EMBARKATION: We were the first ones to board the ship due to a couple in our party getting married onboard prior to leaving Miami. We were instructed to be at the terminal and ready to check-in by 10:30 AM. As soon as the ship was cleared, we boarded at almost 11:00 AM. There were a LOT of people already in line behind us and even though we boarded first, they let those in line follow behind. (So I guess the afternoon boarding time they suggest isn't always adhered to -- which is good to know for the future!) There were absolutely no problems with embarkation.
The only hitch was with the wedding, we were given papers stating that we could go to our staterooms early and change for the wedding which was at 1:00 PM. I don't think they told the room stewards this because they were somewhat rude to us when we tried to get in before the scheduled 1:00 PM room-ready time. They kept shutting the heavy roll-back hallway doors on us, but that is my only complaint with the boarding early because our rooms were definitely clean and ready for us. (PS. In case you're interested, the wedding fees were about $1,000 and covered a wedding coordinator, a fresh flower bouquet for the bride, and a wedding cake. The wedding coordinators were extremely helpful and friendly to the whole group. The cake -- UGH!!! I have a hard time turning down cake, but that cake was BAD! The frosting was buttercream, but tasted only like BUTTER and had very little sugar in it and had the same consistency. The cake part was the consistency of cornbread which is just WEIRD! I think it may have been frozen for awhile, it seemed stale.) OH! One other thing. There were hitches in the wedding -- like announcements being broadcasted in the middle of a song. The song was then stopped and when it was restarted at the end of the announcement, the coordinator accidently hit the eject button on the player half-way through and had to restart it... AGAIN.
FOOD: I thought the food was good both in the Windjammer Cafe and in the dining room. It was very easy to find a seat in the Windjammer, but the service was ... lacking. On the first day (and only day), the servers pushed a cart through offering ice cold sodas and beer. I didn't see them the rest of the trip, so it was ice tea, lemonade or water as options -- with very little ice. But really, I enjoyed meals there, so please don't get hung up on my few somewhat negative observations.
The service in the dining room (Mikado) was just not up to what I've experienced on other ships. The head waiter was pleasant and friendly and stopped by our table each night, but our waiter and assistant waiter barely spoke to us -- or even smiled while serving. Again, just a minor thing since I know they are there to work, but it was just noticeable since I've been on 4 other cruises and this was never an issue. I started to see a pattern throughout the rest of the ship, however. The bar staff also didn't come around to the tables at dinner except for the first night -- after that, we didn't see them again. Very, very strange. One huge positive was a small ensemble that took requests table-by-table and sang or played songs. They were a great addition to the dining room -- loved them!!!
The buffets were okay, but didn't have a "wow factor." I was looking forward to the chocolate buffet because I thought it was a cool idea and I was surprised to have two midnight buffets on our trip. The buffet was long, but at every section, there were the same selections of sweets. Again, it was okay, but nothing to write home about.
STATEROOM: Loved the Junior Suite! It was definitely worth the money. After sailing last summer with a balcony room, I won't go with a room without one. You get your own little piece of the ocean and enough space to move around and be comfortable -- no complaints here.
ACTIVITIES: Good entertainment! The comedian, the comedian-magician and the Motown impersonator received nothing but raves fom our group. The "Viva" production show however, was not good. I wondered why they would wait till the last night of the cruise to have the singers and dancers. I guess the other acts were "putting the best foot forward." The Newlywed Game and The Quest were a lot of fun. I know it's pretty standard now with cruising and RCCL, but it's still fun to watch no matter how many times you hear the same questions.
CREW & CRUISE DIRECTOR STAFF: Wow... this cruise was different from the others in this one main area. I've been on 2 other RCCL cruises and LOVED their staff and felt the same about the 2 Carnival cruises we've been on. But this one however, was lacking. I don't understand why, but it was as if the working atmosphere lacked energy. The cruise director himself was great (Hamish Davis), but his crew were unfriendly and somewhat lazy. During karaoke one night, we sat waiting for someone to sing, but no one had the courage to get up and do it. Three of the staff sat to the side (yes, sat) in the dark and didn't do anything to pump up the crowd and get someone to sing. (I am not exaggerating - we sat there for 30+ minutes before they encouraged people to pick a song and come up. This was also done while they sat in the corner in the dark.) This is just one example though. I am not one of those people who criticizes and compares, in fact, I usually ignore those types of posts, but I have very little positive to say about the workers -- they just seemed uninterested or bothered by the guests. Throughout the ship, I would say the purser's desk and the stateroom attendants were the friendliest people we encountered.
PORTS: I've been to Nassau before and we spent some time shopping at the straw market. The taxi drivers seem to multiply both in numbers and aggressiveness. I'd never been to Coco Cay before, but aside from the heat and the tendering process, we enjoyed it. I appreciated the colorful atmosphere and cleanliness of the island. It was "Disney-ish." Our group really seemed to enjoy the activities offered. In Key West, nothing really was notable, but we had a good time just strolling around and shopping.
OVERALL: We enjoyed our trip! Many of the first-time cruisers in our group had a blast and didn't want to leave. I never said anything negative to them about the ship because I didn't want to color their trip to my opinions.
Would I sail this ship again? No. Not even after they refurbish it in January. For a ship this size, in my opinion, you get more for your money with Carnival. I wouldn't hesitate to book a cruise on the Voyager-class ships though. I loved the Mariner and this trip just made me realize that taking a step up in ship-class makes a huge difference.
One last thing... the elevators were maddening! They were very slow and didn't operate properly. I hope they do something with them when they refurbish. The ship was clean and I didn't notice any major flaws. We had smooth sailings and a great trip for the money.