November 12, 2000
In the past, my husband and I have enjoyed the hoopla and non-stop entertainment of other cruise lines and itineraries; however, we sailed the Mercury, per a friend's recommendation, to relax, be pampered, and enjoy interesting ports. The Mercury exceeded our expectations on every single one of the aforementioned priorities and our trip onboard the Mercury was not only the best cruise, but also the best trip that either of us has taken.
We were forewarned before we embarked, however, that the Mercury was not the ship for us. We were warned that we were too young, that the ship lacked entertainment, and that our cabin would not be as nice as expected. These advisers were partially correct.
Rix and I found that we were on the younger end of passengers onboard at 44 and 27, respectively. Although the mean age of passengers on our cruise was around 70, all of the passengers were young at heart and a lot of fun to have lunch with, to play shuffleboard with, or to play the "Newlywed, not so Newlywed" game with… Regarding the entertainment, it was mediocre, but other things made the difference (the service was impeccable). Our cabin, a category 5, didn't really have a "sitting area" as I expected when I booked, but we had a nice, front-view in Cabin 8000.
We were definitely able to relax on this vacation. Because of Celebrity's "no announcement" policy, we were not disturbed by constant messages. We were also not bothered by phone calls from our room steward to see when we wanted our room made up the two or three days we wanted to sleep until noon. Not only did they not bother us; they left notes letting us know they would make our room up at our convenience. We were pampered, as we expect at a resort - or, I can now "re"add, a cruise ship.
At slightly less than 78,000 tons, the Mercury is the perfect size ship; the ship is large enough to afford a variety of public areas and it is small enough that one does not need to wait in line for the lunch buffet, sit too far from the stage in the showroom or wait fifteen minutes for bar service. Although I was very worried about the décor when I saw the brochures and pictures on the web, I was very impressed when I saw it in person. The over-the-top colors and patterns shown in promotional materials are subdued onboard. The high ceilings and vast expanses of space needed these few "over-the-top" colors and patterns. The overall effect was a very sophisticated, relaxed, and nice setting.
The only other comment I have about the ship that is not addressed below, is that this is was a very dressy cruise. Not only was the atmosphere dressy, but the passengers dressed up every evening - whether it was formal night: Tux/Formal wear required, informal night: suit required, or casual night: sport shirt with or without jacket, nice slacks/dress or equivalent. Nearly every passenger adhered to the code; few wore suits on formal night.
The entertainment was on par to most luxury resorts I have visited, but compared to Las Vegas or Carnival or Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, the entertainment was mediocre to fair. For example, comedians were featured for five of the first seven shows. One of the comedians was so horrible, that about a fourth of the passengers left during his "Pianist/Comedian" performance. The other two comprised of local talent from Acapulco and the Celebrity Dancers for the Welcome aboard party.
During the second week, the Celebrity Dancers and Orchestra performed four times and the shows were all really good; in particular, the Bond Voyage show was excellent and included lasers, spectacular choreography and outstanding pair dancing.
If this had been a one-week cruise in lieu of two weeks, perhaps they would have had fewer comedians and more of the Celebrity entertainers, which did a much better job.
The Mercury should be handed an award for the greatest variety of music. They featured a variety of Big Band, Swing, Jazz, Classic Rock, Top 40 and County in their lounges and nightclubs every single night. This is not to mention the accapella string quartet, Four Winds, and the two member band, Joy and Duo, which sang a variety of music poolside or at the various lounges, both of which were outstanding. In addition, classical music such as Vivaldi, Bach, Lizst, and Dvorzak was generally played at Dinner. What they lacked was the non-ending steel drum music that many cruise lines feature. Overall, the music quality and variety was outstanding.
The service was also fantastic at the lounges and nightclubs. Rendezvous Square was always a hit. Whether stopping for a pre-dinner cocktail or for after Dinner trivia, this area had the music, the service, and the drinks J . They also featured kereoke at the Rendezvous Square, much to my disappointment. (My husband thinks he can sing and knows he can ever since he won the "Golden Ship" award on the Carnival Elation because the DJ had never seen a better performance or heard a worse voice). Rendezvous Square also had a lot of couches and chairs that were lower to the ground than normal, i.e. at 5'-6" I could lounge and extend my legs. The Navigator Club was usually pretty slow, but the bartenders were fantastic and the people that did visit were pretty fun. I also enjoyed Tastings because it was quiet and it displayed the atrium.
I was fairly disappointed in the daytime entertainment. The daytime entertainment seemed focused on pool activities, movies and food. The pool activities were mediocre because there was not a lot of participation and they penalized one for not signing up a half-hour early to participate. However, the activities were very well organized, but I felt they were too organized; as I mentioned, signing up early was required and one could not join midgame or extend the game.
Most passengers spent the day by the pool. There were plenty of lounges! I cannot comment on whether this was due to the age group of the passengers or whether it was because the crew constantly picked up towels and rearranged lounge chairs.
The Movie Theater was very nice but the one time we saw a movie, we only arrived five minutes early. Unfortunately, there were no seats left. They did accommodate us, however, by bringing in chairs from the adjoining lounge. I was impressed that they did this and knew that they would do the same thing at the pool if it were necessary (in fact, I saw a stash of lounge chairs in one of the crew storage areas while I was walking).
The daytime lectures were minimal, but very good. It is this area that I wish the Mercury would focus more and it is primarily because of this area that I rate the entertainment mediocre because I expected more.
The Mercury boasts a lot of artwork. What I found was a lot of beautiful lithographs and serigraphs, photographs and sculptures. Most of the artwork was "modern". The photographs and sculptures were exceptional (perhaps because I tend to favor these media for modern art). I was disappointed not to see any "great" original paintings because after hearing how much they spent in artwork, I though the Mercury was certain to have one; I either completely missed it/them or there isn't any. However, I was extremely happy to see that every hallway and public area contained numerous pieces of beauty. For example, the Resort deck featured amazing glacier photos, Deck 5 had a wonderful lithograph of hands and Deck 6 had amazing panoramic pieced together photographs created in the 50's. This is not to mention the globe that sits amidst the foyer of Deck 5. One other thing, the serigraphs were very low numbered in the series - a lot of 1's and 2's.
The Mercury held a Veteran Recognition gathering in Tastings. My husband is a Vietnam Vet so we went to this. It was a very special gathering for the 100+ people that attended. Each veteran spoke of his or her service, position, etc. Afterward, everyone mingled. It was a very emotional, impressive meeting.
Ports and Shore Excursions
Cabo San Lucas: My husband and I did not take a ship organized shore excursion at this port because we met a good friend that lives in Cabo. We also visit Cabo a lot since it is a great weekend getaway from San Diego. We love Cabo for the sunshine, the friendly atmosphere and the fantastic beaches. Most of the shore excursions visit the Arch, "El Arco" or Lover's Beach, the southernmost tip of Baja where the Pacific Ocean meats the Sea of Cortez. Based on my experience from previous cruises and from tours we have taken while vacationing Cabo based, the ship offers the best ones. However, the Mercury did not offer deep sea fishing, which is probably the most spectacular day trip one can take in Cabo. They also did not offer any golfing tours, which is a shame because they have gorgeous courses, including one designed by Jack Nicholsen.
Acapulco: We also did not take a ship-organized excursion for this port because we wanted to put our own together. Many of the ship tours included the Cliff Divers. From what I hear, the "Full Acapulco Day with Lunch" tour was probably worthwhile. That tour visited the Cliff Divers, stopped for shopping and then went to the Mayan Palace to relax. My husband and I planned to go to the Mayan Palace in the morning and then to see the Cliff Divers during the evening. Our plans changed when we found out it would cost us $50 each way in cab fare to go to the Mayan Palace; we settled on the Fiesta Americana, a hotel we often stay at in Puerto Vallarta. The Fiesta was all right; it had a nice view but it was above the beach, not on the beach. Afterward, we walked through the City before heading back to ship for some cool air and lunch (100 f outside).
Because it was so hot in Acapulco, we signed up for a Sunset Cruise (the ship didn't leave until close to midnight). We took the AKA-TIKI "The World's Largest Sailing Catamaran" for a three-hour bay cruise. At $18 per person, I highly recommend this tour and wish the Mercury would offer it as part of their program. The AKA-TIKI departs within walking distance of the cruise ship terminal (north of the cruise terminal and then left at the first main street; tickets may be purchased at the cruise port or at the pier - they are all the same price). We sailed past the Mercury, saw the resort section, and saw all of the "Hollywood Celebrities" homes. We also glimpsed at area of the Mayan Palace (and I understood the cab fare). Then, we saw a spectacular sunset and continued around the bay. Last, but not least, our ship stopped in front of the Cliff where the divers jump. We watched the night divers and two of them actually swam up and got into out boat. I highly recommend this bay cruise. It was a little "corny", i.e. Mariachi bands, participation games, and unlimited drinks included with fare, but it was a fantastic way to see a lot of Acapulco.
Punteneras/Puerto Caldera: For this port, we took the Conchiti River Rafting excursion offered on the Mercury. We loved this tour, but we had a hard time picking because all of the tours seemed fantastic and we heard nothing except for good comments about all of them. Although we enjoyed this tour immensely, I meant to sign up for the River Cruise tour that visits the lush Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I still regret not taking the River Cruise tour.
Our tour left the port and took us about 120 miles northeast. We saw a lot of fantastic countryside on the way. We stopped for lunch at a small lodge, where the landscape was beautiful and wild, and they displayed caged toucans and other rare birds, monkeys, and other native wildlife. After lunch, we drove through a small, dilapidated town, but the scenery was beautiful. The Conchiti River is actually part of a Costa Rican damn spillage system. We river rafted about 1 ˝ hours in the rain in shallow water with only the slightest current. In addition, our guide was most likely selected because he spoke limited English, not because he knew about river rafting (or floating in this case) and he still managed to get us stuck. Nevertheless, we saw several iguanas and monkeys, but little else other than snakes. One high point of this tour was the bus guide, who was very informed about the culture and geography of his country; he also had a great sense of humor and made the long ride back fun.
The port itself is limited, but the vendors are very friendly and not at all pushy. I really enjoyed this port and would like to visit again. However, my slight experience with Costa Rica is that it is extremely poor and the people are very happy. For instance, trash is everywhere alongside the roads and roads are almost nonexistent, but the people spend their weekends at their beautiful beaches.
I also understand, thanks to our shore tour guide, that every household has a TV set so that they can get together to watch soccer every Sunday after church. I saw this for myself while driving through the "projects" - the government housing for the Honduran refugees and illegal immigrants. Even these poorest of homes featured color TV sets. After all, it was a Sunday afternoon that we drove through their neighborhood, and these friendly people smiled and waved at us as we passed. I can now understand what my younger brother meant when he told me that the people in Paraguay were the nicest, simplest, sincerest and poorest people he has known, after spending two years in Asuncion as a missionary. After connecting eyes with one man, I immediately knew what he meant.
Panama Canal: It was such a fantastic experience to go through the Panama Canal; I am dumbfounded that I had this opportunity. While on the Mercury, my husband and I watched the TV program about the canal history a couple of times before we reached the outskirts of Panama. In our endless pursuit of "bigger and better" this one truly knocked our socks off. Although I have been through locks before on the Mississippi River, I entered an entranced state with such awe that I have only experienced a few times before: Niagara Falls, Carlsbad Caverns, Arlington Cemetery, Statue of Liberty, Buchart Gardens.
We awoke at 5:30AM EST to watch the ship cross the Bridge of Americas and enter the first locks, Mira Flores. The Mercury passed through the first locks alongside a freighter, which allowed us an excellent viewing opportunity to see the locks in action. The second set immediately followed. by 9AM, we were in Gutan Lake. The scenery was fantastic. Around 3PM, we began to go through the Gutan Locks. Again, the freighter was by our side and we had further opportunity to watch the locks. During the second of the three stages at Gutan, our ship hit the side! In order to go through the locks, a ship can be no wider than 106 feet (the lock is 110 feet wide); the Mercury is 105.6 feet wide.
I do have to admit that my husband Rix was very excited to touch the side of the canal and that was his primary motivation for booking the cruise. I also have to admit that I didn't think about the logistics for this when he first mentioned this. The night before entering the canal, my husband Rix asked me how we were going to do this. This was the first time I really though about it, and of course, I told him it was "theoretically possible but impossible for us". This was not what he wanted to hear.
Technically speaking, we could have touched the side if we were on Deck 3 or lower, if there were public areas there, and if there were open windows positioned at the ground level of the deck. Since there are no public access at that deck and since there are no open windows, it is impossible for us, as follows:
Since the lock is only 30 feet high, I need to be at 30 feet or lower:
30 feet = deck height * #of Decks
Assume deck height is 10 feet (8.5 feet to the ceiling and 1.5 feet for the rest (piping, concrete, supports)
30 feet/10 feet = 3 decks
This is not to mention that windows are another five feet or so higher and that public cannot go outside until deck 6.
This was our favorite port. I was stunned and amazed at this clean, safe and modern city. We did not sign up for a ship-authorized excursion because we only wanted to shop for an emerald and, if we had time, to see the old town. We were disgusted when we got off the ship because we were hoarded with guides that wanted to charge us a lot more than it was worth to visit the ship recommended emerald stores in the new town.
Although the shore excursion officer said that only the guides speak English, we knew from reference that many taxi drivers also speak English. We hired a taxi driver outside the terminal that spoke limited English. With our limited Espanol, we were able to spend an hour in the new town to purchase gifts for the familia and to spend two hours at the forte for café y emeraldes. We even found out that we could purchase coca, but were warned that 1 gram is 1 year J . I would recommend the City Shopping tour in hindsight. If in the market for emeralds, the new town has the top of the line for about $900 per carat. The old town, in particular the warehouses sell second rate emeralds for less than US $200 per carat (brilliant green with small inclusions - many in an area disguised by the setting).
We signed up for the Atlantis submarine tour. We had seen this tour offered at numerous ports in the Caribbean on past cruises and vacations, but we had read that this is one that is worthwhile. I must admit that I was impressed. Although the tour was over one hour late leaving, we were expediently taken to the port and immediately boarded the ship. The tour was fantastic. We went down 150 feet and saw shipwrecks, barracudas, and numerous fish. I can't say that the fish were colorful because red and other colors filter out when underwater.
On the tender back from the Atlantis, we watched the Heineken Hobby races. It was fantastic because we saw a lot of them tip over J .
We did visit Carlos y Charlies. I highly recommend that you stay away from this place. The restroom did not work while we were there, the food was horrible and there was no view. They also did not have any area for entertainment - unlike Cozumel.
Aruba in general is beautiful; it is very clean and hassle free.
Spa and Salon
I have little to comment on in this area because I did not spend much time at the Aqua Spa. The one time I did visit the beauty salon was to purchase hair conditioner; I spent three times more than I normally spend at my 5* salon at home. In addition, I intended to have my nails "filled" while onboard - but at US $55+ tip, I waited. The prices for cuts and color were about as my salon in San Diego, however.
The Aqua Spa staff also offered numerous complimentary makeovers, fitness workshops and aerobics classes, which I did not attend. I found the impromptu "walk-a-mile" track on Deck 12 instead.
Personally, I expect to be pampered and catered to when I take a cruise or a vacation. The last thing I want to hear is service staff complaining about working conditions and pay, which is exactly what I did get while onboard another cruise ship last year. After that experience and after the numerous news spots I have watched and read since then, I was weary about taking another cruise. I am so happy that we went on the Mercury because it has completely changed my opinion.
I cannot properly express how extremely satisfied I felt with each crewmember on the Mercury. I now understand why some cruisers only book this ship. It would take me numerous hours to give specifics, so let me summarize:
My husband brought a small cooler onboard, which, as instructed by my husband, was never left unfilled by our room stewards
Our dinning room waiter specially purchased and served me coffee he procured when I complained about the on-board coffee.
Our dinning room waiter asked the chef and the chef specially cooked me an entrée without garlic, when I mentioned that I disliked garlic
The service staff in the buffet dinning room carried our trays and found seats for us
The matrie'd greeted us by name each evening and questioned our whereabouts when we missed an evening
The shore tour staff guided us correctly in one port and thankfully talked us out of another at another port
The wine steward promptly opened and courteously served wine and champagne we brought aboard or received as a gift ($6 cork fee for non-gift wines)
The reception deck confirmed our flights home for us
I also didn't hear a single complaint from any of the staff about being overworked or underpaid; in fact, I heard the opposite. I cannot express how important this is to me because I don't want to feel guilty about indulging myself for a week or two after working hard all year.
The Mercury not only ensures that their passengers are taken care of, they ensure their employees are. The crew has their own private pool onboard the Mercury and many spend their afternoons off relaxing and drinking beer (we saw this from our Cabin 8000). The service was impeccable, the ship was impeccable, the food was outstanding, the ports were outstanding, the cabin was excellent, and the entertainment was mediocre. Overall, the Mercury Panama Canal November 12-27, 2000 will be tough to beat. She EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATION ONCE. I hope the Mercury will deliver on my next cruise onboard her - Buenos Aires round trip for the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, February 2-17, 2002.