My 9th cruise and 3rd on Royal Caribbean.
I booked this cruise on the spur of the moment as it was advertised as a "Come Dancing on Mariner of the Seas" cruise. I had just come off a Celebrity cruise in December and am about to go onto a Cunard cruise in April and wasn't really needing or planning to cruise again in January.
However, the hype about this cruise was too good to pass up and it was supposed to have a "first-ever" Latin dance championship competition on board as well as dance workshops by a famous Singapore dance studio which all passengers were supposed to be able to participate in. So I went on this cruise with only one purpose - to dance all the way. Unfortunately, that was just it - hype! The dance vendor hogged the largest dance floor for 2 out of the 4 nights for their own beginner level students leaving out the dozens of other very good dancers who were only "invited to view" but not allowed on the floor to dance. There were many dancing passengers who had come from all over Asia for this cruise - a large contingent from Indonesia, many from Singapore, another large group from Japan, some from Taiwan and Korea. All good dancers and all of us were left salivating outside the Lotus lounge unwelcome to participate
We all had to wander around the ship like lost souls trying to find an alternative dance floor either in the very smoky and tiny Boleros (hard to dance when you can't even breathe), the even tinier Ellingtons ( tiny crescent shaped floor made smaller by 2 huge monitor speakers for the band taking up half of it) or the Dragon's Lair disco (where the DJ refused our request to play ballroom music unless it specifically said so on the programme even when the disco was empty except for ballroom dancers).
Credit to Dan Dan Mian the Cruise Director who responded to our feedback and got the bands to play more dance music and made more ballroom /latin music sessions available all throughout the day. The 2 dance lessons by the ship's own dancers : Salsa and Swing were very well attended and overflowing the floor on the disco ( the Lotus lounge again being hogged by the dance vendor for their own workshop). The ship's dancers were charismatic and fun and taught well so that every one was dancing these new dances quite well at the end, despite the cramped conditions.
I had a look at that professional dance teachers workshop, very much beginner level and very disorganised and no fun.
The whole ship had been "Asianised" and being Asian and Singaporean I can say that the experience was worse!
Firstly the food - it was the worst I have ever had on any ship. In the main dining room, 3 out of the 6 choices were changed from the usual Western choices into "Asian" choices but obviously cooked by some one who had never even eaten Asian food before! Mainly cheap carbo dishes that tasted nothing like what it was supposed to be.
All the seafood dishes were bad - not just poorly cooked, they actually tasted off and smelly. I even had diarrhoea soon after eating 2 bites of the Atlantic cod ( Never knew that an oily fish like cod can be overcooked and dry, and smelly). The cod was my replacement dish for the dry as cardboard and tasteless Pesto salmon that I sent back to the kitchen. The tiger shrimps smelt rotten like ammonia and felt mushy. This is a real disaster considering that our region is famous for good seafood and Singaporeans have well-honed palates and enjoy some of the most cosmopolitan and finest restaurants in the world and we eat out on an almost daily basis. Mariner, if you want to "Asian"-ise the menu, you should get cooks who can cook Asian food to the standard that you hold your western dishes to. Otherwise please don't bother, it really spoils the impression that you give to your Asian guests as food is very important to our enjoyment of a holiday. The standard of the Asian food was truly worse than our local airline and school canteen food.
Dress code was totally not enforced in the MDR - since when is a tank top, surf shorts and flip-flops appropriate in the MDR on "Formal" night ? Maybe in Australia ...where those diners were from?
We were in a long gown and a tux and felt uncomfortable because people were staring at us!!
The were a few bright sparks in the MDR - generally very friendly, good and obliging service crew . The bread was good as was the rice - steamed the proper Asian way, soft and fluffy, and they were often the only part of the meal that was actually edible. But then, I go on to the MDR to enjoy good main courses not to try to fill up on rice and carbs! The chocolate desserts were better than on previous RCI cruises (tasted like real chocolate and not brown plastic). Only 3 icecream flavours were available every day (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry) - boring and therefore preventing me from pigging out!
Windjammer buffet breakfast had limited choices, much less than on previous RC cruises. All the stations were just serving repeats of the same food. There was no egg cooked to order station and no toasting station and the bagels were crispy all the way through for example. There was also no healthy cereals or granola/muesli/ nuts etc available. When we were there, it was not too hard to find seats for 2. However, the opening hours were very limited, so I never actually got to try any food from there at other times (like at tea or supper time).
The 24 hour Cafe Promenade had a very limited selection of the same 3 cold sandwiches (they don't heat them up for you, too busy), the same 4 doughy cakes, the same 2 cheap jellies and the same 2 pizzas all through the day and everyday. It also did not serve any cold drinks except plastic-y tepid tap water.
Another thing I hated about this cruise was the large casino and it's smoking. The casino took up the whole breadth of deck 4 with no corridor to bypass it like in other ships. You had to walk through it to get from the dining room to the theatre, it was always full and pouring out smoke. I never use the casino on ships. There are no doors to the casino (deck 4) to prevent the smoke from contaminating the rest of the ship. This was worst on the dance floor of Boleros (the latin bar) and it also leaked up the open stairwell in the middle of the Royal Promenade on deck 5. So there was no way to quickly get from one end of the ship to the other,if you wanted to avoid smoke. I had to take the elevators up to higher floors to get from the dining room to the theatre even when they were on the same floor! One whole side of the pooldeck was also taken up by smokers so you had to choose carefully which side to walk through.
There were sales on in the Royal Promenade all the time but at high prices.
All the usual nice little shops had disappeared, replaced by what they think "Asians" want- high end alcohol and brand names - well they don't know Singaporeans and Malaysians, we don't buy that sort of stuff on cruises!
Bars - very poor choices of wines. The moscato (which is a very popular wine with Asian ladies) was not available in any of the bars or lounges. The bar was not open in the Dragon's Lair disco until 10pm despite being open for ballroom dancing and classes.
There were some good points - all the shows were excellent as usual, to the usual high Royal Caribbean standards, especially the ice show. The production shows had elaborate and impressive sets and high production standards. The singer/ juggle David Dimusio was really impressive and the perfect choice for this Asian cruise. He impressed everyone with his ability to speak Mandarin and sing in several Asian languages!
There were also good theme parties and the Cruise Director Dan Dan Mian was the best of all the cruises I have been on. Self-depreceating, not too egoistic, very fun-loving but not inane and not condescending either, willing to listen to feedback and make changes. He single-handedly saved the cruise for us!
After feedback, the band especially Rendezvous, was responsive to what got the crowds moving and were obliging in playing requests. It did not matter that we couldn't understand some of the Chinese songs, but they got the dance tempos correct which is the most important thing anyway.
The entertainment low point was the "Latin International Dance Championships" - a real farce, messy, poorly organised and it started 20 minutes late and it was all very self-laudatory. There was only less than 20 minutes of real Latin dancing. Each of the 4 contestants danced only 1 of the 5 Latin dances, and this was supposed to be the highlight of the cruise!
I have slept on "pushed together into king size beds" on 9 different cruise ships and this is the only time I could feel the gap. It was uncomfortable and poky to feel the line down the middle. There was only a thin rubber sheet to make the 2 beds into 1 and our cabin steward refused to do anything about it.
Our cabin is adjoined to the next one and when we arrived, we were shocked that the connecting door was not locked. We had some trouble telling the steward that we wanted it locked (as we were not with the people next door). This door also leaked noise from the people next door.
The cabin and bathroom was full of adequate and clever storage areas, like most new RC ships.
All in, this was one cruise I needn't have taken. If things remain the same, I will not be using Royal Caribbean in Asia (ironically because they have over-Asianised the ship) anymore but will definitely still choose it if it has a good itinerary on other routes.