First, Last, and Best!
Mariner of the Seas -- March 11-18, 2012
Our Spring Break cruise on the Mariner of the Seas was our FIRST cruise in a Royal Caribbean suite, our LAST Spring Break cruise (because I'm retiring from public education), and our BEST cruise of the 10 we've taken from our home port of Galveston. Here's how it happened...
THE SCENE: Cindy's couch, somewhere in Houston, on a lazy, hot summer day in June of 2010.
THE ACTIVITY: I can't tell you why on Earth I was thinking about Spring Break 2012 almost two years before the event, but I was. Being somewhat bored, I decided to check Galveston cruise prices. First, I looked at the Magic. Hmm...Carnival certainly thought highly of their new Galveston-bound hardware! I decided to pass on paying over $2,000 per person for an Ocean Suite on an "Eastern" Caribbean itinerary. For those of you who don't know, an Ocean Suite on Carnival is roughly the equivalent of a JS on RCCL. It's a very nice cabin, but all you really get is extra real estate, nicer finishes, and Priority Embarkation/Disembarkation.
THE JACKPOT: Well, since I wasn't about to pay five-star prices for a mass market cruise during the busy Texas Spring Break week, I clicked off the Carnival site. Without much hope, I decided to see what fares were like on my favorite ship, the Mariner of the Seas.
I wasn't too optimistic, because I still had nightmares about the $2,600 per person price tag that came wrapped around a Voyager JS for Spring Break the first year she was here. Still, hope springs eternal and I moseyed over to the RCCL website to test my luck. Once there, I quickly realized that Royal Caribbean had no idea when Spring Break would be in 2012, but after 28 years in public education I was pretty certain I did! Not only did we get a good fare, we got a great fare for an Owner's Suite...we paid less than we ever paid for a JS on the Voyager, less than we paid for the Conquest, less than Carnival was asking for the Magic, and if my memory serves me correctly (always questionable), our only Grand Princess cruise that cost less was the first year when our break was a week earlier than most of the world. Wow! Our first suite...a ship we both love...a price we both loved...and only 21 short months to wait until the cruise. I'm not one to gloat (much!), but over the course of the 630ish days between the time I made our reservation and the day we sailed, we would see Junior Suites going for almost double what we paid for the OS, and even balconies at a higher per person fare. Sometimes, it really does pay to book early. Very early. And wait...a long time.
THE WAIT: The time leading up to the cruise wasn't without some trepidation and second thoughts. We took a few cruises on Carnival after a family cruise that we really enjoyed. I had thought our first Carnival cruise (Splendor) was excellent, our second Carnival cruise (Conquest) was very good, and the third, fourth and fifth (Ecstasy, Conquest, and Dream) were OK, but there was something just not quite right to me. In part I thought the quality of the food had declined between our cruise on the Splendor in June of 2009 and our cruise on the Dream in June of 2011. I think that impression was due to a change in the wait-staff to passenger ratio...Carnival upped it dramatically, resulting in longer waits and more items served at the wrong temperature. Secondly, I realized I was spending a TON of time on my balcony, not because I wanted to but because there weren't many activities that really interested me (day or evening). Finally, I had grown a little weary of the crowds on Carnival. That was a function of two things -- a higher passenger load, and ship design. Nevertheless, I didn't like the food on Voyager in 2009 AT ALL, and I was afraid that by switching back to RCCL and the Mariner I would be sacrificing decent food for a ship I liked better. Having nothing better to do for 21 months than obsess and second guess myself, that's exactly what I proceeded to do.
THE WAIT PART 2: The other significant part of the wait was our Roll Call. There were a handful of us who spent 21 months "chit-chatting" on the Roll Call, so we started planning and scheming early. We lost our Founding Father to a different cruise, and gained and lost countless other people. We ended up planning and having a Cabin Crawl and Poker Run, and getting to know people in a smaller setting really helped us put names with faces throughout the week. Somehow or other I ended up organizing the event, and by the time we got on the ship I discovered I had quite the reputation to uphold. The most frequent line I heard all week was, "Are you Cindy from Cruise Critic?" It actually became a standing joke with us...my husband and our friends are now convinced I should start a blog, and I already have a title for it!
From here on out, this review will just talk about my impressions, likes (many!) and disappointments (just a couple). We find that the more we cruise the less we do, and I don't have a ton of information about all the activities onboard. That's primarily because we spent a lot of time relaxing on "Napalicious," which is the nickname my husband gave to our balcony!
EMBARKATION: Finally it was cruising day! I woke up early (very early!) and turned on the Galveston webcam in time to see the Mariner dock at 6:40. Good! No fog, the ship is in nice and early, so we should have an easy embarkation. We arrived at the port (Terminal 2) around 10:20. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to pull up to the terminal for the "Wife and Luggage Dump." The terminal was relatively empty of departing passengers, and there was no line to enter the driveway. Jim drove over to EZ Cruise Parking (pre-reserved on their web site) while I stayed at the terminal with the carry-ons. Jim walked back to the terminal after parking the car, as we know from past experience the two block walk is much faster than waiting for the shuttle.
Once Jim returned, we breezed through Priority check-in and were seated in the departure lounge by 11:00. In Galveston, suites and other priority check-ins are separated into a special line for security scanning as well as for checking in. I thought it was interesting that despite it being Spring Break, the liquids in my carry-on, which included a bottle of coffee creamer and a bottle of Diet Coke, didn't merit any attention from the security team.
Our wait in the Priority Lounge was short. We boarded in the first group at 11:20. I noticed two significant changes to the boarding process in Galveston since our last RCCL cruise in 2009...there were three stations for boarding photos (with three different backdrops), lined up in the long corridor that leads from the waiting area to the escalator up to the gangway. It was easy and quick to choose a backdrop, smile, and be on our way! There were also four stations set up at the foot of the escalator for the "ding aboard" photos...I thought that procedure greatly relieved congestion and speeded up the boarding process.
After we boarded, we went directly to Deck 11, and much to our surprise we were the first passengers in the Windjammer! If you're wondering about the food in the WJ, I can tell you that it was very good on Sunday, but that's all the information I can give you...we didn't eat there the entire trip other than our boarding day lunch. We got our food and made a beeline to Chops (because we could!) and found a nice table to relax and wait for cabins to open at 1:00.
FELLOW PASSENGERS: This was a full-to-capacity Spring Break Cruise with just under 3,700 total passengers on board. During the week they announced there were 900 children (under 18) on this sailing. I was surprised at the relatively low number...our two Voyager SB cruises both had about 1,300 children/teens. I witnessed NO problems with child or adult behavior this week. From my perspective, the children were well behaved, the parents parented, the adult-only areas stayed that way, and everybody had a good time. Truthfully, for all the horror stories one reads about Spring Break, we've only had an issue once, and that was with some teens on the Voyager whose parents decided to take a break from ALL their responsibilities. The vast majority of the passengers seemed to be from Texas or the surrounding states, and since this week was Spring Break for many public school systems, the full ship was to be expected. Overall the Mariner is large enough to handle the passenger load well. The design of the ship helps disperse passengers and ease congestion...it's something I really appreciate about RCCL ships compared to Princess ships or Carnival ships. For me, lines and waits were short or non-existent, with the lone traffic flow problem being some crowding around the dining room entrances when they had photo stations set up.
THE SHIP: Much has been written in the last few months about the Mariner being an older ship that is desperately in need of a face-life. I found nothing could be further from the truth! The Mariner is still beautiful and in great shape, and she will be even better after her drydock next month.
We enjoy the layout of the Voyager class ships and appreciate the attention to detail in the public areas. Before we took our first cruise on this class of ship I remember thinking the Royal Promenade was about the silliest thing I had ever heard of anyone putting on a ship. I quickly discovered how wrong I was, and the Royal Promenade remains one of my favorite areas to eat, drink, and people-watch. The Royal Promenade on the Mariner is slightly different than the RP on the Voyager and Explorer, with the most notable difference being that Mariner has Vintages instead of the Sports Bar. I appreciate the theming in the different bars and shops, and the cute, quirky touches such as the man hanging from helium balloons and the street signs.
I noticed very little wear and tear throughout the ship, and I saw maintenance crews constantly working on things such as varnishing railings and painting. Sure, if I looked closely enough I could find chairs that were a bit worn, but things like that don't bother me and certainly don't affect my enjoyment of the cruise. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how new many things seemed, especially carpet. I had read several complaints about the dated and shabby carpet and upholstery, but frankly I didn't see anything inside that caught my attention. I did notice that there were outside areas crying for a coat of paint...in particular the hull under the anchor wells was showing a lot of rust. I assume that since the ship is headed to drydock in a month, that those bigger jobs are things that will be tended to at that time.
Another thing we like about the Voyager class ships is they seem to make sense to us. I find the Mariner, like her sisters, to be easy to get around, with very few dead ends. With the exception of Deck 3, you can walk the length of the ship on the public decks without having to change levels. I think Royal Caribbean does a great job of using the public areas for multiple forms of entertainment. For instance, the Royal Promenade is used for parades and street parties, and Studio B transforms from an ice rink to a dance floor to a large stage for The Quest. Other beautiful areas include the three story dining room with a grand sweeping staircase and gigantic chandelier, the well-equipped and large gym with machines, free weights, and an aerobics room, and the peaceful Solarium (adults-only) pool area with cushioned lounge chairs and a step-in pool.
OUR CABIN: We were in 1320, an Owner's Suite right in the middle of the hump on the starboard side of Deck 10. At first I was a little concerned we would have a lot of noise from above being on Deck 10, but we didn't hear a peep all week! Ironically, the only time we've ever heard noise from above when we were in our cabin was when we had a GS between two cabin decks on the older and less sound-proofed Carnival Ecstasy. We discovered that due to the design of the ship, the hallway of the deck above us ran directly over our bed. Since it was a holiday sailing with lots of kids, we heard lots of thump, thump, thump going on overhead at all hours!
1320 was right off the elevator lobby, but sound doesn't carry from there to the cabin, it just makes the location very convenient! The only unwanted noise we had during the week was from a couple of doorbell ringers...I guess the temptation was too much for all the Spring Breakers to resist. During the day we could hear pool music and announcements from above when we were out on our balcony, but I've been able to do that regardless of our cabin location.
We loved the suite, and are forever spoiled! The space in an Owner's Suite is almost decadent for just two people, but I'm not complaining! 1320 was in excellent condition, with fairly new appearing upholstery and carpet, although if I were being nit-picky I would mention I did find a tiny stain on the sectional sofa. The suite can be divided into two areas...the bedroom has a queen sized bed and can be closed off from the living area with a curtain...very handy when one person is an early riser and the other is not!
A large swiveling flat-screen TV separates the bedroom area from the living area. In the living area there is a sectional couch, a club chair with an ottoman, a coffee table, and an end table. There is also a dining table with four chairs right by a dry bar. A spacious bathroom with a separate shower and tub completes the suite.
The suite had more storage than I could fill, which is saying a lot! As a matter of fact, the suite had so much storage we kept forgetting where we put things! There are two very large mirrored closets with hanging rods in the dining area, and flanking the dry bar there are two glass-fronted cabinets with shelves, and three deep drawers under each cabinet. A large cabinet under the bar houses the mini bar/refrigerator (that actually cools!) and provides more storage. In the "bedroom" there is a large vanity/dressing area with 2 small corner cabinets, a large glass-fronted cabinet, nine drawers, and a pull-out writing surface. Nightstands on both sides of the bed provide four more drawers, and a console table at the entry contains a storage cabinet.
Bathroom storage is also more than ample...we had two medicine cabinets, two under-counter cabinets, and four large drawers. The only storage design issue I had was in the shower. The OS has a walk-in glass shower and a separate whirlpool tub. The shower has just one dinky little wire rack for toiletries, so what's a girl supposed to do with her hair products? I had brought a tiny plastic basket to place on the floor, but I found it was more convenient to place my bottles on the edge of the tub and reach out of the shower for a bottle as I needed it. The next time we have an OS (and yes, there will be a next time!), I will take a small basket with suction cups to solve the shower problem. The OS bathrooms also have bidets. We found the bidet made a good receptacle for our dirty towels! We enjoyed not having a lot of clutter on the counter tops all week. Being able to put EVERYTHING away made a spacious suite seem even larger!
We also really liked our balcony. From the center of the hump we had a gorgeous view both forward and aft, and plenty of space. Our balcony had all wicker furniture...two chaise lounges, two regular chairs, and a glass-topped table. We spent countless hours on the balcony watching the world go by!
Clemente from the Philippines was our room steward. He was very personable, and took care of our requests with a smile all week. We're pretty easygoing and neat, but I did request ice twice a day which I got with no problem, and we had requested a blanket on the bed (the comforters are too much for me in the Caribbean!) which was taken care of before we boarded.
SUITE PERKS: I had no idea how much I would enjoy being in a suite...if I had known, we would probably be poorer today than we are! The two perks I enjoyed most were the Concierge Lounge and breakfast in Chops. I found that using the CL made a big ship seem smaller...we saw the same people repeatedly and got to know more people than we have on other trips. It helped that quite a few people from our Roll Call had CL access, so we "knew" them before we even got on the ship. Breakfast in Chops was delightful...not crowded, cooked to order, and fast! Because of this perk, for the first time we didn't go to the dining room or Windjammer for breakfast all week. The only perk that was a bust was the priority disembarkation...but more on that later. Luca Iorio, the Mariner concierge was delightful and helpful all week. He met every request with a smile, and was very interactive with the guests in the CL and throughout the ship.
WINING AND DINING: One of the things we do on the first day is check out our table location in the dining room. Not this trip! I had discovered that one of the perks of being in a suite was finding out my table assignment in advance of the cruise. I had requested a certain location, and we got exactly what we had asked for. We were assigned to Table 318 in the Rhapsody in Blue Dining Room (Deck 3). This was an oval table for 10 in the center of the room right next to the Captain's table. We had a great view of the dining room and the grand staircase. The group at our table included our friends from Houston, a couple from Corpus Christi, and sisters from the DFW area. The last two seats remained empty for the week. Ferhat from Turkey and Rene from Nicaragua took great care of us all week. Our awesome wait staff brought us so many "extras" we couldn't begin to eat everything!
A side note on our dinner table...the first night while we were making introductions, one of the sisters looked at me and asked, "Are you Cindy from Cruise Critic?" Yes, not only was someone from our Roll Call seated at the same table, she was one of the people who had also been on the Roll Call for 21 long months before the cruise!
Jim and I were very pleased with the food in the dining room all week. The food was such a dramatic improvement from our last Voyager cruise you wouldn't even know you were on the same cruise line. Interestingly enough, the meal we liked best was the menu we had tried unsuccessfully to avoid...the Slow-Roasted Pork, Shrimp Goyza, Beef Stroganoff menu that gets such bad reviews on Cruise Critic. Everything we had at that meal was delicious!
Now, I need to talk about wine. Wine and RCCL is kind of a sore subject for me, because I do like being able to bring some on board with me. However, when you're in Rome...
We didn't get a wine package on this trip, and it worked fine for us. I love Belle Glos, and the absence of that and the limited variety of Cabs on the package lists kind of made the decision for us. We had a ton of OBC from our VISA card, and so we used a fair amount of it on wines we knew we'd enjoy. I think the variety on the regular wine lists is quite good, and for the higher priced selections the mark-up is comparable to a land-based restaurant. Really, the only complaint I have is that in the dining room all the reds are served at room temperature, which is too warm for me. We loved being on a ship with Vintages, and we took advantage of our BOGO coupons to get some pours we'd usually shy away from because of the price...like Caymus Special Select! I did notice the wine at Vintages and in both Chops & Portofino had been cellared and was not as warm as the wine in the dining room.
A couple side notes -- I did find out that Vintages will be installing wine machines during the drydock. Something I'd love to see Royal Caribbean do is offer an all-inclusive drink card similar to the one they have on Celebrity. If I could use a card and switch wines with courses without signing a bunch of slips, I'd be in hog-heaven!
As I said earlier, for the most part we avoided the Windjammer. We only ate there on Sunday right after we boarded, so I really can't comment on the food and service there. For the first time in our experience on a Royal Caribbean ship, they had hostesses with giant bottles of hand sanitizer stationed at the entrance to the Windjammer, and believe me...you weren't getting past them without getting squirted!
We ate at both Chops and Portofino, and both were excellent with impeccable service. My filet at Chops was one of the best I've had anywhere...it was like butter. The experience and food at both specialty restaurants are well worth the extra cover charge. Be warned though...the portions, especially in Chops, are HUGE. By the time they brought out the Mud Pie I thought I was going to explode!
Johnny Rockets is a don't miss for a fun, non-health food meal! We went up there for lunch the day we were in Belize and had a great lunch with no wait for a table. If you like an occasional splurge the onion rings, fries, burgers, and milk shakes are all worth the extra calories!
ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES: This cruise was more notable for us for the things we didn't do rather than the things we did! It was nice to just be lazy and relax and socialize without scurrying from event to event. We did see both production shows and thought they were OK...they weren't great, but they weren't awful either. I'm embarrassed to say this, but we have season tickets for the Broadway Across America shows in Houston, so we've become a bit jaded when it comes to cruiseline production shows. We also saw Mosaic, a fascinating group of 5 vocal musicians who produce all their sounds with their voices.
Ice Under the Big Top was amazing and featured very talented skaters. If you can only make time for one show during the week, make it the ice show. All of them I have seen left me astounded by the quality of the skating and the things the skaters are able to do on a very small rink. The ice show is another thing I thought sounded silly before I saw one for myself, which just goes to show you shouldn't judge something until you've tried it! On our sailing the ice shows were on Monday (sea day) afternoon at 2:30 and 4:30, and on Wednesday (Roatan) at 6:30 and 8:30. Tickets were handed out on Monday beginning at 9:00. We took advantage of the reserved seating for suite guests so we didn't have to line up for ice show tickets. I thought the reserved seats were very good...they were in both corners near the entrance to Studio B.
We only made it to one other show...the Texas State Strutters danced on Tuesday morning and we watched their very entertaining performance. Other than that, we were pretty reclusive...no Welcome Aboard show, no Quest, no parades, no repeaters parties...we sound like hermits! There were tons of things in the evenings we didn't go to, but our Spring Break cruises are more about relaxing and getting away than going full speed and cramming every minute full of activity. We did, however, make it to the casino a few times. It was crowded! Jim didn't have much luck finding a spot at a Blackjack table all week. Alas, my many-year love affair with the Wheel of Fortune slot machines seemed to come to an end on this cruise! I pretty much broke even for the week, but I'm happy to say I transferred my luck to my friend Susan who hit a $2,000 jackpot playing my beloved machine!
We didn't participate in any of the daytime activities or pool games. Most of our time at sea was spent relaxing and reading on our balcony. Again, there was a lot to choose from, but we just wanted to relax and watch the ocean go by. Oh, and we discovered that "Napalicious" really was a great name for our balcony!
MEET & MINGLE/CABIN CRAWL/POKER RUN: Our Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle was scheduled for Monday at 11:00 in Ellington's. I mentioned the published time because when we got on the ship one of the first things we discovered was that they had changed the time on us! Ordinarily that wouldn't have mattered, but we had put together a Cabin Crawl that was to take place immediately following the M&M, and we knew that with the M&M moved to noon we'd lose a lot of people to lunch and afternoon activities. I wish that once a time and location has been published they would stick with it!
Luckily we had arranged for the cabin hosts to meet in the Library on Sunday afternoon, and we got the word out to almost everybody that we were going to do the crawl before the M&M. Unfortunately, not everybody got the word, and a couple groups who had planned on doing the crawl missed it. Still, we had about 40 people, and we visited cabins all over the ship. We saw connecting ocean views, an inside, a corner aft balcony, side balconies, a JS, and four different kinds of suites. How lucky were we that one of our Roll Call participants was in the RS? I spent the last month before we sailed back and forth on e-mail with our "RSer," and we were able to surprise the group at the end of the crawl with champagne, food, and live piano music in the Royal Suite. What a great time! After the crawl, the actual M&M was kind of anti-climatic! I was disappointed that the Cruise Director wasn't there, and since we were all late getting up there from the crawl there wasn't much "meeting" or "mingling" going on...it was just the prize give-away. Keeping with tradition, I have nothing to show for my attendance but another little notepad/badge holder, but my friend who hit the slot jackpot was a winner and so was her husband. Sometimes you have it, and sometimes you don't!
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS
ROATAN, HONDURAS -- This was our third visit to this port, and we booked a private tour with Victor Bodden. There were four of us, and our driver PILO was great! Unfortunately the day started with heavy downpours, and I thought the day would be a washout, but ultimately we were fine. We started with the zipline, which was fun and very well organized. Unfortunately I think my expectations were a bit unrealistic. We had done VB's zipline in June, when we were the only ship in Roatan during the low season. There's a big difference when you're there in peak season and there are two ships in port! I had expected to have the zip course to ourselves like we did last summer, but instead there were about 20 people in our group so it was a lot slower. Once I tempered my expectations and realized things weren't going to be exactly the same I had a great time, but it isn't quite the same experience when it's crowded.
After the zipline we bypassed the monkeys because it seemed like busloads of people had just arrived and gone into the cages. We headed over to Half Moon Bay resort, where we accomplished all our objectives...crowd avoidance, great pina coladas, and awesome seafood! I highly recommend Half Moon Bay to anybody who wants to have an enjoyable day without being in the crowded beach clubs in West Bay. There is snorkeling available right there at the resort, but we decided to pass since it was just starting to clear off.
After lunch, we shopped in West End Village (at Waves of Art), and PILO took us to a market where they have some very reasonably priced wood products made from native rainforest species. They also had some incredible (and pricy!) carved boxes and chests which I passed on, but they were beautiful.
We went back to the ship a little after two. By that time it had cleared off and it was a beautiful afternoon. We walked around for a while, took pictures, and then parked our rear ends on the balcony for some people watching!
BELIZE CITY, BELIZE -- We stayed on the ship on Thursday. We LOVE being on a ship when almost everybody else gets off. It was a beautiful and lazy day of reading, Johnny Rockets, napping, and socializing, capped off with great food and company at Chops! Life on a cruiseship just doesn't get much better!
COZUMEL, MEXICO -- This was our eleventh time to visit Cozumel on a cruise, so it's starting to feel like home! We found an excursion we hadn't tried, and it was a great one! We took the "America's Cup Yacht Regatta" tour. This excursion uses two historic racing sailboats and it was very interesting to have the chance to sail on one of them for a short time. The crew assigns positions for everyone. If you are a "non active" participant then just let them know and they will have you hold the stop watch (my job!) or you could be the bar tender who has the strenuous job of handing beers forward and stuffing empty cans down the chute! It all depends on what you want to do. Some of the jobs are much more strenuous. My husband was a "primary grinder," and he got a bit of a workout!
On the day of our excursion, we were assigned to the "Stars and Stripes," and we raced against passengers from the Carnival Conquest on the "True North." Sadly, after leading for most of the race we ultimately lost to the Carnival folks, but a good time was had by all. I would say the total time sailing and racing was about an hour...the rest of the time is transferring out to the sailboats on tenders, learning the jobs, transferring back to shore, and of course partaking of the complimentary rum punch (which is conveniently situated in their store for a t-shirt buying opportunity!).
Before we left Cozumel we got to engage in one of our favorite activities...hanging out on the balcony watching "The Running of the Drunks." This afternoon it was especially enjoyable because we did it on the RS balcony with new friends. Much to our disappointment we didn't see as many over indulgers as we have on some cruises, but we were docked next to the Allure and everybody was out on their balconies yelling back and forth, and cheering when a late-comer would make a run for the gangway. There was one guy on his balcony on the Allure who was having a "Cozumel" moment...I believe he thought he was on the tarmac using his Senor Frog's glasses to direct airplane traffic!
Interestingly, we left Cozumel about 20 minutes late because they held the ship for two latecomers. Captain Flemming told me on Saturday that the Mexican authorities wouldn't release us to sail until we had everybody aboard, and their late arrival cost Royal Caribbean thousands of dollars in fuel costs from both burning fuel waiting to leave and from increasing our speed to get us to the Galveston Pilot Station by 5:00 Sunday morning. Captain Flemming said the latecomers were quite drunk and thought the whole thing was funny. I wonder if they still thought it was funny when he stuck them in the brig to sober up?!?
I am fascinated with cruise ships...I have been ever since I pulled up to the pier in Vancouver in June of 2000 and got my first look at the massive (to me at the time) Sea Princess. I just could not stop taking pictures of the Allure...and the Mariner...from the deck...from the pier...from a balcony. 12 years after our first cruise, I'm still enthralled with cruiseships. Standing on the Mariner looking at the Allure, I had a flashback to 2002 in Cozumel. At the time I was on the Rhapsody, and I was amazed and blown away when the shiny, new, huge Voyager docked beside us. I felt the same way looking at the Allure while standing on the deck of a newer version of the ship that astonished me in 2002. It kind of makes me wonder what's next? What will be amazing in 2022?
ALL ACCESS TOUR: We took the All Access Tour Saturday afternoon. To me, it was well worth the steep price tag, but I'm a cruiseship junkie and I'm fascinated by how they work! I won't review the whole tour here, because I'm never a woman of few words and it probably won't interest everybody.
DISEMBARKATION: What can I say? I hate getting off a ship, and getting off the Mariner was a very long, painful process. Apparently the port was short staffed...for no apparent reason. This has happened to us once before, and the excuse then was that some of the USCBP agents took the day off because it was Easter. This time there was no excuse...they just didn't show up! At any rate, Luca escorted the priority disembark group off the ship at 8:35, and we hit the wall of humanity about halfway down the gangway. You see, the 1,000+ people who did the self-assist disembarkation had already filled the terminal, and since there were only 5 out of 10 lines open everybody except the first people off were going nowhere in a hurry.
I don't know what the answer is, but Royal Caribbean HAS to fix the Galveston disembarkation problem. Maybe they need to have a sign-up and a cap for self-assist. Maybe they need to have a long chat with USCBP. Maybe they have a better idea. I just know that having passengers take over two and a half hours to get off a ship while standing in a facility with limited and filthy restrooms and no food or beverages is inexcusable and unacceptable. Some had it worse than us...one person on our Roll Call said they waited in Studio B from 8:30-11:30 before they finally struck out on their own. It was almost 2:00 when they finally got in their car!
RANDOM THOUGHTS: For the most part we've had great sunny weather on our Spring Break cruises, and this cruise was no exception. The weather the day we left was very rainy, but other than the rain in the morning when we were in Roatan, we had warm, sunny skies all week. It really is a great time of year to travel to the Caribbean. We had the calmest seas and the least wind we've ever had in March...We couldn't have asked for better weather!
I think I'm finally cured of my cruise shopping habit. For the first time ever, outside of the All Access Tour, my entire bill was for wine and drinks! I had pre-paid a lot of things this year, including tips and pictures, and since I don't need any more $10 shawls, purses, watches, hats, or t-shirts, my bill didn't look like the national debt. We pre-purchased the "Get the Picture" disc before our cruise, and I enjoyed not having to choose pictures and get a bunch of 8X10's that I would have to scan and shrink to a more manageable size. We probably have about 40 pictures, but I think if we had wanted to go to the time and effort we could have had a ton more.
We're lucky to have the Mariner sailing from Galveston! The crew seems to have adjusted to Texas, and just like with the Voyager, the initial reviews were poor, and then things start getting better as time goes on. The Mariner was my favorite ship before we sailed on her for a second time, and she's still my favorite ship! Now, if we could just convince Royal Caribbean to leave a ship here year-round...