First time cruisers so this was all brand new for us. The first thing to say that despite all the following positive notes, our first impression of RCI wasn't without criticism. I found that their website was inadequate in many ways, one of which resulted in us having to finish the booking over the phone. There was also so much contrasting information on different pages e.g. one page said that we had to still pay 15% gratuity on all fountain soda transactions even after purchasing the soda package; another page said we didn't. The latter turned out to be true.
Anyway, come to the day, flight was on time and we were met in the arrivals hall by plenty of RCI staff who directed us to our carousel. Unfortunately the bags took forever to appear but when they did, we dropped them straight with the RCI porters and, almost immediately, we were led to the coach. An hour later we were in the port terminal and boarding was incredibly speedy and we were on board in no time. More contrasting info; website said room would be ready by 1300, literature said 1400; another piece said baggage delivered by 2000, another piece said 2100. As it turns out, it was there by 1500.
The room was far bigger than we expected with probably as much storage space as we've had in most hotels. Everything worked perfectly and on the one day there was a problem, the stateroom attendant had it repaired within the hour. A word about the stateroom staff; they were incredibly friendly and efficient; nothing was ever too much trouble and I was more than happy to leave more than the recommended gratuity at the end of the week. As for the ship itself, it had apparently just come out of refit and it was immaculate. Being our first time we had no idea what to expect so maybe I'm over-egging things but we were genuinely impressed with everything. All areas of the ship were spotless with massive emphasis on hygiene.
For breakfast we used the main dining room as it was table service and even though it had a small buffet, there was plenty of made-to-order food. We found the Windjammer (which we only used for lunch) to be absolutely fine despite some criticisms on here. Plenty of choice, decent food and plenty of staff to tidy up. Only criticisms would be that it was sometimes difficult to find a table and the vegetarian option was limited. Fortunately, my veggie partner does eat sea food of which there was plenty. For dinner, we had selected My Time Dining in the main dining room and we never had a problem with making late reservations or even just turning up although you could expect perhaps a 10 minute wait for a table. Food and service were excellent although the 'entertainment' by the staff doing a quick singing show did wear thin by the end of the week. We also dined in Giovanni's Table one night (this has replaced Portofino.) The food, service and ambiance in here were excellent and well worth the $20ph surcharge. The only other place we dined was at Johnny Rockets on one of the formal nights. One of the best fast-food chains with decent selection of food.
We didn't partake in any activities other than lazing by the pool. Of the 2 pools, we loved the Solarium as it was much quieter and it is adults only. One Italian family did bring in some children but were politely asked to move next door by a staff member. We saw one show, The East Coast Boys, based on the Broadway/West End musical The Jersey Boys; we found it very entertaining. Of all the bars we used, our favourite was Ellington's Jazz Lounge on the 14th floor at the aft (formerly Viking Lounge.) It is a very smart bar with good service and live (but not intruding) music. We also liked the Schooner Bar with the nightly pianist. The English pub on board, The Wig & Gavel, was quite good but it was a smoking venue so we tended to avoid it. And the majority of clientÃ¨le appeared to be fellow Brits; Why?
There is so much more I could add, all positive, but I think that this is enough. Regarding drinks packages; we found the soda package very good vfm; if you're going to drink 2 or more sodas a day then get this package. We only got one package and shared it by the pool. We found the water package good too. I think we paid about Â£33 (less than $50) for 12 x 1L bottles and I think on board prices were about $5.25 a litre. That said, there are some water fountains around and even tap water is drinkable. So for our first cruise we had a great time. I would definitely recommend RCI, the Mariner of the Seas and this itinerary.
NB. As there's no listing for Valencia in the "Ports Visited" section. I'd add that it's quite a nice city but with not too much to see. It cost $15 each for a cruise bus into the city and judging by the distance, I'd say that was worth it.