Mid-50's empty nesters celebrating 35th anniversary with a transatlantic cruise. My wife is paralyzed on right side so uses wheelchair, thus we booked accessible balcony cabin (category AX) over a year in advance. After booking we learned Mariner was scheduled for drydock (and later Royal Advantage upgrades) just prior to the sail date.
Pre-Cruise: Flew US Airways to Miami and stayed two nights at Holiday Inn Port of Miami-Downtown. This hotel has been undergoing renovation for several years and is very nice and in convenient location across from Bayside Marketplace. Room was small but had been updated and was clean and comfortable and orice was right.
Sail Day: Royal Caribbean changed the departure time from 5pm to 8pm with no notice to passengers until 48 hours prior to sailing although set sail pass had the new time 75 days in advance. Just prior to sail date they did mass emailsing and phone calls (caller ID was 1111111111 so we had ignored it) to tell people not to arrive before 3pm. Having nowhere else to go with luggage we arrived at 1:00pm and boarded by 2pm. Sailing was delayed until 8:30pm. Muster drill went well and was actually at a lifeboat location for us.
Sunny Miami was NOT and it rained the entire time we were there but first whole day of the cruise broke out of that and weather was terrific the entire cruise except for one day of clouds in mid-Atlantic.
Cabin 7300: This is an accessible balcony stateroom and elgibility checking was stronger than any prior cruise. RCI has re-catagorized all accessible staterooms as type A (such as AX, AY, AW, etc...) and changed booking system to comply with new ADA rules to prevent people from booking these just for more space. All the standard accessibility features were present (and very much needed) except that unlike Radiance class there is no power door opener. Still the doo did have a delayed closer that held it open long enough to roll wheelchair out into hallway. Ramp to bathroom was less noticable than Radiance class but balcony had a flip down metal ramp on the outside that when not flipped down was a trip hazard for AB persons. When flipped down it also prevented sliding door from being closed. Upgrades in drydock were limted to LCD TV with interactive features. First several days of the cruise TV service was very limited and many people complained at Guest Services. Also for first couple days all balcony dividers were open but not secured so were banging in the wind all night. Eventually there were all closed and latched. Only maintenance issue we had was a bad seal on the sliding door that allowed air from outside to whistle in as well as drawing in smoke from chain smoker on balcony nextdoor.
Mariner Notes: Mariner is a great ship and after cruising only Radiance class with RCI we were not sure if we would like the Royal Promenade concept but it was OK. Much smaller that pictures indicated. Pub was super smokey so as to be unusable by us - even sitting outside in promenande. Vintages had been updated with wine dispensers for samples with SeaPass reader. One irritating issue was the jewlery shop tables in the middle of promenade making it very congested there almost all the time.
A large TV screen was added to the pool area during the upgrades and had grand opening on about day 5. During day it just played a canned loop (without sound) and in evenings they showd movies there (different from cabin and movies theater rotation). Pools and decking arounf them had all be refurbished in drydock and whatever food venue by pool area had been there before was converted to Boardwalk Dog House with hotdogs and sausages.
Dining: We noticed a serious downgrade in the quality and variety of food in Main Dining Room (MDR). Mostly in the entree selections. We made use of the new interactive information screens to preview menu for each night and ate in Windjammer several evenings. My Time Dining (MTD) was total chaos for the first several nights but eventually settled down except immediately after shows. Gary Bateman, the MTD Host, was amazing at fixing things and remembering people and preferences. In fact between ourselves we started calling him "the fixer". But the MDR food issue was a big disappointment and noticably lower quality than prior cruises.
Portofino is no longer available on Mariner and has been replaced with Giovanni's Table. They did a very nice job with the decoration and atmosphere and the food was fantastic. It is geared to share the pasta course but you can also have your own. Service was outstanding. They did have some issues with billing us at end of meal when we had pre-paid with online reservation prior to the cruise but eventually it was resolved. All over the ship there seemed to be a new SeaPass charging system that was causing issues as staff learned it.
Chops was a huge dispointment. NY Strip was tough and thin - I should have had Porterhouse even if I could not have eaten it all. Also we were seated in front of open kitchen counter/window with harsh flourescent lights and kitchen noise that destroyed the atmosphere. I would highly advise not accepting a table there. What was even more disppointing was the place was virtually empty with many tables farther from the kitchen they could have put us at.
Activities: There were many and Cruise Director Carly and Activities Director Steven were great. There was always something going on by the pools and evenings were full of shows and parades and parties. Meet & Mingle Roll Call meeting had over 300 people so had to be moved to Lotus Lounge and even that was filled. There was no lack of things to do on the nine sea days.
Speaking of sea days - this was the smoothest transatlantic anyone onboard could remember and there were many TA fans making the trip. Very little ship motion the whole way. Like cruising on a lake.
The evening shows were good and the crew production show was fantastic - mostly for the sets. One night was an "all musicians" medly that was OK but only played snipits of each sogn and lacked a consistant theme. Headliner entertainers were all good.
Ports: Tenerife, Canary Is. (Spain), Mallorca (Spain), Barcelona (Spain), Villefranche (France) for Nice and Monaco (tendered) and Livorno (Italy) for Pisa and Florence. Finally Civitivechia for Rome. We toured with private groups at Tenerife and Mallorca and on our own at the rest so did not use RCI for any of their over priced excursions. Barcelona was very easy to tour on own - even with wheelchair - and Metro subway was very accessible. Train station at Villefranche was a chore to get too due to having to find route with no steps but once there trains to Monaco and Nice were very easy. At Livorno the flat rate taxi to the train station - â‚¬25 each way - was a rip off but then the train was inexpensive to Pisa. We skipped Florence for lack of time and used more time at Pisa. Tips on trains from the Rick Steves books were very helpful for touring on own.
Summary: Mariner is a great ship and even better now with the upgrades. Capt. Per Kristofersson was great and has nice sense of humor. Biggest downside to the ship was the many places that were too smokey to use but we worked around that. Food variety and quality in MDR need improvement but we certainly did not starve. Overall this was a fantastic cruise on a unique itinerary and we greatly enjoyed it.