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Nancy Norris

Age: n/a

Occupation:Travel professional

Number of Cruises: 25+

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Mercury

Sailing Date: October 12th, 2003

Itinerary: Pacific Coast/Mexico

From previous cruises, I have become close friends with a small group of travel professionals. It is becoming customary for us to plan birthday cruises. Coincidentally, we were invited to attend a “Seminar at Sea” sponsored by a travel professional group of which we are all members, that just happened to coincide with MY birthday (Oct. 13). How perfect!!! As the cruise was sailing out of San Francisco, and 3 of our close knit group our from that area, I flew in from Cleveland, Ohio 3 days early to get a head start on the birthday festivities and frivolity. I was joined by 2 other members of our merry band of traveling companions (One from Montreal and the other from San Diego) for the pre-cruise activities. Unfortunately, they would not be able to join us on the cruise, so we had to make the most of the land portion of this adventure. A feat, I believe, we successfully accomplished! On the first full day we caught some of the requisite sites in the city and crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge to spend a marvelous afternoon in Sausalito. It happened to be Fleet Week, so watching the Blue Angels fly overhead while enjoying an exquisite lunch on an outdoor patio, overlooking the bay on a sunny California day was nirvana. The next day, part of our group, of which I was one, decided to venture further north to wine country. Once again I had the pleasure of enjoying a wonderful patio lunch, this time at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley. Fine wine, a magnificent view overlooking the valley and sun drenched skies provided perfect ambiance. We finished off our afternoon with some serious champagne tasting at Mumms. Hmmm, tell me, why is it again that I choose to live in Cleveland? The scenery en route to the valley is worth the trip alone! On Saturday, the final member of our group flew from Texas to join us. Once we were all assembled, a fabulous pre-cruise dinner party, hosted by my dear friend Pat, was the kick-off to a truly memorable and thoroughly enjoyable cruise (By the way, if any of you have read my other recent reviews, Pat needs no introduction).

The Mercury at Anchor off of Monterey

The Port of San Francisco can often be congested, but throw in absolutely picture perfect weather on a Sunday AND Fleet Week, with the armed forces elite flying overhead, and you have serious gridlock. Stuck in slow moving to “no-moving” traffic on Embarcadero for well over an hour, our anticipated early ETA to the pier was somewhat curtailed. (Oh! Who am I kidding? It was substantially altered!) But, once we arrived at Pier 35, the process was relatively painless and quite well organized. We could have checked in immediately, but as previously mentioned, we had friends who had accompanied us to the port, that would not be sailing with us (poor babies). So, we dropped of our luggage and proceeded to Pier 39, right next door, for our own group “Bon Voyage” party at Dantes. We returned to the pier about 3:15 for check-in, were ushered without delay to receive our cruise documents and proceeded directly on board. Once on board, we were greeted by flutes of champagne and white gloved attendants escorted us to our cabins. As an added bonus, when we arrived at our staterooms, our luggage had already been delivered. This was just the first glimpse of the top-notch service we received throughout the cruise.

Oceanview Cabin on the Mercury

My Cabin:
On this cruise I opted not to share a cabin, and it was indeed a luxury. Perhaps that comment needs a little explanation. As mentioned earlier in this review, if you have read some of my other reviews, you know that Pat, that feisty older lady from San Francisco, is my cruising buddy and usually my roommate (which I thoroughly enjoy). On this particular cruise, however, one of our “troop” was unable to make the trip, which left a vacancy and I elected to go it alone. I occupied Cabin #8204, a deluxe oceanview cabin, located aft on the starboard side. Now, from reading numerous reviews and speaking to past passengers, I was quite prepared for the well documented vibrations that are experienced from this end of the ship. Well, I am glad I was forewarned, as “excessive” and “intense” are 2 words that best describe the sensation. Otherwise, my cabin was quite nice. The 170 square ft. stateroom was well designed to maximize the space available. The color scheme of hues of blue and bleached ash wood paneling provided a tasteful, subdued combination. The one wall of floor to ceiling mirrors directly across from the bed added a sense of spaciousness. A large window provided ample light for the small sitting area and desk with corner drawers and chair. A glass table completed this area of the room. Two twin beds, which can be converted to a queen (as mine was), and 2 nightstands with drawers, completed the inventory of furniture. There were 3 closets, 2 of which were full length. The middle unit housed drawers and open shelves. A corner unit, which separated the closet space from the wall of mirrors, contained the safe, a fully stocked mini-bar, VCR and interactive TV with remote. Shore excursions could be booked directly from the TV in your stateroom. Mercury’s 24 hour room service could also be ordered directly from the menu on the TV. A desk telephone, with voicemail was located on one of the nightstands. Speaking of the phone, it may be wise to bring a travel clock. Although the time is displayed on the read-out of the phone, it is quite difficult to see and the clock on the VCR was not always accurate. Another convenience item you may wish to bring from home is an extension cord, as there is only one outlet in the stateroom, (hidden behind the organizer) on the desk and not easily accessible. There is an outlet in the bathroom, but it is for shavers only. My suitcases easily slid under the bed and storage space was quite ample (even if I had been sharing the cabin). If I were to improve on anything in the stateroom, it would probably be the lighting. The lamps on each nightstand, I found to be harsh and overpowering. There was overhead lighting, as well as lighting over the desk area, but again, too harsh for my liking. It would have been nice to have dimmer switches, or a small nightlight/lowlight option in the cabin (Suggestion: bring your own nightlight, if you are like me and enjoy candlelight late at night). Now for the bathroom: It definitely received the “Norris Seal of Approval”. Not plush, by any means, but for anyone who has read my reviews, you are aware I judge cruise bathrooms by the ease at which I am able to shave my legs. Well, the shower was quite large and along with the portable shower head, my needs were satisfied quite successfully. Water pressure was excellent. Ample counter space, full shelving under the sink (with doors) and 2 rounded corner shelving units provided more than enough storage space in the bathroom. There were 2 towel racks and 4 separate clothes hooks (by the way there were also 2 additional clothing hooks along the wall near the bed) and a retractable drying cord in the shower. Shampoo and hand lotion were provided from dispensers. Now, there was a hair dryer, if it can be called that, but with minimum power – virtually useless, so bring your own. Finally, both a beach bag and bathrobes were provided as added amenities in the stateroom for a very nice touch. Cabin attendants work in pairs and I found the services of my cabin steward, Sebastian outstanding. He was always there to accommodate my needs and went out of his way to make sure I always had fresh ice and my wine was chilled. As this WAS my birthday cruise, I had some friends decorate my cabin and he even assisted in securing my door banner. Throughout the week he made it his responsibility to make sure the decorations remained secure and intact. (By the way, I had no trouble bringing a few bottles of wine on board for personal consumption in my stateroom). My final thought, as regards the cabin, is Celebrity’s much appreciated policy of not piping announcements into the cabin. In fact, public announcements throughout the ship were kept to a minimum for the entire cruise. What welcome relief from the incessant broadcasts that occur with many other lines.

The Although I was not overly impressed with the overall décor of the Mercury, she was an attractive ship that was clean and very well-maintained. I had a bit of difficulty finding my way around this ship, however. That may be due in part to the lack of diagrams and deck plans at each elevator entrance that I often use as my guidepost. There were diagrams, but many were hidden around corners and only provided partial views. Also, for some reason I kept getting turned around and not sure if I was moving aft or forward. (Maybe I should blame it on the wine, or old age, rather than the layout of the ship). There are 10 public decks on the Mercury, with Sunrise being the top. The only thing on this deck is a golf simulator and a small, secluded topless bathing area. (Okay, I did check it out, but just couldn’t get up enough nerve to use it.)

The Navigator Club

Directly below that is the Sky Deck (Deck 12). The high point of this deck is the Navigator Club, all the way forward. This is perhaps one of the most appealing public rooms on the ship and one of my favorite. Floor to ceiling windows open to the sea and provide 180° panoramic view. The multi- leveled seating and grand piano complement the large dance floor. During the day, this is a wonderful place to “just hang out” and at night it is transformed into the disco. The video game room and teen area are adjacent to the Navigator Club. During my cruise I never saw any teens using this facility, but there were only 46 children, total, on board the ship, which may explain the absence of activity. On the open deck, the Sky Bar and jogging track encircle the pool area on the deck below. Adjacent to these facilities were sports areas for ping pong, darts, volleyball and basketball.

The next deck is the Resort Deck (Deck 11), and where you would find me on any given day at sea. On Resort Deck forward, is the AquaSpa, sauna, massage parlor and gym which was open from 8 am until 11 pm every day. Although they lack free weights and some other common equipment, the Thalassotherapy pool, and Etruscan Chamber were wonderful! I have included a menu of services from the AquaSpa to provide a glimpse of what the Mercury calls “Sensory Heaven”. A complete schedule of aerobic activities was also planned throughout the cruise. As we move aft from that point, the Pool Bar and La Playa Grill provide sustenance in the form of both liquid libations and hamburgers/hot dogs, fries and pizza, for those of us who don’t want to waste a minute indoors. Burgers and fries were both quite good, by the way.

Mercury Pool Area

There are 2 pools, but the water was extremely cold so they were rarely used. There are 4 hot tubs that are staggered in a tiered fashion around the deck and provide a much more pleasant experience. Water temperature was absolutely perfect for our weather conditions. Continuing to move aft, the Palm Springs Café, the buffet and casual dining venue, provides a great variety of food with stations scattered throughout the Café guaranteeing that lines were kept to a minimum. Beyond that the Palm Springs Grill,

Palm Springs Pool

Palm Springs pool and Palm Springs Bar are all housed under the Magrodome (retractable glass ceiling) for those not wishing to be on an open deck.

Palm Springs Grill

The Palm Springs Grill also provides outdoor seating on a patio at the very rear (aft) of the ship.

Children's Playroom

With the exception of the Children’s playroom and pool at the stern of Deck 9, there were no other public rooms on deck 9 or 10, just staterooms. A note about the children’s pool: It is only open during port days, so for some children it was a major disappointment. Other than that minor problem, the children’s program is quite good. Depending on the number of children on board, children between the ages of 3 and 17 are divided into either 4 or 5 age groups with specific activities planned to appeal to that age group. With so few children onboard our cruise, I was not able to get a firm fix on the program, but the Children’s playroom facilities were quite appealing, albeit underused on this cruise. On Panorama (Deck 8), other than staterooms, the only public space was Michael’s Club, at the top level of the Grand Foyer. This room probably had the most comfortable chairs and seating arrangement of any of the public spaces, but, unfortunately, as it is the cigar bar, the tell-tale odors deterred from the ambiance (particularly in the evening). Looking down unto the four-story Grand Foyer was an impressive sight from this vantage point. Oh! Let me not forget, there is a hidden treasure on the rear of Deck 8 that I did not discover until the 4th day of the cruise. If your cabin is situated at the rear of the ship, as mine was, there are doors conveniently located at the very end of the hall that lead outside to a small covered deck with deck chairs. These chairs get the benefit of full sun, but totally protected from any wind. So on a very windy day, or if you just crave privacy, but want to enjoy the outdoors, check it out!

Pavilion Night Club

Deck 7 was aptly named “Entertainment Deck”. Starting aft, The Pavilion Nightclub occupied the rear of the ship. We met in this lounge a few times for pre and post dinner entertainment. Although an attractive room, with comfortable seating, large pyramid shaped columns prevented a clear view of the stage and detracted from the overall appearance of the space. Moving forward is the Fortunes Casino. This was a very large and well designed casino that provided ample gaming tables and slot machines, as well as a bar with video poker machines, for those who enjoy this activity. From there a corridor of shops lines both sides of the Grand Foyer and extends all the way to the forward elevators.

Mercury Shops and Foyer

A nice assortment of logo wear, souvenirs, jewelry, perfume, liquor, clothing, sundries and collectibles are all available. Sony Wonder, a small internet café, on the starboard side of the Grand Foyer was also located on this deck, as was the art gallery. Cost for internet use is $.50 a minute and there are no special package deals. In the very forward position of the deck is the upper level of the two-story Celebrity Theater. Sight lines and acoustics are excellent in this theater. There is not a bad seat in the house. Wheel chair seating is limited, however, as both the balcony and stage area are only accessible via stairs.

Celebrity Theater

Moving down to Promenade, deck 6, forward is the lower level of the Celebrity Theater, which has a capacity of 875. Leaving the theater, there are two hallways that run the length of mid-ship, from the theater to Rendez-Vous Square. All public venues are located along the starboard hallway. Another bank of computers, with internet access line the hall across from the Cinema and Conference Center (read Day 4 of this review for specifics about this very well designed space). You will encounter the card room and small library as you continue walking. An interesting side note, about the library: It must be a sign of the times, that not only can books be borrowed, but MP3 players can be rented from here on a daily basis ($10 per day) and the librarian will customize a personal play list for your enjoyment. Comfortable and appealing,

The Cova Cafe

The Cova Café & Martini Bar encircles the Grand Foyer. I did not taste test a martini while on board, but I did sample the coffee and delectable pastries served there in the morning and mid-afternoon. A great place to drop by when the Allegro String Quartet is performing. At this point the photo gallery displays photos on both starboard and portside hallways that lead to Rendez-Vous Square. This open area with stage, dance floor and bar in the middle seemed a popular spot any time of the day. We frequented it often, as it provided a great location for our group to meet before dinner.

The Champagne and Wine Bar

The pre-dinner entertainment was always enjoyable. A small wine bar was tucked around the corner (actually the upper level of the Champagne Bar) which was another hidden treasure, for a quiet interlude. The upper level of the Manhattan Restaurant occupied the remainder of deck 6.

The Manhattan Restaurant

The last of the public rooms were located on Plaza Deck 5. Just outside the main level of the Manhattan Restaurant was the colorful Champagne Bar (actually one of the few spots I never actually used). From here it is impossible to go further on Deck 5.

Mercury's Grand Foyer

The only access to the lowest level of the Grand Foyer, guest relations, the excursion desk and the bank is via the mid-ship elevator or stairs. The remainder of deck 5 and all of deck 4 (with the exception of the medical center) are reserved for staterooms.

From all of the negative reviews I had read about the food, I was anticipating the worst. Surprise! Surprise! I thought the food was excellent, with service to match (more about that later). Having sailed on Celebrity Zenith a couple years ago, on that cruise I was totally unimpressed with the food and found it to be way too “haute cuisine” for my taste. I am happy to report, at least from my perspective, their menus have moved away from the exotic to a more mainstream assortment. By that I do not mean pedestrian, just food that is recognizable, in generous portions that appeal to those of us who are not consummate gourmets. There is one main dining room, the Manhattan Restaurant, serving meals at assigned main or late seating times. Choice of at least one pasta, beef, fowl, fish and alternative entrée was offered nightly. Food was served hot and exactly as ordered. My prime rib and steaks were cooked to perfection and presented in an appealing manner! Perhaps, the ONLY negative of our dining room experience was bar service. Apparently there was a very limited number of bar staff assigned to the dining room, which meant long waits for any kind of beverage service not included with the meal. If you do not wish to dine in the main dining room for dinner, your choices are the Sushi Café, pizza and baked pasta served in the grill, or alternative casual dining, for which reservations are required (check out Day 5 of my review for comments about this choice). Room service is also available.

Open seating is observed for both breakfast and lunch in the Manhattan Restaurant, while the Palm Springs Buffet offers a wide variety of choices for both breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, the fruit choices were average, but there was a wide variety of breads and pastries. Omelettes and eggs cooked to order are offered at the buffet. Scrambled eggs, a different potato choice each morning, French toast, pancakes, or waffles, as well as an assortment of breakfast meats were offered daily. One of the things I thought deserved high marks was the continuous service provided in the Palm Springs Buffet. Even though the breakfast buffet was only scheduled until 10:00 am, there was always at least one buffet line that continued to serve breakfast until the lunch buffet stations were opened. Traditional buffet lunches were interspersed with themed luncheon buffets, which included an Oriental buffet, Italian buffet and Mexican buffet during the week. In addition to the Palm Springs Café, soup, salads and sandwiches were offered at the Palm Springs Grill from noon until 3:30 pm. Now, I do not eat salads, but for those of our group who do, they felt this venue was just right for providing a quality light lunch. Pizza, pasta, hot dogs and hamburgers were served from noon until 6:00 pm at La Playa Grill. (Since my cruise mission was to work diligently on my tan, I frequented La Playa Grill for lunch on numerous occasions and was never disappointed). Add to that an ice cream bar, afternoon tea, pastries, treats and gourmet coffee at Cova Café, 24 hour room service and no one could ever possibly go hungry! Another positive which deserves mention is the self-service coffee, tea and juice bar on the starboard side of the Palm Springs Café which was available 24 hours.

Just a side note about dining: I noticed that people tended to dress more elegantly than on many of the cruises I have been on lately. As the trend towards more casual attire seems to becoming the norm, I, for one, was pleased that even on informal nights, people “dressed for dinner”. I also noticed on formal nights more people than usual remained in their formal wear all evening, as requested.

I found the entertainment on this cruise to be exceptionally good. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers were talented and performances were well executed. Choreography complemented their strengths and choice of material befit their individual styles. The cruise director David Cole and assistant Stewart were understated, pleasant and efficient without trying to “steal the show”. A wide variety of other talented musicians and singers entertained us throughout the day. We could listen to Big Band music performed by the Celebrity Orchestra, light classics with pianist Gary Goetz, or melodies by guitarist Ross. The ambiance in the Cova Café & Martini Bar was significantly enhanced by the talented Allegro String Quartet. I particularly liked the party band, Vibz, that performed poolside daily and the Fun and Joy Duo that performed in Rendez-Vous Square before dinner. Talented to say the least!!! Comedian, Noodles Levenstein, recording artist Antonio Salci and guest vocalist Holly Lipton were icing on the cake.

Staff and Service:
I usually do not devote a separate section of my review to address this aspect of the cruise, but on this particular cruise, I would be remiss if I did not give special attention to the exemplary service and staff on the Mercury! Every staff member I had the privilege of meeting and whose services I utilized were absolutely wonderful. From my cabin steward, to dining room staff, from the purser’s office to bar staff, service was flawless and friendly. I swear that in order to be hired to work on the Mercury, one had to pass a “smile test”. Gorgeous, robust and enigmatic smiles greeted me everywhere, with a great attitude to match!

The Cruise

San Francisco Bay from the Mercury

Day 1 (San Francisco):
There’s so much to see and do in this homeport that planning to arrive a day or 2 early, or plan a post-cruise visit is almost mandatory if you want to experience even a portion of what the Bay Area offers. Fisherman’s Wharf, The Cannery, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square are all within walking distance of the port. A cable car or taxi will deliver you to Chinatown, the Park, Haight Ashbury, Union Square, Lombard Street, North Beach (Little Italy) and Telegraph Hill. If you have access to a car, than you can do as I did and cross over the Golden Gate Bridge, to spend some memorable moments, shopping, walking and eating in the picturesque villages of Sausalito and Tiburon. Of course, Pier 41, next to Fisherman’s Wharf, is also the launching spot for the ferries that can take you to Sausalito and Tiburon if you do not have a car, or for a visit to Alcatraz. (Be forewarned, however, that this is a very popular tourist attraction, so purchasing tickets in advance is advisable). Having had the luxury of visiting this city in the past, the impromptu “Bon Voyage” party at Dantes at Pier 39, before we set sail, suited my needs perfectly. This particular sailing was privy to the special bonus of being docked during the Fleet Week activities. Lounging on one of the outside decks, with an elite corps of our country’s best, flying in formation overhead, was quite a thrill. We certainly had the “best seat in the house” for the show. Once onboard and settled in the cabin, the requisite emergency and lifeboat drill scheduled for 4:30 pm came much too soon for my liking (Now, I KNOW safety is important and these drills are a necessary evil – but it doesn’t mean I have to like them). Okay, I won’t complain anymore, besides, once we got that chore out of the way, our party began. A “Bon Voyage Sail Away Party” at 5:00 pm poolside got everyone in the party mood. Following those festivities, a cocktail party, provided by our travel professionals group was our first opportunity to meet all the members of our group that were onboard. Meeting new people and reconnecting with old acquaintances is one of the joys of these trips. As a group, we were scheduled for late seating dining (8:30 pm), so following our brief “meet and greet” time, we headed in to the Manhattan Dining Room to find our assigned tables. Our group occupied 4 tables, centrally located on the lower level of the dining room, near the foot of the grand staircase. Unfortunately, our “birthday cruise group” was split up and assigned different tables within the larger seminar group, but it was a pleasure to meet and appreciate the diversity of our total group. Our waiter, Nelson, was an absolutely “sweetie” and I could not have been happier with both the service and quality of food served the first night (My prime rib was perfection). After cursory conversation over coffee and dessert, our “birthday group” (a term, from hence I will refer to often) rejoined forces and proceeded to the Navigator Club (otherwise known as the “disco”). Ahh! Life is good. Good tunes, good friends, and good wine, what more can anyone ask! At midnight, my friends gathered in a circle, as we danced to “We Are Family” (the theme song for our travel professionals group) then, everyone sang “Happy Birthday”. Returning to my cabin later that evening, I knew that this was the start of a very wonderful week!

Day 2 (Monterrey):
Awakened very early by the ship’s vibrations as the anchors were lowered did not deter my spirits, as it was evident that a perfect day was dawning. In October (or actually anytime of the year) Monterrey can be chilly, but that would not be the case today. I could already feel the promise of the sun and warmth. This is a tender port, and as our entire “birthday group” had been here before, we opted to get a leisurely start to the day and waited for open tendering. We were onshore by 11:00 am and planned to have lunch at the Monterrey Plaza Hotel (near the Aquarium). By the way, if you have not been to Monterrey before, I highly recommend a visit to the Aquarium at Cannery Row and a walk around this historic waterfront district. In addition to the Aquarium, you will find art galleries, a factory outlet center and a great view of Monterrey Bay. Unfortunately, our time in Monterey was very short and the last tender back to the ship was at 2:30 pm. So, a scenic, circuitous stroll to the Plaza, a leisure birthday lunch, some time to soak in the view and the sun, and it was back onboard for the troops. This was to be the first of 2 formal nights, so I had every intention of returning to my cabin for a short nap, and then prepping for the evening, but that was not to be. I was cajoled into returning onboard and lounging in a hot tub for the afternoon. Upon my eventual return to my cabin, it became clear why my afternoon plans had been redirected: My cabin had been fully decorated in honor of my birthday! Of course, at that time, little did I know that was nothing compared to what my “friends” had in store for the rest of the evening. A party was held in my honor, at “party central” (my cabin), at which time great gifts were bestowed upon me. What were they you might ask? Well, I was crowned Ms. Wickliffe, OH 2003 (the small city outside of Cleveland from which I hail). I was regaled with formal sash, tiara and long stem roses to match, all of which I was required to don for the evening. As an added bonus I was given a special wand which was to be used at my discretion throughout the evening to turn “toads into princes”. Well, needless to say, by the end of the evening, most people onboard knew where Wickliffe was!!! (Ahhhh! “Ain’t friendship Grand!”) The “Birthday Entourage” proceeded to the dining room for a wonderful meal. Our seminar group had prepaid all gratuities, which provided us the luxury of changing seats within our assigned four tables. As this was my birthday dinner, the “birthday group” chose to sit together at one of the larger tables for eight. Now, I know I said we were granted the privilege of changing seats, but it took only one meal for me to decide that I was staying put! I had found my dream team of waiters. Sinjh, our assistant waiter, could not have been more charming or attentive. His smile lit up the room and he had a personality to match. Nope! This was going to be my table of choice for the duration. Dinner, by the way, was outstanding. I love escargots (my appetizer) and I had a superb filet, once again cooked to perfection! In addition to our private festivities that evening, we did attend the Celebrity Showtime Production Show “And the Winner Is…” and I must say it truly was a winner. Excellent singing, dancing, costuming and choreography combined to make this one excellent production! We ended the evening dancing to classic 70’s “Boogie Nights” in the disco, and then it was off to bed, as we would be arriving at Catalina Island early the next morning.

Beautiful Avalon Harbor on Catalina

Day 3 (Catalina Island):
This was another tender port, so once again I was awakened early by the vibrations and sounds of the anchors being lowered, but it got me up and moving so that I could get an early start to yet another beautiful day. We had decided to aim for leaving the ship a little bit earlier than the day before and succeeded in tendering ashore about 10:30. Although I prefer to dock, I must say, the tendering process aboard the Mercury was well-managed. Tender service in both directions ran smoothly and efficiently. We had decided to rent golf carts to tour the island, which other than renting bicycles is the best way to get around the island. Golf carts can be rented for a maximum block of 2 hours, and rates are prorated ($30 an hour), but this is plenty of time to encompass the island and visit the important sites (i.e. Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens, Holly Hill house and the Casino).

Catalina Island's famous Casino

Be aware that even when the sun is shining and it is warm, the breezes coming ashore from the Pacific can be quite chilling at this time of year (bring a jacket). The prescripted route suggested for the golf carts also provides some commanding views of Avalon Bay. I should perhaps also mention at this time that “Golf Carts Do NOT have the right of way”, nor can they park on the street going in the wrong direction, as one of the members of our party mistakenly assumed (Hmmmm, nothing like living dangerously). Divine intervention is the only thing that saved a near catastrophe with a jeep! After our brief tour, we returned the carts and made our way on foot to the center of town for a late lunch. There are numerous choices and we had great difficulty deciding which establishment warranted our business, but once we all agreed on the Busy Bee, the outdoor café attached to Armstrong’s Fish Market and Seafood Restaurant along the waterfront, we were treated to a pleasurable dining experience. We slowly walked back to the pier for our tender ride back to the ship and were enjoying a brief stint in the hot tubs by 4:00 pm, before preparing for dinner. The main entertainment this evening, a concert by Antonio Salci, was a pre-dinner (7:00 pm) show, which unfortunately I missed. I am not a fan of the pre-dinner show, as it seems to interrupt my normal ebb and flow of getting ready for the evening. Our group met for a pre-dinner cocktail, before scurrying off to dinner. Dinner was again excellent. I had the Seafood Croustade, which was quite tasty, but the winner that evening was definitely the Red Cusk Congrio, a very mild white fish served over linguini. A country western deck party was scheduled for the evening (10:45). As I am not a huge fan of country western music, plus the fact that we had a seminar scheduled for the morning and we had to move our clocks forward one hour this evening, I chose to turn in early in hopes of getting at least my requisite amount of sleep. I think it took me all of about 3 seconds to accomplish the task once I retired to my cabin.

The Mercury's Conference Center

Day 4 (At Sea):
Ahh! My favorite part of a cruise! I love my days at sea. But, first, business. We had a seminar scheduled for 9:00 am in the Conference Center. For those interested in booking a cruise for meetings and seminars, let me say the Conference Center was quite well-equipped to handle most needs. Seating was arranged in tiers, auditorium style. Cushioned, comfortable chairs were equipped with retractable arm desks with individual video/audio controls. Acoustics and site lines were excellent. As the seminar wound down, the sun in all its glory began to beckon me to the open deck and I found myself eagerly anticipating an afternoon of basking in the warmth. (Remember, I am an Ohio girl and in mid-October we grab opportunities like this whenever they present themselves). So, I chose to forego a leisure lunch in the dining room and spent the remainder of the day soaking up the rays. Ample arrays of lounge chairs on the main pool deck were comfortably cushioned and I had no difficulty securing a chair and table. While on deck, a mid-afternoon “sorbet parade” was a welcome surprise, as waiters paraded around the pool deck offering us a refreshing treat. Another service which was quite unique (at least for me) and a very pleasant addition to my sun bathing was the ice cold towels that were distributed to us poolside. It was small touches like these that put my Celebrity cruise well above the mainstream experience. Add to that the entertaining sounds of “Vibz”, performing poolside and life couldn’t get much better! While I was enjoying my afternoon in the sun, others of our group were off testing their luck in the casino, enjoying an elegant tea, practicing their golf swing, and being pampered at the spa. One of the things I truly love about cruising is that there really is something for everyone to do onboard, no matter what your interests. Once again the main entertainment was scheduled as a pre-dinner show for late seating. As this was another production show by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers, I made sure to cu
rtail my afternoon activities early enough so that I could enjoy “Swing Train” at 7:00 pm. Once again, I was not disappointed with the caliber of performance – exceptional! After the show we enjoyed another marvelous dinner and returned to the Celebrity Theater to listen to the comedy routine of Noodles Levenstein. Our evening was not yet over, however, because there was a late night Tropical Celebration, poolside to keep the party going. Yes, as usual, I found myself on the dance floor participating in the Dollar Dance and Conga – I guess I’m just an “Island Girl” at heart! Finally, my batteries wore down, and it was time to retire for the evening. I fell asleep dreaming of Cabo and the beach scene that would be my destination in the morning.

Cabo's Mandano Beach

Day 5 (Cabo San Lucas):
This was another tender port and the Mercury anchored about 8:30 am near the mouth of the Sea of Cortés. I was anxious to spend the day at Medano Beach, as were others of our group, so we agreed to convene at 10:00 am for the tender ride to shore. Once at the pier, we grabbed a water taxi to take us directly to the beach ($4 US per person). Pat, although she is having some back problems and needs to rely on her wheelchair at times, chose to take the water taxi with us. This is just another example of her indominitable spirit. Getting her, and her wheelchair, into the water taxi was not a problem, but getting her out on the shore of the beach was another story. You see, not only is walking sometimes a challenge, she is also afraid of water. Never fear, however, 2 able bodied gentlemen from our group formed a “human chair” and carted her to shore like a queen on her throne. With Pat and wheelchair in tow, we found a perfect spot at one of the beachside bars to set up camp. A beachside table, with umbrella protected Pat (and our requisite bucket of cervezas – it is “happy hour” at the beach bars from 8 am – 5 pm daily, after all) and nearby lounge chairs allowed the sun worshippers to soak up the intense rays emanating from a picture perfect blue sky. As a prime spot for people watching, and with our ship and a view of El Arco as a backdrop, the setting was perfect. Ahhhh! Heaven! A walk on the beach was in order for some of us, while others chose to rent jet skis and do some parasailing. By the way, if you have never parasailed, let me encourage you to try it at least once in your life – truly an exhilarating experience. This might be a good time to mention other options for activities in Cabo.

Cabo's El Arco

As I had just been to Cabo for a family vacation a few months ago, the beach was all I craved, but if this is a first visit, don’t miss the opportunity to take one of the water taxis to El Arco and Lover’s Beach (It is a definite “must do”). A walk around town can be fun, but unfortunately some of the BEST downtown activities are enjoyed at night. Cabo Wabo and the Giggling Marlin are both infamous, but only get hopping in the evening. If you enjoy fishing, then chartering a boat for a ½ day is also a great excursion. Now that I have interrupted this review for a Cabo plug, back to my day. The rest of our group (they had chosen to do a little in town shopping/sightseeing) met us on the beach and we wandered next door to The Office, where we enjoyed a great beachside lunch. Try their fish tacos and you won’t be disappointed. But, alas, the day was drawing to a close and it was time to return to the ship. So, we grabbed taxis to the pier so that we would not miss the last tender, scheduled for 5:30 pm. Some of us chose to spend our last bit of time shopping at the craft market located on the pier. You see, our seminar leader’s son was on this cruise and this trip was originally planned to be a family birthday celebration for him. Unfortunately, his mother was unable to make the trip, so the “Birthday Fairies” took over and were planning his celebration for Friday. It seemed only fitting and proper that I resign my position as “Birthday Queen” and turn my reign over to a new “Birthday King”. Obviously, we had to search for just the right gifts to bestow on “The King” at his coronation (otherwise known as Andy’s birthday party). Once back onboard we spent the remaining time before dinner preparing for Andy’s birthday celebration the next day, so, needless to say, I once again missed the 7:00 pm pre-dinner show featuring Holly Lipton (star of “Jesus Christ Superstar”). We had decided to try the casual alternative dining option that is offered on the Mercury. Our waiter told us we would probably be very disappointed, and he was right! The Palm Springs Grill (part of the regular buffet area during the day) converts to a reservation only dining venue from 6-10 pm nightly. However, the menu is extremely limited (Lasagna, salmon steak, roast chicken, or sirloin steak are offered nightly). In addition, all the servers are in training, so service is spotty and slow at best. Even normal serving etiquette was missing, as was any kind of pleasant ambiance! It is probably best described as a good choice for those who want casual dining, but would prefer to be served (a loosely defined term in this case) rather than going through a buffet line. Not something I would choose again. Late night entertainment was a 50’s & 60’s Sock Hop at 10:45 pm. We did try to catch it, but by the time we arrived at the Pavilion Nightclub it was completely packed, with nowhere to even stand comfortably. Besides that, it was a show, rather than just a dance venue as we had hoped. So, we wandered to the disco, for a nightcap and then all called it a night relatively early (for us anyway).

Day 6 (At Sea):
Well, I awoke to another beautiful day (I must admit I was not expecting to have the stellar weather we had encountered for this entire journey, but quite willing to accept it.) and met a couple of the members of our group for breakfast, before planning to spend another glorious day in the sun. We had staked our claim to an area close to one of the hot tubs and sheltered from any wind, so this proved to be a perfect location for a day of leisure. By now we had settled into our “cruise routine” (just about the time the cruise is over, which is one of the reasons I prefer cruises longer in length). Early in the afternoon our “Birthday Boy” wandered out on deck to join us, which was the “Birthday Fairies” cue to sneak off and begin the preparation for his party. We recycled all of the decorations that were used in my cabin and proceeded to redecorate his room as befit the occasion. Gifts were wrapped, party favors were in place and all was in order for the evening. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the sun, except for a short respite at the internet café. (This was the first opportunity I had to use the internet, as the service was down every other time I had tried to get online). This was to be the second of our two formal nights, so for me, it was a full day of sun, then off for a short nap before preparing for the evening. Our travel seminar group was slated for a group picture at 7:30 in the Grand Foyer, then our “Birthday Group” scurried back to Andy’s cabin to crown our “Birthday King” and present him with his gifts. I must give praise to this young man at this time, as there are very few people of his age (he was turning 20) that have the self-assurance and confidence to willingly (well maybe not willingly, but cooperatively) participate in the festivities us older folks had concocted. What a great sport he was!!! I am sure as he looked around the dining table that night, he (as well as our wait staff) had to wonder if he was not the most mature person at the table! The final production show, “A Touch of Broadway” was our treat this evening. As I am a huge fan of Broadway musicals, this is always my favorite production show venue and it lived up to all my expectations. Bravo to a wonderful cast and production team! From there it was on to the disco for an 80’s theme dance session, and dance we did!!! Of course, it is the best way I know to work off all the calories I consume at dinner, so it really is a necessary part of my cruise regimen. We were slated for another seminar in the morning, so we eventually called it a night (Thank goodness we were able to turn the clocks back 1 hour when we retired).

Day 7 (At Sea):
This was to be my final day at sea and my final day of the cruise – how sad! Our seminar was scheduled for 9 am, but this time we would be meeting in Michael’s Club (the cigar bar). A couple of us had checked out the venue the evening before and were not looking forward to the prospect of 3 hours here, as the smell of cigar’s permeated the air. However, upon arriving for the seminar in the morning, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that all remnants of the odors we had encountered the evening before had dissipated. Hmmmm, not sure how they accomplished this, but kudos to the cleaning crew on the Mercury, I was duly impressed! The seminar session moved at a rapid pace and was enjoyable. I had made a brief check of the weather conditions on deck during a break and discovered that it would be a perfect afternoon for some serious hot tub time. It was sunny, but there was a slight chill in the air (at least compared to our previous days). So, when our session had reached its close, I chose to once again forego a leisure lunch in the dining room for some deck time. We were displaced for a short period of time in the hot tub we had been occupying, as they were reserved for the sea trials of the shipbuilders competition. Fortunately, with 4 hot tubs to choose from, we were able to relocate our “hot tub party”. After a pleasant afternoon of lounging, I retired to my cabin for a nap (albeit looking like a prune, but very relaxed). Once again, the Farewell Show was slated as a 7 pm pre-dinner show, which I missed (I REALLY hate this concept of pre-dinner shows for late night seating)! We were all able to gather for pre-dinner cocktails at Rendez-Vous Square, however, and enjoy the wonderful music of the Fun and Joy Duo. Our group enjoyed a last wonderful meal together and then went our separate ways. As I went off to pack (another of the very few cruise tasks that I find distasteful), some of our group wandered to a lounge for conversation and final camaraderie. No matter how organized I think I am during a cruise, it never fails that I find myself spending way too much time packing on that final night. (I think on my next cruise, I am going to try to talk my cabin steward into doing the task for me. For me, I am not sure any asking price would be too high for the luxury of that service.)

This is one of the smoothest, well-organized disembarkation processes I have experienced of late. Each passenger was given a personal letter with a specific time (7:45 am for me) to appear at the Celebrity Theater to present themselves to immigration. These staggered assigned times provide virtually no lines and a constant flow of traffic with no congestion. (Interestingly, this is in direct contrast to a recent Carnival Cruise I took on the Celebration, where passengers waited for well over 1 ½ hours in lines that wrapped completely around the length of the ship.) Our individual letter also included a specific time, based on color of luggage tags (9:50 am for me), to once again appear in the Celebrity Theater to disembark from the ship. This allowed time to enjoy a relaxing breakfast, return to my stateroom to finish last minute packing and then gather with the rest of my party, until our scheduled departure time. There were NO announcements and we found waiting in the Pavilion Lounge an uncrowded and pleasant experience. Once off the ship, we easily located our luggage and walked outside for a short wait for pick-up by our pre-arranged ride. The only glitch in the entire process was the traffic congestion on Embarcadero, created by the flow of vehicles both picking-up and dropping-off passengers simultaneously.

Random Comments:
The following are thoughts, comments and opinions offered by other travel professionals who were part of our large group:

Mercury Golf Program: “The pro on the ship was very good and he also gave lessons for a reasonable amount of money. The two golf excursions at Catalina Island and Cabo were also good. The only negative comment would be the golf club rental on the ship. The price of $35 wasn't bad, but we had to carry the clubs from Deck 12 down to the tenders and to shore. They should set up a system so you could pick up the clubs on shore. Some of the more elderly golfers had a tough time jumping on the tenders with the clubs.”

“DJ at the disco was good and we liked most of the music he played, but could use some work with his segues, as changes were often too abrupt.”

“Do away with the pre-dinner shows for late diners. We chose late dining for a reason, and prefer shows after dinner.” (This comment was not from me, HONEST! I guess I am not alone in my feelings.)

“Kudos to an excellent staff, our service was impeccable.”

“Loved the fashion show and cold towels provided at the pool.”

“Enjoyed the movies at the Cinema/Conference Center. It was like being in a real movie theater.”

“Try the thalassotherapy pool; it was well worth $10 for the day.”

“Think twice about booking a cabin in the rear of the ship. The vibrations can literally knock you out of bed.”

Overall Impression:
I would not hesitate to sail on Celebrity again and in particular the Mercury. She was a fine ship, with an excellent staff. I encountered nothing but positives on this cruise. Entertainment and activities were plentiful and diverse. (In fact, I have included, in this review, the daily activities schedule for one of our sea days from the “Mercury Daily”, to give you some idea of the myriad of options available to keep you entertained.) Food was far superior to what I had anticipated. And even though this was considered a “soft itinerary”, it was quite pleasant and perfect for just relaxing and getting away from the day to day worries of the world. Cruising, for me, is a state of being, and life aboard Mercury was quite sufficient to sustain me.

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