Terry L. Rahmsdorff
Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: April 30, 2001
Itinerary: San Diego to Vancouver
The purpose of this review is twofold: first to give you information about repositioning cruises so that you can determine if a repositioning cruise meets your needs; and second to give you our impressions of Celebrity Cruises Mercury.
When my wife and I got interested in cruising about 5 years ago, we heard about “repositioning cruises.” Those are the cruises that move the ship from one base of operations to another. It frequently involves ports not regularly visited and presents an opportunity to take a longer cruise for less money. It all sounded wonderful, but we had kids in school and jobs. Over the years I have drooled over the itineraries and fares and said, “Someday.” Someday came this spring. My wife had her 50th birthday and we found a friend who was willing to watch the now nearly grown kids.
There was a number of repositioning cruises from which to choose. During spring many ships are leaving the Caribbean for Alaska and Europe. In the fall the ships head back to the Caribbean. To choose the right cruise for us, we checked the various online cruise sites and spoke with cruise consultants. There is much more to selecting the right cruise than finding a low cruise fare. After a fairly extensive search, I found what I perceived to be a great deal on a Category 8 outside cabin on Mercury for an 11-night cruise departing from San Diego and ending in Vancouver. I had heard good things about Celebrity Cruises and the reviews of Mercury I’d seen were quite positive. The fare was $841.00 apiece with port charges of $255 each. Stops included Catalina Island, San Francisco, Victoria, Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchican. While we’d been to all of those places except Catalina and Sitka, we decided it would be the right trip for us-- especially at the price.
There are a couple of thoughts about repositioning cruises that I must include. First, the crowd is older. These cruises take place at a time when families with school aged children are not usually available. It’s what one ship comedian referred to as, “older people and their parents.” My wife came back from breakfast one morning to report that they’d run out of prunes. The second thing is that airfare can be more expensive because you get on the ship in one place and get off the ship in another. In some cases these are not ports that the cruise line regularly visits, so airfare is not offered, or offered at a higher than expected price. We had some bump tickets that we had to use, so it worked for us. Others had used frequent flier miles, but many others had to arrange more expensive than usual air transportation. The third potential downside is the weather. Just before we arrived in Sitka it had snowed. We had sleet in Sitka and Juneau. May can be warm in Alaska; this year it isn’t. We also experienced much choppier seas than we might have experienced during a peak season trip. A few nights were very rough. Leaving Sitka the crew put motion sickness bags by the elevators.
I had never booked a cruise online before. The price we found was on icruise.com. It was curious to me that lower category cabins sold for more. I checked with a cruise consultant I’d used in the past. He told me the fare was too low. It was lower than he could get if he got no commission. The cruise line would stop us, he claimed, at embarkation and make us pay more etc., etc. Despite those admonitions, I booked the cruise. Shortly thereafter icruise.com raised the fare on the category we had selected by more than triple. For a day or two I was nervous, but shortly after we received tickets bearing the Celebrity Cruises emblem and confirming our price. A specific cabin was not assigned but the category was confirmed. I called a toll-free number the weekend prior to departure and was given our cabin number so that we could fill out the baggage tags and other forms. That same morning I checked with icruise.com and noticed that the price for a cabin on our cruise in our category was now only a little higher than what we had paid. Upon arrival at the cruise terminal we gave a stevedore our luggage (and a tip,) then went to the passenger boarding area. There was the usual long wait to board the ship. We were given a group number based on when we arrived. We had a snack and played cribbage while we waited for our number to be called. When our number was called we entered a line that looked like an airport ticket counter. There were plenty of agents and since there was no luggage with which to deal, we got through quite quickly. We were issued our cabin keys that doubled as a credit card for all shipboard purchases, and were invited onboard. Up until that moment I still had concerns that the cruise consultant’s dire prediction might be accurate.
At the top of the gangplank we met some cruise staff who escorted us to our cabin where we found our luggage waiting. We were pleased with our cabin despite the fact that it was on the bottom passenger floor. We had plenty of room for all the clothes we brought. The bathroom was not huge, but this hopelessly obese guy moved about comfortably and the shower was more spacious than I’ve found in some hotels. The cabin steward configured our two separate beds into a queen-sized bed. The window was approximately 4 feet by 4 feet giving us plenty of light and a chance to see the world pass by.
Food on the Mercury was wonderful and plentiful. One of the people at our dinner table was a gourmet chef. He was regularly impressed with the preparation and presentation of our meals. At times he would confess that the ship’s sauce was better than he could make. I’m no gourmet, I’m just a guy who loves to eat good food and the food aboard Mercury did not disappoint. This was our fifth cruise. We had sailed with NCL twice, once with RCI and aboard a Greek cruise line many years ago. The food aboard Mercury far exceeded what we’ve enjoyed on any other cruise we’ve taken. Table service was also the best I’ve ever experienced. They were attentive, efficient and entertaining. There was no sense of stuffiness about the service. One night the gourmet chef at our table wanted to talk to the pastry chef or get a recipe. It was not a time when the pastry chef was on duty so our waiter folded some napkins to look like a chef’s hat and answered the questions. This was not, however, a “come as you are” cruise. The daily bulletins reminded us that jeans were not allowed in the dining room even on casual nights. We had three formal nights, four informal nights and four casual nights. There is an alternative casual dining which was reportedly good but not exceptional. We saw no reason to substitute good for exceptional.
Entertainment aboard Mercury was no match for the quality of the food. The stage orchestra and the quartet in the dining room were consistently great. The lounge acts varied and the headliners were generally mediocre. Part of the problem was the demographics. One comedian’s claim to fame was a stint on MTV. This was an older crowd. He wasn’t known and while he tried to change his material, it was only partly successful. A singer had a wonderful voice but didn’t have a great stage presence. The ship’s casino is not its strongest suit either. There were probably 150 dollar and quarter slot machines and 5 nickel machines. Most nights the 150 were empty and the 5 nickel machines full. The machines use coins as opposed to credit slips. The nickel machines were regularly out of coins and the service was pleasant but slow.
Mercury came into service in November 1997. It shows little wear, but it does not have Internet access; it’s younger siblings in the Celebrity fleet do.
Disembarkation has been my second least favorite part of cruising. Only the mandatory lifeboat drill is worse. Our previous experiences involved being asked to vacate our cabin well before the scheduled time so that we could do a sardine impression in an overcrowded lounge. Aboard Mercury we were assigned a departure priority 15. We were expecting the worst. We were allowed to stay in our cabins as scheduled and then we were permitted to go to breakfast in the dining room. By the time we finished breakfast we were cleared to leave the ship. It was that simple. Now if they could only do something with the lifeboat drill.
Overall, we would happily take another repositioning cruise and we’d jump at the chance to sail on Mercury again.
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