by Tim Rubacky
October 18, 1998
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.)
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!!
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.
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:
Palm Springs Cafe/Grill:
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:
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!!
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:
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...