by Lee Wurschmidt
April 19, 2003
California Coast Itinerary (San Francisco; Monterey; Catalina Island; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico)
Although this was about my sixteenth cruise on a wide variety of ships and itineraries, it was different in that it was my first trip traveling with a physically challenged person. This certainly made me look at the ship from a different perspective. Our travel agent put us together to avoid the unreasonable single supplement we would each have had to pay otherwise. Other than the obvious difference that she used a walker or wheel chair to cover any distance longer than a few feet, we were well matched in interests and backgrounds.
We were driven to the pier by Connie Risse, our travel agent, as she had an appointment to tour the ship before we boarded. The pier in San Francisco is easy to find and has convenient parking at $10 per day across the street. Our boarding was accomplished very quickly and easily at about noon. There was a separate processing booth for wheel chair passengers so we avoided the lines and were the first onto the ship. We waited a few minutes for the buffet line to open and really appreciated the nice lunch as breakfast had been over six hours earlier at home. A buffet line first for me was the linen cloth on the tray and a crew member waiting to carry the tray to the table for older passengers or anyone who wanted the help. These classy touches were standard procedure in the Palm Springs Cafe for the whole week. We ate breakfast there almost every day, but did not eat any further lunches or dinners there as it is much easier to have service in the dining room than to go through a buffet line when you are using a wheel chair.
For some reason I had trouble finding my way around this ship more than on most others. Part of the problem was that the cutaway type of diagrams were not always near the elevator, but around a corner or something. There were no signs inside the elevators letting you know on which floor the main destinations were located. Many ships have these useful aids over the top of the elevator door or next to the buttons to select the floor. The list of what is on this floor, located near the elevators did not include the restrooms, and did not tell you on which end of the ship to find your objective so that I often went the wrong way first. The main problem is that I have absolutely no innate sense of direction. Some ships manage to have such good signage that I can find my way around in spite of this handicap. On this ship the restrooms are located around corners with only the sign over the door, after you have found it, to guide you in the right direction. An unusual shortcoming is that there is no public restroom on the fifth floor anywhere near the dining room. One very pleasant aspect of the Mercury is the lack of constant PA announcements trying to part you from your cash. In fact the only announcements are occasional reports from the bridge and emergency announcements. A nice amenity was the paper with excerpts from the New York Times that was delivered to the stateroom each day. Also delivered each day was a card with the weather forecast for the next day to use for planning.
After lunch we were allowed into the stateroom. It was among the smallest I have been in, even for an inside cabin. The door (too narrow to be easily entered by the wheel chair) was in the middle of the long wall of a long narrow cabin. This made it necessary to keep the walker and wheel chair in the very limited floor space in order to open and close the cabin door. There was plenty of total storage space, but it was allocated in such a way that one passenger had all of the drawers in one closet while all long hanging garments were in the other. Since Jean had no long items we solved this situation by having me put all of my drawer type items in the six drawers of the vanity/desk. There was no chair provided for seating other than on the beds, and there was very little floor space for the desk chair so it had to stay tucked under the desk for the week. This would have been true even without the wheel chair. As it was, we had to constantly move items to move about the cabin. Luckily, all of our empty luggage fit neatly under the bed. On the other end of the scale, the bathroom was one of the largest and most nicely appointed I have ever had on a ship. The shower was full size and there was a glass shelf for toiletries for each of us. The towels were large and very fluffy, but the hair dryer was so powerless that it would not even clear a steamy mirror, much less dry hair. The only electrical outlet in the bathroom was for shavers only. More importantly, for us, there was a much longer than usual step down from the bathroom floor to the main cabin floor. This was extremely difficult for Jean to manage even with the grab bar located near the door. I do not consider myself physically challenged, just a bit out of shape, and I had quite a lot of difficulty with the step. The hall outside the cabin would have been adequate except that part of it was often blocked with cabin cleaning carts or bags of laundry. These obstacles made getting the wheel chair to the elevators difficult.
Dining in the main dining room is traditional assigned tables for dinner, open seating for breakfast and lunch. The only less than perfect service I received anywhere on the ship all week was during open seating at lunch in the dining room. On two separate occasions a waiter was less than pleasant about filling a reasonable request from people at the table. Dress for dinner in the dining room was generally quite dressy, even on nights not designated as formal. Our assigned table in the dining room was in the rear overlooking the wake from the ship. The view was wonderful and our dining companions pleasant. When the sun was too bright to leave the windows exposed there was a painted scene like a theatrical backdrop that covered them. One chair at our table was not assigned to a passenger; we were told that it was for a ship's officer. The environmental officer joined us on one of the formal evenings. He was a good conversationalist and we enjoyed learning about his responsibilities on the ship. Each time we entered the dining room the maitre d had someone push the chair the rest of the way to the table and store it folded during the meal. The service from our regular waiter and his assistant at dinner was flawless and appropriately friendly. There was a good selection of entrees on the menu, but my favorites were the wide variety of appetizers. A lot of them were things I had never eaten and were; therefore, fun to try. The entrees and salads were well prepared, but fairly ordinary. The desserts were of a wide variety and universally outstanding. The "ship made" ice cream provided in the Palm Springs Cafe each day was also outstanding. We tried breakfast in the dining room one day. The eggs Benedict was served luke warm and the rolls were not heated so we ate at the buffet after that. There was a good selection of breakfast foods and omelets cooked to order served in a bright cheerful room.
All of the seats in the Celebrity Theater had good sight lines. My only problem was the fairly steep ramp down into the theater from the upstairs entrance. I was always worried about loosing control of the chair and having Jean bump all the way down to the stage. Luckily that did not happen. There was a place for wheel chair parking behind the last row of seats, but no place for companions to sit so that we all sat in the row in front of the wheel chairs. The shows were energetic and pleasant, but nothing extraordinarily special. The comedian was funny without using jokes that were in bad taste for the family audience. The musicians playing in venues around the ship were generally good. I especially enjoyed the Con Brio Quartet. I just wished that the entertainment committee would have had them play where there was not so much conversation and noise. It was hard to hear them from their spot by the rail of the atrium in the Cova Cafe. The harpist played in the same venue. I could not hear her either. The casino was complete, but the craps table was available only in the evening. All personnel from the casino that I had occasion to deal with were much more pleasant than on most other ships. Upon talking with other passengers we felt that the slot machines were very tight. I have never before lost $100 in a dollar machine without even winning one or two small amounts to whet your appetite and keep you playing. I found that I was not the only one to have this experience. On this ship the slots did seem to be a donation to the casino. Craps was good to me so I went back to it in the evenings. The cruise director's staff was friendly and I enjoyed the trivia type games in the lounges most of the time. I did not like the Jeopardy type game, even though our team won, because each person only gets to play for a few minutes then spend the rest of the time listening to others. Also, if the first team gets their answers correct there is not much incentive for the other teams. The games where everyone plays the whole time are more fun. Bingo was too expensive at $35 per session, so I did not play. The card room had a jigsaw puzzle on one of the tables, a nice touch. The library did not have comfortable reading chairs, and I never found a person there with the cases unlocked so that I do not know if there was a good selection. My favorite place to spend the daytime hours was the navigators lounge. It is located forward on the deck above the bridge. The room has floor to ceiling windows giving a 270 degree view in a room that is light and airy. A wonderful place to spend the afternoon with a good book. The comfortable Cinema and Conference Center had frequent showings of relatively recent movies. The shopping area is all in one place and all sales staff were helpful and polite. The prices were high so I made few purchases.
All ports were accessed by tender, and both Monterey and Catalina were relatively short stops. Tendering with a wheel chair is difficult or impossible so we did not feel it was worth the bother for such short times in port. An announcement over the PA discouraged wheel chairs from going ashore at Cabo San Lucas so we ended up not going shore in any of the ports. It would be nice if the ship could have at least one port where they dock so that the handicapped passengers could more conveniently enjoy the going ashore experience.
The system of disembarkation where you check in with immigration and customs before leaving the ship is probably easier for able bodied passengers than the usual procedure where you check in as you leave the terminal with your luggage. For a person pushing a wheel chair; however, this method was very tiring. We had made it from the cabin to breakfast then back to get our carry-ons and were making our way to the next stop fully loaded with the carry-ons. Luckily just as I was about to give up from exhaustion our waiter came along and saw my plight. He took over wheel chair pushing while I carried luggage. I am sure this was not in his job description, but he cheerfully got us to the Celebrity Theater where we were to check in. Next we were told to report to the Rendez-Vous-Square and wait for our color to be called. There was a long line of wheel chairs, each with an assigned crew member to push it, when it was our turn to leave the ship. The gentleman pushed Jean down a long ramp to get our luggage then stayed with us out to the front of the building where we met our ride to go home.
Overall I found this ship to have the best attitude and service of any on which I have traveled. The food was satisfactory and the ship herself is generally well planned. I would very much like to cruise on her again, but not in the same cabin.