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Old January 15th, 2001, 02:46 PM
dan dan is offline
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Default Mercury 12/22 South America Cruise Review

I am writing this review of the Dec 22, 2000 Mercury South America Cruise I will attempt to outline what we experienced on the sailing of the Mercury from Rio de Janeiro to Valparasio Chile.
To begin this review we will have to say it was the worst cruise we have ever been on. Errors were made on this cruise that in our view reflect total irresponsibility by the Celebrity management of the Mercury.
The first and most important issue that I raise is the safety of us as passengers. When the ship sailed from Buenos Aires it encountered hurricane force winds in excess of 100 mph, which in our view nearly caused the ship to capsize.
We were in the Celebrity Theater at the time of the hurricane watching the second seating show featuring the Los Pampas Devils. An elderly man from the audience was picked by the performers to participate with them in their final act. Suddenly just as the act was finishing the boat rolled up on one side and settled back throwing the man down onto the stage backwards. The Cruise Director was hosting the performance went to the mans aid and helped him up. Once he realized the man was unhurt he made a joke of the situation to the audience. Just about the time he finished his joke the boat rolled up again this time much more than previous. Passengers that had drinks on their tables had to grab them as they started falling from the tables and spilling.
The boat would roll higher each time before settling back, no celebrity management were in sight. No one attempted to instruct passengers what to do. No announcements were made. Most people started getting up trying to get out of the theater. As they did so some were thrown over onto the theater seats or the floor. One man we witnessed fell violently backwards onto a couch just missing a cocktail table. He tried to get up but could not due to the angle the ship was listing. Other passengers had to help pull him up on his feet. The list of the boat was extreme enough so that we had to hold onto handrails just to stay on our feet.
The boat continued to roll up as we made our way from the theater. Once outside the theater we observed a man lying on the floor surrounded by passengers trying to help him. The celebrity crew that we observed were obviously scared. You could tell by the looks on their faces. We observed some of the crew putting on life jackets. Passengers and crew obviously did not know what to do, everyone it seemed was on their own. We heard someone on the PA system announce a “stat 7”as we made our way to our cabin to get our life jackets to be ready to evacuate the ship if necessary. Suddenly the boat stabilized.
Our cabin was located aft on deck 10. Everything that was on the desk or table was on the floor. The room was a mess. Up to now we had not heard anything from the Captain, Cruise Director or anyone of the celebrity management on board the ship instructing us what to do.
After a period of at least half an hour the Captain of the Mercury came over the PA system and announced that we had encountered winds in excess of 100 mph and he had dropped anchor. He further stated that the winds were not forecasted and the events that happened on board the ship were beyond his control.
A short time later the Cruise Director addressed us and said basically the same thing.
As we ventured about the ship in the aftermath we saw much damage to the goods in the shops. Many people appeared to be in a daze. On deck six a woman who we believed to be a passenger started playing the piano to calm those that were there.
We were informed that much of the dining ware in the Manhattan dining room had been broken as well as in the kitchen. The late seating dinner would be delayed. We observed a very nice work of art done in glass that we had previously admired now lay smashed on the floor.
From the events we endured above it seems that the management of the ship acted in an irresponsible manner in protecting the safety of the passengers by not taking charge of the situation immediately. We were left completely at the mercy of what seemed to us, irresponsible Celebrity management. To reassure us we were offered a glass of champagne at dinner when the dining room reopened.
Other concerns we have with the cruise although less in scope than that mentioned above need to be addressed.
While embarking at the pier in Rio, we experienced much confusion in handling our paper work it appears that most of the agents were new hires and were constantly having to go ask questions of a supervisor while trying to process the passengers documents. Much confusion it seemed revolved around passenger’s passports and embarkation procedures. Due to this inexperience embarkation was confusing and lengthy.
Some of the tours offered at the ports of call were either canceled or not very good. For instance we went on the Gaucho Fiesta while in Buenos Aires and expected to see more roping and riding by the Argentine Gaucho’s instead only one rope event was offered which lasted no more than 30 minutes. After the roping event we could have our picture taken with a Gaucho or sit on a horse and trot around an enclosed pen. This tour was made to sound much better than it actually was in the Celebrity brochure describing it. Since it lasted most of the day, it made it impossible to see anything else of Buenos Aires.
In Puerto Madryn we were not allowed to dock due to winds over 20 mph. That is what we were told. We had booked the tour to the Puerto Tombo penguin rookery. It is incredible that during this voyage we did not see one penguin except pictures of them in Ushuaia. No other destinations were offered as an alternative.
Cape Horn was barely visible due to weather. The ship stayed there briefly then left for Ushuaia.
The tour offered in Ushuaia (the train ride at the end of the world) was good mainly because it was the first time we had set foot off the ship since Buenos Aires.
The Chilean Fjords were a non-event as the ship sailed through them at night. The cruise director announced over the PA system at approximately 11 am that we were now entering Drake Passage and would arrive at the Chilean Fjords at 3pm. Time passed with no more announcements and no fjords seen Then at 6pm a Celebrity spokesperson came over the PA system saying that we would not arrive in the fjords until 11pm that evening. We rechecked this with the guest relation’s desk to verify what was said. The woman that we spoke to informed us that the announcement was correct, the ship was not due to arrive in the fjords until 11pm that night. She further stated that there would be a late sunset that night and it would still be possible to see the fjords. By 11 PM it was dark outside. We did not see any of the fjords. Celebrity had touted these fjords on board the ship and in the brochure as some of the most beautiful in the world. We were scheduled to spend a whole day “cruising” through them. What a disappointment not to see them at all.
The next stop was Puerto Montt where we had booked the tour to Petrohue Falls with lunch. This was the best tour of the trip in our view.
Disembarking in Valparasio was awful and disorganized. Only 15 people were allowed to disembark at a time. It was reported to us that there were 2200 passengers on the ship. Since we had a post cruise vacation in Santiago we were the last allowed to disembark.
Other areas of dissatisfaction were as follows. The entertainment offered on the cruise was lacking. We stopped going after the second performance.
The video library lacked enough videos to check out for in cabin entertainment. We tried to check out a movie and only five children’s programs were offered all others had been checked out.
Our room being located at the aft of the ship experienced excessive prop vibration every time the ship slowed. Our room shook so much that anything we had on our desk or bath vanity would shake to the floor. Some times this vibration would go on for hours. When we entered the Rio de la Plata channel on the way into Buenos Aires our room shook all night as the ship ran slow. We got no sleep.
The next morning due to complaints from passengers the Cruise Director announced that he was sorry about the vibrations but those in the aft cabins would experience “extreme vibration” when the ship slowed. He further stated there was nothing that could be done as this was beyond the ships control.

Note: Celebrity’s new ship Millennium had to be dry docked for excessive hull vibration at slow speed. It took modifications to the hull to correct the problem.

To make matters worse the vibration and noise in the Manhattan dining room which is also located aft made dining there very noisy. Passengers had to talk loudly to overcome the engine noise which was always present in the background of any conversation when the ship was underway. The ambiance of the dining experience was diminished due to this.
The positives that I would give this cruise were the food served in the Manhattan dining room. It was very good. Our waiters Jerome and Victor were excellent.
Our room although small was nice and our cabin attendant kept it very clean.
The Pizza was good and so was the frozen yogurt bar. The Ship was very clean and maintained looking. The health club had good quality gear and plenty of treadmills. The spa was very nice.
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old January 15th, 2001, 06:28 PM
Tim Rubacky
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Default Re: Mercury 12/22 South America Cruise Review

Dan,

First off, I am sorry that your cruise did not live up to your expectations but I would like to respond to some of the issues listed above in kind. Please bear in mind that I am in no way excusing any possible errors on Celebrity's part or trying to minimize or "downplay" your situation.

In regards to the weather, as you know, this is totally beyond the control of the cruise line. And when an ship encounters rough or extreme conditions as you stated above, especially when they are unexpected, the safety of the ship and passengers comes first and foremost. And when such conditions descend upon the ship so quickly and unexpectedly, it is likely that the Captain and the Officers of the Watch on the bridge were 100% consumed with controlling and stabilizing the ship. In most cases, this leaves precious little to know time to issue a directive to anyone on the bridge to make a PA announcement and that is why they made the announcements after the case.

I've been in many an usettling situation in the past and have found it all to easy to harshly criticize the managment and staff without knowing exectly what was happening behind the scenes.

I do know, at least this has been the case on every cruise that I have been on, that the subject of adverse weather is covered during the lifeboat drill and passeners are urged to use extreme caution and move about as little as possible.

In regards to the Shore Excursions, I'd suggest that if you havent already voiced your displeasure with Guest Relations on board, that you write a letter to your Travel Agent and specify that you would like compensation for the excursions that were not up to your expectations.

Ports and Timing: As we know, port timings do change and sometimes cruise lines must adjust their itineraries which results in disappointed passengers. But I can assure you that the cruise lines do not do this intentionally.

Additionally, the South Atlantic is well known to be a ferocious place and as many of the crew had probably never experienced such conditions, it's only logical that they would be just as scared as you.

In short, I highly suggest writing a letter to your TA and have them fwd it to Celebrity with an appropriate cover letter and be very specific as to any compensation that you are asking for.

I'm going to pass your comments along to someone from Celebrity and see what the Voyage Report says.

Tim Rubacky
Consumer Affairs Editor.
.
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  #3 (permalink)  
Old January 15th, 2001, 10:53 PM
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Posts: 1,274
Default Re: Mercury 12/22 South America Cruise Review

Tim... We had quite a large group on that sailing, with many Captain's Club members and others fond of the Celebrity cruise product and I met in Houston last week at our consortium with a number of other agents with people on the ship. I agree with your comments concerning the weather. It is interesting that another ship... I think the Splendour... elected not to sail from Buenos Aires on the same evening, thereby avoiding the storm. In any case, be assured of the following...

1. Embarkation in Rio was an unmitigated disaster... just a total mess... the ship's first visit there... but... still... totally disorganized...

2. There was little or nothing on this exotic itinerary along the lines of what one finds in Alaska... no Port lectures... no descriptions of the history of the flora & fauna or natural wonders or historic sites about to be seen... nothing...

3. For an itinerary that had many sea days... planned and unplanned, shipboard activities were minimal. I understand that one show in the main theater lasted under 30 minutes. My people... and reports I have heard from other agents... all say that the Cruise Director was totally inept... from start to finish. Without exception he has been described as the worst any of them had ever encountered.

4. Generally, they felt that the food, service, etc. were typically good and quite in line with Celebrity's norms.

5. There is no question that something went very wrong with the planning for this voyage and on board as well. Most guests flew long distances to join the cruise and the same on the return. The attraction was the itinerary and Celebrity sadly botched it.... the Chilean Fjords fiasco being typical... and not a function of the weather. One would think that some care would be taken to be sure that at least some of the scenic cruising promised would be provided.

6. If anything could be worse than the embarkation in Rio, it seems that Celebrity accomplished it in Valparaiso. Yet another long drawn out mess... 15 people at a time disembarking... great difficulties in finding luggage... and on and on. Many of our passengers did not reach Santiago until well into the afternoon.

Tim... no one is more sensitive to issues of safety than I am. What I'm hearing here is that most on board could understand the sudden weather encountered (if not the decision to sail into it... this was not, after all, the QE2)... it was everything else that built up and resulted in a cruise product far below the standards of Celebrity or, for that matter, the Industry as a whole.

Ernie
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