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Ed Barkin

Age: 70+

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 10

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Mercury

Sailing Date: October 31st, 2005

Itinerary: n/a

My wife and I booked a cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Celebrity ship Mercury. This is a review of that October 31st 2005 sailing.

We have taken approximately ten other cruises, using Princess and Holland America. This time around, we decided to try Celebrity, primarily because the specific itinerary did not include a visit to the Sea of Cortez. In several years, that area will no doubt be a prime destination, but right now, and after two recent visits, it has become somewhat less than exciting. Other factors influencing our choice were the numerous accounts of Celebrity’s exceptional food and service.

Inasmuch as we had taken identical cruises on the Holland America ships Statendam and on her sister ship the Ryndam, it was decided that it would be fun to make it a comparative review. The staterooms were similar (the Royal Suite versus the ‘S’ category), and the ships were approximately the same age.

Observations were based upon our copious notes, both written and recorded, resulting in our opinions. Other passengers would most likely come to different conclusions, based upon their own individual experiences and preferences.

Embarkation:


We arrived in San Diego the day before the cruise. We took in the sights,enjoyed a good meal and relaxed. On sailing day, we arrived at the terminal around 12:15, and were aboard shortly after 1:00 PM.

On any given day, you will get widely different opinions as to how smooth or how troublesome that process has been. In our cases, both ships received less than adequate marks in their manner or system for receiving passengers. Both exhibited organized confusion, and contradicting instructions were the order of the day. We like to arrive early, and that may have helped create the problems. It is noted that we did the complete Internet registration with Celebrity.

Once past the ubiquitous photographers and aboard the Mercury, we received a glass of champagne. We decided to partake in their luncheon buffet while waiting for our cabin to open. On both ships, our first buffets were welcome and enjoyable. Mercury calls this area the Palm Springs Café. It was laid out in a somewhat sectionalized pattern, affording more window tables while giving the illusion of having some degree of ‘seclusion’. It had a warm and friendly look.

The waiters actually insisted on carrying the trays for the ladies and for some men. Hot coffee/iced tea was constantly being brought around, and the tables were quickly cleared. The serving areas were divided into stations, allowing for a greater ease of selection and a general speeding up of the process. Very much similar to the buffet stations we are used to in Las Vegas.

The Statendam identifies their area as the Lido, and it has a more open design in a more traditional approach. It was adequate, not unpleasant, but seemed to lack warmth. Coffee refills were a bit slow in coming, and tables were also cleared quickly. Assistance with trays was available, but not always when needed.

Most Holland ships provide small daily printed menus at the beginning of the buffet lines. These are a necessity, since many of the dishes on both cruise lines are either misidentified or not identified at all. If you asked the servers, a language barrier usually arose, requiring assistance, if available. This confusion resulted at times in slower moving lines and worse, incomplete meals. For example, was there a sauce available? If so, what is it? where is it? The Mercury did not provide this helpful low-cost service and I would suggest that they consider doing so. I would also suggest that the guest(s) take an orientation walk-through before actually getting into line.

Considering the overall ambience however, Mercury gets the nod.

(I will address the issue of food later in the review).

Life Boat Drill:


The Mercury drill consisted of assembling passengers (in our case) in the theater area. We were presented with a light-hearted exhibition of what to do in case of having to abandon ship. Upon conclusion, we were led to our appropriate lifeboats, where we mustered in a very casual fashion. No roster of passengers was taken, and after a short period of time, we were dismissed from the drill. We were also informed that the lifeboats would not necessarily be the same each time.

The Statendam drill consisted of the passengers mustering at their assigned lifeboat stations after the actual alarms were sounded, women in front and gentlemen in the rear. A complete roster of all the passengers assigned to that lifeboat was called out, and we had to answer. The lifeboat assignment was the same throughout the cruise.

Drill comments:

Mercury in my opinion, treated their drill as a necessary evil, while HAL took a more serious approach. I must note that several days into the cruise, the ships crew underwent what I consider a very comprehensive and long lasting drill of their own.

They probably believe that a well trained crew offsets nominally trained passengers.

Having previously gone through a minor shipboard fire in the middle of the night, we tend to take the drills more seriously than the average passenger.

Cabin Staff:


Mercury:


After lunch, we made our way to our RS Suite, #1026, where we were introduced to Jo-Ann our Stewardess, Rennet (?), the assistant Steward, and to Stanley, our Butler. I must say that having a Butler is a more personalized approach, and that its success or failure is based entirely upon the attitude and efforts of the individual involved. In our case, Stanley was a delight, but my mind kept asking, was he really necessary? Aside from bragging rights at the dinner table, we saw no discernable improvement or advantage over the traditional room steward approach.

Statendam:


On Holland America, the Room Service waiter brings your requested food. The Cabin Steward performs the normal duties associated with that calling, plus the visible tasks of the Butler, such as laundry requests, priority tender tickets, tea service, canapés and etc.

The number of cabins assigned to each Suite Steward appeared to be geared to a maximum performance efficiency. Keep in mind that I am referring to the true suite category where supposedly the brightest and best employees are posted.

Additionally, HAL utilizes a Concierge Lounge, where one or two ship staff members see to the various needs, complaints, or reservation requests of the suite passengers. These lounges are like private sanctuaries.

Cabin staff comments:


The functions of a Butler are somewhat unclear. They appear to overlap duties normally performed by other personnel. Even a hotel-side officer could not give me a definitive answer other than how wonderful it was. As an example, if you order breakfast room service from Celebrity, does a waiter actually bring the food to the Butler who then delivers it to your cabin, or does the Butler bring you the food from room service? Aside from delivering your room service requests and bringing the 3:30-4:00 PM tea service, as well as the five-o-clock canapés, just what does the Butler do? Please do not cite the shoe shining or packing/unpacking services. Incidentally, the tea service is not actually served, it is delivered to your door. One cup of tea, and your choice of goodies, although I’m sure you could have more.

On HAL, you can request your tea service, and it is delivered and served in your suite. It is more in the formal manner, and is impressive if you are having guests. Finger sandwiches and desserts accompanied the tea of course.

Personally, we enjoyed the attention, but I question why Celebrity has to have a Butler, a Cabin Steward/Stewardess and an assistant Steward? (Maybe it’s my training in Cost Analysis).

On HAL, your room key provided access to the rather large Concierge lounge. It had a wonderful machine that produced Latte; Cappuccino; regular coffee and several other mixes. Finger sandwiches and Croissants were always available, as were desserts and other goodies. It contained a small library, comfortable chairs and sofas as well as several television sets.

All things considered, we prefer HAL’s Suite passenger lounge concept. It was interesting how on the Mercury, several of our immediate neighbors seemed to be in complete awe of the presence and availability of a Butler in a cutaway tuxedo, serving or handing them desserts and canapés.

Ship’s Staff attitudes:


The Staff members of both ships were friendly, efficient and very helpful. Those that we dealt with on a regular basis memorized our names and for the most part, our preferences. Minor complaints were dealt with rather quickly and without fuss.

In our case, there was little to choose from as to what cruise line had the better of it.

Both Mercury and the Statendam tied in this area.

Cabin Housekeeping:


Realistically, the same operations applied to both ships, vacuuming, making the bed, cleaning the bathroom areas, etc. There were however, differences noted in the quality and thoroughness of those operations.

Mercury:


Our Stewardess and her assistant were the picture of friendliness. They were in and out of our cabin in no time at all, and I think that may have been the problem. They vacuumed, made the bed, straightened up the bathroom and emptied the waste baskets. At no time however, did anyone venture out onto our balcony. The railings were heavily coated with salt spray, from start to finish. If you use your balcony as often as we do, you do not want the sticky salt residue on the railing, especially if you use it as a platform for your cameras.

You will notice that I wrote ‘straighten up the bathroom’ instead of cleaning up the bathroom. In the RS category cabins, there were separate all tiled stall showers and throne rooms. Early on, we noticed that there several large ‘spots’ on the floor. I removed one spot with a damp tissue to see if it would come off, but left the others

for the expected cleaning. They remained. Finally, I mentioned it to the assistant. It still remained undone. My wife did not want me to create a problem for the stewards, so it went unreported.

You are right, I should have reported it, so I have to share in the blame. Keep in mind however, that this should not have happened in the first place.

Statendam:


We had no similar experience, although I did have to mention salt accumulation on the railings once. It didn’t happen again.

Food:
(finally)

The subject of food on a cruise always introduces mixed and polarized opinions. If one person pronounces the food fit for a king, another person will accuse him of being nothing more than a golden arches gourmet, and of having no idea as to what constitutes good food.

Every Chef/Cook on every ship in every line is a little different. It amuses me that someone will say with much authority that the food served on one comparable line is so much better than on another, or that “their lobster tail was the best they had ever tasted on any of their 300+ cruises”. How can any person precisely remember how good their meal was on a cruise taken a year ago or even six months ago? (I am just as guilty of doing so)

I break food into four major categories. Quality, Preparation, Presentation and Taste.

We live in Las Vegas, and out of necessity, we eat out far more often than the normal family. Additionally, at least once a month we dine in restaurants identified in gourmet reviews. Consequently, I believe that based upon that history, we may be in a more advantageous position, when it comes to evaluating these qualities.

Quality:


Both Celebrity and Holland enjoy reputations as being premium lines. They do however cater to a mass market. There is no question in my mind that while they do not procure prime products, they certainly come as close as their budgets allow. In all honesty, I believe that both lines are about equal in their endeavors.

reparation:


According to their brochures…

Celebrity prides itself in having an award-winning executive Chef. They boast that it would be more fair to compare them to the world’s most acclaimed restaurants rather than to other cruise lines. They also claim that the dishes are astonishingly inventive.

Holland America claims they have their own Master Chef, who leads their award-winning culinary staff in the creation of exciting new dining options, lovingly prepared and exquisitely presented.

If only the food was prepared by their Executive Chefs.

Speaking of dishes, why do both lines insist upon dazzling the unsuspecting diner with the considerable number of plates and glasses placed before them, and then proceed to remove those plates? This is an archaic custom, labor intensive, and like tuxedos, well past its time.

Most lines utilize standardized menus. They are usually numbered in a manner related to the days of the cruise. Number Nine menu on Celebrity or HAL identifies the items offered on the ninth day of the cruise. The method of preparation is influenced to a large degree by the likes/dislikes of the cooks.

Conclusion – both lines appeared equal in preparation.

Presentation:


Presentation, or Plating, is judged by the flair and imagination of the individual cook/chef or by specific instruction from the staff of the Executive Chef.

Based solely upon visual effects, we felt that Mercury was somewhat more creative.

Taste:


Mercury Dining room:


For approximately the first three days, we had to agree that other than in the alternative extra charge restaurants, the dining room food was most probably among the best we had ever had while cruising. Menu selection was appealing, the presentation was first rate and the taste was far more than we had expected or hoped for.

After that, we felt that the selections seemed less exciting, and the taste, while still quite good, moved down from the ‘best’ category. Soups became iffy and the Caesar salads seemed to lack the definitive flavor.

One evening, I made it a point to try the so-called rubber lobster, and decided that it wasn’t at all bad. Would I try it again if given a choice, probably not.

Statendam Dining Room

Going by my earlier notes, we found the dining room food to be quite good. Fish selections were more than adequate, the soups were very good, as were their Caesar salads. They did an honest job of cooking meat. Their final products were not spectacular, but were consistently good. Claims of blandness do not hold up. My wife puts salt on just about everything, even before tasting. I wait until I taste my food, and I appreciate the opportunity to make my own decisions as to seasonings.

Wait Staff:
(or is it Waite?)

Our staff on the Mercury did their jobs well, but they were slow, so as to endanger missing show times. Adjoining tables started later yet finished earlier. If you are in somewhat of a hurry, I suggest that you notify your waiter as soon as seated.

On the Statendam, our staff was efficient and fast. In fact, they were hard to turn off. On two evenings, I ordered Caesar salads, after that, it started showing up automatically. I didn’t have the heart to tell them to stop.

Although not designated as alternative dining, Mercury makes available a late evening ‘Tossed Pasta’ & Pizza station as well as an excellent Sushi bar. We ate at these stations twice, and enjoyed them immensely. They were never crowded, and many people were unaware they existed.

The Baked Alaska Parade:

In our opinions, the parade was far more dramatic on the Statendam, while the actual dessert tasted a bit better on the Mercury.

CABIN:


We booked cabin 1026, which was a Royal Suite category on the Penthouse Deck.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Mercury and Statendam cabins were approximately the same size. Mercury utilized their space more appealingly, completely separating the bedroom, bathroom and closet areas, while the Statendam primarily used a large room type effect. In-room accommodations were similar, but the overall visual effect favored the Mercury. The size of the Mercury balcony was smaller, necessitating the use of chair and footstool combinations, while the size of the Statendam veranda allowed the use of full sized chaise-lounges.

Closet space was more than adequate, but the Statendam provided more long dress hanging space, and definitely, more hangers. The Mercury hair dryer proved to be quite powerful, despite chat-line warnings.

The cabin had more of an at-home comfortable atmosphere, something the Statendam cabin seemed to lack.

It is noted that the Mercury had an overhang of the deck above the balcony of approximately six to seven feet. This existed for all the Royal Suites as well as for the Penthouse Suites. It would have kept the rain away from us, had it rained. It not only prevented full sunshine, but more importantly, it did obstruct a small portion of our view in some ports. This feature was a definite negative to us.

Suite Passenger Amenities:

With my apologies, all those ‘suites’ below Royal and Penthouse are suites by company anointment, rather than by size, fact or furnishings.

Celebrity seems to place more importance onto membership in their Captains (previous customer) Club. As first time Suite passengers, we were provided with what I would call temporary membership, and as such, were allowed to attend several functions afforded to ALL those members. The sheer numbers of those returning members transformed those functions into anything but the more intimate meetings between passengers and ships officers normally associated with true suite amenities.

After those largely forgettable functions, we were pretty much on our own.

Holland America on the other hand, appears to consider their suite passengers separately from their Mariners Club. My notes indicate that during the cruise, the Statendam provided a luncheon, a cocktail party offering the finest labels, and an excellent dinner with the Captain, held privately for suite passengers. Additionally, they provided complimentary laundry service. This would have been a big plus, as the average laundry price on Mercury was $3.00 per piece and the cruise was for eleven days.

We consider the HAL approach to suite passenger amenities to be far more preferable. If this sounds a bit cliquish, I make no apologies. We paid dearly for the privilege.

Disembarkation in both cases was fast, painless and uneventful. In San Diego, we always opt to take a taxi to the airport. It costs ten dollars, plus of course, the tip. If you take the cruise transfer, you have to wait until all passengers are aboard the bus.

Conclusions:


The Mercury, judging by our cabin, is sorely in need of re-sprucing. The wooden flooring is badly gouged, furniture needs replacing or at the very least, a good cleaning. Elevator floors need refinishing. This could done at night, with on-board maintenance, shutting down elevators one at a time. Celebrity, it’s time to spend a few bucks.

Both ships are good representatives of their respective lines. There were good and bad points that had to be dealt with during the cruise. There were also intrinsic values within the equation, somethings that you could not readily identify, but they were there.

Considering all of the tangible factors, the cruise experiences on both ships were about equal. We would not hesitate to sail on either ship, but, if we toss in those referenced intrinsic values, we both agreed that we would prefer to sail with Holland America.

Before I forget items:

Celebrity keeps public announcements to a bare minimum. We could be passing an island, yet no information or identification was provided. I for one, would like a bit more information. I do agree in keeping those bingo ads from being announced.

Formal wear has become a non-issue. At five surrounding tables, I counted three tuxedo wearers on one formal night. The company is not enforcing their dress code, and no one was denied entrance to the dining room. I saw Levis and collared shirts mixed in with sport jackets and ties. Personally, I think it’s great. I do not plan on taking my tux on our next sailing, despite the anticipated protestations of my wife.

Computer classes – these were being offered at twenty dollars per class, for programs such as Photoshop. I am familiar with this program, and I can guarantee that the learning curve is so steep that there isn’t enough time on the cruise for the average person to obtain a working relationship with that program.

The Midnight Grand Buffet:


This was truly an extravaganza. It can only be described as an orgy in the throes of overload. The percentage of people attending this ritual when compared to the total passengers on board was very small. Almost everyone I spoke to said they were there just to take digital pictures and not to eat. I shamelessly did plenty of both.

What more can I say? Peace, and have a great next cruise.

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