THE GOOD Embarkation: This was a breeze. We parked at the Park N Cruise outdoor lot across the street from the cruise terminals. We love to be able to roll our luggage right from the parking lot directly to the cruise terminal. No shuttle bus needed, and it is a short stroll to the ship both coming and going.
Luggage drop off was chaotic but manageable. We used the Platinum line, but didn't notice much of a line elsewhere. We were on board in 15 minutes from start to finish.
While some of our fellow travelers were disappointed in the food offerings, I felt the meals in the main dining room were of a better quality than our last RCI cruise on Voyager of the Seas. The meats, soups, salads, and appetizers were for the most part unique and very good. Our servers were very good. Unfortunately we were seated far away from the main dining room as far away from the action as you could get. We asked to be moved, but were not offered anything near the main dining room. I was surprised by this, as we are Platinum, booked early, and selected late seating. It was a small thing, but consistent with the lowered level of customer service we experienced on this cruise. We did not do any of the dining experiences that cost an additional fee. Reviews hadn't been very good, and it seemed a bit excessive at $20-$30 per person per meal.
I thought the offerings in the Windjammer were varied and good too. We enjoyed the hot dog bar as well. The ice cream on the pool deck was a big hit as well. There is no need to purchase Starbucks coffee at additional charge, as there is free Seattle's Best coffee along the Promenade tucked towards the back of the Cafe. You just have to look for it.
Great looking room with lots of little storage nooks to stow your stuff. The cabin has a small balcony with two chairs and a small table. The flat screen TV in each cabin is a nice addition since our last voyage. Make sure to let your kids and teens know that the items contained in the cabin fridge are not free. I think the sodas were $2.25 each, and the bottled water was $4.25 or thereabouts. Our cabin attendant Jose couldn't have been more wonderful, and was very helpful on numerous occasions.
Alcohol in luggage:
We had no problem packing rum, gin, vodka, crown royal, mixers, limes, and lemons in our luggage. We used airline bottles, flasks, and glass bottle of club soda and other mixers. Our travel mates simply packed full sized bottle of rum and vodka and had no problems. We packed a travel cooler and tipped our attendant to keep it full of ice. With our impressive cabin bar, we used large Tervis Tumblers we had packed to mix our own drinks in for poolside. When we ran out of mixers we simply ordered them at the bar and brought our airline bottles of liquor poolside. We cut our bar bill in half this cruise without very much effort. If RCI would cut the drink prices somewhat, I don't think we'd bother bringing our own on board. We still managed to rack up a $450 bar tab for the week, but previous 7-day cruises cost us closer to $800-$900.
Mariner of the Seas is a beautiful, large, well appointed ship. The bar and restaurant areas are very nice. The Promenade area is amazing as well. Ellington's above the Pool Deck provided a stunning view of the ship and ocean, and we enjoyed the theater.
Our entire traveling party experienced extremely slow and poor bar service throughout the ship. Especially bad were all of the pool deck bars. A bartender we encountered named "Adrian" at the Sky Bar was consistently surly and rude in addition to being extremely slow. If you were on this cruise, I suspect you will recall this gentleman. I was amazed by how long it took to get a drink, mainly due to the fact that such delays cost RCI money. Alcohol sales appear to be the cruise industry's bread and butter, and there is no telling how much money in lost sales this cost RCI. Another particularly slow service bar was the Schooner Bar. One ray of sunshine was "Maria" working the small bar in the Casino. Very professional and could make a wonderful martini.
What can I say? Drink prices on Royal Caribbean are excessive. Here is a brief summary from our drink receipts that will give you a sense of the inflated prices on board:
Bud Light Aluminum bottle $5.25
Miller Lite aluminum bottle $5.25
16 oz draft beer $5.50
20 oz draft beer $5.95
Guiness can $5.95
Fosters can $6.95
Glass cabernet $9.00
Bacardi Rum drink $5.75
Absolut Vodka drink $6.00
Patron Silver shot $7.75
Patron Reposado shot $8.75
Grey Goose martini $9.50
Staff Language Barriers:
We had quite a bit of difficulty on this cruise communicating with Asian staff and crew members. There seemed to be a much larger percentage of wait staff from China and Vietnam on this cruise than any other cruise we had been on. There were several instances when we simply could not communicate and had to move on to another server or staff member. I don't recall this happening on any previous cruise. I am assuming the current staff makeup is because the Mariner of the Seas will be repositioned to an Asian route soon, but it was frustrating nonetheless.
Pool Deck Recorded Music:
The music played in the pool deck area is simply dreadful. While I can understand the need to play certain line dance songs from time to time, does the same annoying set of songs have to be played every day all day? The Cha Cha Slide and the Wobble were played more times than I care to remember. I love the idea of laying out on the deck to the sound of loud music, but RCI needs to pay more attention to the passenger types on board. The power and influence of good music is amazing, as evidenced by the 70's Disco Night on the Promenade. I'm no great fan of disco music, but it was a fun, giant street party with everybody dancing. Hint, hint, Royal Caribbean. Imagine the possibilities of good music poolside.
Helpful music hint #1: When 80% of your Spring Break passengers are from Texas, throw in a few tunes for them. I'm not a big country music fan, but certainly would have understood some of that music genre being played from time to time.
Helpful music hint #2: When cruising the Caribbean, doses of Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown, Bob Marley etc. are always crowd pleasers. Didn't hear any of them once.
We heard quite a few of our fellow passengers mention how bad the music was. The notable exception were the live bands who would play from time to time poolside. The salsa band and the reggae band were great. Our complaints centered around the recorded music. What a great time would have been had poolside with a more varied mix of good music that appealed to more of the passengers (Reggae, Country, Pop, Classic Rock, Alternative, 70's, 80's, 90's, etc.)
Always a bad experience out of Galveston on Royal Caribbean. 2 hours to exit the ship and clear immigration. Most of that time (1 hour and 20 minutes) slowly negotiating a line through, around, and down from the ship.
This was our last cruise. We have watched the value of cruising decrease over the years, and it has now reached the point of nickel and dime tactics designed to separate the passenger from their money at every turn. 15% gratuity charges on merchandise purchases? Bottled water, juice and soda packages? $30 per person charges to enjoy higher quality dining experiences that used to be the norm for the regular dining room? I know I am preaching to the choir on this, but for us we reached a breaking point. The excessive prices combined with the poor service we experienced each day and evening at most of the bars was a deal breaker for us.