First, I must say, we only cruised once before on Golden Princess (to Alaska from Vancouver). So this is the only benchmark that I have to compare the current RCI cruise with.
Because we live in Vancouver, Canada, getting to the cruise terminal in Texas was quite a journey: flight from Vancouver to L.A. then L.A. to San Antonio, then San Antonio to Houston (overnight stay) then early mini-van ride from Houston to Galveston, our departure port. We arrived at the terminal at approx. 12:30pm and I believe we were in our stateroom by 1:15pm: embarkation was a piece of cake compared to our Alaskan cruise last year.
The Mariner of the Seas ship is beautiful and grandiose. Would be hard to say if I prefer the Golden Princess or the Mariner of the Seas: they are both beautiful and charming in their own ways. As expected, there were lots of activities on board and one can choose to be as lazy or as active as one wishes! We booked all our shore excursions on our own, and by doing so, saved significantly over the shore excursions offered by RCI. We booked a beach and snorkeling package in Roatan, Honduras ($30 pp including transportation at Bananarama Resort), a cave tubing experience in Belize ($45 pp) and a day at Chankanaab Park ($30 pp) in Cozumel, Mexico. I have already written individual reviews of these excursions on TripAdvisor so I won't repeat here.
One of the things we particularly enjoyed on the Mariner is the ice rink! Ice skating in the middle of the Caribbean sea is an unreal experience! We also did the climbing wall and a myriad of other on-board activities. In an attempt to feel less guilty about eating so much food, we also hit the gym a couple of times and the facility is top notched!
Speaking of food, it was overall very good! I'd say the food in the main dining room (MDR) of the Mariner was at least as good as the food in the MDR of the Golden Princess: not excellent but very good. If I compare the two buffet-style restaurants of the Golden Princess (Horizon) versus the Mariner (Windjammer), I must give a small edge to the Princess' Horizon: I found that the Windjammer had less variety (all food stations basically offered the same things) and there was very little change in the menu from day to day.
The Promenade Cafe on the Mariner was also not as good (again, lack of choices and variety) as the International Cafe on the Golden Princess. On Princess, we also loved the fact that we could purchase a "coffee card" for $30 making it an inexpensive way to get specialty coffee in the morning. On Mariner, they do not have "coffee cards" and therefore, now that they have switched to Starbucks, it is a bit pricey to buy a couple of lattes in the morning ($9).
I don't want to focus on the negatives but if I had to point at a single complaint that I wish RCI would address is the time at which they start their evening parties! Yes, I am older and over 50 but so are probably 60% of the people on the ship and therefore I am sure I am not the only one who would like to participate in these fun parties (Disco night parties, 70s and 80s parties, etc..) but can't hardly stay awake long enough to attend. Most of these functions started around 11pm and made it challenging for old folks like myself to attend. Then again, this may be RCI's plan all along: make sure the old crowd won't disrupt the parties!
But seriously, given the demographics of a typical cruise, I really believe that RCI could start these activities around 10pm or earlier. Just my opinion.
All in all, it was a wonderful cruise experience and we would no doubt book a cruise on an RCI ship again! Not perfect but still excellent! Now excuse me but I have to return to the elliptical trainer to try to burn off all these extra pounds!