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

by Tim Rubacky
October 18, 1998
Western Caribbean

After the takeover by RCCL, I was quite concerned. Many told me, “You can never go home again”. I am happy to report that a few minor irritations notwithstanding, Celebrity Cruises is 'alive and well' and is the same excellent product it has always been and hopefully will remain. But if they are to keep their edge, they do have some work to do. I am also delighted to report, yes, you CAN go home again!!

Mercury Cruise in Review

I started my cruise by flying to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday the 17th for a one night pre-cruise stay at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Resort which was arranged by Celebrity. Once I arrived at Fort Lauderdale Int'l, I was greeted by a charming and friendly staff member who quickly escorted us to a waiting bus for transfer. As I was the only one in my group going to the Hotel, I was dropped first and the balance of the passengers proceeded off to CENTURY.

Check-in was quick and efficient and I settled in for a afternoon of relaxing in the sun by the pool by 1:30 PM.

The next morning I awoke and readied myself for the day ahead. My traveling companion arrived at the hotel around 11:30 and we went up to the Pier Top for a drink and to look at the Grand Princess looming in the harbor. Shortly thereafter it was time for embarkation and we proceeded to the lobby for our Celebrity transfers to the Pier. Here's where the review really starts! (I'll get into the ship itself a little later.)

We arrived at the pier and were asked to identify our luggage just to make sure it was all there, which it was, and then check it with the porter so it could be delivered to the ship. 1-2-3, done!! Next stop was the terminal itself where we were to be given our embarkation number. When we got in line OUTSIDE the terminal I found that they were up to number FOUR and wanted to hand us number EIGHTEEN!! The terminal was packed and the line outside the building so I approached one of the cruise staff and whispered those magic words, "Captain's Club." Oh how things change!! In the blink of an eye, we were ushered in and through a set of doors to the check in desks. A separate check in desk was set up for Captain's Club and Suite passengers. A short wait in line and we were then handing over our documents to be processed.

This usually irritating process which tends to duplicate all information already given to them at time of the reservation being made was made more pleasant when the ships charming and affable Social Hostess, Amanda Reid, came by to say "hellooo." We chatted for a few moments while to documents were processed and she then accompanied us to the gangway. We were now crossing the gangplank...FINALLY!!! Once aboard, I was surprised to find that the usual entourage of stewards was not there to take your luggage and escort you to your cabin. We were merely directed to our cabin (which I knew how and where to find) rather unceremoniously. Not a big deal, but a definitely a sign that they ARE Royal Caribbean and not the separate entity they claim to be. Surprisingly enough, later on that afternoon, we saw passengers being escorted and when I inquired about it, I was told that they were escorting only those passengers that looked as though they needed assistance. So I guess that if you're able bodied and have all your faculties, no steward will escort you, only if you're feeble and senile. Mental note for next cruise: hunch over, wear a powdered wig and have a confused look when boarding. Nah, Mental Note: make appointment with Guest Relations Manager!!

We were happily ensconced in cabin 5030 on Plaza Deck, just 50 yards or so off of the Grand Foyer. Warmly decorated with bleached wood paneling, navy blue carpet and upholstered in shades of blue and gold, the cabin was a study in spaciousness and efficient design. There was more storage space then anyone could possibly want for a seven or even a ten/eleven night cruise, unless of course you're traveling in a cabin that can hold a third and fourth. In that case, I would say that the storage would be adequate. The bathroom was more than large enough for two adults to occupy it at the same time without tripping over one another and the shower itself was large enough for two, possibly three!! Never did we find ourselves tripping over one another even when we were both dressing, moving to and from the closets, or jockeying for position at the dressing table. For a mass market product, and for my money, these cabins are probably the best value afloat. Verandah cabins are the same size plus the verandah and the suites are truly sybaritic. My favorites are of course the Sky Suites with the extra large balconies. However, I was extremely grateful NOT to have one as the seas kicked up the last two days and it would have been miserable up there on deck 12!!

The only problem encountered was that our A/C was not up to par. The cabin was slightly warm when we embarked so I set the thermostat down to 60. Upon returning later the first afternoon, I expected to find the cabin frigid but it was not. I called Guest Relations to report this problem and request that somewhat take a look at it but was informed that such a problem couldn't possibly exist and that I probably wasn't familiar with the "advanced technology" in the cabin. Hmmm... another mental note: Guest Relations Manager!! It was now about three o'clock and all of our luggage had been delivered to the stateroom which our steward brought inside and laid everything out for us. A nice touch. All we had to do was stow everything in the closets and drawers.

Later that afternoon we had the mandatory Lifeboat Drill which was efficient, strict and extremely thorough. Kudos to them for that!!

After the lifeboat drill, it was sailing time!! YEAAA!!!! We watched the Sea Breeze get pushed out first and then the Mercury backed ever so carefully up the turning basin and turned herself 'round to head out the channel and into the open sea. Before we knew it we were making our way down the Florida coast towards out first port, Key West. But more on the ports later.

Food & Service:
Kudos to our cabin steward who was extremely courteous, efficient and solicitous of our needs. I tipped him $20 at the outset, made our wants, needs and expectations clear and from that point on, it was like having our own private butler. The afternoon of the first formal dinner, I asked that my suit and shirt be pressed, they were back in the cabin within two hours!!

Dining Room:
The service in the dining room could not have been more perfect. The first night out, our busboy bumbled and fumbled a bit though. However, I spoke with our waiter after dinner and told him that the busboy had to get with it and for the rest of the voyage. Sammy (the waiter) watched over him intently and once again, everything was perfect. All of our preferences for the way we liked our meals prepared, coffee, tea, iced tea, likes and dislikes were anticipated and met. Never once, during the entire trip was a meal to anyone's disliking. In fact, I would say that from what we experienced, the food on Celebrity has never been better.

Palm Springs Cafe/Grill:
Problem Area!!! This is probably where we experienced the bulk of any minor irritations or problems during the cruise. On several occasions, in fact quite frequently, we experienced or ran into crew members who were gruff, lazy, ignorant, aloof and just plain obnoxious. For the first 1/2 of the cruise, the waiters that they have roaming the Lido area to refill coffee and tea were just about useless. They would just roam around deck, stop and chat with their co-workers and resume their roaming. Never were they solicitous in offering refills. This may sound petty as all one need do is get up and walk fifty to one hundred feet and refill your own cup, but when I see them roaming the decks with pitchers of coffee, I expect that they could stop and at least ask if they could offer a refill. So guess what I did... called and wrote the Guest Relations manager. This trend continued for Monday and Tuesday. And each day I informed Guest Relations. At one point, we were told by a waiter that the reason "Mr. Coffee" didn't stop was that he really didn't like that job. Well, too bad!!

Another area that was a source of constant irritation was the buffet lines. On more than one occasion when I tried to get a piece of pie, there were no pie servers, the silver or stainless steel serving utensil, and when I asked if they could get one they merely ignored the request, told me to use the tongs or even better, "It's nah ma yab". At one point the Executive Chef was passing through as I was mutilating his Cherry Pie with the tongs and he had a fit!!! Not at me, but over the fact that there were no pie forks and no one would go get one. So, off he went, telling me not to move. When he returned, not only did he have a pie fork, but a brand new pie!! He apologized profusely.

Guest Relations Manager and Staff:
Idiotic and irritating lack of attention to details such as this continued throughout the week. When I did finally demand a meeting with the Guest Relations Manager, I was surprised that they never tried to brush me off or dissuade me. And when I had an appointment to speak with him, he took copious notes, admitted to the fact that the crew was not up to par and gave assurances that the problems would be looked into and resolved. His follow up was unbelievable as he was always leaving notes or voice mails for me and every department head that was responsible for offending crew members sought me out, asked for details and worked very hard to rectify the problems. All of them were extremely gracious and in the end, service did improve but the overall demeanor, attitude and friendliness of the crew did not.

Overall, I would have to rank the level of service very good even though I found much of the crew to be cold and aloof. Very few crew members would smile at you, greet you or even acknowledge your presence with the exception of the bar/wait staff. I had the same experience as Karen did with the crew wanting to stack the deck chairs and clean the decks one night. I refused to budge, stood my ground and after a small argument, left Porasah to guard the deck chairs while I sought out an officer. I returned with an assistant Bar manager and explained the "problem." He apologized profusely and instructed the crew members not to disrupt, disturb or up-root guests so as to accomplish the task of stacking deck chairs. And all during this incident, the crew members stood there speaking in their native tongues. I, like Karen, agree wholeheartedly that cruise lines should adopt the same policies of Princess. All guests are to be greeted or acknowledged, and English is the only language that should be spoken in front of the guests, or Spanish, French, German, whatever their native language happens to be.

Oh, and as for the "Alternative Dining," it's somewhat of a disappointment. It's only available from 6:30 to 8:30 PM and on a reservations only basis. Reservations MUST be made by 2:30 PM and the menu is EXTREMELY limited. I think they need to play around with this to tweak and perfect it. Nice thought, but it falls short of the alternative dining options/venues available on Princess and parent RCI. OK...enough griping!!

In a word, Great!! The production shows were extremely well done except for "Bond Voyage". This show is a Three P'er: Painful, Pathetic and Pitiful. The other acts, a vocalist, comedian and comedic jugglers were all very good as were all the various bands aboard. Celebrity has made great strides with their on board entertainment. The Cruise Staff was wonderful. Extremely Professional and outgoing but thankfully not the "cheerleaders" that so many other cruise lines employ. And I laud their ban on public announcements. The only time PA's are made is in the event of an emergency or safety advisories.

Fellow Passengers:
Surprisingly enough, quite a young crowd with LOTS of Honeymooners. I'd say the bulk were 25-45. More surprising was the LACK of informality in the evenings, even on the "Casual" evenings. Sport Coats and Suits were in abundance every evening. And on the formal nights, Tuxes and Evening Gowns reigned supreme.

The Ports:
Key West: Frankly, having been there before, I found the port somewhat of a waste especially given the timeframe that you're there. 7:30 am to 1:30 PM. I'd prefer the entire day at sea but that's just me. Key West shows very few signs of hurricane damage and is as always, lovely and charming. But it doesn't even begin to stir to life until Noon when you're getting ready to leave. Mercury docks at the former Naval Base and Key West/Celebrity provide constant and convenient shuttle service between the pier and downtown. They really do make you feel welcome and the residents really couldn't be friendlier.

Cozumel: In my mind a waste of time. They tout this as "THE" place to shop. If you don't snorkel, take one of the excursions to Tulum or Chichen Itza. Downtown San Miguel is nothing great, many of the shops are seedy or filled with junk. We spent the day just lounging on the beach. I would recommend Chakannab Beach Club if you want super clean and ultra touristy. Very nice though. If you seek something a little more quiet try Playa Del Sol. It's free and clean and has a very nice beach. Forget San Francisco Beach at all costs. Seedy, run down and Gross!! The day we were in Cozumel we were accompanied by the Carnival Destiny, Enchanted Capri and a small US Naval Ship, the name of which I don't recall.

Calica: This is the jewel of the entire itinerary!! First impressions are everything but in this case, soon forgotten and thankfully so!! The Mercury docks at the newly completed cruise ship terminal and no longer needs to tender. But when you first see this place, the only appropriate thought is "WELCOME TO THE BANANA REPUBLIC!!!" A desolate pier area carved out of sand and coral, surrounded by sand mining equipment, it looks as though you docked in some third world Central American country and you half expect a revolution to break out at any moment. But Calica is the gateway to Xcaret (Shka-Ret) and Playa Del Carmen.

Xcaret is not to be missed. It's a huge eco-archeological park with small bits of Mayan Ruins, brimming with exotic marine and wildlife and beautiful beaches, lagoons and an underground river. This was our best day in terms of weather and attractions. We spent the entire day at the park exploring, seeing all of the marine and wildlife and then just relaxing in a tidal pool for the afternoon. I can't say enough about this place!!

Grand Cayman: Beautiful, Clean and Civilized. Much like Bermuda, GC is veddy British, extremely prosperous and wealthy. We hired a cab here for the day and toured the entire island in about three hours. Unfortunately, as the first feeder bands of Hurricane Mitch were arriving with heavy down pours, thunder and lightning, we didn't spend any time at the beach. We did arrive in GC 12 hours early, at 8pm on Thursday night due to the need to medivac a passenger off of the ship. Mercury spent Thursday afternoon cruising at absolute maximum speed to reach GC. Our average speed that afternoon and evening was estimated at over 24 knots. Quite an exciting way to spend a day at sea!!! After the passenger was taken ashore, Mercury turned herself in the anchorage and proceeded back out to sea for the evening.

Unfortunately, with the exception of our day in Calica, every day was a mixed bag of rain and sun. And then on our last day, we had 40-45 knot winds and heavy seas due to Mitch.

The Ship Itself:
Mercury is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and tastefully appointed ships on the high seas today. She doesn't "pretend" or try to be anything, there is no theme to her decor and no pretense about her. Just understated elegance, luxury and solid comfort throughout. All of the materials used are top notch and the ship shows absolutely NO signs of wear and tear after a year in service. She's absolutely spotless. Our absolute favorite area to spend time was the Pam Springs Pool and Terrace. I swear we spent the entire cruise there!! Quiet, relaxed and uncrowded it seems as though most people didn't discover this area until the last two days of the cruise. It was bliss. Evenings were usually spent in the Rendezvous, Navigator, or Tastings, depending on our moods.

As a coda to the service issues, in light of the fact that Guest Relations Manager Costas Gatsis was so charming, helpful and efficient, we sent him a bottle of champagne. When we ran into him later that evening his was beaming and gushing that we had thought of him and had sent him a gift. He quipped that he rarely receives gifts from guests, not to mention guests that had problems. But he was so kind, caring and thoughtful we had to do it. This gentleman, along with Social Hostess Amanda Reid are true gems and assets to Celebrity Cruises. They epitomize what Celebrity is all about. If aboard, I urge you to say hello to this charming and affable young man, and if you do experience problems, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, bring them to his attention. Unlike some, he REALLY DOES want to know if you experience a problem and WILL work to rectify it and it WILL be rectified.

Overall I'd give Mercury two thumbs up and Four Stars plus. We're already putting together preliminary plans to return in late March. Yes indeed, you can go home again...