Celebrity Cruise Lines - Cruisemates Reader's Cruise Reviews
Celebrity Cruises

Mercury
by Kuki
Western Caribbean
March 28, 1999

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 one of 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.com

ODDS & 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.

SUMMARY

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.

CONCLUSION

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!!