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

Mercury
by Mike Mastellar
Alaska
May 11, 2001

You Can Go Home Again

In February 2000 I took my first cruise on the MV Mercury in the Western Caribbean. It was this cruise that got me addicted to this thing called "cruising". Last week my wife and I returned to the hallowed passageways of the MV Mercury to sail her from Vancouver to Seward, Alaska. It was like coming home. Everything about the ship was as I remembered and some things were even better.

I will give my "Readers Digest" condensed version up front so you can get my overall impressions without having to read my ramblings. (Note: C is average. A is exceeding expectations)

Check-In   C-
Embarkation   A
Cabin   A
Butler   A
Stewardess   A-
Waiter   A
Asst. Waiter   B
Maitre D   A
Ship Cleanliness   A
Food/Buffet   B
Food/Dining Room/Dinner   A
Food/Dining Room/Lunch   B+
Food/Dining Room/Brkfast   C
Shore Excursions (Did on Own)   A-
Cruise Director (Julian Bersch)   A
Cruise Director Staff   A
Social Hostess (Danielle Ganion)   A
Entertainment   B
Bar Service   A
Itinerary   A
Port Lecturer   A
Midnight Buffet   A

Pre Cruise;
We boarded our flight from Minneapolis early on May 11th. We had an uneventful flight on Northwest to Seattle. We then transferred to Horizon Air for a short flight to Vancouver. In Vancouver we had a fairly long wait to get through Customs but once we were at the Customs desk it was just one or two questions and through we went. We then went to claim our luggage. One piece was on the carousel but the two others were no where to be seen. We waited about 20 minutes but they did not come out. There were a number of other people on the plane from Seattle who were also waiting. After 45 minutes the last two pieces came out of the carousel. It seems they were put on the next plane after ours. We then proceeded out of the baggage area, handed our customs form to the official and were met by our driver to take us to the pier. I had booked a 6-passenger limo to take us to the pier. The corporate rate that I received was almost as good as what taxi fare was so what the heck. Go in style. The limo was a 12 passenger and stretched about half a block. Our driver was a wonderful man who gave us a tour of the city as we made our way to the pier. We even went by Canada Place and got to see the Infinity up close. I hear that the Infinity is much nicer looking inside than out. We arrived at Ballantyne Pier at about 1:00 PM and handed our luggage to the porters, who took a little while to arrive. It was only about 2 minutes but on every other cruise they have been there immediately. We had a picture with our limo driver and proceeded to check-in.

Check-In;
This was the only area that Celebrity needs to work on. We proceeded to the Captains Club/Suite check in line. There were about 6 others in line ahead of us. There were about 40 people in line in the regular check in line. We waited in line for 45 minutes. There were only 2 positions open for CC and suite check in. Those two positions were servicing two people who were checking in four or five people each. The problem was that they had none of their documentation filled out. The staff was being very patient and accommodating to them, allowing them to fill out their documentation, ask questions, complain about not being able to book excursions at check in. As I said, the staff was very patient and accommodating but there patience and accommodation to these people caused the rest of us to have a very long wait for check in. I did suggest to the agent when I checked in that they should request that people who do not have their forms filled out please leave the line, fill out the forms, and then come back when they are completed. I know they like to be helpful to their Captain's Club and Suite passengers but this is a little too accommodating.

Later that day I did speak with one of the passengers who was checking in and found out this was their 8th cruise and that they never fill out the documents because as she said: "They are just too complicated."

Personal Comment: PLEASE FILL OUT YOUR DOCUMENTS before getting to the pier.

Embarkation:
When we finally made it to check in, it took about 2 minutes and off we went to board the ship. An officer met us at the gangway and a white-gloved steward took my wife's bag and escorted us to our cabin. Upon entering Mercury I had an uncontrollable impulse to yell out. "Honey, I'm home.

Cabin:
We had originally booked a Cat 2 guarantee. About 3 weeks before the cruise we were informed that we had been upgraded to a Cat 1 Suite. On our first cruise on Mercury we also had a Cat 1 suite so this was sort of Deja vu. The Cat 1 is a large balcony cabin but does not have a separate sitting area. It has a nice sized balcony and a marble bath with a tub and whirlpool jets in the tub. The tub is a little small for my 6'2" body, but my wife enjoyed it. One of the amenities that came with the suite is Butler service. Our Butler, Eduardo, was a very nice young man from Honduras. This was his first stint as Butler and he performed like he had been doing it all his life. He brought us afternoon pastries and canapes. He also served us dinner in our room one night when I wasn't feeling well. Eduardo also polished my dress shoes to a "high gloss" shine. It is a nice amenity. Our Cabin Stewardess, Marta, did her job well and always had the extra towel in the bathroom and extra pillows on the bed that we requested. She did have a little problem in entering the cabin when we were in there. Twice she caught me with less than a full set of clothes on. The poor girl is probably still having nightmares.

Dining:
Dinner in the Manhattan Dining room was fabulous. We had a table for six and were seated with two other couples who made the week very enjoyable. Rob and Nancy were from Mclean Virginia but were relocating to Sonoma to begin the "Farm Life" of olive trees and vineyards. They were a great couple who were down to earth and were excellent conversationalists. Our other couples were Andrew and Isha. They were a young newlywed couple who were from the D.C. area but were living in Fairbanks. Isha was a clerk for the Federal Circuit Court Judge and Andrew was a CPA for a firm in Fairbanks.

Our waiter, Hugo, was great. He delivered great service and was very funny. He also livened up the evenings with stories and a few magic tricks. Our assistant waiter, Turo did his job but was not a talkative person. Hugo always provided us with our requests for an extra entree or dessert and went the extra distance to make sure we were pleased with our selection.

Another pleasant surprise was our Maitre D, Daryoush. He was from Poland and was a wonderful Maitre D. I will admit other Maitre D's I have had basically came by on the first and last night and collected their tip envelope. Daryoush did not do this. He stopped by each night. Learned of my love for Mohr Em Hemd. (Viennese Chocolate Pudding) and made sure that I had more than I could consume. He also made sure that a special request for berries was fulfilled by the Galley when they gave Hugo a little bit of a hassle about it. Daryoush is what a Maitre D is supposed to be.

The food at dinner was fantastic. Everything was done to perfection. The seafood was fresh and the meats were cooked to order. The pasta was the only thing that wasn't perfect. A little too done for my taste and the seasonings were not to my personal liking.

The food at lunch was usually quite good. There were a couple of instances of overcooked meat and spotty service at open seating but overall it was quite good.

Breakfast in the dining room was a different story. The eggs benedict was cold. Even when I requested another it came back cold. I then requested an Omelet and that came out undercooked. The pastries were dry and the toast seemed to have been made the night before. This was my only experience in the dining room for breakfast. After this I went to the buffet each morning.

Buffet:
Overall it was quite good. I will say that in my experience Mercury has the greatest variety of dishes at their buffet. I am not a great fan of buffets but the breakfast items were overall quite good. The corned beef hash was my favorite and the cooked to order omelets and eggs were also very good. The lunch food was also quite good with an excellent choice of entrees and very good vegetable selections.

There were also grill selections available. Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Pizza and one day Mexican foods were available during lunch hours. I am sorry to say that I never could find room to try these selections.

Grand Buffet:
It was spectacular. Beautiful presentation and artistry make this buffet more of an event than a meal. We did walk through and take pictures but were just too full to try any of the selections.

Midnight Buffets:
There were two other midnight buffets but due to the fact we had late seating dinner, we did not partake in either.

Special Night:
On our second formal night were surprised and pleased to find an invitation to dine at the Captains Table with Captain Dermatis, the Hotel Manager. It was a wonderful evening with great conversation, wonderful food, great and plentiful wines and service that was no better than what we had at our own table but there was certainly more staff. Captain Dermatis gave us some great insight into the operation of the Hotel side of the ship. These insights and the conversation of our other tablemates made for a very special evening that will be remembered, fondly, forever.

Spa:
I do have to mention the Thalassotherapy pool. It is one of the best things on Mercury. My wife and I partook of it everyday. by having a suite there was no fee for using the Thalsso. We would have paid the fee if we did not have a suite. I suggest everyone try it at least once.

The Ports:
O.K. enough about the ship. Alaska was the destination and I better mention something about this awesome state. I will start out by saying that our weather was fantastic. We had some rain but most of the days were sunny or partly cloudy and we never once had any shore time interrupted by rain. Temperatures were in the upper 40's and low 50's. We are from Minnesota so this is normal spring temperature for us.

All of our other cruises have been in warm weather climates. Caribbean, Mediterranean, Tahiti, so this was something completely different and I actually preferred it. No where else will you see things like you see on an Alaska cruise. The mountains, the glaciers, the whales, otters, moose, bear, eagles can all be seen from ship or shore. Pam the port lecturer gave great lectures and also made sure that any whale sighting did not go unannounced. She also provided great commentary while we cruised the Inside Passage, Hubbard Glacier, and Prince William Sound. It is also true that it stays daylight until very late. On a couple of nights we were taking pictures from our balcony at 11:00 PM. The sunrise is around 4:30 AM so if you want to see some spectacular sunrises you will have to get up pretty early.

Vancouver:
It is a beautiful city and I really wish we could have spent more time there. I personally think that when I do another Alaska cruise I will do a Southbound. This would give me more time to explore Vancouver. Our limo driver was just able to give us a brief glimpse of Vancouver but that glimpse left me longing for more.

Inside Passage:
It can only be described by saying it is beautiful. Majestic tree covered mountains, large and small islands make up this waterway. Don't worry about what side of the ship your cabin is on. You will have beautiful views on either side. Most of time you could not tell which was shore and which was an island.

Ketchikan;
A lovely little port town. We just wandered the town and bought some nice things to remind us of our trip. We did not do an excursion here but our tablemates went whale watching and saw many Orcas, and even Humpbacks. They loved it.

Juneau:
At Juneau we had a car rented for the day. We took a cab from the pier to the airport to pick up the car. The cab ride is about $18 but Hertz will give you $15 credit on your rental to offset the transportation cost. We picked up the car and drove to the Mendenhall Glacier. We went to the visitor center and then hiked back to the huge waterfall next to the Glacier. We could get about mile from the glacier and got some beautiful pictures from there. The weather was quite warm and we were stripped down to T-shirts by mid morning. Remember to layer your clothing to accommodate the temperature changes.

We then went about exploring the area around Juneau. by mid-afternoon we were ready for our helicopter tour of the glacier. If you can afford this tour, do it. It is an experience you will not forget. When you are on the glacier it is like being taken back time to when the world was just forming and you are witnessing it. We had a nice tour on the glacier and were even able to drink very cold and tasty glacier water. My wife also brought home some "Glacier Poop". This is ground granite that has been crushed by the glacier into a fine powder and can be used for facials or whatever. I gave it the name of "Glacier Poop" because that's what it looks like.

Skagway:
The scenery in Skagway is very impressive. I would avoid the town and cemetery tour. This was about the most boring tour I have taken. The town cemetery is very unimpressive. Most of the grave markers have been replaced with painted plywood markers that look like Mr. Thompson's seventh grade remedial shop class did them. I would suggest taking the train tour to the summit. The scenery is spectacular and the train ride is nostalgic.

Hubbard Glacier:
Hubbard Glacier is an awesome sight. The water around the ship is almost like a gelatin due to the amount of ice in the water. This amount of ice also makes travel slow and only allows the ship to get within a couple of miles of the glacier. Make sure you bring your binoculars. This way you can see the glacier in more detail. Don't forget to look at the shores on each side of the glacier. We saw bear and eagles on shore. Unfortunately the glacier did not do any calving while we were there but it was still an awesome sight. One thing to note: Don't go by the times posted in the daily program for glacier watching. The program said we would be at the glacier at 10:30 am. We were there about 1.5 hours before that.

Valdez:
Most of Valdez was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. There is not much to the town that holds historical significance. If you were going to venture in to Valdez I would suggest doing so on an organized excursion. There is really not much to see in town and the shuttle service took quite awhile to go to and from Valdez to the pier.

Prince William Sound:
This is a beautiful area and this is where College Fjord is located. We saw quite a few Sea Otters here as well as quite a bit of ice from the many glaciers that empty into the College Fjord area. College Fjord is named because the glaciers that empty into it are named after colleges.

Disembarkation;
"But I don't want to go." That was what I kept saying the morning of our departure in Seward. Disembarkation starts very early. 0600 a.m. We received a disembarkation number of 16. At first I thought this was an oversight seeing as suite passengers were to receive priority disembarkation. When I found out what time disembarkation started I was glad to have 16. Our number was called at about 07:50. Just enough time to get showered and have one last buffet breakfast. But then we were off the ship and the cruise was over. We picked up our bags in the terminal and I then boarded the Hertz shuttle to get the car we had reserved. My wife waited at the terminal and I made the short drive back to the terminal to pick her up when I got the car. We had booked a 4x4 Explorer, which met our needs quite well.

Post Cruise:
The drive from Seward to Anchorage is beautiful. There are too many sights to see in one day. We did visit the Exit Glacier in Seward. You can drive up to within mile of this small but beautiful glacier. We then proceeded up the Seward Highway to Anchorage. We stopped in Moose Pass and had nice lunch of Alaska sized Halibut Sandwich and a hamburger. After that I had my wife drive so I could look at the scenery. Well, that was a mistake. I fell asleep and the next thing I hear is my wife asking me what exit do we need to take to get to the hotel. Oh well, I needed the sleep. Just as we exited the highway my wife commented that she hadn't seen a Moose up close. Be careful what you wish for, it may come true. About 30 seconds later we see a Moose running along the side of the road. We slowed down and the Moose decided that he is going to cross right in front of us. Luckily we were able to stop and not hit him but we did get an up close look at him. We spent the rest of the day in Anchorage doing some shopping for souvenirs. We checked in at the Millenium Hotel near the airport. It is a nice hotel but the rooms do not warrant the rate that is charged. You can get a room at the Hilton or Sheraton for about the same rate and it is nicer room. The fixtures and furnishings have been updated but the wallpaper, carpets and bathroom fixtures have not. Overall the hotel reminded me of a Holiday Inn that had quite a bit of use and had seen better days. We spent the night at the hotel and got up bright and early to catch our flight back to Minneapolis. The flight was uneventful but quite comfortable.

Conclusion:
If you have never been on an Alaskan cruise, do it. Especially on a ship like Mercury. You will see things you have never seen before on a cruise. You will also see nature at its best. Don't be too worried about the temperature. Just take layered clothing and you will be fine. This trip now has taken its' place as my favorite cruise. Like all cruises though I wish it had been longer.