We flew from Manchester via Amsterdam to Rome Fiumicino on Fri, 24th Aug and arrived at 10:30 pm to stay overnight at the Hilton Rome Airport Hotel that is 'attached' to the airport. It is badly signposted so head for terminals 2 & 3 and up from the arrivals level and find the covered walkway near the car parks, and then follow what seems an endless tunnel to the hotel. However, the hotel was great for a 1 night stay and the staff extremely helpful and friendly.
Saturday, August 25th - Civitavecchia
We ate a leisurely breakfast and awaited our private transfer to Civitavecchia. At 15 mins before the scheduled time our driver arrived in a very nice black Mercedes limo. Off we went at 11 am in extremely comfortable surroundings to Civitavecchia. After approximately 45 mins we arrived at the port and our driver dropped us next to the terminal building where we left our bags and entered the terminal. After completing the health questionnaire, with no lines, check in was completed and we were on the ship within 10 mins at just after 12 pm.
First impressions were that Mariner is extremely well maintained and the 'revitalization' has added to her facilities.
As expected, a large proportion of our fellow sailors were from Italy, with some departing the next day in Genoa and more new arrivals embarking there.
We headed for our stateroom on deck 6, a category D3 balcony on the starboard side, towards the bow, as the doors were open to allow access even though it was not yet 1 pm. Everything was as expected so we dropped our hand baggage, put the valuables in the safe and headed to the Windjammer for some lunch.
Although fairly busy it was easy to find a table and afterwards we explored the ship to reacquaint ourselves with Mariner. We checked out the new addition of the Diamond Lounge on deck 14 adjacent to Ellington's in the Viking Crown. Very nice spot and it felt bigger than those on Freedom class ships, although in the same position with great sea views.
We returned to our stateroom to find our rented Tuxes were in the closet, our tour excursion tickets, and welcome back gift had been delivered, shortly followed by our pre ordered champagne and strawberries for sail away.
As Mariner did not sail until 7 pm, muster drill was not until 6 pm. Our muster station was in the Lotus Lounge on deck 5, so extremely convenient for us. As is the norm these days, life vests are not required at the drill and all instructions given in English first followed by Italian.
We sailed at 7 pm and shortly after we headed for the DL where we met Marion de Moura from Brazil, the Diamond Concierge, and Agnes from Hungary, our bar server who would look after us extremely well over the next 7 days! They were extremely friendly and a joy to chat with each evening.
Cocktail hours had been changed on this sailing to accommodate the change in dining times for main and late seating. The DL provided a full bar service and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres from 6:00 - 9:30 pm. Main seating was at 6:45 pm and late seating at 9:15 pm. Continental breakfast would also be provided in the DL from 8:00 - 10:00 am.
At 8:30 pm we headed for the Sound of Music dining room on deck 5 as we had advance My Time Dining reservations. Due to the popularity of MTD advance reservations; there were 2 stations set up and 1 line for those who did not have reservations.
Now although the concept of MTD is that you do not need to make dining reservations in advance, if you like to turn up at around 9 pm and wait in line, then that is OK. However, if your fellow passengers are primarily Italian, you will find that the majority of them also haven't made advance reservations and as they like to eat around 9 pm also, the line will extend down the Royal Promenade past the Champagne Bar!
We were seated at window table 623 with a great sea view and looked after extremely well by Johnathan Perez and his assistant. Service was excellent and the food enjoyable. We requested the same section for subsequent dining, and this was accommodated.
After dinner we sampled drinks in Vintages on the Royal Promenade and in Ellington's on deck 14 in the Viking Crown. We retired to our cabin fairly early as we had an 8:15 start for our shore excursion in Genoa. We tried to order room service breakfast via the interactive facility on the in room TV, but as this was not possible on day 1 (nor all week we subsequently found out) we hung our order on the door and went to bed.
Sunday, August 26th - Genoa
7:00 am - 7:00 pm.
We awoke to a beautiful day in Genoa and awaited breakfast. When it didn't arrive, I called room service to be told that they had no order for us and blamed the kids who they say regularly remove the orders from the cabin doors 'in fun'. No problem, and they did offer to take our order and deliver it ASAP, but we decided to head for the WJ instead.
The meeting place for excursions was the Savoy Theatre on deck 3 where we waited until our departure time and we were escorted to our bus for our trip to Santa Margherita Ligure and onwards by ferry to Portofino.
It is worth noting that if you were booked on a ships shore excursion, then this also allowed you to use the shuttle bus into Genoa for free if you wished to visit the city after your tour returned to the ship, otherwise if would be $12 per person for unlimited return trips.
RCI sold a 'shuttle package' for around $42 for the shuttle buses provided for all ports except Cannes where you tender ashore. This amounted to a saving of around $9 per person I think. But as mentioned, you don't need to pay for the shuttle if you are taking a ship shore excursion as you get it for free. And in Barcelona it is definitely not needed as I detail below, plus in Barcelona the drop off and pick up point is not exactly central!
The trip to Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino was excellent, especially the local speciality Paciugo (gelato with fresh fruits and cream) in Portofino, and we had ample time in both places to explore at our leisure. The photos speak louder than words!
We returned to the ship in time for a late lunch in the WJ at around 2 pm, just the time when it seemed all the Italians on board also wanted to eat lunch! Finding a table was a challenge, but possible. Just don't get your food before finding somewhere to sit as it may go cold by the time you find a seat!
After lunch we relaxed on deck in preparation for our evening in Giovanni's Table which has replaced Portofino on Mariner. After cocktails in the DL we had what can only be described as a fantastic evening in Giovanni's as the food was excellent and" the staff superb. Well worth the $20 per person surcharge IMHO.
A Mojito or 2 in Boleros on deck 4 before retiring finished an excellent day in style.
Monday, August 27th - Cannes
7:00 am - 6:00 pm
Awoke to the sound of the anchor being dropped in the bay in Cannes as this would be the only port where we would tender ashore. Beautiful day by the look of the weather.
We decided to have breakfast in the Rhapsody in Blue dining room on deck 3 and service again was excellent although Eggs Benedict were not available on this day (they were on the other days we had a formal breakfast).
On leaving the dining room we noticed that the Lyric dining room which is adjacent to the main dining room was set up for full breakfast service for Diamond and Diamond Plus Crown and Anchor members. This was something we did not expect as a continental breakfast was also provided in the DL, but although this is only normally provided on ships with no DL, Marion, the Diamond Concierge advised that on Mariner they decided to provide both. Another example of fantastic service on Mariner.
After breakfast we took a tender ashore and proceeded to the railway station and caught a train to Antibes just 15 mins away (we had explored Cannes earlier in May 2012). Great choice of location, beautiful old town with central market and lots of winding streets to explore which provided welcome shade from the hot sun!
We returned to Mariner for a late lunch in Johnny Rockets which was probably one of the best lunches we've had in this venue after many visits.
As this was to be Formal Night we relaxed later on deck and returned to our cabin to receive an invite to dine with Captain Flemming B Nielsen! Nice surprise! We were asked to assemble at 9 pm outside Studio B on deck 3.
So decked out in our tuxes and after cocktails in the DL we met our fellow table mates at 9 pm as instructed. We were advised where we would be seated and that the gentlemen would be expected to stand when the Captain arrived but the ladies could remain seated. Photographs would be taken which we would be given at the end of dinner together with a copy of the menu.
We were escorted through the Lyric dining room to the Rhapsody in Blue dining room to the Captain's table as the main dining room doors were not yet open and late seating on this sailing was 9:15 pm to accommodate the wishes of the majority of passengers.
Once we were seated the other diners were allowed into the dining room and shortly afterwards Captain Flemming arrived and the formal photos taken. During the introductions it was quite amusing to find that in addition to us from Manchester, UK there were another 4 of our fellow table mates from the same city! There was also a couple from Bergen in Norway and the Captain's parents from Denmark. So out of a total of 11 at the table, over 50% were from Manchester, UK!
We had an excellent dinner, with great food and wine and enjoyable table mates. Captain Flemming left us to prepare for our arrival the next day in Barcelona. We left shortly after, changed into something more relaxing and visited a couple of bars before retiring after an excellent day.
Tuesday, August 28th - Barcelona
10:00 am - 11:00 pm
Today we had breakfast in the Lyric dining room as mentioned which was set up for Diamond and Diamond Plus Crown and Anchor guests, and then left the ship at 10 am once it had docked, and took a taxi which cost â‚¬11 including tip, to Placa Espanya to catch the hourly train to Montserrat which left at 10:36 am.
Had we taken the ships shuttle to the World Trade Centre, we would still have needed to take a taxi or walk for I guess around 10 minutes to catch the metro from Drassanes subway station on line L3 to get to Placa Espanya and so we would not have caught our desired train. We found the railway line R5 which headed to Manresa. There are 2 information stands where staff help you purchase your tickets.
We decided to travel via cable car up to the monastery which takes 5 minutes, so purchased the combined train and 'Aeri' ticket. If you want to travel via funicular railway, which takes slightly longer, then you need to purchase the 'Cremallera' ticket.
You can't change from cable car to funicular or vice versa and so once purchased you must travel by the method specified on your ticket. Alternatively you must purchase another ticket on arrival at the relevant railway station near Montserrat.
For the cable car you leave the train at Montserrat Aeri station, for the funicular, you need to leave the train at the next station called Monistrol.
We purchased the TOT Montserrat ticket which includes lunch, 2 additional funicular rides once at Montserrat, museum entrance and 2 metro trips. Good value at â‚¬39.95 per person.
We arrived at Montserrat Aeri train station and transferred to the cable car that holds 35 people maximum, all standing for the thrilling 5 minute trip up the mountain to the top.
After visiting the sights and having an early lunch we returned to Barcelona via cable car and train to Placa Espanya. We then caught the metro line L3 to Drassanes which brings you the end of Las Ramblas opposite the Columbus monument. From here you can visit the area known as Port Vell and catch the 'Blue' port bus for a cost of â‚¬2.50 per person back to the ship.
So in place of paying $12 per person for a shuttle from RCI that only dropped you at World Trade Centre which is not near Las Ramblas nor the Columbus Monument, we paid a total of â‚¬16 (approx. $20) for a taxi direct to the railway station and a more convenient bus back to the ship. The 'Blue' port bus always runs when ships are in port.
We dined in the main dining room again and had to apologise to Johnathan why we didn't turn up the previous evening when they had kept a table for us, but we were with the Captain!
As we were not due to sail until 11 pm, this appeared to be the perfect night for the 'White Party' in the Solarium. So a quick change after dinner and off we went to investigate, what a disappointment. No atmosphere at all with people just stood around with the entertainment staff doing their best to motivate the crowd but without much success. Needless to say we didn't stay long and went off for drinks in Ellington's in the Viking Crown and later Boleros on deck 4.
Wednesday, August 29th - Palma de Mallorca
9:00 am - 9:00 pm
We awoke to see the imposing sight of Palma Cathedral and Bellver Castle in the distance and then the Paseo Maritimo which runs along the coast and the port.
Mariner did not dock where we expected as Costa Magica and MSC Sinfonia were already berthed there and so we docked further down the Paseo Maritimo and past the main port entrance and docked in front of P&O's Azura. it didn't look like an easy exit from the port, especially as lots of taxis were lined up on the dock.
After breakfast in the Lyric dining room again, and as we were so far away from the centre, we decided to purchase the shuttle tickets at $12 per person which considering the distance, wasn't too bad IMHO. The bus drop off and pick up point was on the Cami de l'Escollera, opposite the cathedral where all ships shuttle buses stop.
We explored the city of Palma and had some refreshments and headed back for a light lunch as we were dining in Chops Grille at 8:30 pm. Unfortunately one of our favourite bars 'Abaco' which is hidden on one of the narrow streets in the old town did not open until 8 pm and as we had to be back onboard for 8:30 pm it would not be possible to visit this time, another excuse for a short trip from the UK to Mallorca!
Unfortunately we couldn't attend the Crown and Anchor and Suite guests party being held in the Solarium which started at 8:30 pm as this clashed with our dining reservation at Chops.
Dinner at Chops was excellent as usual and I even managed some of the famous Red Velvet cake, not all, as the portions served are huge for dessert. Service was top notch as were the steaks. As a result of a great meal, we retired early again!
Thursday, August 30th - Valencia
08:00 am - 7:00 pm
Although very warm and humid, the clouds covered the sky when we arrived at the large industrial port of Valencia. If you were not on a shore excursion, you would definitely need the shuttle bus at a cost of $15 per person.
We had ordered room service breakfast for between 8 - 8:30 as the meeting time for our tour of Valencia and visit to the Oceanografic aquarium wasn't until 9:15 again in the Savoy theatre on deck 3. Once again we were advised that our stickers for the tour would also enable us to us the shuttle bus back to the city for free once our tour returned to the ship.
The tour of Valencia was interesting and the aquarium excellent for a half day visit.
Once back on board we had lunch at Johnny Rockets again and relaxed in the Solarium for the rest of the day before the 2nd formal night dinner of the cruise.
The Captain warned us that the sailing back to Civitavecchia once we left Valencia could be a little bumpy and that we would experience some 'motion from the ocean' until we passed between Corsica and Sardinia the next evening and to take care when moving around the ship and to make sure we used the handrails.
The sea was a little choppy when we left the harbour, but there was no indication of what was in store for us the next day!
After dinner and drinks we went to change and went to the theatre to see the show and then off to Studio B on deck 3 for Quest. This was great fun as the Italians really got into the spirit of the games. So after a relatively late night for us we went to bed ready for our day at sea back towards Italy.
Friday, August 31st - At Sea
'Motion from the Ocean' oh boy that saying will stay with me forever!
We were woken at around 6 am with the ship groaning, pitching and rolling in what we subsequently discovered were 45 knot head winds, and 12 - 15 ft. swells.
As a result sea sickness tablets for many were the order of the day and plenty of cleaning for the staff of Mariner if you get my drift! The carpet cleaners were out in force.
All outside decks were closed and so Mercedes Lafuente the cruise director from Buenos Aires, and the rest of the entertainment staff did a fantastic job of rearranging a lot of scheduled outdoor activities and replacing them with sessions inside.
I spent some time with Marion in the Diamond Lounge where it was obvious how 'angry' the Mediterranean sea was. Marion was being teased by her colleagues as they consider she has the best 'office' location on the ship normally, but in weather like this and if you can't stomach looking at the ocean, it's not much fun. Especially when her first thought when being woken by the rolling around, was of all the crockery in the DL which she found when opening the door, had fallen onto the floor.
Even the seasoned stateroom attendants were struggling with the weather and some were positively 'green around the gills'.
I've never seen so many 'do not disturb' signs posted on cabin doors as I passed by and took the opportunity to take photos of the artwork on the stairwells on Mariner which I consider some of the best on board all the RCI ships we've sailed on. It goes from imposing stone work to downright humorous and a little wacky. There is a lot of transport inspired artwork.
The Captain's scheduled noon announcement gave us more information on the weather and the impact on our journey. He advised that once we had passed between Corsica and Sardinia later in the evening, things would improve as the winds would change direction.
I now appreciate even more the power of the sea and the damage sea spray and salt can do to a ship. Paintwork was stripped to the metal on our balcony and the chairs encrusted with salt that needed a firm hand to be removed. The ship would need a complete clean with fresh water when we reached Civitavecchia.
However, things did calm down from early afternoon onwards and as a result the outer decks were reopened around 5 pm and we took advantage of an hour or so of sunshine.
As we had opted to visit Giovanni's Table again (because we enjoyed it so much) it was good to see that the weather improved by the time for dinner.
We had packed and sorted out our WOW cards, gratuities, customer feedback and so were all set for our last night onboard. However, only one slight hiccup was that although we had received notification of our pre purchase and payment for the late departure program when we boarded, we had not received any other details, including the special luggage tags I knew we needed so that our bags once off the ship are stored until we depart at a later time than of other guests.
A couple of phone calls, it was sorted and luggage tags sent to their cabin. Apparently when you purchase this option online and in advance, it is considered a 'shore excursion' and it is the responsibility of this department to advise Guest Services who issue the tags etc. This had not happened, so thank goodness I had kept the 'shore excursion' tickets and could give guest services all the info they needed.
So off we went to say our goodbyes to Johnathan, Marion and Agnes, had a final cocktail in the DL and once again a superb meal in Giovanni's. So we missed the final show in the theatre but heard the final parts of the 70's party on the Royal Promenade.
Off to bed after placing our bags in the corridor, tomorrow back home, ugh.
Saturday, September 1st - Civitavecchia
Arrival 5:00 am
Awoke early and we were back in port. Very cloudy and a lot cooler than one week before. As this is not the last day for those guests departing from Genoa the next day, breakfast times were a little more generous than I previously experienced.
Buffet in the WJ, deck 11 from 6:00 - 9:00 am, Rhapsody in Blue main dining room, deck 3, 6:30 - 8:30 am, and Continental in Cafe Promenade, deck 5, 6:00 - 10:00 am.
Marion had said there were 900 guests who boarded in Genoa so that meant more people were around on the last morning for us.
Using the late departure program meant we could stay in our cabin until 9 am which was useful as full breakfast was still available in the main dining room (and the Lyric) until 8:30 am. Our carryon bags could be left at the pool towel stand on deck 11 for safe keeping as it was manned all day.
After breakfast we relaxed in the Solarium, took walks around the ship until lunch was available in the WJ. Following this we changed into 'travelling' clothes and left the ship just before 1 pm and our driver was already waiting for us, although we had not asked to be picked up until 2 pm. Such great service. So off we went to Fiumicino for our journey home.
Summary and conclusions
Mariner is in fantastic condition following revitalization, and she is manned by an excellent crew who are both extremely friendly and helpful (dare I say much more so than the crew on our last 3 sailings on Liberty).
Any slight issues were rectified immediately by a fantastic team of people at Guest Relations.
The ports were well worth visiting and the time in port was very good.
Food was plentiful and good, especially in Giovanni's and Chops. Cafe Promenade is a great place for sandwich and pizza snacks. The new addition of the Boardwalk Doghouse was very popular on deck 11, especially with youngsters. Johnny Rockets was never packed and service great as usual including the staff dancing on the half hour.
The complimentary coffee did not seem as bitter or strong as on other sailings, and Starbucks has replaced Seattle's Best for speciality drinks.
As a nation I think I will now say the Italians are the loudest nation I have ever encountered, all good natured, but boy when there is a group of them, the volume rises and the children can be a little unruly. No big deal and that's variety of life.
The only negative is the cost of the port shuttles for those who have not been to places like we have and know how to get around, and the fact that no mention was made that an excursion let you use the shuttles for free. So you could buy the shuttle 'package' which were included with your excursion, a little naughty on RCI's part I feel.
One other piece of advice, if you are of a delicate disposition! I need to remind you of another small European/Mediterranean nationality custom or trait which may be a bit of a surprise if you are not familiar with it.
Many men from the area who insist on wearing Speedo's (commonly referred to as 'budgie smugglers') when on the pool deck, many of which should know better! So if you are easily offended, you may need to avert your eyes on more than one occasion!