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John Gawne

Age: 62

Occupation:Cruise Travel Agent

Number of Cruises: 20

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Mercury

Sailing Date: February 18th, 2005

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera


This was our 20th cruise and our first to the Mexican Riviera. I had heard that the first days out and back would be cool, due to the cooler Pacific waters off California, so we booked an ocean view cabin instead of a balcony.

We flew Southwest to San Diego, arriving the day before sailing after 7h 20m flight cross country. With time zone changes, it was only 3:50pm PST when we arrived. We rented a car from Avis at the airport because we wanted to do some errands the next day before sailing. We drove to the Airport/Harbor View Days Inn which offered a double room with refrigerator and continental breakfast for only $89 per night and offered a free shuttle to the pier. From the hotel you can see the pier, which is only about 3-4 blocks away. We enjoyed dinner at Anthony’s Fish Grotto, adjacent to the pier.

Feb 18: The next day we drove across the bridge to Coronado, purchased four bottles of champagne to take aboard ship, visited the Hotel Del Coronado, and had a leisurely breakfast at Marie Calender’s restaurant and bakery in Coronado. We drove back to the hotel and I drove 1 1/2 blocks to the Avis downtown location to turn in the rental car, and they offered to shuttle me to the ship. I walked back to the hotel and took their shuttle. There was a sign at the pier that passengers would be allowed onboard at 11am. We took the 12:00 shuttle and the embarkation process was the smoothest and fastest we have experienced in several years. There was no congestion, speedy check-in, photo, and onto the ship by 12:30, greeted with the Celebrity customary glass of champagne at the gangway. They said lunch was available but to remain in public areas until a 1pm announcement that the cabins were ready. We found our cabin and a steward let us in on arrival, as it was ready. We met our steward and asked him for an extra wine bucket and to keep it filled all week, as we would be enjoying champagne in the cabin. After reminding him the first day, he did very well, and several evenings showed up about 6pm with a fresh bucket of ice.

We had selected a midships oceanview cabin on deck 4 starboard, cabin 4078. It was actually a quad cabin, and the two Pullman beds on the wall, although not used, made space alongside the bed very tight. The cabin has two closets with adequate drawers, drawers in the vanity, and drawers in the end tables. We did not even use them all There is a refrigerator stocked with the usual miniatures, sodas and snacks, for a charge. The vanity has a large mirror behind which is a large storage cabinet and the room safe. I had planned to use it as a wine rack, as I had once before, but the motion of the ocean made it noisy at night and I had to move the wine the first night to the closet. The bathroom had ample cabinet storage and dispensers for lotion and shampoo. The shower curtain is too short and invariably the floor got wet when showering, but the size of the bathroom and shower were ample. The television had CNN all cruise, pay per view movies and free movies like Troy, The Last Samurai, and others, music channels, and Celebrity commercials. The shopping/port talks were repeated all day, every day, and the cruise director Dru Pavlov, a bright Canadian cruise director, did daily updates which were also repeated throughout the day. It meant that we didn’t have to go to a theatre at a fixed time to hear port information.

After dropping our carryons in the cabin we went directly to the dining room to check on our seating. We had requested a table for two at the late seating (8:30pm). We found the Maitre D set up outside the dining room and he promptly changed our table to a table for 4 and told us we could have it as a table for two all cruise. It was table 631 on the upper level, in an excellent location. The tables for 4 are small and actually crowded with four people. After a lunch buffet in the Palm Springs Grill (the Lido-style buffet area), and a tour of the ship, we returned to the cabin at 3pm and found our luggage had arrived. Boat drill was at 4:30pm and included both assembly area instruction, donning life jackets, and then proceeding to lifeboat stations. Weather was unseasonably cool, as the west coast had been inundated with more rain for a week than they had in the past 40 years, so jackets were needed. Sailaway was at 5pm and the temperature was in the low 60’s with low clouds and wind. The first dinner was excellent, dress was casual, and ended with crème brulee….not bad for a start. We did find a 5 member band to dance to in the evening, Top Secret, which served as the pool band and dance band. It was one of the best we have enjoyed on cruises. They played a variety of music at night, 50’s -90’s, for dancing. We skipped the introductory show after dinner which featured a ventriloquist and the introduction of the cruise staff.

Mercury conducts computer classes in a computer center on deck 6, and just outside it are internet workstations. There are four more on deck 5 on the port side near the Excursions desk. These workstations are open 24/7 and there is no additional charge for printing. I purchased a 120 minute package for the cruise for 60 cents a minute and used it all. It was quite reliable.

Feb 19/Day 2: We awoke to temperatures of 62F and windy but mostly sunny weather on deck. We tried the dining room for breakfast and found that they offered eggs benedict every day! A little sun bathing around the pool, many people covered with the towels due to the temperature, and a second lunch buffet. I noted that the lunch buffets were, frankly, boring. While they had some theme lunches, e.g. Asian, Italian, Mexican, it was still mostly typical cafeteria fare. They did have an salad bar area where you could make your own salad, and just outside was a grill near the pool where pizza, burgers, and pasta were available daily. In addition, adjacent to the aft, covered pool on deck 11, there is a sandwich bar, which daily features a wrap of the day, and a sandwich of the day, and one day of sushi. We participated in a wine tasting seminar in the afternoon in the dining room for $8 per person. I usually enjoy these, but the session seemed rushed, and two of my 5 glasses had lipstick and water spots on them, which I had have exchanged. I did mention this to an assistant Maitre D’ afterwards. The problem did not occur at dinner, only at the wine tasting. This was the first formal night, and I was able to stop at the purser’s desk/guest relations and request a corsage be delivered to the our cabin by 6pm as a surprise for my wife….who had never had one in high school or college. At 6pm they announced that a passenger was critically ill, later diagnosed as an aneurysm, and they were turning around to get closer to San Diego to get within range of a Coast Guard helicopter to evacuate him. At 8pm they announced it would be midnight before the helo could reach us, and because we would lose 12 hours from reversing course and then back, the ship would not be able to make our first port call in Cabo San Lucas if we were to make the rest of our 10 day schedule. We would spend the next day at sea, instead. They refunded the excursions already booked, and I was a bit disappointed as I had wanted to go to Los Arcos and snorkel. After before dinner dancing, formal photos…and there were no lines…., we enjoyed a French themed dinner which included among the choices: escargot, onion soup, Caesar salad, scampi, beef tenderloin with mushroom sauce, and cherries jubilee. Before the show there was a chance to meet the captain and officers and enjoy a champagne toast. The show, “And the Winners Are” was a musical review of the Oscars, emmees, grammees, etc., and it was very good. We found out later that the cast was on the last cruise of a six month contract and were very polished. One observation we made that day was that there is no real hustling of drinks by the roving bar staff. During sailaway on day 1 and around the pool on day 2 it was actually difficult to attract a roving bar waiter and get a drink. They were readily available in the lounges. We set our clocks ahead to MST overnight.

Feb 20/Day 3: Still cool and windy. The breakfast buffet includes a waffle station near the after pool, and eggs or omelets to order, as well as the usual breakfast fare. Of particular note is that at meal hours in the Palm Springs Grill area, there are ample waiters and they almost insist on carrying your tray for you and finding you a table. Very accommodating. We had found that deck 14 upper level offered European style sunbathing, but it is forward of the superstructure and very windy and cool. We did see whales and dolphins from the pool deck today. It was Sunday, and their was a Catholic priest aboard, and Mass was at 5:15, and daily thereafter in the mornings. Dress for dinner was informal/coats and dresses. The show this night was before dinner at 8pm, and was an adagio duo and a musician playing the hammer dulcimer. Dancing this evening included Motown and Latin/Salsa in the lounges.

Feb 21/Day 4: Finally, a port! After eggs benedict again in the dining room we relaxed on deck and watched the entry into Mazatlan, arriving at the pier about noon, later than originally scheduled due to our medical emergency. They decided to extend the visit until 7pm. Shuttle buses meet the passengers at the gangway and move them to the terminal were there are a few shops and taxis available. We chose to walk to town, and visit the cathedral, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Perhaps a 15 minute walk, it was worth the trip, beautiful inside. The church is in the center of the old town, with many modern shops, and a few department stores. We found a Senor Frog’s clothing outlet, picked up a free map of Mazatlan and directions to where we could take a bus to the Hotel Zone. The exchange rate was roughly 11 pesos to the USD, and the bus fare on the Segundo Centro bus was 9 pesos per person. If you handed the driver a dollar, he gave you 2 pesos in change. It was about a 20 minute ride, and we got off in the hotel shopping district, where there are plenty of shops, restaurants, beach access, parasailing, etc. After a brief time on the beach, upper 70’s here, we took the bus back to Senor Frogs, about 4 miles back toward old town, where we met other cruise passengers. It was the original Senor Frog’s! We took a small VW sized taxi open taxi called a pulmenaria back to the ship for $7. Sailaway was at 7pm. There was a pre-dinner production show. Dress was casual for dinner, and it was “big band sound” night for dancing with the ship’s orchestra in the lounges. At 11pm they had a TexMex night at the pool with line dancing, and a buffet from 1130pm-1230am with tacos and chimichangas. We set our clocks ahead to CST that night.

Feb 22/Day 5: Another sea day. Warm enough now for comfortable sunbathing on deck, the first one! Still very windy. The usual pool sports and bingo, and dance classes were available. This was the second formal night. The show, a male singer, was at 7pm for late diners, which I prefer. I’m sleepy when the show isn’t till 10:45 or 11pm. This was followed by a Captains Club reception at 7:45pm. We did formal photos again, and no waiting lines at any of the three sites. By the way, 8x10’s are $24.95, and the candid 6x8’s are $9.95.

Feb 23/Day 6: We arrived in Acapulco at 7am berthed at a pier at the cruise terminal across from old Fort San Diego. At an information desk outside the terminal we got a map and some advice on where we could go to relax and snorkel. We had visited Acapulco before for several days, seen the cliff divers, and more, so we weren’t looking to sightsee They recommended we catch a taxi to Boca Chica Hotel, which was on the Pacific side of the harbor overlooking Isla Roqueta. Some people catch glass bottom boats there, or ferries to Isla Roqueta which has a secluded beach and snorkeling. We chose to go to Boca Chica, which we were advised allowed cruise passengers to use the facilities at no charge. It was a $10 taxi ride and was a beautiful older hotel overlooking the water, with lounge chairs and umbrellas, a pool, bars and a restaurant overlooking the water. There is also a dive shop there. I snorkeled among the rocks along the shore from one side of the hotel to the other and saw many larger tropical fish. We ate lunch in the restaurant, and for $25 including tip we had 8 giant steamed shrimp, a hamburger and fries, and four beers. The taxi back to the ship was only $5. After changing we headed into the hotel zone. The port talk had said we could hail yellow buses along the main street outside the terminal and the bus fare was only 5 pesos per person or two for a dollar. We rode through the hotel zone and got off to visit Carlos and Charlie’s Bar and Grill, which pretty empty in late afternoon. Acapulco is a night town. After catching the bus back to the terminal, we stopped at a liquor store across from the terminal to make our purchase of 2 bottles of tequila. They had a wide selection. On boarding the ship they x-rayed all parcels every day, but they did not take the tequila for safe-keeping. They had scheduled a folkloric show in the Celebrity Theatre for 7pm which included singing, and dancing and costumes from all over Mexico. At 8pm we changed for dinner, which was tropical casual dress. There was dancing around the pool, and a tropical buffet at 1130pm, including ribs, chicken, rice, fruit, and sherbet. The ship sailed at 11pm with the tropical party in progress.

Feb 24/Day 7: We were scheduled to arrive in Ziuatenejo at 7am, with a shorter stay scheduled, leaving at 2pm. We enjoyed a full room service breakfast in the cabin. We had placed a wakeup call on the telephone system for 7am, but room service called at 6:50am to say they were on there way. After checking email, we went to get a tender ticket at 8:30, only to find that there was no waiting. We had chosen to enjoy the easy pace of Ziuatenejo instead of Ixtapa, the hotel zone 4 miles north. It seems the Mexican Tourist Bureau wanted to develop Ziuatenejo into a tourist mecca, but the local residents didn’t want the development. So, they are trying to develop a hotel zone in Ixtapa. Instead, at the pier, we were able to purchase ferry tickets for $3 per person, round trip, for a boat ride to the other side of the harbor to Playa Los Gatos. It is a lovely beach with many small restaurants. The chairs and umbrellas are free if you plan to eat or drink there. The water is shallow and clear and there is a man-made reef not too far out. On the outer side of the reef there were many large tropical fist, and I enjoyed snorkeling for about 90 minutes. I bring my own snorkeling gear. After enjoying rum punch and Corona’s, we were offered a tray of whole fresh red snapper marked with the price in pesos. We selected a nice one for 150 pesos/$13.50. Shortly they set a table behind us and brought out the whole grilled snapper on a platter with rice and salad, and tortillas on the side. The total price for the fish and meal and the drinks was $25 including tip. Sitting on the beach, eating the superb fish, seeing the ship anchored in the harbor, was ideal. Sadly, about 12:30 we headed for the ferry and went back to town. We walked the cobblestone streets and briefly visited a “straw market”, the local church, and Bandito’s sports bar for a libation before catching the last tender back at 1:30. By the pier we saw a sailfish a passenger had caught on a fishing excursion. After sail away we spent the afternoon on upper deck 14 viewing the beautiful harbor and coastline, sunbathing despite a brisk wind. Dinner this night was casual dress. At dessert they offered optional crepe suzettes! There were about 60 Greek-Americans aboard for this cruise, many seated around us. As I had lived in Athens for three years while in the Navy, and speak some Greek, we had made friends with these passengers. The Celebrity line has Greek officers, and they were taking care of the group. At dinner several nights they brought out baklava, or sliced feta, or Greek Salata Horiatiki (village salad…no lettuce). And our waiter, a Columbian, made sure they shared with us. In fact, he was asking me to give him a few words of table Greek. We made a short contribution in the casino and called it a night after a very full day.

Feb 25/Day 8: We arrived at the pier in Puerto Vallarta at 9am. After a buffet of omelets and waffles, we went ashore at 10:50. There is an information booth on the pier and they provided advice and maps. We found we could catch a city bus just down the street for 4 pesos per person which took us past hotels into the city center of old Puerto Vallarta. The driver indicated where the city buses were waiting to take us Mismaloya Beach and Los Arcos for 8 pesos per person. This is a small beach with two hotels within sight of Los Arcos, three large rocks, some with arches cut by the sea. We walked the south side of the beach to the site of the filming of The Night of the Iguana, and climbed the steps to the site of the John Huston Restaurant and Bar, now closed. Back down the hill to the beach and we settled in a chair in front of one of the waterfront vendors, with no charge for chairs and umbrellas. I found a boat to take me to Los Arcos to snorkel for 1 hour for 150 pesos. They launch the boats from the beach into the surf. On the way there I say dolphins and a seal. The boat toured the rocks and then anchored while I dove in. Schools of angel fish and other tropicals. The visibility was very good in about 20 – 30 ft of water. When we returned we enjoyed rum punch, beer and freshly made salsa and chips. They also had the grilled whole fish available here. Restrooms were available for customers. At 3:50 we boarded a bus back to the city for a 30 minute ride back to Puerto Vallarta Old Town. We walked about a mile to the shopping district where I surprised my wife with a set of ruby earrings to complete her ruby pendent, bracelet, earring set. We caught a taxi for 25 pesos back to Senor Frog’s, which was near the bus stop, for liquid refreshment. Great fun. We are making an effort to visit all the Group Anderson establishments, having now visited Senor Frog’s/Carlos & Charlies in Cancun, Cozumel, Aruba, San Juan, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Nassau. At 6:15 we reluctantly caught a taxi back to the pier for 75 pesos, arriving at 6:45. The ship sailed at 7! After enjoying the sail away, followed by a great seafood dinner in casual dress, we were tired from a long, very enjoyable day, and turned in early. They set the clocks back an hour to MST overnight.

Feb 26/Day 9: Our fourth sea day. Enjoyed the breakfast buffet with eggs to order. My wife spent the day in the sun around the pool. Having had too much already, I spent the day inside, checking email, reading, and watching TV movies (The Last Samurai) and the disembarkation talk on TV. Our luggage tags had arrived. Lunch was a Mexican themed buffet. I ordered another corsage as this was the third formal night. Their was a culinary demonstration in the afternoon, the second of the cruise. Each time they pass samples of what was prepared to all the attendees. Jackpot bingo was the event being publicized today, and my wife succumbed, falling only a few numbers short. We had our last formal photos done before pre-dinner dancing. It was lobster night and they were succulent…both of them. The show was after dinner at 11pm, a Broadway style production. At 11:3pm they opened the restaurant for viewing and photos of the Grand Midnight Buffet, and we headed there after the show. It was a remarkable display which included beef Wellington, something I’ve never seen on a midnight buffet.

Feb 27/Day 10: Our last sea day and it was windy and very cool. We relaxed, enjoyed some sun, picked out our formal photos, and made our last donation to the slots in the casino. The debarkation procedure asked that we have out luggage outside the cabin by midnight, so we packed before dinner. Dinner dress was, of course, casual the last night. We celebrated my wife’s birthday at dinner, had a cake and the obligatory "Hoppy Birsday" chorus. After midnight I did go to the internet to print out our boarding passes for our Southwest flight.

Feb 28/Debarkation and return home. The ship arrived in San Diego at the pier at 7pm. Breakfast was available in the dining room until 8 and in the buffet until 8:30, and we could leave our carry on luggage in the cabin. With their debarkation luggage tags, all passengers receive an envelope with a memo directing them where and what time to go to a specific lounge for debarkation. As a result there are no announcements of colored tags being called, and no congregating at stairwells. Wonderful. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, did a little last minute socializing, and then picked up our bags from the cabin and reported at 9:30 to the Celebrity Theatre. At 9:45 they lead us off the ship. The process in the terminal going through customs/immigration and luggage pickup was a breeze, and the taxi queue outside was short. We had a taxi in about 5 minutes which hustled us to the airport for $10 before 10:30. With a 1:40 flight we had plenty of time.

Summary: Celebrity Mercury was a great ship, with excellent service by the entire staff, without exception. The embarkation and easy debarkation were a pleasure. The ship is in excellent condition. The lunch buffet’s are unremarkable and seemed all very much the same, but they did have three freshly made pasta stations every day. The seafood variety and preparation at dinner was very good. Announcements are kept to a minimum because they replay daily programs on the shipboard TV. A minor complaint: We order a bottle of wine every night for dinner, reds, unless it is a champagne. The typical cost of what we order is $30. Yet in order to get us very large red wine glasses, as we use at home, the wine steward had to get a supervisor’s permission, and that was just one night. They only give them to those ordering the $45-$100 wines. Unsatisfactory. Coupled with the dirty glasses at wine tasting, it did leave a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak.

I had heard that the West Coast cruises were cool due to the cool Pacific water (64 degrees), which is why we didn’t select a balcony cabin. They were right. At least the first two and last two days were really too cool and windy for making the best use of the on deck facilities. The itinerary, without Cabo San Lucas, was half sea days, a bit more than I bargained for, since they weren’t warm and sunny. But the ports were great, especially Ziuatanejo and Puerto Vallarta, which we’ll be sure to visit again. Only one of the four ports was a tender port.

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