several of us were staying. Twenty-three of our group showed up and finally got to meet each other in person. This was the first of many fun evenings we shared with each other, and we hope that it will develop into long term friendships. In fact, we are already tossing around the idea of a reunion cruise in a year or so.
It is a good thing we had planned on going early and spending a 3 day pre-cruise visit in beautiful Vancouver. Our flight left at 7:00 AM on Thursday, Aug. 25 -- the day Hurricane Katrina hit South Florida. Thankfully we were able to fly out of town prior to its arrival. At that time we did not realize that Katrina would soon become the focus of our attention for the entire vacation. We have two sons who live in the New Orleans area and countless other relatives in the vicinity. We spent a lot of time watching CNN in our cabin and made lots of phone calls to make sure everyone was safe. Once we knew that everyone was safe and sound, we could enjoy the cruise a lot more; but we still spent too much time watching CNN. Fortunately, everyone has now relocated their families to other areas.
We had booked the outgoing airline flight to Vancouver connecting through Salt Lake City. We had been a little concerned due to there only being 50 minutes between the connections. As we got closer to Salt Lake City, we were pleased to find out that the flight was going to arrive early. We breathed a lot easier. We landed 20 minutes early, only to sit on the tarmac and wait for the gate to clear. Apparently the flight leaving was having some mechanical problems. After 30 minutes, we finally got to the gate. Since the gates were close, the 40 minutes left between flights worked out fine, but was a little too hurried for our taste.
Based on recommendations from our Cruise Critic friends, we took a cab from the airport to the Sheraton Wall Centre. As we had read on the boards, it cost around $30 Canadian. A bargain indeed! By using information I learned on www.biddingfortravel.com, I was able to get rooms in the very nice Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel www.sheratonwallcentre.com/ for only $94 per night through Hotwire.
Carol had requested a room in the North Tower, and we were pleasantly surprised to get a lovely room on the 26th floor with an incredible view of this beautiful city. I would highly recommend this hotel. The room was large and very comfortable, especially the bed. The service was exceptional and the people were just very friendly. But then again, most of the people we met in Vancouver were friendly.
While Carol was unpacking and setting up her nest, I took my first walk around this lovely city and started taking photos with my new Cannon Rebel XT camera I had gotten just before we left.
I found that the hotel has a Starbucks in the lower level and there is a Great Canadian Bagel restaurant right across the street. Those two places covered our breakfast needs for the trip. I took a short walk over to Robson Street to see what it was all about. There were lots of restaurants, but not too many stores that were of interest to me. I was able to find my first souvenir picture book of the Vancouver area.
A co-worker of mine has family that lives in Vancouver, and he had arranged for them to take us to dinner at the Seasons Restaurant on top of Little Mt. in Queen Elizabeth Park www.vancouverdine.com/seasons/home.html. We had a delightful dinner getting to know our new friends.
The food was outstanding, the service exceptional and the view from one of the highest points in the city was phenomenal. By the way, in 1993 Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin ate there during the Vancouver Summit.
The gardens in the park surrounding the restaurant alone make the trip to the restaurant worthwhile. Needless to say we were very impressed with the park, the restaurant and especially our hosts. After dinner we were driven around to see some of the lovely areas of the city. The highlight was a drive over the Lion’s Gate Bridge to the road that goes to the Cypress Bowl ski resort. We stopped at a scenic lookout and saw the glittering lights of the city of Vancouver. A great ending to a lovely evening.
For our first full day in Vancouver we had decided to do the Vancouver Trolley hop on-off bus www.vancouvertrolley.com/. Before the cruise we had read on their website and had confirmed on the CC boards that you could only go around on the trolley one time. We were very pleasantly surprised to find out that for $30 Canadian each, we would not only be able to use the bus for two full days, but could go around as many times as we wanted to. Apparently competition from The Big Bus Company that recently started in Vancouver was forcing the Trolley to be more competitive. The live narration and the old trolley style buses were a nice way to see and hear about the city. The windows are large and you can easily see out of both sides with no problem. Be sure to get the free coupon book from the driver. There are several coupons that will save you on entry fees.
Our first destination was Granville Island. It is the most popular tourist spot in the city. Our first stop there was at Sutcliffe Park at the entrance of Granville Island. It was particularly important for us to stop there since it was named after the late husband of our dinner hostess from the previous evening. Mr. Sutcliffe was instrumental in turning the former industrial area into a beautiful tourist destination. It is the only park in Vancouver that has ever been named for a living person. Quite an honor!
The island has an endless assortment of shops and restaurants as well as an awesome market. Lots of yummy delights. The shops had a lot of unique items that were very tempting, but we controlled ourselves.
We stopped at the Sandbar restaurant for lunch, which was supposed to be very good. We weren’t very hungry due to our sampling at the market and only ordered some clam chowder. Since the restaurant had just opened when we got there, the chowder wasn’t very hot and it wasn’t of the style that we cared too much for. However, we had a table upstairs on the corner of the outside balcony with an outstanding view of the harbor, which made the visit quite worthwhile. I would definitely try this restaurant again, since other folks’ meals looked quite nice.
View from restaurant
We got back on the trolley and headed for Chinatown. Our destination there was to visit the Dr. SunYat-Sen Park. It is a Ming style garden and pond surrounded by lovely oriental architecture. It was an interesting stop, but we prefer gardens with lots of color. Those would come later when we went to Buchart!
The next stop was in Gastown, the original center of Vancouver. We really enjoyed this stop, lots of nice shops and hanging pots with colorful flowers everywhere.
The main attraction is the steam clock which whistles every 15 minutes. The first time we heard it was at 2:00, when it plays the full series. It caught Carol by surprise and made her jump. She wasn’t expecting it to be so loud. You can hear it far down the block. We were hoping to come back to Gastown the following day but unfortunately ran out of time.
Steam Clock Gassy Jack
Before going back to the hotel, we stopped at Canada Place to see what it was all about. We walked all around the outside deck and got to see the Summit and Statendam. It was a nice walk with lovely views, but there wasn’t anything to do on that level. The only shopping appeared to be in the Pan Pacific Hotel, which we didn’t have time to go into. After all the walking of the day we were anxious to get back to the hotel and rest a little before heading for dinner.
We asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation, and we were told to try the Savory Coast Restaurant on Robson St. www.savorycoast.ca. Since it was a Friday night, I was concerned that it might be crowded. We went there early at around 6:30 and there weren’t a lot of people there when we arrived. It is considered a West Coast Italian restaurant and the food was quite good. We had excellent service and the setting was quite nice out on the patio. After dinner we walked around Robson Street for a while and then headed back to the hotel. I was really amazed at how many people were out and about in Vancouver, even late into the evening on the nights we were out late.
We woke up early on Saturday morning in anticipation of our Beluga Whale Encounter. We had pre-booked this unique experience online through the Vancouver Aquarium www.vanaqua.org/experience/activities/animal-encounters/beluga-encounters.
On previous cruises we swam with stingrays, had dolphin encounters, and swam with sharks. We had never thought that we would ever have an opportunity to actually interact with a whale, so when we read about this program on the Cruise Critic Boards we jumped on the chance to do it. There are only 4 people at a time allowed to do the encounter. Since the encounter is only offered twice a day, we were very fortunate to be able to do this, especially on a Saturday.
We got to share this experience with Canadians Lorrie and Tammy. Before we got to meet the Belugas we had a half hour classroom session in a very small room telling us about whales; as well as what we would need to know for the encounter. After the class, we suited up in waterproof outfits and went to the kitchens where we sorted and weighed the food for the Belugas.
Then we walked up to ground level. We really looked strange in our outfits and were getting lots of stares. We took a short walk and entered into the side of the Beluga stadium. There were lots of folks watching the whales interact with the trainers, so most folks weren’t paying too much attention to us. Once it was our turn to perform we were center stage having the Belugas perform for us with the hand signals we had been taught and giving them rewards of fish and squid. On signal, she even sprayed us with very cold water.
The best part was getting to rub their very soft skin while they relaxed and enjoyed the gentle petting. Being so close to these huge, beautiful whales and being able to look into their large gentle eyes while interacting was an unforgettable experience.
While doing the encounter, the trainer that had shown us what to do was taking lots of digital pictures. After the encounter she brought us drinks and took down our mailing addresses, so that she could send each of us a CD with the pictures of the day’s activities and other info about whales.
After the encounter, we walked around the fantastic aquarium taking in all of their exhibits. We even watched the next Beluga show so that we could see what it was like from an audience’s perspective. Carol really liked the otters. They were so cute floating on their backs. There is a huge tank that has all sorts of marine life in it, and you can go downstairs and look underwater at everything up close.
When we had worn ourselves out, we walked down to the free Stanley Park Trolley to take a tour of the park. The 1,000 acre park is one of the largest in the world.
It is an outstanding park and something that would be so wonderful to be able to live near. There are so many outdoor activities that can be done there; and due to its large size, you feel like you are way out in the country.
Its location at the tip of Vancouver stretching into the deep blue waters of Burrad Inlet, makes it a great place to cycle, walk or just sit around and take in the natural beauty. The full trip around the park on the trolley took 45 minutes. With it being Saturday, it was very crowded, but still a great way to get a nice overview.
Statue of Girl in a Wetsuit
Since we had spent so much more time at the aquarium and park than we had planned, we didn’t have time to go back to Gastown, like we had wanted. Knowing what I know now, we should have just taken a cab back to the hotel rather than getting on the Vancouver Trolley with our two day pass. Due to the route the trolley takes, we had to go around almost the full circuit to get back to the hotel, which took well over an hour. It was nice to get the full tour of the city; but we were anxious to get back to the hotel and get ready for the first meeting of the Martini Mates, the name we gave our Cruise Critic group.
We had arranged to meet all of our Martini Mates at 5:30 at the Wall Centre lounge. We had 21 people that said they would try to come. We had a couple of folks that didn’t make it and some that we hadn’t expected, so we ended up with a large jovial group of 23. It was so much fun to finally shake hands and hug those fine folks that we had been communicating with for up to 6 months. It was very apparent that this was going to be a great group of fun loving folks to share this short cruise with.
Joel and Marj Carol Jim
Andrew Kathy Terry and Peter
After the meeting we headed over to Cin Cin Restaurant www.cincin.net with Jim, Kathleen, Rita and Dru. Jim had made reservations for this very popular restaurant several weeks earlier, since he knew we would never get in without them. The food and service were outstanding as was the company.
We woke up Sunday morning anxious to board the Infinity. For the first time since we had arrived in Vancouver, the weather was cloudy with a misty rain. As long as we didn’t get rained on while boarding the ship and the luggage didn’t get wet, I wasn’t too concerned about the weather. I was more concerned about having sunny days in the lovely ports we hadn’t seen yet. After a quick breakfast at the bagel shop, we got the final packing done. We headed for Canada Place around 10:30. We were anxious. There had been no reason to worry about the rain, since the short cab ride (less than $10) went into the basement of Canada Place. We would have kept dry even if we had gotten on the ship during a downpour. Canada Place is set up to make embarkation quite easy, and this was definitely one of our easiest embarkations ever.
After a short wait for boarding to begin, shortly after 11:00 we were allowed to go through security and head for the check in counters. This is the first port we have been to where you go through security before you check in. Different, but it seemed to work well. The check in was very quick and we were on the ship by 11:15. We were told that the cabins wouldn’t be ready till 1:00, so we dropped off our carry on bag in our cabin and walked around the ship a bit. As we always do when we first board, we checked out the location of our dining room table. It couldn’t have been better. We were right next to the large window at the rear of the ship, a couple of tables down from the Captain’s Table.
While Carol waited for the luggage, I did my usual picture taking expedition around the ship to get shots before the ship filled up with people. It was nice to be able to walk around the upper decks and look down on Canada Place. It is a lovely facility and the views are great.
At 4:45 we went down to the muster drill. As we filed outside to go to the lifeboat stations, the rain started coming down. The outside portion of the muster drill was cancelled, and everyone headed back to their cabins. This worked out well since we were anxious to get down to the Martini Bar, our Martini Mates’ official meeting place.
We had decided to meet at 5:30 before the main seating as well as around 8:00, just before the second seating. The intention of the second meeting was to give the second seating folks reviews on what to order at dinner. Of course the Martini Bar also turned out to be a good meeting place after the second seating.
I normally don’t drink alcoholic beverages much other than when I am on cruises. With everyone meeting at the Martini Bar all the time, we set a new record bar bill for a cruise and this trip was a short one!
The glasses on the tables, testify to where "Martini Mates" came from.
The Infinity is a 91,000 ton ship built in 2001 with a 1,950 passenger capacity. We really like this size ship. It seems to be just big enough to have all the facilities you get with a larger ship; but small enough to where you don’t feel like you are in a huge crowd all the time.
It also has an elegant feel to it with the rich appointments, lovely flowers all over, tasteful artwork and comfortable furniture throughout the public rooms. It has three elevator banks and stairwells spaced out so you could always get to another deck with ease.
The Trellis Restaurant, with its large windows covering the back side of the ship, is a beautiful room and probably the nicest on the ship.
The Oceanview Buffet has plenty of seating and is well laid out providing various stations serving different fare. I prefer Royal Caribbean’s separate station layout, which allows for much faster access because you don’t have to wait in a long line at the main stations.
I particularly liked the conference area on this ship. It is located on deck 3 in a quiet area with very comfortable and spacious rooms. We got a lot of use out of the Beta Room where Carol attended a Photoshop class, and I spent a lot of time downloading pictures to view on the computers and backup onto CDs. This was very helpful since the TVs in the cabins did not have video inputs to allow us to view our photos.
The best part about the ship was the great staff. Everyone was very friendly and really appeared to be happy in their jobs. Folks couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. Celebrity has trained them well.
Our Cabin, 7187, was a Concierge Class cabin on the port side of the Vista Deck. The 191 sq. ft. cabin with a 41 sq. ft. balcony provided adequate space to spread out as well as store our belongings.
The Concierge Class features were a nice touch, and we slept very well on the CC bedding. The bathroom was larger than we had expected and very functional. The cabin had a small refrigerator which we put to good use. I was particularly pleased with the large sofa. We normally have a mini sofa, but this one was roomy and comfy. It was actually a pull out bed, but of course we didn’t need to use it as such.
Our cabin steward was very pleasant, always smiling. He kept the room in great shape and kept us supplied with plenty of ice. These guys, like the food service staff, have very demanding jobs and have to work long hours. Our guy had 18 cabins to tend. I am always amazed at their great attitudes.
In the Trellis Restaurant, we had a table for eight. Our tablemates were Dave and Patty, Monica and Neal, and Bonnie and Becky, a mother and daughter. Every night we had enjoyable discussions with lots of laughs. It was a good group.
Dave and Patty Monica and Neil
Bonnie and Becky Mike and Carol
We had been anxious to see how Celebrity’s food was compared to our memories from several years ago. We remembered it as outstanding, but reality sometimes isn’t always quite the way we remembered. Since we had also heard that Celebrity’s food, like other lines, had gone down in quality, we were expecting to be somewhat disappointed. Well, I am glad we had mellowed our expectations because it wasn’t as good as we had previously experienced. However, I still believe Celebrity’s overall food selection, quality, preparation and presentation, for the most part, are slightly better than most of the other lines we have cruised on.
Their red meat dishes were quite good as were the vegetables. I was especially pleased with the variety of vegetables offered. Our most recent cruises have been on RCCL, and they seem to have the same vegetables and potatoes prepared the same way many nights. The Celebrity salads were very nice, and we particularly fell in love with the Goombay Dressing. We need to find the recipe since it is quite habit forming. We also found the appetizers to be quite good.
Our major disappoints were in the soup and dessert courses. For the most part, the soups tasted OK, but they were very thin almost watery. Since I am on vacation when on a cruise, I am not on a diet while on the ship like I am most of the time. Therefore, at dinner I look forward to the desserts and will normally get two, since it is so hard to pick only one of the great selection cruises normally have. Not so on this cruise. The dessert selection wasn’t too great, and they weren’t something that I just “had to” finish. Disappointing, but it did keep me from gaining as much weight as I normally do on a cruise. (Link to the menus at the end of review.)
We also found that the wait staff had too many tables and had difficulty getting everything done as quickly as we are used to. They were very friendly and tried very hard, but what appeared to be too many customers to handle showed. We thoroughly enjoyed our wait staff and felt sorry for their work load.
We also spent one of our evenings in the SS United States Restaurant. Now this was a wonderful dining experience.
The food and service were very good and well worth the $30 up charge. The restaurant itself just feels classy, and it was a pleasure to spend time dining with the harpist playing quietly in the background.
Based on recommendations from our Martini Mates, we both ordered the Goat Cheese Soufflé. They were right! It is a “must order” item, outstanding.
We also both ordered the Tenderloin Steak Diane. I don’t think I have ever had a more tender steak. It was also outstanding.
The cheese course was a unique experience. Fortunately the waiter was able to help us pick out a good selection.
For dessert, Mike had the delicious Waldorf Pudding; and Carol chose the Michel Roux's Favorite Bite-Size Surprise Desserts.
Most of our meals were in the buffet for breakfast and lunch due to our active excursion schedule. The food was fine but there didn’t seem to be as large a selection of food items as we have had on other cruises; but it was quite adequate. We did find the wait staff in the buffet area to be extremely anxious to help by getting anything we wanted and they were always smiling.
We had two formal nights, a semi-formal night and three casual nights. I was really surprised to see so few men wearing tuxedos on formal nights since Celebrity is supposed to be a more formal line. There also seemed to be less fancy formal attire being worn by the women; but the Martini Mates came through and looked classy.
Dan and Bruce Louvain and Lyle
Jim and Kathleen Carol and Mike
On this cruise our nightly get together with our Martini Mates was the main entertainment. We just enjoyed everyone so much. Our waiter Eliseo in the Martini Bar was an act himself as he shook the martinis.
Dorothy "The Straw" Mike and a Foo Foo drink
But we did manage to go to three of the six shows in the lovely Celebrity Theater. On this six night cruise, they had four production shows and two comedians. The singers, dancers and band were quite good. They must have lots of stamina to be able to handle all of the shows they have to do without any rest days in between.
We missed two of the production shows due to the show only being performed at 10:30 PM and we were just too beat to stay up for them. The musicians in the lounges and around the ship seemed to be quite talented.
Other than our embarkation port of Vancouver, we had four more ports on the cruise. We normally prefer to take private tours when we can, but a couple of the ports Nanaimo and Astoria don’t have many cruise ships stop there and there aren’t many alternatives other than the cruise line excursions.
Nanaimo, British Columbia-
This is an infrequently visited port. It was very difficult to get first hand opinions on what to see or do in this seaport that is about 80 miles north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. One of Carol’s brothers had been to a forest of tall Douglas Firs near Nanaimo called Cathedral Grove www.firstnations.de/. When we found that Cathedral Grove was on a couple of the Celebrity excursions, we were quite anxious to see the area’s natural beauty.
This was the only port where we had to tender. The process went relatively fast, and we were at the dock of this lovely little town in no time. I was really surprised how nice the dock area was. It looked like the whole chamber of commerce had come down to welcome us to their town. It was quite a nice touch. There were lots of touristy type shops and eateries along a lovely board walk. I looked forward to coming back and exploring after the excursion.
The excursion we had chosen went to both Cathedral Grove and the Coombs Country Market. In December of 1997 approximately 10% of the huge Douglas Fir trees in Cathedral Grove had blown over due to a Qualicum Gale estimated to reach 100 mph.
Still, the Grove was everything we had expected. It had huge 800 year old trees that totally shaded the floor of the forest. It is quite humbling to be among those ancient giant living objects. Many of them are covered with moss and provide a lovely pattern of green all along the paths.
I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had to move on to our second stop the Coombs Country Market. Well, this stop wasn’t that great. There were quite a few very overpriced shops and one very large market with every kind of souvenir and nick knack you could ask for. The market itself was nice; particularly the free ice cream cones we received with the coupons the bus driver gave us. The most unique thing about the market was the goats that live on the grass roof of the building. They walk around grazing on the roof all day. It is a strange site.
On the way back to the ship we got to drive through downtown Nanaimo. It is a lovely town with lots of flowers all around. I would have liked to walk around it some, but there wasn’t enough time. We were dropped off at the dock area. One of the things that Nanaimo is known for is the Nanaimo Bar. It is a delicious combination of chocolate, cocoanut and cream filling. As I walked around the interesting shops I came across an ice cream shop that had the highly sought after Nanaimo Bar. I bought one and savored every bite of this Canadian treat. Very filling and habit forming. I could get hooked on these. But I restrained myself and only had one. After walking around the harbor area, I headed back to the dock to get on the tender and return to the ship.
Victoria, British Columbia-
On Tuesday, we woke up to cloudy dark skies. Since we had had beautiful sunny days every day except for Sunday when we embarked the ship, we hoped that it would burn off. This was the day we were going to go to the world famous Butchart Gardens www.butchartgardens.com. We boarded the excursion bus and headed to the Victoria Butterfly Gardens www.butterflygardens.com.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this stop. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely facility that was like a green house that was filled with exotic plants and flowers for the butterflies.
Unfortunately there was a light rain when we entered the facility and the guide told us that the butterflies would probably not be active due to it not being sunny. He was right. There were a few butterflies fluttering around, but not what we were hoping to see.
The next stop was the highlight of this port stop, Butchart Gardens. We were hoping the sun would come out so we could see the full beauty of the gardens, plus we hadn’t brought our umbrellas, so we were concerned. To our pleasant surprise, as we got off the bus there were barrels of clear plastic umbrellas to use. This definitely cheered us up. We would have preferred sunshine, but at least we would be able to keep a little dry and be able to take pictures.
The lovely 55 acre floral extravaganza is just breathtaking. A living rainbow of flowers spread out in front of us. We could tell before we even entered the park that this was going to be a very special place.
Walking through the main entrance area, there are flowers all along the sidewalks with various displays of colorful shrubs and baskets everywhere. We headed for the renowned Sunken Gardens. You have to walk down steps about 50 ft. into this sunken area that was once a quarry. The intricate water patterns in the Ross Fountain vary and only repeat about every 45 minutes.
The pictures can give you an idea of the beauty, but pictures can’t do justice to this type of natural beauty. You really have to see it for yourself. We also saw the lovely Rose Garden and Italian Gardens along with several other displays.
On the way back to the ship, the bus gave us a tour of the City of Victoria pointing out various points of interest. When we got back to the ship, Carol went back to the cabin. However, I headed back to town on the shuttle that was operated by Gray Lines ($5.00 for a round trip). I wanted to get some pictures of the Inner Harbor area. This is where the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the provincial Parliament Building are located, along with most of the other tourist attractions. It is a drop dead gorgeous area.
I walked through the Empress, but you are only allowed to go into the shop area, which was really nice. I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to go into the Parliament, so I just took a lot of pictures. I took over 300 pictures while we were in Victoria, double my average. I sure wish it had been sunny so that the pictures of this lovely area would have looked better. You can get a taste of the beauty by going to our photo album for lots more pictures. The link is at the bottom of the review.
We decided before we left this port that we would have to come back when we do an Alaska Cruise. It really deserves a much longer visit, perhaps a pre-cruise here would allow us to really spend some quality time in what is one of the prettiest cities we have been to.
Our excursion for the next day in Astoria was scheduled for 10:00; but we had received a note in our cabin telling us to go to immigration at 10:20, since this would be our first stop back in the USA. Obviously there was a problem. We contacted the Concierge desk and they told us they would check into it. We received another note in our cabin while we were at dinner as well as a phone call correcting it to 9:20. We assumed everything was straightened out.
Astoria, Oregon -
After sailing down the coast all night, we awoke to cloudy skies on Wednesday as we approached the Oregon Coast. Entering into the harbor, I was thrilled to see the hilly shoreline dotted with a patchwork of festively painted homes and marinas overflowing with sailboats. Astoria looked promising.
Immigration planned to check the people going on ship’s excursions first. We headed down to the Rendezvous Lounge a little after 9:00 to wait to be called to go through the immigration process with our excursion group. When we were called, we headed down to the Celebrity Theater on the port side of the ship. Our first clue that there could be a problem was the long line of people waiting on the starboard side to go through immigration also. When we got to the entrance of the theater, we saw a couple of customs officers sitting at a desk talking among themselves and to the Celebrity folks. They were disagreeing on what was supposed to happen next. They finally let us begin processing. Of course, once you got to the table, it was a very fast process to get cleared to go sit in the theater to wait to be called to go on the excursion. One group was called to leave around 9:45; and then rest of us waited and waited to be called as the theater filled up with other folks waiting for their excursions to be called. People were getting antsy and frustrated since they wanted to get off the ship and start their excursion. The customs people checked all of the people on excursions before they let any of them off the ship. When we finally were allowed to leave the theater at 10:15, we had to walk to the center of the ship to disembark. The line on the starboard side of the ship to go through immigration of non-ship excursion people extended up toward the front of the ship. I don’t know when they got off. I don’t know what went wrong; but one would have to assume it was due to so few ships stopping there.
The forecast for the day was to be partly cloudy; but it turned out to be a lovely sunny day. And thank goodness it did, since there was so much more to enjoy in this quaint harbor side town then we had expected. We had booked a ship excursion called Historic Astoria & Fort Clatsop. We had originally wanted to take the full day excursion to Mt. St. Helens; but the three hour bus ride each way persuaded us to reconsider. I am so glad we did. There was no reason to drive away from Astoria; as there were many sights worth seeing there.
Once again we had a large contingent of friendly chamber of commerce type folks in costumes meeting us as we stepped on Oregon soil. They handed out informative brochures to help us to explore their city.
We got on the bus and headed for our first stop, Fort Clatsop www.nps.gov/lewi/planyourvisit/fortclatsop.htm. It is a National Historic Park at the site of the winter encampment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The small fort has been reconstructed and there is a very nice visitor center that shows a presentation on the expedition and their hardships. The fort is set up like it was in 1805-1806, with period furnishings, clothing and utensils. It is nicely done. It is also nice to take a relaxing walk through the forest down to the canoe landing area.
After about an hour there we boarded the bus to take a scenic drive through the city to the Astoria Column http://astoriacolumn.org/.
The scenic drive up the steep roads climbing up to the column allowed us to go past lovely old Victorian style homes. The driver went down several side streets to show off the architecture that the city is so proud of. When we were about halfway up the hill, to our amazement, we saw our tablemates Dave and Patty walking up toward the column. They were already worn out and were just halfway up the hill. Just before we completed our stay on the top of the hill, they arrived at the top. Needless to say, they were exhausted, but big smiles told how happy they were to finally get to the top and see the column.
Dave and Patty climbing the hill They made it.
Construction of the Astoria Column was completed in1926 and totally renovated in 1995. It was designed to salute Astoria’s explorers and early settlers. It is set on a 30 acre site atop 600 ft. Coxcomb Hill, which affords the best and most panoramic view of this lovely area.
The monument itself is 125 feet high and to get to the top, one needs to climb 164 steps. I made the mistake of doing this. It wasn’t a mistake to climb to the top to see the great views from above; but I guess I overestimated my physical abilities and paid the price. The next day and for the remainder of the trip my calves yelled at me for abusing them. I was really surprised since I do use an elliptical machine regularly. However, now that the pain is gone, I am really glad I did it. It is hard to describe the column. Thank goodness I was able to take pictures of it. There are fourteen separate panels commemorating different historical events from the area. It is a very beautiful monument and setting and I would go back again to spend more time there.
Our last stop on the excursion was to the Columbia River Maritime Museum www.crmm.org/. We didn’t know what to expect there, but once again we were pleasantly surprised at what turned out to be an outstanding collection of nautical artifacts and memorabilia. The 44,200 square foot facility sits on the banks of the Columbia River and houses several boats and interactive exhibits. It was an interesting exhibit.
Several of our friends were raving about the great buys they had gotten in the downtown stores, particularly on clothes. Since we had taken the excursion and it left late, we weren’t able to go back into town afterwards. The town folk had set up what appeared to be a flea market on the path back to the Infinity. There were quite a few vendors, but it seemed as though the better buys were in town.
On Friday, we were not scheduled to arrive in San Francisco until noon after our day at sea on Thursday, so the Martini Mates scheduled one last “official” gathering. About 18 of us invaded the main dining room at 9:00 for breakfast together. We had an absolutely hilarious time and were the last to leave the Trellis.
San Francisco, California -
One of the reasons we booked this particular itinerary was to return to where we honeymooned in 1989, just before the big earthquake hit. This town will always have a special place in our hearts, and we were hoping to see some of the sights we had seen sixteen years ago. As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, it was obvious that it would be a very cloudy day. I was disappointed because I was anxious to take photos from the water of the beautiful skyline and bridges. The gray skies and low clouds covered much of the scenery; but it was still a wonderful experience to go under the Golden Gate and sail past Alcatraz to our final destination, Pier 35.
Since the cruise included staying over Friday night in San Francisco, we still had another evening to enjoy the ship before disembarking. We had also booked a hotel for an additional night in beautiful San Fran. Once cleared, we were able to quickly get off the ship and walk down to Pier 39 to find a short tour.
We chose a 2.5 hour Gray Line tour on a motorized cable car vehicle. It was a nice tour that stopped at one of our favorite places, the Palace of Fine Arts.
It was built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and is a lovely structure. Unfortunately, some areas had been fenced off since the last time we were there, and we were not able to get the best photographic angles of it. It still bought back fond memories of what will always be a romantic spot for us.
We also stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge, where there was a small concession stand and a small park with lovely flowers, a statue of Joseph Strauss (known as “the man who built the bridge”) and a small section of the type of cable that was used to construct the bridge. The cable contains 27,572 separate wires and it took 80,000 miles of wire to build the bridge. I guess 80,000 miles of wire sounds more impressive than 2.9 miles of cable.
Regardless of how it is represented, the Golden Gate Bridge is most impressive. The tour also went through the Presidio, Japan Town, North Beach and many neighborhoods of lovely Victorian houses.
As had also happened during our previous visit to SF, we had to buy heavier apparel. We brought light jackets with us with the assumption that we would probably need to get some souvenir sweatshirts. Since we had gotten so cold during the tour, we decided to get some warm souvenir jackets on Pier 39 instead of looking for sweatshirts. The $20 price was just too good to pass up. Since we live in South Florida, we won’t get much use out of them; but they were well worth the price to keep us warm for the couple of days until we left. After a walk along Pier 39, we returned to the ship where we gazed upon the lights of San Francisco. Time flew by too fast as we savored our last hours with the Infinity and our new friends.
Disembarkation and Post-Cruise:
This was a very simple disembarkation. We went to the Rendezvous Lounge to wait for our number/color to be called. We were off at 9:15 and our luggage was easy to locate. Celebrity scored an A+ on disembarkation. We had planned on taking a cab to our hotel; but due to the Crystal Harmony also disembarking at the same time we did, there was a very long line waiting on transportation. It went faster than I thought it would, but it still took almost half an hour. Fortunately, it was a very well organized chaos, and most people were considerate of others and didn’t try to break into the line.
Once inside the cab it was a really short drive to the San Francisco Omni Hotel www.omnihotels.com/hotels/default.asp?h_id=62. We had lucked out by getting this 5 star hotel for only $101 per night through Priceline. Once again information I had learned from www.biddingfortravel.com helped me out. When the cab driver tried to drop us off, he couldn’t get to the front door of the hotel, and we had to use the side entrance. Apparently a movie was being shot right across from the hotel and the street was blocked off. Since we arrived at the hotel just after 10:00 A.M., we knew our room wouldn’t be ready, so we just stored our luggage till we could check in.
One of the stops we had been told was a “must see” was the Ferry Building Marketplace www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/. Since it was pretty close to the hotel, we decided to walk to it via a path through the Embarcadero Center. The Embarcadero Center was a large four building complex with lots of shops, but we noticed that there weren’t many people around for a Saturday morning. When we got to the Ferry Building, we understood why -- everyone was there instead.
What a mass of humanity filling all of the outside booths and inside shops of what was primarily food markets and eateries. This place puts your taste buds in sensory overload. We refrained from getting anything to eat, since we had finished breakfast not that long ago and we had already exceeded our caloric intake allotment for the months of September and October. The Ferry Building is a lovely and fascinating facility, but it would have been better to schedule our visit around lunch time to take advantage of its many options.
When we were finished looking around the Ferry Building, we walked on over to the Cable Car stop to take a sightseeing trip around the city and go back to the hotel. The cost of the cable cars is $5.00 for a one way trip or $10.00 per person for unlimited riding all day. It is a fun way to get around. The cable cars only get up to a speed of 9 miles per hour, but they get you where you want to go relatively fast.
We got off at Grace Cathedral www.gracecathedral.org/ on Knob Hill. It is a large Episcopal church with incredibly beautiful stained glass windows. The Ghiberti Doors at the entrance to the cathedral are replicas of the famous Doors of Paradise we had seen in Florence, Italy outside of the Duomo.
After visiting the church we walked around a little on Knob Hill, gawking at the Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotels; as well as checking out some of the other architectural delights. We then caught the Cable Car to go back to the hotel to see if our room was ready. Even though the street in front of the hotel was closed due to the filming, they had to let the cable cars go through the set. The driver told us that the movie being filmed starred Will Smith and that he was on the set today. Sure enough as we traveled down the street, Carol spotted Will Smith standing on the street with some other people. We found out when we got back to the hotel that the name of the movie will be “Pursuit of Happiness”.
We were finally ready to get into our room. Wow, was this a snazzy place! Ours was a beautiful large room decorated like one would expect from this class hotel. This was a real bargain. The large windows overlooked the film set. We got to see Will all afternoon. We really felt sorry for the extras, since they had to stand around on the steps of the building across from our hotel all day in the cold windy weather just to film a few scenes. Making a movie isn’t as easy as it seems. Carol wanted to rearrange the luggage and then relax, so I decided to go down to street level and see if I could get some photos of Will Smith before I got on the Cable Car to check out Union Square. Sure enough, I was able to get some, but because he was constantly moving they weren’t particularly great shots.
There was an art exhibit going on at Union Square that was kind of nice; but I realized pretty quickly that going back to the big comfortable room in the Omni was more appealing. We were winding down. For dinner we decided to just eat in the hotel at Bob’s Steak and Chop House www.bobs-steakandchop.com, which is supposed to be one of the best steak houses in the country. It was good, but after eating at the SS United States, it was a let down. The steak at the United States Restaurant was much better. The Infinity spoiled us.
On Sunday morning, we had arranged to be taken to the San Francisco Airport by Super Shuttle www.supershuttle.com. An excellent buy for only $15.00 each. The flights were on time and uneventful. It was quite nice to land at the Ft. Lauderdale airport and feel the warm air. We were home.
Even though it was too short, this turned out to be a great cruise. The ports were better than expected; and the Infinity is a pleasure to sail on especially due to the attitudes of the staff and their desire to spoil you as much as they can. Our Martini Mates and other new friends we met on board really made the trip even more special. Just a great group of folks that you really hate to have to leave. We just didn’t have enough time with everyone. As one of our MMs stated, there was not one single person in the entire group that we would not want to sail with again. That is rather unusual when you are talking about 52 plus strangers. We are already talking about a reunion cruise; but as we all know, it isn’t possible to get everyone together again on a single cruise. Just too many conflicts for everyone. We will just have to savor the time and wonderful experiences that we shared; and hopefully, we will get to share more time together again on future trips with many of these fine folks.
Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
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