First off, let me begin by saying that this is my 7th cruise, 5th with Royal Caribbean. (I love Royal Caribbean!) I am only 19 years old, so a lot of my time was spent in Adventure Ocean, but this was my first cruise where I was able to participate in the adult activities. My boyfriend and I (21) decided to take a trip of our own!
We sailed out of Galveston, TX and we stayed in the Hilton hotel on the beach. It was very expensive ($287 a night) but just about worth it. We flew in from Colorado and wanted a beach hotel. The hotel provided transfers to the ship (and back if you wanted it) and the staff was nothing but friendly. We really enjoyed ourselves here.
Embarkation was very rocky. When we got into check-in, it was really nice to be able to basically walk right up to the counter to get my Sea Pass card. (I'm a platinum member, so check-in went really quickly.) If you are Gold level or below, plan on standing in line for awhile.
The whole room was packed full of people, and I was very surprised the boat wasn't boarding yet because we had gotten to the pier at 12:30. The atmosphere was visibly uncomfortable; There were many upset cruisers and there was no organization.
Finally, by about 1:00-1:30, they started calling out for Diamond/Diamond Plus and suite guests. One gentleman was very kind and told us that we all should just go ahead and get in line because of how late they were on getting people on the ship. When I got to the front of the line and showed her my Sea Pass card, she got very angry and stated she had only called for Diamond/Diamond Plus and suites. The gentleman that originally told us to go ahead and go walked up and the two employees were arguing about the process to get guests on board. After a few minutes of the argument, we were finally let on board.
All the crew members on board were visibly irritated; There was so little excitement in them, which surprised me quite a bit. I had never been on board Royal Caribbean when their employees were acting this strangely. Eventually, Muster Call came around and that was a-whole-nother ball game.
Our steward came knocking on our door about 15 minutes before the drill was supposed to begin. The poor guy spoke very little English, but was trying to tell us that it was time to get to our stations. I was a little confused, because in the past, I had to wait before the sound was made before exiting my stateroom. Well, this time was quite the opposite, but I proceeded to Deck 4 to get to my station.
The other guests were also frustrated with Muster Call, the crew members once again were disorganized and seemed to be very lost. They scanned our Sea Pass card but then after standing on the Deck for at least half an hour, they came back through the lines with a clipboard because apparently, their scanners weren't working. Another 15 minutes goes by and they FINALLY sound the call. I look off the boat and they are STILL BOARDING THE SHIP! There was a family of five running to get on to the ship. (And yet they can't have Muster Call until the entire ship has all it's passengers? Really.)
After the very frustrating embarkation and muster drill, things got a little bit easier. We didn't get going till about 5:30pm and it was then that another guest told me that the reason it took so long to get embarkation started was because there were six immigrants on the ship that needed to be found first. (!!!) No, I don't know other details, but I can tell you that in every single port, we were checked probably six or seven times before we even got on the ship to scan our Sea Pass card. ...Frustrating.
We had a balcony on Deck 6 and absolutely LOVED IT. (6622) We were right next to the elevator but heard very little noise and as much as I heard about people smoking on their balcony, I never saw a single person smoking the entire time I was outside. (Yay!) Our balcony neighbors were very nice; we enjoyed talking to them.
Our cruise director and activities manager, Steve and Cuddy were absolutely wonderful! Kristine, who was relatively new to the ship was the director for a lot of the game shows, dancing, etc. and she was definitely one of our favorite people to be around. These three really made a great impression.
We participated in MANY of the on-board activities. There was never a dull moment in the day. We performed Thriller for the guests in Studio B (The on-board ice rink) and we HIGHLY recommend it. There were a series of 3 classes, but it definitely was a blast to be a part of.
The shows (specifically the Ice Show and Gallery of Dreams) were PHENOMENAL. The actors were brilliant and the set was absolutely stunning. For a person who loves the theatre, I was very impressed. I told my boyfriend that I appreciated that show more than I did the Broadway show of Wicked (And I LOVED Wicked!) If you are thinking about going to the shows, you must! They were so worth it.
We both participated in the scavenger hunts, pasta and Tiramisu demonstration, Belly Flop contest, Walk for Wishes (for the Make a Wish foundation), Thriller, The Quest (ALSO A MUST!), Bingo, the Casino and the Arcade events. Absolutely no complaints here, the ship had so much to do and so little time!
Our Ports of Call were to Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, and Jamaica. We participated in the ATV and Beach Adventure in Cozumel and enjoyed it, but probably won't recommend it. We were put on ATV's and went back and forth on a bump dirt road TRACK. We went back and forth but couldn't go very fast because of other people on the tour. (Understandable.) The tour guide was very friendly, but very pushy for tips. We were then taken to Playa de Mia which was nice, but the staff were unbelievably unfriendly! The buffet lunch was very good and we enjoyed sitting on the sand and relaxing.
In the Cayman Islands, we went straight to Margaritaville and had several drinks. It was expensive, but we enjoyed ourselves. Pay attention to the fact that all of their prices are in their currency, so the prices are much higher than what you see. The waitress made sure to let us know that, but we still were a little shocked when we saw the bill.
Jamaica was our favorite destination. We have nothing but wonderful things to say about this place. We had to take a long bus ride to Dolphin Cove, which is where we swam with a Dolphin. I had a great time being out in the water while getting kissed by such a beautiful animal. They also allowed us to hold a larger sting ray (which we didn't know was included in our excursion price) and enjoy an incredible Jamaican lunch with Jerk Chicken. Our tour guide (Glenisha, I believe) was so sweet, she had SO much information about their country. I enjoyed the bus ride because she had so much to say. After we swam with the dolphin and ate lunch, we were kind of on a time crunch (because our ship didn't let us off until half an hour after they said they would...) and headed straight to Dunns River Falls to climb. This place is so unbelievably beautiful, I can't express how perfect it was. Don't be intimidated by the falls, they are easy to climb up as long as you have good water shoes.
We had dinner in the dining room all 7 nights and enjoyed it thoroughly. Our head waiter (Renante) and assistant waiter (Kun Liu) were GREAT and were so friendly. We enjoyed their company.
Disembarkation was wonderful! We had luggage tags that were scheduled to leave at 11:00pm, however that didn't work for us since we were being picked up by our transportation at that time. We went up to Guest Services and they were quick to switch us to Self Service disembark. We were called at about 9:00 to start heading down to get off the boat, and even with standing in the line in took about 20 minutes. Customs went super fast and we were seriously in and out of that building in nearly 5 minutes. That was by far the fastest I had ever been through customs. (And they were friendly!!!)
We really did enjoy our trip on the Mariner and plan on cruising with Royal Caribbean again soon.