Celebrity Mercury Inaugural Reveiw

This is our review of our November 2, 1997 cruise on Celebrity's Mercury, which was the inaugural cruise of the ship. This was our 22nd cruise overall, 3rd on Celebrity, with other cruises being taken on NCL, Carnival, Costa, Royal Caribbean, Star Clipper, Dolphin, Crown Cruise Line, Cunard Crown Cruises, and Regency. A separate report regarding the frivolity which took place at our dining table and otherwise, is posted under the topic "Mercury Madness" which is linked directly below this review along with the shore excursion tables. Pictures are available on the ship photo page.

We booked this cruise, along with Mary and Bruce Batterson, on the first day the books were open. Mary kind of drug us along, all the way, letting us know when the books were first open, then later on cluing us in on the larger balconies on the category 2 cabins on Sky Deck, to which we switched our reservations several months after the original booking.

We left DCA on Thursday October 30th to fly down to Tampa and spent two days with Eric's parents at their house outside Tampa. Sunday morning we drove down to Ft. Lauderdale, arriving at the pier around 12:10 P.M. The embarkation area was basically full. As the lady went to hand me an embarkation number "9", I whispered the magic words "Captain's Club" and received a "0". Around 12:40, there were no announcements stating that anyone could board the ship, but we saw this huge group of people lining up ready to go through the embarkation doors, so we just got in line.

As we got near the door, they stated only "0's" and "24's" could embark. Number 24's were the AFLAC group which were onboard. They numbered about 400 people. They really did not bother us at all during the week EXCEPT for the fact that they got the same embarkation priority as Captain's Club. I did not like that at all.

Once inside the embarkation area, obligatory pictures were taken before we approached the check-in line and we waited about 5 minutes in line for the somewhat senile fellow to give us our cruise cards and take our credit card imprint, then it was onboard!! A line of cabin stewards met us and we forgave the stewardess for not knowing which direction to take us to our cabin. Especially since this was a brand new ship and more especially since the deck diagrams of the ship are all incorrect on Deck 12, showing our cabin (1201) as being all the way aft, when it in fact was almost amidships.

As I stated earlier, we had originally booked a category 2 cabin on Deck 9 (Vista Deck), but after finding out from Mary B that the cat 2's on Sky Deck have a much larger balcony, we switched to Sky Deck. After checking out our cabin, (SMALL cabin, large balcony) we decided we would try to see if Bruce and Mary B had arrived, so we went by their cabin and knocked on the door. With no answer, we decided to check on around the ship and to hit up the buffet for lunch. Great selection, as always with Celebrity, with our choices including pasta, roast beef, cooked veggies, and a very fluffy cheesecake.

After lunch, we decided to check out Mary B's cabin again, so I stood up on the railing and nibbed around the corner of their balcony. Seeing someone on the balcony, we had "met" Mary B. We went around and knocked on their door again and this time they answered. (Guess they must have been BUSY before, huh??) Anyway, we introduced ourselves and went out on their balcony to check out their view. Then Mary B proceeded to tell us how this really RUDE person had just stuck their head around the end of their balcony and she hoped she didn't have THAT to look forward to all week!! After I laughed hysterically, I admitted it was me! We exchanged a couple of presents for each other and wished ourselves a great bon voyage!!

After the boat drill, we stayed up on deck for sailing. Unfortunately, there were basically no festivities marking our inaugural voyage--no free champagne, not even any streamers on deck. On the Sun Princess inaugural, Princess had set off fireworks as we were leaving port, and there were streamers all over. On Mercury, there was, however, great music from Onyx, still the best band on the sea. They have changed a couple of their personnel, and unfortunately the fellow who used to sing Whitney Houston's "I will always love you" is no longer with them. However, they have picked up a great trumpet player and have become a much better Caribbean band. After leaving port, saluted by the lights from the condo's on the side of the channel, we headed back to our cabin, to drink our welcome aboard champagne before it got warm, and we met our butler for the week, Richard.

Richard is quite a "celebrity", as it were. He is in the new Celebrity fleet brochure, full page picture on page 24. He is also in the nice hard-covered book on the Mercury which somehow "liberated" itself and ended up in my suitcase on the way home. Quote from Richard on page 108--"A good butler is one who does his job well, but an excellent butler is one the guests think is doing his job well." Richard is an excellent butler. Mary B said that Richard was Mary Ann Rizzo's butler before. I asked Richard if he remembered Mary Ann and he suggested that he thought he remembered her from the Century. Correct, Mary Ann??

Our cabin was a category 2, which are not normally entitled to suite amenities. However, Mary Batterson had talked to Art Sbarsky several times with regard to the troubles that they had onboard the inaugural of the Century and with regard to the numerous promises that both she and I had received as to the category 2 "mini-suites" receiving suite amenities at the original time that we booked. Mary B was then able to convince Art to extend suite amenities to us, although I am certain that it would not happen again, as this was a special deal for the inaugural. Suite amenities included welcome aboard champagne, daily fruit basket, afternoon tea and cookies en suite, evening canapes, full breakfast available en suite, robes for use onboard and a bunch of other things that I'm sure I forgot. Suite amenities make life onboard ship grand.

OK, so let's talk about the cabin. The cat 2's on Vista Deck and those on Sky Deck are apparently exactly the same, except for the balconies. We'll talk about the balconies in a moment. So, how about the cabin itself? When the Galaxy had first come out, category 2 cabins had been designated as "mini-suites", a designation which was soon changed as a result of the (justified) uproar over calling this cabin a mini-suite. On Princess, the Sun/Dawn Princess and Crown/Regal Princess have small cabins with balconies which are designated "standard outside with balcony" or something like that. That is a good appellation for the category 2's on the Galaxy and Mercury. As far as square footage, I believe the cabin is probably about the same size as those on the Sun/Dawn Princess, but somehow seems even smaller. I think possibly it's because they tried to jam in a small loveseat as well as a small round glass table in the cabin on the Mercury, so almost all the floor space seems taken up with furniture.

As one entered our room, the bathroom was to the right, with closets to the left. The bathroom was a decent size, and had 4 hooks on the door, and a 45" vanity, with 2 large storage spaces under the vanity and an additional 2 shelves with storage to the right and above the vanity. There was a hair dryer and a shaver outlet in the bathroom. The shower stall was large-about 26 by 43 and had a tall lip. I did not splash water all over the floor, as is my usual custom. Amenities in the bathroom were Frances Denney brand and included shampoo, lotion, shower cap and an amenities pack, which included Q-tips, cotton balls and an emery board.

There were two full length hanging sections in the closet, each about 18 inches long, with a small shelf above. An additional storage area included 4 large shelves above and 4 smaller drawers below. Initially, we had been concerned about storage space, but found the storage space to be much more than adequate for a 7 day cruise. A Sony TV with remote and VCR with remote (didn't turn the latter on at all), as well as a 6 number combination safe and a mini-bar were in the bedroom. The mini-bar had to be unlocked by your cabin stewardess. Ours was fully stocked, of course, so we took all their stuff out and put in our supplies that we had purchased in Florida before getting onboard the ship. From experience, we will note that all their stuff will fit on the little shelf which is above the mini-bar. Personally, I like Princess' setup better, which is just a straight refrigerator, which we use a lot.

As I stated, this cabin is small. There is 22 inches from the end of the bed to the wall. Not much room to walk between the bed and the wall, especially when the cover is on the bed. Toward the end of the week, we always made sure when Richard brought us our morning coffee or breakfast or whatever, that we pulled the cover up off the floor so he wouldn't trip on it, as he almost did the second morning. As Richard said "This cabin is dangerous!!".

Next to a small glass topped table, there is a mini-loveseat in the room, which measured 42 inches, it was a foldout bed also. I felt sorry for one lady I met on the pool deck, as she said that she and two sisters were sharing a cat. 2 on Vista Deck. I couldn't imagine sleeping on that loveseat. Opposite the loveseat, there was a vanity, with a small light chair under the vanity, which fortunately fit all the way under the vanity, so as to be out of the way when going to the balcony. This chair was also light enough to pick up and carry out onto the balcony without any problem.

The cat 2 cabins on Vista Deck have about the same size balconies as on the Crown, Regal and Sun Princess in the standard cabin with balcony. There are four category 2 cabins on Sky Deck, two almost midships and two almost all the way aft, which have much bigger balconies. The two which are midships are much more desirable, since the two which are all the way aft are right next to the sports deck and one would think that you would often get noise from there. The only noise we had from being right next to the pool deck was that occasionally when we were on the balcony we heard the Caribbean band playing, which in this case was Onyx, which as far as we were concerned was a plus. The Sky Deck category 2 cabins have a balcony which is approximately 8 feet wide and about 15 feet deep. Approximately the first 6 feet of the balcony are under cover from the deck above and the rest of the balcony is open to the sky. What this means, unfortunately, is that people on the deck above the Sky Deck cabins can look down and see people on the front two-thirds of the balcony. The railing is basically a solid glass or plastic wall waist high with a wooden rail on top. The side walls were solid and high, so there is no concern about privacy from the side.

This brings me to my one major bitch for the week, other than why the hell anybody would want to go to Calica--the furniture on the balcony. On all category 2 cabins, as WELL as the Sky Suites, which are above Category 1 cabins, so I presume the same was true of the Category 1 cabins, the furniture on the balcony was 1 chair (NOT a chaise lounge, a chair), one stool and one glass-topped 22 inch square table. Question--what do you suppose the percentage of balcony cabins is that is sold to a passenger sailing alone? Other than Mary Ann Rizzo, I can't imagine that it is too high. Therefore, if both parties wanted to sit on the balcony at the same time--one would think, not TOO uncommon a desire--one person had to sit on the stool. OR you had to do what we did, which was to ask your cabin stewardess or butler to get you more furniture, or use self-help and get it yourself. WISE UP, Celebrity, this comes off as CHEAP. It wouldn't kill you to put two chairs, (or even, hallelujah!) a chaise lounge on these balconies.

I determined as soon as I saw the balcony that one chair and one stool would not do. Eric refused to steal furniture off the pool deck for me. So, I asked our cabin stewardess, a most excellent lady named Zsuzsanna. She said that she would try. I then asked Richard. Richard's response was he would get us a chaise lounge. And he did. Celebrity was very late on getting in on the balcony craze, as Zenith and Horizon have none and Century has very few. They still don't get it, I don't think, that people will pay a lot of money for a balcony cabin. But in order to properly enjoy a balcony, you have to have furniture out there to sit on. I don't know why that should be so hard for them to understand.

So, it was time to head out to dinner, to meet our tablemates for the week. We had a table for 8 and it was easily the wackiest table we have ever had. Most of the highjinks for the table from the week are in our separate report, called "Mercury Madness". Dinner this evening was the start of something wild for the week, with three bottles of wine for the table, as we took turns all week buying wine for the table. Our meal this evening included a shrimp cocktail, a combination shrimp and fish entree, creme brulee and the swan thingy. A great beginning to the week! After lots of wine and a long day, it was time to turn in to bed early.

Monday morning was Key West and a kind of wasted stop, as far as I was concerned. We were supposed to be in Key West from 7 A.M. to 1 P.M. My personal suggestion--not that anybody asked me--would be to extend the Key West stop to all day and rearrange the schedule and just drop Calica altogether. We had decided before leaving home that, since we had been there before and since it was such a short port call, that we would stay onboard in Key West. We woke just before 7, to find we were not yet docked. I find it hard to believe that we only went from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West and couldn't make it in 14 hours. We must have turned left at Miami instead of right!! For only the first time for the week, I poked my head out the door and asked Richard for some coffee. A great and lazy way to start the day!! We eventually headed to the breakfast buffet, meeting up with Bruce and Mary B for a leisurely breakfast. Afterwards, they headed ashore for a bit and we did my morning walk, and then sat in the hot tub for a while. We took some pictures around the ship, then had a burger for lunch, as we set sail from Key West. The weather was kind of cloudy all afternoon, not good for sunning, so we spent a little time in the casino in the afternoon, breaking basically even for the day.

Monday evening was supposed to the captain's cocktail party, which we missed, along with Bruce and Mary B. The party was supposed to be at the Navigator Club, which according to The Mercury Daily, seats 366. Gee, and the ship holds 2,000?? Sounds like it would have been a mob scene to me, so the Pavilion Nightclub seemed a better bet. The place was deserted, of course. We headed to formal night for dinner, scene of spoon hanging and two bottles of champagne (see Mercury Madness review!!) and then spent some time and money in the casino. This evening they had Celebrity Gourmet Bites in the casino, which we consider a good idea. On several nights throughout the cruise, they have roving waiters in the casino and various other public rooms from about 11:30 to 1:00, passing out various hot and cold hors dourvres, as opposed to a formal midnight buffet. Don't ask us any questions about the midnight buffet, as we went to none of them, not even the Gala buffet. We did attend the Caribbean night on deck party on Thursday night. Didn't eat anything, but we did enjoy Onyx singing.

Tuesday morning we ordered full breakfast (omelettes, hash browns, bacon, sausage, juices and coffee) to be delivered to our cabin and enjoyed it on our balcony, as we were pulling into that wonderful port CALICA. The shore excursion info for Calica said that Calica was "a sleepy little port". Well, I guess in order to be "sleepy", you don't have to have PEOPLE there to begin with. There probably were some dogs, cats, pigs, etc., who slept in that general area. Otherwise, all the Mexicans who were there before the ship arrived must have been disguised as grains of sand. To say that there is nothing there at Calica is an overstatement. There are some restrooms, a guy selling sodas, a couple of guys selling souvenirs, and a booth selling tours to Xcaret. So, where is this nirvana?? It's about 5 miles south of Playa del Carmen (which means it's about 60 miles south of Cancun) and right AT Xcaret. All I can say is that I can't quite figure out this port, other than possibly the folks who run Xcaret are paying the cruise line a kickback to go there.

The original itinerary for the Mercury included Montego Bay, Jamaica, which is not particularly our favorite port. Within Jamaica, we much prefer Ocho Rios as a port, as there is much more to do which is within easy distance of the port. In any event, Celebrity decided some months ago to dump Montego Bay in favor of Calica, Mexico. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell those fellows who were making the Mercury coffee cups, as they all show the itinerary as including Mo Bay and not Calica.

We had decided before leaving home that we wanted to try to visit Xcaret from Calica, although we weren't at all sure how far it was. We had been trying to check on the internet for information and had found some information which seemed to say that Xcaret was closed from October to April, which seemed very odd to us. On Monday night, we had mentioned it to Richard, our butler, so he said that he would talk to the shore excursion people for us. In just a few minutes, Richard called us and said that he wasn't able to talk to them in shore excursions, but would keep trying. Maybe a half hour later, he called us back to tell us that Xcaret was in fact open, and that the park would cost $30 per person, plus about $5 or $6 each way for a cab ride. Richard was invaluable, as always.

Calica is the only port that we have ever DOCKED in that you still had to tender. We were late arriving in Calica and were finally "docked" around 10:15 or so. It's kind of hard to explain, but basically there are three huge concrete piers there to which they tie up the ship, but there is no place to walk off the ship. Therefore, one still has to take a tender ride to shore. You could throw a rock and get to shore, so it was really ridiculous to have to tender there. We were watching the whole production of the ship backing up to dock from our balcony, so we could see that we weren't going to be going anywhere for a long time. As we had been pulling up and docking, we could see the numerous busses and cabs arrive to wait for us. We also saw two huge Mexican tenders waiting to meet us. As the first tender was loading, we watched with dismay as the second waiting tender just LEFT. We surmised that since we were late arriving and docking, that the second tender had other places to be.

The tenders used in Calica were huge--seating probably 500 people. This meant, however, that it took FOREVER to load. They started loading the first tender at 10:30 and by the time they loaded it, made it the two or three minute tender ride, unloaded the tender and got back to the ship, it was 11:30. About 11:30, a third tender finally did show up. We decided around 11:30 to go ahead and try to get off the ship. We figured we would have to wait for the third tender, but we were able to get on the second tender without any problem.

We walked off the tender around 12:00 and walked up to the booth on the pier selling tickets for Xcaret. The price was $36 per person, which includes the bus ride over there and back, which is just a 5 minute or so ride. Since we arrived relatively late in the day, I don't know whether you could use your bus pass to go back and forth to the ship at lunch time if you are there all day, but I suspect that you could. The busses basically ran like every 5 or 10 minutes from 1 to 3, then again from 5 to 6. In the meantime, of course there were taxis for the very short distance or one could have walked back to the ship without any real problem. This was not a ship shore excursion at all, you just walk off the tender and up to the excursion desk there. The ship did not really promote Xcaret at all and this was really the best thing to do there, other than staying on the ship.

Xcaret is a kind of a Mexican water theme park of a sorts. They have an underground river that you can swim through, which is really cool, plus lots of snorkeling spots, a bird aviary, a walk-through underwater aquarium similar to Atlantis in Paradise Island, swimming spots, 6 or 7 restaurants, a gift shop, a beach and swimming area and lots of sunning areas, with lots of chairs and a swimming with the dolphins adventure. The latter sells out really early, so it's unlikely anyone arriving on a ship could do that unless you somehow book it ahead of time. The place is HUGE and they are working on building more beaches and snorkeling areas even now.

We decided to walk all around before doing the underground river swim, so we wouldn't be all sticky when we were just exploring the place. Then we donned the required (and free) life vests for the swim, as well as renting a mask and snorkel for the trip. The cost to rent mask, fins and snorkel was $7 and well worth it, as it would have been too tiring without the fins. With them and the mask and snorkel, it was a delightful trip gliding down the river. The park has set up a neat system, though, as you put your stuff in a bag which they lock up for you and carry down to the other end of the river for you. You pick up your stuff there and hand back your mask and fins, unless you want to do some more snorkeling around the place. The swim was a tad cool though, as the weather was again a little cloudy and not bright sunny. It might have been just as well it wasn't bright and sunny though, as we did not wear any suntan lotion. Xcaret literature states that they won't let any suntan lotion in the park. They did have a place to leave your lotion by the front gate, but I did not see anybody searching bags to make sure people didn't bring it in.

After making the trip down the underground river, we had lunch at one of the restaurants right on the water. Even though this was mainland Mexico we felt it was OK to eat there. We had something called a Mexican sandwich and a beef taco and a couple of drinks. It was around $25 and hit the spot, prior to heading back to do some snorkeling. We could see the ship from where we were sitting eating, but unfortunately none of the pictures of the ship we took from there came out that great.

There are lockers and restrooms a plenty at Xcaret. Cost for the lockers was $1 U.S. (But you had to get a token to put in the lock.) After locking up our stuff, we did some snorkeling and saw huge numbers of fish. Again, it would have been even better if we had some sunshine, but it was still lovely. We collected our stuff, got dressed and it was time for the 5 minute trip back to the tender and back onboard.

When we got back onboard the ship, we noted our message light was on our phone. Mercury has a kind of cool voice mail system that you can leave voice messages for people in other cabins, which we used a couple of days. The message was from Allen and Marilyn, our tablemates, inviting us to a party in their suite that evening.

Allen and Marilyn had booked one of the Royal Suites on the ship, which are basically the next accommodation down from the Presidential Suite. The Suite was nice, with a full sized dining table with six chairs, large living room with sofa and a couple of chairs and a separate bedroom, with a walk-in closet and bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and separate stall shower and toilet stall. There was a door from the bedroom out to the balcony, as well as from the living room. The balcony was not particularly huge, though, as it was maybe 6 foot by 20 feet. Interestingly, the only furniture on this balcony was two chairs and the small square glass topped table. They hadn't gotten around to it yet, but Allen said they were going to ask their butler for a chaise lounge to put on their balcony. Anybody listening here, Celebrity??

After the party, it was time to head to the dining room, scene of more "Mercury Madness", then to the casino to lose some money before heading off to bed.

So, did any of this business happen onboard a ship?? What about the ship?? OK, OK!!

THE SHIP--Mercury is a BIG ship--77,713 GTW. Quite possibly because we don't really do most of the "standard" things onboard ships these days--she really didn't feel particularly big or crowded to us, other than having to wait for tenders in Calica and Grand Cayman. I found the decor, overall, to be somewhat too modern for my tastes. Our previous two Celebrity cruises had been on Zenith and Horizon, which didn't impress me particularly with their public rooms, but I liked them better than the Mercury. There is a lot of artwork onboard the Mercury, most of which I thought was kind of weird although Eric liked some of it. There are many different styles of art all over the ship.

Starting from the top of the ship down, probably one of my favorite rooms was the Navigator Club. HUGE walls of windows, nice comfy seating, and it became a disco at night, with Onyx playing there in the evenings on several nights. There are some really cool video effects here, which make it a neat place to spend an evening. It's much bigger than it seems when you first walk in and seats over 300 people in relative privacy. Great room!

I personally did not like the color scheme of the pool deck--lot of orange, which I hate. The color scheme was basically orange and blue. Blue is no problem, but I thought the orange looked tacky. There is a statute in the center of the pool deck, which I have no idea what it's supposed to represent. However, one lady I talked to on deck just didn't get it, as she said that it needed to be painted already! I didn't have the heart to tell her that somebody would make a brand new statue look that way.

The chairs on the pool deck (as well as the ones in the covered swimming pool area aft) were Celebrity's standard plastic strap chairs, but with the addition of comfy pads, which made them much nicer. However, the pads are only on the lower level of the pool deck and the indoor pool area. There were a few of the small beverage tables scattered about on the pool decks (although not quite so many as on Sun Princess). Outside on the pool deck was a hamburger grill, where they served burgers at lunch time and pizza from 3 to 7 PM and 10 P.M. to 1 A.M. We never had any problems at all finding chairs on deck, even having no problem getting one of the cushion chairs at 10 A.M. on a sea day.

The buffet restaurant was one of the most attractive rooms on the ship. Initially, it seemed small, as it was broken up into several smaller areas, but we never had any problems finding a table there. There were 4 serving lines inside and we never had to wait any length of time for breakfast or lunch buffets. I liked the huge bay windows along each side. I finally figured out a couple of days later in Cozumel that those huge bay windows are the cause for the odd-shaped balconies on the Suites on Sky Deck, as the balconies on those suites follow the line of the bay windows.

The central atrium of the ship, including the area with the cigar bar, I thought was probably the most attractive area of the ship, in the traditional sense. I thought the chairs and decor around the Guest Information Desk (a.k.a. Purser's Desk) were really attractive, although we never sat there except the last night, when we had intended to go to the Navigator Club and it was closed for a private party. Probably AFLAC people, I presume. We were never in the theatre (show lounge) except to get tender tickets one day. I liked the dark maroon color scheme and the banquette seating, however. We spent an awful lot of time over the week in the champagne/martini bars (which are right above each other), which is odd because I thought they were very weird looking, with those supposed champagne bubbles on the walls. I loved the two story dining room and those great stairs coming down the center, although I wish that we had eaten even one meal in there during the day as I was never in there with the curtains open during the day. Ah well, next cruise!

Wednesday we were in Cozumel, where we were docked initially, although they moved the ship out to tender distance around noon or so. Apparently the International Pier actually belongs to Carnival and the Sensation or Ecstasy (?) was coming in, so the ship had to leave the dock to allow her to dock. Anyway, we had decided before we left home that we would the same thing in Cozumel that we had done on the Sun Princess--rent a car for the day and go out to the deserted side of the island and make our own beach. We walked right by the International pier and rented a VW semi-convertible (REALLY hard to explain--sort of a VW bug, with the back half of the top cut off). Cost was $35 for the day, plus the optional $15 insurance and $8 for gas. As we always do these days, we had brought from home a small collapsible cooler, in which we packed a bottle of wine, some cheese and fruit and we were off!! We tooled around the island a little more than we had previously, and stopped at Mescalito's, which is a bar right on the point and at the end of the miles of deserted beaches. Our cabin stewardess, in a bit too much of a cleaning up mood, had thrown away the plastic wine glasses that we had brought along, just for this trip. So we had planned to stop at Mescalito's to buy a couple of plastic cups for our wine. Well, of course there is a shop right next to Mezcalito's, so I had to do some shopping. I saw a really nice blanket there--cotton, not those wool cheap things--with a lovely design. The fellow wanted $35 for it. I said no way. I also saw a lovely lace tablecloth. He also wanted $35 for that . Seems like $35 was the price for the day. After some bargaining I offered a certain price for both items and I thought he said yes. I brought him the money and then he became highly upset, and said "Oh madam, I could never let both items go for that!!" I said, "Well, fine then, how much would you really take just for the blanket" , as that was to be a gift for Eric's brother, who takes care of our dogs. We agreed on a price for that and I paid for that and met Eric at the car. In addition to getting the cups, Eric ended up with a pretty cool t-shirt from Mescalito's, which strangely enough ended up being the only t-shirt we bought this trip. Then of course, when he saw that we were actually LEAVING, the Mexican fellow came running out of the car with the tablecloth, whereupon I got both items for virtually the same price I had offered him which had offended him ten minutes before!!

We were surprised when we came to the dirt road leading toward the lighthouse, to see a gate up, manned by a security guard. He apparently wrote down our license plate or something and waved us through. (Although of course, our license plate was "Executive Rental Cars") So, it was OFF to make our own beach. We were also surprised to actually see several vehicles along the road as we were driving. We made one abortive stop, to discover another couple about a half mile away down the sand, so we moved on. When we finally decided on our stretch of sand, we decided that Eric's brother wouldn't mind if we used his blanket just once (G!!) so we stretched out the blanket which made a lovely beach blanket.

We took advantage of the miles of empty beach to stretch out, sans bathing suits, when out of nowhere appears the Policea!! We kind of thought our goose was cooked, as the Mexicans generally are not particularly friendly to clothing optional practices. However, the fellow just came up and introduced himself and said he was part of the new "tourist police" in that area and was coming by to make sure that everything was OK and that he was in charge of making sure nothing got stolen out of vehicles, etc. He said that the reason for all the traffic on the road was that one of the local TV stations was shooting a show down by the lighthouse. He said good-bye and was on his way.

After partaking of a lovely lunch and some wonderful hours of sun, it was time to pack up and head back. We stopped again at Mescalito's on the way back, this time getting some drinks, then it was back to turn the car in and hop on the tender back to the ship. Allen and Marilyn happened to be on the same tender and she was jealously guarding a purchase which we would see later on in the week!

Dinner this evening was semi-formal and the table was quiet early on, but livened up to our normal rowdy table as the night wore on. Michael and Richard had gone to Carlos n Charlie's, then headed out to another bar and Richard had apparently had to wake up Michael in the shower, as he had fallen asleep there. Most of the table ordered the filet mignon, most ordering theirs medium rare. My beef was fine, along with Eric's and Eleanor's, but Marilyn's medium rare was well done. She sent it back, whereupon they promptly brought her another one which was also well done. Eleanor took pity on her and switched her steak with Marilyn's. This was the only item of the week that I remember anyone sending back as unacceptable, other than this very WEIRD kind of chocolate dessert that we had the last night. Funny thing was, it was the chef's selection. It was very bitter. Eric and I, as well as Eleanor, sent that one back, so I know I wasn't entirely crazy.

After dinner, we went to the casino as usual and nothing seemed to be working out, so we decided to head to back to the cabin early, around 11:30. Eric watched Babe on TV and I drifted off to dreamland. That was the only movie we watched all week, although there were some decent movies on.

So, even though we don't watch TV onboard ships, I know other people do, so here's a listing of the TV channels and the movies available for the week. The shipboard TV had the following stations, CNN, ESPN, the Weather Channel, 3 ship information channels, 5 movie channels and 5 music channels. The movie channels consisted of 1 channel for the first run movies, 1 channel for family/children's movies and 1 channel for foreign language movies. The first run movies included: Star Trek: First Contact, Evita, Ransom, Liar Liar, Jerry Maquire, Jungle 2 Jungle, Independence Day, Fierce Creatures, Sling Blade, 5th Element, Austin Powers, The Saint and Fathers Day. The family channel included a variety of Disney films, Babe, etc.

The shipboard TV also allowed for you to book your shore excursions, order room service, in cabin shopping, order wine for dinner, view your shipboard account and it also had interactive gambling. In addition, there were pay per view movies, including adult movies, at a hefty $9.95 per movie!! I bopped around these channels one day, looking at them, but we did not really use any of these features, so we cannot comment on how well they actually worked.

Thursday was a day at sea--finally!!--so after calling on Richard for some coffee in the cabin, we had a leisurely buffet breakfast. Thereafter I was attempting to get my morning walk in, without too much success, as the "older set" were taking their morning constitutionals at such a leisurely pace, it was too much like rush hour in D.C., so when we saw Eleanor on deck we decided to ditch the walking. We watched them giving the free sessions on the golf simulator for a while, then, before you know it, time for lunch! (And these people say there's nothing to do on sea days!!) After a buffet lunch, we sat in the sun for a while listening to Onyx play and enjoying the day. The "special friends and repeaters" party was Thursday evening at the Navigator Club. It was packed. We enjoyed lots of free drinks, as waiters were passing around lots of trays of drinks, but no appetizers. There was champagne and red and white wine, in addition to some of the standard cheap-o drinks. I suppose one could have ordered a specific drink, but I was happy with wine or champagne. Onyx played again and I was so honored to hear "The Celebrity Theme". Sounds like a funeral dirge to me, but what do I know? Incidentally, I think that John Chandris was onboard for at least part of the trip, as our waiter said that the owner of the company was onboard and Mary B said that she saw somebody onboard who looked like the picture of John Chandris in the Mercury book.

Thursday night at dinner was the scene of the great bananas caper, while Bruce and Mary B ate at the hotel manager's table. I can't remember whether this night was the night we had lobster or not. We did have lobster once during the week, either Thursday or Friday. I'm fairly worthless with getting the lobster it out of the shell and our waiter, Claudio, seemed a little slow with getting around to mine, so Eleanor did it for me.

So--how was the food?? We ate at the dining room ONLY for dinner. We had either buffet or room service for breakfast every day, either buffet or a burger for lunch every day. We did not eat at any of the midnight buffets. Buffets on Celebrity are absolutely one of their strong points. Breakfast buffet basically included most anything one could want, including bacon, sausage, ham, scrambled eggs, pancakes, french toast, waffles, cheeses, fruits, cereal, yogurt, and made to order omelettes. Lunch buffets usually included 3 or 4 hot entrees, salads and desserts, plus a pasta, plus burgers and hot dogs and fries, and an ice cream bar to make your own sundaes. Mary B's FAVORITE thing onboard ships--pizza!!--was available 3 to 7 P.M. and 10 P.M. to 1 A.M., in the grill area by the pool. It was hot and freshly made--pepperoni, veggie and cheese. Contrary to some information which I had seen in the brochure, there was NO alternative dining available in the evening, like on Sun Princess. Unless of course you counted going early or late for pizza. Service in the buffet restaurants was always excellent, prompt and smiling and there were never any dirty tables evident for very long.

The dining room--now, here's where it's a little hard. I didn't really see any slippage as far as food is concerned, as the quality certainly seemed very good, as the beef particularly always seemed a good quality. I had several seafood and chicken dishes which I found excellent. I was a little disappointed in the quality of the desserts, though, as I had several which I found merely OK. Perhaps I just chose poorly, although it's usually hard for me to not like desserts. I did very much enjoy the key lime pie and the cheesecake that I had in the buffet line.

Service in the dining room was kind of spotty. I really cannot fault our poor waiter, Claudio, too much, as he seemed to be terrified of our table all week, and he tried to just stay out of our hair. He often gave people the wrong food. However, some of us at the table (who shall remain nameless), routinely ordered either 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, or 2 desserts, etc. I was a little ticked off at Claudio one night though, as I couldn't find him and I wanted to order an additional order of the excellent conch fritters. I asked the busboy to tell Claudio I wanted another order of conch fritters. It didn't come for a long time, so when Claudio finally showed up I asked him about it. He told me I hadn't ordered a second helping. I told him that I had asked the busboy to tell him. He replied (quite snottily in fact!!) that he was the only one who could order food. He was lucky that wasn't tip night...The busboy was somewhat invisible, so much so that I don't even know what his name was. He did remember which ones of us drank decaf and which regular coffee, so that's certainly a good thing.

Friday was Grand Cayman. We were supposed to arrive around 8 A.M. and so when we attempted to go ashore at 10 A.M. , we were miffed that they were still using tender tickets. Apparently, according to Mary B, they were still using tender tickets at 11 A.M. Anyway, we got off the ship and did some shopping downtown, mostly looking for some party items, which we didn't find, then we went to a great cigar store called Churchill's to buy a gift for an attorney friend of mine. We didn't want to have to go back to the ship for lunch, so had come prepared to eat off the ship. We ate at the bar and restaurant which is at Eden Rock, which is a snorkeling spot and underwater marine park which is just down the street from the tender pier. Most everything in Cayman is expensive, so the lunch of sandwiches and fries and a couple of drinks apiece was $40. We had a lovely time taking our time with lunch, sitting in the sun and admiring the view of the Mercury, plus the Veendam and the SeaBreeze.

We had come to Eden Rock to snorkel, however, and snorkel we did! Eden Rock has snorkel gear (and scuba gear for that matter) for rent. Snorkel gear is $9 for a full set of gear and lockers are available at $3. There is a fresh water outside shower there and while there are no changing rooms as such, the bathrooms were very clean. Unfortunately for us, the water was pretty rough the day we were there and snorkeling was a little bit of a chore, but we saw huge numbers of beautiful fish and actually got a couple of good pictures with the cheap underwater camera we brought.

Time to head back to the ship to catch a shower and a little sun before our party. We had a little party in our cabin with Bruce and Mary B, before Mary B had to rush off to get her hair done for formal night. Since we were only going to get a formal "spoons" picture taken, we could take a shorter period of time to get ready!! We let Mary B go off to get her hair done and tried to loosen Bruce up some more by plying him with alcohol. Then it was time to go get our formal portraits taken, both with spoons and without, then on to dinner. After dinner we went to the casino for a while then went to the Navigator Club to listen to Onyx. It was maybe 12 or 12:30 and the place was packed. We stayed for a while and then trundled off to bed.

Saturday was a day at sea and almost time to go home. Boo! Unlike most trips, when we start re-packing some stuff about half way through the trip, we didn't pack anything early, so Saturday, after a lovely breakfast on our balcony, we started the horrible task of packing. A couple of hours later, we had most of the stuff corralled and tried to get a dab of sun. Unfortunately, it was again a little cloudy, but we did our best. We skipped the Captain's Club party, which was at the very odd hour of 11:30 A.M. On the last day at sea?? Give me a break--there's sun out there to be had!! Anyway, I guess Bruce and Mary B went, so you need to ask them about that. After lunch of burgers and some items from the buffet, we sat and listened to Onyx again, part of the time sitting on our own balcony. Then it was time for "The Last Supper" and our final wonderful evening meal of the week. We carried on more highjinks at the dinner table and finally Patu and Claudio were happy to usher us out of the dining room.

For once, we decided to retire semi-early on the last night. Usually we stay up until the lights of south Florida are on the horizon. That must have been the problem, going to bed early though as neither Eric nor I slept very much. Sunday morning we woke around 7, thankfully without having to listen to the usual incessant announcements on the loudspeakers. Full buffet breakfast was available, so we opted for that, although we could have gone to the dining room, as second seating breakfast was at a semi-reasonable hour of 8 A.M. Because of Captain's Club membership, we had a disembarkation number of 3 and were off the ship by approximately 9:45. On to Ft. Lauderdale airport, to wait about two hours to head home on US Air, accompanied by a screaming brat child across the aisle from us. Welcome back to reality!!


Inaugural stuff--We were disappointed in the lack of inaugural festivities. On the inaugural on Sun Princess, we had been invited to Ft. Lauderdale for festivities the day before the sailing, including a wonderful christening ceremony and reception onboard the ship. With Mercury, nothing. On Sun Princess, they had provided boatloads of streamers to throw as we left port, they played "The Love Boat" (hokey, I know, but we enjoyed it) over the loudspeakers, all the other ships in port that day saluted us several times with their horns, and Princess had a fireworks show as we left port. On Mercury, nada. There were NO t-shirts, cups, hats, nothing, for sale that said "inaugural cruise". Some stuff that said "inaugural season", but big deal, so what? They did give us a small silver box, engraved with "Mercury Inaugural SEASON" but the festivities still seemed paltry next to the ones on Sun Princess. The moral of the story is for me that I will not book an inaugural on Celebrity again. Nothing at ALL went wrong. However, with all the potential uncertainty of a ship possibly be late or early, etc., and the possibility of some problems with the ship the first week it sails with paying passengers, it's not worth it to me. I would very definitely sail Princess again on an inaugural, however. Don't get me wrong--Celebrity is probably still my favorite cruise line, for the quality of food and service which they provide.

Noise--This note is for Jay Rutherford, as I would not even have paid any attention, except for some of his recent notes. There was some type of music in virtually every public space all the time. It did not bother me at all, but I just noticed it because Jay mentioned it.

Announcements--I positively LOVED the lack of announcements on this ship. No, "it's time for the art auction", or "it's time for Bingo", etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam. Even no announcements for dinner, which was all fine and dandy with me.

Ship Shore Excursions:--We don't do ship shore excursions, haven't done any for probably 10 cruises or so. However, we know that many people are interested in ship shore excursions, even though we feel that almost all excursions in the Caribbean can be done cheaper and better on your own. Following is a list and very brief description of the tours. We do have the full shore excursion sheets available if anyone wants them. The ship shore excursions list noted which excursions were suitable for which members of the family and which were considered eco--sensitive tours.

The ship shore excursions offered for Key West included:

1) Conch Train/Trolley at $16 for adult and $9 for children -- approx. 1 hour

2) Conch Train/Trolley, Aquarium and Ship Wreck Historium at $29.50 adult, $20 children -- approx. 2 - 2 hours.

3) Catamaran Sailing and Snorkeling at $39 adult $20 children -- approx 2 1/2- 3 hours.

4) Key West Sailing Race (racing catamarans) at $59 per person -- approx. 3 hours

The ship shore excursions offered for Calica included:

1) Mayan Ruins of Tulum at $68 per person -- approx. 4 - 4 1/2 hours.

2) Coba Mayan Ruins Hike at $69 per person -- approx. 6 hours

3) Cancun Shopping and Beach at $32 per person -- approx 5 1/2 - 6 hours

The ship shore excursions offered for Cozumel included:

1) San Gervasio Ruins and Swimming at $36 per person -- approx. 3 1/2 hours.

2) Mexican Folk Show at $33 per person -- approx. 1 1/2 hours.

3) Beach Snorkeling Adventure at $25 per person -- approx 2 1/2 hours.

4) The Mermaid Ocean Viewer at $35 per person -- approx. 2 hours.

5) Catamaran Sail, Snorkel and Beach at $39 per person -- approx. 4 hours.

6) Chitzen Itza by plane at $195 per person -- approx. 6 -7 hours.

7) San Gervasio Ruins and Mexican Folk Show Combo at $63 per person -- approx 3 1/2 - 4 hours.

The ship shore excursions offered for Grand Cayman included:

1) Turtle Farm and Colony Beach Club at $32 per person -- approx. 3 hours.

2) Snorkel Adventure at $28 per person -- approx 2 2 1/2 hours.

3) Stingray City Snorkeling at $38 per person -- approx. 2 2 1/2 hours.

4) Atlantis Submarine at $74 adult and $37 children -- approx. 1 1/2 hours.

5) Seaworld Glass Bottom Boat at $33 adult and $21 children -- approx. 1 hour.

6) Island sightseeing and Stingray City at $48 per person -- approx. 3 hours.

7) Cayman Pirate adventure at $29 per person -- approx. 2 hours

8) Seven Mile Beach at Colony Beach Club at $12 per person -- constant shuttles, this includes a beach chair, changing facilities, showers and one complimentary drink.

9) Cayman Glass Bottom Boat at $20 per person -- approx. 1 hour.

10) Seaplane Flightseeing at $69 per person -- approx. 1 hour (20-25 minute flight)

There were also several different excursions available for Ft. Lauderdale

on your return for those who would have late flights.

Casino--There were two roulette tables and two craps tables, and about nine blackjack tables and 3 Oasis Poker tables. For those that don't know, Oasis Poker is Celebrity's version of Caribbean Stud, without the progressive. However, good news, the rumor was that Celebrity was going to be going back to regular Caribbean Stud soon. Both roulette tables were open several times during the trip and Mary B said that both craps tables were open the first night, but we never saw them both open at the same time, although the craps tables were much busier than normal on a ship. There were no $2 tables (ever) at Blackjack and no $.50 roulette. No nickel slots. There was video poker, but I am not sure that were any video blackjack machines. There were quarter, dollar and a couple of five dollar slot machines. There were video poker machines all over the bar in the casino, which probably prevented some people (like us) from sitting at the bar in the casino. The dealers were polite, although not terribly talkative.

CONCLUSION--We had an absolutely fabulous time with a bunch of crazy tablemates on what is bound to be a very popular ship. We saw no evidence of any bad influence of Royal Caribbean. Celebrity continues to maintain their high quality of food and service which makes them a cut above in their price range, although they could stand some lessons on how to throw inaugural festivities. Can't wait to get back onboard that next ship!

Carol & Eric in Virginia

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