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Andrew Groves, Travis Chapman

Age: 35, 33

Occupation:Health Care, Retail Management

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Mercury

Sailing Date: October 24th, 2004

Itinerary: California Coastal and Mexican Riviera

A magnificent vacation. Exceptional value, fantastic itinerary, and perfect weather. Celebrity once again delivered on its promise of “a True Departure.” We sailed on the Millennium earlier this year and were excited to share this experience with loved ones. Our three traveling companions on the Mercury had as much fun as we did and were equally impressed with the Celebrity experience.

Whimsical without being cloying, colorful and playful without sacrificing taste, Mercury’s design struck us with its European sensibility. The artwork featured throughout the ship was very interesting, sometimes provocative, even challenging. Compared to the Millennium, the spaces were smaller and generally less grand, lending a sense of intimate elegance. Though we were conscious of the more-than-2000 guests aboard, we never felt crowded. We enjoyed running into our new friends time and again throughout the trip – whether this was due to ship design or to coincidence, this sense of “community” was not something we had experienced on the Millennium. Some travelers express concern about a ship approaching ten-years-old. While we noticed a few areas of worn carpet or upholstery, the Mercury is impeccably clean and well-maintained by a staff that obviously takes pride in this beautiful vessel.

Dining on the Mercury exceeded our expectations after the Millennium. Menus were very similar, but overall dishes seemed tastier and better prepared. Though we missed the specialty restaurant, our dinners in the Manhattan Dining Room were, without exception, delightful occasions. Certainly, some entrees were more successful than others (in general, beef dishes were more consistent than fish). But, still, no complaints.

Morning and afternoon pastries at the Cova Café are NOT to be missed.

The buffet featured sufficient variety, and the food was always good if not outstanding. We particularly enjoyed the made-to-order stations of omelettes, waffles, and pasta.

Poolside burgers and pizza were tasty.

We couldn’t have been happier with the service. We had anticipated excellence and were not disappointed. Mercury’s crew were unfailingly polite, pleasant, and responsive. The bar and lounge staff (especially Sujana and Cecilia at the Cova Café) quickly knew us by name and by drink preference, and we looked forward to seeing them every evening. Our waiter Jorge and his assistant Blanco in the Manhattan Dining Room were professional and gracious. Our cabin attendant, Blasido, always greeted us with a smile and kept our room clean and fresh – invisibly, it seemed, as we never saw him actually in our room.

The Melodico Duo: Picture a Polish Captain and Tenille on electronic keyboard and occasional maraca. In a word: fabulous! Their stylized, dispassionate, fearless, Euro-loungy renderings of everything from “Lady in Red” to “O Susanna” to “Hot Stuff” attracted a crowd of senior ballroom dancers nightly in the Rendezvous Lounge. This was a favorite stop for a post-dinner cocktail (or several).

Jason Richards: A very talented Dean Martin-type pianist/vocalist. He performed almost nightly at the Cova Café, where we enjoyed many pre-dinner cocktails. Great.

Guitarist Noli: Wish we had seen more of Noli. We heard him one afternoon in the Navigator Lounge, which is where he seemed to be much of the time, though earlier than anyone was there. He was very very good.

Harmony & Rhythm: This was the pool band who also made appearances in the evening at special events in the Pavilion Nightclub. Versatile and talented, spirited and fun, the female singer in particular had a beautiful voice – delivering country and R&B classics with impressive range and passion.

Jean-Claude and Gaby: Aerialist husband and wife duo who opened 3 of the nightly production shows. They were amazing and beautiful, and performed more incredibly each time we saw them.

Celebrity Theater Productions: We attended most of these, and found the entertainment by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers, as well as featured guests, to be good to excellent.

We selected (for 3 of us) Family Oceanview Stateroom number 8265. We were pleased with the almost-private deck immediately behind our stateroom at the very stern of the ship. We had enjoyed a lovely veranda-stateroom on the Millennium and were curious about trying an oceanview this time, but found that we did not really miss the private balcony at all. A sliding divider wall provided ample privacy between the two sleeping areas. Closet space was adequate. Though the room did seem full with three adult inhabitants, it was fine for the limited amount of time we spent there. Prior to this cruise, we had read complaints about vibration and noise in aft-staterooms on the Mercury, and these observations were certainly valid. The vibration and noise were only noticeable when entering port and anchoring, and since we usually wanted to be up early on port days this proved not to be too much of an issue for us. It was jarring, however, to be thus awakened at 6:00 am on port days. For guests who want to be able to sleep in on every morning of the cruise, we would not recommend an aft-cabin.

The Mercury is indeed a beautiful ship! Public areas were well-designed to provide comfort and intimacy without feeling crowded. The Grand Foyer, the first area you see upon entering the ship, is an eye-catching four-deck atrium with Guest Relations on the bottom level and bars and shops on other levels. A grand staircase sweeps up the wall from one level to the next, and a rotating sculpture on the ground level leads the eye up to a beautifully designed ceiling that suggested stars in the night sky. We spent most evenings before and after dinner in the Rendezvous Lounge and Cova Café wine bar. The Rendezvous features a very modern design, with undulating deep blue banquettes along the wall and angular red chairs. The bright colors combined with lots of wood accents gave the space a contemporary nautical feel. The Cova Café is a busy and much-used area in the Grand Foyer. During the day, it’s a quiet spot to enjoy an espresso and delicious pastries. During the evening, it becomes an elegant wine bar with piano music. Just above the Cova Café were the Mercury shops, and the entire Grand Foyer area was a hub of activity after both early and late dinner. The top level of the Grand Foyer is devoted to Michael’s Club, Celebrity’s signature cigar bar. While this was a lovely space with glass walls literally wrapping around the Grand Foyer, we rarely went here and it seemed like an underused portion of the ship.

The Manhattan Restaurant and Foyer were beautiful. The two-level restaurant with walls of windows was reminiscent of the restaurant on the Millennium, and the design is a modern expression of art deco style. Paintings and other artwork around the restaurant pay homage to New York City. We were blessed with a fantastic table location on the main level of the dining room, halfway between the Captain’s Table and the grand staircase. From this prime vantage point we were able to enjoy the lovely combination of modern and classical décor that is effortlessly blended in the Manhattan. We also had a great view of the musical accompaniment each evening, which included the Allegro String Quartet, pianist Jason Richards, or the Celebrity Orchestra. We also had some of the best seats in the house for the Baked Alaska parade on the final Formal Evening. Outside the Manhattan Restaurant is the Manhattan Foyer, an open three-deck atrium that houses the Champagne Bar on the first level and the Martini Bar on the second mezzanine level. The top level is simply a balcony from the Art Gallery outside the casino. This space was quite extraordinary, with soaring ceiling height anchored by a colorful wall mural that extended through all three decks. The space was further divided by a combination of curved and straight wood walls that were cut out at various points to allow passage of people and light. This space is hard to describe but was easily one of the most visually striking areas onboard. It was surprising that the spaces were among the most empty we saw, regardless of time of day or night.

The Navigator Lounge, the glass-walled observation area at the front of the ship, was another beautiful space that hardly seemed discovered by most passengers. We spent a lovely early evening here once as we cruised past the tip of the Baja Peninsula at sunset, but otherwise we always arrived after the Navigator was transformed into the ship’s Disco and late-night lounge. We spent almost every evening in the Navigator Disco, and had a great time in spite of the fact that the dance music could have been better and many of the light and sound features of the room seemed to be missing or not working properly.

The Pavilion Nightclub was another space that we visited infrequently, although it was every bit as gorgeous as the other rooms on Mercury. Red and silver upholstery on plump banquettes suggested an art deco design with vaguely Asian sensibility. We came here once for Karaoke and again for the Captain’s Club Party. While we found the Pavilion imminently inviting, there was never enough of a crowd here to compel us to stay for more than one cocktail.

The Palm Springs Café, the buffet and casual dining area on Mercury, was rather nondescript in terms of design, but this allowed the panoramic views from floor-to-ceiling windows along both port and starboard sides to be the main attraction of the space. Food service areas were efficient and never too crowded, and the windowed dining areas were always bright and appealing. However, we almost always chose to eat in the outdoor dining area at the rear of the ship. In fact, on one occasion we remained at the same table from breakfast right through lunch! It was a lovely place to bask in the sunshine and watch the ship’s wake as we sailed along the Pacific coast.

The Pool deck and the balcony level above were popular places even on chilly Northern California days. Each and every one of our sail-aways were beautiful and the fantastic weather turned out a great crowd for each of these events, which were made even more festive by the presence of the pool band, Harmony and Rhythm. (On a few occasions, the fun and fabulous assistant Cruise Director Romeo joined the band for a few numbers, including a memorable rendition of the Tina Turner classic, Proud Mary).

This splendid sanctuary quickly became one of our favorite places during our 10-night cruise! We immediately purchased a spa pass for $70 which gave us unlimited use of the sauna, steamroom, and Thallosotherapy pool for the entire length of the cruise. (Daily passes were available for $20 but we knew that we wanted more than just a taste of all the Aqua Spa had to offer). Much has been written about the differences between the AquaSpa and T-pool on the Century-class ships (including Mercury) and the Millennium-class ships, and we must admit that while we liked them both (and who wouldn’t fall in love with the gorgeous T-pool area on the Millie), we actually preferred the spa area on the Mercury. We found the more intimate T-pool area to be more removed from the ship’s activity flow, and thus more relaxing, while the water also felt warmer and the therapeutic hydrojets were MUCH more stimulating and enjoyable in the smaller pool. We soon found ourselves enjoying a soak in the pool and a soothing steam every afternoon after port activities or before dinner, and visited the spa at least one morning as well. The spa experience definitely contributed to the overall level of relaxation that we achieved on this cruise vacation! Some members of our party took advantage of spa treatments, particularly the Aroma Stone Therapy massage. This treatment combines heated river stones with heated aromatherapy oils in a combination that is as exotic as it is rejuvenating.

Our cruise left from San Francisco and this was immediately attractive to us as we considered Celebrity’s Mexican Riviera itineraries. This always-charming and beautiful city looked even better from the decks of Mercury as we prepared to depart, and our spectacular sail-away under the Golden Gate Bridge was one of the highlights of the entire trip. We were fortunate to have clear weather, although it was quite brisk and windy on the outside decks.

A quick word on embarkation, etc. in San Francisco: We arrived around 11:30 am to board the ship and this seemed to be an ideal time. You literally give your bags to porters on the sidewalk outside the pier and that is the extent of the outdoor boarding area. We did not encounter lines but heard from other passengers that there was quite a line outside in the later afternoon. We were quickly processed through the old yet functional terminal at Pier 35 and soon found ourselves on board. We had read lots of complaints about departing from San Francisco, and it was easy to see how the pier and boarding area could become congested, but all in all our experience was as easy as boarding in cruise-friendly Fort Lauderdale earlier in the year. Disembarkation was also quite smooth, in spite of the fact that there are always those same 10 or so people who fail to report for immigration or submit some necessary form even though there are constant reminders and prompts in the days leading up to the end of the cruise. We were in an early disembarkation group, once again avoiding any kind of crowd as we left the ship at about 9:30 am.

Monterey: This was probably our least-anticipated port but one that we thoroughly enjoyed. The ship’s tender dropped us off at the touristy wharf, from which we meandered over to Cannery Row and found a lovely tasting room for Clos LaChance winery. We tasted many delicious wines and purchased several to take back onboard with us to enjoy with our evening dinners.

Catalina Island: Although this was our most overcast day of the trip, the Mediterranean-inspired charm of Catalina still shone through. We visited a couple of the (very) touristy shops along the waterfront, then walked out to the old casino and ballroom at the edge of the harbor. We also rented one of the ubiquitous golf carts and took a one-hour ride around the island. This was actually very enjoyable and allowed us to see many picturesque vistas of both the harbor and the town of Avalon.

Mazatlan: We booked online a private excursion to go horseback riding on the beaches of Stone Island, which is just across from where the ship docks in Mazatlan’s industrial waterfront area. We were greeted in the terminal by Randi, proprietor and namesake of the well-known Randi’s Happy Horses excursion. Since the Mercury was the only ship in port that day, there were only seven of us doing the excursion. Randi arranged all the various modes of transportation from the terminal to the horses and back, which was a convenient way to experience a taste of the “real” Mazatlan and rustic Stone Island. Once we were all paired up with our horses, we rode through coconut groves and onto the deserted beaches, all the while in the care of Randi’s excellent guides. Although none of our group was a particularly experienced rider, we all had a wonderful time that was well worth a few sore muscles later on! Randi’s horses were beautiful and obviously well cared for. We ended with a leisurely lunch at Victor’s, a quaint local establishment right on the beach. We dined on generous portions of grilled and fried shrimp, mahi mahi, onion rings and fresh fruit. The food was accompanied by even more generous servings of Pacifico beer, which is made right in Mazatlan. Our tab at Victor’s came out to just $61 for our group of five, which was quite a value for all the delicious food and 3-5 beers apiece. We were also visited by several local jewelry and handicraft vendors, and we got the best deals of the entire trip right here. Our only regret later was that we did not do more shopping at this time, especially for beautiful silver jewelry that was more expensive in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

Puerto Vallarta: If we had to pick one favorite stop, this would probably be it. We immediately went from the ship’s dock to old-town Puerto Vallarta, the Zona Romantica. We walked along the beachfront promenade, the Malecon, shopping along the way, arriving at Daquiri Dick’s in time for a fantastic lunch. Three pitchers of margaritas later, we hit Playa de los Muertos beach (steps away) and quickly donned parasail harnesses and took to the skies. Parasailing was very affordable (bargained down to $20 each) and convenient, as we took off and landed right on the beach. We captured breathtaking views of the city and harbor from the air. After a quick swim in the warm ocean, we ended our day at La Palapa, a Puerto Vallarta institution that harkens back to its glamorous 1960s Hollywood past.

Cabo San Lucas: Our first impression of Cabo San Lucas was that the marina and town, though picturesque, seemed over-developed and Americanized. We decided to find a beach to enjoy the crystalline water, taking a cab to the Melia resort hotel. We inquired at the concierge desk about using the resort’s pool and beach facility, and were graciously invited in. The hotel was beautiful and the beach was our favorite of the entire trip. Directly across the bay from Los Arcos, we had amazing views of these rocky outcroppings as well as of the Mercury. We swam in the perfect water surrounded by schools of colorful fish, then enjoyed yet another savory meal at the hotel’s patio café.

Water taxis to Los Arcos and Lover’s Beach (one of the only beaches in the world which opens onto two seas) left directly from the public beach next to the Melia. We hopped a water taxi, expecting merely transportation, and were pleasantly surprised to get a glass-bottom boat tour amongst the rock formations in the bargain. Truly magnificent scenery with the raging Pacific on one side and the calmer Sea of Cortez on the other. We prearranged for our water taxi to pick us up after a quiet hour on Lover’s Beach. He was right on time, and delivered us straight to our tender pick-up in the Marina.

We had a truly amazing time on the Mercury. We loved the ship, the itinerary, and all the great people that we met. We were almost hesitant to hope that this trip could match the superlative time we had on the Millennium, but we need not have worried. The cruise was spectacular from beginning to end. Once again, we find ourselves planning our next Celebrity cruise.

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