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Review Mariner 6/17 Western - Long


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Sorry for the length, but there is just so much to say about this wonderful ship.

 

Background – We are a couple in our mid 40’s with 2 children, daughter almost 17 and son who turned 12 while on the cruise. This was our 2nd time on Royal Caribbean, 5th cruise for DH & I (the rest being on Carnival), and 3rd for the kids (one on each line). We usually do 2 trips a year, one for skiing in the winter, and one in warmer months to a beach location (lately cruising). This cruise was about 25 – 30% more than an equivalent one last year, same week, on a similar Carnival ship.

 

Pre-Cruise – We flew down from New Jersey 2 days early to spend some time at Universal prior to the cruise (2 nights in hotel). We rented a car from Budget which was totally painless as DH is a member of the Fast Break (which is free to join). You bypass all the lines and go right to where they hand out the keys. The first night we stayed at the La Quinta near Universal since our flight arrived in late that night. The hotel was ok, provided a free continental breakfast, but the air conditioner in the room had a leak so it smelled very musty. The second night we stayed at the Royal Pacific on-site at Universal. While this was pricey, the benefits you receive make it well worth the money, and it is a beautiful hotel. The day you check in and check out you get to use the express pass privileges which let you skip most of the line on almost all of the rides. So for one night, that means 2 days of express pass allowing us to do all the rides and attractions we wanted to, often multiple times, during our stay. We never waited more than 5 – 10 minutes when standard wait times were often 75 – 90 minutes :eek: .

 

Embarkation – We dropped our car off at the Budget location in Port Canaveral around 12:30. Our bags came directly from the rental car into the shuttle van. DH stopped in the office to drop off paperwork and we were on our way to the terminal in less than 5 minutes. At the terminal there were lines to embark, we are gold so couldn’t use the shorter lines, but they do move very quickly. We were on-board and in our cabins by 1:15. We had an E1 for DH and I and Promenade for the kids on deck 8 which turned out to be a great location, central to everything. We ordered 'gift baskets' from Just Because of You with wine, soda, water, etc and they were waiting in our cabin when we got there jsut as promised. While DH and DD went to the pool, DS and I made the rounds. I booked dinner at Portofino’s for Friday night, got extra keys for the cabins, put a limit on my son’s sea pass (he can go crazy in the arcade!), got soda cards for the kids, and food for all from the windjammer. We were back and relaxing with our food and the drink of the day in hand by the pool before 2:30.

 

Overall – We had Becky (hello luv!) as our cruise director. While we enjoyed her during our cruise (how does she get so much energy) one week was enough. I can see how she can get on some people’s nerves. We also had Captain Johnny who had just returned for our sailing. I had never thought about the impact of a captain before reading CC, and now that I’ve seen Captain Johnny and how he runs his ship, I can see the difference. The ship itself definitely has that WOW factor. The venues, layout, staff, etc are all very good. It is definitely the nicest ship we have been on. Yes, we did see some chair hogs but nothing like I’ve seen other times. Of course, with this ship and itinerary we didn’t sit by the pool as much. Too many other things to do. We could not have asked for any better weather than we had. When we got up on the final sea day, it was like looking in a mirror the ocean was so calm.

 

Dining/Food – Our major disappointment for the cruise happened as we entered the dining room the first night. We have always been very fortunate with table location, table mates, etc so have never gone to check out our table before dinner. We requested a large table as we like to meet others and share our experiences of the day over dinner. We were placed at a table for 4 kind of in the middle, not near a window or railing. Our waiter, Madan, and our assistant waiter were very good which made up for most of it, but from now on I will add a trip the dining room upon boarding to check on the table. I did ask once about getting to a larger table, but didn’t push and it never did happen. Overall the food was good with the appetizers usually being the best part of the meal. We did early seating so that the kids could make it their activities after dinner which worked well for us. My son’s birthday was on Tuesday night and they did bring him a special dessert with a candle and sang Happy Birthday. DH & I ate at Portofino’s on Friday night which ended up working well for us. Yes we did miss lobster night but from what I’ve heard I’m ok with that. Our meal and the service were wonderful. While we were in the restaurant (we had a 7:00 reservation) for most of the meal we were the only 2 in that section. As we were receiving our entrees, two groups of ship personnel came in, and just about as we were leaving, one other family did arrive. With all the talk about how hard it is to get a reservation I was surprised at how empty it was. We did use room service for breakfast a few morning, but found it was just as easy to run down to Promenade for a quick bite on port days. There is one self serve from yogurt machine by the pool. The line was usually pretty long on sea days. We tried it once and decided it wasn’t worth the wait. This is definitely something Carnival does better. The promenade café was probably our biggest downfall, they had the most delicious croissant sandwiches during the afternoon and of course pizza, cookies, pastries, and anything else you can imagine.

 

Kids Activities – Both of my kids went to their appropriate teen meet & mingle’s the first night and met other kids that they stuck with for the rest of the week. My son was almost always found in the teen area (Fuel, Living Room or the Arcade) while my daughter wasn’t as thrilled with the teen spots. There was a large group on the ship from Puerto Rico celebrating a 15th birthday so most of the time they were in the 15 – 17 year old areas. Her and her friends found many other places to hang out (often Cloud 9 playing cards) so it wasn’t an issue. Both kids had check in times and curfews which they reluctantly observed. They always hated for the day to be over, they were just having too much fun. We checked on them both (unknown to them) regularly to make sure they were behaving! We did get a few groans on having to back but otherwise they did well.

 

Entertainment – We went to almost all of the shows, and while they are not Broadway, they are very good. As others have said, the ice show is a must see. Note – they did start handing out tickets for the ice shows 20 – 25 minutes before the announced time. I got there about 30 minutes prior and there was already quite a line. We were fortunate to have John Pinette on board as one of the comedians, he was hilarious! As usual the Love & Marriage show and Quest were very entertaining. The parades were ok, we only made it to the first one, but lost track of time in Ellington’s during the other.

 

Other evening activities – our favorite spot to hang out in the evening was up on the 14th deck in Ellington’s. Heri was the bartender who made it very enjoyable. You need to see the view from up there. We did try most of the other venues, some were better than others, and a lot here depends on your fellow passengers and who is where. We did try our luck in the Casino but didn’t stay long (you can guess what kind of luck we had!).

 

C & A/Meet & Mingle – Another of our disappointments during the cruise was the communication of events. Before sailing we had a confirmed Meet & Mingle at 1:00 in Ellington’s. When we got to our cabins, our kids had an invite that stated 11:00 AM. We had nothing. If it wasn’t for their invite, we would not have known about the time change. It seems this happened to a number of people as our turn out was very small. Becky did come and chat a little bit but had other commitments so didn’t stay long. We did get our invite to the C & A party and our welcome back gifts for DH & I (the blue tote bags). But, even after calling a few days before sailing to confirm my kids membership was active and on the reservation, they did not receive anything until I asked for it, and then I had to ask twice, once for the coupon books (fairly useless anyway), and once for the gifts (blue messenger bags).

 

Ports/Excursion – We do enjoy participating in excursions, however do not want them to take up the entire day as we like to explore on our own as well. We did a mix of RCI and private excursions that worked very well for us.

 

Labadee – We had the kids booked on the 10:00 Aqua Park excursion, so were up, fed (a quite common occurrence during the week) and off the ship by 9. We found 2 chairs near the park where DH and I relaxed while the kids played. Afterwards we took the tram, which ran quite frequently to the other end by Dragon’s Breath. This is truly a beautiful area and if you don’t need to be by the aqua park this is where I would head. The kids explored the rocks around dragon’s breath and by then it was time to eat again. The BBQ on Labadee is very good, one word of advice if you want the chocolate cookies, get them early, they go fast!

 

Ocho Rios – Having heard such great things about the Canopy Tour I booked this for the entire family months before our cruise. This is one island that I was leery of booking privately and anyway the Canopy Tour can only be done through the ship. I had some hesitation as neither of the kids have been to the falls, DH and I have, and don’t know when we will back to Jamaica, but decided on the Canopy Tour and I couldn’t be happier that we did. What an experience. The group was a little larger than I had hoped (about 40), but they have this operation down to a science. There was only one point in the middle where we had to wait for the whole group to get together. Other than that they kept you moving from line to line. There are a total of 7 zip lines, with 2 surprise lines:cool: . I highly recommend this tour. After our tour we shopped a bit and stopped in at Margaritaville.

 

Grand Cayman – We booked a early private tour with Captain Marvin and was a little nervous about getting off the ship in time. We were to meet them at their office at 8:00 AM Island Time which is 9:00 ship time. We were scheduled to arrive at 8:00 with tenders beginning at 8:30. I talked to the shore excursion desk the night before explaining our situation and they said be downstairs around 8:00 the next morning. We were and ended up on the first tender. We were actually on the island by 8:20 (7:20Island time) before the office opened. We had a total of 13 people on our tour. After a short bus ride to the dock, we were taken out to StingrayCity. This is another WOW. When you pull in and see the number of stingrays in the water it can be a little intimidating, but after being in the water with them for a few minutes, it is amazing. They are attracted to the food (cut up squid that they suck out of your hand) and are everywhere. One of our guides caught one of the smaller ones and we were all able to hold and kiss the stingray, and then were treated to a back massage courtesy of the stingray. After about 30 minutes there, we got back on the boat and headed over to a reef where we went snorkeling. Again, a wonderful day and would recommend Captain Marvin’s. We were back in town by 11:00Island time, just enough to have some lunch (be careful, most menus are in Cayman dollars which converts to a lot more USD) and shop some more. For us, this early tour worked out very well as it gave us plenty of time to explore afterwards.

 

Cozumel – Since my son’s birthday was the week of the cruise and my daughter’s shortly thereafter, we splurged for the two of them to do the Royal Swim through Dolphin Discovery at Chankanaab. This was a pricey excursion to say the least but well worth it for them. The admission price was included when I booked (on-line through Dolphin Discovery) so that was one less thing to worry about, just remember to bring the papers showing that you’ve paid, they do look. DH and I paid the $14 admission fee ($16 with the $2 coupon on the web) to get into the park. The park itself is very nice. The entry into the water is quite rocky so make sure to bring your water shoes. You can rent snorkels, etc on the beach, very useful, as there is a lot of marine life to see as well as the coral. We swam and sat on the beach until it was time for their dolphin swim. Before going I had read about how you could go out as an observer and take pictures even though you were not participating, but that the official photographers could get in your way. Well, when we get there, we find out that they are now charging a $5 pp observation fee and that you could no longer take pictures. I argued a bit and we finally paid the $10 so we didn’t miss the kids, but told them I would taking some pictures as there was nothing in their materials stating I could not. The swim itself was worth every penny for the kids, the smiles on their faces as they were being pushed above the water on the dolphins heads is unforgettable. I did take some pics, and of course bought some of theirs as well. They do get the best angles. But, the hassles we received took away as we felt like we were getting nickel and dimed and with all we had already spent it was a little frustrating. Bottom line, be aware if you are planning on going. After the swim we hung out on the beach for a while longer, got some nachos, quesadillas, beers and margaritas before heading into town to do our obligatory shopping. Overall it was another very good day.

 

Disembarking – Since our flight didn’t leave until mid afternoon, we booked the Airboat excursion through RCI and were off the ship around 7:30. The line for customs was longer than we had hoped and moved fairly slow but we made it through without any issues. Our excursion was good as this is something the kids have never done. But, most likely to cross off the list as ‘done it’. The bus then dropped us back off at the airport for our flight back home.

 

Final thoughts – I would highly recommend the Mariner to anyone interested in cruising. As I mentioned earlier, it is the nicest ship we have been on. The port intensive itinerary is not something that I would say is my first choice, we were more tired coming home than we were when we left. We are still trying to catch up, need another vacation! There was so much more to do than we were able to accomplish. The few disappointments along the way did not tarnish the trip, hey I can’t tell you of a perfect trip. With college looming we may need to skip cruising for the next year or so :( and after that we will need to decide if the extra cost of this cruise over our Carnival cruises is worth it. Will we back, absolutely, it’s just a matter of when. Maybe when we aren’t limited to high season it will make the decision easier. We have never had a bad cruise, but this one does definitely rank among the top.

 

Any questions let me know. For all of you who are waiting for your turn it will be here sooner than you think and well worth the wait!

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Thanks for a thoughtful balanced review, my turn on the Marnier will come in Sept. I see you've also sailed Carnival Glory, we were on her in Oct. 03 for her ignagual season... our first time on a "newer" ship.

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Hi, loved your review!! I'm going on the Mariner and I was just wondering how are the Promenade rooms on Deck 8?

 

The rooms themselves are pretty nice, but small. It was nice to have a window to people watch, but would probably have been nicer on deck 7 since it is a little closer. Definitely better than a plain inside.

 

 

BTW, forgot to add in my review, thanks to everyone on CC for all the help you provided before our cruise, trying to give back for all I received.

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Very nice, well-written review! Thanks! We're doing the Western route in 8 weeks, and did the Eastern route last year.

 

Any word on who is replacing Becky as CD after she moves to Freedom in July?

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Becky wasn't saying anything about a replacement so not sure who it will be. I am sure whoever is on the Mariner will be wonderful. RCI seems to like this ship and tends to put some of the best on board.

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