Celebrity Mercury Alaska Cruise, June 15th 2007

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Once again, our family had a wonderful cruise vacation on the Celebrity Mercury. This was my 10th cruise over a 30 year span. It was my husband’s 4th and my kids 3rd. Though we all agreed that our favorite cruise was still our 15 day cruise to Hawaii because of the longer itinerary and better weather, this cruise was no disappointment.

Service

The one item we really appreciate on a cruise is the attentive service that we receive from everyone on the Celebrity cruises. From the moment we boarded to the disembarkation, we felt like we were the most important people on the ship. Our entire dinning room staff, from our Waiter and our Assistant Maitre’de, to our Sommelier and the Cellar Master, did a fantastic job of not only providing us with prompt, hot (when appropriate) meals, but also worked very hard to accommodate any special requests that we had for them. They brought me sugar free Crème Brule with fresh berries and even roasted peppers instead of bread sticks (Though it did take a couple of tries to get the peppers right).

We were also very impressed with the friendliness of the Celebrity crew. There were a few familiar faces onboard from our cruise in November. As we boarded we saw Shiva, our Sommelier from our November cruise handing out champagne and juice. When we called out his name he gave a big smile. It took only a few minutes for him to make the connection as to who we were. We requested him in the dining room, but he was in a section too far away to make it practical.

Also, when we had our first wine service, the Cellar Master came to our table. Fernando immediately recognized us from the Infinity two years ago.

Finally, Raissa our dining room bar waiter from November, who had brought our daughter her after dinner cappuccino every night, was now a full time Cova Café waiter, so our daughter was still able to get the wonderful cappuccinos from her.

Food

Recently Celebrity parted ways with Michael Roux and contracted Jacques Van Staden to design their new menu. While I really like a lot of the new offerings, I do think that they cater to a much blander palate than mine. Perhaps many cruisers don’t like spicy food, but I really could have used more garlic, pepper, and herbs in my dishes. However, the food was always hot and presented with much attention to detail. The desserts were very good, though I usually had my custom low carb desert.

Also, I didn’t really eat at the buffet unless I was short on time. I did try the omelet station for breakfast a few days. I really loved the custom made omelet with a side of bacon. My daughter loved the Benet like waffles in the waffle station.

Once again the grand midnight buffet was a treat for the eyes and palette.

Cabin

We were in 8259 in November, and in the same cabin this cruise, only it had the addition of the balcony.

The aft cabin was quite a nice improvement for our group of 4 on since we last had the cabin in November.

There were reports that the rooms were made smaller by the addition of the door, but I can say with out any question that the size of the room actually increased by a definitive 12 -18 inches in length. The back sofa is now gone and replaced with two small chairs for additional seating. In addition to the extra space created by the removal of the sofa, the wall where the window used to be is now 12-18 inches further back in the room. The balconies are a nice size, a bit bigger than a 2A, but not covered in any way. They are not as windy as the side 2a cabin that my Mother in Law had because of the aft location. We had a nice time on the balcony as we were leaving the Hubbard Glacier. We took some really great pictures then and later that night at sunset.

You will definitely, as before, feel the motion of the thrusters any time the ship make a hard turn or when entering or leaving port. The good thing about this cruise is that we often docked at 1:00 or later.

The room was configured as a FOV: a double bed pushed up against the wall in the front room, and a day bed style sofa/bed with a pull down bunk above. It used to have the 5th bed/back sofa, but now has that space open and a sliding door to the balcony.

The double bed was much improved with the dry dock and very comfortable. We kind of took turns sleeping in that bed, so I slept in the single bed that is a sofa during the day. It is not a sofa bed, but more like a day bed so the mattress is harder, like a sofa cushion. I requested an “egg crate” and it was fine after that addition. I never slept in the bunk bed so I’m not sure if it was very comfy, but the kids said it was fine.

As far as appearance, they still had the same cabinets, drawers, fixtures etc. Our daughter even noted that the picture on the wall was the same.

Also, on our last cruise we taped underneath the bottom of the drawer, a note saying “Welcome to the Mercury and Alaska” with all our names on it the day before we left in Nov. When we got there, the note was the first thing we looked for. Sure enough, there it was taped under the drawer, where no one would look.

Itinerary and Ports of Call

We very much enjoyed our return visit to Alaska after our 14 year hiatus, but immediately noticed that the ports have become much more commercialized and crowded than what we experienced 14 years ago when we sailed the Rotterdam. I think 14 years ago we were the only ship in port, or one was leaving as we were pulling in. This time there were at least 4 ships, much larger than the old Rotterdam, in each port. My husband compared the shopping areas to a mall on Christmas Eve. At times it seemed kind crazy. So if you really want to “get out there” and see the real Alaska, you really need to book an excursion to take you out of town.

The White Pass and Yukon Railway in Skagway achieved this goal for us. The train trip took us up into the mountains where we saw breathtaking gorges, passes and waterfalls. We even saw a bear as we made our descent down the mountain.

In Juneau, we were “store front” tourists. My husband and daughter shopped for a doll and some other souvenirs while my son and I did the “educational” thing, visiting the State Museum. Talk about a bargain excursion, his admission was free, and mine was only $5: A great price for us to learn a bit about native culture and animals as well as the increased popularity of Alaskan tourism.

After our museum visit, we decided to take the tram way, built since out last visit to Juneau, to the top of the mountain to get a more panoramic view of the harbor and surroundings. This ride provided a great perspective of our ship and the others in the harbor.

In Ketchikan we took in the “Great American Lumber Jack Show.” We booked this one mostly for the kids, but my husband and I really had good time. We got to yell and cheer for our team, and hope that they won the competition. After the show we checked out the many bustling gift shops and jewelry stores. Strange how some of those same stores were also in all the ports we visited in Mexico. There is a whole industry of gift and jewelry stores that have sprouted up catering exclusively to cruise ship passengers.

We also had a “sea” day that took us to the Hubbard Glacier. We were fortunate enough to be blessed with a beautiful sunny day. The ice flow was a little too heavy to be able to get right up to the glacier, but still the view was spectacular.

Enrichment

Brent Nixon served as our Onboard Naturalist. He could have taken over the job of comedian as well. He gave extremely energetic, informative and entertaining lectures on Bears, Whales, Otters and Eagle. He also narrated the whale watching sessions at the forward of the ship. My 10 year old son enjoyed him so much he bought his DVD’s of his lectures.

Entertainment

The entertainment on this cruise was very similar to what we experienced on the Mercury in November, with one notable improvement… The Party band Headlines, was fantastic.

But first a bit about the shows:

The production shows were all the same as the ones we saw in November, “The Winner Is”, “Dance Around the World” and “A Touch of Broadway”, but this time with a brand new cast. It made it fun to see the old show with new performers. The comedian, Don Sherman, was the same comedian we saw on the Mercury in November, and though he told the same old jokes, I really thought he was funnier to watch the second time.

Now to the bands: Rendezvous Square had a full quartet from the Philippines instead of a duo. The lead singer had a fantastic, Patsy Cline like voice. My Mother in Law and her sister really enjoyed her songs in the evenings before dinner. The Party Band was Headlines, also from the Philippines. They were the “sister” band to the fantastic band “Centerfold” that we had on the Infinity two years ago. They played every kind of music from country to rock to standards to oldies. We had an unbelievable time dancing to them at the 50’s party and several other evenings. They even invited me to sing with them on the last night when they found out that I had signed up for the talent show, but that it was cancelled because no one else signed up. We did “Embraceable You” and “Unforgettable”.

Activities

I really would have liked to participate in more of the trivia and name that tune type activities, but with the short itinerary, I never seemed to find time. We did keep busy, and some days were jammed packed during certain hours. On the last day of the cruise, we had an ice carving demonstration at 2:00, Shipbuilder’s regatta at 2:30, Children’s talent show at 3:00, and a Captains Club Elite Galley Tour at 3:30. Then I still had to find time to get packed up to put the luggage out.

As part of our “Captains Club Elite Benefits”, we attended a wonderful Chardonnay Blending class. We had a great time meeting other frequent cruisers and learning about different wine making techniques. I also attended the food and wine pairing class that was equally informative. The charge for this is only $10, and well worth it.

Kids Program

Once again the Celebrity kids program did a great job of providing wonderful activities for the kids. My son, 10, took full advantage of the program and loved playing board games and video games with the counselors and other kids his age. They had a lot of new games like Wii, and Guitar Hero. My 9 year old daughter desperately wanted to be with the older kids and felt that the young kids activities were too young for her. This was truly only her perception and not the reality of the situation at all. On the days that she did attend the 7-9 year old program she had a blast, but with the cruise being so short, and having really only having 3 sea days, she was pretty busy with out going too often to the kids program. She enjoyed hanging out with our family as much as she did the kids club and even went to the grown-up bingo with her Aunts and Grandmother.

Pre and Post Cruise

Our cruise departed and returned from Vancouver, BC. Vancouver is a huge city with lots to see and do, and lots of traffic. We had a bit of trouble finding a reasonably priced down town hotel pre-cruise, so we ended up booking the Four Points Sheraton near the airport in Richmond. The hotel looked much like the other Four Points Sheratons we’ve stayed in with the same décor and very comfortable beds.

I had arranged for a limo company with a 16 passenger van and trailer to come a pick us up at the hotel. With the 8 of us, this was much less expensive and much more convenient than a shuttle.

The van dropped us off at 11:45 and we were onboard the ship enjoying the buffet before 12:30. This was a very well done, efficient embarkation. We also seemed to hit the line at just the right time. The ship was clean and ready, and we were early.

Disembarkation was also a breeze. As Captains Club Elite members, we qualified for priority disembarkation, we went to the cinema at 9:30 and they had us off the ship at 9:45. Our luggage was easily found and all in the same section. Canada Place seems to be a much smother operation than the port of San Diego.

Post cruise we rented a car out of the National office at Canada Place. We were able to drive around Vancouver a bit, but the traffic was awful. The kids had chosen Telus World of Science as their “excursion”. If you are visiting Vancouver with kids, this is a great activity with lots of hands on learning activities. We stayed again at the Richmond Four Points Sheraton. Since Richmond is 80% Chinese, we decided to go out for some of the local Chinese food. The food was pretty good, and a bit more authentic than the typical Chinese food we get near home.

For those of you who might be traveling through the Vancouver Airport back to the US, passengers actually go through US Customs at the Vancouver Airport. This means that when you make a connection in the US you don’t have to claim your luggage and clear customs at your first US city. Also, whatever your final destination, you claim your luggage at the regular baggage claim and don’t have to go through immigration at your arrival destination.