This was our 5th cruise, and by far the best we have ever experienced. My wife, my 28 year old daughter, and I sailed on the Mercury in April 1998. The ship is absolutely beautiful. Although the orange paint on the pool deck doesn't do anything for me, and the fact that the paint has started to fade on a statue of some unrecognizable object which watches over the hot tub which is located in the center of the pool area, still the decor is very nice throughout the ship. It was designed by many different architects, and sometimes the lack of a central artistic balance is noticeable, but who cares when you can sit on the La Playa deck sipping a cold scotch? We were in cabin 9071 and were assigned table 513 during the second seating.
The only other artistic flaw I noticed is that the company went to almost no expense (literally) for its artwork. One of the pieces of art (?) was a series of hand prints on canvas. Photographs of 49 children (all white) surrounded a stairway on one of the decks, two huge logs which were cut with chain saws were in the Tastings Bar. I could go on and on about the cheap art work, but that didn't make any difference to me because the ship was so beautiful that you really had to be very picky even to notice the cheap art.
We spent Friday night at the Ft. Lauderdale Marriott Marina which is a stone's throw from both the airport and Port Everglades. Multi-million dollar yachts were everywhere, and the place was extremely beautiful. The kitchen staff there has 13 chefs, and the quality of the food and service are on par with what we received aboard the ship. The room was just under $200.00, and dinner for 3 with drinks and wine was about $120.00. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone. There is some construction along the road which leads into the facility, but you quickly forget that when you experience the ambiance the place has to offer. The Enterprise rent-a-car agency will pick you up at the airport, and will drop you off at the ship.
We arrived at the embarkation area about 12:30 PM on Sunday. We whispered the magic words (Captains Club), and were given a number of 24, which is the same as the number zero. They have a special door to the rear and slightly to the left of the area beyond the entrance doors for Captains Club members to board the ship. Once they started boarding, the registration and walk to the cabin took only about 3 minutes. Before I had a chance to realize that we had registered, we were on the ship. They were very efficient!
The Captain's Club tags did not help our luggage get to the cabin any sooner. It was about 8:00 PM by the time the last bag arrived, so don't expect to be able to change for dinner on Sunday night unless you pack your clothes in your hand carried bag.
The cabin was really nice! It had blonde wood-grained walls, a dark blue carpet, and a huge mirror at the foot of the bed which made the room seem much larger than it really was. Still, it was very nicely arranged so that every inch of space was utilized to the maximum extent possible. It had two nice sized closets, one of them even had a few drawers in it. The bed in our cabin was queen size, and accommodated all of the luggage for the three of us underneath the bed without any problem. There was a small couch by the window which pulled out to form a single bed. When this was opened, it there wasn't too much floor space available, but we all survived without a trip to the hospital. The minibar was a refrigerator which was kept locked at all times, and you had to get the room steward to open it for you if you wanted to use it during the trip. The cabin also had a nice little desk and end tables on both sides of the beds. The three of us were able to completely unpack and squeeze everything we needed into the available closet and drawer space provided. I give them a superb rating for the design of the cabin. The bathroom's toilet was angled at a very comfortable 90 degrees to the door and sink so that you could actually sit on it without banging body parts against anything else in there. The shower was roomy enough so that you didn't wind up washing more of the curtain than your own body. There was a nice trash can located in a pull-out drawer underneath the sink. It was really very nice!
The interactive Sony television was great! Although you couldn't use it until very late on the afternoon of the first day, it was fantastic. I used it to book my tours and check the ever-growing balance on my ship's account. They have a VCR attached to the TV, so if anyone wants to bring videos to watch during one of the days at sea, the technology is there.
My wife is disabled, so we had to use the elevators every time we wanted to go to a different deck. There were banks of four elevators; one forward, one midship, and one aft. We only had to wait a few times during the whole trip for an elevator to appear with enough room in it for her. This is by far the best elevator system we have seen on our cruises.
Our waiter and bus boy were tremendous. No errors and swift and pleasant service throughout the cruise. The dining room is absolutely beautiful. The huge windows at the aft end of the ship give the room charm, beauty, and elegance. The quality of the food was excellent, and the 10 pounds I gained attest to the quantity available.
I do have one significant complaint about the dining room. The propeller noise was nearly unbearable on Sunday night and Friday night. Our wine steward told us that this is always the case on these nights. It was extremely difficult to enter into any form of intelligent conversation with your table mates because nobody could hear what the other person was saying. It would be nice for as many people as possible to write both Celebrity and RCI to inquire about what is being done to solve this problem. I think all that is required is to have the ship slow down a little during the dinner hours. This may impact on the time available for being in port, but it would well be worth the sacrifice.
The only other gripe I have about the whole cruise is that they covered up the beautiful windows in the dining room with curtains a couple of evenings. Doing this definitely caused some of the romantic charm to disappear from the room. Having the ability to savor a swan thingee helped me through this difficult problem.
The food and service in the Palm Springs Cafe were great. There are 4 buffet lines, and you very seldom had to wait long to get your chance to expand your "waste" line. You could get omelets cooked to order, pancakes, or anything else you could possibly expect from a breakfast including lox and bagels. Lunches were also great. Don't even think about getting up from your table unless you understand that your tray will be gone when you return. The staff there are extremely efficient. They served hot dogs and hamburgers pool side in the afternoons and you could get grilled chicken by the aft pool. Pizza was served in the afternoons around 4:00 PM, and it tasted very good.
Beverage service was naturally great throughout the ship. Most drinks were $3.95 plus 15% gratuity. I still found it necessary to give a little extra tip to two of the beverage servers who took extra good care of us throughout the trip.
The entertainment was well above my expectations. Our cruise director said that this was due to the fact that RCI is much more concerned about the quality of the entertainment than Celebrity used to be. I even enjoyed the comic acts, and I normally can't stand comedians. The Celebrity Theater was absolutely beautiful, and the visibility was nearly unobstructed. They have state-of-the-art lighting, and they use it very well. The lasers are absolutely incredible! Make sure you get in the theater about 10 minutes before the performance so you will be able to get a good seat.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about the ship is that they have a policy on not using the public address system for anything except emergencies and the life boat drill. The PA system on the other ships we have sailed on always became an annoyance. It was nice to have the peace and quiet for a change.
We all took the Fury catamaran snorkeling tour in Key West. I had an absolute blast. The crew of the boat were unbelievably courteous, funny, safety conscious, and attentive. They told us as soon as we met them on the dock that the visibility had been reduced to about 15 feet because of all the bad weather they had been having, and that anyone that wanted could go to the guest relations desk and get their money back. We took one of those Key West trolleys to the boat and sailed about 7 miles off shore to a reef. There was marine life there, but I wouldn't call it an abundance. We had a full hour in the water. During the trip back they served free beer. It was really a fantastic experience, and I recommend it fully to everyone. The cost was $39.00 pp. They also operate out of Cozumel, and perhaps Calica.
Calica, when you pull into it, is exactly what someone recently said, "a giant sand pile". The roads aren't even paved. So much for the bad news. They dock there, but a tender is still required. Take the tender, and grab a cab to Playa Del Carmen - I think it's $10 each way, and they will sell you a return pass right from the pier.
Soon after you get into town, you will discover a very nice beach. Many shops are scattered throughout this little tourist town as well as many sleeping dogs.
When the cab drops you off, walk towards the beach. On the left is a restaurant called El Tacolote. They will have 2 for 1 happy hour going when you arrive, so if only 2 people want beer, order only one, otherwise everyone will wind up with 2 drinks each. The fajitas are tremendous, and the service is very good and friendly. If your crew are a bunch of party animals, have them go to Senior Frogs (walk from the cab drop off point to the beach, turn right, go one block, and you will see it on the corner across the street). Caution: This place is for professional party people only.
There is a very nice beach and restaurant area in Cozumel which is located about 10 miles to the right of the pier as you walk into town. It is named something del Sol, but I forgot to write the name down. We had a grand time there. Carlos and Charlies is the party place in town. The fare is $4.00 per taxi to the center of the shopping area, and is $10.00 to the beach named something del Sol.
Grand Cayman Island is without question the nicest port we visited. After doing some shopping in Georgetown, we took a 5 minute cab ride to Royal Palms Beach Club (the taxi drivers know how to get there if you ask). The ship offers a beach with facilities for $12.00 pp, but there is no charge here, and the place is wonderful. The sand is as soft as talcum powder, and it is cool when you walk on it. A beach chair is $5.00. They also have parasailing, snorkle rental. and jet skis which rent for $40.00 per half hour. Their food is very good, and the changing facilities are excellent.
Disembarkation went very smoothly. You just picked out a lounge on your own, and sat there until they called your disembarkation number (which was delivered to your cabin the night before). Make sure you leave your cabin tags on your luggage because this is how you will find it when you get off of the ship.
Everyone must be sure to visit the Navigators Club on deck 12, and Tastings bar on deck 6. Michael's club is a must to see even if you don't care to smoke or smell cigars. The club is well ventilated (Lori had me check this out), and no smoke can be smelled around the cabins which are in close proximity to the club. My recommendation for everyone going on the SeaLetter Cruise Bash in October is to just shoot themselves, because the cruise is too far away, and the ship is too fantastic.
Bill & Marie Dove live in Olney, MD and do wonderful custom engraved caps at Adorable You Custom Caps in Montgomery Mall. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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