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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


Celebrity Mercury
Mexican Riviera, New Year's Escape Cruise
December 29, 2003

by Sue Clark

First, a little about us so you can understand the perspective of this review. We are Jim and Sue, in our mid-fifties – all kids grown and gone. We both work fairly high-stress jobs and Jim works out of town much of the time. For us a cruise is a way for us to kick back and relax and have some time together without any cell phones, pagers or radios beeping at us. We book ships that offer an elegant experience rather than casual or high-energy atmosphere. Also, for the Caribbean and Mexico, we tend to book for the ship and stateroom rather than the ports. We spend much of the time in the cabin and on the verandah so for us booking a suite makes sense.

This was our second cruise on Mercury and our second Escape Cruise. We were on the first Escape sailing in September 2002 and really enjoyed the adults-only ambiance. We always book carefully for a time that most children will be in school – not that we dislike children, we just prefer to vacation away from them. I’ve been looking forward to returning to Mercury for two main reasons, the Thalassotherapy (T-pool) and the Rendez-vous lounge; both are much better than their counterparts on the new M-class ships. We booked Royal Suite 1026 and were very much looking forward to the Butler service and special pampering that go with this level suite.

I should also mention that through the Cruise Critic message board we had become “acquainted” with about 50 of our fellow cruisers and were looking forward to meeting them. Some special friends, Ray and Joann, from a previous cruise were also to be onboard.

We flew from Denver to San Diego on Sunday, the day prior to sailing and stayed at the Embassy Suites. When we arrived our room wasn’t available so we went across the street to Seaport Village and had a large late seafood lunch at the Harbor House. At 5:30 we met some of the other Cruise Critic members staying at the same hotel for cocktails. This informal gathering was a great start to the cruise; 20 people came (some from other hotels in the area) and it was fun to finally meet the people we had been talking with on the message board. It was especially nice to see Ray and Joann again.

Monday morning we had the complimentary breakfast at the Embassy Suites and then took a taxi to a near-by liquor store for a case of champagne (for cocktail parties in the suite) and headed to the ship. We had received E-docs for this trip, so we had to get luggage tags at the pier and fill them out. The E-docs were disappointing because we had always looked forward to receiving the nice package in the mail, but I guess that’s the way the world is going and we’ll have to adapt. We handed our luggage off to a longshoreman and went into the terminal where we were guided to a special table for suite check-in. The Social Hostess, Shelly White, came to welcome us. We checked in within five minutes but were then guided to the dreaded waiting area. It wasn’t too bad, only about 20 minutes and we were allowed to go through the line for security screening and then onto the ship.

We were handed a glass of champagne at the top of the gangway (one of the special touches Celebrity has recently added) and we were welcomed aboard. It was about 11:30 and staterooms weren’t to be ready until 1:30 so we went to Cova and did a little people watching and then set off to re-explore the ship. We soon joined some of our new friends at a table by the pool. A little after 1:00 we set off to see if our suite (RS 1026) was ready – it was. The suite was very nice; we loved the whole wall of windows both in the living room and the bedroom. There were sliding doors from the living room and a regular glass door that accessed the balcony. The balcony itself was not too large, but there was plenty of room for two chairs with footstools, a cocktail table and a padded lounge chair. The bathroom was all marble and had a Jacuzzi tub and a separate shower. The toilet was also in a separate room with a door. There was more than enough storage space for all our miscellaneous bathroom stuff. The walk-in closet in the bedroom had a dressing table at one end. The bedroom itself was very large and had a second TV and additional drawers and cupboards. I didn’t care for was the art in the suite, it was large framed small designs – it looked to me like classic modern art from the 60’s.

We spent some time checking out the suite and making sure everything was in working order, looked through the messages and invites (Captain’s table for the next evening) and then sat on the balcony and watched the happenings on the dock. We popped our bottle of champagne and the vacation had begun. Throughout the afternoon our Butler, Keith, the Steward, Daniel and the Assistant Steward, Jose all came to welcome us. The Assistant Hotel Manager, Fivos Papadapolas also stopped in to say hello and to tell us that Captain and Joyce Adamidis (our friends from Millennium) had told him to take special care of us. Now I feel like a Queen! We unpacked our luggage and organized everything; there was plenty of space for everything and I always over-pack. We attended the SOLAS required lifeboat drill and dropped our life-vests off in the cabin and hurried up to the Sky Bar for a sail-away party with all the Cruise Critics. About 40 people turned out for our party – a really great showing! It’s amazing what the Internet has brought to today’s cruise experience. After sail-away we went to (early) dinner and found that we had a great table directly in front of the Captain’s Table and a very nice couple to share it with. Two seats at our table were empty, but we were assured they would be filled – this is important because we often skip dinner and hate to leave others stranded. We always tell our tablemates the first night that if we aren’t there at 6:00, we aren’t coming and to go ahead and order. After dinner we went to the Rendez-vous for an after dinner drink and then back to the suite… and to bed.

Tuesday – Sea day
It’s always a treat to have the first day be a sea day; we woke early and ordered coffee from room service since it was before our Butler, Keith was on duty. We loved the time on the balcony with our coffee and no other cares! I went to the T-pool later that morning (Mercury’s T-pool is to die for!). At 11:30 we attended the first Cruise Critic Connections party. Despite a mix-up with the location given on the invitation, Champagne Bar, and the location that they had setup for the party, the Navigator, we had a great time and 48 people attended. They had waiters move the food and drinks to the Champagne bar and everything continued. After the party we went back to the suite. We had looked through the Daily and didn’t find anything we had to attend and spent the day relaxing and reading. We delivered invites to a cocktail party in our suite that evening and made arrangements with Keith to chill the champagne and to deliver some hors d'oeuvres... and that was the bulk of the day. At 5:00 our cocktail guests began arriving and we had a nice time talking with them and hearing about their day and what they had planned for the trip. At 5:45, we had to cut the party short because we were due to meet the group for the Captain’s table. The Chief Engineer and the Chief Sanitation Officer hosted the table. Our tablemates and another couple that had just been assigned to our table were also invited to the head table. We enjoyed the dinner, but declined the priority seating at the show because we were tired. It takes a few days for us to adapt to a vacation time-schedule. (We normally get up at 4:30 a.m. for work.)

Wednesday – Cabo San Lucas – New Year’s Eve
When we awoke the ship was docking at Cabo, we called Keith and asked for our coffee and breakfast and killed the morning reading and relaxing. We saw a number of whales and even more spouting from the balcony. We met the group (14 people from the CC board and arranged by Ray) for a chartered whale-watching trip. We didn’t see any whales but had a great time… except I had been recovering from a fall on the ice in Denver two weeks prior to the sailing and the bumping of the small boat on the waves really set me back for the pain in my tailbone and lower back. I only mention this because it restricted what we did for the remainder of the cruise. After we returned to the ship from the whale-watching trip, we were very tired and decided to have dinner in the suite and to dress later to attend the New Year’s Eve Celebration. If you have a suite on Celebrity you can have full dinner service in your cabin, served course by course by your Butler – this is one of my favorite benefits of the suite. Dinner was excellent and we still intended to dress about 10:00 to attend the party, but by 9:30 we were both falling asleep and my back was quite painful so we toasted each other with a nightcap and went to bed. (Life of the party, aren’t we?) I was very disappointed to miss the celebration, as it was one of the main reasons for booking this cruise. People who attended the party said it was wonderful and included a huge lighted ice sculpture of 2003, at midnight they broke away the 3 and it was replaced with 4.

New Year’s Day – Mazatlan
Since we had previously visited Mazatlan we had no plans to get off the ship. Our day started with coffee, juice and rolls delivered by Keith. It was nice and warm on the balcony so we spent a couple hours having an extended breakfast out there. Later we both went to the T-pool for a long soak. Then we wandered around the ship and browsed the photos in the Photo Gallery - purchasing the boarding picture. We decided to go to the buffet for lunch and even though I tried to take very small portions, I ended up eating too much. Throughout the trip I found the buffet meals to be good with a nice variety of items from which to choose. I never had a chance to try the pasta station, but it smelled great. We took bowls of ice cream back to the suite and spent the afternoon on the balcony reading. We ordered a small dinner to the suite that evening. It was a wonderful day for relaxing. I find that the days in port, when most people are off the ship, are almost like having your own (very large) yacht with extra attentive service. We very often don’t get off the ship much when we sail in Mexico or the Caribbean.

Friday – Puerto Vallerta
We barely woke up in time to see the ship “thread the needle” as it enters the port at Puerto Vallerta. We had watched ships do this several times from the nearby Westin Regina Hotel and wanted to see it from the ship. It was just dawn and the lights of the city looked beautiful especially since many of the Christmas lights were still on. I’m always amazed at how today’s big ships can maneuver in small areas; after going through the narrow entrance to the port, the ship turns around 180° before docking.

We left this port up in the air as to whether or not we would go into town as we do enjoy it, but laziness won and we repeated our routine of the day before. We planned another cocktail party that evening and made the arrangements with Keith. We spent a little time wandering the ship delivering the invitations and stopped for a cappuccino in the Cova. For lunch we went to the soup and sandwich area and had a good ham, turkey and cheese wrap. We found Ray and Joann sitting on the aft deck eating their lunch and joined them. Our cocktail party guests started arriving about 5:00. We had a great time - by now most of the CC group had gotten know one another so it was a very relaxed fun time. Then we had appetizers and soup for dinner in our suite. And another day slipped away.

Saturday – Sea Day
This was another day at sea and would be a formal night for dinner. I went to a lecture on Maya culture and found it to be pretty mediocre; since I’ve traveled and studied that area a lot for my photography, I was disappointed. I didn’t attend the follow-up ones on the remaining sea days. We went to the buffet for a small lunch and after a quick nap we got ready for the Captain’s Club party in the Navigator just before dinner. Our tablemates were very surprised to see us in the dining room that night and seemed happy to have us back. It was fun listening to the stories of their adventures in port. After dinner we stopped in Rendez-vous for a Cognac and met Ray and Joann and the late dinner group having pre-dinner cocktails. This between dinners meeting became a pretty regular get-together through the end of the cruise. When they left for dinner we went up to the Cova/Martini Bar and listened to a very good singer/piano player do Frank Sinatra-type songs. When his set was over we invited him to join us for a drink and soon Shelly, the Social Hostess joined us and bought another round for the table. After about an hour we figured we had had enough adult beverages for one night and headed for the cabin.

Sunday – Acapulco
The early part of the day followed our usual lazy routine, but that evening I had made reservations through the Internet for dinner with Joann and Ray at La Perla, the restaurant that overlooks the cliff divers. We met them at the gangway and took a Port taxi to the restaurant; we agreed on a price and the driver would wait for us. Our table had a wonderful view of the divers. Dinner was only so-so, but it was one of those things you have to do. After returning to the ship the four of us went to the Martini Bar and listened to the piano player again. At a little before 11:00 when the ship was due to sail we excused ourselves and watched the sail-away from our balcony.

Monday – Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo
This is a port we had never visited and I was interested in exploring it. We were already at anchor when we woke up and called for coffee. The harbor we were anchored in was absolutely beautiful. I really wanted to go to a small beach we could see from our balcony, but Jim reminded me of the fairly long tender ride and then the trip by boat taxi to the beach and…. my back. I’m sure he was right, but I am still disappointed we missed it. We decided we would have a sail-away cocktail party that evening. Since it was to be an Informal dress night and we had a mix of both early and late diners coming, I made sure to put “come as you are” on the invite.

I soaked in the T-pool and then we checked the photos in the Photo Gallery and purchased one from the Cruise Critic/Connections Party. By now, we have adapted well to the routine of not having any pressures and spent the day relaxing and reading.

It was another great cocktail party and we watched the port grow distant from the balcony. We were having so much fun the party went on far past the start of early dinner, although a few left at that time. When it ended we decided that we had eaten enough “little sandwiches,” cheese & crackers, shrimp and chips and peanuts that we couldn’t eat anything else anyway! We headed to the Rendez-vous and met the group prior to late dinner for a cocktail and then called it a night.

Tuesday – Manzanillo
We didn’t leave the ship and I’m sure by now you can guess what we did to occupy ourselves. (It may sound boring to some, but to us it is pure heaven)

Wednesday – Sea day
Our last two days will be at sea; this one will be a formal night for the Captain’s Farewell Dinner so we plan to have dinner in the dining room. It was a beautiful day, although the temperature was getting cooler as we headed north. The pool area was crowded, but people were staying in the areas that were out of the wind. We spent some time in the shops and in Cova people watching. The afternoon was spent reading and napping; with the knowledge that this would end all too soon and we would have to return to real life. 

We dressed early for dinner and had several formal pictures taken and then our pre-dinner cocktail in the Rendez-vous. The dance floor was quite crowded, it seemed that no one was skipping this last formal dinner (we have noticed this on some past cruises). Dinner was lobster and prime rib (there were other choices but these were the favorites) and both were done well. We excused ourselves before the Baked Alaska parade and went back to the Rendez-vous where I could sit in a more comfortable chair. The late dinner CC group was there and invited us to join them for karaoke later that night – someone from the group was going to sing. Normally that wouldn’t be something we’d choose to do, but we decided to give it a try and found some seats in the Pavilions Nightclub. Soon about 30 people from the CC group were there and the singing began; it ranged from bad to not quite as bad, but everyone was having a great time. The next thing we knew they announced that the Cruise Critics were going to sing as a group – that was a surprise – but helped along by a few adult beverages Joann and I got up with the rest of the group and we did Louie Louie. I’m sure it was a Grammy-winning performance, but we had a good time. Following karaoke we all went to the Navigator for some dancing. The music was for the younger crowd, and as many times as we asked for something for the “older folk” (aaack I’m not sure I like to think of myself that way), they only played one song. After about an hour we left and went to bed – about 1:00 very late for us!

Thursday – Sea Day
This is our last day aboard Mercury. It’s always a day of mixed feelings happiness at all the great times and sadness that it’s all ending.

We decided to have one final cocktail party to finish off the champagne and a last chance to visit with a few of our new friends. We made the arrangements with Keith and delivered the invitations. I had a final soak in the T-pool. As we wandered around the ship we met many of the group and had some great conversations. During the afternoon we did our packing, it’s never as bad as packing because you don’t have to worry about wrinkles! Then it was time for the party. We had fun discussing where our next cruises were going to take us and all the different things we had done on this one. At about 6:30 we ended the party because we needed to go into the dining room and deliver our envelopes to our waiters. We said our goodbyes to our tablemates and then met the late dinner group in the Rendez-vous one last time.

Friday – San Diego
Disembarkation went smoothly; being in a suite we were in the first group off the ship. We found our luggage quickly and were in a taxi in about 10 minutes. Airport check-in went just as well and we killed three hours in the Delta Crown Lounge. 

And now the fat lady has sung… and the trip is over… but not the memories.

Summary: This was a very good cruise, but not the best we have taken. Mercury remains one of my favorite ships; she is well cared for, clean and, for the most part, staffed by excellent crew. We would sail Mercury again without any hesitation and will definitely sail on another Escape Cruise. The sailing before ours (Christmas Cruise) had over 500 children onboard and the crew were all very glad to have the adults-only cruise. 

There were some noticeable areas of concern, some appeared to be cost-cutbacks and others just disorganization. In the past if you asked for something that was not readily available the response had been that they would immediately check into it and see if they could locate it. If they couldn’t get it, some substitute was always offered. This time, the response often was “No, we don’t have that.” – and that was the end of the conversation. 

Some cost cutbacks were evident: no cream or half & half for your coffee, only non-dairy. It took several days of asking before they came up with some whipping cream from the main galley to put in our Butler’s pantry for us. They no longer use coasters for drinks, only a cocktail napkin which quickly shreds in with the moisture off the glass. These are small things that probably wouldn’t be noticed by a first-timer on Celebrity, but were commented on by several in our extended group.

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