Quips, quirks, and biases
One of the great things about cruise vacations is that, in many cases, they are what you make of them. Because of that, I always like to include this little introductory section where I describe where I'm coming from, as context definitely colors any review. This was my 14th cruise on Royal Caribbean, and 24th cruise overall. I've been "loyal to Royal" lately because I like their ships, have received competitive pricing, enjoy the C&A Diamond perks. I sailed on the Mariner in May when she went on her single Astoria Pacific NW run and was glad to be returning to her. I sailed this time with my father who just retired and is also a frequent cruiser.
This cruise was booked in early July, so about a month from the sailing date. I used that site for competing prices and found a travel agent that offered both a fare discount and prepaid tips on top of the military rate that my dad made us eligible for. I was a bit skeptical, but after talking to the guy over the phone, decided to give it a shot. Thankfully the booking was genuine, though those onboard credits … who knows until you’re there. Oh … and one other note … once we made the booking, my dad forwarded his stockholder information to customer relations for OBC. We found out, however, that the discount given to us by the agent was some sort of RCCL-based promotion and we had the choice of either $100 off the fare (the original offer) or $100 OBC with the stock. No surprise, we took the money-in-pocket option. This gummed up the booking for a few days so I learned a new lesson … I need to mention stockholder credit to the travel agent I’m using before just sending it along just in case the fare is coming from a promotion I’m not aware of.
On my May Mariner cruise, we were forced to fly in day-of and, of course, United decided to lose our lone checked bag in Denver, leaving us with few clothes options (and fewer warm clothes options) for a few days until our bag caught up with us in Oregon. This time we were able to fly in the day before and we took the opportunity. Our American flight left Indianapolis with a connection in Dallas to LAX. There was a one hour, on-tarmac delay in Dallas because of a warning light that needed to be checked out, but we still made it to LAX by about 1 PM on the Saturday before the cruise. We collected our bags ($15 apiece, but now $20 I guess with American and I’m sure others soon) and went out to catch the shuttle I had booked online.
**Needless rant** OK … I’m sure this is unnecessary, but still … I HATE checked bag fees. I know they exist and I know the airlines are struggling to make a profit, but I still wish they would just add those fees to the fare. Of course, airlines are now at the mercy of the fare aggregators (like Kayak, Sidestep, etc), so appearing to have the lowest price is the goal. The side effect of this, of course, is also that people are bringing more luggage as carry-ons, including pieces that have no business inside an airplane cabin. American tried to enforce carry-on policies, the biggest seeming to be the 2 limit as many people tended to have a large bag, a smaller bag, then other handbags on top of that. All-in-all, carry-on baggage has gotten more ridiculous with each flight I’ve taken this year. Don’t even get me started on the mass of people waiting to board that block all other people (foot traffic, those already cleared to board, etc), which is, of course, made worse by the people AND their huge carry-ons ….. OK, it’s out of my system.
With only two of us, a shared-ride shuttle seemed the best option for getting to our San Pedro hotel. Researching the two shuttle companies I’ve used in LA, I found that PrimeTime charges $16/pp from LAX to San Pedro while SuperShuttle charges $17/pp. Not really having encountered any differences between the two, I prepaid with PrimeTime. Upon receiving our bags (quite quickly by LAX standards), we went to the ground transportation area and found the shuttle representatives on the island across the street from the baggage claim. We waited perhaps 5 minutes for our shuttle and the one that arrived was full except for two seats right inside the door. All-in-all we won the shared-ride lottery … we were the last picked up and in the first group dropped off 30-40 minutes later in San Pedro. I made note that all shuttles appeared to have a sign stating that they would circle the airport only once before heading to a destination, so if you are the first on a shuttle, be prepared for a bit of a wait which is par for the course with shared-ride.
I typically use Priceline and tried to get the Crown Plaza San Pedro for the usual $65 bid that wins it. I could not get it after a couple of attempts, however, so I went ahead and purchased a $70 3-star Hotwire hotel which I assumed and turned out to be the DoubleTree at the marina. Upon arrival to the hotel at about 2 PM, I was told by the desk that there were no rooms ready and that check-in was 3 PM, so kindly sit and wait. We sat and waited until about 2:40 or so and noted that others were getting rooms so I went up and was able to check-in.
** Note: I’ve been unhappy in the past with Hotwire and room configurations as I’ve booked rooms for 3 (and paid extra for the third) and was still given a single king bed and charged for a roll-away. This time I booked a room for 4 (though it was only the two of us) as there was no increase in price (added 2 children instead of adults) and there was no way they were going to force 4 people into a single queen or king bed.
Our room was on the second floor overlooking the pool and next to the stairwell overlooking pool. The room seemed bright with interesting art. There was supposedly wired Internet available but it didn’t seem to work. The pool was a bit loud at times, as were the children and adults who liked to jump down the interior stairs. The room seemed clean, though in between my before-bed shower and morning shower my feet mysteriously got dirty, so perhaps the carpet needs a little attention.
The area around the marina seemed decent though there didn’t seem to be an abundance to do. We walked around the marina (to the left when you exit the hotel) until we reached the 22nd Street Landing which is where we had dinner. It was a little pricey but in line with the hotel and I had a feeling that this kitchen was probably better than the hotel’s “mystery” kitchen. Our food was very good and we watched the fishing ships come in and clean their catch.
**Note: The shuttle driver told us this was the best hotel in the area. I mentioned that I had stayed in the Crown Plaza before and he asked me if I had needed my running shoes. I said no, I only walked around the area in the day, which he said was a smart move. He also noted that there was a small turf-war going on in San Pedro along a few streets between rival gangs. Just FYI and passing along with no proof or personal experience.
To the ship
If you stay at the DoubleTree, make sure that you talk to the bellman about signing up for the complimentary shuttle to the port. The large rush seemed to be around 11 AM but I got on the first shuttle at 10:30. The shuttle was not at all full, and we arrived while there was still quite a bit of activity. We were directed to a small booth to get baggage tags, and then tracked down a porter for our suitcases. After that, we made our way through security (you need SetSail and passports out). This led to the check-in lines which we bypassed to go to the C&A priority line. We were checked in very quickly as we filled in our H1N1 flu declarations (ie, we are not sick or have been around people who were), and were then sent over to a gated waiting area for priority boarding (standard boarding required numbered tickets). Most people went to the far right when facing the area as there was an agent and door there, but we went to the far left which is where you actually board the ship once they move the gates. At 11:30, the gates were moved aside and we boarded the Mariner ….
Chris's guide for budget travel - Made for conferences (may make a cruise version some time) but airline, shuttle, Priceline, and Hotwire tips should remain the same
Cruise Albums on Flickr