1. General Comments: A pleasant cruise; we had sailed on the Mariner in 2008 out of Florida. We are regular cruisers; purpose of this cruise was just to take a break.
We booked a junior suite on the ninth deck. Details below. We also used "My Time Dining," and it worked fine. The entire top level of the three level dining room was for this type of dining. We had the same wait staff for the entire week.
The cruise had three sea days that were very relaxing.
2. Embarking: We have travelled many times out of Galveston, and this was the first time that embarking was a zoo. No fault of RCL; the story was that customs/immigration personnel were short handed on this Sunday. Processing of disembarking passengers was at a snail's pace. Thus, at 11:30, when the disembarking passengers are usually gone, there were still hordes of them at the terminal trying to leave while the embarking hordes were arriving. We stood in a line for one hour to enter the terminal. It took another hour to get through security and check-in.
Having done Sea Pass check-in on-line did get us through the check-in procedures quicker. As it was 1:30 when we were finally on board, our cabin was available; luggage arrived at 3:45, just before the mandatory safety drill. The usual lunch was being served in the Windjammer area.
This is the first cruise out of Galveston where we have run into the controls of the TABC (Texas liquor authorities) on a cruise ship. If, while the ship is in port or still in US (Texas) waters, and you want a drink, you may learn that you favorite tipple is not available. It is "locked up until we are in international waters." We are guessing that RCL only pays Texas taxes on certain brands of liquor. Thus, for example, you can get some beer in cans, but nothing on tap. Only two brands of scotch were available. And, if you order on-line a bottle of champagne to be in your cabin for you to celebrate your departure from Galveston, "forget about it." Our bottle could not be delivered while in port and was delivered the following day. Once the ship was in international waters, everything was available as usual.
3. The Mariner of the Seas: The junior suite is the way to go. Plenty of space, and plenty of storage space, including a walk-in closet. Suitcases fit well under the bed. Instead of that small shower, there is a tub shower. The cabin has a small safe and a small refrigerator (never used it). There is a TV that receives movies, CNN, ESPN, shipboard activities, and other channels. You get a daily planner in your cabin the night prior. You need to read it carefully as there are very few announcements on the PA system. While you get a daily planner, there is no newspaper. You have to get your news from the TV. There are also no nighttime chocolates. It takes a while to get a handle on what is where on the ship. You receive a map sheet after boarding, and there are maps at each elevator bay. There is a large childrens/teens area and programs for them. I defer to others with children to comment on this part of the ship.
4. Meals: Food in the Windjammer buffet - which almost everyone uses for breakfast and lunch - is good. There are plenty of choices at both meals, and you can eat as much or as little as you want. It is a bit hurried, though, and not a place for a slow meal. There is no self-service coffee in this area; you have to ask for it, or go get it yourself. The dining room's food was very good, well-prepared, and well-served. We only used it for dinner, although it is available with open seating at breakfast and lunch. Food portions are of respectable size, and if you don't try to eat all the courses everyday, you should not do bad weight-wise. If you want wine with your meal in the dining room, whether a glass or a bottle, you need to know what you want. There are no wine stewards on the floor. This duty has been assigned to the Assistant Waiters. He will have no idea about recommending a wine, and you need to tell him the wine's number on the list; he will not understand the wine's name. Once you understand this "system," it works well. There are wine stewards in the dining room, but they are in "the back of the house," pouring glasses and getting bottles being ordered by the Assistant Waiters.
We had made reservations on-line for the Chops specialty restaurant. Excellent food and wine. Service was a bit spotty, but not fatal. The meal was worth the extra charge.
There are other food outlets around the ship as well as a goodly number of bars including a pub, and a wine shop. You cannot go hungry or thirsty.
5. Dressing for meals: For this seven day trip it was two formal, and all the rest casual. A good number - perhaps half - of men at formal nights were in tuxedos or suits; some who did not want to dress up just did not appear for these meals.
6. Shore Excursions: A word of advice: make your shore excursion reservations on-line! Otherwise you will either have to use the not-so-user-friendly on board TV system to make your reservations or stand in line on board at the excursion counter. The on-line billing goes direct on your credit card and not on your shipboard account. If you know the ports of call and want to travel by yourself, then, of course, you don't need the ship's tour office. RCL's tour prices are not cheap; you are paying for the convenience of having the ship organize the tour rather than you doing it after you get ashore. Also, if you obtain your tour through the ship's staff, you have support when there is a problem.
Of the three stops, Falmouth was a new one for us. RCL has poured a ton of money into the pier area to make it attractive and a shopping center. I recommend you google the town to get its background. We took the two-hour walking tour of the town, and it was very interesting. A lot of restoration needs to be done of these old colonial shops and houses. RCL has taken on a huge task -- along with the Jamaican authorities -- to build up Falmouth as a tourist destination. It is located between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, so the town has serious work to do in order to compete with those two well-known tourist spots.
7. Shipboard entertainment: The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for all tastes: sports, lectures, bridge, bingo (for serious players!), etc, etc. Don't forget the rock climbing wall. And do not forget the ice skating rink. There are times that you can practice skating, and you should try and get tickets (they are free, but are needed) to see the ice show. We did not attend any of the shows on board; we only heard favorable comments about them. The casino was of good size and the payoffs did not seem to be much worse than Las Vegas. Duty-free liquor on board was reasonable; you order your liquor and it is delivered to your cabin the night before disembarking. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to have your picture taken by the ship's photographers--pricey, but a good souvenir. There are various venues for night owls.
8. Tipping: Not a problem if you sign up for the recommended amounts (for cabin steward, waiter, asst waiter, and head waiter). The amounts are charged to your shipboard account; you no longer receive vouchers and envelopes for handing out to the named personnel. RCL has entered the 21st century, and this is all taken care of electronically with the staff. If you use My Time Dining, you will be billed the full tip amount when you book your cruise. If you use regular seating dining, you will be asked at some point by the Front Desk how you want to handle tips. You only need to tip separately (cash) the person who brings your room service breakfast. Your bar bill automatically adds 15 percent.
9. Settling of Accounts: During your cruise, anything you purchase on board (drinks, souvenirs, tours, duty free items, photos) is punched into a computer; you sign one copy of the ticket and you receive a copy. You can track your account on the ship's TV channel. On Sunday morning you receive a paper final statement of your account.
10. Disembarking: On Saturday you will receive luggage tags with numbers. You also receive a sheet of paper telling when that number will be called for disembarking and where you have to be waiting in order to hear the PA announcement when your number can leave the ship. Your bags have to be out by 11PM, breakfast is early, and you have to be out of your cabin and in your designated waiting area. Again, you will only hear the announcements in the waiting areas. On this cruise, disembarkation was about 30 minutes late. It took us 50 minutes from leaving the waiting area, getting off the ship, getting our bags, getting through customs/immigration, and on a shuttle to the parking lot for our car.
11. Conclusion: While not an outstanding cruise, it was certainly pleasant, and we will be repeating it. If anyone has questions, send me an e-mail at LTC519@satx.rr.com.
San Antonio, TX