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Cruise Ship Review

Celebrity Mercury - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Come Aboard: My Pacific Coastal Cruise on Celebrity's Mercury

"Like a little town that moves," is how a passenger from Vancouver affectionately describes Celebrity Mercury, which has spent more than 10 seasons in Alaska. This is a little town with an impressive contemporary art collection, fine dining and personal service. In early May, following a quick refurbishment, my father Jack and I sailed a seven-night itinerary out from Vancouver with stops at Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier and Ketchikan.

What's interesting about Mercury, third in Celebrity's mid-sized Century-class of ships, is its continued appeal, given its age and old-school traditions. Newer ships can have their umpteen specialty restaurants and glitzy bars -- Mercury passengers are perfectly happy to dine in one main venue, the elegant Manhattan Restaurant. Bucking the trend toward casual attire, the ship's weeklong itineraries feature two traditional formal dinners and two informal dinners requiring men to wear jackets.

Perhaps the reason no one's complaining is that the food is excellent and the service is truly noteworthy. A fellow passenger raved about how her waiter produced the homemade ginger ice cream she'd enjoyed on her last Mercury cruise, even though it wasn't on the dinner menu. The Internet center manager left me a phone message -- my favorite jacket was waiting at lost and found. One afternoon at sea, a typo in the daily bulletin caused us to miss our Pilates class. Rather than disappoint us, the fitness instructor repeated the class.

Another pleasant surprise is Mercury's naturalist program. Initially, I wasn't sure if the crowd would forgo bingo for whale watching. But folks turned out with binoculars and cameras, four rows deep, to marvel at humpbacks the size of greyhound buses navigating the silvery Chatham Strait, and to ogle at the jaw-dropping Hubbard Glacier. Though it took me a little while to adjust to the dramatic style of onboard naturalist Brent Nixon, his wildlife talks definitely added to my experiences off the ship. Of surviving a grizzly bear attack in his 20's, Nixon says, "At that moment, you either become afraid of nature or you learn to embrace it. The bear did nothing wrong."

As part of its mini-makeover, all Mercury's staterooms have comfortable new mattresses and soft Egyptian cotton duvets and sheets. The ship's fitness center sports brand-new equipment with individual TV's. New carpeting and decking is installed in most public areas and poolside. Large connecting balconies have been added to 14 wake-facing staterooms.

Dining

The Art Deco-style Manhattan Restaurant is a beautiful space, with two stories of windows overlooking the stern and a dramatic staircase bisecting the center of the room. Passengers are assigned to a two-, four-, six- or eight-person table as well as a waiter. Though Michel Roux is no longer connected with Celebrity, the quality of the dining experience remains excellent. Our most memorable dinners were fresh Alaskan salmon and prime rib.

Breakfast and lunch are open seating in either the Manhattan Restaurant or upstairs at the Palm Springs Cafe, Mercury's more informal buffet venue. Manhattan's breakfast menu features Scottish kippers and herring, made-to-order eggs and fresh fruit. Waiters stroll by with pastries, and juice and coffee. With the dramatic panoramic windows, lunch here turned into a whale-watching adventure one afternoon. Selections include appetizers, soups, entrees, vegetarian choices and desserts. When we had time, Jack and I chose the restaurant. When we needed a quick bite, the buffet worked great.

The Palm Springs Cafe is a casual buffet-style eatery that also offers great views. We were pleasantly surprised that an attendant almost always carried our trays to a table. My breakfast favorite turned out to be the omelet station, and I liked the healthy choices: nonfat yogurt, fresh fruit and whole wheat toast. Meanwhile next door at the Palm Springs Grill, Jack discovered flower-shaped waffles with strawberry, caramel and blueberry toppings, and homemade pancakes with fresh banana, strawberry and blueberries.

Lunch brings themed selections (Asian, Mexican, Italian), a sandwich bar, wrap of the day, and fresh baked pizza and salad station. My favorite was a Caesar salad with fresh salmon. Outside, the La Playa Grill serves burgers, hot dogs, chili dogs and beef brochette, with cheesecake, apple pie and cookies for dessert. Dinner at the Palm Springs Cafe features casual dining that borrows from the main restaurant, a sushi bar, and a pizza and pasta corner.

In addition to daily "lean and light" lunch and dinner selections with nutritional values on the menu, the galley prepares vegetarian, diabetic, low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, lactose-free and kosher (dinner only) meals by request, 21 to 60 days in advance of sailing. In a nice touch, the pastry chef bakes small complimentary birthday and anniversary cakes.

For guests with verandahs, 24-hour room service is a great idea. Hot and cold breakfast fare is delivered between 6:30 and 10 a.m. (Continental breakfast can be delivered from 6 to 8 a.m. the morning of disembarkation.) During restaurant lunch and dinner hours, passengers can order room service from the restaurant menu, available through the stateroom attendant or interactive TV.

The wine list features a broad selection -- from a $23 Celebrity Cellars Propriety Sauvignon Blanc and $25 Argentinean Malbec to a $57 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir and $237 2003 Chateau Beychevelle Bordeaux. There's a small but nice selection of wines by the glass, including a Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir ($7.75), Pinot Grigio Bollini Trentino ($7.95) and Gloria Ferrer Carneros Chardonnay ($8).

Besides specialty coffee drinks like cafe ole (Kahlua, Spanish brandy and coffee, $5.95), the Cova Cafe serves wine and champagne by the glass, cognac, grappa, sherry, liqueur and port. Other watering holes include the Rendez-Vous Square bar, Sky Bar, La Playa Pool Bar, Michael's Club and Fortunes Bar in the Casino. Forty different martinis and 20 types of bubbly are poured at the Martini and Champagne Bars. Soda costs $1.95; Heineken $4.75.

Public Rooms

Mercury offers an eclectic array of public rooms. There are dramatic venues like the Celebrity Theater with its red velvet chairs, main floor and upper opera house style balcony boxes, and the Navigator Club, a gorgeous observation deck by day and an elegant disco by night. We also enjoyed discovering smaller escapes like the chic Cova Cafe and Michael's Club with its comfortable wing chairs.

Everywhere you turn on the Mercury there's amazing artwork -- some 450 works including originals by Jasper Johns and Christo. Even the buffet boasts striking black and white photographs of glaciers. Among the most dramatic is the focal point of the Grand Foyer, an enormous rotating universe that simulates the colors of the Aurora Borealis at night.

Surprisingly, we didn't feel overwhelmed by our 1,869 fellow passengers, even at disembarkation. The only places we had to wait were at the elevators and the homemade ice cream station.

Smoking is permitted in designated areas on the port side of most public areas (lounges, bars, decks) and not permitted in the dining room, theater, cinema, conference center or in elevators. Pipe and cigar smoking is allowed on Deck 11 aft, open deck.

Getting onto an Internet terminal in the foyer or on Decks 5 and 6 is never a problem because of the cost -- 65 cents a minute. The per-minute price drops if you purchase a package -- $0.38 for 260 minutes, $0.43 for 185 minutes, $0.48 for 125 minutes, and $0.53 for 75 minutes. Shortly after our cruise, wireless Internet service was installed in the Rendezvous Lounge, Martini Bar, Cova Cafe and Internet Cafe.

Though I saw some guests using their cell phones, others like myself could only have a one-way conversation (I could hear my husband, but he couldn't hear me). According to Celebrity, guests are supposed to be able to make and receive calls when their cell phones indicate they are roaming on AT&T Wireless. Next time, I'll check with my network, Verizon.

Boutique Boulevard includes Treasures, a new Sephora-like shop with fragrances and upscale skin care lines; Boutique C, Celebrity's high-end, appointment-only jewelry store; and Blue Collection with casual branded apparel. alcony.

There are a lot of lovely shops on Mercury, too; besides the usual logo and jewelry stores, there is an elegant florist which sells genuinely unique artistic creations to take home (candles, and jars filled with faux fruit and spices).

Cabins

Two-thirds of Mercury's 949 staterooms have ocean views. Though verandahs were just added to 14 staterooms on Decks 8 and 10 (aft), balconies are limited to about one quarter of accommodations. All staterooms are air conditioned, and include telephone, shower, hair dryer, interactive TV, mini-bar and safe.

If you have your heart set on a butler, Mercury offers a pair of spacious Penthouse Suites with flat-screen TV's, CD players with wireless headphones and verandah Jacuzzis, ten Royal Suites with marble-tiled baths and walk-in closets, as well as 24 Sky Suites and 14 standard suites.

Our mid-ship outside stateroom measured 172 square ft., plus a small balcony. The cheerful and airy decor included light wood paneling, blue carpeting, blue and green curtains and dust ruffles. We asked our steward to separate the queen-size bed configuration into twins. I slept soundly on the newly installed mattress fitted with a white striped duvet. Mushroom-shaped lamps topped each of small night tables, and a colorful print hung over the beds.

To create work space at the desk, I moved a silver tray with water pitcher, glasses and ice bucket to the small glass and chrome coffee table. We enjoyed having the New York Times Digest delivered each afternoon. A blue desk chair matched the loveseat in the small sitting area.

Though our 42-square-ft. balcony itself wasn't exciting -- a pair of aging Brown Jordan mesh chairs and ottomans, small glass table and piece of grey outdoor carpet -- the views were amazing. Each evening before dinner, Jack and I would enjoy a glass of wine, read, and breathe Alaska's fresh air.

Functional best describes the bathroom with shower, furnished with a mirror and light wood cabinet with two storage shelves, chrome towel racks, rounded glass shelves, glass holders and four door hooks. I like the retractable clothes line and being able to adjust the shower head up and down. The white Egyptian cotton towels were replenished twice a day. Amenities included a jar of cotton balls and Q-tips, bars of Celebrity French milled soap, shower cap, lotion and shampoo dispensers.

Halfway through drying my hair, the handle of the old fashioned vacuum cleaner-type gadget turned into a hot potato. Our stateroom attendant delivered a stand-alone model, which didn't work in the outlet by our desk. Guests with medium or long hair will be happier bringing their own dryer.

Inside one of two hanging closets, we discovered a pair of white waffle robes and a lightweight tote. (Concierge Class and suite guests enjoy the use of Frette robes and binoculars.) We used every inch of space in the center unit with five shelves and three drawers, as well as two wall hooks. Another closet unit contained a combination safe, two umbrellas, mini-bar and TV/VCR (VHS's, including children's movies, are available at guest services).

The fridge was stocked with beverages like Red Bull, Heineken, Perrier, La Crema Chardonnay, small liquor bottles and snacks like M&M's and almonds. Evian water costs $3.75. A 15 percent service charge is added to all items. There is next-day laundry, dry cleaning and pressing service as well as same-day service for a 50 percent surcharge.

For more spacious digs, the Mercury offers several "sweet" options. Two dozen Sky Suites on Penthouse and Sky decks measure 246 square ft. with either 179 or 69-square-ft. verandahs. They feature lovely floor-to-ceiling windows and a sliding glass door, sitting area with sofa bed, VCR, and tub in the bathroom.

Also on the Penthouse Deck, the ten luxe royal suites offer 537 square ft. of space with 94-square-ft. verandas. The separate living room features a dining area, entertainment center with VCR and CD player, sofa bed, love seat and club chairs. There's also a walk-in closet and dressing room, and a tub with whirlpool jets in the bathroom.

For the ultimate Mercury experience, each of the two Penthouse Suites offers 1,101 square ft. of space with a 118-square-ft. verandah sporting an outdoor whirlpool. There's a king-size bed, separate dining room with butler's pantry and wet bar, guest powder room, walk-in closet and dressing room, living room with sofa bed, two entertainment centers and fax machine, as well as an oversize bathroom with tub and double sinks.

Entertainment

The best entertainment came from a most unexpected source -- onboard naturalist, Brent Nixon. Nixon packed the 925-seat Celebrity Theater with his animated wildlife presentations. Less successful were the Las Vegas-style music and dance productions. Of the various performers, we most enjoyed Seattle comedian Ron Pearson. Movies like "Failure to Launch," "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Firewall" are shown on the theater's big screen and at the cinema/conference room.

Wherever you go on the Mercury, it's impossible not to hear music. Our favorites were the string and dance quartets. A pianist moved between the Cova Cafe and Michael's Club, and there was a band in the Pavilion Nightclub. In addition to the live music, a D.J. took requests during easy listening and dance parties in the Navigator Club.

Fortunes Casino features an array of slot machines as well as tables for blackjack, poker and craps. I won a raffle entry into a very popular blackjack tournament, but unfortunately I didn't make the final round. An ATM ($5.50 charge) accepts most credit and bank cards.

Other diversions included cha cha and salsa lessons, culinary and ice-carving demonstrations, sports and TV trivia contests, spelling bees, golf putting and table tennis tournaments, bingo and art auctions.

Fitness and Recreation

Each morning after breakfast, I joined about a dozen passengers on the Sky Deck jogging track. Six times around and you've logged a mile and likely spotted a whale or two. Guests can take a seawater plunge in two outdoor pools or a covered pool. On our chilly May Alaska cruise, the four heated fresh water whirlpools were more popular. There's also a children's pool next to the Fun Factory on Deck 9. Deck chairs line the pool area and there are plenty of green blue and yellow plaid blankets and thick yellow pool towels. Other sport activities include basketball, volleyball, shuffleboard, and Ping-Pong.

The 10,000-square-ft. AquaSpa (run by London-based Steiner Leisure) features a fitness center, small aerobics area, beauty salon, massage rooms, thalassotherapy pool, saunas and steam room. We used the fitness center's new strength training and cardio machines. The complimentary 7:30 a.m. stretch class packed the small exercise space, but the spin, yoga and Pilates classes were smaller draws. Center is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

We soaked our muscles in the body temperature sea water thalassotherapy pool and relaxed in the cushioned chaise lounges. For $20 a day ($99 for unlimited use or $160 per couple), guests can use the pool and nearby coed steam room as well as the saunas in the men's and women's locker rooms. Locker room amenities include towels, lotion, hair dryer and shower caps. Bring your own robe, hairbrush, and shower sandals (disposable paper slippers are provided upon request). I found the beauty salon to be far more appealing than most cruise ship salons, with its floor-to-ceiling oceanview windows and two new massage pedicure chairs.

Jack and I enjoyed our relaxing aroma stone spa treatments -- hot volcanic stones combined with massage and aromatherapy oils (75 minutes $193; 50 minutes $148). The only aspect we didn't care for was the hard sell of products following our treatments. I signed up for "Ladies Night" ($79) and was looking forward to a mini-facial, foot and ankle massage and body scrub, but unfortunately the timing conflicted with our second dinner seating. Teeth Whitening runs $199 for one treatment and $358 for two people. The spa is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

There's an acupuncture clinic in the Navigator Club on Deck 12. Jack won a free treatment from the young onboard acupuncturist. I'm not sure if he achieved balance and harmony between his physical, emotional and spiritual self, but he did return with a pricey bottle of herbal pills.

Jack also tried playing a few holes at Pebble Beach in the golf simulator, but his club kept hitting the ceiling. The onboard golf program has just been replaced by a golf concierge who will coordinate bag handling, transportation, carts, practice range activity and guests' rounds onshore. Clinics, fitness sessions and stretching classes will also be offered.

Family

Mercury's children's program is very traditional. In lieu of rock-climbing walls and water slides, there are age-appropriate activities, games and crafts. Kids on our cruise seemed totally happy combing the ship in a scavenger hunt with their pirate counselor, making sushi and rehearsing for a talent show.

The X-Club is organized by age groups: Toddlers (under 3), Ship Mates (3 - 6), Cadets (7 - 9), Ensigns (10 - 12) and Admiral T's (13 - 17). There's a colorful enclosed outdoor play area at the Deck 9 aft Fun Factory. Staff is beefed up during family friendly Alaska itineraries.In-stateroom babysitting is available with 24-hour notice for children six months and older for $8 to $10 per hour.

Teens have their own lounge forward on Sky Deck with foosball, bean bag chairs and a cyberspace video game room with arcade games that only teens can love, like "The House of the Dead."

Fellow Passengers

Though the Mercury carries a couple hundred children and teens during the peak Alaska season, the ship's mellow ambience generally attracts a mature crowd. On our May sailing, the majority of the 1,871 guests hailed from the U.S. (45 percent), followed by Canada (33 percent), the U.K. (16 percent) and Australia (3 percent).

Dress Code

Mercury's dress code is conservative. Jeans, T-shirts, tank tops, swimsuits, robes and bare feet are not permitted in the Manhattan Restaurant at any time, and shorts are not permitted at dinner. Even at the more casual Palm Springs Cafe, bare feet, tank tops and caps are dinner faux pas. To really enjoy Chatham Strait and Hubbard Glacier, pack warm layers, a windproof rain jacket, rubber-soled shoes, binoculars and a camera.

Passengers are requested to wear three types of attire. Day wear: sports shirts and slacks for men; dress, pantsuit or sporty outfit for women. Informal: jacket and slacks for men; informal dress or pants and blouse for women. Formal: tux, dinner jacket or dark suit and tie for men; and a dressy outfit, formal gown or cocktail dress for women. On our sailing, the best dressed award goes to a Scot in a formal kilt.

Gratuity

Celebrity suggests the following per-person, per-day gratuities: waiter $3.50, assistant waiter $2, assistant maitre d' $0.75, butler $3.50, Concierge-Class stateroom attendant $4, stateroom attendant $3.50, and assistant chief housekeeper $0.75.

For children under 12 who are the third or fourth people in a stateroom, half the above amounts is recommended. Gratuities can be either be charged to your account or paid in cash in envelopes provided. For bar and spa personnel, 15 percent and 10 percent gratuities are automatically added to beverage and spa treatments, respectively.

--by Susan Jaques, a Los Angeles-based writer whose favorite travel adventures are with her husband and teenage son and daughter. In addition to Cruise Critic, Jaques' articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine.

Dining

The Art Deco-style Manhattan Restaurant is a beautiful space, with two stories of windows overlooking the stern and a dramatic staircase bisecting the center of the room. Passengers are assigned to a two-, four-, six- or eight-person table as well as a waiter. Beginning February 15, 2010, the Celebrity Select dining option will also be available on this ship. Passengers can choose this option instead of the traditional, assigned-time, assigned-table dining plan. With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to dine any time between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. and to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or on a mixed table with other guests. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.

Though Michel Roux is no longer connected with Celebrity, the quality of the dining experience remains excellent. Our most memorable dinners were fresh Alaskan salmon and prime rib.

Breakfast and lunch are open seating in either the Manhattan Restaurant or upstairs at the Palm Springs Cafe, Mercury's more informal buffet venue. Manhattan's breakfast menu features Scottish kippers and herring, made-to-order eggs and fresh fruit. Waiters stroll by with pastries, and juice and coffee. With the dramatic panoramic windows, lunch here turned into a whale-watching adventure one afternoon. Selections include appetizers, soups, entrees, vegetarian choices and desserts. When we had time, Jack and I chose the restaurant. When we needed a quick bite, the buffet worked great.

The Palm Springs Cafe is a casual buffet-style eatery that also offers great views. We were pleasantly surprised that an attendant almost always carried our trays to a table. My breakfast favorite turned out to be the omelet station, and I liked the healthy choices: nonfat yogurt, fresh fruit and whole wheat toast. Meanwhile next door at the Palm Springs Grill, Jack discovered flower-shaped waffles with strawberry, caramel and blueberry toppings, and homemade pancakes with fresh banana, strawberry and blueberries.

Lunch brings themed selections (Asian, Mexican, Italian), a sandwich bar, wrap of the day, and fresh baked pizza and salad station. My favorite was a Caesar salad with fresh salmon. Outside, the La Playa Grill serves burgers, hot dogs, chili dogs and beef brochette, with cheesecake, apple pie and cookies for dessert. Dinner at the Palm Springs Cafe features casual dining that borrows from the main restaurant, a sushi bar, and a pizza and pasta corner.

In addition to daily "lean and light" lunch and dinner selections with nutritional values on the menu, the galley prepares vegetarian, diabetic, low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, lactose-free and kosher (dinner only) meals by request, 21 to 60 days in advance of sailing. In a nice touch, the pastry chef bakes small complimentary birthday and anniversary cakes.

For guests with verandahs, 24-hour room service is a great idea. Hot and cold breakfast fare is delivered between 6:30 and 10 a.m. (Continental breakfast can be delivered from 6 to 8 a.m. the morning of disembarkation.) During restaurant lunch and dinner hours, passengers can order room service from the restaurant menu, available through the stateroom attendant or interactive TV.

The wine list features a broad selection -- from a $23 Celebrity Cellars Propriety Sauvignon Blanc and $25 Argentinean Malbec to a $57 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir and $237 2003 Chateau Beychevelle Bordeaux. There's a small but nice selection of wines by the glass, including a Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir ($7.75), Pinot Grigio Bollini Trentino ($7.95) and Gloria Ferrer Carneros Chardonnay ($8).

Besides specialty coffee drinks like cafe ole (Kahlua, Spanish brandy and coffee, $5.95), the Cova Cafe serves wine and champagne by the glass, cognac, grappa, sherry, liqueur and port. Other watering holes include the Rendez-Vous Square bar, Sky Bar, La Playa Pool Bar, Michael's Club and Fortunes Bar in the Casino. Forty different martinis and 20 types of bubbly are poured at the Martini and Champagne Bars. Soda costs $1.95; Heineken $4.75.

Gratuity

For passengers occupying standard accommodations, Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day to the onboard account. It's $12 per person, per day for passengers in Concierge Class cabins and $15 per person, per day for those in Suites. Gratuities can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. 15 percent is automatically added to all bar bills. --by Susan Jaques, a Los Angeles-based writer whose favorite travel adventures are with her husband and teenage son and daughter. In addition to Cruise Critic, Jaques' articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine.

Dining

The Art Deco-style Manhattan Restaurant is a beautiful space, with two stories of windows overlooking the stern and a dramatic staircase bisecting the center of the room. Passengers are assigned to a two-, four-, six- or eight-person table as well as a waiter. Though Michel Roux is no longer connected with Celebrity, the quality of the dining experience remains excellent. Our most memorable dinners were fresh Alaskan salmon and prime rib.

Breakfast and lunch are open seating in either the Manhattan Restaurant or upstairs at the Palm Springs Cafe, Mercury's more informal buffet venue. Manhattan's breakfast menu features Scottish kippers and herring, made-to-order eggs and fresh fruit. Waiters stroll by with pastries, and juice and coffee. With the dramatic panoramic windows, lunch here turned into a whale-watching adventure one afternoon. Selections include appetizers, soups, entrees, vegetarian choices and desserts. When we had time, Jack and I chose the restaurant. When we needed a quick bite, the buffet worked great.

The Palm Springs Cafe is a casual buffet-style eatery that also offers great views. We were pleasantly surprised that an attendant almost always carried our trays to a table. My breakfast favorite turned out to be the omelet station, and I liked the healthy choices: nonfat yogurt, fresh fruit and whole wheat toast. Meanwhile next door at the Palm Springs Grill, Jack discovered flower-shaped waffles with strawberry, caramel and blueberry toppings, and homemade pancakes with fresh banana, strawberry and blueberries.

Lunch brings themed selections (Asian, Mexican, Italian), a sandwich bar, wrap of the day, and fresh baked pizza and salad station. My favorite was a Caesar salad with fresh salmon. Outside, the La Playa Grill serves burgers, hot dogs, chili dogs and beef brochette, with cheesecake, apple pie and cookies for dessert. Dinner at the Palm Springs Cafe features casual dining that borrows from the main restaurant, a sushi bar, and a pizza and pasta corner.

In addition to daily "lean and light" lunch and dinner selections with nutritional values on the menu, the galley prepares vegetarian, diabetic, low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, lactose-free and kosher (dinner only) meals by request, 21 to 60 days in advance of sailing. In a nice touch, the pastry chef bakes small complimentary birthday and anniversary cakes.

For guests with verandahs, 24-hour room service is a great idea. Hot and cold breakfast fare is delivered between 6:30 and 10 a.m. (Continental breakfast can be delivered from 6 to 8 a.m. the morning of disembarkation.) During restaurant lunch and dinner hours, passengers can order room service from the restaurant menu, available through the stateroom attendant or interactive TV.

The wine list features a broad selection -- from a $23 Celebrity Cellars Propriety Sauvignon Blanc and $25 Argentinean Malbec to a $57 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir and $237 2003 Chateau Beychevelle Bordeaux. There's a small but nice selection of wines by the glass, including a Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir ($7.75), Pinot Grigio Bollini Trentino ($7.95) and Gloria Ferrer Carneros Chardonnay ($8).

Besides specialty coffee drinks like cafe ole (Kahlua, Spanish brandy and coffee, $5.95), the Cova Cafe serves wine and champagne by the glass, cognac, grappa, sherry, liqueur and port. Other watering holes include the Rendez-Vous Square bar, Sky Bar, La Playa Pool Bar, Michael's Club and Fortunes Bar in the Casino. Forty different martinis and 20 types of bubbly are poured at the Martini and Champagne Bars. Soda costs $1.95; Heineken $4.75.

Gratuity

Celebrity suggests the following per-person, per-day gratuities: waiter $3.50, assistant waiter $2, assistant maitre d' $0.75, butler $3.50, Concierge-Class stateroom attendant $4, stateroom attendant $3.50, and assistant chief housekeeper $0.75.

For children under 12 who are the third or fourth people in a stateroom, half the above amounts is recommended. Gratuities can be either be charged to your account or paid in cash in envelopes provided. For bar and spa personnel, 15 percent and 10 percent gratuities are automatically added to beverage and spa treatments, respectively.

--by Susan Jaques, a Los Angeles-based writer whose favorite travel adventures are with her husband and teenage son and daughter. In addition to Cruise Critic, Jaques' articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine.

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