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Old April 8th, 2010, 09:01 PM
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Default Newbie to RCI and Family Sailing

Well, it's been 2 1/2 years since my last cruise and I'm looking forward to my next one on the 4th of July. (Ya, it's about time dude!)

I've cruised Celebrity and HAL and for the most part I've had incredible experiences. However, it's always been just my wife and me. Now were taking five children, son age 19 ,daughter 17 ,son 15 ,daughter 14, and daughter 10.

My 19 year old leaves on a church mission this summer for two years and we figure the family dynamics will never be the same again so we went wild and booked a cruise for seven.

It was not easy. Our 17 year old daughter is in a wheel chair. She's super adaptable as she skis, plays basket ball, and even goes down stairs in her chair. She has her sights set on the London 2012 games playing basketball. However, she needs an accessable room to get through the door in her chair. This made finding a suitable group of cabins very difficult. Plus, we wanted to sail in the summer and LA is a 'drive to port' for us.

Two lines sailed out of LA during the summer and each could accomodate us. It was a tough choice, both Carnival and RCI offered pluses and minuses for our scenario. We opted for RCL with three ocean view cabins (only thing available for us) versus Carnival with two insides and one balcony (again literally the only thing avaialble). Cruise.com's 'gratuities included' incentive leveled the costs to within $100 of each other for the whole group plus we get complementary dinner at Chops.

OK - I am starting this thread to learn about cruising on RCI and doing it with a family. So those of you who love to help, please do so. I'll have more questions pop up as time goes on, but here is a starter:

1. Someone please tell me about the soda cards on Mariner of the Seas. I have three heavy duty soda drinkers and I need to control costs.

2. I have one huge ice cream-aholic (skinniest one in the family). It seems they serve Ben and Jerry's at the Promenade Cafe 24/7 and they sell it next door at the Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop for a price. Did I learn that correctly? What's up with that?

3. My 14 year old daughter thinks that anything organized for teens has got to be wretched and lame. She'll be 15 at sailing so she can attend the 15 - 17 group. Can anyone else comment on the program? Has anyone put a similar teen girl in the program and had positive results? Fortunately my other teens think life is good.

4. I am interested in doing some things in port. Two challenges are budget and the wheelchair. I have taken my daughter places a chair should never have gone and now I'm getting too old for that plus this is a vacation. What are some fun family things to do that will cost under $30 per person? We all swim and we'd love to adventure in the jungle.

5. We will definitely go to the beach as we love the beach. A wheelchair on the beach is a drag (literally). Any suggestions?

6. What are the ins and outs of rock climbing, mini golf, ice skating type of activities? Are there good times to go and not to go? I don't want to fight crowds and spend my cruise waiting to have some fun.

7. We like eating late so guess what, we chose late seating. However, getting to the late show immediately after dinner only to find you have to sit behind a post is a bummer. A lot of folks from early seating still attend the late show (will someone fix that, come on!) any advice? Are their some shows really worth seeing and other that can be skipped? We don't really go in for the 'adult' comedians and such.

8. I am an asian food junkie. Is there asian food (sushi, chinese, dimsum, etc.) avaialble on the Mariner?

9. My wife and I love the big bubble pools. They should be patented. Does Mariner have a big bubble pool? The detials of the spa/gym area didn't show one, but they weren't very detailed details.

10. And one last question for now that is generic for all cruises I've sailed. They always close the hot tubs around 8:00 pm. Why!?! I'd love to sit in one late in the evening. they can even just put the net over my head and leave me in there. Why?

Thanks,

Steven
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Old April 9th, 2010, 09:36 AM
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Hi Steven,
I think Mariner of the Seas will work well for your entire family. If you do get the later seating for dinner, they offer the shop before dinner, then the later show is for the people who eat early and go to the show afterwards.

I'm not sure about the hours of the hot tubs, but I believe they are open later, you and lots of cruisers like to use them later.

They should have a soft serve ice cream by the buffet and the promonade at no charge. The Ben and Jerry's is not comp, so you'd have to pay for it. Yes, to the soda cards if you drink lots, then cost effective, if not there is free lemonaide and iced tea, coffee, etc. Also bottled water is not included in the soda card, but the tap water is just fine.

What are the ports you will be visiting??
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Old April 9th, 2010, 09:53 AM
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We will be visiting PV, Mazatlan, and Cabo.
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Old April 9th, 2010, 10:22 AM
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Steven,

I'll take a stab at some of these questions.

1. The soda card will run you around $42/pp for the week. It is not a shareable card so one must be purchased for each person who will be drinking soda. The soda card is only good for fountain soda and not for canned.

2. The free ice cream in the Promenade is soft serve. You will be charged for Ben and Jerry's at any location.

3. I do not have personal experience with the teen programs but they are fairly strict on the ages. I do know that every kid I've ever talked to, onboard a ship, loved the teen and kids programs.

4. I would check out the excursion list on Royal Caribbean.com. There are a number of "highlight tours" and beach excursions that will run around $30.

5. I've never managed a wheelchair on a beach but can imagine how hard it is to handle. In Cabo you can go to the Finisterra Resort is a very short distance from the pier. It has a great pool, nice beach and, if you use their shuttle from the entrance, fairly wheelchair friendly. It is up a fairly long hill so don't try to walk it with the wheelchair.

6. I would say that the Rock Wall, golf and other attractions will have less people during sea days and early morning. Mid-afternoon is the busiest.

7. I am not a production show fan and I'm not sure what shows are currently on Mariner.

8. I don't know what type of whirlpool or hydrotherapy pools are available.

9. Closing the hot tubs is mostly for liability issues. Broken glass and people staying in too long have caused problems. Some ships do leave the hot tubs open all the time.

I hope you receive some more answers and please feel free to ask more questions.

Have a great cruise with the family.
Mike
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Old April 9th, 2010, 08:54 PM
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We haven't sailed RCL (yet!), but I'm going to try to answer a couple of your questions.

There will be a "Meet & Greet" type of gathering (it's usually the 1st night) for the older teens. Make sure your 15 year old goes, even if you or your wife have to go with her. I think she'll be shoving you out ASAP!

If your "soda-holics" drink more than 3 or 4 sodas a day the soda card is usually a good deal. As Mike said, it's only good for "gun sodas", not for cans.

"It was not easy. Our 17 year old daughter is in a wheel chair. She's super adaptable as she skis, plays basket ball, and even goes down stairs in her chair. She has her sights set on the London 2012 games playing basketball."

If you want to go to a beach and your DD doesn't mind some help through the sand, just ask one of the waiter's to help you carry her and the chair (and tip!). (This comes from experience, not with a child, but with my dear Uncle, who went anywhere he wanted to go and was never shy to ask for help!)

Have a wonderful cruise!
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Old April 12th, 2010, 11:05 AM
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Hey! I was on Mariner of the Seas last January; however I was with a group when I went. In our group we had over half of them in wheelchairs! In our group Kevin Stone was with us (Kevin Stone | Athletes | U.S. Paralympic Team ) and also check out his Facebook page as well (http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=2047071&id=1112557781 ) there you will find photos of the cruise! I was on the cruise as well with 18 other service dogs on board along with Kevin Stone. I hope this will help and you can try to reach out on his Facebook page to get more details!
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Old April 12th, 2010, 03:12 PM
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Nojames, Thanks for the link. Always learning about accessibility in advance saves us lots of time.
Fern, thanks for the beach waiter tip. At Newport Beach, CA, we often got rides from the lifeguards to get my daughter out to the surf. Itís worth a couple of bucks.
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Old April 18th, 2010, 12:00 PM
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Here are a few tips. I have sailed both Explorer and Voyager, sister ships to Mariner. On the Royal Promenade there is a Ben and Jerry's; they charge for their ice cream. Up on the pool deck there is an ice cream machine; both vanilla and chocolate. You can make cones or cups; it is FREE. There is also a coffee and ice tea bar next to the ice cream machine. Also free. I believe it is open from around 11am to 10pm. The ship has four jacuzzis. Two in the main pool area and I believe 2 in the adults only area. They stay open quite late; at least until 11 or 12pm. The ship is pretty accomodating for persons in a wheel chair. The theater and ice skating shows have special areas for wheelcharis. No matter where you go on the ship you should be accomodated. The teen club is great. I think your daughter will have fun. Also the video arcade area is awesome. I am 58 and I love going to the video arcade. they have the mini golf, rock climbing wall, inline skate track. To tell you when is the best time I guess it just depends. Walk up to the sports deck, sometimes it will be crowded and sometimes there will be no one there. If you have any more questions please ask.

Cheers
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Old April 19th, 2010, 11:15 AM
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Have sailed many times with the kids ranging from 10-19. Have never had any trouble keeping them entertained, they love the rock wall, mini golf, ping-pong and being able to be on there own on the ship. The soda card is okay if they are heavy soda drinkers, it only includes fountain drinks, and not drinks in the cans. Usually not a problem, for those who only drink one or two sodas a day it is not neccessary to buy the soda card.
There is Ben and Jerry's which can get expensive, but there is also free soft serve on the pool deck (it is frozen yogurt but hard to tell the difference) it is open from mid morning till late afternoon.
The teen programs should be fun for your 15 year-old as there will probably be a larger number of kids onboard because of the time of year you are going.
There is asian food served most nights in the Windjammer (buffet), and we actually prefer to eat most dinners in the windjammer instead of the main dining room.
Have not had any experience with wheelchairs, Cabo is the only port I would worry about because it is a tender port and the tenders are small so not quite sure about there capabilities with wheelchair passengers. The other two ports you are docked at and you won't have any problems there. There is a nice beach to walk to in Puerto Vallerta that you won't have any issues with. The locals in all the ports are very nice and helpful and I'm sure will lend you a hand with getting her any where you want to go.
The hot tubs in the solarium if I remember correctly are open 24 hours.
You will have a wonderful experience, we have sailed the Mariner twice, once in Florida and again recently the end of January, we loved it so much we booked her again while onboard for next February. Take you binoculars with and you may see dolphins. We didn't attend to many shows but the ice-show is great for the whole family. The Love & Marriage show and Quest are great for adults. Overall just remember to relax enjoy and have fun. Cruising has always been my kids favorite vacations and I'm sure your kids will have a great time as will you. Tell your son good luck on his mission and post a review when you return.
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Old July 16th, 2010, 05:35 PM
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In a very brief (but not sort) review, the cruise exceeded my expectations. Iíve sailed Celebrity and HAL in the past. RCI put together a well rounded cruise. The crew was enthusiastic and went about their jobs with enjoyable and friendly manners. The ship was great and very friendly. We really had fun and everything was terrific (almost everything). I felt impressed with RCI and I would definitely sail them again. Embarkation and disembarkation were awesome, guest services was awesome, our dining room waiter and assistant waiter were awesome, and our cabin steward was awesome.
The ship was great. I was very skeptical about the promenade mall concept, but I really liked it. The pool deck could have been bigger, but it was very fun. The main dining room was very pretty. The ship was well maintained and clean. The flowing lines of the structures gave an added warmth. I miss teak decks. The rubber decks were OK, but the outdoor carpet was tacky. Places got crowded at times, but nothing terrible.
Aft elevators had long waits. We were on deck two so with a wheel chair, we were at the mercy of the elevators. Often the elevators stopped at every floor. Plus, decks 2, 3, and 4 donít let you go to forward without going up first. My wife and did the stairs most of the time. Deck 2 to 11 was a good haul. Sheís got sweet legs!
I was disappointed we could not get the arrangement of cabins that we wanted (a balcony with two insides for the kids), however we were surprised at what happened. We were told at booking that the cabin we wanted to for three passengers didnít have an extra birth for the third passenger. However, it did indeed have the extra births available and our cabin steward was able to accommodate us instantly. This enabled us to relocate our ten year old and have a cabin for ourselves. My wife and I wanted a balcony, but couldnít book one and have our children nearby, especially since one requires a handicap accessible room. We ended up with three ocean view cabins. It turned out fine. It was too cold and windy at sea to use a balcony and the ocean view window was right at the head of our bed. We were able to watch the ocean go by at night with great romance.
The cabins were a bit small, but totally functional. They werenít real fancy, but they were nice and clean. The bathrooms were incredibly functional despite being so small. The small round shower was excellent and I think should win some kind of award. Silly enough, it and the awesome water pressure saved a lot of time for my wife and me.
The dining room food was great and sometimes excellent. The service in Chops was impeccable, but the entrees were not worth the extra cost. I highly recommend breakfast and lunch in the dining room simply because of the franticness of the Windjammer buffet. It actually took longer to eat in the Windjammer then in the dining room. By the end of the cruise the whole family ate breakfast in the dining room. We even planned to eat dinner in the Windjammer one night, but we all opted to go the dining room instead. The food in the Windjammer was fine and it wasnít terribly crowded (as on some other ships). It was just too much distance to cover zigzagging in and out of people standing still while we wanted to try to eat a meal. You just canít fix that problem. My kids ate in Johnny Rockets. My wife and I dropped in on them and we can say itís much better and a lot more fun than the land based version.
The itinerary was a bit disappointing. The ports were OK, but the two day return to LA from PV was cold and windy. It felt like winter. The pool deck was completely deserted on day 7. Weíre pretty hardy and enjoyed only the hot tubs on that day. I did not find the ports cheap. . We went to Cabo Wabo for lunch. Five sodas, chips, and ten soft tacos cost $50. The water taxi to and from loverís beach was $10 each. Loverís beach was really neat, but cool and windy. The Cabo rocks are awesome. In Mazatlan we took an all day van tour that was great. We paid $15 each for seven of us and I gave the driver a $30 tip (this was a good price, I bargain hard and tip well). The driverís name is Carlos Lopez and he played major league baseball in the US for two years. I have his contact info somewhere if you want it. A simple lunch for seven at Panamaís was $60. In PV we foot toured the water front, a couple of neighborhoods, a river front walk into a jungle area, and we did some shopping. We returned to the ship for lunch. It started to rain after lunch. Three of my children stayed on the ship while my wife and I plus our two youngest walked to the beach. It started to rain heavily, but we enjoyed the warm ocean for a while. I donít wish to repeat this itinerary.
Many of your answers were of great help.
1.) Two of my children chose the soda card and it was worthwhile. Soda was readily available and they took advantage of it. For soda drinkers, I highly recommend this.
2.) Except for Ben and Jerryís, which has an upcharge, soft serve ice cream was available only on the pool deck and only from noon until sometime during the early evening. The line was usually long. A lot of ice cream was eaten by my children. My 15 year old son had at least five a day.
3.) The teen and child programs fizzled. None of my children wanted anything to do with them. I expected my 15 year old daughter to dislike it and she did. However, my 17 year old also felt it was a dud. She sailed the Carnival Splendor three weeks earlier and she loved the teen program on that ship. I looked into it during the cruise and I couldnít find a counselor anywhere, much less evaluate the amount of energy they interjected into the program. My ten year old who has fun at anything said her program was boring and she didnít want to go back. Unfortunately that caused us to not be able to spend any time in the adult areas of the ship. This was my greatest disappointment of the cruise.
4.) The wheel chair worked OK everywhere except the beach. was perilous as the tide made loading the water taxi for the return trip simply dangerous especially since our daughter is in a wheelchair
5.) We never found any snorkeling, partly because we didnít look terribly hard and partly because rough water doesnít make for good snorkeling. Snorkeling was better in the Caribbean and water was clearer. We also liked the beaches better in the Caribbean.
6.) We never used the rock wall. It worked differently than any other venue on the ship. You had to sign up for climbing in the morning for that day. The rock was open at intermittent times throughout the day. The schedule was not posted in the daily events list, so it was always a gamble. Each time we tried to sign up, the day was already full. As it was always windy while not in port, the mini golf was always open. Ice skating was only available from 9 am to noon for three days. One of my children went once. We did play some b-ball and ping pong at night. I wish the rock climbing wall and ice rink had more open time.
7.) Late seating Ė how funny, my ten year old fell asleep at dinner almost every night. We always had at least OK seating in the theater. Some time the shows were programmed early for the later diners and sometime they were after dinner. With the exception of the dancers, the shows were really good. No matter how talented the dancers are, how good the costumes are, the dance shows just lack something. Maybe itís my personal taste. Mariner OTS had a funny comedian that ventured a bit into adult material during his family show. There was a singer impersonator that was really good. And a juggler that was very talented. The ice show was amazing. We missed the first two and post a place holder in line an hour early for the third attempt, which worked. Handicap seating is super limited so we carried my daughter down to the front row. Weíll probably choose early seating in the future.
8.) The jade restaurant did not impress. Their Sushi was fresh, but not impressive. Twice we did load up huge plates of Sushi and went to the Lotus Lounge to listen to music while we ate Sushi. It became a family event. I think the Jade could get some better recipes.
9.) No big bubble pools. Sad.
10.) The hot tubs were open late! Yeah.
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Old July 16th, 2010, 06:25 PM
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Great review, so glad to hear you did enjoy your Royal Caribbean cruise...They do have a lot to offer families cruising, they are still my favorite...
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