We came to the Mariner of the Seas after a close-to-perfect voyage on the Liberty of the Seas around the Mediterranean. We should not really compare a trip on a larger and newer boat around a well trodden route to the Mariner of the Seas pioneering a new area for Royal Caribbean - the 10 Night Exotic Asia Cruise - but it is human nature to do so. The Mariner experience was inferior by comparison, but I am sure things will improve.
The new terminal at Singapore was stretched to, and beyond, its capacities. Many of the staff were inexperienced and nervous, but the main problem seemed to be the layout of the various check in services. Instead of a "one stop shop" situation you find at more mature facilities, the various jobs were carried out at different parts of the terminal. We arrived early, and were among the first processed - taking about an hour to go through all the hoops. However I went back just an hour later, and the check-in process was chaos. There were many reports of a three hour process. I am sure that eventually the legendary Singaporean efficiency will kick in and there will be a pleasant embarkation at Singapore.
The Mariner of the Seas
Our hearts sank the moment we boarded as the "welcome" was the scream and hammering of a construction site, and stumbled into a lift with loose carpet. We had been warned prior that there were renovations being carried on the ship, in preparation for her time being based in China for 5 years catering to Asian high rollers. We were quite happy with that, and the $100 per stateroom compensation for any inconvenience. However in practice the renovations were very distracting, not just the noise, but also the interruption to the flow and the ambiance of the Promenade. The pleasure of strolling down this "street" in the centre of a boat provides much of the "wow!" factor in this class (and those larger) of Royal Caribbean ships, but on this voyage much of the wow was gone. The Mariner is 10 years old now, and she seems to be getting weary. Work is needed on her, so it is churlish to complain about renovations, but it did detract from the experience, and in fairness during this cruise one of the shops being revamped did open to show the work was worthwhile. On the last few days the builders took down what Cruise Director Jimmy correctly called "big blue barriers", and, although the new shops did not open during this cruise, there was a much more open and enjoyable experience on the promenade as a result..
A common complaint concerned air-conditioning on the ship - either too hot or too cold. It just seemed to be an erratic system that did not work consistently. The wear and tear on the ship is reasonable for the 10 years she has been doing service - carpets in public spaces looking tired and thin, chips on paint work and the like - but it has to be said that the Mariner does not stand up well to comparisons with more recent ships.
The staff were cheerful and efficient, especially the cruise director - with the Captain being particularly jovial. However, as is outlined below, efficiency may not be an adjective always used in relation to shore excursion staff.
The itinerary seemed to us to need some massaging. There is a lot of time spent cruising on the ship, and on some of the sea days there was not a full range of activities. For example on the sea day into Okinawa the single performance of the show did not start until 10.15pm. This led to some discussion amongst passengers. One suggestion was to break up the long leg from Saigon to Hong Kong by adding Hanoi to the visits. There are probably other variations available to make this a more enjoyable cruise - perhaps substituting Taiwan for Korea, although that may present political problems if the ship is to be based in Shanghai.
We bought several Royal Caribbean excursions on this cruise, not our normal practice. However it seemed to make sense this time: the prices this time did not seem to be too excessive, and it also seemed to be good insurance. In some cases (for example Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as the locals still seem to call it) the port was a two hour drive from the city, and local transport seemed problematic. In others like Bosun in South Korea there was a high likelihood of language difficulties for English speakers. The destination where the pioneering nature of this cruise was most exposed was Okinawa in Japan. A lack of English speaking guides meant that ROYAL CARIBBEAN was reduced to offering just a few "self-guided" tours there with considerable walking distance involved. This should improve as the cruise becomes more established, but at this stage the Okinawa stop is of questionable value. The Korean stop was very short - a ludicrous 4 hours - so a ship-organised excursion was necessary to have some certainty of being on board for the last leg to Shanghai.
The excursions we went on - with the reservations about Okinawa mentioned above - were enjoyable, and well hosted, however the organisation for getting people onto the buses was more frantic than we have experienced her ships. One annoyance was the long line at the excursion desk. It seemed a good idea to order excursions through the in-cabin system in the TV, however on more than one occasion the tickets were not delivered, so that meant standing in the excursion desk line! The dissatisfaction with the excursions team boiled over are Okinawa. It was a bellowing, bewildering bedlam, compounded by Japanese authorities wanting to see all passengers face to face. However the team were not up to the challenge, with someone on the sound system saying things like 'to my left' and 'right where I am' - but people having no idea where he was. On our bus, more stickers were allocated than there were seats available. It took hours to be sorted, but and several people did not get adequate time on their tours; in one glaring example people arrived at a museum 5 minutes before it closed. A common complaint was 'organised chaos' - and I am not sure about the organised part. There were mutinous mutterings, and many meetings arranged with excursion staff, with those worse affected being offered a 15% refund - which led to more mutterings! We have been on bigger ships with more passengers, and not had to suffer this level of confusion. There was something wrong with the excursions team.
A real bonus for many people of our generation comes with an easy introduction to Vietnam. This is a chance to lay some ghosts, and enjoy a charming and energetic people in a vibrant country that is full of surprises. If you are on this cruise, or others that call into this country - don't stay on the ship.
Our cruise was a celebration in Hong Kong, as it was the first to dock at the brand new (so new it hasn't been finished yet) Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Kowloon. We had pounding drummers and prancing dragons to welcome us, a welcome that was repeated by almost everyone we met. A highlight of this cruise was gliding in to Hong Kong Harbour at sunset, and berthing in this futuristic terminal (reminding any of a Dubai airport terminal - and unforgettable experience to compare with leaving Venice or approaching Santorini at sunset. That was worth the price of admission alone. However it has to be reported that the Hong Kong terminal is enormous, and there is a lot of walking to do negotiating its cavernous capacity.
Despite the difficulties already mentioned about Okinawa, we had a great time in this exotic port, and they sent us off in style with a musical farewell - the sort that makes cruising a special way to travel.
The Korean stop was almost over before it started. A 4 hour stop seemed ridiculous after the sea day spent to get there but it was pleasant enough and different from the other ports to make it interesting.
So there are our impressions of Royal Caribbeans Mariner of the Seas initial 10 night exotic Asian cruise. We probably would not sail on the Mariner again, certainly not in her new roles out o Shanghai, but wish her well on her Asian adventures. Will we sail Royal Caribbean again? Probably, but they will have to get it right next time.