We are experienced travelers and cruises with a fair amount of water under the keel.Living in Houston makes Galveston an easy and low cost departure port. While the cruise line and itinerary selection is limited we use RCCL 2-3 times a year for our quick escape and "mental health" excursions. The 12/16 sailing billed as the "End of Days" cruise proved to be a most satisfying and pleasant trip.RCCL delivered every thing we have come to expect from them....after all it's not Cunard, Azamara or Holland America, but more than adequate and good value.
THE SHIP: We have sailed on 3 of the Voyager Class ships and Mariner was very familiar. She is showing a bit of wear and tear, but is scheduled for a month of dry dock and refit in Jan '13. Nothing serious, just some worn furniture and fittings. Some of the public restrooms are a bit gamy..not from lack of cleaning but rather a plumbing issue.
The ship was totally sold out,approx 3400,but we experienced no sense of crowding or any waiting. Every thing was handled smoothly and effortlessly. We prefer smaller ships and Mariner is as large as we would want.Even the Deck 11 pools with their usual large crowds seemed to have lounges to spare. RCCL is actually enforcing their "no holding chairs" policy.
SHIP CULTURE AND STYLE: The morale and mood of the crew was exceptional. Genuine good mood and more than the usual willingness to be helpful and friendly. This alone more than anything made up for minor negatives. A very happy ship.
The crowd was a nice mixture of ages, origins,etc. As expected,Texans predominated with large contingents of Mid West and Rocky Mountain folks.There seemed to be a large number of families up from Central Mexico. All good news for the South Texas economy
There were minor,but noticeable signs of cost cutting. Gone are the little in-room bottles of notions along with the little chocolate on your pillow.The smoked salmon was gone from the buffet and room service is free only for breakfast. Perhaps the money saved goes to pay for the enormous amount of hand sanitizer dispensed every where.What is this world coming to? What next, baggage fees ? I hope RCCL hasn't been infected from berthing along side 2 Carnival ships.
FOOD: Very adequate but not spectacular. Seemed like the cost reduction team may have visited the galley. No more cheese plates after dinner, but the Sherry is still available at $9-12.Overall, not one bad dish or meal...just not quite so special as in the recent past. On the plus side the Hot Dog stand on Deck 11 has some great dogs....a nice addition.
ENTERTAINMENT: IMO,definite 4 star. As good as I've seen and much improved from some previous RCCL trips. The 2 production shows approached Vegas quality.Bowzer of Sha-Na-Nah fame got the Boomers rocking. The lounge musicians did their usual fine job...each appropriate to the venue. Personally I prefer Cole Porter with my dry Martini and found what I wanted in Boleros and the Champagne Lounge.
PORTS and TOURS: COZUMEL...ho hum. Starting to look like a plastic copy of Cancun.Too bad. Stayed aboard, can go to Senor Frogs in Houston. BELIZE...our first time there. Used a local driver, 4 hours 3 people, $25 a head.Had hoped to do the Mayan sites, but because of the 12/21 End of Days prices were over the top. Want to see them , but will wait for the next trip. ROATAN...very interesting. Definitely a 3rd world developing locale. Generally very poor with splashes of up scale development. Puerto Vallarta of the 1970's. Very charming people....once you get past the tourist village .Found an outstanding driver/ guide. Use him if your in Coxen Hole. Jungle,beach,trendiest bar, history, politics...you name it. Steve Bush Rodriguez Roatan Trips and Tours on the web, face-book, twitter. Articulate, educated and a genuinely nice guy. Highly recommended. Tell him Jack and Linda from Texas sent you. 5 hours $25 per head.
CABIN: This trip we traveled with an elderly friend who needs a little assistance with her walking. Booked an inside accessible for 3. Deck 9 forward.Very pleased with the set up. Almost a double floor space with an enormous( by shipboard standards) bath. 1 Queen with an extra sofa bed. Felt like a Jr. Suite. Service was attentive without being intrusive. Add a balcony and I'm ready for a Trans Pacific.
GETTING OFF: The low point of the trip. RCCL and other lines have it down to a science. Fast, orderly, coffee while you wait your turn and smiling faces. Couldn't be better. THEN...the ordeal begins. Once inside the terminal figure on at least 2-3 hours to clear Customs and be on your way. We had a wheelchair( and a $5 bill) and got some special consideration and "sailed" through in 2 1/4 hrs. Even those with just hand carried bags get the same treatment. Delays are at Customs/Immigration. 12/23 we had 3400 passengers and 3 inspectors.
If you are making connections or being picked up allow 3 hours to get out of the building. The ship can get you off fast and early, but you will hit a log jam inside the terminal. We have a brand new and unused Cruise Terminal up the ship channel at Bayport, half way back to Houston. I hope management reads this and does thinking about customer satisfaction and repeat business.