Mariner Eastern Caribbean 5/27 - 6/3 Review. Well I am back from the Mariner, so I figured I would write a review to help out other cruisers since everyone else's reviews have helped me. I took about 80 pages of notes, so here is the "short" version. I tried to categorize everything rather than do it on a day by day basis. Lots of detail about questions I had asked in the past.
Embarkation We used the RC shuttle transfer service to and from the Orlando airport. I went back and forth between using their shuttle, a private shuttle, or renting a car. Nice thing about the RC shuttle is you pretty much don't have to deal with your luggage once you leave the Orlando airport. It made getting on the ship very easy. So we land and head to baggage claim and as soon as we got down the escalator, an RC rep was there to meet us. We went over to her and she told us to get our bags and then come back to her and she will check us in. After that she sends you to another RC rep down the hall and he makes sure you have your RC luggage tags on. He sends you down the elevator and another rep meets you and takes you to the RC desk where you actually check in and show your shuttle vouchers. You get a numbered boarding pass and then you sit in the waiting area. The bus shows up pretty much every hour on the hour. It took about 20 minutes to load the bus and all of the luggage. There were about 50-55 people on our bus. We left at 11:20am. Ride to the airport was 45-50 minutes. You get to the port terminal and another RC rep gets on the bus to give you some instructions. That was the 6th RC rep we dealt with before even getting off of the bus. Service and organization was impressive so far. You will need to have your Bahamas Immigration card filled out at this point. So they start unloading your luggage from underneath the bus and the bags with RC luggage tags get put in the big luggage crates to be loaded on the ship. IMPORTANT...do not put RC luggage tags on your carry on bags or they will load them in the big luggage cages and you will not get to carry them on. They will show up in your stateroom with everything else. The bags with no RC tags on them were put off to the side so you could pick them up when you get off of the bus. We did not tip anyone and no one approached us for a tip either. It was about 12:20 at this point.
Headed into the terminal. Had our passports, Set Sail printout, credit card for our Sea Pass account, and Bahamas cards all ready. We walked through security really quickly. You get to the main check in area and you get in a line specific to your stateroom deck. It was very well organized. They must have had 25 -30 agents working the desks to check people in. We were at the counter within 5 minutes of getting there. Took about 5-10 minutes at the desk, but only b/c they had to register my wife's green card. Still fast though. Got our SeaPass cards and then headed down a hallway for our Welcome Aboard picture. You can skip this if you want to, but it only took a minute and this was our first cruise ever, so we did it. After that we went down some other hallway and up and escalator where they take an ID picture to match up with your SeaPass card. This took 5 seconds. Around another corner and there was the gangway and an RC rep to greet us! The process was unbelievably efficient. We were on the ship by 12:45. Very impressed so far.
Now on the Mariner OH MY GOD!!! She is unbelievably beautiful...and huge. It is amazing how pristine the ship looks with 5000 people walking all over the place every week. They always had people cleaning everywhere, but they were never intrusive. There were some spots on the carpets by the staircases that looked a little worn, but they weren't destroyed by any sense. I barely noticed and when I did I could care less. The artwork and architecture is fantastic. Definitely walk around the different floors and look at all of it. I couldn't believe it was all on a ship.
They said we could get into our staterooms at 1. We went up to deck 9 via the elevator and there were a bunch of people waiting to get to their rooms. The doors to the stateroom hallways were closed so you really couldn't get there until 1. At 1 exactly, they opened the doors. We were in oceanview room 9514. All the way forward on the port (left) side. Literally the first room on the port side of the ship. Much nicer than I expected. The new linens looked really nice. Huge porthole window, probably 4 ft in diameter. There is plenty of storage but the drawers are on the small side. All of our suitcases fit under the bed, even the huge one. They also have shelves in the closet. That is also where the safe is. The safe can be a little tricky b/c you have to actually push in the door while entering the lock and unlock code. If you don't you get an error and have to call maintenance. They showed up within 5 minutes though...both times ? Yes the bathroom is small and yes will get some type of freak injury while taking a shower, especially if you drop the soap. Tip for the guys, if the seas are a little rough and you have to pee...sit down otherwise you will have to leave a huge tip for your stateroom attendant.
The staff was awesome. Everyone was so friendly. I think I got welcomed 50 times within the first hour of being on the ship. Becky Thompson the cruise director is as advertised. Completely fantastic. I can't believe she can get people to participate in everything. She must have a permanent IV of Red Bull or something. Captain Per was very friendly and approachable when you see him in the hallways. Always looked forward to his noon report. The service was great from the bars to the staterooms, to the dining rooms, to the specialty restaurants. They would do everything possible to make sure you are happy.
Food and Drinks Pre cruise weigh in - 174.5 The food was actually pretty good all around. We ate at the WindJammer for breakfast and lunch almost everyday. There were always multiple things that I found to eat. I never left hungry. Breakfast had everything - omelette station, eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, cereal, yogurt, pastries, bagels, English muffins, pancakes, waffles, French toast, hash browns, fruit galore, etc. Apple, orange, passion fruit, water, coffee were all free. For lunch they had hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, salad bar, fruit, cold cuts, little sandwiches, soups, fries, a fish/chicken/meat dish, veggies, potatoes, cookies/cakes, etc. I had the fish dish every time and they were all good. It was wahoo, salmon, halibut, catfish, and perch on the days I ate there. For drinks, lemonade, iced tea, water were all free.
The Cafe Promenade was open all of the time. They offered coffee (serve yourself), pizza, 3 different types of sandwiches, cookies/cakes/pies. The tomato/mozz cheese/pesto sandwich was awesome as was the ham/cheese croissant. There was also a coffee bar and Ben & Jerry's, but you had to pay for those. My wife said the vanilla cappuccino was good and we all know Ben and Jerry's is good. They probably had 8-10 different flavors.
We ate lunch at Johnny Rockets one day. I had been to Johnny Rockets a million times so I knew what to expect. Had about a 10 minute wait for a table. They automatically bring you fries and onion rings. They did not have cheese fries on the menu which was a bummer, but they did have chili cheese fries, so we probably could have gotten them if we asked. Milkshakes and sodas (unless you had soda sticker) were extra and it was $3.95 per person and you could get everything else. To be honest, the burger wasn't very good. It did not taste any better than the burgers in the WJ at lunch time. Also, the water here tasted a little off. Can't explain it b/c the drinking water everywhere else on the ship was very good. A little disappointed in the Johnny Rockets experience.
The Dining Room was beautiful looking. We were on the lower level (3rd floor) and had the 2nd seating. Choose the 2nd seating figuring there would be less kids and we wouldn't have to rush to get back from days at port. Sat at a table for 6. The service was unbelievable. The waiter gave suggestions on the menu and the assistant waiter never let my water glass get less than half full. The food was pretty decent. I never had anything that I didn't like. It was banquet/wedding reception type food. Every night there were a bunch of appetizers/salads/soups to choose from. There was always a seafood, chicken/pork/turkey, steak, pasta, and veggie dish. They also had an alternative menu every night where the options were more "plain" and pretty much the same every night. The alternative menu was a pasta with red sauce, herb grilled chicken, salmon, top sirloin. Here were some of the menu items from each day...I couldn't remember all of them:
Sunday - Appetizers were Vidalia onion tart, tomato soup, caesar salad, spinach salad, mango and melon. Dinner was herb crusted atlantic cod, prime rib, stuffed chicken (ham/brie), veggie quesadillas. Dessert was apple pie a la mode, white chocolate fondue, ice cream
Monday - 1st formal night. appetizers were shrimp cocktail, escargot, pear soup, fruit salad. Dinner was filet mignon, seabass, duck, pasta with mushroom alfredo sauce. Dessert was strawberry cheesecake, coconut cake, grand marnier soufflE.
Tuesday - ate at Chops. More on this later. This was Italian night in the dining room.
Wednesday - ate at Portofinos. More on this later. This was Caribbean night in the dining room.
Thursday - appetizers were New England clam chowder, apple soup, crab cake. Dinner was orange salmon, pork chop, cheese tortellini w/blue cheese. Dessert was baked Alaska, coffee cheese cake.
Friday - 2nd formal night (lobster night) - appetizers were smoked salmon, mushroom puff pastry. Dinner was fisherman's plate (lobster tail and shrimp), prime rib. Dessert was the sampler plate (flourless chocolate cake, rum cake, cheesecake).
Saturday - International night. Appetizers were shrimp cocktail, spinach dip w/chips, some soups. Dinner was mahi mahi tempura, roasted turkey dinner, NY strip with bEarnaise sauce, pasta with salmon in a grey goose vodka sauce. Dessert was brownie, banana parfait cake, key lime pie.
I had the seafood every night and loved all of it. The waiter brought stuff out for some table mates that wasn't on the menu. They were very accommodating to random requests.
Chops Grille was unbelievable. The steaks were fantastic. Well worth the $20/person fee. The service was great. Definitely recommend going if you like steak. I would say it is one notch below the Ruth Chris/Mortons quality. A steal at $20/person.
Portofinos was also wonderful. A lot of seafood options, a veal, and a steak. Some other main items, but can't remember. You get an appetizer, pasta dish, then the meal, and dessert. Service here was also fantastic. Seafood skewer was great and highly recommended.
If you can swing it, you should definitely eat at both places. We made our reservations as soon as we walked on the ship before we were allowed to go to our staterooms. You can make the reservations at the restaurants, you don't have to call, but do it early. They are right across the hall from each other.
We spent a lot of time at Vintages wine bar. We pretty much went there every night. By the end of the week I felt like Norm from Cheers. They had wines there that were not on any menu, not even on the Vintages menu, so definitely ask about other wines. For example they had a California Riesling on the menu and I asked if they had any German ones. They did but it wasn't on the menu. They also have wines in Portofino that are not on the Vintages list. Also, the wine tender told us that we could always buy a bottle at Vintages, have a glass there, and then bring the rest to our stateroom or to dinner. By doing that, you avoid any corkage fee since it was opened in Vintages. We did this twice and worked out great.
Definitely go to the gala buffet. It was Friday night. Even if you don't eat anything, you have to go and see it and bring your camera. It's a madhouse so get there early. Post cruise weigh in - 176.5 WHEW!
Ports/Excursions Well we missed Cococay due to the weather and headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico instead. Bummer b/c we were all looking forward to the full beach day in the Bahamas. We got to San Juan around 3 on Tuesday. We walked through town a bit and then over to the San Cristobal Fort. Had a lot of nice views from the fort. Didn't do much else. We had to head back to the ship for our Chops dinner. I don't think many people were happy about being in San Juan.
St Thomas was great. As soon as you get off you pretty much right by the shopping area. Lots of taxis and local tour people trying to get your business. We booked 2 excursions through the ship. We did the SkyRide to Paradise Point and the Snorkeling/Beach to Trunk Bay on St John. The SkyRide was actually cheaper through the ship than if you bought the ticket at the terminal. It was also go at your own pace which was nice. Great views from the top. They had some exotic birds and a little nature trail. Nothing fantastic though. Also a bar at the top with the famous bushwhacker drink. They were VERY good and highly recommended. You can find coupons for the drinks in the local guide booklet. We headed to Trunk Bay in the afternoon. It was a 4 hour excursion. Water taxi picked us up right next to the ship. About a 45 minute ride to St John. Nice ride and the boat driver gave us a lot of info on the islands. Took a truck taxi to the beach with a couple of stops for some great pictures. Got to the beach and the snorkel guy met us and gave us the rules. Picked up the snorkel equipment and then he would give lessons to those who wanted/needed them. The underwater trail was packed with people snorkeling. It was very cool. Saw thousands of fish of all shapes and colors. Had a barracuda swim right past me. Definitely bring an underwater camera. I brought my own snorkel equipment and my wife used the excursion ones. They were well maintained and clean. I have a prescription mask and was VERY happy to have it. The water is between 6-18 feet deep in the trail. My eyesight is -1.5 and -1.75 so it's not that bad, but I would have been very mad if I could not see all the way to the bottom. There were a lot of fish along the bottom. Got my mask from www.snorkelcity.com for something like $65 and that included the lenses. Well worth it. Headed back to the ship. The issue is that it is a 4 hour excursion and 2 hours of it is travel. You can definitely do this one on your own for a lot cheaper and you will be able to spend a lot more time enjoying the beach. A taxi, the Red Hook ferry and another taxi and you are there. You can rent snorkel equipment when you get there.
In St Maarten, we booked Bernard from SXM tours. Very glad we did this. Our tour was from 9-4:30 and was only $30 per person. We did shopping on the Dutch side and French side, sightseeing on both sides as well. Stopped at a bunch of places for scenic pictures. We spent some time at Maho beach to watch some planes come in. We went to Orient Beach for lunch and beach time. Spent about 2 hours there. The food is not cheap towards the middle of the beach. You need to walk towards one of the ends, but not that far. You also have to pay for lounge chairs/umbrellas if you want them. They were $20 where we got dropped off, but 200 yards down the beach and you got a chair/umbrella/drink for $8. Try the guavaberry colada...yum! Headed back to Phillipsburg on the Dutch side for some shopping. He dropped us off back at the dock. Bernard is HIGHLY recommended.
Entertainment/Shows Lots of stuff to see on the ship. My favorite shows were the Love & Marriage game show and all of the comedians. All 3 of them were hysterical. One of them performs at the welcome aboard show, so don't miss it. Saw the ice show and I was very skeptical going into it since I hate figure skating. I was very impressed with the costumes and the tricks. Kids will love this show. I do recommend it to everyone. I was a little disappointed in Quest since it was built up so much. It might be b/c our male team lead was an idiot. I won't give away anything about the show. Definitely some funny stuff and worth going to. Pure Energy was the 80s show with the RC singers and dancers. I think they secretly found every 80s song that I hated and then put them into a show. It was a pretty cheesy show. We did not go to the RC singers/dancers show earlier in the week. The parades through the Promenade were great for kids.
The fitness center was pretty nice. Actually made it there twice. Running on a treadmill while the ship was moving all over the place was very interesting. I felt like I was running downhill. Once I put the incline on 1.0 everything was better, so I recommend upping the incline if you feel any ship motion while on the treadmill. We went to the fitness center between 7:30-8am and the treadmills were pretty crowded, but there were plenty of bikes and elliptical available. On the first day I took the bottle of water out of the fridge in our room ($2) to run with and then I just kept refilling it with the water from the drinking fountains in the gym. Worked like a champ.
Took a tour of the spa when we first got on the ship. Very nice place. Book early b/c spots are limited and everyone will want to do the primping before the formal night dinners. We did the couples massage/float. Highly recommend the float. Pretty much end up laying in a waterbed/hammock with warm water running under you. Very relaxing.
The Casino was a lot of fun. They had blackjack, 3 card poker, let it ride, craps, poker, roulette, Caribbean stud, and slots. All of the table games were $5 min. They did have $10 and a $25 blackjack tables. I played craps a lot. Single odds except one night was double odds. Also, the craps table was open at random times. They had a blackjack tournament, slots tournament, and a no limit poker one. You can get casino chips using your SeaPass card, but this may get you into trouble ?
The online/internet room had plenty of computers. Price was 50 cents/min for the internet cafe and wireless hotspots. Wireless is not available in the rooms. You have to go to RC Online room or a hotspot. You can buy packages that lower the rate from 50 cents. We bought 60 minutes for $25 which is 42 cents a minute. You just swipe your SeaPass card and it tracks everything. If there are a lot of people in the room then the connection will be s-l-o-w. Just go back later when there are less people. Note to Yahoo email users...do not use Yahoo Mail Beta b/c it takes forever for all of the stupid adds to load. When I switched to the original Yahoo mail, it loaded much faster. Time is money, especially in this case!
Tipping I know there are always lots of questions about tipping. We did the standard tips on our SeaPass card for the 3 waiters and stateroom attendants. They deliver vouchers to your room before the final dinner along with envelopes. Here is where we tipped extra and why. I gave an extra $1 to one of the pool side servers. He came by and introduced himself and took my order. First thing he did when I gave him my SeaPass card was look at my name and then address me. Thought it was cool and he was the only one that did it. We gave $20 tips at both Chops and Portofinos. No idea if this is a lot or a little. We basically got great service for dinners that would normally cost about $125 for $40. Tipped $20 at the spa for the couples massage/float since tip is not included in the overpriced service cost. We tipped Bernard $10 for our St Maarten tour. Also gave $5 to the ferry boat tour/driver on the St John/Trunk Bay excursion. Lastly, we tipped the wine tender (who was always there when we were) at Vintages three different times. 1) I ordered a flight (sampler) of reds. Supposed to be four 2oz pours. I had four FULL glasses. I was buzzed in 11 minutes. Gave her $5. 2) The same wine tender told us about ordering a bottle and having it opened in Vintages to avoid the corkage charge. She had our bottle delivered to the dining room for us that night. That was another $5. 3) We gave her $20 at the end of the week for her overall great service and friendliness. She made the Vintages experience wonderful. I think that is about it.
Disembarkation Well the time finally came. Had to have your bags packed, tagged, and in the hallway by midnight on Saturday. They dropped off the color coded luggage tags and the disembark schedule Saturday morning. Also gave you your US customs form. Need to fill this out before getting off the ship. If you wanted to change your luggage tags/time to disembark, you just need to go down to Guest Services and make the switch. They didn't care how early you got off of the ship, so we had no problems trading to get off earlier. You wait until they call your color tag and then you head to the gangway and sadly walk off of the ship into the port terminal. Make sure you have your SeaPass card handy when getting off the ship b/c they have to scan you out. You head to customs and it is pretty well organized and the line moves pretty quickly. It took about 15 minutes from the time they called our color to the time we made it through customs and got in the baggage claim line. This was a little bit of a mess. There were actually 2 lines, but you couldn't tell. The luggage tag (along with the color) had either a 1 or a 2. The baggage claim carousel was marked the same so bags with a 1 went to one side and bags with a 2 went to the other. Took 30 minutes for our 3 suitcases to come out. I was not happy. It was a fluke thing though which only happens to me. Most people were out of there in less than 10 minutes with their bags.
Headed to the RC shuttle back to the Orlando airport. It was well organized where they had certain airlines on certain buses. They also put the luggage in storage based on terminal, so that was clever. The issue was waiting to leave the port. The bus probably holds 50+ people. We got on the bus just after 9am and there were about 45 people on the bus already. We waited until just after 9:30 before we left and only 6 people got on the bus after us. There were other buses there, so don't know why they waited another 30 minutes to leave. Everyone on the shuttle was stressed about getting to their flight on time. Our flight was at 12:20 and we got off of the ship at 8:05. We got to the airport at 10:30, so we had just under 2 hours to get our bags checked and through security. Not really a problem, but our check in line at the airline counter was nothing. I would probably book the RC shuttle service again, but I would make sure I get off of the ship earlier than later and I personally wouldn't book a flight before noon.
Overall the Mariner was awesome as well as the crew and service. I would definitely do this ship again in a heartbeat.