This cruise was our family's first cruise, although husband and I went on a Royal Caribbean cruise many years ago. We were all very excited about this one, in spite of the fact that we had a 20 hour drive from Phoenix to Galveston.
The Mariner is a beautiful, impressive ship. Our kids, ages 11 and 13, were wowed. We used EZ Cruise parking service, and they were excellent. The embarkation process was fairly slow. It seemed that everyone else had the same idea we did: arrive as early as you can and enjoy your first day on the ship.
We had booked this cruise less than two weeks prior and we didn't have passports, but our official birth certificates were just fine and didn't slow down our check-in process at all. In spite of long lines, nothing dampened our excitement.
The ship's interior is impressive, although here and there are definite signs of wear. Our interior cabin was not luxurious, but it was a quiet refuge on busy days, and we were always glad to return to it each night. Our steward, Hassim, was just excellent and the kids loved the towel animals that were waiting on our beds each night.
I did notice that there were cleaning carts and supplies out in the hallway all day, every day. This seemed really odd to me because this isn't the case in hotels. I'm not sure if this is the case on every deck, but on Deck 6, it certainly was!
There were full calendars of activities every day, but we don't gamble, don't drink much, and were a full 20 years younger than the average passenger, so ultimately, there were a lot of activities that didn't appeal to us.
I didn't anticipate so many retirees, and the average age was probably 65. The 100 kids on board skewed the average down a bit. The only time I really minded this was on one of our excursions in which I expected a lot of snorkeling time but ended up in a group with numerous individuals who were barely ambulatory. Our kids were rarin' to go and we spent a great deal of time waiting for other members of the group.
We chose 3 different excursions: Discover Mexico/Chankunaab (Cozumel), Stingray City/Reef Snorkling (Grand Cayman), and a tour of Jamaica and time in Montego Bay.
One of the highlights of our trip was dinner in the Rhapsody in Blue dining room. We were so lucky to have Edwin as our waiter and Kenny as his assistant. Our family was overwhelmed with their kindness and attentiveness. After the second night, our kids were greeted with fresh fruit compotes as soon as they sat down. Edwin brought us extra desserts to try and when he found out that my husband loves seafood, he would always make sure to bring an extra helping.
We had prepaid our gratuities, and I wondered if Edwin and Kenny knew that their tips were already paid. It turned out that they DID know who had pre-paid and yet their service was the absolute best, night after night. We left each of them an extra tip on the last night, and our kids and I cried as we said good-bye. They were the only 2 people on board that we talked and visited with each evening and we really did bond with them. I don't think my son, in particular, will ever forget Edwin and his magic tricks and the little extra pampering he received.
When we weren't on shore, we ate lunches in the Windjammer. There was a wide variety of foods to try, and we enjoyed that but overall, the quality of the food was slightly above average. Only on the first morning did we eat breakfast in the main dining room, and it was a real hassle. The buffet looked good but we thought we would order off the menu for a hot breakfast. We found out that pretty much everything on the menu was in the buffet; you just have to wait a long time for your food to arrive rather than serving yourself. From then on, we ate breakfast at the Windjammer.
I was so glad this cruise included 3 days at sea. We used those days to explore the ship, eat at the excellent hot dog stand, hang out in the jacuzzis, watch a movie in the theater, and relax.
Carly, the cruise director, was vivacious, creative, and fun. There were 2 parades on the promenade during the week and both were very well done. On the last 2 days at sea, my son thoroughly enjoyed his time in the kids area. When we had first arrived on the ship, we didn't understand that we had to register him for the program. I wondered why we never received any schedule of activities but then Hassim began delivering them to our stateroom. Once he was registered and attended the first morning kids session, he was hooked!
The ice skating show was excellent but the other entertainment nights were a mixed bag. The xylophonist was amazing -- not just his musical talent but his showmanship. Something you don't see very often nowadays. One show was surreal -- paintings coming to life with odd song choices. I was grateful that all the shows were family friendly.
The disembarkation process was a freaking nightmare. We decided to go the self-assist route and arrived almost an hour early to get in line. However, there were lines coming from all directions, and we ended up waiting in the casino, watching other lines pass us by, even though those people had arrived much later and some were just coming out of the elevator. It was very poorly handled, and I couldn't believe that after all the cruises and practice the crew had, that this was their best plan!
We are definitely cruisers and are already starting to look for another cruise adventure. We still like to tent camp and go on long road trips, but a cruise is a unique experience, and everyone needs to be thoroughly pampered every once in a while. That's what this cruise did for us, and we now have some amazing, life-long memories, thanks to the Mariner of the Seas and its crew.
By the way, on our last night in the dining room, the head waiter, Manny, told us that the Mariner will be headed to China. It will be completely revamped with some restaurants and bars disappearing and in their places, venues that will appeal to Chinese tourists. He said all this will take place on the voyage and once the ship arrives in China, it will be ready for passengers.