This is my review of my first ever cruise on the Celebrity Mercury, roundtrip from Vancouver to Alaska which departed on Sunday 31 August 2003. I travelled with my sister from Australia to do this cruise.
Right up I have to ask the question "Why have I never cruised before?" It was just an incredible experience.
We arrived in Vancouver a couple of days before the cruise - me from Perth on the west coast of Australia and my sister from the east coast. We met each other in Sydney and flew from there to Vancouver via LA.
I booked through Priceline and got the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina for $48US per night. I was very pleased with the price and we both loved the hotel. When we arrived I asked if it would be possible to get a harbour view but was told it would cost another $30CA per night. We refused the offer. However, without asking we were upgraded to the tower and received a corner room with a harbour view at no cost. It was wonderful. I loved this hotel and would very happily stay here again (especially at the Priceline price). We did breakfast at the hotel restaurant the next morning and it was expensive but worth it for the convenience at that point. However after that we ate at the White Spot restaurant up the road from the hotel.
I also loved the hotel location. We are both walkers so being near the seawall was really convenient for us and we made the most of it. The hotel was within walking distance of Denman Street which is a hip, funky street filled with cafes and restaurants. Can highly recommend The Banana Leaf as cheap and tasty. There was also a Laundromat almost on the corner of Denman and Robson Streets. There was also a Safeways and a fruit market close by. It is also within walking distance of the Aquarium.
The main shopping area on Robson is only a 15 minute walk away. The hotel has a mini-bus service that goes every hour and drops you off and picks you up at the Sears department store.
On our walks we could see the cruise ships at Canada Place and we were very excited. When we went into the downtown area we went to Canada Place and walked around. I still can't get over the size of these ships. They are just enormous.
Day 1 - Embarkation
Sunday dawned clear and bright. We went for our walk, had breakfast and finished packing. We caught a taxi to Canada Place and arrived around 11.30am. The porters tagged our bags immediately and wrote our cabin number on all the tags. That was the last time we saw our bags until they arrived in our cabin. We didn't know what to do so we followed everyone else. We picked up an Alaska travel book as we walked in. We were directed to the Mercury security lines. When we got to being asked our details, the security man couldn't find our names on the list. I was very insistent that we should be there. I think we held up the line for about 15 minutes before he finally went and got some help. The lady informed him that foreigners, ie, people who were not US citizens were listed at the back of sheet list, and low and behold there were our names. I would have thought that this was a basic instruction given to all the people staffing this section of the embarkation process especially considering how many "foreigners" sail on cruise ships. Anyway we put our cabin bags and handbags through security and set off again and got our photos taken. For some reason I thought your photo was taken on the gangway as you walked onto the ship! There was an area where tea and coffee facilities were set up and about 1 dozen people were sitting or milling about. The joy of being naïve is that we walked straight through this area into the area with big white counters - there was no one around to ask for assistance. The big counter area was empty though beyond that point there were a number of people sitting. We were called up to the counter and given our cruise cards which would be a stateroom key as well as a credit card for on board purchases and filled out and signed a couple more forms and then went to sit down. About 15 minutes later they started calling people to start boarding - US citizens first, then Captain Club members, then people with children or disabled people and then the rest of us. While this was happening, more and more people were filling up the big counter area and there were lines everywhere. We went through US immigration and started the climb to board the ship.
We were greeted with champagne or champagne and orange by a white- gloved attendant. We had our security photos taken as we went through. We were directed to the Palm Springs Café to have lunch and were told our luggage would arrive by 1pm. We were seated and eating by 12.20pm which I thought was fast. An announcement was made to say luggage had been delivered but when we went to our cabin ours wasn't there. We met our attendants - Veronica and Kevin - who were delightful. The bed was set up as a double so we asked for it to be separated.
We spent the next couple of hours just exploring everywhere and taking photos. We visited the spa/hair salon and gym. The spa prices were over the top expensive. The library was small and had a limited number of books. The Mercury is gorgeous - we both loved her. I thought the muster was poorly organised - honestly if the ship had really been in trouble, 90% of the passengers would not have made it. However, for first timers it was an interesting exercise. We also happened to meet the people we would spend most of our time with on the cruise, although at the time we didn't know that. (Ken and Kathleen from Seattle were standing next to us and we just started talking. The next day we kept seeing them everywhere we went so by the next day we decided to really meet and talk). Our luggage arrived around 3.00pm
Dinner that first evening was casual. We ate in the Manhattan Room at Table 529 on Deck 5 right near a window at the main seating with 6 lovely people - 3 couples. Two couples were from the Seattle area and the other couple was from Nanaimo, BC. The couple from BC were friends with one of the couples from Seattle. Everyone was really nice. I'm certain we were the loudest table in the room. We laughed and talked non-stop every night. Our waiter was Goran and the bus boy was Jose. Both were wonderful. Had shrimp cocktail, chilled pear and honey soup, veal picante (awful) and the swan cream puff.
After dinner we visited the stores and saw the 9pm show in the Celebrity theatre - 4 for U - an a capella group who were wonderful and over the week formed a very strong following.
We had an inside cabin (Category 9) on the Sky Deck (Cabin 1214). We loved this location. My sister and I made a pact before we boarded that we would not use the elevators, it was stairs all the way. Our cabin was very handy to the outside area on the Sky Deck for when we felt queasy and close to the Palm Springs Café on Deck 11. For those interested there was a built-in hair dryer in the bathroom, cotton tips and cotton balls were provided, shampoo and conditioner and body lotion were provided in dispensers. Bathrobes were also provided. There was also a small in room safe behind the mirror in the cabin area. We arrived with two large suitcases each, 2 cabin bags and 2 handbags (please bear in mind we were travelling for a further 4 weeks around Canada and the US after the cruise). We unpacked everything. There was still lots of room in the wardrobes and we placed our suitcases under our beds.
Chocolates and a small card with the next day's weather conditions were placed on our pillows every night.
Day 2 - At Sea
I look back now and don't know why we did it, but we booked in for a 7am Yoga class. I'm no yoga expert but have picked up a thing or two in my weekly beginners yoga class that I have been doing for 3 years and I have to say this class was a waste of money. The instructor knew 3 poses and used them for 45 minutes and included approximately 50 arm lifts (come on!!!!) and then took this class of beginners (most had never done yoga before) through about 10 movements of Salute to the Sun. This put us off the gym for the rest of the week.
From "yoga" we went to breakfast at the Palm Court buffet. While the food was perfectly edible, it suffered from the same problem of all buffets - the food was not hot enough - barely warm eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc. You could order a made-to-order omelet if you wanted to wait. There was plenty to eat including cereals, fruit, yoghurts, eggs/bacon, pastries, (I loved the chocolate croissants) etc. Tea and coffee was self-serve.
At around 9.30am the ship started to move a lot and we started to feel decidedly queasy. My sister suffered quite badly and paid a visit to the doctor and was given a tablet. She spent some time on deck and finally went to bed. I went to the Celebrity Theatre for the talk on shopping in Ketchikan with Dara. Just a tip - she gives away freebies so sit at the front of the theatre. It was interesting trying not to watch the curtains sway quite violently from side to side. I managed to stay on to listen to the on board naturalist - Dirk Younkerman speak on "North to Alaska: Introduction to Cruising Alaska".
I went to the Palm Court grill for lunch - pizza - grease was just what I needed for a queasy stomach. The ship changed course slightly and within minutes, the sick feeling was gone. Checked on my sister who was feeling better and up and about. She went to eat and I ended up in the Navigator's Club for the afternoon, reading, watching the scenery, spotted 2 whales and some dolphins. I did go back to the Celebrity theatre to listen to Dirk talk about humpback and orca whales.
Tonight was formal night for dinner so we got dressed up and headed to the dining room. I am pleased to say that most people dressed up which was nice to see. Certainly not long evening gowns and tuxs but cocktail wear and jackets and ties. There are always people who don't care and those in jeans or worse stood out.
Dinner tonight was ham and cheese fritters, corn soup, tomato, onion, basil and lettuce salad with a disgusting oriental dressing, (I could not eat this); roasted pork loin which was delicious and apple tartin.
It was interesting that no-one at our table drank wine, one couple drank one beer each. Our decision not to drink on this cruise was based on cost. At $8.00US for a glass of wine it was too expensive, at that time, the exchange rate would have meant it cost about $14.00A and no wine is worth that much a glass. We knew we would be doing our share for the US and Canadian wine industries when we were staying with friends during the remainder of our holiday. We also don't drink soda so we drank water and iced tea which was free.
We stopped by the jewellery store after dinner to enter a competition to win some amber jewellery and then stopped at the Navigator Club but after listening (not purposely) to someone vomit twice!!! we headed back to our cabin, set back our clocks/watches one hour to be on Alaskan time and went to bed.
Day 3 - Ketchikan
We were up at 5.45am and out on deck at 6.20am to see the ship dock in Ketchikan. It was wet and Ketchikan looked so pretty. It was surreal being up on deck 12 looking down at the town. Took some great photographs. Had breakfast at the buffet and then went to the Rain Gauge to meet up with Island Wings for our floatplane trip. However, we got the bad news that due to the weather (it was drizzly) that all floatplane trips were cancelled. We were so disappointed. I had really been looking forward to this trip. The good news was that the refund was given that same day and appeared on my credit card very quickly. No point getting upset, we knew this was a possibility so instead we booked a city tour with Rainbird tours. The tour lasted for 2 hours. There's not a lot to see in Ketchikan but we were dry and warm so it was fine. After the tour we went shopping. Our mum was after a string of turquoise beads so we headed to the jewellery stores. It was strange that there were so many jewellery stores in a town like Ketchikan. We picked up a bargain on a silver and turquoise bracelet inlaid with opal. The manager knocked off $495 from the original price as it was the end of the season and then showed us these toe rings he had made out of opal and stirling silver. We convinced him that these beautiful rings were not toe rings (he had obviously never seen a toe ring) but were more suited to the fingers. He then gave us each one of these original pieces to thank us for the advice. I still wear mine, it is stunning and I am always getting compliments on it. PS. The manager was gorgeous and thanking him was an excuse for me to kiss him!!!
Had lunch on the ship (might as well, it is included in the price). And then wandered around Creek Street. By early afternoon we noticed that the sky had cleared but all floatplane trips were booked out. We went back to the ship to the Navigator Club and meet the couple we were always seeing around the ship so we finally introduced ourselves and spend the rest of the afternoon talking and finding out about each other. We left Ketichikan at 4.00pm.
Dinner that night was informal. I had tomato and buffalo mozzarella, Louisiana gumbo, boston lettuce, gorgonzola cheese and croutons, lamb (delicious). I had 2 desserts - lemon tart and tiramisu - yum.
After dinner my sister and I went to the photo gallery and bought the photo of us arriving in Canada Place and a photo of the Mercury. The photos were not cheap about $9.00US each. We then went to the Celebrity Theatre to see Carl Andrews, a magician, and 4 for U.
Day 4 - Hubbard Glacier
Got woken up at 5.30am with a big noise (never found out what it was). The seas were quite rough so neither of us was feeling well. Breakfast at the buffet and then went to the 10.00am shopping talk on Junea and Sitka with Dara. This was followed by the Dirk's talk on glaciers.
Lunch at the grill and then straight to the Navigator Club with our new friends. About 2pm we went outside to watch as we entered Hubbard Glacier. This was the only day I wore a hat, scarf, gloves, extra layers and jacket. It was very windy, cold and wet until we got to the glacier. I would hazard a guess and say we were within about ½ km of the glacier. It was magnificent. We saw and heard numerous calving. Took so many photos. The ship slowly made several full circles. We were there until 5pm. We heard at dinner that there was a film crew on board filming from the brig and that was why we were there for so long.
Dinner that night was informal and all I can remember food wise is that I had lamb. Following dinner we met our new friends in the Cova Bar to listen to 4 for U. They were wonderful. Afterwards we wandered the shops and each bought an amber ring. I went back to the cabin to bed as I had a sore throat.
Day 5 - Juneau
We were up early to catch a tender into Juneau. We were at the buffet at 7am only to learn it didn't open until 7.15am. I would have thought it was logical to open early on a port day. We had booked with Captain Larry for the early whale-watching tour at 9am. We were able to catch the first tender at 8.15am and arrived about 10 minutes later. Juneau was covered in fog and it was the weirdest thing as we went past the bow of the ship in the mist. Hard to describe but it was surreal as we drifted past this massive structure looming over us. Wish I had taken a photo but it would not have done the view justice
Orca Enterprises was easy to find and we checked in. While we waited we did some window-shopping at the Juneau Clothing Co. Back up at Orca Enterprises we found the Mercury's naturalist Dirk. Turns out he and Captain Larry are great friends. They started the whale watching industry in Alaska 10 years ago and Dirk was coming on this trip with us. We headed out to Auke Bay around 9.30am to meet Captain Larry. Juneau was still shrouded in fog. About 20 minutes out we hit clear skies. Dirk had heard there was a transient group of orcas out in Auke Bay and he told us it was very rare to see orcas and humpbacks together as orcas were the natural enemy of humpbacks. So we all kept our fingers crossed that we would see both - and we did!! The water was smooth, the sky was blue, the air crisp and the glaciers in the background were just glorious. We saw a pod of 4 orcas as well as humpbacks, seals and bald eagles. It was a great morning. As we were heading back, Captain Larry yelled out that a humpback had just breached in front of him. We then spotted Flame, a calf born in Hawaii, that Dirk was familiar with. Flame did a half breach right in front of another boat. It was amazing to watch. I could have stayed out all day. Later that day, Dirk found us on the Mercury and told us that we were the only group to see both the orcas and humpbacks - hee hee.
We were picked up around 1pm and dropped of at Coastal Helicopters for our trip to the Herbert Glacier. Our flight was booked for 2pm but the other people dropped of with us insisted on going earlier in case they missed their ship. The people at Coastal said they would get them back on time and that there were no flights available. These people were not happy but like us went to the airport (right next door) to have bite to eat. I have to say the menu was better than a lot of places in the town itself. We had just ordered when one of the young guys from Coastal ran in saying they had gotten a pilot to take us earlier. While there was no necessity for us to catch this flight as our ship didn't depart until 10pm we went along. Turns out Skip the pilot was very happy to be called out of a meeting to take us up. I've never been in helicopter before and I loved it. The view was amazing and landing on that glacier and walking around was phenomenal. Skip was very accommodating in taking photos of us and allowing his photo to be taken. I collected a nice sample of glacial rocks which are currently decorating my office. We spent about 25 minutes on the glacier with Skip answering all sorts of questions. On the flight back we flew along the Mendenhall Glacier which was spectacular. For someone who rarely sees snow this show was incredible. It was perfect weather - warm with clear skies.
Back in Juneau we did some souvenir shopping and watched the Mercury dock around 5pm.
At dinner (informal) that night I had cauliflower with pesto soup, salad with some disgusting heavy dressing; rack of lamb which was delicious and charlotte beajolais. We wanted to see what the movie theatre was like so we went and saw Maid in Manhattan, the best seats are the aisle seats in the 3rd and 4th rows from the front - clear view, with no-one in front of you. We wandered around the decks after and went to bed around 11pm.
Day 6 - Sitka
It dawned overcast and very cool. We met Ken and Kathleen on deck at the crack of dawn and watched as the Mercury sailed into Sitka. It was breathtaking. Sitka is a tender port but we had booked the Otter and Wildlife tour through the ship and the boat picked us up at the ship. This was a very well organised endeavour. The tour was 3 hours long and I thought we might get a little bored but it went so fast that we were almost begging for more time. We saw 7 humpbacks, a couple of them with calves. One humpback came to the surface right alongside the boat right near me, we looked right at each other - just amazing. Then we headed in the opposite direction to see a raft of sea otters who cavorted and dived and played for us - it was joyful. We also saw seals and a large number of bald eagles and a nest - it was huge. We were back at the dock in Sitka around 12 noon.
We wandered around the very small town. Bought several Russian Christmas ornaments and ogled the $40,000 babushka set - so beautiful. We posted some postcards and did some sightseeing. We caught a tender back to the ship and had lunch on board. My sister forgot something so she headed back to Sitka for another quick visit while I spent some time in the Navigator Club with Ken and Kathleen. Kathleen and I were fortunate to watch 4 for U rehearse and had a chat with the boys.
Dinner was formal that night - potato gratin, cesear salad and veal cordon bleu. It was baked alaska night which might have been fun except one of the waiters tripped over my chair and somehow juggled the baked alaska mid-air and caught it centimetres away from my sister's face!!!! Talk about lucky!!! Nearly a disaster.
Went back to the Navigator Club after dinner and met up with Ken and Kathleen to watch 4 for U. While waiting for them, Ken excused himself and unbeknown to us had spotted the group and arranged for us to have our photos taken with them after the session. They were happy to do and we were excited as only girls can be. (You should have seen me when I was talking to Hugh Jackman in New York later in the trip).
Ken took photographs and they turned out really well. We went to bed that night turning our clocks forward one hour.
Day 7 - At Sea
It was a rough sea the next morning when we got up around 7.30am. Ken and Kathleen joined us for breakfast as we filled out the customer survey forms. We went to the Vancouver Disembrakation talk at 10.30am and then we were very lazy and spent the rest of the day in the Navigator Club resting and writing and reading. Occasionally one of us would get up and go and get some food and bring it back for the rest of us. It got quite rough and announcements were made about being careful when walking around. My sister and I took turns going to the cabin to start packing. Dinner that night was casual. Can't remember what we ate, I know everyone took lots of photos and address and emails were exchanged.
We got our bill tonight which advised that unless I queried anything, that amount would go on my credit card.
This had also been tipping night. As Australians tipping is not part of our culture but we happily tipped (well in excess of the minimum required) Veronica and Kevin as well as Goran and Jose as their service was exceptional. However, we refused to pay the Assistant Maitre'd (please don't flame me for this decision). As far as I was concerned he spent 20 seconds at our table one evening and we never saw him again until he came around to collect his tips - his money was better spent on Goran and Jose.
We stayed up again to watch 4 for U and spend some more time with Ken and Kathleen.
Day 8 - Vancouver - disembarkation.
We got tags that showed we were getting off the ship at 8.00am. We had breakfast early and said goodbye again to Ken and Kathleen. We went down to the allotted deck and within 5 minutes we were called and headed off the ship, our suitcases were waiting for us, we grabbed a trolley, loaded it up and went to customs, had nothing to declare, asked for a stamp for the passport and headed out to where we had arrived 8 days earlier. It was all very organised with a taxi pulling up almost immediately. We jumped in and were at the airport in about 20 minutes. We purchased our airport improvement tax vouchers and checked-in, went through security and were sitting down in the airport terminal proper by 9.30am. Our flight to San Francisco was at 1pm. I headed back later to see there were queues for miles. We beat the rush, thank goodness.
So that's it. It's over. My sister and I both agree that we just didn't do this cruise justice. Neither of us knew what to expect and were a bit gob-smacked by the ship and the location. I think we walked around most of the time with our mouths open, not fully comprehending everything we saw. So we think we should so it again, as soon as possible so we can take in all in properly. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole adventure, the crew, the ship, Alaska, the wildlife, the scenery, the people we met both on and off the ship. It was a very memorable experience and we would do it again in a heartbeat.