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Paul Stanyer

Age: Forty Something

Occupation:Optometrist

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Mercury

Sailing Date: November 15th, 2002

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: November 15th, 2002

This was our seventh cruise having done the Caribbean before on Carnival (Fascination), Princess (Star Princess-the old one, Dawn Princess, Ocean Princess) and Celebrity (Century, Galaxy). We chose the Mercury strictly on the basis of price and departure point. We are Canadian and arranged our own flights from Toronto Pearson International to Miami. This was a treat compared to the usual cruise air as it was a direct flight. The flight to Miami was uneventful and we stayed overnight at the Comfort Inn Suites Airport. We took the free shuttle from the airport to the hotel and arranged with the hotel tour office for a port shuttle the next morning. The shuttle cost was $8USD each (cash) and the van had a trailer for the large pieces of luggage. We took the 11:00 am shuttle despite the fact that Celebrity indicated that the ship would board at 2:00 pm.

Embarkation
The trip to the port was fast and we found ourselves on the pier at 11:30 am. I really appreciated the older staff people who were quite efficient in checking our tickets and telling us where to go and what forms were required. A porter took the luggage and we were off to the terminal. The Miami terminal was FABULOUS being well air conditioned and quite luxurious. A far cry from our first ship boarding in a hot barn in San Juan. There was plenty of staff and our Captain's club standing really did not help us much as it was not busy. The lounge for the Captain's club was quite comfortable with cushy seats and a television. We had filled out our information on line so it took about a minute to get our key cards. As non-US citizens, we had to surrender our passports on the way to the ship and were given a receipt. We had our photos added to the key card on arrival on the ship. I regretted not getting the personal escort to our cabin which is characteristic of Celebrity as alas we were too early and the cabins were not ready. We were asked to spend some time on deck 11 until 1:00 pm. We toured the ship's public areas and went to our cabin to dump the carry on luggage at 12:30 pm. and found the cabin in good order. All the crew was exceptionally friendly and made it a point to wish us a good cruise.

The Cabin
Our cabin was booked as an ocean view guarantee category Y. Our cabin # had been assigned for about three weeks. We had repriced our cruise as the online prices actually dropped a few weeks prior to departure. Celebrity credited the difference in fares to our credit card. Our cabin was #4136 near the aft elevators on Continental Deck. PLEASE NOTE THIS CABIN #. We found it to be extremely noisy at it seemed to be under the kitchen\dining room prep area. You could hear the noise of hose reels being unfurled, water running and what sounded like an industrial beater bar which sounded like a 747 taking off. The noise was evident till about midnight and reoccurred at about 5 am. Our cabin steward admitted that this was a chronic problem for this cabin and also cabin #4134 next door. I would suspect the same problem on the cabins on the opposite side of the ship.

We did complain and were invited to move to a cabin on deck 8. It had a bit more space with a loveseat, panorama window and VCR. We packed up and had much quieter nights with one exception. The last night of the cruise the ship does not have to go very far and travels at slow speed. This produced a THUNDERING vibration which actually shook poor old cabin #8208 until our docking in Miami at 6:00 am. We were aware of vibrations on the Century and Galaxy but they seemed only to occur when leaving port or backing. I was disappointed to see this problem amplified on the Mercury. We will not be booking any aft cabins on Century class ships anytime soon. I have read the reviews of the Millenium class ships and there still seems to be a vibration/propulsion problem but not as pronounced as we experienced with the Mercury.

Food

We ate dinners in the Manhattan restaurant nightly with another Canadian couple at a table for eight. This table (#624) was on the second floor at the railing overlooking the lower floor of the restaurant and the Captain's table. The view of the wake trail through two storeys of windows was spectacular especially on the day of rough seas. Our waiter Dale (Nicaragua) and bus boy Marcos (Honduras) were a pleasure to talk to and remembered our special requests by the second night. If you happen to see Dale on the Mercury ask him to sing you a song, he has a great voice and did honour us with a song. The desserts were fabulous and we did justice to quite a few. The entrees were good with occasional tough beef and mushy lobster. I had forgotten the homemade sherbet which Celebrity uses between courses to cleanse the palate. It is a nice touch.

Breakfasts were had in the Palm Springs Café where the buffet was adequate. Of special note, was the omelette station staffed most of the time by Kaman Sumilahi (Indonesia). Each morning he did a great job cooking many omelettes to perfection and his smile was something I looked forward to every day. The other highlight of the buffet was the three days on which freshly made hot "sticky buns" were made available. They were HEAVENLY with lots of nuts and were warm and gooey.

Lunches were usually from the Palm Springs Grill which had a theme for each lunch. Pizza was available in this area in the night time hours. This area seemed to be understaffed as more than once I visited for a snack at 11:00 pm-12:00 am to find the attendant upset and extracting what I considered to be burned pizza from the oven. He was unable to cut, serve and cook the pizzas all at the same time. I liked the veggie pizza as it had lots of toppings. My wife has a dairy allergy and she did ask if they would custom make a pie without cheese and she was told that it could be done. Unfortunately, with the staff under distress, I was afraid to ask for a special order.

Ice cream is available in the afternoons but was often melting. The soft serve was sometimes not ready. Usually three or four flavours are offered. The pool side grill offered hamburgers and hotdogs. The hamburgers were pre-cooked and a bit dry. The french fries were good.

Celebrity still offers midnight buffets each with a different theme. Some of these events had to be moved inside due to the weather. We made a few of these buffets including the Gala on the night before disembarkation. At the Gala buffet, there is a photo/viewing opportunity and then the restaurant is cleared. Diners are then readmitted to sample the goodies.

Itinerary
Our cruise was slated to go to Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Progresso and Key West. On our arrival in Grand Cayman, Captain Peppas announced that the port was closed due to inclement weather and high seas which made tendering impossible. He indicated that the outlook for the weather was to worsen during the day. The ship immediately started to head for the next port of call i.e. Cozumel. There was significant rain and 12 foot high seas. The ship handled these seas fairly well with the exception of quite a lean and the occasional good shudder. That night at dinner, the dining room was about half full and our waiter indicated that some of the staff was seasick which created some delays in food delivery.

In Cozumel, we opted for Chakanaab National Park. We have been there before and enjoyed the snorkeling and the beautiful grounds. We took a cab out ($10US per cab from the international pier) and payed the admission to the park($10US per person) which gets you a wristband style ticket. The beach was not very busy and a chaise and shade were easy to find. We looked at the Dolphin Discovery and it appeared to be more like the participants were pushed around by trained dolphins than a natural swim with the dolphins. We walked through the archaeological part of the park and it was quite peaceful with a variety of small and medium statuary. There was also a Mayan hut where an older woman was cooking tortillas on an open fire. I sampled one without ill effects. She accepted a small donation.

Progresso appeared to be a relatively new port essentially used as a launching point for tours to Chichen Itza. There was an open air flea market and a few shops. The beach was fairly long but the water was quite turbid. The vendors were not very willing to barter which was in stark contrast to the shopping adventures in Cozumel. The town seemed almost deserted with few locals around other than in the main square. Buses to Meridia, the capital of the Yucatan, were available in town ($8USD return). Of interest, was the fact that Meridia has a Costco as some of the vendors were selling Kirkland film.

Key West was as eclectic as ever and we walked Duval Street and viewed the people and the architecture. At the pier, there was a restored PT boat which did harbour tours that took one hour and 20 minutes. We decided against this for shopping and a movie in the cinema on the ship.

Internet
The Mercury was prominently connected with internet terminals around the ship. These could be activated with your cruise card at a cost of $0.50USD per minute. The terminals are organized with hot links to Hotmail and other web-based mail services. It was a bit slow but was conveniently available 24 Hours/7 Days a week. Only once was the satellite internet link unable to connect. Internet services were cheaper on land but sometimes not easy to find on this itinerary.

Weather
We had quite frequent rain on our cruise with a couple of days being quite limited for outdoor activities. Some activities were moved inside e.g. Caribbean celebration on deck due to the inclement weather. It was warm but a bit more sun would have been great.

Entertainment
On Lyne was the deck band and did a great job although the sets seemed rather short. A piano player was on board for pre-dinner tunes. The piano was automated and was playing through the day without the benefit of human hands. Magicians "Gossamer Magic" performed a lot of tricks which you knew how they were accomplished. There was some humour but some equipment problems (e.g. trick chair falling apart) did not help the illusions. The Celebrity dancers did a great job and were quite busy rehearsing a new show which debuted on this cruise. The singers were somewhat challenged and often found their voices drowned out by the sound track or the Celebrity orchestra. Samantha Jay performed well on the oboe, violin and sax. Michelle Murlin did some older big band/show tunes but seemed a little too intent on selling her CD.

Disembarkation
As usual, bags are colour coded and you are to leave when your colour is called. I am unsure why guest relations did not post the colour sequence ahead of time so you could see if your timing was appropriate. Our table mates had an early 11:00 am flight and were told by guest relations that they would be the second group off the ship. Unfortunately, the turquoise baggage tags that they received were about the ninth or tenth colour called. They raced to the airport to catch their flight.

As Captain's Club members, we were to receive priority disembarkation. We were given purple tags and were the third or fourth group off. This did not concern us as we had a later flight. One tip for the trip to the airport is DO NOT TAKE THE CRUISE LINE SHUTTLE. The cost for a cab from the seaport to the airport at $18 flat fee (posted in full view in the cab and including $1 toll) was cheaper than the cost for ship's transfers. The cab was readily available and much faster that hanging around for a shuttle bus.

Opinion
Celebrity cruises offers some small things which set it apart from some other cruise lines. I particularly enjoyed the staff help at the pier to gently guide you through the sign in process. I like the use of impeccable white linen napkins and tray liners at the buffet. The readily available staff to carry your tray to your table was a nice touch. I also love the ability to eat at the tables on the aft deck 11 and watch the world. The desserts on the cruise were varied and terrific.

The vibration issue will not stop us from sailing Celebrity again but I think I will chose a forward stateroom. I wonder if this issue is still prevalent on the Millenium class ships.

I hope this information is of help as you try and decide on your next cruise adventure. If you have any questions, please email us at cruisecontact@hotmail.com.

Paul & Fran Stanyer

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