Tom OggReviews at aol.com
Number of Cruises: Lot
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: November 15th, 2004
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
CruiseReviews at aol.com
I was the group escort and seminar facilitator for a group of 47 travel professionals traveling to Mexico's west coast on an 11-day cruise. The cruise departed San Diego, so getting to the ship was easy. Joanie dropped me at the "B" Street pier around noon after a quick lunch at Anthony's near the pier. The Mercury had just concluded a coastal voyage that required them to drop their passengers in Ensenada, Mexico before returning to San Diego to pick us up. All in all, it was a very painless boarding process. In spite of the official boarding time of 4 pm. I was checked in, processed and in my cabin by 1 pm. My luggage came right away, so by 2 pm I had accomplished everything that normally takes much longer. I was ready to cruise.
The I have sailed on the Mercury a good number of times and really liked her. After sailing on the Millennium and the Infinity, 2 of Celebrity's most luxurious ships, I was anxious to see how I felt about returning to one of Celebrity's older ships. First launched in 1997, she was a large ship at 77,713 gross tons. While she carries 1,870 passengers with a space ratio of 41.6, she never really feels crowded. She is in great shape for an older ship and all aspects of the ship are clean and not worn. She is an excellent ship for this itinerary and her price to value relationship was considered "excellent" among the travel professionals in the group.
This cabin really brought back some fond memories for me. During her inaugural season, I had a group on the Mercury and my son accompanied me on the cruise. We enjoyed cabin 2001 right next to the cabin I was now residing. Both cabins look forward right under the bridge. The crew's pool area is right below the cabin, so there is always something going on. The window is large and the drapery covering it capable of blocking almost all of the sunlight if one wanted to sleep during the day. I had a queen sized bed with a night stand on either side. The telephone was on the port nightstand and both had reading lights. A master on/off switch for the lights was located on the wall directly under the window. On the port side of the cabin aft of the bedding was a large desk housing two sets of drawers with three drawers each. Note that there is only one 110 volt outlet, so you will definitely want to bring an extension cord with multiple outlets. Above the desktop (plenty big enough for my notebook computer, printer, speakers and cds) was a large mirror with excellent lighting. Behind the mirror is the cabin's safe with a small cubby on either side for storage and three large shelves for additional storage reside above the safe and cubbies. There is a great deal of storage in this area.
The starboard side of the cabin aft of the bedding houses a small circular table and another chair. A refrigerator stocked with sodas, water, champagne and liquors is available, but be aware you are going to pay as you use the items. On the shelf above the refrigerator is the cabins VCR and then the television. The television offers several channels of entertainment including CNN. More storage reside above the entertainment area.. There is quite an ample amount of closet space with two separate closets to use. The most forward contains a full length of shelves with three drawers on the bottom while the right side has a 1/2 length hanging rack for shirts or whatever, and three more drawers below the hanging rack. The other closet had a full hanging rack for dresses or longer items with a large amount of storage on top of the rack.
The bathroom was quite large enough to be comfortable. The shower was quite large compared to other ship's showers and the hot/cold water control allowed for precise temperature control of the shower. The sink is large and the sink counter top quite large. There are two shelves for additional storage and the entire area is mirrored. A hair dryer adorns the wall over the toilet, but it is the type that most women do not care for. I would suggest bringing your own hair dryer if you use one for styling your hair. On the hallway side of the bathroom are several shelves that house the various towels for use in the bathroom. One word of caution however, there is about an eight to ten inch step to enter the bathroom from the hallway that could be a problem for those with any movement restrictions. There is also a six to eight inch step into the shower. I would strongly suggest that you bring a night light that can be plugged into the 110 volt shaver outlet in the hair dryer. In this way, one could make a safe passage to the restroom during the night without having to turn on the light to negotiate the necessary steps thereby affecting the other person in the cabin.
A Tour of the The best way to explore the Mercury is to simply take her deck by deck. So, if you will join me we will go to the forward stairwell and make our way to deck 12, go outside and climb the stairs to deck 14 where we find the Mercury's topless sunbathing area. Aft on deck 14 is the Mercury's golf simulator. From here we will go back down to deck 12 (there is no deck 13) and start our pictorial tour.
Deck 12, The Sky Deck
All the way forward on deck twelve is the Navigator's Club. This is the Mercury's disco and is a large venue that also doubles as the observation lounge. it offers wonderful vistas when entering or departing a port and is also a great place to get away from everyone on days at sea to relax, read and watch the ocean go by. There is a large bar with bar stools by the dance floor and numerous tables and cubbies to relax in.
The Video Game center is located right behind the Navigator Club and offers several state of the art video games for everyone to enjoy.
Moving aft outside on deck 12 we enter the sun bathing area above the pool area on deck 11 and the ships jogging track. There always seemed to be walkers and joggers using this track on this cruise. The aft section of deck 12 is all passenger cabins.
Deck 11, The Resort Deck
Monday, November 15th, 2004; San Diego, California
I contacted customer relations and reconfirmed all of the details for our group, delivered "Welcome Aboard" flyers to each of the cabins in our group and then decided to take a walk into downtown San Diego. The "B" Street pier is right in the heart of downtown San Diego and everything you could possibly want is within a short walk's distance. Being a San Diego resident, I will fight the urge to share how wonderful our city is and just let you discover it for yourself. Once back onboard in time for the dreaded muster drill, I made my way to my cabin, collected my life vest and waited for the seven short, and one long toot of the ship's horn. We convened in to Celebrity Theater to learn how to don our life jackets and then moved outside to our life boat stations. After a reasonable period we were released from the drill, much to everyone's relief. Our group was to enjoy a welcome aboard cocktail party in the Pavillion Night Club, so I dressed for dinner and made my way tot he cocktail party. At 7:30 pm the group members started arriving. I had cruised with a few of the folks before, but there was a good number of new (to me) cruisers. We had a great first exposure to one another and I felt as if I were in for another stellar group. Everyone was friendly and socially outgoing. Following the cocktail party we enjoyed our first meal on the Mercury. The service, food quality, presentation and overall experience was just wonderful. We lost an hour this evening and since I was to conduct a seminar first thing in the morning, I made my way to my cabin to turn in.
Tuesday, November 16th, 2004;
Day at Sea
I was up quite early, made my way to the fitness facility on deck 11 to work out. After a quick breakfast, I arrived at the Cinema and Conference Center to conduct our first seminar. After the introductions were done, I was impressed with the quality of the agents that were present and also their wonderful attitude. I was looking forward to getting to know them all. Before I knew it, the seminar was over and after a quick lunch in the Palm Springs Cafe returned to my cabin to work on some of the several projects that I had brought with me. It was the first of three formal nights of the cruise, so after getting my tuxedo back from the ship's laundry, I got ready for our first of many pre-dinner no-host cocktail parties. We met in the Rende-Vous for a pre-dinner cocktail and I was surprised at how well everyone mingled considering the cruise had just started. Dinner was excellent and the Captain's Welcome Aboard toast was enjoyable. Celebrity has adopted a new approach to the traditional welcome aboard parties. After dinner, but before the evening's entertainment, everyone meets in the theater to meet the officers and enjoy a glass of champagne. Once the toast is over, the show begins. It really is a very good way of handling the welcome aboard ceremony. I made it about half way through the show and left for bed.
Wednesday, November 17th,
2004; Cabo San Lucas
We arrived at Cabo a tad late and took our position anchored just off of Cabo's wonderful beaches. Since there were two other ships in port, there was a delay in getting the immigration officers on board the Mercury. While it was not Celebrity's fault, the Captain graciously extended our stay in Cabo to make up for the lost time. I have brought my surfboard with me in hopes of enjoying the SW swell that was predicted to fill in on Thursday for the week. Unfortunately, one look at the water in Cabo told me that the wind was out of the south east, which would make surfing the breaks at Costa Azul (or any other spot) unrealistic. Such are the fortunes of surfing. I stayed on the ship for the day and enjoyed the peace and quiet solitude accomplishing many of the tasks I had allocated for completion on the cruise.
Evening brought a pre-dinner show for the late seating guests and we were treated to an opening act of aerial flyers, Jean-Claude and Gaby. Their act was excellent, but Gaby (the lady) was simply world class in my opinion. This woman could do things most folks could only imagine and when she picked up her partner and started swinging him around, I couldn't believe it. Make sure to see this duo if they are on your ship. Samantha Newbold, a pianist, was good, but I would have liked a stronger mix of music and less chatter about her past. After the show, we met for our pre-dinner cocktail period before heading into dinner. We were fortunate to be able to jump form table to table within our group and everyone was enjoying each other's company. I was in bead early looking forward to some surf in the morning.
Thursday, November 18th, 2004;
We docked in Mazatlan's main harbor right at 7 am and while the ship was cleared and folks could disembark, I had some internet business to take care of that led to the need to call the states immediately. After disembarking, buying a pepaid telephone card and completing the necessary telephone call, Back on board I ran into two couples that were looking for something to do so I invited hem to join me on a surfing adventure to Stone Island. They responded with an immediate "yes" and we agreed to meet shore side. After meeting, we took the tram to the main port entrance, walked through the crush of passengers and venders selling stuff and exited the port itself. We walked the ten minutes to the ferry over to Stone Island and then purchased round trip tickets. Everyone was having a great time when we boarded the small panga to make the crossing to Stone Island. Once there, a cursory surf check revealed that the promised swell had not materialized. We made our way down the beach to a wonderful palapa restaurant where we set up camp for the day. I decided to walk the kilometer down to the break itself and after arriving, found two guys in the water riding the 1 foot right and decided to spend the rest of the day having a few beers and enjoying my company. The two wives wanted to try surfing so I took them into the small shore break and pushed them into some waves. They were hooting and hollering at the fun of it. Towards the end of the day, we decided tomake the return trip back to the ship. We were all sun burned and relaxed. It had ben a wonderful day. If you are burned out on the Golden Zone and want an authentic Mexican beach experience, try Stone Island. I prepared a special report on it for PortReviews.com so you can get the details. Not many tourists or cruise people find there way here.
This was the first informal evening of the cruise so after dressing, I decided to attend the pre-dinner show that was scheduled for 7 pm. I had seen Noodles Levenstein on a previous Celebrity cruise and didn't find him particularly funny and almost passed on his show. I have to say that his performance on this evening was stellar. He had folks laughing from the moment they sat down until they left the auditorium. After the show we fell into our routine of meeting for pre-dinner cocktails and then moving into the restaurant to dine with others in our group. By now the dining staff (including an extremely attentive Maitre d') were having a ball at dinner. We had excellent food, service, presentation and conversation. I went to sleep right after dinner.
November 19th, 2004; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A group of 13 of us decided to head north to Sayulita and then make our way to Punta Mita to enjoy the beach club at Los Veneros. We negotiated for a van to accommodate us and made our way up the 4-lane highway to the Jalisco/Nayarit state border. Once clearing the border crossing, the road immediately became a two-lane road that penetrated the jungle. We headed north until we reached the turnoff to Sayulita. We found our way to the beach and everyone decided to spend 2 hours here exploring the quaint village. Having spent a good amount of time in Sayulita, I was amazed at how much it had grown. There was construction everywhere. The surf was running one to two feet with at least twenty people on the peak. I took a pass on the mediocre surf in favor of walking with some of the folks that came along. We walked north up the beach and then head inland to explore the village itself. It is still a quaint Mexican village, but the are mansions being built on every available lot. I am sad to say, Sayulita has been discovered.
We met at the designated time and since Antonio, our driver, was familiar with the area, we decided to take the "short cut" from Sayulita to Punta Mita. Even though I have stayed in the area with a four wheel drive vehicle, I was warned to avoid this road. I was excited at the idea of traversing it with someone that knew the way. There was supposed to be a very good surf spot located off this road and I was keen to find it. We took off south out of Sayulita and were soon on a very serviceable dirt road. As we passed each inhabited property south of Sayulita, the road became a little less traveled. Finally, we were faced with a decisive judgment at a fork of the road. Antonio chose the right fork and off we went. Unfortunately, after fording streams, penetrating brush tunnels, and actually driving in a stream bed with about 12 inches of active stream in it, we came to an eroded hillside that marked the end of our journey down this fork. Antonio was in a tough predicament. He really couldn't back out of the situation, so he decided we should all get out of the van and hike back a kilometer or so where it would be safe to reload the van, while he tried to negotiate the eroded hill, turn around and then come back for us. I really have to give credit to our group. Not a one of them were whining about the situation, en though they had every right to be. After 20 minutes or so, Antonio made it back to the agreed pick up spot and we were back on our way. We eventually made it to our final destination, Los Veneros on Punta Mita. Los Veneros is one of those special places where everything comes together. It is a day beach club that offers a fabulous beach (with a great surfing spot) two swimming pools, a wonderful restaurant and a swim up bar. It costs $12 to enter, but is well worth it. We spent the balance of the day there before heading back to the ship.
One of the few casual nights on this itinerary, I dressed and met our group for our nightly get-together in the Renez-Vous Lounge and then made our way into dinner. We had arranged for "round-robin" seating, which allowed us to jump from table to table so that all of the group members could get to meet one another during the cruise to share information and experiences. Tonight's dinner was exceptional and the entire table stayed until the restaurant closed. Tired from the little surf I enjoyed at Los Veneros, I turned in.
Saturday, November 20th, 2004;
Day at Sea
The group had requested for some optional seminars so I had arranged for seminar space in the afternoon. After a quick breakfast, I made my way to the pool area to stake my claim on the best sun oriented lounge chair I could find and enjoyed the abundant sunshine until it was time to change for the seminar. I love it when a group really gets into learning and sharing and this day the group members turned out in full force. We went for the allocated time and then continued into the early evening. Since it was the second formal night of the cruise, I eventually left the remaining group members to change for dinner. I spent a good amount of time in the Internet cafe before joining the group for our cocktail party and then taking our group picture for the cruise. Celebrity has a cocktail party for the "Captain's Club" members. This evening it took place in the Pavillian Night Club. A group of us attended the aprty and had a great time before heading to our group's dining table assignments. After dinner we attended the evening's production of "Swing Train", a musical production put on by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers. I went to bed right afterward.
Sunday, November 21st, 2004;
We arrived in Acapulco right on schedule. Having spent almost a week at the Las Brisas Hotel in March, I was anxious to explore Acapulco's old section and the surrounding area and set out to do so. The ships dock right at the foot of the San Diego Fort that overlooks Acapulco's old section and there is quite a bit to see and do from the location. Once clear of the port facility, I grabbed a taxi to take me around the area for an hour to gain an overview. This was a wise decision as there are roads heading in every direction and many simply don't go where you think they will. We visited the El Miradore Hotel, site of the La Perla cocktail lounge and Acapulco's famous cliff divers. We stopped at one of the old hotels looking over Acapulco Bay for a good shot of the port facility and bay itself. Eventually we made our way back to the port where I set off on foot to visit the various attraction in the old section. I climbed into the old fort, hit the Zocolo, the flea market, the marina beach and then made my way down into central Acapulco's fabulous beaches lined with excellent open air seafood restaurants. With a population of over three million people, there is something for everyone in Acapulco. While the ship was in pot until 11 pm, I elected to stay on the ship for dinner with the few group members that were not out in Acapulco enjoying fresh seafood. We met for cocktails and then wandered into the restaurant for another fabulous dining experience. By now, the waiters and maitre d' were becoming fast friends and this evening was no exception. I spent the late evening on the INternet before turning in.
Monday, November 22nd, 2004;
I was really looking forward to this port, as I had heard of an excellent surfing spot some 40 kilometers north of Zihuatanejo. A small group of us negotiate for a taxi for the day ($100 US) and started our trek northward. I took about an hour before we had made our way up the main road and down the 6 kilometers of rutty, rocky and bumpy dirt road before we pulled up behind a palapa restaurant on a beach. I could see white water on the right through the restaurant, so I immediately got out of the car and went to see what I could. I was greeted with a high quality left point/reef break with excellent conditions. The surf was running from two to four feet and after asking around, there appeared to be a building swell with some larger sets pouring through. I immediately grabbed my surfboard. The reef was an easy one-quarter of a mile offshore, so I bummed a ride from a local panga that was heading out to go fishing. I made quite an entrance on the break, first being dropped by the panga and then Immediately taking priority over everyone in the water. I am sure they were wondering who I thought I was. Most of the people in the line up were on long boards and I prefer to ride a short board. I had brought a 7'4" fishter with me on the cruise, as this seems to work well in just about any kind of surf. In order to get any waves in a short period of time I needed to establish my rights to the best set waves and sat deep in the main peak. The sets continued putting on size with the larger sets a foot or two overhead. I got a ton of waves.
I was starting to feel guilty with the non-surfing balance of the group sitting on the beach probably wanting to move on, so I took one last wave and returned to the palapa restaurant so we could pack it up. We left the break, but in my mind I made a mental note to return in the not to distant future to enjoy it in more depth. We head down the coast stopping to explore Playa Kadahar, Tronconeds and stopping at a nother surf spot that the taxi driver knew about just north of Ixtapa. It was a ripping river mouth left that looked as good, or better than the break we had left. (Note to self: Make a visit to this area a priority.) WE drove the sights in Ixtapa and then made our way to Zihuatanejo. Our driver suggested that we visit Playa Las Ropas for lunch as there was a good restaurant there. This was the only bad suggestion that he had made. While Playa Las Ropas is an excellent beach, it is the primary beach for cruise passengers and the prices and attititude reflect this reality. We stopped at the Zihuatanejo flea market for some shopping and then explored the port area before returning to the ship. All in all, it was an excellent day.
We were back on board in plenty of time to enjoy our cocktail gathering and a wonderful dinner after an early show for the late seating crowd. The dynamic duo of Jean-Claude and Gaby continued to amaze people with their aerial stunts while pianist virtuoso Samantha Newbold won everyone over with her amazing ability on the piano. I was bushed.
Tuesday, November 23rd, 2004;
This was my first visit to Manzanillo and I was anxious to explore it. I had read several negative reviews about it and after spending time there, understand where they came from. Manzanillo is a major Mexican commercial port. The harbor is huge and busy and it is full of containers in transit to their final destinations. Most of the ships in the harbor are cargo ships. Manzanillo is comprised of several large bays and the city is strewn along miles of bayside roads. Downtown Manzanillo services the general community with markets, stores and restaurants geared to their needs and there just isn't the tourist infrastructure that has evolved in other Mexican ports visited on this itinerary. That said, Manzanillo enjoys some fabulous beaches and is a wonderful destination for enjoying a local beach palapa restaurant, snorkeling, diving and otherwise enjoying nature. A group of us took taxis to the furthest beach in Santiago Bay and had a wonderful time snorkeling crystal clear waters abundant with many varieties of surprisingly large fish. We were able to negotiate for a panga to take three of us to the nearby reefs for an hour and a half for only $40 (this included a stop on a downed ship for a wreck snorkel that was excellent). The prices at the palapa restaurant were excellent with local ice cold beers for only $1 and a huge order of guacamole and chips for only $2. After a wonderful morning, we grabbed a taxi back to the ship where some of us continued into the downtown area of Manzanillo. While some of the stores catered to the tourist trade with simple Mexican items such as shell figurines, beaded bracelets and necklaces and other knick-knacks, the shopping overall was disappointing, especially after hitting all of the ports in Mexico that we had.
I was back on the ship in plenty of time to spend the afternoon by the pool enjoying the wonderful sunshine and the Jacuzzi. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I stayed after everyone left to watch the final glint of red after the sunset and into nightfall. This evening's attire was informal for the second night in a row, so I dressed and made my way to the group's nightly cocktail party and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the restaurant.
Wednesday, November 24th,
2004; Day at Sea
I was up quite early and enjoyed the sunrise on the open ocean. Being at sea for sunrise is one of life's great pleasures and this morning's sunrise was spectacular! Many of the group members had asked for some extra seminars, so I arranged for some additional meeting space and we all met at 9 am for two hours of seminar followed by simply talking business through the lunch period. It was still warm, so I again spent the afternoon in the sun and Jacuzzi taking full advantage of the waning sunshine. I had enjoyed watching the sunset so much the day before that I did a repeat performance and was treated to an even more vibrant display of nature as the sun moved into the future leaving a dark evening with a full moon glowing overhead. I dressed for dinner met our group for cocktails, dined and then turned in bushed from the day's events. We gained a second hour this evening.
Thursday, November 25th, 2004;
Day at Sea
Up early and was ready for the last seminar of the cruise, which unfolded quite nicely. The only rough spot in the morning was when this woman burst into the seminar just as we were winding down and rudely interrupted the seminar bringing conversation to a halt. She turned out to be the speaker for the following seminar in the room, a Dr. Ahuva Gamliel, an acupuncturist. I assured her everything would be fine and that if she would simply wait, she would have ample time to set up for her seminar. She left, we finished the seminar and we she came back into the room, she had a severe nasty attitude. At the time I had no idea who she was or what she was speaking about. We left the room and outside we saw her topic was "Growing Gracefully, Prostrate Health and Menopause". The folks that had experienced her rudeness were laughing out loud. Now it made sense.
I was exhausted from doing the seminar,