Since there was a norovirus outbreak a few weeks ago aboard the Mariner, I thought all week of giving a detailed review of the cruise only 2 weeks later. Pardon the length of this post but just maybe, it could assist someone in their future cruise....
Day 1: Port Canaveral Embarkation
This was by far the smoothest embarkation we've been on (this was our 5th RCCL cruise). It was nice to see that next time, Platinum members walk straight to the front of the line. Advice: be sure to check in online and print out your Set Sail pass and have it with you. They handed us a few papers to fill out in addition. One being a form asking you if you've been sick in the previous 48 hours. If so, you had to be cleared by the ship's doctor before boarding.
Of course, the first thing to do was lunch so off to the Windjammer or Jade (Asian cuisine). No surprise, the staff was spraying Purell in everyones' hands as they entered...not an option. It turned out that this was normal practice all week in any location serving food. It was good to see this.
If you haven't cruised before, you'll notice RCCL offering the Coke all-you-can-drink package at the Windjammer as well as the Wine & Dine Package. Coke package for adults was $42 for the week and I believe $26 for kids. Don't recommend either unless serious consumption of one or both of these is expected.
The Mariner set sail at 5pm. We immediately found out that Cococay, Bahamas (set for the next day) was cancelled due to remnants of Tropical Storm Chris. Instead, we spent the day at sea and went to San Juan, PR
the next day. A good replacement in my opinion since Cococay is nothing more than a beach day.
The night's welcome aboard show was great with a hilarious comedian and was followed by the first of two parades on the Royal Promenade. I'll recommend the Promenade stateroom while I have the chance. We love this stateroom and believe it's the best value for a stateroom on Voyager class ships. Barely more expensive than a standard inside cabin.
Day 2: At Sea
For those who hate the rock wall idea, that's fine. For me, I'm in my 30s and while many young ones use this, I look forward to it. You see, there just aren't many opportunities in northeast Ohio to rock climb. So, I did climb this morning and again 2 other times during the week. There are different levels of difficulty and the crew will let you do any course you'd like. There are 4 ropes and 2 to 3 courses at each rope to follow. If the sun is shining on the back of ship intensely, be prepared that they may close the wall until later because direct and intense light on the rocks make them too hot to touch.
After some pool time, a few Pina Coladas, and the hot tub, we had lunch and attended the first art auction. We've gone to these often in the past but this was our only one for this cruise. They are all the same and we got our art last year on the Serenade. Basically, we were there for the free champagne!
Dinner was Formal Night which we always look forward to. We noticed there were far more people dressed VERY formally than any other previous cruise we'd been on. Lots of fancy gowns and tuxedos. Very few underdressed which was commonplace last year on the Serenade.
By the way, we had an awesome waiter...Serkan from Turkey. We (for the first time) requested a table for 2. We got it. Absolutely the right decision. We had requested this at cruise booking but still went straight to the dining room when we embarked just to check. I'd recommend going straight there when you embark if you have any special requests...they will be happy to assist you.
Entertainment was a variety show this evening. Very good once again. However, the real fun was coming in the form of Adult late-night comedy at 12:30am. DO NOT MISS!!! This has always been one of the hardest laughing events we attend on each cruise.
Wine Tasting: be careful about this one. If you've cruised before, you may attend this each cruise and if you're a C&A Member, it's free. HOWEVER, throughout this cruise, they listed Wine Tasting in the daily schedule held in the Promenade wine bar, Vintages. This is NOT the freebie! It is $9.95 PP. Wait until you see the wine tasting in the lower level dining room. That is the one your coupon is good for. We attended on Day 6 and it was the best one yet we have been too.
DAY 3: San Juan, Puerto Rico (3pm - midnight)
Back about 13 years ago, I visited here in the Navy and went on the Bacardi Rum Factory tour. Well, it was listed here as an excursion for $22 PP so we signed up since my wife had never been there. Not too bad. About a 25 minute bus ride and 2 free tickets for any kind of rum drink you'd like. They have an open air bar at Bacardi.
My disappointment came after my first rum & Coke. Back 13 years ago, we got to see it all. The factory, the bottling area, boxing, everything. Now, they take you into a museum-like building showing you the history of Bacardi. Nothing live whatsoever. While nice, it was a big let-down compared to what I expected. I asked why it was changed and I was given the lame excuse "For safety reasons, we stopped it 3 years ago."
Regardless, for the price of the tour, it wasn't bad.
We asked to be dropped off in Old San Juan on the way back. We walked around a bit and ended up at Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. DO NOT RECOMMEND! It was very overpriced and not good. Unfortunately, we passed a few local establishments on the walk back to ship (not far) that were packed. Lesson learned for next time. For those of you who are Starbucks addicts, there is one on the way back. Your only chance to pick up the limited mugs that say San Juan on them.
The entertainment this night was one time only and it was the first of two production shows by the singers and dancers. I will say this: it was the worse one we've seen on any RCCL ship. The singing was sub-par and the dancers were never together. It just looked sloppy and rushed. Luckily, we know this is abnormal and not representative of RCCL. Plus, the rest of the entertainment by non-RCCL acts was first class all the way.
DAY 4: St. Thomas, USVI (8am-6pm)
This was our best day of the inport days. While previous cruises had a mission....ya know, like looking for that watch, diamond, etc., we weren't interested in walking around into the MANY shops. During our last St. Thomas visit in 2003 on the Navigator, we got a personalized tour alone with a local woman who took us EVERYWHERE on the island. That pretty much eliminated half of the excursions offered. So, we booked a snorkeling excursion for 1pm so we first walked into town (about a 25min hike...and a warm one at that) We first came across one of those open markets selling billions of t-shirts, local art, etc. After buying 1 liter of water from the dehydrating walk, we continued around town. Be prepared for solicitors stopping you constantly. If you don't want bothered, just keep walking. By the way, if you have to go to the bathroom, don't pass up the opportunity when you see one...they are few and far between...and they often are asking for tips as you depart. We stopped for frozen drinks at the Happy Buzzard. It's on the waterfront in town. AWESOME drinks and a good place to catch lunch if you wish. We recommend the Bushwacker frozen drink. Frozen drinks are $5.50 each.
If you like local brews, just next door is a local brewer who sells shirts, etc. but also samples out their brew. Look for the Pirate flags on their storefront.
After misc. roaming around, we headed back to the ship for our 1pm departure for snorkeling.
OK, we've been on several of these excursions on past cruises and this took the cake on them all. There are many choices for snorkeling in St. Thomas and we chose Buck Island Sail and Snorkle. $58 PP. We picked it because the description said only 6 guests per "yacht" would go. Hmmm....low numbers, sailing, and free rum punch on the way back?! Easy decision. Well, we met at 1pm and there were enough people for 3 groups. We found 4 others and formed a group...all similiar age. The leader asked if we wanted a single haul boat or the double haul catamaran. TAKE THE CATAMARAN!!!! We had a great experience, a fun boat captain (originally from Atlanta but there for the past 16 years), and awesome snorkeling. After a 45 min sail (Yes, the sails were up), we arrived at Buck Island. Other boats were there with other tourists but we stayed back. Here's the great news: this company (who we were with) didn't require life-jackets. We could take a "noodle" if we wanted but life-jackets were not required. A totally different experience when you can dive down to the reef itself. In addition to reefs, we saw octopus and a little further out, large sea turtles feeding on the grass at the sea bottom. We snorkled for about an hour. Then, with the wind at our back, we sailed at a good clip back to the ship....rum punch in hand of course.
I was burnt after this excursion so back to the ship we went to clean up for dinner. The excursion took exactly 3 1/2 hours.
Casual dinner this evening but also the Love and Marriage show...like the Newlywed Game. Again, another DON'T MISS for cruising. A lot depends on your cruise director for these events and we had an awesome one. Becky Thompson from England. She was one of our favorites along with Kurt Detweiler from the Serenade last year.
Entertainment this evening was Revolution...a Beatles tribute band....absolutely awesome!....that's saying alot from someone who was born in 1973! The Crown and Anchor Welcome Back party also happened this night. Another opportunity for free drinks and a chance to hear from the captain. There was a person who was on their 71st RCCL cruise. Unbelieveable!!!
DAY 5: St. Maarten (dutch side), St. Martin (french side)
Snorkeled out and too fried to go to the beach (recommend Orient Beach if that's what you want), we decided to just walk-and-see. Since we hadn't been to the French side before. We grabbed a taxi at the port and went to Marigot (French side capital). About a 20-25 minute ride....$15 for 1 or 2 people. We were dropped right in the shopping area. Marigot doesn't have ships docked ever so there are few tourists roaming the streets. Stay away from the non-shopping streets. They simply didn't feel safe at all to walk down. Stay visible in the common areas. You'll know what I mean. First off, you may think perfume shopping could be good here. My wife was squirtin' perfume all week and checking prices ashore and onboard. Hands down, the selection and more important, the prices, were FAR better onboard. Don't waste your time on land.
Head towards the water where big money yachts are anchored and also a plethora of cafes and eateries abound...along with the typical outside market....just like St. Thomas. This is a good place to grab lunch. Just go where it's busy. Always a good sign. There's also an indoor mall along the water but it's nothing special..just high end shops with few shoppers. After 3 hours or so, we grabbed another taxi back....this time, with a non-contractedt taxi driver....hence we paid $3 per person to get back....not too shabby.
Once back in town, we walked the tourist-packed streets, along the newly constructed boardwalk, and back to the ship. Here's where I got confused: onboard and in all the literature, you need to catch the "water taxi" from the cruise port into town. It's $5 pp for all day use. In actuality, you can walk it in half the time it takes to walk into town in St. Thomas and for that port, they tell you that you can walk into town. Go figure! Anyway, it's an easy walk if you wish. We headed back to the ship early very worn out from 3 days straight of port visits. Entertainment this evening was another variety show which of course, was superb. RCCL hit it out of the park this week with 3 different comedians and other misc. acts.
DAY 6: AT SEA
Today the plan was lots of pool time, wine tasting, some rock climbing. Luckily, it was a great day for all of that. Like any normal day for us, we slept in until nearly 9am then breakfast at the Windjammer. After climbing, roasting in the sun, and some pool time, we had lunch using our vouchers at Johnny Rockets. $3.95 cover charge without the vouchers. When you look at the menu, remember that if it doesn't have a price, it's included.
Wine tasting followed by some more rummy card playing in Cafe Promenade while we hung around relaxing prior to the last formal night. We really love Cafe Promenade. It's open 24 hours and never was there not a seat available. Always a selection of snack foods (like pastries) or fresh fruit (banannas, kiwi, oranges) or pizza. Coffee always available. We also had the best margaritas onboard from the bar here. Wouldn't expect that (should be poolside!) but we put it to the test 3 times! They also make excellent espresso for my morning wakeup call each day (use your C&A coupon for coffee drinks!).
The last formal night was excellent with the expected lobster tail for dinner. One really neat thing was that our captain, Captain Peterson was retiring at the conclusion of our cruise. Many of you probably have had him. He's been around for 35 years with RCCL and was our captain on our first cruise aboard the Majesty back in 1995. He was at dinner that night and much of the crew (from the deck crew below decks to the bridge crew up top) came to dinner for a public farewell to their captain.
Entertainment was the 2nd production show. Again, a lackluster performance from the singers and dancers. It turns out that this was their last show together as a new team was coming aboard at the end of the cruise and this team was being dispersed throughout the fleet also to Broadway. 2 were going to the Freedom.
DAY 7: At Sea
We did alot of the same this day. More pooltime of course. I did attend Captain's Corner. A question and answer time in the theater. It was very interesting as our 35 year captain talked about being a part of the shipbuilding design team all throughout his years and also about the future. A total of Freedom class ships and to be delivered in 2009, the Genesis class which will go to 5000 passengers. The Voyager class holds about 3700, the Freedom holds about 4100. Gross tons on Genesis will be 240,000 tons....that blows my mind since the Mariner is around 140,000 tons and it's BIG. Not too sure I want to be an ant on that anthill!
Dinner was really good this evening as we said our goodbyes. This was our best dining experience yet! If you're sailing Mariner soon, request a table with Serkan from Turkey. Tell him Nick and Marjie (table for 2) recommended him!
The farewell show was awesome with a variety of performances and an expected visit from the captain.
The 2nd and last parade on the Promenade happened after the show which we watched from our stateroom. Great view without the crowd on the Promenade. I will say that the parades will more plentiful and better 3 years ago on the Navigator.
I don't know where I missed it, but we did attend the Ice Show. There is limited seating so when they pass out tickets, go get them. Also, show up EARLY. We showed up 10min prior to showtime and we stood the entire time. HOWEVER, it was worth it because the show was phenomenal!
We also attended the Quest adult game late one night on Day 5. We had never attended before...and honestly, we won't attend again. Unless you are still in the college-party-mindset, I don't see you enjoying it much. I'd much rather be doing something else onboard. I'm sure some will disagree on this board, but it just wasn't for us.
You would have never know the norovirus happened only 2 weeks ago. No mention of it by anyone ever...not guests or staff.
With the restriction of liquids on airlines, what about all that liquor bought to take home? Well, if it was bought onboard, RCCL announced onboard that a full refund would be issued to anyone requesting it. For those buying ashore....bad luck!
Still a RCCL enthusiast? Absolutely! Sail again? Absolutely! Bigger ship? Not too sure....really enjoyed Serenade last year to Alaska....tempted to revisit in the future. Kids next time? (6 and 4 y/o) RCCL has a great award-winning Adventure Ocean program...I can see taking them next time.
Enjoy your cruise!
Nick & Marjie from northeast Ohio