Western Caribbean on Celebrity Mercury – 4/26/98 to 5/3/98
Ports of Call: Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Key West, FL; Calica, Mexico; Cozumel, Mexico; and George Town, Grand Cayman
This was our second cruise, the first one being on the Costa Classica four years ago. We have always said that the Classica experience was perfect and unbeatable. After returning home from sailing on the Mercury, we dug out our old video of the Classica just to see the difference between the two while the Mercury was still fresh on our minds. We must declare that the Mercury wins, hands down!
The embarkation was extremely well organized. Because we had the Air/Sea program, we checked our luggage at our local airport in Mobile, AL and didn’t have to worry with it at all. The next time we saw it was outside our door on board. We were met as we stepped off the plane and guided to a bus, which transported us to the dock. The boarding process was smooth and timely. The only thing that was a tad disappointing was that when we stepped aboard, it was not into the grand foyer. On the Classica we arrived by way of the impressive, several stories high grand entrance. That was somewhat more exciting than boarding the Mercury.
We had heard that the food on the Celebrity ships was the best of any of the lines. This was an important consideration to us in picking a ship. Mike loves to eat, and I love to cook. To my delightful surprise, the dining aboard the Mercury exceeded my expectations. Each morning we had breakfast at the Palm Springs Café buffet. Everything was fresh and tastefully prepared, although sometimes the scrambled eggs were not cooked quite as done as I would have liked. We ate lunch once in the Manhattan Restaurant, but found that we preferred the buffet in the Palm Springs Café because it offered a larger variety.
We chose the early seating for dinner in the elegant Manhattan Restaurant. Our waiter was named Brankor and our busboy was Franky. They were fabulous. Brankor is from Yugoslavia, and his accent was delightful yet very understandable. I found him to be very knowledgeable about each item on the menu and how it was prepared. His presentation of the dessert selection was so entertaining that Mike videotaped him so that we can enjoy it all over again. Franky is from India. He remembered each night that I wanted ice tea, the others at the table had wine; and my glass never reached the half full mark. He was always right there to fill it up. He also remembered that I wanted extra salad dressing, and after dinner coffee. These are small things, but being catered to is one of the things that makes cruising so special. Brankor and Franky made everyone of us feel as if ours was the most important table on board. A couple of nights, we ordered two entrees or two desserts. Half of the people at our table got both the prime rib and the lobster. No problem. In fact, Brankor actually advised it when I couldn’t decide which one I wanted. We found the whole dining staff to be just as excellent as the food.
Our room steward was named Santana. I asked him how many rooms were assigned to him and his helper, and he said ten. I think that is an excellent staff to guest ratio, and he was always there to do whatever we needed. Just to give you an idea of the friendliness of the staff and their willingness to serve, I’ll tell you about a silly little game that Mike and Santana played. Whenever we started down the hallway toward our room, Santana would beat us there and unlock the door and hold it open for us. No matter what the time, he seemed to always be in the hallway waiting for someone to need something. So, Mike tried to sneak to the room and beat Santana to the door. One time they literally had a foot race from opposite ends of the hall. Santana won all but one time.
Another time, we came back from an excursion to Tulum very hot and exhausted. Santana opened the door for us. A minute later, he knocked on the door and presented me with a big glass of orange juice! He knew just what I needed without my even asking!
Our room was a category 7, which is not in the luxury class, but it was more than we expected, and much like staying in a hotel. As other people before me have said, the bathroom was big, and the shower huge for a ship. We had purchased new over sized luggage recently for an upcoming trip to Europe. I was afraid that it was going to be too big to stow in our cabin. We also had one normal sized piece. The big ones fit easily into the closets and the other one slid under the bed. No problem.
There were not enough coat hangers, but Santana found some more for me. I had read about the hair dryer, so I took my own. Do take an extension cord, as there are only two plugs, one in the bathroom and one at the desk / vanity. We also found a night light and an alarm clock handy. I did wish that I had taken my makeup mirror because the lighting is not very good for putting on your face.
Needless to say, the Mercury itself is beautifully decorated. Although the artwork was a little too abstract for my taste, I could appreciate its appeal. I was amazed at the overall stability of the ship. I was not in the least bothered by any rocking. Also adding to our comfort was the quietness of the rooms. Very nice.
When we were aboard the Costa Classica, they made announcements over the loud speaker. Since they repeated them in Italian, English, German, and Japanese, it became very, very annoying. This went on all through the day even though they had a written bulletin placed in each cabin every day. Thank goodness the Mercury did not do this. We were kept informed by a daily written announcement that told us everything we needed to know, plus the television had a ship channel that detailed everything of interest.
One thing that we had learned from our previous experience was to book your excursions as soon as you can. The cruise line had sent us information about two weeks before departure, so we had pretty well decided on which tours we wanted to take. One nice thing about the Mercury is that you can sign up for your excursions via the interactive television. By the way, you can also check a running account of your on board charges by the television.
Key West - was our first port of call. We took the city tour on the Conch Train just to get an overall feel of the place. Then we walked around town and had some key lime pie.
Key West is the Southern most point in the United States. We were only there for a half day, which was quite adequate. Any longer would have been too much.
Calica - Here we experienced the only poor tendering service. It was also the only one that was not operated by the ship’s crew, but by locals. The tender boat was bouncing so much that it made boarding and disembarking downright hazardous. While ferrying to the shore, we presented the Mexicans with a captive audience. There were three guys trying to sell us silver jewelry and one selling T-shirts. The jewelry looks pretty, but most of it will turn black before you get back home, if you know what I mean.
The Mercury's tenders were fine.
We had opted for the Tulum tour. The weather was extremely hot that day, and we were very glad that we had brought along some water. Be sure to take a wide brimmed hat and wear walking shoes. If you have never seen Mayan ruins, Tulum is interesting; and the view of the ocean is really beautiful from there.
However, we saw Chichen Itza several years ago; so Tulum was somewhat anti-climatic. On the return trip we were served a box lunch that had been prepared by the ship, not by the locals. It was actually rather good, and very filling. In retrospect, we both are glad we went to Tulum, but wish we had gone to Xcaret instead.
Cozumel - was our next stop. We had spent a week in Cozumel on a dive trip a few years ago, and I was very skeptical about spending a whole day there this time. We had bought the place out when we were there the first time, so I was not particularly interested in the shopping, at least not a whole day of it.
We decided to take the excursion on the Mermaid, which is a sub ocean viewer boat. Think glass-bottomed boat, but you’re looking out of glass sides instead of bottom. You are four feet under the water, but it seems as if you are much deeper. The view was very good, and my camera worked fairly well taking pictures through the glass without a flash.
A word of warning though, if you are claustrophobic or get seasick easily, you might want to go shopping. The sitting area is tight, but quite adequate. After you get to the viewing sight, seasickness is not a problem. However, leaving the dock is rocky, and there are lots of air bubbles speeding past the window, which bothered some people. But, it only lasted a little while until we arrived at the sight.
If you have never been to Cozumel, be sure to attend the port lecture the day before the ship arrives. The lecturer has lots of tips on where to shop and what to watch out for. He will warn you about the things to look for before you purchase jewelry, especially silver and gem stones. There are good deals on gold chains, even at the name brand stores; and they will negotiate the price.
Grand Cayman - Mike went on the snorkeling trip to Stingray City, and he had a wonderful time. He advises taking the earliest tour because there are considerably less people out there at that time. He was able to touch the stingrays, and they came right up to him and ate out of his hand. He said that the area is only about four feet deep, so even non-swimmers can go.
That afternoon, we took the Island Sights tour. It consisted of visits to the Cayman Turtle Farm, a stop at Hell, and a trip to Stingray City via catamaran.
The turtle farm was interesting, the stop at Hell was different, but Stingray City was unbelievable. We took a very big catamaran out to a sub ocean viewer that was stationary. Then we climbed down into the viewer and sat there watching the stingrays. A diver swam around luring them right up to us with bits of food. All the while, another guy was telling us about them and answering questions. Their wingspan averaged about six to seven feet, and they weren’t even as big as the ones Mike had snorkeled with!
We felt that the excursions were fairly priced. For the two of us, it cost a total of $372 to go on the Conch Train, Tulum, sub ocean viewer at Cozumel, Cayman Island tour, and snorkeling for Mike.
Friday, 5/1/98 and Saturday, 5/2/98
These were two relaxing sea days spent enjoying the ship and packing for our trip home.
As for the shows on board, we attended the Celebrity Theater every night. The shows that were put on by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers were exceptional.
Mike with one of the dancers
I was impressed by the girl who sang the music from Phantom of the Opera, and the group’s rendition of Les Miserables was as good as any I have seen on stage. The stand up comic, Noodles Levenstein was an absolute riot! He was so funny that we bought his tape and cracked up again when we played it for our neighbors at home.
Since we knew we wanted to sail again with Celebrity, we purchased the Captain’s Club package the last day. This gave us a totally no hassle disembarkation. We left the ship before the others; and our luggage was awaiting us in a specially designated spot, not mixed in with the hundreds of other pieces. That alone was worth the extra dough, not to mention future advantages on our next trip.
We would recommend the Mercury to anyone who wants to be treated like royalty basking in luxury!
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