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gi_pam

Review - Mariner Exotic Asia, March 7-15, 2015 with Compasses

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My first review! I've also submitted this to the site, so we'll see if they publish it :)

 

Happy to answer any other questions people have about our cruise.

 

About Us

 

We are a family of 4 from Canada, with a 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. We have cruised both with and without the children in the past. The opportunity to take a trip presented itself and Asia was on our bucket list. The dates of this cruise, the fact that it was a reposition, and the fact that it was with Royal Caribbean all pushed us toward picking this. I was a bit concerned about some of the negative reviews, but we approached the trip with an open mind. Overall, we didn’t notice the rudeness that other reviewers have commented on. We’re pretty patient on vacation, and maybe I just didn’t notice it. Maybe it was because the ship wasn’t full. It should be noted that the ship was only about 2/3 sold for this cruise, likely because it was a reposition from Singapore to Shanghai. There was rarely a line for anything, lots of seats for shows, no problem finding deck chairs, and usually easy to find seats in Windjammer.

 

Pre Cruise

 

We flew into Singapore a couple of days ahead of the cruise and stayed at the Marina Bay Sands, a bit of a splurge to say the least! It didn't disappoint. One thing that surprised us about hotels in Asia, was the fact that it is rare to find hotels that take a family of 4 in a room. They exist but they're hard to find. Our splurge in the Marina Bay Sands was made possible by the fact that we occupied one room, rather than 2. The room was big enough, but the bed options are either a king or 2 large singles (or small doubles, depending on perspective). We chose 2 beds, and added a cot. Cozy for the grownups sharing a bed, but it worked. A big draw for this hotel was the amazing infinity pool on the roof, 57 floors above the city! Due to jet lag and the heat, we didn't see as much of the city as we planned, but we did enjoy the pool.

 

Embarkation

 

Embarkation was smooth for the most part. We arrived at the port at about 2 pm and there were no lines. The only issues we had were connected to the fact that our reservation was mixed up, and I couldn’t get into it online in the week before the cruise after I upgraded our cabins (RCI’s technology issues are infamous). The customer service people at RCI were confused as to why I couldn’t access it, everything looked like I should be able to on their end. The first problem with this was that the Set Sail pass and luggage tags had the wrong cabin number (because I had changed our cabins). I knew our new cabin number but had a mental lapse and gave the wrong number to the porter! So our bags were delayed, and we ended up having to go to security to find them.

 

The next problem that happened when I changed our reservation was that my husband and daughter’s middle names were switched. The change we made meant we had to switch their cabins to have someone over 21 in each cabin, but the rep at RCI obviously made some mistakes. My daughter’s reservation had her father’s middle name and vice-versa. So that had to be fixed on check in. But even with those small problems, we were on the ship and checking out our rooms pretty quickly.

 

The Ship

 

Mariner of the Seas is beautiful, and as other reviews have mentioned, customized to the Asian market. My husband has sailed on the Voyager class, and we’ve sailed as a family on the Freedom class, so Mariner felt a bit familiar. But it emphasizes the need to do research. The ship is not exactly like other Voyager class ships. The Royal Promenade is full of high-end shopping and Casino Royale is apparently different (we’re not gamblers so we can’t really say). There were a lot of Chinese crew but still a good mix of nationalities. Our cabin steward, Wang, was Chinese and was a great help with advice about China. The crew’s English was decent, as good as we’ve found on other cruises. I mention this because other reviews note the crew’s ability to communicate in English as being weak. We didn’t find this at all. The crew was eager to please and very friendly. They weren’t perfect, but the service was good.

 

Ports

 

For the three ports on this cruise, we took three different approaches. Overall, I wasn’t really impressed with the shore excursions RCI was offering. On Caribbean cruises, we’re used to excursions that have a “do something” kind of theme. All of the shore excursions seemed to be “city tours” or “city tours with lunch”.

 

In Phu My, Vietnam, a member of our roll call (go akSail7!) organized a shuttle into Ho Chi Minh City through a private company. The ship was not offering a “Do it Yourself Saigon” tour as had been done by other cruise lines and by other RCI sailings to Phu My. AkSail7 took the bull by the horns and set one up. Then, once on board, RCI did have a “DIY” shuttle from Phu My to Ho Chi Minh City. A bit frustrating. After the shuttle dropped us off in Phu My we walked to the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum and to the Ben Thanh Market. We stopped at a restaurant called Pho 2000 for noodles. The restaurant is kind of touristy, but the food was good. There were several tour guides bringing their customers in for lunch while we were there.

 

In Hong Kong, we took the ship’s “Hop On/Hop Off” tour. The stop in Hong Kong was really too short for this type of activity, and we wouldn’t do this again if we had it to do over. We docked at 10 pm, which if you’re a night owl, still leaves time to explore Hong Kong, but we didn’t get off the ship until morning. The Hop On/Hop Off tour departed the ship at 8 am, and there is a 30-45 minute bus ride to where the tour buses depart. We were on the first tour bus at 9. There are 3 loops available on the tour (we only were able to do 1), a trip up the Peak Tram, ferry ride across the harbour, and a Sampan ride (which we didn’t do). We rode the first loop (Red Route), stopping to do the Peak Tram. We didn’t spend much time at the Peak, because it was raining. We finished the loop, took the ferry across and grabbed a bit to eat, then we headed to the stop to catch the bus for the Blue Route, but we just missed a bus. They only run every 30 minutes, so at that point, we calculated the 30-minute wait for the next bus, the length of the route, plus catching the ferry back across the harbor, to get the last shuttle back to the ship and it was too tight for our comfort. We debated a few things to do instead, such as taking the subway out to see some of the things that were on the Blue Route, then getting a taxi back to the ship, but in the end, decided to go back to the ship early. As part of the excursion, shuttles were running back to the ship every 30 minutes, from 12:00-3:00, with a 3:30 all-aboard. We got back to the meeting point, and just missed the 2:00 shuttle. Tactical mistake on our part, we went and wandered around a bit while waiting for the 2:30 shuttle, when we got back, there was a long line and we didn’t get on the 2:30. The employee of the tour company kept assuring us that another bus was coming, she was on her phone checking on it. I’m not sure if she meant the 3:00 shuttle was on its way or if she had requested another bus because the 2:30 one filled up and there was still a lot of us waiting. At about 2:50, an open top double decker tour bus appeared (not a coach like the other shuttles), and she put us on it. Everyone in line got on that bus, but I wouldn’t have been happy riding on the upper deck back to the ship. It was cool and rainy, and we were traveling on major arteries, not “touring” the city.

 

The next day was Xiamen, China. We didn’t do a ship’s excursion on this one, and just got off the ship with a plan to take the ferry to Gulangyu Island. The ferry terminal is right with beside the cruise terminal. We cleared Chinese customs with no issues and walked to the ferry terminal. It was very crowded and there is no English on any signs and the employees don’t speak any English. We purchased our ferry tickets, but we had an hour wait for our ferry. The language barrier made it hard for us to understand – we got in line for the ferry, but were told to go to another line at a later time. The whole process of getting on the ferry was a bit confusing but it worked, and we made it to the island. We wandered around, had some dumplings from one of the vendors. We didn’t pay the extra to go into any of the other sites on the island. Since the ferry was so crowded on the way over, and we weren’t completely sure about how the return trip worked, we wanted to leave lots of time to get back to the ship. We had a ticket for a specific time for the trip to Gulangyu, but as it turns out, we could get on any ferry to come back. The return trip was free, another point we weren’t entirely sure about when we bought the ticket over. The ferry terminal near the cruise terminal is new, and there wasn’t a lot of information online for us to research ahead of time.

 

Onboard

 

The activities on the ship suited us fine. We tend to spend our sea days relaxing – reading, swimming, that sort of thing. It would have been nice if there were more teens on board. After attending the first meet and greet, our kids didn’t go back to the teen centre – only 3 kids showed up for the meet and greet (including our 2). So they assumed there wouldn’t be anyone else there for the scheduled activities. They enjoyed the arcade, rock wall, pool, inline skating and sports court. We went to the port lectures and they were fabulous. One of the activity staff did some basic Mandarin lessons. Other reviews of Mariner have complained about a lack of activities, we didn’t notice this ourselves. I’m not sure what was missing – we had lots to do on sea days (some days a lot of nothing...the balance between busy port days and a day here and there to just do nothing was important). The only thing we noticed was the lack of teens to make the teen centre fun for our kids. Not Royal Caribbean’s fault, there just weren’t a lot of kids on this sailing!

 

We enjoyed the evening entertainment. The production shows were as good as we’ve seen on other ships or better. The featured entertainers were quite good too – a pianist (Linda Gentille), an Asian musical group (Muse Band), an Australian magician (Duck Cameron), a comedian (Kirk Marsh) and a juggler/comedian (Jeremy Ansley). They put on all of the typical games and parties in the evening – The Quest, Love and Marriage, Battle of the Sexes, late night dance parties.

 

Cabins

 

We were in two Grand Suites on deck 10. This was the amazing part of this trip for us. We had booked insides on deck 7. There was a price drop, and we were able to move to two Promenade view cabins on deck 8. Then, about 10 days before sailing, the Guarantee categories dropped so significantly, that a Deluxe Guarantee was less than what we paid for our inside cabin. We were able to change our insides for Deluxe Guarantees (expecting Junior Suites). We knew we could end up with the two rooms on different decks, not even close to each other, but it was worth it to be in a Suite. We ended up with our two Grand Suites, just a few doors down from each other. This was our first taste of life in a suite. The rooms were wonderful and having the extra space was amazing. We used the Concierge Lounge a bit, but it was crowded most evenings for happy hour. We didn’t have the Concierge, Joel, do very much for us, but he was very nice. Because the ship wasn’t crowded, the privilege of the “gold card” wasn’t as much of a benefit. There are the reserved areas on the pool deck, in the theatre, seating in Chops when eating in the buffet, etc. But without the crowds, it often wasn’t necessary to use our “gold card” to find a place to sit. We did enjoy breakfast in the private dining room off the MDR. The servers in there were amazing, and did work hard to “personalize” our breakfast to our tastes. Rian made the best hot chocolate for the kids every morning.

 

Post Cruise

 

Disembarkation was painless. We grabbed a taxi and with the help of the person at the taxi stand, were able to communicate where we wanted to go to the driver - taxi drivers in China as a rule do not speak English. We spent 2 days in Shanghai, and used points to book the Hotel Indigo on the Bund. We then took an overnight train to Beijing, and spent 4 days there before flying home.

 

Overall, an excellent family vacation. We wanted to see some of Asia and take a cruise at the same time. Mission accomplished!

 

I saved the Compasses, the MDR Menus (at the end of each day's Compass) and the Teen Compass in a Dropbox folder at this link. Hopefully that works!

Edited by gi_pam

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I was a bit concerned about some of the negative reviews, but we approached the trip with an open mind. Overall, we didn’t notice the rudeness that other reviewers have commented on.

 

Those negative reviews are mostly from cruises that sail return from China, and have majority Mainland Chinese passengers onboard. Reposition cruises, like this one, tend to be more diverse in nationalities.

 

See this thread: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2191719

 

 

Other reviews of Mariner have complained about a lack of activities, we didn’t notice this ourselves. I’m not sure what was missing – we had lots to do on sea days

 

I think those other reviews were talking about a lack of activities in the English language. As I mentioned above, cruises with majority Chinese passengers will have activities in Mandarin.

 

 

I saved the Compasses, the MDR Menus (at the end of each day's Compass) and the Teen Compass in a Dropbox folder at this link. Hopefully that works!

 

Thanks, it does work! :)

Edited by zxc

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Thank you for all the information. I booked a similar cruise for 2016, but I am re-thinking it after everything I have read. Do you think leaving from Singapore and arriving in Shanghai makes a difference? We have been on two Voyager class ships, but it has been a while. It doesn't sound like the changes are major. I am also looking at cruises on the Celebrity Millennium (Tokyo to Shanghai) and Princess Sapphire (Singapore-Singapore).

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I think most of the "problems" are on cruises that sail round trip from China. Majority of the passengers are from China, and many things on board are adapted to suit their tastes and interests. Even though it is a Royal Caribbean cruise, the experience will be completely different from a cruise sailing out of a US port. The biggest difference will be that the main language on board is Mandarin. There might be a lack of activities and entertainment in English. And if you like meeting new people on a cruise, it will be hard to make friends when there is language barrier.

 

In my opinion, you shouldn't allow a few negative reviews to change your mind that easily. If you're still interested in traveling to Asia, go with an open mind and the understanding that things are different overseas.

Edited by zxc

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We have done 3 Asia cruises, all flying from the UK. First was Legend Of The Seas in 2010 which was 13 nights from Hong Kong to Singapore via Vietnam and Thailand with 3 ports in Vietnam, including overnight in Saigon and overnight in Bangkok (Lam Chebang). Second was Diamond Princess in 2012 which was 16 nights Singapore to Beijing via Vietnam, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Nagasaki. Third was Voyager Of The Seas in April 2014 for 10 nights Singapore to Tokyo, via HK, Taiwan and Japan. My favourie was the Legend cruise - great itinerary with a really good mixture of guests, mainly from UK, USA, Australia and Asia and food - traditonal western in MDR and good curries in the buffet! Diamond Prncess was also good - excellent entertainment and shore excursions and we made some very friends from the USA on this cruise. Voyager was good for me as the main purpose was to visit Taiwan and Tokyo. However, we were really on a repositioning cruise with a huge number of tour groups and travel agents boarding in Hong Kong 3 days into the cruise - apparently Voyager was going to be chartered by a Chinese travel agency for the summer Asia season and we were on the cultural orientation voyage! The food and service were fine and we made some good friends from Singapore and Australia, but the entertainment was poor and the staff generally seemed fed up as their contracts were about to end. The ports were great, but I actually found the ship quite boring. I am looking at RCI again for next year, and would definitely go on Voyager again based on itinerary and dates. I would think carefully about an Asia trip - if it a once in a lifetime cruise with long flights look carefully at RCI, Princess and Celebrity (and Crystal in funds permit) and choose the ports you really want to visit.

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Thank you for all the information. I booked a similar cruise for 2016, but I am re-thinking it after everything I have read. Do you think leaving from Singapore and arriving in Shanghai makes a difference? We have been on two Voyager class ships, but it has been a while. It doesn't sound like the changes are major. I am also looking at cruises on the Celebrity Millennium (Tokyo to Shanghai) and Princess Sapphire (Singapore-Singapore).

 

 

I do think the Singapore-Shanghai route made a difference. But some of it is preference and expectations. Some on our cruise didn't enjoy the cruise and said they found people rude, and that there was less to do. I wasn't expecting it to be like a Caribbean cruise on a mega ship, in fact my expectations were wide open. We are really easy-going travellers. Any day I'm on vacation is a great day.

 

Our cabin steward said that many of the cruises from Shanghai are chartered, fully or partly. From reading other reviews, even chartered cruises in North America get complaints. Not enough activities, large crowds of people in public venues who are "together" taking over, feeling like an outsider cause everyone is part of the charter. I think that would be a big factor on a cruise from Shanghai.

 

From our 2 days in Shanghai and 4 days in Beijing, we learned that the tourism industry in China is huge! But surprisingly, the tourists are Chinese. There are over a billion people in China, and the growing middle class is starting to travel in their own country. Tourists from outside the country are a very small percentage and the industry doesn't cater to that group. They cater to Chinese touring in their own country.

 

Some of our cruises have been for the cruise experience. This one was more about seeing Asia than taking a cruise. It would have had to been a pretty horrible cruise to ruin that, because we were more focused on seeing the cities.

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Thanks for the review and the great Compasses - Dropbox worked a treat.

I was interested to see the menus each evening. I thought they look pretty good, though I note that some posters have complained about the Asian dishes.

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Your review is very helpful as we'll be taking the same on next year. We are also planning on staying a couple of days in Shanghai and then go two Beijing. Do you min sharing with us your activities in those two cities? Also, was there a specific reason why taking the train rather than flying?

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Sorry for the delay replying! We took a Hop On Hop Off tour in Shanghai, did some window shopping, (bought a few things but not much), walked on the Bund, went to the Yu Garden. Highlight of Shanghai was the Acrobat Show, really good!

 

In Beijing, we did self guided tours of the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Tiannemen (sp?) Square and the Zoo. We hired a driver and English speaking guide through the hotel to go to the Great Wall and Ming Tombs. We did some shopping at the Silk Market (not silk, but overpriced cheap stuff that you have to bargain your way to a reasonable price). Food highlights in Beijing were Hot Pot and Peking Duck. Can't remember the names of the restaurants but I could find out if you're interested.

 

We took the train to save a bit of money and for the experience. We took an overnight train and were in a sleeper. It was neat for the kids to do that.

 

Let me know if you have other questions!

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