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Mick Bettesworth

Age: 52

Occupation:Head of International Development

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Mercury

Sailing Date: November 15th, 2002

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

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

We live in England. We have previously cruised on QE2 and for the last two years aboard Holland America’s Maasdam and Veendam, both of which had impressed us enormously. Consistently hearing good reports about Celebrity and their food in particular, we decided for our 2002 cruise, to try a 7 night Western Caribbean circuit aboard Mercury departing from Miami in mid November. We had previously sailed this route aboard Maasdam in 2000 but the whole cruise was subject to monsoon like rains and we did not see the sun from beginning to end! Unfortunately, this year the weather wasn’t any kinder to us - windy and dull for most of the trip, which leads me to believe that the Western Caribbean in November can be pretty ‘hit or miss’!
Embarkation

We flew into Miami the evening before the cruise and stayed at the Roney Palace Hotel, Miami Beach, an experience not to be repeated! The hotel resembles a block of poor quality social housing. On embarkation day we took a taxi to the pier, arriving at about 2.30pm. Upon arrival we were ushered into a large hall where 2 Celebrity personnel were trying to coax passengers to fill in credit card forms and disembarkation arrangement forms. There was a general air of irritation, and thus our first impressions were not good. We proceeded through security ( perfunctory) to the embarkation hall where we were directed to a separate lounge area. I had put a great deal of thought and research to our cabin selection, finally choosing a sky suite which had a large unshaded balcony as well as the perquisites of suite service offered by Celebrity. We presented our documentation to the check- in clerk - our name did not correspond with his cabin rosta for 1208. He checked his data on computer, asked us to wait and volunteering no further information, disappeared into another office. After a few minutes of anxiety during which we wondered what had gone wrong, a social hostess appeared and quietly informed us that we had been upgraded to a Royal Suite! How could one complain after news like that? I just wish that they had been a little more gracious about the process! Elated, we proceeded aboard, passing security at the gangway where our photos were taken for ID purposes, and were shown straight to a magnificent suite on deck 10.

The Cabin
Suite 1040 was one of 10 Royal suites aboard Mercury. It consisted of a marble floored entrance lobby, a large sitting room with a circular dining table, a sitting area with a sofa and 2 armchairs, and sliding patio windows to a large balcony. Double doors led to a spacious bedroom with a queen sized bed and a door to the balcony which we could leave open at night to listen to the sound of the waves. Off the bedroom was a walk in dressing room, a splendid marble bathroom with a jacuzzi bath and glass doors to a separate WC and walk in shower . There were televisions in the sitting room and bedroom, video and good quality sound system in the sitting room. Overall impressions were of comfort and restrained good taste. On closer inspection, however, some of the upholstery was badly stained as was the carpet. In accommodation of this calibre, stained furniture and rugs should be replaced. One doesn’t want constant reminders of the previous occupants. The suite was full of objects d’art - photographs, paintings and pieces of sculpture – all of which were labelled and priced! In case the message had somehow failed to get through – the labels were repeated in the inside of the lobby closet! It really isn’t necessary to lay out your stall in quite such an overt way. The balcony was huge and well equipped with tables and chairs, however the design of the ship was such that the deck above overhung by some 3 to 4 feet; consequently there was never any direct sun. A small point in good weather, but one which became quite important during a practically sunless week! Our butler, Harry, came from India and was a cricket fanatic, which led to many conversations of the merits of international cricket. Harry served us breakfast in the suite each morning as well as afternoon tea, and canapes prior to dinner. He also arranged for the collection of laundry and cleaning of shoes. Unfortunately, the number of suites which he had to service prevented him from offering a truly personal service. For instance, his tea service began at 4pm and it took him about an hour to serve all his cabins, so if one was not in the cabin at the appointed time, one had to wait an hour before tea came. This may be nitpicky , particularly as we had been upgraded, but the butler service is a much vaunted part of Celebrity’s hype. He was certainly most obliging and agreeable, any failings in the service were not of his making, but of the company’s for overloading him. He was assisted by an excellent chambermaid who kept the cabin spotless.

The Ship
We both found the ship a little too big. At 77000 tons with nearly 2000 passengers one always had the impression that there were a lot people aboard. The Mercury’s décor is quite eclectic and will not appeal to everyone. Much of the art-work is very modern and in some cases quite startling; bold use of colour and space. Photography is used to great effect. There were some very impressive rooms. A trio of bars serving champagne and martinis were particularly effective with a superb 3 deck high mural. The theatre was quite stunning, decorated in rich red fabrics with excellent sight lines and tables at every seat. We were also very taken with the Thalassotherapy suite which was on deck 11 adjoining the beauty salon and gym. Relaxing in warm seawater, infused with minerals and energising jets, was a wonderful experience and we made full use of this facility, which was complimentary to the occupants of suites.

There were 3 swimming pools, one of which was covered by a magrodome. This area never seemed popular, being neither open deck nor covered space. Maybe in cold waters it has more definition and use. The pools were very cold, and several passengers complained. The poor weather on this trip meant that the ship’s interior facilities were stretched to the limit and there were long queues for films and other entertainment. The library and cinema were too small to cope with the numbers wishing to use them. The library, by the way, is not the most hospitable place – functional, yes, but hardly relaxing or inviting. There is no walk around promenade deck so walkers were confined to short laps of the sun deck. The ship was in fine condition and the soft furnishings and carpets were generally spotlessly clean. A large range of shops catered for most needs. The central atrium area housed the front desk and computer stations, whilst on the deck above, the Cova café and bar, which served delightful coffees and pastries, was a popular rendezvous.

The Food
We requested and had been assigned a table for 2 at the late sitting, on the first floor of the of the large 2 deck dining room near the rear windows overlooking the wake of the ship. This was an impressive, if somewhat noisy room. During the first sitting, our table had obviously been set for 4 and it was a pity that the 2 extra chairs had not been removed for our service. Again, it’s a reminder of previous occupancy. This, however, was the only criticism that we had of the dining room. Celebrity cuisine certainly lived up to expectations on all counts. The range, taste and service of the food were excellent. The quality of the meat and the beef in particular, was outstanding and the presentation and attention to detail were first class. The sauces and salads were particularly delicious. Considering that this is mass catering for 1000 passengers at a sitting, it is remarkable that the chefs managed to maintain the consistency and quality of the food. Our waiter, Alp, came from Turkey and was not only totally professional but charming and attentive, catering for our every whim with a smile. He seemed to have eyes in the back of his head! The bus boy, Marvin was equally attentive and together with the excellent food, they ensured a first rate dining experience. I was not happy at paying a 15% service charge on each bottle of wine. The food warranted good wine, but I would rather have tipped the wine waiter personally at the end of the cruise.

We tried the open seating dining room lunch on only one occasion and found the service a complete contrast, - surly and slapdash, the absolute antithesis of the evening experience. We were also disappointed in the range of choice at the lido daily luncheon buffet. HAL’s lido lunch buffets were exceptional and the Celebrity offering, whilst palatable, did not bear close comparison. Fast foods were available on most days from the burger bar or from the food station under the Magrodome, and these were generally well cooked to order. There were always plenty of waiters available who were only too happy to assist with carrying one’s tray and finding a table.

As we chose the second dinner seating, we did not attend the late night buffets.

The Entertainment
On previous cruises we have been very critical of the so- called production shows. However, we were delighted by most of the entertainment presented during this cruise. The shows were energised, slick and professional. A delight to watch - 2 of the 3 shows won well deserved standing ovations from the audiences. The resident Company was well-rehearsed, the show content was first-class, costumes and props well-conceived – good production values on show. Some of the ‘guest’ artistes, however, had seen better days. A rather over-enthusiastic, but under-talented singer and tired illusionists paled in the wake of the excellent resident Company. Advice? Find ‘Names’ or do more production shows.

We were not over impressed with the cruise staff. On one evening we attended a performance of the ship’s version of ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway?’ An improv show is notoriously difficult to pull off. It seems deceptively simple, but it aint! The cruise staff, who were playing all the roles, were not accomplished actors. Too many ‘in jokes’ and self -indulgent performances lacking in clarity failed to win over the audience and many left before the end. When the cast are enjoying the performance more than the audience it’s time to quit! One evening there was a 60’s or 70’s event in the night club. The band was superb, everyone was having a great time, good atmosphere, plenty of dancing, great music. Then the cruise staff appeared with video-camera and hi-jacked the evening! They eclipsed the band, divided up the room into ‘my team’s better than yours’ teams and ruined what atmosphere there was. Someone ought to remind them of the maxim, ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it’!

The Ports of Call
Unfortunately poor weather at Grand Cayman meant that the ship was unable to launch its tenders and thus this port of call was omitted. We steamed off for Cozumel through 20ft seas and 50 knot winds. Mercury proved to be a good sea boat and apart from a few missing faces at dinner, there was little ill effect.

Cozumel.
We have visited Cozumel before, so on this trip, we took a cab down town and wandered around the shops. The port has developed in the 2 years since we last visited and we were disappointed in the profusion of tacky teeshirt shops around the pier. Once into the town, however, the atmosphere is quite different although there were many touts trying to entice you into the shops. Cozumel is quite pretty and has a laid back atmosphere.

Progresso.
Because we have been to Chichen Itza and many people had told us that Progresso itself was not a particularly interesting town, we chose to stay on the ship at this port. Progresso pier is 4.5 miles long and there is something very strange about being moored to a dock in the middle of nowhere with land visible only in the far distance! The weather was fine for most of the day and we took advantage of the reduced numbers aboard to catch up on some sunbathing.

Key West.
This was undoubtedly our favourite port of any to date. The ship moors in the middle of the town and you simply walk out into the action. The weather was a bit gray and damp but the beauty and atmosphere of Key West overcame this. We took the Conch train around town , getting a flavour for the places we wanted to return to later in the day. The houses, lush vegetation and general ambience were quite charming. Later, we returned to the famous Sloppy Joe’s bar for lunch and then visited Hemingway’s house in the afternoon. The compactness of the town means that it is quite possible to walk everywhere and one is not dependent on taxis or buses. There is a great number of shops, some selling the ubiquitous tacky teeshirts, but some with interesting and unusual items. We really enjoyed this port.

Finally……….
We had a really good time on our cruise, the poor weather was not a barrier to our enjoyment. The spacious and luxurious Royal Suite made life very special for a week and we felt pampered and relaxed. The ship did feel crowded to us, but we were able to escape to the suite and this became a tranquil haven for us both. We wonder, though, how we would have fared if we’d had an inside cabin, or a cabin without a balcony. If you like noise and a press of people, then fine, you’ll enjoy Celebrity. The crew of the Mercury came from all over the world but they were all intent on ensuring that we had a good time – sometimes too intent in the case of the cruise staff! The much-hyped cuisine exceeded our expectations. For us, however, despite Celebrity’s superior food and entertainment, Holland America still has the edge. There seem fewer reminders that we are transitory guests, just passing through. Their smaller, more intimate ships have more charm than the Mercury which appears brash in comparison.

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