Ranked #7 Celebrity fleet
Ranked #38 among all ships
Mercury left Celebrity in 2011, going to German sister company TUI Cruises. Reviews here are for historic reference only ...Read the CruiseMates report
Ranked #7 Celebrity fleet
Ranked #38 among all ships
Mercury left Celebrity in 2011, going to German sister company TUI Cruises. Reviews here are for historic reference only ...Read the CruiseMates report
In the lap of luxury: Sailed on the Mercury 11/8/02- 11/15/02(Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Meredia/Progresso, Key West) and we would be hard pressed to find anything to compalin about. We were placed in the lap of luxury from the point of boarding until departure. This was the first cruise for my girlfriend and she is still in a state of awe. Being born and raised in New York City, I consider myself somewhat of food critic.
To say the least, the cuisine was fantastic, and the service matching. The buffets: breakfast and lunch were exceptional. The nightly entertainment was acceptable and entertaining. The oceanview cabin,with a large window,was an extra bonus. The stateroom attendants were courteous and immaculate in their responsibilities. Overall, a better value for the money expended could not be had. Have been on two other cruises and never found a reason to write a review. Please feel free to contact if any additional information is required.
Will we EVER get to the ship?...
Jim drove us to airport two hours early. We didn't want to stress and rush through all the new security procedures. We checked the monitors at the airport to see that our flight was showing "on time"! Great! I was worried because we only had about and hour and forty five minutes lay over in Dallas. However, the next time I checked, there was an hour and twenty minute delay! Mom thought I was doing an early April Fool's Day joke when I told her! They assured us this would also change the take off of our Dallas to Santiago flight. There was a bad rain, thunder lightening, hail storm in Dallas that shut down the airport for a while. We had a nice flight and landed safely in Dallas surrounded by flashes of lightening and rain. We stopped short of the gate and were told they shut down everything because of lightening and that it would be too dangerous for the ground crew to bring us to the gate.
We sat in the plane for over and hour waiting for the lightening tolet up. When we were finally able to get off the plane and run to the gate of our Santiago flight. They said they would most likely cancel the flight for the night. So we waited for about an hour and a half . As soon as they opened up everything , they rushed us on the plane and we all crossed our fingers that we would get off the ground in time before they shut it down again! Once in the plane we had a very nice flight. The Boeing 777 is a beautiful comfortable plane. We had a nice hot meal and one again for breakfast. But we were both exhausted. I just have a real problem trying to sleep on planes.
When we landed in Santiago we had to wait in a line for over an hour to pay the mandatory tourist tax, $65.00 cash each. Then go to another line for an hour to immigration to have our passport checked. Then out to the Celebrity bus which was waiting for us in front of the airport. I thought that Santiago from the air looked a lot like Eastern Washington, but with palm trees here and there.
We had a relaxing bus ride , 2 1/2 hours to Valparaiso on the coast. It was interesting to see the countryside. We passed through a valley with a lot of vineyards. They said Chilean wines from this valley are very well known and popular, but only made for export. It was Easter Sunday, so they were closed. We were taken to a nice horse racing track where we were taken to a pretty room with places to sit at tables and have refreshments while waiting for our number to called for processing. I thought this was a very pleasant way to do it, instead of waiting in a long line in the sun somewhere at the port. It didn't take too long. Then we all got back I the same bus and had a short ride to the ship. We were so glad to finally see our cabin! I was so relieved that we didn't miss the ship! It was 4 pm. when we boarded. Mom laid down for a while, then we dressed and went to the Easter Mass in the Celebrity Theatre. I had a hard time staying awake. We went to dinner and met our table mates and had our first dinner. When we were finally able to go to bed, I felt like I had never been so tired in my life!
We two nice relaxing sea days. It was warm, but not hot. Warm enough to lay out in the sun and swim. We had the first of our three formal nights. We got an invitation to dine at the Captain's table which we of course excepted. Joyce Adamidis, the Captain's wife, and her parents, Joyce's lady friend, a nice gentleman from Brazil, two nice couples, one from Germany and one from San Francisco. It was a very nice dinner with good company. The next night we were told we were to be moved to a different table, than the one we had the first night on board. Unfortunately we ran into our table mates from the first night, and they thought we asked to move! I am so glad we were able to clear it up. We would never have asked to move! We really enjoyed their company. Our new table was next to the Captain's table in the middle of the dining room by the big back windows. Very nice view from there of the whole dining room. We had nice tablemates here as well. An older retired black couple, two gay men and one of the men's sister and her husband. We thought the two Gay men were a couple, but learned later that they were just friends :) We had fantastic waiters! The best ever I think.
I thought the food was excellent and never had a problem with any of my many meals on this long cruise. I do have to say that the lettice many times was brown and wilted, but I always ordered the soup, that was excellent. The fruit was great at the beginning of the cruise, but was progressively worse as the cruise went along. I think it was just a matter of not being able to get fresh supplies. I really enjoyed the homemade Sherbet they made fresh on the ship.
It started off a little overcast, as it did in many of our ports, but soon the sun came out and it was a nice . About 80 degrees with a nice breeze. We took the shuttle that was provided for us to get us to the gate at the entrance to the port. It was just though the park to the main square and the church. An easy five minute walk. We found this town to be very charming and the people to be polite and friendly. If you didn't want to buy something, it was no problem they didn't harass you or act mad when you said no thank you. It was a pleasure. I think some folks in the Caribbean can learn a lesson form these vendors. It made we want to buy more, not run away. We got some fantastic deals on Alpaca throws and Alpaca wool rugs. I also got a very nice watercolor from a local artist that I will treasure. There were not many people here that spoke English, so it was somewhat of a challenge. Just to tell them , "yes, I would like to buy it". After spending time in the church, we walked a few blocks past the square and got a couple of the best ice cream cones in the world! One dollor each. A man on the street heard me tell my Mother, that I would love an ice cream cone. He recommended this place. He said they make all their ice cream homemade.
We docked at a port outside of Lima, Peru. We were not sure what we would do at this port. Non of the excursions sounded interesting to us here. We left the ship to catch a cab, and learned there would be 30-50 minute wait for a taxi! I was shocked. Usually there are more taxis than passengers to take them. He told us there was a free bus taking people to the Miraflores area, which is where we had planned to take the taxi! There was some information in our nightly ship newspaper about the area and it sounded like a nice tourist area by the beach. The bus drove us though a very rough area of town! I would never walk around here. We drove quite a distance. We were dropped off at the Marriott Hotel Very beautiful hotel and Casino. Mom and tried out the slot machines, and each won about $20.00. There was a park and shopping mall across the street. We took our lives in our hands crossing the street! There are no crosswalks or lights there to stop traffic. The shops there were very American and not really what we came to S. America for. Subway Sandwiches, Radio Shack, etc. There was a Senior Frogs. We saw a nice restaurant with outside eating area overlooking the ocean, called "Mango's". We were up on a high ridge overlooking the road and beach below. I was disappointed in the beach here. Everyone said the water was too polluted to swim. The beach was rocky and the water looked brown and smelled bad :( Mom and I had a very relaxing lunch. Once again, I wished I remembered more Spanish from Junior High School. The waiter didn't speak ANY English! Mom wanted to try a Sangria. We ordered two drinks, a Shrimp and Rice dish and Prawns coated in some sort of a chopped nuts. It was delicious but we were shocked that we accidentally ordered a pitcher of Sangria, not a glass! We tried our best to drink as much as possible. It was a very nice sweet red wine with fruit in it. One note about the service. In Peru, they lounge over their meals. Not like in America. From the time we ordered until we finally got our food it was almost two hours! So as you can imagine we were pretty drunk by then! Somehow we made it back to the bus and back on the ship! We had a half an hour to shop in the shops next to the ship. We bought several things here until one of the ships officers rounded us all up and said it was time to leave. I swam and laid by the pool when I got back. Mom took a nap in the cabin. I didn't order wine for dinner that night.
Another relaxing sea day...
I can't remember what we did on any specific sea day, there where ten. We participated in some ship board activates, like wine tasting, Spanish Class, cooking demonstrations, port lecture, Gem and Jewelry seminar, pool games like the "King of the Mercury" which I got talked into jumping in the pool with a lot of other folks. We visited the library. Met with new friends, but tried whenever there was a chance to lay out in the sun and swim and listen to the pool band. Mom read a couple of books. Then of course breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner! We were usually in our cabin by 6 pm. Taking showers, planning what to wear to dinner, ironing etc. We found out we could check out movies at the front desk, so we would put in a movie and listen to it while we were getting ready. Sometimes we would nap for a hour.
It was raining really hard in Manta and poured rain all day without letting up. I think it finally stopped as we were pulling out of port that night. We purchased tickets for the Manta Beach Break Excursion. We met in the Celebrity Theatre, where we were told that excursion was cancelled because of rain and we would be credited for it. We were happy, because we knew it would not have been any fun in the rain. We went done the gangway each clutching our umbrellas, and tried to catch a cab. We decided to take a cab to the hotel we were supposed to spend the day at on the tour to see it. Non of the taxi drivers spoke English. There was one man with a radio and he would hail a cab over to you and tell him in Spanish where you wanted to go. There were giant puddles, more like lakes, everywhere. Non of the drains on the streets were working, if there were drains? It was quite an adventure going though one of the puddles with our little cab. The water would completely go over the top of the cab and it was like being in a submarine! We got to the hotel and walked around a bit looking over the hotel and swimming pool. I bought a hat from a nice local lady, to help stay dry. Mom and I talked to a man from Philadelphia, who was in town on business for the U. S. military and was stuck there for two weeks. He said it had been hot there for the whole time he was there until that day. He also told us the hotel locked the gate to the beach, because it is too polluted to swim. He said raw sewage was always being dumped into the sea right by there. Nice. He also told us that he was told NEVER to go walking down the street alone. And always be careful of pick pockets. Not having much fun, we taxied back to the ship, and caught a free shuttle to a mall which was surprisingly far! It was in a different town. It was a modern Mall very much like a mall in the states. I thought it was funny though that one of the movies playing at the movie theatre was "Miss Congeniality". Mom bought a large suitcase in a department store here for all the stuff she bought in the other ports. This is by far the dirtiest, most depressing port I have ever been to. Would never want to go back.
Punta Arenas, Costa Rica...
Cruising into the port in Costa Rica was very pretty. You could see the mountains and volcano in the distance, and the water and beach looked cleaner here. There were a lot of fishing boats anchored in the little harbor. One boat came along side with fisherman waving and dancing. They had a half dozen Pelicans on the back of their boat bumming a ride. I imagine the fishermen feed them all sorts of disgusting things, like fish guts :( We had a tour here, so we met the others and boarded a nice bus with bathroom facilities. We didn't know when we bought the excursion that it was an 8 hour tour! Thank goodness for the restroom! We had a nice local guide that spoke very good English, but with a heavy accent. You had to listen to her very closely to understand. She also spoke German. We had people from several nationalities. Americans only made up of maybe one third of all the passengers. On this tour alone, we had folks from Germany, Australia, New Zealand, England, Switzerland, Canadians, Japan, S. American, and Ireland. The guide asked everyone where they were from. We we're told we were going to visit a coffee plantation. It was 21/2 miles away. We climbed up into the mountains 6,000 feet. On scary, narrow winding roads with no shoulder or barriers! The view was breathtaking! We arrived at the Doka Plantation and had a nice tour around the facility. We went through the barns where they store the coffee bean etc. The have it the same as it was 100 years ago. Although it is a working plantation, they have more modern facilities elsewhere. This was a small 600 acre farm, they set up mostly for the tourists to se how coffee used to be grown and processed. The family has 6,000 acres all over Costa Rica. They sell their coffee all over the world. Even to Starbuck's. We preceded to head back to the ship. On the way we stopped at a pretty restaurant and had a nice buffet lunch. This facility was a tourist place. Beautiful grounds, and restaurant with open air eating area. It is only open for private tours etc. Not to the public. There is a security guard at the gate and tall fencing all around the place. It was like a park and with gardens. We drove back to the ship after lunch, about 1 1/2 hours away. Mom and I took our stuff back to the cabin and immediately got right back off the ship to take the little train tram to the end of the pier to shop in the straw market by the beach. It was a nice day. Not too hot, around 80. We shopped a while and went back to the ship. One thing that really upset me in Costa Rica. was all the bars on peoples windows and decks and patios. From the poorest shacks in the countryside to the nicer home in town, every house had bars on their windows , bar cages around their patios and decks. Iron fencing and even razor wire on top of the fences! It would be awful to live in a cage. Even the church had bars. :( The tour guide said there are only a few cats in Costa Rica. She said the Costa Ricans have not learned to appreciate cats. They are dog people.
We were supposed to tender in at this port. Mom and I purchased the "City Tour' here including the famous cliff divers. We had to get up early and have a fast breakfast, so we could be in the Rendezvous Lounge by 8 am. to meet for our tour, so we could all tender in together. But after breakfast we went out on deck and realized that we were docked! There was no announcement, we were just docked instead. So, we asked at the Guest Relations desk and were told to meet on the dock instead. We found out later that the "Mercury" beat the "Statendam" into port and we took their spot! They were now anchored off shore and had to tender. The Sea Princess was docked in front of us. Apparently it is first come , first serve in ports. We heard from a passenger on the Statendam, that the Captain of the Statendam was furious with our Captain, and made an announcement on his ship that the reason they had to tender was that the Captain of the Mercury stole their spot! We thought that was very unprofessional. So now the race was on! They were just behind us in Mazatlan, ahead of us in Cabo San Lucas but we beat them to San Diego and got their berth there :) We had a nice day. First we went to see the cliff divers, They were really something! We drove past all the hotels discos and tourist traps in the main area of Acapulco Bay , then headed out of town to the Diamond district. past mansions and luxury hotels. We went to the Mayan Palace Resort. The largest most impressive resort in Acapulco. It was nicer here, because we were out of the bay and on the open ocean. Much cleaner and big surf. The guide said if we wished to stay and take a cab back to the ship, we could. So we did! We had a Margarita and lunch by the swimming pool and then went down to the beach and stay under a Papilla on lounge chairs. It was VERY hot that day. Over 90 degrees. We waded in the water and eventually taxied back to the ship. There was big traffic jam on the way back. It took over an hour and a half to get back. By then, we were HOT and swallowed too much exhaust fumes. Mom and I were both feeling sick. She took a cold shower and took a nap. I drank 6 glasses of water as soon as I got to the cabin, and then went swimming! Then I got off the ship just long enough to call Jim, and got back on. We we're in port until 8:30 pm here.
Since we have been here twice we knew we just wanted to go do some shopping at the Golden Zone and spend some time on the beach. We shopped for a long time at the shops by the ship. Then took an open , golf cart looking cab to town. Our driver was a maniac! We did some major shopping here. Mazatlan has the best prices in Mexico. We walked to the beach for some lunch. We each had a Strawberry Margarita and Beef Burritos. I should have learned NEVER to drink Mexican Margaritas! We went down to the beach afterwards and spread out four sarongs to make our own little colorful island. I blew up my swimming ring and went in the ocean. The surf was strong and I was flipped more than once getting a lot more drowned than I intended! But it sobered me up! We walked up the beach to find a good place to go back to the main road and catch a cab. We saw a lively place called the Oyster Bar and decided to go there. There were suddenly a lot of men with guns! My first thought was that they had pretty over the top security for the restaurant, until I saw the machine gun! We walked past the men with guns and into the bathroom. I didn't want to get caught up in anything. We saw men in flat jackets jumping into the back of a pickup and then one of the men came in the bathroom and searched the stalls looking for someone! We stayed there a few more minutes until they left. A woman said it was the police. But they didn't have uniforms on? Pretty unsettling. We caught a cab back to the ship. We had a better driver this time. He played music, LOUDLY, and took us the pretty way back along the waterfront.
Cabo San Lucas...
We tendered here. The water was pretty smooth for Cabo on the way in. We were on the first launch. We were to meet a friend of ours that has a condo in Cabo. Chris and her live in boyfriend Bob, met us at the launch. Bob drove us to their beautiful condo and we visited and had a look around. Then we drove to the marina to see Bob's beautiful yacht! They took us out to lunch a wonderful restaurant off the beaten tourist track. It was just incredible. Mom had seafood including some of the best lobster she has ever had, and I had baked chicken breasts with a white sauce and scallops. We were served a cold tea made from Flowers. The whole lunch including drinks was $30.00 for four people! They took us to the new mall and then a neat store with a bit of everything, where we bought pure pewter platters and bowls. Back to the condo for some of Chris's homemade banana bread and then to the ship. It made it very special to see friends so far from home. Things are higher here in the shops and straw market, so we didn't buy anything by the ship.
I think San Diego is one of the prettiest ports I have been to. Very nice. The airport is very close by. Unfortunately after being assured that they loaded our luggage onto our bus to the airport, when we got to the airport we were missing Mom's large suitcase with most of her clothes and jewelry in it! The bus driver was NO help. He just said it would be on the one of the busses eventually. He didn't know where in the LARGE airport it would be however. So I spent 2 1/2 hours walking from one end of the airport to the other watching them unload EVERY Celebrity bus! I have no idea why it took so long to make it to the airport! The bus driver said he didn't work for Celebrity and it wasn't his problem. :( After getting all our stuff gathered together and to the ticket counter, they ended up charging us for one extra bag. We apparently are only allowed to check two pieces of luggage each. The flight went on schedule and were both pretty short. I would have liked to spend the night in San Diego. The beaches looked very nice from the air.
Jim met us in the baggage claim area. We were so happy and relived to see him!
This has been the best cruise I have ever been on. The service was perfect. Our cabin stewards were nice and helpful and never forget anything. The waiters were without mistakes. Our meat was always cooked the way we liked it. No mix up on the orders. Just perfect! ! It made it nice to only have 1,200 passengers for this cruise. It never was crowded anywhere.
I was totally spoiled!
Embarkation was smooth and organized. It took only minutes to get to the ship. This ship is amazingly beautiful, quite well maintained and provides a traditional-ship experience for discriminating over-40 passengers. She excels in quiet, refined living and has surroundings of good comfort.
The interiors are spacious (there is place for everybody, even when the ship is full), with high-ceilinged public rooms (some are two story high) and extremely tasteful conservative decor. There are fine quality furnishings and fittings, many works of art (this ship is really a floating gallery).
Public room facilities include three good size pools (one with a convertible roof, which opens every sunny day), Whirlpools, spacious and very well equipped fitness center, basket and volleyball court, spa with thalassotherapy pool, dry sauna (free of charge), seven reasonably stocked shops in the Rialto Galleries, Casino with many tables and slot machines, flower stand, etc.
The Navigator Club situated on the higher deck and in front of the ship is a confortable quiet place to read, relax or just look at the sea, during the day and a happy disco at night.
The Tastings is a nice bar/lounge where you can dancewith the excellent music of Fun & Joy duo.
After dining a good choice is going to the Cova Cafe (inspired in the secular Milanese coffeehouse) for a Cappuccino and a little piece of Cova chocolate and listen to the incredible Moonlight Quartet. Our accommodations (Standard Inside) were very clean, soundproofed and comfortable, with minibar-refrigerator, personal safe and many cabin amenities (I particularly liked the light bathrobe, which I bought at the end of the cruise). The closets and bathroom were ample and the cabin nice decorated with soft colors. The TV channels were insufficient, but there is pay per view and you can always rent movies at the purser's desk.
Our cabin steward Esteves, from Costa Rica was excellent, keeping cabin impeccably clean and made up, without being noticed.
The Manhattan Restaurant is beautiful with an elegant Old World atmosphere; the electrically operated blinds featured outstanding views of the Beagle Channel. The Polish quartet (violin, harmonica, clarinet and cello) was outstanding adding to make unforgettable dining experiences.
The food was very well presented, had excellent taste and served in French style (small portions). The desserts were also beautiful, but not very tasty. The waiters, the Portuguese Flavio and Telmo were outstanding and had very good sense of humor. The Czech Maitre D' Martin was very efficient and courteous. Our Lithuanian Sommelier Sniega showed knowledge and finesse, always trying and commenting on our wines.
The Palm Springs Cafe for breakfast, alternative lunch & dinner and midnight buffets is beautiful, formed by separate small bay windowed rooms. During the day you can sit there and watch the beautiful scenarios going by, listening to relaxing classical music.
The Pizza served by the pool is very good. The stern pool serves an interesting third choice of lunch, with regional meals. Breakfast was very good with lots of fresh fruit. The Midnight Buffets were very attractive and alternated with the Gourmet Bites (waiters with trays of appetizers in some public areas). The Grand Buffet was a work of art; beautiful and delicious. Michael's Club is a very elegant smoking room with fine art works The video-cinema was nice, but featured "Evita" almost everyday. The Celebrity Theater is beautiful, comfortable and has no obstructed views. The shows were good, Las Vegas style and the musicians of the lounges and bars where the best part of the entertainment. The library is poor, almost always closed and you cannot find playing cards in the card room.
Medical facilities are excellent with very attentive personnel. The ship was very clean, extremely well maintained and staff was very friendly. The two Captain´s Cocktail Parties, where very interesting and well served. Our Greek Captain Mr. Iordannis Adamides is a very nice and accessible person. The shore excursions were very good but expensive. We took independent tours (hiring taxis or vans at the piers).
Ports of Call and scenic navigation:
Rio de Janeiro
Rio is known as "The Marvelous City" for its incredible natural beauty: the Corcovado (Mountain of the Christ The Redeemer statue) with 360-degree view of the city, The Sugar Loaf Mountain and white sandy beaches (like Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema). If possible three days should be reserved for this city.
The best way to know Rio de Janeiro is the "Rio Sightseeing" hop-on hop-off bus. Economical (about US$10 per person per day), safe and comfortable (air-conditioning and explanations in many languages), this red bus (big Coca-Cola inscription on both sides) runs every half-hour by all major attractions, main hotels and the pier. Tickets can be bought at the hotels or from the bus driver (only cash). Ask the hotel front desk where the nearest "Rio Sightseeing" stop is.
The pride of the Argentineans: a cosmopolitan city plenty of beautiful parks and interesting buildings. In spite of the economical crisis they were going through at the time of our visit, we saw no abnormal disturbance during our stay there. A city tour and later a walking tour downtown would be a good choice. Taxi from there to the pier will cost about US $5.
You can find excellent restaurants and the barbecue houses are strongly recommended, as Argentina has the best meat in the world. Try the fancy and expensive "Cabana Las Lilas" at Puerto Madero (near the pier) or the typical and inexpensive "La Estancia" at Calle Lavalle 941 (downtown). For meat lovers I recommend the Argentinian´s favorite "Bife de Chorizo"(a delicious thick sirloin cut), a green salad and a bottle of red wine "Borgonha Rodas" or any other good wine from Mendoza. Believe me, it is Heaven!
There are good shopping centers (Galerias Pacífico in downtown - there is a free bus shuttle from the pier), the fancy Patio Bulrich and Shopping Palermo.
Small city without major attractions. From there you can go to Punta Tombo Penguin Rookery or Peninsula Valdes (natural habitat of sea elephants). Both places are about 100 miles, three hour trip each way in non air-conditioning buses and by a partly non-paved road. There is a bus shuttle from the Pier to town. The stop is just in front a travel agency which charges US$30 per person for any of the two tours of the ship. There is a good market (Super Mercado Norte) on the main Street (28 de Julio 136) with a good stock of Argentinian wine.
Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn
It is very interesting to know that you are in the southernmost point of South America and feel the freezing Antartic breeze.
This place can be described as the end of the world. Located in Tierra Del Fuego (Land of Fire), it is the southernmost city of South America on the shore of Beagle Channel, surrounded by the snow covered Martial Mounts. The town center is a very short walk from the pier. There are many shops and restaurants on the Main Street (San Martin), where you can eat the famous crab "Centolla" and the Argentinean Parrillada (Barbecue). We went to the "Rancho Argentino" and the cost for a parrilla, salad, red house wine and dessert for two persons was US$25. Also on the same street (no. 294) is the Massera Ice Cream parlour, it is really worth a visit. The ship tour " Train Ride at The End Of The World" is an expensive joke (US$84), so forget it. A good tour is the "Tierra del Fuego National Park". You can pay US$47 for the guided ship tour or take a van, one block at left from the pier and pay US$10 per person.
Approximately three hours after ship´s departure from Ushuaia we saw the first of the famous glaciers of Chile on the starboard (right) side of the ship. The names of the glaciers in which order they appear are: Espana, Romance, Alemania, Francia, Italia and Holanda. Glaciers are large masses of ice (not snow) that form high in mountains until it becomes heavy and star to move downhill. This is one of the highlights of the cruise, do not miss it!
A fjord is a long narrow coastal valley between rocky cliffs that were gouged out by one or more glaciers and then flooded by the nearby sea or ocean. During the navigation of Canals Darwin and Moraleda we saw snow-covered volcanoes, a beautiful landscape and small islands full of sea lions. Another highlight of the cruise. Navigator Club or Palm Springs Cafe are excellent places to see all this beauty.
We took a van at the pier and spent all day in the tour (cost US $65 per person). After a brief tour at Puerto Montt, we went to Puerto Varas (charming little town), Lake Llanquihue, Petrohue River Falls (light colored clothing is recommended to avoid the annoying "Távano" flies), emerald green Todos os Santos Lake, where we had a breathtaking view of the Osorno Volcano. Then we had a break for lunch at a restaurant located near the lake and returned to Puerto Montt. There is a handicraft market two blocks from the pier.
The debarkation was also very smooth, but I could not imagine what was going to happen. Through the Internet, I had arranged a private tour around Puerto Montt, Viña del Mar and the transfer to Santiago with sightseeing for US $75 per person (15% pre-paid via paypal) with the very well recommend Mr. Gaston Lux. He simply did not show up! The deception of being left at the port was strong, but after a long wait, I managed to find a taxi to Viña del Mar bus Station and went to Santiago without the sightseeing of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. Fortunately I speak Spanish and we are experienced travelers. I can only imagine how awful it would have been if we were one of the many Americans arriving in Chile for the first time.
After arriving home Gaston sent me an e-mail offering apologies and a US$20 refund. What an easy solution!
I will never contract tours by Internet again!
It is very easy to know the city by taxi, metro and walking. We stayed at the very nice Torremayor Hotel. Conveniently located in a residential area, near Los Leones Metro station, Panoramico Mall, fast foods and walking distance to San Cristobal Hill. Double apartment was US$80 per day, with breakfast buffet and free use of Internet. Good Italian restaurant in the hotel.
At the front desk we contracted a very interesting tour to Cousino-Macul winery and to not so good Cajon Maipo (US$40 per person).
Final conclusion: Celebrity Cruises is improving and offers excellent products at affordable prices.
The summary in 25 words or less - This cruisetour was just great!!! Celebrity food did not live up to its hype. Dining room service (for our table) was extremely slow.
Now for the details.
Day 1 We started out with a very long travel day from Staten Island, NY to Fairbanks, AK. We booked our air through Celebrity and the flight arrangements were actually pretty good - Depart Newark airport at 6:20 AM to Minneapolis, approximately a 1 hour layover, then Minneapolis to Anchorage, about a 50 minute layover, then Anchorage to Fairbanks. We arrived in Fairbanks at about 2:00 PM (Fairbanks time) and were met at the gate by a Celebrity representative. We had put the ship tags on our luggage, so it was all claimed by the Celebrity personnel. After we verified that it had all arrived, it was loaded on our tour bus and we didn't have to handle it ourselves for the next two weeks. It was delivered to and from our hotel rooms on the land tour, and then to the ship. We were taken to our hotel, Pike's Waterfront Lodge on the banks of theChena River, got our room keys, had lunch/dinner, took a short nap, and we were ready to go off exploring.
We made some phone calls to book an Arctic Circle flight but there were no openings available. However, we were surprised to discover that the prices to book direct were the exact same prices as the optional excursions offered by Celebrity. So instead, we decided to take a ride to see Alaskaland and spend some time there, and hopefully get to see the show in the Palace Theater (we called and were put on the wait list). We were able to take the free shuttle from the hotel to the salmon bake at Alaskaland even though we weren't going to the salmon bake. Alaskaland was interesting, but the weather was cool and raining so we did a quick tour in about an hour, and when we couldn't get in to see the show, just went back to the hotel. We met our tour guide, Nancy, when we got back and discussed the upcoming trip. After having an Alaskan brewed beer at the hotel bar, we decided it was time for some much need sleep.
Day 2 The day started with a morning trip to see the Trans-Alaska pipeline up close and personal, and then on to the El Dorado Gold Mine for a little history lesson about the gold rush, a demonstration of some gold mining equipment, a gold panning lesson, and then some panning for gold. Everyone is guaranteed to find some gold in their pan, but I would have been a lousy gold miner. I had no patience and finally just dumped my poke into the water and gave up. Robin kept at it and came up with about $10 worth of gold dust which she had put into a necklace. Maybe if I had stayed with it she could have put it into some earrings also.
After stopping for lunch, it was on to the Riverboat Discovery for a 3-1/2 hour ride along the Chena and Tanana rivers. The trip included watching a bush pilot do a shortfield takeoff and landing, seeing the home and kennels of Susan Butcher, the Iditarod champion and having her speak to us, viewing an Athabascan fish camp and a demonstration of how fish are cut and prepared, and about an hour tour of the Chena Indian Village.
After some shopping, it was back to the hotel - but not for long. We had booked an optional excursion with Northern Alaska Tour Co. for a 5-1/2 hour tour to the Brooks Range. We were picked up at the hotel and taken to the airport where we boarded a 7 passenger Piper. The clouds had broken up and the visibility was excellent so the pilot was able to fly by VFR and stay low. We took a long scenic route over some breathtaking landscapes, sighted a number of moose (I lost count but I think it was 8), and eventually landed in Coldfoot, which is about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Since we hadn't had time for dinner, we had ordered a "box dinner" which was waiting for us when we landed. We ate it as we rode further north in a minivan along the Dalton Highway (a gravel road) for about 14 miles (and a close encounter with a moose and her calf) to the town of Wiseman (year round population of 27). After a quick visit to the museum (a one room cabin) we were invited into a house for coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and cookies while meeting and chatting with some of the local residents. They were just as anxious to hear about our lifestyles as we were to hear about theirs. Then it was back to Coldfoot for our return flight to Fairbanks. They gave us an Arctic Circle certificate to remember our journey. We arrived back at the hotel a little after 1:00 AM, and the amazing thing was it wasn't really dark - just twilight.
Day 3 We boarded the Alaska Railroad at around 8:00 AM for a trip to Denali. Royal-Celebrity has 2 brand new railroad cars (one going northbound and the other southbound) which are absolutely marvelous. The car is two levels, with a sightseeing dome on the top level and dining on the bottom. There are big windows on the bottom level so you can see some of the sights while you are eating. Our tour bus met us at the Denali station and took us to our hotel, the Grande Denali Lodge. This hotel, which just opened a few months ago, is on top of a mountain and the view is wonderful. Just driving up the mountain is exciting. After about an hour to freshen up, we boarded the school busses for our 8 hour tour into Denali National Park. The scenery was spectacular and we were fortunate enough to actually see the peaks of Mt. McKinley. Our bus driver told us that most people don't get to see the peaks because they are usually covered by clouds. The wildlife we saw were primarily caribou, Dall sheep and some ground squirrels. The big treat was on the way back out when we spotted a blond grizzly. I wish we could have spent more time and gone further into the park, but on the other hand 8 hours on a school bus was pretty uncomfortable after a while.
Day 4 We had the morning free so we decided to go rafting. I wanted whitewater and Robin wanted a float trip, so we compromised and took a trip with Nenana River Rafting which included some scenic floating and also some class II and III rapids. The guides outfitted us with dry suits and then drove us about 12 miles to our starting point on the Nenana River. After the standard safety talk, we set out for the trip downstream. Again the scenery was just beautiful and the rapids were fun. I asked our guide how cold the water was, and he replied, "Let's put it this way. Yesterday it was a glacier." The water temperature was actually about 36 degrees. We used a disposable camera on this trip and got some good pictures with it. We were able to toss it to passengers in another raft who took some shots of us and then tossed it back.
In the afternoon, we boarded the Alaska Railroad again for a trip to Talkeetna. The scenery along the way did not disappoint, but we were not able to see Mt. McKinley as it was covered in clouds. We stayed at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, and after dinner we just relaxed and took in the scenery and went to bed early.
Day 5 Woke up at 3:30 AM and were picked up at 4:30 AM for a salmon fishing trip. I had never gone fishing before so this was a real experience for me. We bought our fishing licenses for $10 plus an extra $10 for the king salmon stamp. We were outfitted with hip boots and rain gear (yes, it was raining), and got into a jet boat for a trip up the Talkeetna River where we were dropped off at a fishing spot. Our guide demonstrated how to cast and let the line drift and we started fishing. One of our companions (an 82 year old gentleman) hooked a king salmon with his first cast and the guide had to help him reel it in. At that point, I thought we were going to catch a lot of fish that day. Unfortunately, that was it for our group for the day. However, both Robin and I can truthfully tell the story about the big one that got away. I got the casting part down pretty quickly, but I had no idea what it would feel like if I actually got a fish on the hook. Several times the line got snagged on a rock, so when I felt a little tug I assumed it was snagged again. I gave a slight pull to free it and when it tugged again, I gave another slight pull and started reeling it in. That's when this very large red fish jumped out of the water a few times and I realized I had it on the hook. However I wasn't quick enough or experienced enough to set the hook and he got away. A few minutes later, the exact same thing happened to Robin. After about 2-1/2 hours at this spot with no luck, we got in the raft and moved to a different spot for another hour and a half, but our luck was no better. As I came out of the water to get back in the raft, I realized that my hip boots had fallen down (one size does not fit all leg shapes) and my jeans and socks were soaked. We rafted back a few miles to our starting point for the return trip to the hotel.
We changed out of our wet clothing and took the hotel shuttle in town. The first stop we made was at the Talkeetna laundromat where we washed and dried the clothing we had worn that morning. After walking the entire area of beautiful downtown Talkeetna we did some obligatory shopping and then took the shuttle back to the hotel.
Day 6 It was back on the tour bus today for a drive down to Anchorage. Along the way we stopped at the Iditarod headquarters for a quick visit. The real highlight of this stop was holding 5 week old Husky pups. We were only given two hours on our own in Anchorage, which I felt was not enough time. We went to the museum and spent about an hour going through the Alaskan history exhibit which was really rushing it. We stopped for a quick lunch and then walked back to the meeting point for our bus. From Anchorage we drove south to Girdwood where we stayed at the Westin Prince Alyeska Resort. This was a first class hotel. Our package included a trip on the tram up to the top of the mountain, so we took it that evening and went to the lounge up there for a few drinks and dessert. The views from the top are spectacular, but the clouds kept moving in and out so we eventually decided to go down and check out the hiking trails. We started out on the Winner Creek trail which is part of the Chugach National Forest, but after about a mile it became very muddy so we turned around and went back. We tried another trail, but I quickly discovered that it went uphill (actually up the mountain) and I decided that I didn't feel like walking uphill. It started raining again, so we went back to the hotel and spent some time by the fireplace.
Day 7 Still raining and cold this morning so we just relaxed at the hotel instead of going kayaking as we had originally planned. We were able to check in for the cruise and got our boarding passes right in the hotel lobby. Early afternoon, we got back on the tour bus for the trip to Seward and the start of our cruise. As we rode along Turnagain Arm, the scenery was wonderful. We arrived in Seward and boarded Mercury around 4:00 PM. Our luggage was delivered to our cabin within an hour. We had an ocean view room with a balcony on deck 9 (Vista Deck). The cabin was a decent size, but the storage space seemed a little tight. We explored the ship, had dinner (open seating), and set sail. Unlike other cruises we've taken where we considered the ship our destination, and the ports just places to stop; this time we considered the ports our destination and the ship was just a fun, convenient way of getting there.
Day 8 - Hubbard Glacier We were tired from the land tour so I was glad this first day of the cruise was a day at sea. The weather was sunny, but on deck it was windy and cold. It was pretty funny seeing blankets on the pool deck instead of towels. We bundled up and stood out there to take in this magnificent glacier. We saw it calve several times and the sight is almost beyond description. (Binoculars are a must!) As we left the bay, we went back to our cabin and sat on the balcony where it wasn't quite as windy. We were on the port side so we always had land within view from our balcony.
Day 9 - Juneau The morning started out somewhat cloudy and the helicopter trip to Mendenhall Glacier (with TEMSCO which we had booked through the ship) was cancelled due to cloud cover and poor visibility at Mendenhall Glacier. They offered to reschedule for later in the day, but we already had other plans. We went over to the tour booth by the dock and fortunately ERA Helicopters had an immediate opening on their 4 glacier flightseeing tour. They picked us up at the dock and we were on our way. We flew over the Taku, Hole in the Wall, Lemon, and Norris glaciers, and landed on the Norris Glacier. It was an incredible trip - I can't think of any words to describe it. (And I got to sit up front with the pilot.) When we got back to the base, they drove us back to town and we asked to be dropped off at the Red Dog Saloon where we had lunch. The Red Dog Saloon is quite a place. I would recommend stopping by, even if just for a drink. After some obligatory shopping, we returned to the ship and sat on our balcony watching a few eagles flying over Mt. Roberts. At around 4:30 PM, we went whale watching with Dolphin Tours (booked through the ship). They use an 18 passenger jet boat so it wasn't crowded and everyone could see pretty well. We traveled around Auke Bay and it didn't take long to spot several Humpback whales. The real big treat was when one of the whales breached 6 times within about a 10-15 minute span. Seeing that alone would have made the excursion worthwhile. (a few of my pictures even came out ok) Then the radio crackled with word of a pod of Orcas a few miles away, so we took off for the site. We weren't disappointed as we got to see 4 Orcas and another Humpback. Eventually we had to turn around and head back in, and we returned to the ship around 8 PM (just in time to get ready for our late seating dinner).
Day 10 - Skagway We did the morning excursion on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Since we had booked it through the ship we boarded the train right at the dock. The scenery was wonderful, and I have a new found respect for the gold stampeders who followed the Trail of 98. Upon the return to Skagway, we had lunch at the Red Onion Saloon where we were served by one of the "working girls" while listening to the piano player, and took a few pictures with the "proprietor" of the establishment. The upstairs brothel was "closed for renovations." We also stopped by the livepostcard.com booth to have our picture taken next to the train and emailed back home. It's free. We explored the town, did some more shopping, and eventually made our way back to the ship. We opted for the alternative dining this night because we were growing very impatient with our dining room service which averaged 2-1/2 hours for dinner every night. After a relatively quick, early dinner shortly after leaving Skagway, we stayed out on deck with our binoculars for a while and were treated to 3 sightings of Humpback whales.
Day 11 - Sitka We had to tender ashore here. At the dock we bought a full day pass ($7 pp) for one of the companies (Tribal Tours?) which runs mini busses around town with stops at the most popular destinations. Sitka is a beautiful city, although we did feel it was a little more "touristy" than the other places we had been. We spent a bit of time at the Raptor Rehabilitation Center and wound up becoming members and adopting an eagle.
Day 12 - Ketchikan We slept a little late this morning, as all the running around for almost 2 weeks was starting to catch up with us. After a leisurely buffet breakfast on board the ship we went strolling around town and did some shopping. I wound up buying a mask carved from whale bone and decorated with baleen and ivory. It had the silver hand symbol attached which is supposed to mean that it was made by a Native Alaskan. We also got a brief biography of the artist and a description of the materials used. We had a 1:00 PM excursion planned for Saxman Native Village so we headed back to the ship for lunch. On the way back, we stopped at a tour booth near the ship and inquired about a trip to Misty Fjords. We were fortunate enough that Taquan Air had room for us on the 4:00 PM flight so we booked it right there.
After lunch we visited Saxman Village with the excursion from the ship. It was interesting, gave some insight into Tlingit history and the Totem Poles were very nice, but I was a little disappointed. However, after performing some tribal dances for us, when the Natives asked for volunteers to come dance with them, Robin was right up there. They dressed her in traditional robes and headwear, and she danced!
From Saxman we were dropped off back at the pier and we walked a few blocks to Taquan Air for the Misty Fjords flightseeing. We boarded a 5 passenger DeHavilland Beaver float plane and we were off. I got to sit up front again with the pilot. Misty Fjords is just incredible. If anyone has an opportunity to do this trip, I highly recommend it. Our pilot landed on a lake and up on the shore, no more than 50 yards away, we saw a fairly large brown bear eating a salmon. We assumed he caught it at the nearby creek where we saw other salmon swimming/jumping upstream. We stayed and watched for a while, and just took in the serenity of the area. It was a shame we had to go back. Our pilot took a somewhat longer route back to show us a few areas he especially liked and we wound up getting an additional 15 minutes in the air. We arrived back at the ship around 6:00 PM.
Day 13 - at sea Today was another day at sea, cruising the inside passage. We spent part of the day out on deck and part on our balcony. As we sailed along, we were joined by several porpoises and a few eagles. We were hoping for Orcas, but didn't see any. It was a nice relaxing day, but a little sad as we realized our vacation was coming to an end.
Day 14 - debarkation Debarkation was the best of all the cruises we've been on. When our number was called, we got off the ship and boarded a bus where our luggage had already been loaded. The bus took us to the Vancouver airport where the luggage was unloaded at curbside. It took all of 30 seconds to gather our 4 pieces, get a porter and enter the terminal. We checked in with the airline, went through U.S. customs, and dropped our bags on the conveyor to be placed on the plane. We were lucky and had a nonstop flight from Vancouver to Newark.
Summary We had a wonderful time and thought that Celebrity did a great job overall. I think that everyone, at least once in their life, should see Alaska - the last frontier.
We are just back, June 8. 2001, from a 7 night, 8 day, southbound cruise aboard the Mercury along the inland passage of Alaska. It was our first cruise experience and a most enjoyable one. We wanted to stay onboard for the northbound leg! Service was incredibly professional with just the right touch of personalization. The ship was immaculately clean and in excellent repair. The spa was terrific, very attentive staff, exceptionally clean. We had a steam-massage treatment and were treated as if we were the only ones on the ship they were there to serve! Our cabin was a category 2 with veranda. We were in the stern of the ship, a drawback only because a full treck of the ship was required for certain activities. Midship location would have been better. Cabin cleanliness, condition and service were exceptional.
We dined at a table with two friends, late seating. The wait staff was most gracious and professional. No request was too much. We were so very pampered, unmatched by most high quality land experiences we've had. Breakfast we usually had at the buffet. Wonderful choices including smoked salmon, herring and delimeats for a Scandinavian breakfast if you so desired. We never made the midnight buffets, but the next to last night we visited it. An incredible feast for the eyes. Something I have never seen, for sheer scope and quality of decoration and food, and I've attended some very lavish land affairs. It's probably worth skipping dinner that night so you can enjoy the buffet.
We have sailed on small pleasure boats, but we had thought these large liners would not give a "moving" experience. In that we were wrong. The ship definitely rolled on the swells of the ocean and the sea was quite calm while we were on it. We adjusted without a problem, but it would be wise to bring sea sickness medication, just in case!
Never used the pool, too cool, but during the one day in Juneau when the sun came out, several groups took advantage of the hot tubs (there are four). Nice track on the upper deck for walking or jogging. Fabulous workout room in the bow of the ship with treadmills placed to allow you the ability to see what the captain sees. The Navigator Bar is just below it and is a wonderful place to follow the passage of the ship.
Fellow passangers were interesting. Most were older, 65+, many with disablilites. Many of them appeared as if they were VERY unfamiliar with fashion, looking incongruous in the elegant decor of the ship. Formal nights in the dining room must have scared many away to the buffet at the Palms Springs Cafe.
Overall our experience was exceptional. We're already planning our next cruise. We think we'll do the Panama Canal and we're looking at Crystal - the timing is right - for December. We've also heard Crystal "Symphony" is a superb cruising experience. It will be fun to compare it to Mercury.
You Can Go Home Again
In February 2000 I took my first cruise on the MV Mercury in the Western Caribbean. It was this cruise that got me addicted to this thing called "cruising". Last week my wife and I returned to the hallowed passageways of the MV Mercury to sail her from Vancouver to Seward, Alaska. It was like coming home. Everything about the ship was as I remembered and some things were even better.
I will give my "Readers Digest" condensed version up front so you can get my overall impressions without having to read my ramblings. (Note: C is average. A is exceeding expectations)
Check-In C- Embarkation A Cabin A Butler A Stewardess A- Waiter A Asst. Waiter B Maitre D A Ship Cleanliness A Food/Buffet B Food/Dining Room/Dinner A Food/Dining Room/Lunch B+ Food/Dining Room/Brkfast C Shore Excursions (Did on Own) A- Cruise Director (Julian Bersch) A Cruise Director Staff A Social Hostess (Danielle Ganion) A Entertainment B Bar Service A Itinerary A Port Lecturer A Midnight Buffet A
Pre Cruise; We boarded our flight from Minneapolis early on May 11th. We had an uneventful flight on Northwest to Seattle. We then transferred to Horizon Air for a short flight to Vancouver. In Vancouver we had a fairly long wait to get through Customs but once we were at the Customs deskit was just one or two questions and through we went. We then went to claim our luggage. One piece was on the carousel but the two others were no where to be seen. We waited about 20 minutes but they did not come out. There were a number of other people on the plane from Seattle who were also waiting. After 45 minutes the last two pieces came out of the carousel. It seems they were put on the next plane after ours. We then proceeded out of the baggage area, handed our customs form to the official and were met by our driver to take us to the pier. I had booked a 6-passenger limo to take us to the pier. The corporate rate that I received was almost as good as what taxi fare was so what the heck. Go in style. The limo was a 12 passenger and stretched about half a block. Our driver was a wonderful man who gave us a tour of the city as we made our way to the pier. We even went by Canada Place and got to see the Infinity up close. I hear that the Infinity is much nicer looking inside than out. We arrived at Ballantyne Pier at about 1:00 PM and handed our luggage to the porters, who took a little while to arrive. It was only about 2 minutes but on every other cruise they have been there immediately. We had a picture with our limo driver and proceeded to check-in.
Check-In; This was the only area that Celebrity needs to work on. We proceeded to the Captains Club/Suite check in line. There were about 6 others in line ahead of us. There were about 40 people in line in the regular check in line. We waited in line for 45 minutes. There were only 2 positions open for CC and suite check in. Those two positions were servicing two people who were checking in four or five people each. The problem was that they had none of their documentation filled out. The staff was being very patient and accommodating to them, allowing them to fill out their documentation, ask questions, complain about not being able to book excursions at check in. As I said, the staff was very patient and accommodating but there patience and accommodation to these people caused the rest of us to have a very long wait for check in. I did suggest to the agent when I checked in that they should request that people who do not have their forms filled out please leave the line, fill out the forms, and then come back when they are completed. I know they like to be helpful to their Captain's Club and Suite passengers but this is a little too accommodating.
Later that day I did speak with one of the passengers who was checking in and found out this was their 8th cruise and that they never fill out the documents because as she said: "They are just too complicated."
Personal Comment: PLEASE FILL OUT YOUR DOCUMENTS before getting to the pier.
Embarkation: When we finally made it to check in, it took about 2 minutes and off we went to board the ship. An officer met us at the gangway and a white-gloved steward took my wife's bag and escorted us to our cabin. Upon entering Mercury I had an uncontrollable impulse to yell out. "Honey, I'm home.
Cabin: We had originally booked a Cat 2 guarantee. About 3 weeks before the cruise we were informed that we had been upgraded to a Cat 1 Suite. On our first cruise on Mercury we also had a Cat 1 suite so this was sort of Deja vu. The Cat 1 is a large balcony cabin but does not have a separate sitting area. It has a nice sized balcony and a marble bath with a tub and whirlpool jets in the tub. The tub is a little small for my 6'2" body, but my wife enjoyed it. One of the amenities that came with the suite is Butler service. Our Butler, Eduardo, was a very nice young man from Honduras. This was his first stint as Butler and he performed like he had been doing it all his life. He brought us afternoon pastries and canapes. He also served us dinner in our room one night when I wasn't feeling well. Eduardo also polished my dress shoes to a "high gloss" shine. It is a nice amenity. Our Cabin Stewardess, Marta, did her job well and always had the extra towel in the bathroom and extra pillows on the bed that we requested. She did have a little problem in entering the cabin when we were in there. Twice she caught me with less than a full set of clothes on. The poor girl is probably still having nightmares.
Dining: Dinner in the Manhattan Dining room was fabulous. We had a table for six and were seated with two other couples who made the week very enjoyable. Rob and Nancy were from Mclean Virginia but were relocating to Sonoma to begin the "Farm Life" of olive trees and vineyards. They were a great couple who were down to earth and were excellent conversationalists. Our other couples were Andrew and Isha. They were a young newlywed couple who were from the D.C. area but were living in Fairbanks. Isha was a clerk for the Federal Circuit Court Judge and Andrew was a CPA for a firm in Fairbanks.
Our waiter, Hugo, was great. He delivered great service and was very funny. He also livened up the evenings with stories and a few magic tricks. Our assistant waiter, Turo did his job but was not a talkative person. Hugo always provided us with our requests for an extra entree or dessert and went the extra distance to make sure we were pleased with our selection.
Another pleasant surprise was our Maitre D, Daryoush. He was from Poland and was a wonderful Maitre D. I will admit other Maitre D's I have had basically came by on the first and last night and collected their tip envelope. Daryoush did not do this. He stopped by each night. Learned of my love for Mohr Em Hemd. (Viennese Chocolate Pudding) and made sure that I had more than I could consume. He also made sure that a special request for berries was fulfilled by the Galley when they gave Hugo a little bit of a hassle about it. Daryoush is what a Maitre D is supposed to be.
The food at dinner was fantastic. Everything was done to perfection. The seafood was fresh and the meats were cooked to order. The pasta was the only thing that wasn't perfect. A little too done for my taste and the seasonings were not to my personal liking.
The food at lunch was usually quite good. There were a couple of instances of overcooked meat and spotty service at open seating but overall it was quite good.
Breakfast in the dining room was a different story. The eggs benedict was cold. Even when I requested another it came back cold. I then requested an Omelet and that came out undercooked. The pastries were dry and the toast seemed to have been made the night before. This was my only experience in the dining room for breakfast. After this I went to the buffet each morning.
Buffet: Overall it was quite good. I will say that in my experience Mercury has the greatest variety of dishes at their buffet. I am not a great fan of buffets but the breakfast items were overall quite good. The corned beef hash was my favorite and the cooked to order omelets and eggs were also very good. The lunch food was also quite good with an excellent choice of entrees and very good vegetable selections.
There were also grill selections available. Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Pizza and one day Mexican foods were available during lunch hours. I am sorry to say that I never could find room to try these selections.
Grand Buffet: It was spectacular. Beautiful presentation and artistry make this buffet more of an event than a meal. We did walk through and take pictures but were just too full to try any of the selections.
Midnight Buffets: There were two other midnight buffets but due to the fact we had late seating dinner, we did not partake in either.
Special Night: On our second formal night were surprised and pleased to find an invitation to dine at the Captains Table with Captain Dermatis, the Hotel Manager. It was a wonderful evening with great conversation, wonderful food, great and plentiful wines and service that was no better than what we had at our own table but there was certainly more staff. Captain Dermatis gave us some great insight into the operation of the Hotel side of the ship. These insights and the conversation of our other tablemates made for a very special evening that will be remembered, fondly, forever.
Spa: I do have to mention the Thalassotherapy pool. It is one of the best things on Mercury. My wife and I partook of it everyday. by having a suite there was no fee for using the Thalsso. We would have paid the fee if we did not have a suite. I suggest everyone try it at least once.
The Ports: O.K. enough about the ship. Alaska was the destination and I better mention something about this awesome state. I will start out by saying that our weather was fantastic. We had some rain but most of the days were sunny or partly cloudy and we never once had any shore time interrupted by rain. Temperatures were in the upper 40's and low 50's. We are from Minnesota so this is normal spring temperature for us.
All of our other cruises have been in warm weather climates. Caribbean, Mediterranean, Tahiti, so this was something completely different and I actually preferred it. No where else will you see things like you see on an Alaska cruise. The mountains, the glaciers, the whales, otters, moose, bear, eagles can all be seen from ship or shore. Pam the port lecturer gave great lectures and also made sure that any whale sighting did not go unannounced. She also provided great commentary while we cruised the Inside Passage, Hubbard Glacier, and Prince William Sound. It is also true that it stays daylight until very late. On a couple of nights we were taking pictures from our balcony at 11:00 PM. The sunrise is around 4:30 AM so if you want to see some spectacular sunrises you will have to get up pretty early.
Vancouver: It is a beautiful city and I really wish we could have spent more time there. I personally think that when I do another Alaska cruise I will do a Southbound. This would give me more time to explore Vancouver. Our limo driver was just able to give us a brief glimpse of Vancouver but that glimpse left me longing for more.
Inside Passage: It can only be described by saying it is beautiful. Majestic tree covered mountains, large and small islands make up this waterway. Don't worry about what side of the ship your cabin is on. You will have beautiful views on either side. Most of time you could not tell which was shore and which was an island.
Ketchikan; A lovely little port town. We just wandered the town and bought some nice things to remind us of our trip. We did not do an excursion here but our tablemates went whale watching and saw many Orcas, and even Humpbacks. They loved it.
Juneau: At Juneau we had a car rented for the day. We took a cab from the pier to the airport to pick up the car. The cab ride is about $18 but Hertz will give you $15 credit on your rental to offset the transportation cost. We picked up the car and drove to the Mendenhall Glacier. We went to the visitor center and then hiked back to the huge waterfall next to the Glacier. We could get about ½ mile from the glacier and got some beautiful pictures from there. The weather was quite warm and we were stripped down to T-shirts by mid morning. Remember to layer your clothing to accommodate the temperature changes.
We then went about exploring the area around Juneau. by mid-afternoon we were ready for our helicopter tour of the glacier. If you can afford this tour, do it. It is an experience you will not forget. When you are on the glacier it is like being taken back time to when the world was just forming and you are witnessing it. We had a nice tour on the glacier and were even able to drink very cold and tasty glacier water. My wife also brought home some "Glacier Poop". This is ground granite that has been crushed by the glacier into a fine powder and can be used for facials or whatever. I gave it the name of "Glacier Poop" because that's what it looks like.
Skagway: The scenery in Skagway is very impressive. I would avoid the town and cemetery tour. This was about the most boring tour I have taken. The town cemetery is very unimpressive. Most of the grave markers have been replaced with painted plywood markers that look like Mr. Thompson's seventh grade remedial shop class did them. I would suggest taking the train tour to the summit. The scenery is spectacular and the train ride is nostalgic.
Hubbard Glacier: Hubbard Glacier is an awesome sight. The water around the ship is almost like a gelatin due to the amount of ice in the water. This amount of ice also makes travel slow and only allows the ship to get within a couple of miles of the glacier. Make sure you bring your binoculars. This way you can see the glacier in more detail. Don't forget to look at the shores on each side of the glacier. We saw bear and eagles on shore. Unfortunately the glacier did not do any calving while we were there but it was still an awesome sight. One thing to note: Don't go by the times posted in the daily program for glacier watching. The program said we would be at the glacier at 10:30 am. We were there about 1.5 hours before that.
Valdez: Most of Valdez was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. There is not much to the town that holds historical significance. If you were going to venture in to Valdez I would suggest doing so on an organized excursion. There is really not much to see in town and the shuttle service took quite awhile to go to and from Valdez to the pier.
Prince William Sound: This is a beautiful area and this is where College Fjord is located. We saw quite a few Sea Otters here as well as quite a bit of ice from the many glaciers that empty into the College Fjord area. College Fjord is named because the glaciers that empty into it are named after colleges.
Disembarkation; "But I don't want to go." That was what I kept saying the morning of our departure in Seward. Disembarkation starts very early. 0600 a.m. We received a disembarkation number of 16. At first I thought this was an oversight seeing as suite passengers were to receive priority disembarkation. When I found out what time disembarkation started I was glad to have 16. Our number was called at about 07:50. Just enough time to get showered and have one last buffet breakfast. But then we were off the ship and the cruise was over. We picked up our bags in the terminal and I then boarded the Hertz shuttle to get the car we had reserved. My wife waited at the terminal and I made the short drive back to the terminal to pick her up when I got the car. We had booked a 4x4 Explorer, which met our needs quite well.
Post Cruise: The drive from Seward to Anchorage is beautiful. There are too many sights to see in one day. We did visit the Exit Glacier in Seward. You can drive up to within ½ mile of this small but beautiful glacier. We then proceeded up the Seward Highway to Anchorage. We stopped in Moose Pass and had nice lunch of Alaska sized Halibut Sandwich and a hamburger. After that I had my wife drive so I could look at the scenery. Well, that was a mistake. I fell asleep and the next thing I hear is my wife asking me what exit do we need to take to get to the hotel. Oh well, I needed the sleep. Just as we exited the highway my wife commented that she hadn't seen a Moose up close. Be careful what you wish for, it may come true. About 30 seconds later we see a Moose running along the side of the road. We slowed down and the Moose decided that he is going to cross right in front of us. Luckily we were able to stop and not hit him but we did get an up close look at him. We spent the rest of the day in Anchorage doing some shopping for souvenirs. We checked in at the Millenium Hotel near the airport. It is a nice hotel but the rooms do not warrant the rate that is charged. You can get a room at the Hilton or Sheraton for about the same rate and it is nicer room. The fixtures and furnishings have been updated but the wallpaper, carpets and bathroom fixtures have not. Overall the hotel reminded me of a Holiday Inn that had quite a bit of use and had seen better days. We spent the night at the hotel and got up bright and early to catch our flight back to Minneapolis. The flight was uneventful but quite comfortable.
Conclusion: If you have never been on an Alaskan cruise, do it. Especially on a ship like Mercury. You will see things you have never seen before on a cruise. You will also see nature at its best. Don't be too worried about the temperature. Just take layered clothing and you will be fine. This trip now has taken its' place as my favorite cruise. Like all cruises though I wish it had been longer.
In the past, my husband and I have enjoyed the hoopla and non-stop entertainment of other cruise lines and itineraries; however, we sailed the Mercury, per a friend's recommendation, to relax, be pampered, and enjoy interesting ports. The Mercury exceeded our expectations on every single one of the aforementioned priorities and our trip onboard the Mercury was not only the best cruise, but also the best trip that either of us has taken.
We were forewarned before we embarked, however, that the Mercury was not the ship for us. We were warned that we were too young, that the ship lacked entertainment, and that our cabin would not be as nice as expected. These advisers were partially correct.
Rix and I found that we were on the younger end of passengers onboard at 44 and 27, respectively. Although the mean age of passengers on our cruise was around 70, all of the passengers were young at heart and a lot of fun to have lunch with, to play shuffleboard with, or to play the "Newlywed, not so Newlywed" game with… Regarding the entertainment, it was mediocre, but other things made the difference(the service was impeccable). Our cabin, a category 5, didn't really have a "sitting area" as I expected when I booked, but we had a nice, front-view in Cabin 8000.
We were definitely able to relax on this vacation. Because of Celebrity's "no announcement" policy, we were not disturbed by constant messages. We were also not bothered by phone calls from our room steward to see when we wanted our room made up the two or three days we wanted to sleep until noon. Not only did they not bother us; they left notes letting us know they would make our room up at our convenience. We were pampered, as we expect at a resort - or, I can now "re"add, a cruise ship.
At slightly less than 78,000 tons, the Mercury is the perfect size ship; the ship is large enough to afford a variety of public areas and it is small enough that one does not need to wait in line for the lunch buffet, sit too far from the stage in the showroom or wait fifteen minutes for bar service. Although I was very worried about the décor when I saw the brochures and pictures on the web, I was very impressed when I saw it in person. The over-the-top colors and patterns shown in promotional materials are subdued onboard. The high ceilings and vast expanses of space needed these few "over-the-top" colors and patterns. The overall effect was a very sophisticated, relaxed, and nice setting.
The only other comment I have about the ship that is not addressed below, is that this is was a very dressy cruise. Not only was the atmosphere dressy, but the passengers dressed up every evening - whether it was formal night: Tux/Formal wear required, informal night: suit required, or casual night: sport shirt with or without jacket, nice slacks/dress or equivalent. Nearly every passenger adhered to the code; few wore suits on formal night.
The entertainment was on par to most luxury resorts I have visited, but compared to Las Vegas or Carnival or Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, the entertainment was mediocre to fair. For example, comedians were featured for five of the first seven shows. One of the comedians was so horrible, that about a fourth of the passengers left during his "Pianist/Comedian" performance. The other two comprised of local talent from Acapulco and the Celebrity Dancers for the Welcome aboard party.
During the second week, the Celebrity Dancers and Orchestra performed four times and the shows were all really good; in particular, the Bond Voyage show was excellent and included lasers, spectacular choreography and outstanding pair dancing.
If this had been a one-week cruise in lieu of two weeks, perhaps they would have had fewer comedians and more of the Celebrity entertainers, which did a much better job.
The Mercury should be handed an award for the greatest variety of music. They featured a variety of Big Band, Swing, Jazz, Classic Rock, Top 40 and County in their lounges and nightclubs every single night. This is not to mention the accapella string quartet, Four Winds, and the two member band, Joy and Duo, which sang a variety of music poolside or at the various lounges, both of which were outstanding. In addition, classical music such as Vivaldi, Bach, Lizst, and Dvorzak was generally played at Dinner. What they lacked was the non-ending steel drum music that many cruise lines feature. Overall, the music quality and variety was outstanding.
The service was also fantastic at the lounges and nightclubs. Rendezvous Square was always a hit. Whether stopping for a pre-dinner cocktail or for after Dinner trivia, this area had the music, the service, and the drinks J . They also featured kereoke at the Rendezvous Square, much to my disappointment. (My husband thinks he can sing and knows he can ever since he won the "Golden Ship" award on the Carnival Elation because the DJ had never seen a better performance or heard a worse voice). Rendezvous Square also had a lot of couches and chairs that were lower to the ground than normal, i.e. at 5'-6" I could lounge and extend my legs. The Navigator Club was usually pretty slow, but the bartenders were fantastic and the people that did visit were pretty fun. I also enjoyed Tastings because it was quiet and it displayed the atrium.
I was fairly disappointed in the daytime entertainment. The daytime entertainment seemed focused on pool activities, movies and food. The pool activities were mediocre because there was not a lot of participation and they penalized one for not signing up a half-hour early to participate. However, the activities were very well organized, but I felt they were too organized; as I mentioned, signing up early was required and one could not join midgame or extend the game.
Most passengers spent the day by the pool. There were plenty of lounges! I cannot comment on whether this was due to the age group of the passengers or whether it was because the crew constantly picked up towels and rearranged lounge chairs.
The Movie Theater was very nice but the one time we saw a movie, we only arrived five minutes early. Unfortunately, there were no seats left. They did accommodate us, however, by bringing in chairs from the adjoining lounge. I was impressed that they did this and knew that they would do the same thing at the pool if it were necessary (in fact, I saw a stash of lounge chairs in one of the crew storage areas while I was walking).
The daytime lectures were minimal, but very good. It is this area that I wish the Mercury would focus more and it is primarily because of this area that I rate the entertainment mediocre because I expected more.
The Mercury boasts a lot of artwork. What I found was a lot of beautiful lithographs and serigraphs, photographs and sculptures. Most of the artwork was "modern". The photographs and sculptures were exceptional (perhaps because I tend to favor these media for modern art). I was disappointed not to see any "great" original paintings because after hearing how much they spent in artwork, I though the Mercury was certain to have one; I either completely missed it/them or there isn't any. However, I was extremely happy to see that every hallway and public area contained numerous pieces of beauty. For example, the Resort deck featured amazing glacier photos, Deck 5 had a wonderful lithograph of hands and Deck 6 had amazing panoramic pieced together photographs created in the 50's. This is not to mention the globe that sits amidst the foyer of Deck 5. One other thing, the serigraphs were very low numbered in the series - a lot of 1's and 2's.
The Mercury held a Veteran Recognition gathering in Tastings. My husband is a Vietnam Vet so we went to this. It was a very special gathering for the 100+ people that attended. Each veteran spoke of his or her service, position, etc. Afterward, everyone mingled. It was a very emotional, impressive meeting.
Ports and Shore Excursions
Cabo San Lucas: My husband and I did not take a ship organized shore excursion at this port because we met a good friend that lives in Cabo. We also visit Cabo a lot since it is a great weekend getaway from San Diego. We love Cabo for the sunshine, the friendly atmosphere and the fantastic beaches. Most of the shore excursions visit the Arch, "El Arco" or Lover's Beach, the southernmost tip of Baja where the Pacific Ocean meats the Sea of Cortez. Based on my experience from previous cruises and from tours we have taken while vacationing Cabo based, the ship offers the best ones. However, the Mercury did not offer deep sea fishing, which is probably the most spectacular day trip one can take in Cabo. They also did not offer any golfing tours, which is a shame because they have gorgeous courses, including one designed by Jack Nicholsen.
Acapulco: We also did not take a ship-organized excursion for this port because we wanted to put our own together. Many of the ship tours included the Cliff Divers. From what I hear, the "Full Acapulco Day with Lunch" tour was probably worthwhile. That tour visited the Cliff Divers, stopped for shopping and then went to the Mayan Palace to relax. My husband and I planned to go to the Mayan Palace in the morning and then to see the Cliff Divers during the evening. Our plans changed when we found out it would cost us $50 each way in cab fare to go to the Mayan Palace; we settled on the Fiesta Americana, a hotel we often stay at in Puerto Vallarta. The Fiesta was all right; it had a nice view but it was above the beach, not on the beach. Afterward, we walked through the City before heading back to ship for some cool air and lunch (100 f outside).
Because it was so hot in Acapulco, we signed up for a Sunset Cruise (the ship didn't leave until close to midnight). We took the AKA-TIKI "The World's Largest Sailing Catamaran" for a three-hour bay cruise. At $18 per person, I highly recommend this tour and wish the Mercury would offer it as part of their program. The AKA-TIKI departs within walking distance of the cruise ship terminal (north of the cruise terminal and then left at the first main street; tickets may be purchased at the cruise port or at the pier - they are all the same price). We sailed past the Mercury, saw the resort section, and saw all of the "Hollywood Celebrities" homes. We also glimpsed at area of the Mayan Palace (and I understood the cab fare). Then, we saw a spectacular sunset and continued around the bay. Last, but not least, our ship stopped in front of the Cliff where the divers jump. We watched the night divers and two of them actually swam up and got into out boat. I highly recommend this bay cruise. It was a little "corny", i.e. Mariachi bands, participation games, and unlimited drinks included with fare, but it was a fantastic way to see a lot of Acapulco.
Punteneras/Puerto Caldera: For this port, we took the Conchiti River Rafting excursion offered on the Mercury. We loved this tour, but we had a hard time picking because all of the tours seemed fantastic and we heard nothing except for good comments about all of them. Although we enjoyed this tour immensely, I meant to sign up for the River Cruise tour that visits the lush Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I still regret not taking the River Cruise tour.
Our tour left the port and took us about 120 miles northeast. We saw a lot of fantastic countryside on the way. We stopped for lunch at a small lodge, where the landscape was beautiful and wild, and they displayed caged toucans and other rare birds, monkeys, and other native wildlife. After lunch, we drove through a small, dilapidated town, but the scenery was beautiful. The Conchiti River is actually part of a Costa Rican damn spillage system. We river rafted about 1 ½ hours in the rain in shallow water with only the slightest current. In addition, our guide was most likely selected because he spoke limited English, not because he knew about river rafting (or floating in this case) and he still managed to get us stuck. Nevertheless, we saw several iguanas and monkeys, but little else other than snakes. One high point of this tour was the bus guide, who was very informed about the culture and geography of his country; he also had a great sense of humor and made the long ride back fun.
The port itself is limited, but the vendors are very friendly and not at all pushy. I really enjoyed this port and would like to visit again. However, my slight experience with Costa Rica is that it is extremely poor and the people are very happy. For instance, trash is everywhere alongside the roads and roads are almost nonexistent, but the people spend their weekends at their beautiful beaches.
I also understand, thanks to our shore tour guide, that every household has a TV set so that they can get together to watch soccer every Sunday after church. I saw this for myself while driving through the "projects" - the government housing for the Honduran refugees and illegal immigrants. Even these poorest of homes featured color TV sets. After all, it was a Sunday afternoon that we drove through their neighborhood, and these friendly people smiled and waved at us as we passed. I can now understand what my younger brother meant when he told me that the people in Paraguay were the nicest, simplest, sincerest and poorest people he has known, after spending two years in Asuncion as a missionary. After connecting eyes with one man, I immediately knew what he meant.
Panama Canal: It was such a fantastic experience to go through the Panama Canal; I am dumbfounded that I had this opportunity. While on the Mercury, my husband and I watched the TV program about the canal history a couple of times before we reached the outskirts of Panama. In our endless pursuit of "bigger and better" this one truly knocked our socks off. Although I have been through locks before on the Mississippi River, I entered an entranced state with such awe that I have only experienced a few times before: Niagara Falls, Carlsbad Caverns, Arlington Cemetery, Statue of Liberty, Buchart Gardens.
We awoke at 5:30AM EST to watch the ship cross the Bridge of Americas and enter the first locks, Mira Flores. The Mercury passed through the first locks alongside a freighter, which allowed us an excellent viewing opportunity to see the locks in action. The second set immediately followed. by 9AM, we were in Gutan Lake. The scenery was fantastic. Around 3PM, we began to go through the Gutan Locks. Again, the freighter was by our side and we had further opportunity to watch the locks. During the second of the three stages at Gutan, our ship hit the side! In order to go through the locks, a ship can be no wider than 106 feet (the lock is 110 feet wide); the Mercury is 105.6 feet wide.
I do have to admit that my husband Rix was very excited to touch the side of the canal and that was his primary motivation for booking the cruise. I also have to admit that I didn't think about the logistics for this when he first mentioned this. The night before entering the canal, my husband Rix asked me how we were going to do this. This was the first time I really though about it, and of course, I told him it was "theoretically possible but impossible for us". This was not what he wanted to hear.
Technically speaking, we could have touched the side if we were on Deck 3 or lower, if there were public areas there, and if there were open windows positioned at the ground level of the deck. Since there are no public access at that deck and since there are no open windows, it is impossible for us, as follows:
Since the lock is only 30 feet high, I need to be at 30 feet or lower:
30 feet = deck height * #of Decks
Assume deck height is 10 feet (8.5 feet to the ceiling and 1.5 feet for the rest (piping, concrete, supports)
30 feet/10 feet = 3 decks
This is not to mention that windows are another five feet or so higher and that public cannot go outside until deck 6.
This was our favorite port. I was stunned and amazed at this clean, safe and modern city. We did not sign up for a ship-authorized excursion because we only wanted to shop for an emerald and, if we had time, to see the old town. We were disgusted when we got off the ship because we were hoarded with guides that wanted to charge us a lot more than it was worth to visit the ship recommended emerald stores in the new town.
Although the shore excursion officer said that only the guides speak English, we knew from reference that many taxi drivers also speak English. We hired a taxi driver outside the terminal that spoke limited English. With our limited Espanol, we were able to spend an hour in the new town to purchase gifts for the familia and to spend two hours at the forte for café y emeraldes. We even found out that we could purchase coca, but were warned that 1 gram is 1 year J . I would recommend the City Shopping tour in hindsight. If in the market for emeralds, the new town has the top of the line for about $900 per carat. The old town, in particular the warehouses sell second rate emeralds for less than US $200 per carat (brilliant green with small inclusions - many in an area disguised by the setting).
We signed up for the Atlantis submarine tour. We had seen this tour offered at numerous ports in the Caribbean on past cruises and vacations, but we had read that this is one that is worthwhile. I must admit that I was impressed. Although the tour was over one hour late leaving, we were expediently taken to the port and immediately boarded the ship. The tour was fantastic. We went down 150 feet and saw shipwrecks, barracudas, and numerous fish. I can't say that the fish were colorful because red and other colors filter out when underwater.
On the tender back from the Atlantis, we watched the Heineken Hobby races. It was fantastic because we saw a lot of them tip over J .
We did visit Carlos y Charlies. I highly recommend that you stay away from this place. The restroom did not work while we were there, the food was horrible and there was no view. They also did not have any area for entertainment - unlike Cozumel.
Aruba in general is beautiful; it is very clean and hassle free.
Spa and Salon
I have little to comment on in this area because I did not spend much time at the Aqua Spa. The one time I did visit the beauty salon was to purchase hair conditioner; I spent three times more than I normally spend at my 5* salon at home. In addition, I intended to have my nails "filled" while onboard - but at US $55+ tip, I waited. The prices for cuts and color were about as my salon in San Diego, however.
The Aqua Spa staff also offered numerous complimentary makeovers, fitness workshops and aerobics classes, which I did not attend. I found the impromptu "walk-a-mile" track on Deck 12 instead.
Personally, I expect to be pampered and catered to when I take a cruise or a vacation. The last thing I want to hear is service staff complaining about working conditions and pay, which is exactly what I did get while onboard another cruise ship last year. After that experience and after the numerous news spots I have watched and read since then, I was weary about taking another cruise. I am so happy that we went on the Mercury because it has completely changed my opinion.
I cannot properly express how extremely satisfied I felt with each crewmember on the Mercury. I now understand why some cruisers only book this ship. It would take me numerous hours to give specifics, so let me summarize:
My husband brought a small cooler onboard, which, as instructed by my husband, was never left unfilled by our room stewards
Our dinning room waiter specially purchased and served me coffee he procured when I complained about the on-board coffee.
Our dinning room waiter asked the chef and the chef specially cooked me an entrée without garlic, when I mentioned that I disliked garlic
The service staff in the buffet dinning room carried our trays and found seats for us
The matrie'd greeted us by name each evening and questioned our whereabouts when we missed an evening
The shore tour staff guided us correctly in one port and thankfully talked us out of another at another port
The wine steward promptly opened and courteously served wine and champagne we brought aboard or received as a gift ($6 cork fee for non-gift wines)
The reception deck confirmed our flights home for us
I also didn't hear a single complaint from any of the staff about being overworked or underpaid; in fact, I heard the opposite. I cannot express how important this is to me because I don't want to feel guilty about indulging myself for a week or two after working hard all year.
The Mercury not only ensures that their passengers are taken care of, they ensure their employees are. The crew has their own private pool onboard the Mercury and many spend their afternoons off relaxing and drinking beer (we saw this from our Cabin 8000). The service was impeccable, the ship was impeccable, the food was outstanding, the ports were outstanding, the cabin was excellent, and the entertainment was mediocre. Overall, the Mercury Panama Canal November 12-27, 2000 will be tough to beat. She EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATION ONCE. I hope the Mercury will deliver on my next cruise onboard her - Buenos Aires round trip for the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, February 2-17, 2002.
Prologue: The day before the cruise was to end I got the little questionnaire card. You know the ones, with all the questions, rate the food, cabin, service, etc. So, I fill it out. Then I wonder how come I rate the overall cruise experience excellent, when I've marked so many of the individual items good, fair and in some cases poor? For the answer to that you'll have to read on.
Planning: The conventional wisdom today for the big savings is to book early. I guess I don't do conventional wisdom. Perhaps it is because I'm a master procrastinator. All year long I get the little notices, scour the web sites, look at the paper but never get around to booking. Then as fall starts to descend, the need to cruise overwhelms me. So in the first week of September 2000 I called my travel agent to check into a few Holland America Line specials for October and early November. My requirements, no less then 12 days, not too many ports (I'm a sea day kind of guy) and any old grade of outside cabin. I would book asI did on the Veendam last year as a single, so I knew that I'd be paying the supplement.
I had a darn good idea of what was available, my travel agent gave me the costs and cabin options for the cruise I requested. What happened next showed me why it is essential to use professional travel agents. They come up with options that the most dedicated Internet cruise surfer miss. During the conversation he said, "you know, if it's sea days you're after you should consider the Celebrity's Mercury they're doing a one day sale. I can get you 14 days from San Diego through the Panama Canal to Ft. Lauderdale for a lot less money and in a better grade of cabin then the 12 day Caribbean cruise you're considering. The only problem is it leaves in two weeks, September 17th." A Panama Canal cruise in September? Conventional wisdom says no, too hot, too humid, too rainy, too many hurricanes. "Book it," I said. Because it was two one way airfares from Seattle to San Diego and Ft. Lauderdale to Seattle, I couldn't do better then what Celebrity air/sea program was offering. All in all, with airfare, port taxes, and paying 200% cruise fare I still couldn't afford not to go. Such is the beauty of a cruise that is being wholesaled. Was there anything I missed? Well, as it turns out there was. That night at the local watering hole I casually mentioned I was taking a cruise to a long time female friend (and I mean friend, might as well be my sister, involved in a long-term relationship, sort of friend). Offhandedly I invited her, as I had the year before. This time she consulted her partner who said without missing a beat, "go for it Linda." She did.
Getting There: We were at Celebrity's Mercy regarding the air connections. Already being on the West Coast I had assumed we would be routed through LAX, but there was no way to know. Even my travel agent didn't know until the documents were Federal Expressed 3 days before the cruise. "Salt Lake City!!" I groaned. He reassured me, it wasn't that far out of the way. I checked the map, he was right. My ability to procrastinate is exceeded by one other quality, my ability to worry and make contingency plans. I did a quick check of other flight from Salt Lake City to San Diego, and found there was only one that would get us to the ship on time if we missed our connection. I felt like I was on the high wire with a tiny little net below me.
As it turns out the fates were with us. The flights went off without a hitch, although leaving at 6:05am meant getting up somewhere around 3:30am. We arrived in San Diego shortly after 1:00pm, and were greeted by the unflappably pleasant Celebrity ground personnel, with those charming Steppford wife smiles. "It's in the water Linda," I whispered, "if they offer you something, don't drink it."
After our bags came off the carousel, we were directed to possibly the only non air-conditioned bus in San Diego and it's about 100 degrees outside, much hotter inside. This is our first chance to see the demographics of the cruise, and we're none to reassured. We're both 45, and felt like teenagers compared to our fellow passengers on the bus. Fortunately the drive to the ship is short. Hot, but short. What comes next was also hot, but not so short.
Embarkation: We arrive at the pier around 1:20pm. The huge warehouse type room is packed, and stiflingly hot. They are already boarding number "6". Knowing a thing or two I don't let my jaw drop in shock, I don't take in the sights and sounds, I don't complain, I beeline for the number table and get "16." Linda weaves her way in behind me, since at 6'6" and 240 pounds I'm easy to spot in a crowd. All right, 250 pounds, but I was planning to lose weight. This is our second chance to see the demographics and we are relieved. There are quite a few people our age and younger, some a touch older, a few families with well-behaved children, and of course the spry and not so spry "seasoned citizens," truly a mixed bag. On a 14-day cruise I had expected a much older crowd.
It's taking about 10 minutes per number so I figure had an hour and a half to wait. Celebrity has set up little refreshment stands with nondescript watery Kool-Aid sort of drinks (Steppford water?) in the front half of the Hall. People are literally jammed into the room. Scanning over the top of the room (helps being tall) I see the area away from the check-in lines and all the little booths is far less crowed. We wander over there and find some very nice empty metal benches, a bar and garage style doors that are open to the breeze and view of the hull of the ship. Everyone else stays over by the check-in lines perhaps expecting that they'll call the numbers randomly. People watching easily fills the next hour and twenty minutes until our number is called. We zip through the line, they take an imprint of the credit card, and we're on our way, after stiff arming the photographers at the gangway. The last thing I want to see is a sweaty disheveled picture of myself before I have a tan!
The Cabin: We are escorted to our category 4 cabin on the 9th deck (Vista) number 9019, well forward on the port side. Having looked at the deck plan I knew exactly where we were. Right over the bow thrusters, but fortunately on a very high deck. My initial reaction when they opened the door was, "how are we going to get all our stuff in here?" Followed by, "can you find our room steward to separate the beds." They had been made into a double, and traveling with my friend (might as well be sister, has a partner sort of friend), it was a little closer then either of us planned to be.
The cabin had a very large window, small love seat, three closets (although only two are hanging full length, the middle unit is shelves and drawers), a corner unit that contains the TV, Safe, and locked Mini Bar. Two nightstands with drawers, a small desk with drawers and a chair. The carpet, bed spreads and curtains are done in pleasant blues, which worked rather nicely with the bleached ash looking cabin paneling. Across from the bed and desk were large mirrors that I did my best to avoid for the duration of the cruise. Linda suggested that if they were smoked or peach colored, it would be much kinder. I must say the bathroom unit, although small approximately 6 x 4 is incredibly ingenious. It has without a doubt the best shower I've ever seen in a non-suite. As it turned out all of our stuff did fit in the room with drawer space to spare. Hanging space was a little tight for a 14-day cruise. It would be a very comfortable home for two weeks, and the more time passed the more I came to realize how well it was designed. The room Steward did an excellent and unobtrusive job throughout the trip.
The Ship: The ship itself is vast, exceptionally clean, and the public rooms are much more tasteful then they look in the brochure. I won't do a room by room review. Look at Celebrity's deck plans for the exact layout if that interests you. There were a lot of things I liked and several I did not. This is a beautiful ship, no doubt about it. However, it is also a ship that lacks a truly great room or lounge. The room with the most comfortable chairs and decor is Michael's Club, a "clubby" cigar bar that was rarely used, perhaps due to the stench that lingered in the room if there were more than two people smoking. The Pavilion lounge located aft above the restaurant has a large tiered sitting area and dance floor, but the low ceiling and numerous massive almost pyramid style pillars make the sight lines truly horrendous. A potentially great lounge (Tastings) was cut in half by the Atrium and another Rendez-Vous is used as a thoroughfare to the restaurant. In short, although many rooms have wonderful features, none really pull all the design elements together. The closest was The Navigator Club while an underused disco at night is a wonderful multi level room with two story windows on three sides. It was great for the transit of the Panama Canal, or a place to pull up a chair and read a book by day.
Sadly much of the furniture throughout the ship is uncomfortable. The banquettes that line the some of the lounges are rock hard. Some of the armchairs are as low as a bean bag chair, and not easily exited from. The barrel chairs tend to be narrow and very heavy. Certainly there is furniture that is comfortable, but much of it, alas is not.
There is no full promenade area on the Mercury. Sadly this is the trend in ships today. There is a tiny little jogging area on the Sky Deck (12) that was twelve laps to a mile. Since this is where I was usually tanning my considerable girth, I got to know these healthy joggers and power walkers almost intimately. There is a partial promenade on the 6th deck. To do a complete circuit of the ship I'd start on the 11th level, towards the bow (always taking a minute to gaze down at the crew pool area located in the bow section, which weather permitting was quite visual) and work my way up to the 13th (although very quietly since this is above the Sky Suites) towards the stern.
Another annoyance is that there is no self-service laundry on board. I have no problem paying for the cleaning of a dress shirt, suit, or slacks. I do mind paying a $1.00 for a pair of socks. Having read other reviews, we brought some dry detergent and did the small stuff in the sink and used the handy line in the shower to let things dry.
The Pools: The two main pools are located on the Resort (11th) deck, one is fresh water, one salt. There are several hot tubs in this area also. The pool area has padded chaise lounges on the main level, but not in other areas. Due to the number of sea days and we were running at a fairly high capacity, finding a lounge in the sun on the main level was a little dicey.
However one level up (Sky Deck) there was always an abundance of open lounges, and frankly better breezes. No complaints here. In the rear of the ship there is a smaller pool covered by a dome. Most of the time the roof was closed and this area used more for eating then for sunning or swimming.
The Spa & Gym: The Aqua Spa is run by Steiners. For those who don't know, Steiners is to Ship Spas, what DeBeers are to Diamonds, a complete monopoly. I didn't use these facilities. I'm not sure what would happen if someone tried to wrap me in seaweed, or exfoliate me in other fashions. I don't want to know. You do have to go past the mint smocked Steiner maidens to get to the gym. I always thought they were looking at my pores a little too hard as I passed. It was creepy. The Gym is L shaped with a very small free weight station, some Nautilus style equipment, stair steppers, treadmills and such and the like. Not large, but it seemed more than adequate for the number of passengers who actually used them. There was also a carpeted aerobic and stretching area.
That's Entertainment: There are three kinds of entertainment on a ship. The Show's, The Headliners, and the Lounge Acts. I don't expect a cruise ship to be Las Vegas. I've done Vegas, from backstage. I expect the Production shows to be amateurish. I suspect the headliners are on their way down the slippery ladder of semi-stardom. Lastly, I hope the Lounge Acts are marginally entertaining, and musically competent. Ultimately, it gives those who want something to do after dinner other than drink and gamble someplace to go. The venue for the shows and headliners is the Celebrity Theater. Done in shocking red and gold it is quite comfortable and has good sight lines generally. However when the stage is open (without backdrops) to the wall of video monitors it is very unfinished and distracting. You can see behind the exposed floor speakers to the back wall. The stage floor itself could use a new coat of paint. Minor flaws certainly.
On this cruise, there were some highs and lows. At the onset I don't usually name, names. Chances are you'll not have the same band or person on any ship you travel on. Normally I would speak in generalities. I'm certainly not going write someone's name for all to see that I think is incompetent. No, I don't want a drink thrown in my face in the very unlikely event our paths would ever cross again.
Lounge Acts: Several of the lounge acts were quite amazing and really the best entertainment on the ship. I'm going to name them because I hope you'll be as lucky as we were and run into them. Voltz, labeled as the "Caribbean Band" they could play almost anything in any style, and they possessed truly gifted lead singer. The Kaster Strings, the classical combo, extremely talented, symphony quality musicians with a good range of classical and popular music. Finally, Full Sail, an accappella quartet. These guys had just gotten together a few months before the cruise, and they are learning new songs literally by the day. They were great.
Headliners: The cruise had a variety of headliners, none of which are really household names. For a reason I might add. Of course there are comics. One was introduced with the fanfare of being a 4 time star search winner. Gosh. For one musician the term "The Piano Wizardry" came before his name. Piano Lizardly may have been more appropriate. I'm sure he was telling the same jokes as on his first cruise on the Titanic. He probably got to the lifeboats before they were full because they booed him off the stage. Another Pianist, classical this time, did a very sweet history of Chopin, with a wonderful narration. Another comedy team, another musician so on and so forth.
The Production Shows: Exactly what you would expect, lots of molar exposing smiles, reasonably good singing, sort of high kicks, not so leggy dancers, and choreography that would work even if he ship were about to capsize. This isn't Vegas, this isn't Atlantic City, this isn't Reno, this isn't Branson, this isn't, well you get my drift. This is a cruise ship. They don't pay enough money to get top dancers, or choreographers. Ultimately what does it matter if the robes for the Jesus Christ Superstar number look like they belonged on the Liberace Tabernacle Choir? These kids are doing a very competent job, if you want to see a great production show, go to Vegas or Atlantic City.
Special recognition should go to the Celebrity Orchestra. They were all talented, professional musicians and they produced a very good sound.
The Cruise Staff: If I had written this the first two days of the cruise it would have sounded like this: To them "perky" would be considered a state of clinical depression. They have achieved frenetic. So much so that they should post a warning sign, advising diabetics to stand back 30 feet to avoid insulin shock. That is what I would have written. Over time I got acquainted with several of the young men and women that make up the cruise staff. I like them. On a one on one basis they're wonderful people. They are following orders, and doing their jobs. Put them in a group, play some music and wham, "perky". I'm not sure who determined that "perky" was going to be the style that all cruise staffs must emulate. I wonder if that person will die a horrible, yet smiling death? They would deserve such a fate for what they have wrought on not only the passengers, but also the cruise staff members. For it is these young men and women that are going to suffer the lasting consequences of perkiness, lockjaw and those little squint lines around the eyes.
The Cruise Director: See above but add: perpetually disingenuous.
The Food: The Main Dining Room: Here I expected Celebrity to shine. They shamelessly tout their dining experience as a cut above all the other premium lines. "Exceeding Expectations." They advertise. If the review were written that first night it would have been "Crushing Expectations." I will say at the onset, that all of the food, no matter what the course, was beautifully presented. I went with what the chef recommended that first night. Great appetizer. So-so soup. The freshest looking salad I've seen on a ship but I chose a dressing (tasting of turned buttermilk if that's possible) that made it inedible. A truly wonderful steak, but the little potato fritters had a consistency of quick drying spackle. Literally I could not get the taste out of my mouth, or my teeth. I wondered if they might have discovered through serendipity an amazing new tooth bonding process. Things happen that way you know. In the days that followed, the kitchen seemed to even things out a bit. However, things were either a hit, in that I mean excellent or a miss, meaning in some cases inedible. In their defense if you didn't like what you ordered, you could order something else, which was promptly brought without question. Based upon the per diem of what I was paying for the cruise I had no business complaining even if they served me pureed rats. Hum, perhaps that was the filler of potato fritters.
The Service: The dining room staff tends to be Eastern European. Our waiter was wonderful, pleasant, professional and appropriate in all circumstances. He did have one presentation thing we found amusing and that was to squeeze through two diners with the dessert tray and hold it so low you thought he was going to rest it on the water glasses. Our assistant waiter had two moods sullen and intrusive and he could switch between them faster than a person with multiple personalities on diet pills. It wasn't just our assistant waiter, I heard many other people discussing their waiters or assistant waiters also. They seemed to be using the passengers to work on their English and were often involved in LONG rambling antidotes. While you can't fault them for learning English, often when it comes to dinning service, the less said the better. One person said that he thought the Eastern Europeans were trying to emulate the banter of (Princess's) Italian crews, but with none of the charm. That summed it up well I for some of the servers I thought.
The Dining Experience: Part of the experience is the food and service. Ambiance is another. Being on the second level of the Manhattan Dining Room our table lacked the sweep and grandeur of the high ceilings of the first floor. Still it's a very lovely room. For me, the key to the dining experience is your tablemates. Great conversation can make up for almost anything I have found in my previous 11 cruises. Although we had signed up for a table of 10, we got a table of 6. Two other couples not much margin for error I thought as we approached the table. For those of you who have ever been at a "bad" table you know what I mean. A negative tablemate or two and you're off to the restaurant manager for reassignment. As it turned it there was no need to worry. To Marilyn and Neil, Phil and Sharon, thank you. You were definitely one of the highlights of the cruise. We tended to laugh harder, and linger longer than any other table in the restaurant.
The Buffets: Bar none the best buffet restaurant I have ever seen on a ship or anywhere else. An amazing variety of foods, fresh and wonderfully presented in four separate stations. Waiters are present to take your tray after you go through the line to help you find a table. This is a very nice gesture, especially for the older passengers. There are two smaller buffets in the main and rear pool area, for after hours continental breakfast, burgers and ribs for lunch, and after hours pizza. It seems you could eat about 20 hours a day if you chose.
Room Service: Linda came down with a respiratory infection 7 days into the cruise and had room service one night. Ordered through interactive TV the selection is extremely limited. A few soups, a few sandwiches and a few beverages. The food is edible and extremely bleak, period end of story. If you were thinking of having a romantic dinner in your cabin, think again. Room service for dinner will satisfy only those who are so sick that venturing out of the cabin is a fate worse than death.
Lounges and Deck Service: The numerous lounges had very professional bartenders and service personnel. I am one of those people who appreciate the fact that Celebrity adds 15% to the bar tab as gratuity. That way I don't have to hunt down my favorite bar servers the last night of the cruise to tip them. The servers do get to keep the15% I confirmed, although I wasn't certain if the bartender ended up with a small percentage. I tend to tip in excess of 15% in the real world, and in certain circumstances WAY in excess of that. I can usually tell when that happens the following day when I can't read my own signature on the charge slips. The deck service was appropriate and not pushy. My only beef in this regard has to do with Celebrity's policy not to allow the servers to wear sunglasses while on the open decks. It's amazingly bright out there and I think they're endangering the health of their employees, a number of which complained of headaches and dizziness.
Cabo San Lucas: Hot This was a Tender Port, which is always difficult for the passengers who are less mobile. Since we were the first cruise ship through of the season, the vendors were very aggressive.
Acapulco: Hot and huge.
Puerto Caldera: Hot and dirty.
Cartagena, Colombia: Hot and surprisingly modern.
Aruba: Hot and quite pretty.
As you can see, it was hot. We knew that going in, you can't buck conventional wisdom and not pay a price. However, we were fortunate to skirt most of the hurricanes and tropical depressions. One of the reasons I chose this cruise was the number of sea days 9 (if you included the Panama Canal). A cruise for me is about the ship, not the ports. You really don't do a cruise to get to know any port intimately. There just isn't time. Celebrity offers a variety of shore excursions, some of which are good values, some not so good. Quite a few of the tours involve being bounced around in buses and short photo opportunities. Since I'm 6'6" I have found from past cruises that the people in the seat in front of me, do not appreciate having my knees in their back the entire trip. I don't do buses anymore. I've been to Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco a number of times before anyway. I didn't do any organized tours, but went ashore for long walks, a little shopping, and to hunt down Internet Cafes to send home messages everywhere expect Cartagena. Since Columbia second main industry seems to be kidnapping, I promised my sister before I left that I'd stay on the ship. You certainly are safe enough on the tours, since they like to pick individual business people for ransom, instead of tourists by busload.
Port Guides: A particular pet peeve of mine. Only a few shops get recommended and included in the Port Guides, and they tell you those are the ones that have paid Celebrity a "promotional fee." Since many of the passengers do not carry other travel guides they are left to fumble around in the dark (actually the blazing sun).
The Panama Canal: This was my first passage and I was prepared to ho-hum the experience. There is a set of locks about 5 miles from where I live and I've done them hundreds of times. Gates open, boats go in, gates close, water is pumped in/out, boats rise or lower, gates open, boats goes out. However, it is the sense of history here that is impressive. Celebrity ran little programs on the TV and gave us printed material on the locks that put the whole experience in perspective. The failure of the French to build a sea-level canal, the horrific loss of human life due to accidents and illness, and technology that was extremely primitive. Yet, the locks where completed in 1914 and still operate. A tribute to man's ingenuity over nature when such things were appreciated. The Mercury is one of the largest cruise ships capable of passing through the Canal and it was a very tight fit indeed. What I found more interesting then the Locks themselves was Lake Gatun. It was rugged, lush and incredibly beautiful. The Mercury really absorbed people well for the Canal crossing. Although the weather was hot, it was not unbearable. Many ventured out on the open decks and some used the Navigator Lounge or the lower public rooms in air-conditioned splendor.
Medical Facilities: Unfortunately both Linda and I had the opportunity to visit the facilities aboard ship. She for a respiratory infection the 7th day into the cruise ($246). Me, for a sinus infection the 12th day ($75). I got the better deal because I have more medical savvy, and declined a number of tests. Having had a rare cancerous tumor 2 ½ years ago, I'd already been through the ringer (an operation, chemotherapy, and radiation) once. I know my body, scared (and tubby) as it may be. After the obligatory blood pressure and temperature I had a very long visit with the doctor discussing the relative merits of different antibiotics. The facilities themselves are quite adequate, and the doctor seemed very knowledgeable, even with English as a second language. There were certainly a number of passengers streaming in and out throughout the cruise. Bugs spread quickly on ships.
Disembarkation: Always the saddest part of the trip. Celebrity did a very good job with organization and staging. However, there were too few porters to help you with your bag once you got to the pier, and the buses to the airport a bit of a hassle. Celebrity can not be blamed for the passenger that finally figures out they're on the wrong bus after 27 announcements where the bus was going. I pity the poor bus driver who had to haul all the luggage out to find the guys bags. If you're going to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, do yourself a favor and grab a cab, it only costs a few bucks.
The Overall Cruise Experience: So now that you've read the above you may wonder, why I rated the overall cruise experience excellent? Because the cruise experience is more then the sum of the individual parts. The overall cruise experience is a state of mind. It is about stepping outside of your normal life. It's about how you relate with the people. It's about conversation, whether at dinner, by the pool, or a snide aside during a show.
It's about never having to use the same towel twice, clean a plate, or cook a meal. It's about watching people. It's about joining in the organized activities, or just sitting in the shade with a book. It's about savoring the moment, trying to slow time down and burning images into memories. In this regard I thought Celebrity pulled all the pieces together well. While there were certainly things that were not perfect, there weren't any glaring errors. There is also another factor, in that you get what you pay for. In this case I didn't pay enough to have anything other than an incredible time.
I am 58 years old and have taken 14 cruises. This review is meant for people like me who constantly puzzle over which cruise line to book, based on Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America. I have sailed on Princess 4 times, RCL 4 times, Celebrity once on the Century, and never on Holland America.
My most recent cruise was with my grown daughter on The Mercury Jan.16 to 23rd 2000 Western Caribbean with ports of key West, Calica, Cozumel, and grand Cayman, with only two days at sea (not enough!) First a comment about this itinerary at this time of year. While warm enough at 78 to 81 degrees, we escaped the prior week with cold tamperatures and 15 foot seas. The eastern or southern itinerary would have been a better guarantee, I would think, of warmer seas and air.
It's probably most helpful, without giving you a detailed rundown of every last aspect of the ship which can easily be found in other reviews, to instead compare my general impressions of the Mercury with my last sailing on Royal Caribbean's Splendor of the Seas, and also mention in passinghow this ship struck me in comparison with her sister ship the Century, which I sailed prior to RCL's takeover. Celebrity is billed as a cut above. Not necessarily so.THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT SPLENDOR:
1. The Splendor's gorgeous, much-loved centrum , a natural meeting place, surrounded by shops. This is lacking on Celebrity ships. There is instead a lobby, albeit a very attractive one, but lacking in glamorous ambience of a true centrum.
2. The Splendor's huge indoor Solarium with its splash pool, hot tubs, classical music, roman luxury decor, and pizza parlour was the place we headed after every day in port. On The Mercury there is instead only a small indoor pool at aft, no hot tubs, and without the lofty design and beauty.
3. The Splendor's entertainment, whether headliners or broadway shows, were excellent. On the mercury, on the other hand, the headliners were great, but the broadway shows lame, and my daughter refused to attend another.
4. The Splendor's passenger talent night is always one of the surprising hightlights of the cruise. On the mercury, there was none. it was cancelled due to non-participation. No doubt this was influenced by mercury's policy of never announcing anything, leaving your only source of info the daily cruise journal. This lack of announcemnets had other ramifications for me as well. (read on)
5. On the Splendor, the captain addresses passengers daily from the bridge - not to be missed - with details of our voyage and often bits of humor. On the Mercury, silence. On Splendor meals are announced with a series of soft bells and a wish for a bon appetit. I have grown to expect and like this cruise detail. On Mercury, silence. On Splendor at the Welcome Captain Party, the captain makes an interesting speech with details about the line and a joke or two. On the Mercury, a very dour captain says about two sentences. Very disappointing for a welcome party.
6. Splendor's food was consistently good. On Mercury, when it was good, it was very good, but it was not consistent. Lunches in the dining room were uniformly awful, pasta was inedible, and desserts were inconsistent. I think that corners have been cut here. Food was fresh and served hot however, and beef was perfectly cooked.
7.. RCL ships have lots of greenery whereas on the Mercury this is lacking. RCL's Pool deck is pretty and designed well On the mercury, there seems to be this odd space around the pool which does nothing and would be better used for either lounges or greenery.THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT MERCURY:
1. On the Mercury's aft pool deck, behind the palm grill was a lovely area with umbrella chairs for meals with a stunning view of the ship's wake. One deck below, was a beautifully quiet, narrow deck for sunning with partial shade at times of the day. perfect!
2. The Mercury's SPA thermal sea water pool, with a an extra charge of $15 per day, was a treat for sore muscles. Especially nice if you wanted to be out of the sun and noise of the pool deck. However, on Splendor, the solarium hot tub, which was free, worked just as well for me.
3. The Mercury's Palm Court Grill on the pool deck was spacious, airy, and pretty with 4 serving stations so there were never long lines. A very nice touch here was linen placemats on the trays and the fact that there was always a waiter on hand to carry the tray to a table, and there were always tables! the dining area was partitioned for a feeling of intimacy and it was great. Frozen yogurt was served at tea time and was marvellous!
4. Mercury has 600 fewer passengers, hence more space. There were always vacant seats in the theatre, in fact often a lot of them.
5. Mercury's very good cabin soundproofing . I don't want to make too much of this owing to the fact that our cabin was on the sky deck (the highest) and so may have been unusually quiet.
6. One of Mercury's pleasant entertainment perks was an archipela group who sang at random around the ship delighting everyone.
The most disappointing thing about the Mercury for me was that I had expected the same exquiste food that had been served on the Century, which was not to be. Secondly I was looking forward to the same fabulous, two tiered dining room elegance. Another disappoinment. On the Century the entire aft wall of the dining room is soaring cathedral windows and the centre of the dining room dominates. On the mercury, the centre had been sadly encroached upon by the expanded tiers, leaving the wall of glass diminished and the soaring feel gone. For that alone, I would choose the Century in a heartbeat over the Mercury.
In summary, both are lovely ships, gleaming and immaculate with a different cruise experience. All in all, my personal choice would be RCL over Celebrity, a surprise even for me. The only Princess ships I have sailed on were older ships, not a fair comparison, apples to apples, with Splendor versus Mercury. I would love to hear from anyone who has sailed a great Princess and can compare it to my experience.
Re ship tours: One further note for anyone going to Grand Cayman. Don't bother with the ships' snorkeling. To the right of the pier half a block away sits Eden Rock where there are lockers, equipment rental for $8, and a fabulous dramatic site only yards offshore with easy step entry. Similarly at Cozumel, you can share a cab for a five minute drive to Chancanab Park, enter for $7 and rent equipment for $5 and do everything at your own pace in relative peace. The ocean reef here is pleasant with step entry, and the beach a treat! Re sea-kayaking In Key West - watch the weather as wind and chop makes for a far less that relaxing experience. This was okay, but really all you do is paddle around and through a mangrove island at a very high cost for a brief bit of solitude. (Xcaret, at Calica ..by comparison is a huge cash grab. )
This report will set out to answer the philosophical question; is Kuki now grown up, and sophisticated enough to sail Celebrity. And has Celebrity grown up enough for Kuki Our last Celebrity cruise was on Century ( the Mercury's elder sister), during it's second sailing, for New Years 1995. At that time I found the Century to be very beautiful, but we did have some "managerial issues" with our cruise, and after writing to Celebrity at the time, and receiving what we considered an unsatisfactory response, we did what I think any unhappy cruise line passenger should do; we took our cruise dollars elsewhere. Since that time we've taken 8 cruises, many with family and friends, that Celebrity received no share of income from.
It's actually interesting to think back and realize that by leaving us unsatisfied Celebrity has lost out on tens of thousands of cruise dollars in these past 4 years. We've since sailed Royal Caribbean 3 times, Carnival 3 times, Holland America, and Princess.
While Celebrity certainly didn't go broke waiting for our return (well, they did sell out to RCI:). I do think this makes it clear that each oneof us individually can have a financial impact by deciding where we spend our cruise/vacation dollars.
We decided it was time to revisit Celebrity. To give them their proverbial "second chance." What follows is the tale of this return journey. With only faint memories of the bad taste in our mouths, and glowing hopes for a successful return, Mrs. Kuki and I set out to meet the Mercury.
Pre Cruise Stay Many times in the past we've chosen to spend our pre cruise time in Florida at the Marriott Marina Hotel. This trip, with no reason other than looking for a change of pace, we booked into the Embassy Suites on 17 St. We enjoyed having the extra space of the separate living room, bedroom areas; the complimentary breakfasts and happy hours. We'd gladly stay here again.
Just two blocks up from the Embassy Suites, between it and the Marriott Marina, in a small strip mall on the north side of the street, we stumbled across The Bimini Yacht Club. If you're looking for a nice atmosphere for a casual dinner I recommend this spot. They have a wide selection from pizza to steak, and the food was very good, and the there was no sticker shock when the check arrived. We really enjoyed the ambiance of this restaurant.
Sunday morning we awoke ( in the hotel, not the restaurant :) to see the Grand Princess, Maasdam, Veendam, Royal Princess, and Mercury all sharing space in Port Everglades.
EMBARKATION Celebrity has a program in which previous Celebrity passengers are eligible to PURCHASE membership. Once you've sailed with them, for a $35 one time fee, you become a member of the Celebrity Captains Club.
This membership entitles you to priority embarkation/debarkation, a one category upgrade (with restrictions), and some other future Captains Club special offers. As well, members receive a Celebrity promotional video, luggage tags, membership card, and lapel pins. We chose to join mostly for the priority embarkation/debarkation, and were anxious to see how well this worked in delivering said perks. The question as to what they would do if everyone was a Captain's Club member did cross my mind.
We'd heard from past Mercury passengers that embarkation began around 12:45. This was exactly what time it started. Arriving at the pier close to 12:30, and identifying ourselves to Celebrity pier staff as Captain's Club members we were given embarkation #0 and directed to wait near a door marked Suites and Captain's Club. We were asked to produce our membership card to the staff member. There seemed to be a large number of folks in this designated waiting area, so I was curious to see how smooth this procedure would go.
Just prior to starting the embarkation procedure they did make announcements about having one's documents filled out and separated to speed the process. Then came the announcement for Suite passengers and Captain's Club members to begin the embarkation procedure. We were one of the first 20 or 30 through that door, and things went very quickly and smoothly.
I forgot to ask anyone how the regular embarkation went, so I can't be of any help there. Of note here. In the embarkation lounge I did notice a shop selling duty free items, as well as a separate snack bar area, where one could purchase cold sodas etc. for consumption during the wait. Although our wait was too short to have need of the snack bar, I thought the availability was important. So much so, that in a previous "Kuki Report" regarding HAL's Veendam I mentioned the lack of such a facility.
We were greeted at the gangway, and escorted to our cabin by a white gloved staff member. I did turn him in the right direction once along the way, as he seemed to lose his bearings. He was very friendly and even chuckled when I teased him about losing his way. This friendliness was as pleasant a start to our week aboard, as the lack of it was to our complaints from our prior Celebrity experience.
INITIAL REACTIONS Entry to the ship is mid ships on Plaza deck. As we entered, the richness of the furnishings immediately caught my eye,. Very rich shades of blue, and burgundy furnishings, with a lot of camel coloring in the wall treatments made for an elegant first impression. These color tones repeated themselves often throughout the ship, and were aesthetically very pleasing, and offered a wealth of warmth. I particularly liked the combination of blue, purple and green carpeting in the hallway outside our cabin. It sounds kind of horrendous, but I liked it.
OUR CABIN - Category 2, Penthouse Deck Walking into our cabin I was less overwhelmed. The interior decorations were just as pleasing as the public areas. In the case of the cabin, a warm combination of blues and greens with blonde wood, and lots of mirror. However, the cabin just didn't "feel" as large as I'd expected. It does have 3 full length closets, one with built in shelving, a corner mini bar, private safe, and television unit, King size bed, nice size bathroom ( with a wonderful full size shower), desk, and sitting area complete with small table.
The sitting area and desk area seemed quite cramped . What I expected to be a sofa was a really a love seat, and in fact for two to sit on it together you really would have to be in love. Placing my largesse on this "sofa" left little room for Mrs. Kuki, other than in my lap, and we've been married much too long for that.
With the location of the small glass table sitting between the "sofa" and the desk, this entire area seemed to get cramped and cluttered, even though the desk was rather tiny. I am a rather large person, at 6'3" tall, but still didn't expect to feel so much like Gulliver while sitting at the desk. The one other surprising area was the rather small balcony. It did feature a full size chaise lounger, a side chair with ottoman, and a small table. However it was too small an area for all this furniture. The door to the balcony was a standard glass door that opened outward. We found we were constantly moving furniture to open the door, go out, and re adjust the furniture before sitting down. To keep the door open at night, as we like to do, we had to use furniture to hold it propped open as there was no other mechanism to keep the door in place.
I prefer the sliding doors that can be opened without taking space from the cabin or balcony. The cabin served the needs of Mrs. Kuki and I adequately, but I was surprised to find that, in comparison, we found the Category D's on Royal Caribbean ships much more comfortable. Excepting, of course, the minute RCI showers, in relation to the "big enough for three" showers of the Mercury. Mrs. Kuki and I normally enjoy the adventure of showering together on ships.(Oops, I'm not supposed to tell). In the case of Mercury, there was really no point, as it would have presented no challenge. The shower was a nice size, and had the telephone head which I enjoy, but getting a consistent and comfortable temperature wasn't an easy task. Ours seemed to have hot, hotter and burn your buns, and all within the time frame of one shower.
THE SHIP The ship is kept in immaculately clean condition. Everything bright and shining throughout. Two of the most important areas of the ship to cruisers is the dining room and alternate restaurant. In the case of the Mercury, the buffet and alternate dining area is on the Resort Deck (Deck 11), called the Palm Springs Cafe. The design work was again very pleasing to the eye. The dining areas are divided by etched glass panels, into many smaller areas, and we liked the effect.
There are four serving lines for the buffet here, and this seemed very effective for moving people through at a reasonably quick pace. There were separate areas for made to order omelets for breakfast, and various pastas for lunches, as well as walk up windows for free ice cream, and quite a number of drink stations for free coffee, ice tea, lemonade and fruit punch.
Aft of the Palm Springs, is a swimming pool, equipped with a "Magadrome", sliding roof that could be closed during inclement weather. In this area there was a grill for hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, etc. Further aft of this pool, at the far rear of the ship, was an area with many tables and umbrellas and chairs, where one could have a meal or snack, while staring back at the ship's wake. I really liked this area, though it did seem fairly windy on a couple of occasions we tried to sit there.
There is another grill located by the amidships, La Playa pools. The midship pool has a large raised Jacuzzi tub separating two small pools. This area was bordered on the sides, by a very odd roped off area, about eight feet across on each side of the pools. I never did figure out what this area was for. My guess was that it may have been designed as some sort of overflow area for water coming from the swimming pools, but to my way of thinking, it was just a waste of valuable deck space in an popular high traffic spot.
I'm not sure this would be so noticeable on a regular sailing, but with the ship full for an Easter sailing, it certainly stood out as ill conceived use of space in the sun. We toured the spa area on the first day onboard, and it was very impressive. I was set to book Mrs. Kuki and I for the Rasul treatment I had heard so much about, but from her reaction it seemed she would rather wrestle than rasul, so the interesting story I thought I would have to tell on our return vanished.
Another public room that I found really attractive was the Navigator's Club disco, on Deck 12 forward. This was a circular observation lounge during the day, and a lively disco at night. The problem; during the day there was no bar service to be had here. I would imagine the known traffic patterns dictate this remaining un-staffed, but with a staff ratio of 1 for every 2 passengers, I would like to see one bar staff member there afternoons, at least.
On the Entertainment Deck (6) we often frequented Tastings. This was well located midship for people watching. Another area we liked was the Rendezvous Square and Lounge, located aft, just prior to entering the top floor of the dining room. Personally, I found this spot to be one of my favorites. It was decorated in blues and reds, very open, quite bright and reflected a very comfortable atmosphere. A note of warning. If you're going to sit in one of the red chairs on either side of the Rendezvous, be prepared for a lower than expected landing area for your rear end. The first time one of our travel mates sat in one of these, we almost died laughing, as he almost disappeared below the table top. When he finally straightened himself to an upright position, his head still only came just over the table top. It's just the odd design of the chairs, but it gave us a good laugh.
The Celebrity Theater entered from either Deck 6 or 7, is drop dead gorgeous, with wonderful sight lines. I did come across a bit of an oddity in design having to do with exiting the showroom. If you leave the room on the port side, you must then cross over to starboard, or go up or down a deck to go any further aft on the ship. I believe it's the back wall of the movie theater/conference center that blocks this passage. I don't recall this detour phenomena on the Century.
The ship's casino sits between Tastings and Rendezvous Lounges. It's not too crowded with slot machines and traffic flow through it is surprisingly good. I did find the Casino to be quite stark in appearance. There was really no theme or atmosphere, just gaming tables and slot machines. I tend to spend a fair bit of time in the casinos late in the evening, after Mrs. Kuki packs it in for the night, and was somewhat disappointed with the lack of ambiance.
The Manhattan Dining Room is located on decks 5 & 6 at the immediate rear of the ship. It has a grand staircase, and huge floor to ceiling windows at the rear of the room. It is a beautiful room, and we had a wonderfully located table for 8, just one table removed from the rear windows. Identical in size and layout to the dining room on the Century, the Manhattan somehow doesn't come close to impressing us as much as the dining room on the Century. Though they are sister ships, the Grand Dining Room of Century is my personal choice for the most elegant of any of the ship's I've sailed.
The window treatments in the dining room are incredible. They use blinds that look like pieces of art. We had early seating, and just after being seated for dinner, they would raise the decorative blinds for the gorgeous view out the windows. For those evenings when it was still quite bright, they dropped a sun screen to filter the brightness, yet still allow the view out. This was magnificent!
One thing the Mercury's dining room has in common with the Century is the vibration when using it's thrusters to move away from the pier. With our table location we always knew when we were leaving port. Windows would rattle, and water glasses would shimmer and I'd tell my tables mates not to be concerned, according to many previous Celebrity cruisers, there is no vibration, so it was just our imaginations:)
Michael's Club is located on Deck 8 on the Mercury. This is the lounge to go to for cigar smoking, and a cognac or liqueur. You can bring your own, or purchase hand rolled cigars there. The lounge is comfortably furnished, with many high back leather chairs, and has windows overlooking the Centrum. I thought the same club on Century had a warmer feel, more like a fine Gentleman's Club.
The center of the ship is not designed like the Atriums of RCI or Carnival I'm so fond of. It's open for 4 storeys, but it's quite small across. I did LOVE the astrological art center piece. It was beautiful, and for some reason I found it soothing to look at. While this central area was somewhat reminiscent of the Veendam, the ceilings weren't as low; therefore not nearly as claustrophobic. I would bet that the new 85,000 ton Celebrity ships being built have the expanded atriums.
PERSONNEL On our last sailing with Celebrity this was an area of some concern, and that has a great deal to do with my addressing this in it's own section. The service staff we encountered were terrific. Friendly, hard working and professional. The entertainment staff, led by Cruise Director Jim Cannon, were outstanding. Very passenger involved, very visible, active and always willing to help. The same is true of the ship's social hostess Rebecca. We saw these people all over the ship, with ever present smiles, and a warm welcome for any passengers walking by. I did however notice an "attitude" on the part of officers that was reminiscent of our experience on the Century.
During the course of the week, while moving about the ship, I passed many officers. As we passed, there was only one time the officer smiled, and said good day, prior to me addressing them first. When I initiated the exchange, in most cases, the only response I got was a simple hello, with no real feeling of friendliness. Yes, I understand these people are busy, and have jobs to do. However, I believe that if they are going to be in public areas, good public relations should be part of their job description. Aloofness doesn't leave much of a positive impression!
by mid week most of the casino dealers and I had a nice friendly relationship. I enjoy some tomfoolery while I play cards, and they picked up on it, and I spent some very pleasant evenings with them. This was the first time though that I encountered a very cold pit boss/casino manager. He really had the personality of a casino chip.
I sometimes enjoy playing blackjack at a table with a bit of a higher minimum bet than the normal $5. On Carnival, HAL, RCI, Princess and even on the Century, I have never before had any problem finding, or having them create a table with a $25 minimum bet. At one point I asked the manager if they ever have such a table. His response; there's isn't any demand for it. I went on to ask if my requesting it didn't constitute demand. He said NO, and walked away. Not a big deal really, but certainly strange from a customer service standpoint. Particularly considering the casino was not busy at most times, and fulfilling the request would have inconvenienced no one. Somewhat in this vein; there was an evening in the dining room when one of the choices of entrees was a pasta dish. I asked our waiter if it would be possible to have the pasta entree served as an appetizer, while having a different choice for my entree. His reply was NO, the pasta wouldn't be ready.
I ordered it as an entree, along with my other choice, and he happily delivered it this way. I passed it around the table and we all shared a taste, and it was excellent. Again, not a big deal really. I just found it a bit difficult to believe that the pasta needed that extra few minutes between appetizers and main course to finish cooking. I was surprised that no effort was made to meet a not so "special request" from a cruise line that prides itself on five star service.
I mention these points because I'm generally a very very easy person to please, with very few "special requests". To have two such simple requests refused so offhandedly wasn't particularly impressive. Otherwise our waiter and assistant waiter in the dining room were very efficient and professional. We tried several times to "friendly up" our waiter, but didn't seem to get too far. We faired better with the assistant waiter, as he seemed to understand our sense of humor better. Our cabin steward, Cherry, was cute as a button, very helpful and friendly, and did a good job straightening and cleaning our cabin. Even she seemed to have some difficulty finding spots for everything in the limited space of the cabin. Each night when she turned down the bed, she would fold the bedspread and hide it on the desk chair.
The cabin attendants seemed to have assistants. So now there's the head housekeeper, the cabin steward and the cabin stewards assistant. Mrs. Kuki's now demanding an assistant to the assistant to the assistant at home.
I had very little interaction with the staff at the Purser's desk, but when I did, they were friendly, personable and helpful.
An interesting observation was a staff position I've never seen on a ship before. During the days there was a lifeguard present at the La Playa swimming pools. I imagine this had to do with it being a Good Friday sailing, with lots of kids, as opposed to being a permanent fixture onboard. I thought this showed a healthy concern for the safety of the kids.
The other thing of note, was the presence of uniformed security officers. I asked a staff member if this is the norm, and they advised me that they normally had some, but there seemed to be a more visible presence this week. I guess someone must have told them Kuki would be onboard. There was no real need for concern on their part as I didn't find a bartender who knew what the heck a Creamsicle was, nor anyone that was willing to take the recipe and try and create it. This saved me big bucks on my bar bill as I stuck to diet coke and hot chocolate.
My basic conclusion on the staff; the majority of front end service people were terrific. My thoughts on what might best be called middle management, is that things haven't changed drastically from my 1995/96 New Years sailing of the Century.
THE FOOD (at last) In the dining room the food was mostly excellent. The breads, bread sticks and rolls were outstanding. Both appetizer and entree choices each night were varied. Presentation was artistic. Hot food was delivered hot, cold was cold, and delivery service was done in a most professional manner. I'm a beef eater and the beef was always done as ordered , tender and quite tasty. Every night, our table at least, seemed pleased with what they ordered.
The desserts seemed to look much better than they tasted, although I had a couple that were outstanding.
Each night as we began to dig into our main courses I did notice the waiter walk quietly around the table making a visual inspection to assure himself that everyone got what they ordered, and to the degree of doneness that was requested in the case of beef dishes.. A small caveat here, regarding food quality. You should not expect gourmet food. It is high quality banquet food, and to expect more when serving 1000 + at each seating is an unreasonable expectation. The Palm Springs buffet was also very satisfying. Interesting choices, and rarely any waiting other than for made to order pastas or omelets.
As is typical in a buffet, the hot tray choices were rarely hot, but I understand this to be one of the drawbacks of a buffet. We certainly always had the choice of going to the dining room for breakfast or lunch. We just never chose to do that; giving up a bit in temperature and quality for the benefit of speed.
The Playa, and Palm Springs grills, served decent burgers and hot dogs, with a sort of build your own line for cheese, lettuce, sauerkraut, pickles and other condiments. The Playa Grill is about the only food service spot where we encountered line ups. From 3 to 7 PM pizza is available here, and a significant wait seemed to be the norm. One afternoon when I felt like a slice, and the queue was very long, I went down to our cabin and ordered pizza from room service using the television system. My personal size pizza was in my cabin within 5 minutes. A much shorter wait than standing in line. For my tastes, I thought the pizza was outstanding! Not quite as good as on the Carnival Destiny, but a close second for sure. There were four nights with midnight buffets, though some were not what you would expect of typical midnight buffets. The first night was a typical midnight buffet, the second last night, was the Grand Buffet in the dining room. One night just prior to midnight they had the Caribbean deck party. The band, Oasis, had the place hopping. Our waiter, Bernard, commented that this week's was the liveliest deck party he had seen on this ship.
The Conga line stretched over two decks, and there was no question that this event was a hit with those present. It seemed that at least half the guests were included in "those present." On another night they held the Tex Mex Deck party. I didn't attend, and heard that this was a much quieter, lightly attended event. This probably had something to do with the fact that this was held after our day in Cozumel, where most people had a very active day on excursions that at some time included a stop at Carlos & Charlies. Once you've visited this bar, you understand that many people leave there a little worse for wear.
The nights there was no buffet staff wandered the ship's lounges and public areas with trays of "gourmet bites". I rather liked this touch!
I was somewhat dismayed to see that when they closed the Palm Springs buffet they also closed ALL the free drink stations with the exception of coffee. I understood the need to close the buffets to make the switches from breakfast, to lunch, to High Tea, to dinner, but had no idea what good reason they would have for turning off the dispensers for ice tea, lemonade, or punch. The choices were never changed, so the only possible reason I could think of was to save the cost of those juices. SHEESH !! This must have saved Celebrity $50 during the week. Kind of absurd.
As on most cruise ships, one would have a heck of a time trying to starve on the Mercury. I'm sure during the course of the week, I ate my weight in food! And did so happily with few complaints, and much praise.
ENTERTAINMENT This is an area where I noted significant improvement from our previous Celebrity experience. Most of the shows were very good, and a couple of the "headliners" I found exceptional. Mark James, "The Ladder Guy" and comedian Noodles Levenstein, were certainly amongst the funniest shows I've seen at sea. I am no longer very interested in the production numbers type of shows, so can only pass on hearsay, which reported that they were very good for that genre. An acappella group, Four Score, was also very entertaining. Aside from appearances in the showroom, they could be found in various areas of the ship, just wandering, and singing. This was unusual, and everyone seemed pleased wherever they sang.
A quartet played in Tastings Lounge each night as well as in the dining room. At Tastings we enjoyed the pleasant background music. There was another musical group playing nightly in the Pavilion Night Club, but we never did make it back there to hear them. Unfortunately my sense of rhythm, combined with my big feet turn my dancing into laugh fest for anyone watching, so I avoid it. There was also many activities for passengers during the days. They had vegetable carving, wine tasting's, dance instructions, and others I didn't note. On sea days there were pool games. A new one to me, that I thought was great idea, was team water volleyball. Here you put together 6 person teams and played against the CD and his cruise staff. Both participants, and those just watching seemed to have great fun with this.
MEETING NET BUDDIES & PORTS OF CALL Using message boards, and chats, we had managed to make electronic contact with about 75 people. We had been exchanging e-mails, and having private Mercury chats in anticipation of the cruise. For us, and I believe for many people, meeting new people and making new friends, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of cruising. I think that even people traveling in groups enjoy meeting new "CruiseMates". It just seems to make the cruise experience even more special.
We had a wonderful time on the Mercury, with old cruise friends, and new "net buddy" friends we made even before sailing. We couldn't have met a finer group of folks if we had hand-picked them. Due to a last minute time change on our departure time from Key West, a well planned meeting of all the "net buddies" got a bit screwed up. We met some, but not all, on Monday, our first full sea day. As the week progressed, we did manage to meet many more. We got to know each other a bit more, and had at least a brief time to chat with many. Had the initial meeting come off as planned we surely could have enjoyed more of each other's company during the week. Many of us had pre booked some private shore excursions, as a group, with Port Promotions, even though most of us had never met.
This served us well by allowing us to meet those we had previously missed with the foul up in our original plans.
One of the tours was StingRay city in Grand Cayman, which I didn't participate in, as we've been before. For those that don't have a large enough group to book the way we did, the Sting Ray City tour can be purchased at the pier in Cayman for $25. Swimming with and feeding and petting the StingRays is definitely something everyone going to Grand Cayman should experience once.
Mrs. Kuki and I just walked down towards Seven Mile Beach, found a beach hotel, plopped down on the beach for a bit, and later got a taxi back to GeorgeTown. Our walk turned out to be quite a hike. It's not called Seven Mile beach for nothing:) If you're going to do this, be sure to be wearing a good walking shoe (or even better if you wear two. Sorry couldn't resist:)
The next stop was the Jeep Safari in Cozumel, and to me this was one of highlights of the trip. We were met at the pier by our guides Eduardo and Roy, loaded four people to a jeep, and off we went for the most fun and laughs I've had in a long time. Eduardo led the caravan in his jeep, with Roy at the rear to ensure everyone was heading in the right direction. We drove on pavement for a short ride, until we turned off to do some off off-roading. They made certain all the jeeps were in 4 wheel drive, gave us instructions to avoid getting stuck in the sand, and off we went. While this is not a tour for anyone with a bad back, as you get shaken and stirred, but it certainly IS one for anyone who wants to have fun!
After some laugh filled off off-roading, we went to a beach, had a great beach bar-b-q lunch featuring fish, beef tacos, fresh fruit and soft drinks. Some sunned, some played in the ocean, and some played beach volleyball, but I know ALL had fun! We had the beach to ourselves for about an hour, which was great, before the ship's tour arrived shortly before we prepared to leave.
Roy and Eduardo were hilarious, friendly, eager to please. Their presence and personalities made this excursion even more special. If you're going to do this tour, ask for them by name, and I know you'll have as good a time as we did. The tour lasted all morning, and we still had time to go downtown, shop, visit Carlos & Charlies, or, those who wanted, head to Chakannaab Beach for snorkeling.
For the Calica stop we had a large enough group that Port Promotions was able to give us our own bus with a driver and a guide for the "group". They took us to Tulum in the morning to visit the Mayan ruins. The ruins were quite interesting to us as Mrs. Kuki believes she has some Mayan ancestry. She lives by the Mayan philosophy; what's yours in Mayan, and what's Mayan is Mayan:) Following Tulum, we went on to Xcaret. The eco park that is just incredible. There is no way a half day visit can do this spot justice. It's a unique park, featuring dolphin encounters, floating the underground river, an incredible bird display of colorful macaws, and pink flamingos, an area for deer, crocodiles, monkeys, huge sea turtles, an awesome aquarium, butterfly display, and much more that we never did get time to visit. There is also a beautiful lagoon, built using rocks for walkways, and lounging areas.
The park has 5 restaurants with varying choices. We lunched at the sea food restaurant, and it was very good, and the prices actually seemed reasonable. One word of warning here, in Calica, unlike most Caribbean stops they deal in pesos rather than US dollars. If you pay in dollars, you'll get your change in pesos.Xcaret is definitely for tourists, and quite busy. It won't be an authentic Mexican experience, but it should wow you.
Booking these tours as a group, with our AOL net buddies, really turned out well. Since many of us had been communicating via e-mail and the cruise chat, it really felt like we were touring with old friends, even though we'd never met previously. If you can find enough "Cruise Mates" to do this, Port Promotions can do a great job for you too. We now take a break from this report for a brief commercial message :) If you want to check out Port Promotions, take a look at www.portpromotions.comODDS & ENDS
Unlike our most recent cruises on the Grand Princess, and Carnival Destiny, the buffet restaurant did have trays. This is a pet peeve of mine on ships that don't use trays. It just makes it so much easier to have a tray available to carry your food, and a drink at the same time.
Once you had your food tray loaded, there were many staff present to carry it and escort you to any table you chose, even if it was outside and a deck up. That is IF you're female. Not that I needed the help, but I thought it somewhat strange, that only the ladies were offered this service. I guess they figured "we big strong men" could carry our own.
The cocktail party for Captain's Club members was held at 11:30 A.M. on Saturday, the last sea day. We thought this a silly time, and didn't attend. I'm sure the Captain was disappointed:)
There was very little greenery apparent on Mercury. We've grown accustomed to seeing more live plants and fresh flowers onboard, and I surprisingly missed their presence.
One surprising thing I found, that I didn't expect was, this week at least, the dress onboard was quite casual. I would guess that no more than 25% of men were in tuxedos on formal night, and even more surprising, on the "semi formal" nights, many men were in sports shirts and slacks. This isn't really something I care about either way. Just an observation.
There was a note in the daily onboard "paper" stating that liquor bought onboard would be delivered at the end of the week. You could not take it back to your cabin to consume. I recall the fuss made after I reported this new policy after our Carnival cruise in Sept. Well, it seems many cruise lines are following suit. In ports of call we never had any bags scanned as we came onboard, so I would imagine a couple of bottles in a beach bag of carry on would be easy enough to do.
There were nearly 500 kids of all ages on this sailing. I knew we were cruising during a school break so fully expected this.
Kids could be seen everywhere, and at times some doing what they really shouldn't have been doing. Just be aware that during school breaks it's not only Carnival where you can find teens drinking, hanging out on the stairwells or near the slot machines, or kids of all ages chasing one and other around by the pool.
We didn't allow ourselves to be bothered by this. They weren't ours, so I didn't have to worry. If you're limited to only being able to cruise during these school breaks, and want to avoid kids, I'm afraid you have to avoid the mass market cruise lines, or try some of the longer cruises which seem to deter more families from taking them.
Did we find Celebrity Mercury to be a "cut above the rest?" Not really. It's a beautiful ship with strengths and weakness in different areas, I found it to be fairly typical of the other mass market cruise lines I've sailed.
I've tried to offer a detailed view of OUR cruise experience. I've tried to give a balanced view of OUR cruise experience. As you've read, there were many things I really liked, and some I didn't. One thing I KNOW; even if they are sailing the same ship, different people can have totally different impressions of the same cruise. No ONE view point is the correct one. Each person's own experience is valid. This is the reason I always call my reports "reports" rather than the reviews.
None of the "negatives" I've noted in this report had any sort of "lasting impression" type of effect on our cruise. Arriving back in Ft. Lauderdale Sunday morning, we were in mourning walking off the ship. We'd just spent a wondrous week with some old friends, made many wonderful new friends, and spent more time smiling and laughing than is legal in some states. With that in mind, how could anyone rate that cruise experience anything less than a 10!!
For those that like a more analytical approach to the Mercury I'll offer these "ratings." Appearance of the interior of the ship - 10 Layout and ease of traffic flow- 8 Dining Room Food 8 Buffet Food 7 Food Service 9 Cabin design 7 Cabin Attendant 10 Entertainment 8+ Cruise Director 9+ Cruise Staff 9+ Captain's Club Embarkation & Debarkation 10 POST CRUISE
We chose to spend a couple of days in South Florida prior to heading home. We were off the ship by 8:45, and went to meet the shuttle to Avis car rentals, where we'd pre-booked a car. By the time the Avis shuttle came by we saw then entire ship empty, and every other rental company shuttle come by at least twice. When we arrived at the Avis lot they were lined up out the door. It was about 11:30 before we got in our rental car.
After spending a week with pampering service, this was a quick reminder that we were back to the real world. Our original plan had been to get the car, and head over to Ocean Drive, or Los Olas Blvd for a bit before going to spend a prearranged day on the Grand Princess before she sailed. Due to the delay in getting the car we just headed back to the pier to get on the Grand. As visitors we were allowed to board before the passengers. We walked on about five minutes before their embarkation started at noon. As we'd cruised on the Grand in November, we didn't tour her too much this time.
It was interesting to be on just prior to embarkation, and watch the staff prepare for the onslaught of new passengers. And just as interesting and fun to see the new wide eyed passengers begin to explore what was to be their new home for a week.
From our perspective, knowing we weren't staying onboard, we were delighted to just sit and watch the happy faces of those about to enjoy the best type of vacation there is. Our purpose in going on the Grand was to meet CCHostAng. Angela and I have been hosting the Cruise Cafe for almost two years, and had never met, so this was a treat. We stayed on the Grand until shortly after 3 PM. I had also wanted to meet Cruise Director, Keith Cox, who had guested in the chat a short time ago, but it just didn't work out. I know embarkation day is very busy, and didn't want to intrude. We kind of played "page tag" all day, but unfortunately never got to sit down together.
We are considering the Grand transatlantic crossing for 2000, so hopefully I can meet Keith then. On previous trips we'd always stayed in the port area in either Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. For a change this time we stayed at the Double Tree Hotel in Coconut Grove. For a change of pace this area was terrific. The hotel itself so so.
We've visited South Beach a few times, and Bayside Market as well. Both are certainly fun areas. The Coca Walk area is maybe better suited to us "older folks". Lots of interesting boutiques, galleries and restaurants, and certainly enough bars to keep the younger set happy. Two restaurants that we stumbled across in this area, we really liked. One was The Green Street Cafe, just a short walk from Coco Walk. We had dinner here at a sidewalk table, and enjoyed an excellent meal while watching all the action. The other, Cafe Med , is located right in Coca Walk. We just lunched here, but enjoyed it immensely. I mention these only so that if you're in the area and want to try something with a different style than Hooters you don't have to go searching.
Our bad experience with Celebrity is now part of the distant past. We just love to cruise, and can only hope for the continued good health and good fortune to be able to keep looking forward to our next. Bottom line; cruising is the best vacation on earth!
Now we can't wait for Sept. 25, 1999 to come around. That's our next trip on Rhapsody of the Seas, Vancouver to Honolulu. With many of our Cruise Cafe buddies, and other friends booked on this already I just know it is going to be one KUKI cruise. ALOHA!!