Celebrity Mercury
11 Day Mexican Riviera Cruise
October 31 2005
By DocJohn


Celebrity Mercury

My wife and I just returned from an 11 night Mexican Riviera cruise aboard Celebrity’s Mercury. I will preface this review with the usual rejoinder. The thoughts in this review are my wife’s and mine and are strictly our opinions. Others may agree or disagree with what I have written. 

This would be a bittersweet cruise. A year ago, my best buddy Eddie and I started planning this cruise. Over the months we pre-booked our hotel in San Diego, obtained flights and arranged for a Park/Stay/Fly in Orlando. Eddie booked his while on the Summit last November. In addition to his wife, his adult daughter would join him. I booked ours while on the Explorer of the Seas. We both then turned our bookings over to our trusted Travel Agent. Unfortunately, Eddie had a recurrence of a cancer and passed away 6 weeks prior to the cruise. His wife and daughter decided to fulfill his wishes and were joined on the cruise by a second daughter. 

Pre-cruise: 

As our flight was to leave at 7 a.m. from Orlando we booked a room at the Wingate Inn  thru Park/Sleep/Fly. The hotel was well appointed and comfortable. We were able to park our car there free for one week and paid only $5 per day the second week. Transportation was provided to the airport. 

After a rather long flight via Atlanta, we arrived in San Diego around noon on October 28th. After gathering our luggage, we caught the shuttle to our hotel - Holiday Inn on the Bay (HIOTB) . We were able to secure accommodations via Priceline.com at $70 per night. Others paid more and it appeared that success depends on how early you booked and how much nerve you have. The HIOTB is a very nice hotel. It is situated directly across the street from the cruise terminal . . . this would prove beneficial to some at embarkation. The hotel provides shuttle service to a nearby mall and the San Diego zoo. One night they even provided us a shuttle to the gashouse district for dinner. Two blocks away is a stop on the city trolley (a good way to get around parts of this beautiful city. While the hotel does have a restaurant on premises, the food was rather blah and overpriced. They have an excellent Pub called the Elephant and Castle. For breakfasts we would walk about a block south to a deli and grab a bagel and egg at a reasonable price. There are numerous evening dining options available in the immediate vicinity and the famous Gaslamp quarter is a moderate walk or a short cab ride from the hotel. 

Our friends second daughter flew in from Charlotte on the 29th and another single lady friend from our community would join us on the 30th. Friday, after settling in at the hotel, we explored Seaport Village, an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants just a few blocks from the hotel. Saturday, the ladies visited a local mall (Horton Plaza) and took a boat trip around the bay. Meanwhile, I visited the Navy base exchange and picked up some libations for the cruise. I then paid a visit to the USS Midway museum (located 3 blocks from the hotel). Being a retired Navy man and not having been around a naval base in almost 20 years, I rather enjoyed my day unaccompanied by the ladies. Sunday would find us at the San Diego Zoo. It is a lovely place to visit, with many, many exhibits to visit. But, be forewarned, bring you walking shoes. This was the evening that the hotel provided us a shuttle to the Gaslamp district. The main problem with the Gaslamp district is there are too many choices of restaurants. And, with 5 women trying to make the decision, the problem only grew exponentially. Eventually a fine Mexican restaurant was chosen. We decided that the meal had to be walked off, so instead of calling for the shuttle we walked the mile or two back to the hotel. 

Monday broke sunny and cool (like the previous 2 mornings). Looking out across the street toward the cruise terminal I saw the Carnival Spirit and the Crystal Harmony tied up at the piers, but, alas, no Mercury. But, she did arrive about 30 minutes later and tied up getting ready to disgorge the previous cruisers and to start making preparations for us new guys to embark. 

We had talked with the concierge the day before and he told us to call and ask for a late check out (2 p.m.). He said by then the mob would be gone and it would be quite simple to get a shuttle across the street with all our baggage. His prediction was dead on as there was quite a line-up going to the 3 ships starting at about 10:30 a.m. Unfortunately, the latest we could check out was 1 p.m., but this was OK as by then the mob had dissipated. We checked out and were shuttled over to the pier at 
1:15 p.m. 

Embarkation: Well, what can I say other than they have it/do it right in San Diego. We were in our stateroom at 1:40. After the shuttle dropped us off, a porter took our luggage. We had to wait a bit as our companions did not have luggage tags (more on this in a minute) and had to find a Celebrity representative to give them one before they handed over their luggage. We had all printed out our “E-tickets” and consequently things moved real quick. After giving up the e-ticket, showing our passports and credit card we were issued our “sail and sign” card and got in a small line to have our carry-ons checked and then we made our way to the photographer. The Carnival Spirit had use of the main terminal and the Mercury check-in was in a permanent tent like facility. It worked quite well though, but instead of walking up a ramp, we had to take a series of steps to the base of a ramp. Those with disabilities, were transferred via a machine to the top of the stairs. For us, just a minor inconvenience, for those with a disability, perhaps a bit more. Anyhow, once onboard, we were offered a glass of champagne or mimosa. Most were met by white gloved crewmembers and escorted to their staterooms. As we were familiar with the layout and were just one floor directly above our cabin, we opted to head there on our own. Once in the room (4071 - outside standard), I looked out the window and saw the stairs leading into the ship. So, rather than enjoy that view for a few hours, we decided to go up to the buffet for a late lunch then to go exploring until the muster drill.. 

(Celebrity as some know is going to a ticket less system. I am not sure all that this entails, but hope it works as well as it appeared to in San Diego. We got our documents about 4 or 5 weeks prior to the cruise . . . . our lady friend from the same neighborhood received hers about a week out . . . . while our friend and her daughters never received any documents. We all pulled the e-tickets from the website, so the only hang-up was - no baggage tickets - but it really wasn’t a problem, so maybe it will all work out just fine.. 

The Itinerary: 

This was a nice, slow moving itinerary. A day at sea followed, by 3 ports of call, followed by a day at sea, followed by 3 more ports, ending up with 2 days at sea before arriving back in San Diego. The days were scheduled as follows: 

San Diego
At Sea
Cabo San Lucas
Mazatlan
Puerto Vallarta
At Sea
Acapulco
Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa
Manzanillo
At Sea
At Sea
San Diego


Only Cabo and Zihuatanejo were to be tender ports. Unfortunately the Dawn Princess also scheduled in at Puerto Vallarta. According to the staff on ship, because she was larger, with more passengers, she would be assigned to the dock and we would anchor out and tender in. I am not sure if this was exactly the case. I personally ascribe to the “bribery” theory. And Celebrity came up short. J 

I hate tendering. I hate it because no cruise line I have been on gets it right and this cruise was to prove no different. If one was in a hurry to get off the ship, forget it. I wish I could offer a suggestion for improvement, but I can't. It is just a slow process getting thousands of folks ashore via tenders. 

For me, the itinerary is not as important as being at sea. However, my wife thinks the ports are the most important. She was not too happy with most of the ports, and using a jaundiced eye, I have to agree with her. I doubt that we will ever do another Mexican Riviera cruise (unless part of a transcanal), but would revisit Mazatlan and Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa. 

The Ports: 

The first day at sea was used to relax and get to know some of our cruising friends. A rather large group had posted to a Cruise Critic roll call and had maintained a friendly banter for well over a year. The Cruise Connections party was held this morning. I would estimate that at least 75-80 of the 108 who had signed up for the party showed up. Dru Pavlov, the Cruise Director, mentioned that it was the largest sign-up ever for Mercury. We spent a couple of hours just getting to meet each other enjoying refreshments provided by the ship. This was a definite highlight of the cruise 

We did very little in Cabo except walk around the port area. Plenty of shops and watering holes. I was to meet with a friend at a place called CaboWabo's, but we missed connections. The gals were off shopping, so I just found a little place and had a couple of cerveza's. The weather was pretty hot (and it would not cool down until our last sea day). The vendors were constantly trying to ply one with their wares, but a polite "no, gracias" would end their pitch. Have to watch out for the condo hawkers though. 

Mazatlan proved to be the best day of our cruise. It was made so because a large number of our C/C roll call board (We called ourselves the "Mercury Amigos") had made prior arrangements with a local tour guide to take a tour of the countryside surrounding Mazatlan. The tour guide was Mazatlan Frank and he delivered everything he had promised. This was an approximately 7 hour tour. Briefly we stopped along the way to watch local workers at their trade, including a brick maker, a tile maker, bread factory, furniture factory and a few others. We stopped at three town/villages (Malpica, Concordia and Copala) and visited their churches and squares. Lunch was included in Copala that included typical Mexican fare and some of the best banana creme pie I've enjoyed in a long time. We also enjoyed some of the Mazatlan city highlights. The drive through the countryside was enhanced by Frank's discussions. He had us back at the pier in plenty of time to get the tram back to the ship 

I know that I let my feelings about tendering cloud my views of our next port, Puerto Vallarta, but so be it. After waiting for the tours and the suite passengers and others to tender, we peons finally got off. Our friends had arranged for a ships tour so my wife and I just wandered around the port area and picked up some souvenirs. We headed back to the ship in time for lunch and some sunning. 

The next day, at sea, was refreshing. We rested up and did shipboard things as well as some reading and sunning. That evening was also the second formal night and Eddie‘s wife and daughters, my wife and I had planned a special remembrance for Eddie prior to dinner on the promenade deck aft. We said our good-byes and toasted his life with a shot of his favorite Scotch. It was just a symbolic way for Eddie to end his cruising days with us. 

None of us had scheduled any tours for the following three ports and were just going to wander off on our own. Bad plan. 

We got off the ship in Acapulco with the idea of finding the flea market and looking for souvenirs. Once out the gate of the port we were immediately assailed by a mob of taxi drivers wanting to take us here or take us there or take us on an all day tour. Unlike Cabo, these pests did not understand the phrase "No, senor', gracias". One latched onto us saying he would show us to the "Flea market" - no charge, and if after shopping we wanted a tour, he personally would drive us on a 2 hour tour of the city for $10 per person. He pointed across the street to a new SUV like green vehicle and said that is mine and it is air conditioned. We agreed that after shopping we would contact him at his shop (oh yeah, he even had his own souvenir shop in the market). His name was Leo and he gave me his card. After an hour or so of shopping, we ended up in his shop and they called him. Fifteen minutes later a green, beat up old station wagon pulls up with some guy driving saying Leo was busy, but he would take us on the tour. No deal says the women and I agree. We turned to leave and they started to get "pissy". Not mean or threatening, just insulting. But as they say "like water down a ducks back", we just walked away and kept walking. Well me missed a turn, so the 10 minute stroll back to the ship became a 40 minute hike. No problem though as we found our way back. A couple of blocks from the ship we found a beachside taverna and enjoyed cool drinks. Back to the ship around 3 or so and my wife and I headed to the room for a power nap. After the show and dinner the ship was having a sailaway party as we left Acapulco at 
11 pm. We went and enjoyed until about 12:30. 

Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa proved to be our 2nd favorite port. When we booked this cruise, I thought this would be the pit stop of the cruise. It was anything but. After waiting for the tenders (Blah, blah, blah), we got ashore about 9:30 and found an absolutely delightful little fishing village staring us in the face. There were hundreds of little shops in this town and we were never once accosted by a "sales rep" the whole day. It made for a great day of shopping in a genuine Mexican town. There were even fisherman on the beach selling their fresh products to the locals. We stopped midway through the shopping and all enjoyed a cool drink. Lisa and Deborah had decided to take a cab over to Ixtapa and find a good beach and spend the day. After more shopping Kathy, Annette and I headed back to the ship. 

Manzanillo would be our last port. The ship docked in the commercial shipping port. After inquiring at the desk and being informed that we could indeed walk into town, we all headed off for a day of, what else, shopping. Big mistake. Manzanillo is divided into three sections. The port, the shopping district and the hotel/tourist area. Unfortunately to get to the shopping area one has to walk through the tough area of town known as the port area. On our way off the ship, we saw buses and signs that said $3 round trip to town. Fools, said we and started off. Well a mile or so later, having no idea where the hell we were or how we were going to get to town, we turned around, went back to the port, paid our $3 and got on the bus to town. Now I have to explain here, that when I say we went shopping, I really meant that they went shopping. I was merely along to provide an escort service and bag carrying service . We headed back to the ship and a day of relaxation and sunning and reading. Mid afternoon, I noticed a tug moving past the ship, so I went up to the top deck and watched it and another tug maneuver an ocean container ship away from the pier and out to sea. Manzanillo is a rather busy shipping center. 

Our next two days were spent at sea. The first day was really relaxing as the weather was still warm. There were many activities to keep one busy on board, including the infamous art auction, bingo and pool party. A really nice day led up to the final formal night of the cruise. The last day we awoke to find a rather large dip in the thermometer had occurred. Whereas the day before all were laying on towels on the lounges, this day would find the towels laying on top of bodies keeping them warm. Of course this was the day for packing up and saying good bye to new friends. 

Disembarkation: 

We arrived back in San Diego on Veteran's day. We would be the only ship disembarking that day. Our flight out was at 12:50 so there would be plenty of time. We got our luggage tickets (grey-2) and a letter informing us to report to the theatre on deck 7 at 8:40. My thoughts were "Yeah and sit about with half the passengers and wait an hour or so". Not so. We arrived and within 10 minutes were being led off the ship. Quickly found our bags, through customs, schlepped to a waiting bus (had purchased a transfer on ship) and off to the airport. We were checked in at the airport wandering about by 10 am. Wonderful disembarkation. 

Our flight back to Orlando was via Salt Lake City. It was long and not particularly enjoyable, especially the last leg when we had to put up with young children going to visit the most famous Rat in the world. Also one little child who was in training for the “seat kicking championship” in a future Olympics. 

One observation as regards this itinerary (or any other "new" itinerary). I am not a big fan of ship tours as IMO they are terribly overpriced. One can get better tours for less money by "surfing the net". Had I know ahead what I do now, I would have arranged for tours in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and possibly Manzanillo in addition to the Mazaltan tour we did do. I am not quite ready to engage a tour operator at the port. 


The ship: 

Mercury first started cruising in 1997. My wife and I sailed onboard her in December, 1998, so I think I can talk about her then, as compared to now. Having sailed over 8 years, Mercury has been around a bit. I have read on this and other cruise sites that she is getting old, tired, and worn down. Without reservations, I would disagree. I would liken her to the middle aged lady, who having raised her kids is now ready to strut her stuff. First off, though, she may cosmetically want to prepare herself to compete with gals half her age. So a little nip her, a little tuck there and she is good to go. Mercury, I believe has had one refurbishment in her lifetime and that was in 1999. She definitely is in need of sprucing up. It is readily apparent if one looks close enough. Because I had heard so much negativity about the age of this lady, I looked extra close. 

Her woodwork does need to be reworked. This was most noticeable in the elevators where the wood floors show real aging and along handrails throughout the ship. But these are two areas that get real use. A strip and refinish would do wonders. 

Some of the furniture is in need of replacement. Arms and seats are frayed or fraying in some lounges. A chair in our room was a bit wobbly. Some of the tables in the buffet were in need of wooden tile replacement. But these are all areas that are pretty niggling. The carpeting throughout looked pretty good as did the chrome and polish areas of the ship. 

Despite all these minor 'tics', she is still a beautiful lady. I would hope Celebrity pulls her out of service for a couple of weeks soon and she will be returned to her original state. 

At 85,000 tons and 1,950 passengers she is considered to be a medium size cruise ship. In my less than humble opinion, she is the exact right size. Anything bigger is just to big for me, anything smaller is not a profit generator for the cruise line. 

The food: 

The food on Celebrity has always been one of its’ main calling cards. This was our 6th cruise on Celebrity and I feel the quality of the food has declined since our first experience. Don’t get me wrong, it is still better than on other cruise lines we have sailed. 

The buffet served a large variety of foods at both breakfast and lunch. Breakfast featured an omelet/egg to order station and a waffle station. Lunch featured a pizza line and a super hamburger line. Additionally the sweets served at these meals were sinful at best. An afternoon tea (4pm) featured finger sandwiches (including one made with pretzel dough, ummm) and sweets. There is also an evening sushi bar. We only ate one meal in the dining room (other than dinners). My wife and our friends decided they had to have the Eggs Benedict. One friend said they were horrible and another said they were very good. Well according to the ladies, they were indeed horrible - overcooked with a runny sauce. I had opted for an omelet and enjoyed it very much, thank you. The only other complaint in the dining room from our table was the lobster. All the ladies ordered it. I decided to have the Prime Rib and share a bite with my wife. Once again, I made the right choice. According to the ladies, the lobster was rubbery and just did not taste right. Oh well. 

I have no real complaints about the food and with a four pound weight gain, I seriously couldn’t complain. I just feel that the quality has declined over the years. 

The crew: 

Celebrity is noted for the friendliness of its crew. From the deckhand cleaning the side of the ship, to the pool butlers, to the hotel manager - all are truly friendly. I never once passed a crewmember, who did not smile at me and wish me good morning or whatever was appropriate and they all did so with an attitude that said, "I really mean it". Of course as cruisers we mainly deal with our room steward, waiter, assistant waiter and possibly maitre d' on a daily basis and other crew on an as needed basis. Our room steward requested we call him by his last name, so Rodriques it was. Rodriques was the typically efficient room steward. Unobtrusive, but available as needed. On two occasions we needed something (one a sewing kit) and he quickly produced the items. He, of course knew when we were out of the room and he and his assistant would do their work accordingly. Our waiter was Alexander from Jamaica and his assistant was Dyugu from Turkey. Alexander was a bit reticent the first couple of nights, but came out of it on the 3rd night. One of the ladies asked him which formal night would the lobster be offered. He explained to us that due to an unfortunate supply mixup, the ship was unable to procure its shipment from its' source in San Diego, but there was a slight possibility that the shipment would be waiting for us in Manzinillo. But as an aside, he said we shouldn't plan on it. I thought this rather strange and the ladies were bummed because they all wanted to have lobster. I then glanced up and noticed that Alexander's eyes were dancing with glee. He had successfully conned us. He couldn't hold it in too long and we were soon greeted with his hearty laughter. After that each evening was an enjoyable experience. Dyugu was an attractive yet extremely shy young lady on her first contract with Celebrity. She knew her job and did it extremely efficiently. By the second day, she knew what we drank with dinner (tea, iced tea and coffee) and what our after dinner choice was, and always had it for us without asking. We would see her up in the buffet area at lunch or breakfast and she always made it a point to come up to us and chat for just a bit. As my wife and I were coming back to the ship, we met her and a friend as they were heading to the beach. She stopped and chatted. Wanted to bring her home, but my wife quickly nixed that idea. 

Now the Maitre D', whose name I could neither spell nor pronounce 
(Polish) was my idea of what a Maitre D' should be. He talked with us at each meal and even made an occasional suggestion. Although he showed up the last night, by then he had become almost a friend. 

I had 3 or 4 dealings with the front desk and always came away satisfied. The people manning this desk were courteous and helpful, although one gal did give a crappy response as regards Manzanillo, I thought they were as good as any we have run into. 

The bar staff and deck side servers were efficient and not overly pushy. Although we didn't use them a lot, a couple remembered us and asked if we wanted the same drink as last time. Works for me!! 

The Entertainment staff: 

I personally have an extremely eclectic pre-1980's love of music. Anything from classical to bluegrass to jazz to rock and roll. The entertainment on the ship kept my interest throughout the cruise. 

I am not really into the cast shows as presented on cruise ships. Seen one, seen them all sort of thing. I did my duty and did attend the first of these shows and was rewarded with my "seen that" scenario. I suffered through it, but did not attend another. As Select Captain's Club members we were invited and went to a tour of the backstage hosted by Dru Pavlov, the cruise director. I did enjoy this and came away with a much greater appreciation for just how hard these youngsters work to put on these shows for us. 

Jean-Claude & Gaby were and Aerialist/Adagio Duo. Outstanding does not describe the show these two put on. Similar in vein to Circe de Soleil, they were mesmerizing and breathtaking. The adagio moves were only slightly more scary than the aerialist moves. A truly wonderful show. 

There were 5 guest entertainers: 

Sustained - Was an A Cappella Quartet. They not only performed a couple nights during the show, they entertained throughout the ship all cruise. I thought they were excellent. 

Avner Arad - Was an Israeli classical pianist who treated us to an hour of Chopin. I thought he was outstanding and thoroughly enjoyed his performance. 

Don Sherman - A comedian who used to write for Dean Martin and other comedians of that era. I thought I would hate his performance. Quite the opposite, his delivery and his shtick were most enjoyable. Excellent 

Mark Preston - A "Letterman" vocalist. I had no desire to see this show and I didn't. The ladies said he was OK. 

Peter Mezoian - A banjo player. Now I enjoy a good banjo player on occasion. Apparently a lot of people don't as the audience was rather small. The people who did not go missed a good show. After the one, as he put it, "Obligatory" bluegrass piece, he went on to play music from the 20's thru 70's. Outstanding. 

On the evening we were in Acapulco the ship brought on a local dance troupe to entertain us. They certainly did that in an hour long show. 

There were additional ships entertainers throughout the ship at different venues all cruise. A pianist, a classical duo, a string quartet and the ships party band - Intenz 6. They performed on deck, pool side most days at sea and in the bars at night. I enjoyed them and thought they were very good. 

To sum up the entertainment: A whole lot better than the early years of Celebrity cruises. Probably not as good as some cruise lines, but better than others. Certainly got our monies worth here. 

Summary: 

This long awaited cruise lived up to or exceeded our expectations in all respects. Celebrity offers a great cruise experience for the price. Mercury is a lovely older ship, in need of some minor cosmetic changes, but still as beautiful as she was when we first sailed her years ago. The crew is fantastic and the entertainment is excellent. We will probably not sail this itinerary again, but will continue to cruise on Celebrity. I have absolutely no reservations about recommending this ship or Celebrity to anybody. 

I have posted some pictures of our cruise and pre-cruise stay in San Diego. They can be viewed here:

http://community.webshots.com/album/505526793GxLRty

http://community.webshots.com/album/505486491lofIBT

http://community.webshots.com/album/505539683bqxvwd