While this review will contain some criticism of the cruise, almost all of the negative things were very minor and really didn't affect the wonderful time that we had. The biggest problem is that 7 days just seemed to short and we wished we had just a couple more days to spend on the ship! We are a younger family of four...our kids are 11 years old and 8 years old. This was our 6th cruise over all, and we have cruised various ships on various cruise lines (we like the variety and like to see what each line has to offer over the other). Our past cruises included a 4 day cruise on the Monarch of the Seas, a 7 day cruise on the Grand Princess, an 8 day Norwegian Star cruise, a 5 day Carnival Elation cruise, and an 8 day cruise on Holland America's Ryndam.
We arrived a day before the cruise and stayed at the Double Tree in San Pedro. We originally had booked the Crowne Plaza, but due to parking restrictions, had to move to the Double Tree. We actually like the Double Tree better, so it worked out well for us. We drove our motorhome to California, and even though we made sure to confirm with our travel agent about the parking availability for high profile vehicles at the Crown Plaza, it turned out we couldn't park it there due to limited height and a small parking lot. The Double Tree has a nice open parking lot, and was very able to accommodate our motorhome for the cruise and park package. When you check in at the Double Tree, I recommend you immediately sign up for the morning shuttle to the cruise terminal. We had a group of eight, and it was tough to find an open slot for all of us. They fill up fast.
On Sunday morning, I woke up pretty early and was able to see the Mariner "back" into the channel towards the cruise terminal (The Mariner is so big, that it cannot turn around near the pier, so they end up having to back it into the channel). We had breakfast at the hotel, which ended up being complimentary due to some problems with our hotel room (hot water was barely luke warm and there were drunk people screaming out in the parking lot around 2am I think). We boarded the hotel shuttle around 10:30 and took the 5 minute ride to the cruise terminal. There were people already checking in, but we pretty much went right through security and right to the check in station. We had to wait about a half an hour to board, as we were in boarding group number 2. The platinum (or Diamond?) members went first around 11:15, and our group was called about 11:35 or so. We bypassed the photo line once we boarded the ship and went right to guest services to inquire about DECT phones and get an extra room key for our kid's room. They were already out of DECT phones, but it turned out we really didn't need them during the cruise. We went to the buffet of course for a quick lunch, and then toured the ship until 1pm when the rooms opened. We had an ocean view room on Deck 2 (big round window) and our kids had an interior room on deck 7. One of our friends we were travelling with had a balcony room on deck 6. Other than the balcony, the main difference between the balcony rooms and the ocean view rooms is that they have more square feet (stretched version of our room) and their bathroom and shower is slightly larger. While our ocean view room was small, it was plenty adequate for the two of us.
For the muster drill, we were able to use the Lotus Lounge (for the interior room on deck 7), but the ocean view room on deck 2 was assigned to a muster station outside on deck four. The lounge station is a much nicer option for the muster drill!
The ship was very attractive and big. This was the largest ship we had ever cruised on. The ship was easy to navigate, and each venue seemed elegantly designed and appointed. The main theater had great sight lines and it was never difficult to find a seat. We are not smokers, but I hardly ever noticed a smell of smoke, other than when we walked through the casino from time to time. At one point though, I did take a quick look around the Wig and Gavel pub, and there was a stale smoke odor, but everything else was great in this regard.
The solarium pool area was really attractive, although I just didn't spend enough time there unfortunately. The main pool area always seemed to have plenty of open chairs available on the few sunny days we had, but then again, it was a cooler cruise and I heard that there was only 2,751 passengers onboard...which is a few hundred less than full capacity. We found that we spend a majority of the time in the Royal Promenade, or up in the Viking Lounge or Buffet area playing cards and such. The card room was much too small for a ship this size and was always busy. But we liked to use the tables in the front area of the buffet for cards and such anyway.
The only thing lacking on this cruise was a dedicated kid's pool area, which we have found on a few other larger ships we have been on. I know that the original Voyager class ships had a kid's pool and small water slide area on them, but the Mariner was not built with one. I am not sure it really mattered though, as the main pool area was sufficient for the most part (I do have some problems with it though in my critical section)
We had late seating for dinner, and I much prefer that, although the rest of my group did not enjoy eating that late. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very personable and very good at their job. I cannot remember what the name of the person who is responsible for the whole dining room (head waiter maybe?), but this was our first cruise where he actually came around to our table each and every night to make sure everything was going well. He also would give us a quick run down about what to expect the next day for the cruise and always gave us a bit of good information. On previous cruises, we probably saw this head dinning room guy once or twice the whole cruise. This particular gentleman was much more professional and attentive than we have ever had before.
I had read several reviews that mention the quality of the food in the dining room being on the decline, and I would have to agree. We probably ate more food on this cruise than any other cruise, and we thoroughly enjoyed the food everywhere on the ship, but the main dining room food did seem a step down in quality compared to what we have experienced on other cruises and cruise lines. I hate to even bring up this point, but it is a big part of cruising for most people. The service was definitely good in each venue, especially the service in the buffet (heck, it was good everywhere!).
Speaking of the buffet, I really thought they had a great variety of food, and it was easy to navigate from one station to the other. One negative thing about the buffet however, was the hours it was open. I don't expect to have it open 24 hours a day, but it didn't even open for lunch until at 11:30. We typically like to eat an early lunch around 11am. It's a minor thing, and didn't distract at all from our cruise of course, but it also seemed to be closed in the late afternoon/early evening as well. Again, a minor thing but I wish it was open a bit earlier and a bit longer. The self serve ice cream out by the pool was nice and very popular, but again, it didn't open until noon.
The Cafe Promenade was the 24 hour "snack" venue. We loved this place! It was never very crowded it seemed, and you could always find something quick and good to eat there. I loved the pizza, even though there really was nothing remarkable about it, but it was very good! I also liked how they had a great self serve coffee, tea and hot chocolate station in this cafe. The staff was always friendly and helpful.
Our other favorite "food" place on the ship was the Vintages Wine Bar. We didn't eat here, but I used some of our on board credit to buy a bottle of wine (which they hold for you for during the cruise if you so desire) and we also tried some wine "flights". The staff new my name from day one, and were always helpful. The best part about relaxing with a glass of wine here, other than the ambiance of the bar, was that they always served a plate of little hors d'oeuvres or appetizers to go along with your wine. They had cheese, nuts, grapes, and small bread pieces with various toppings on them. Very tasty and perfect with a glass of wine!
We had a coupon for Johnny Rockets so we ate there one afternoon. The operating hours were sometimes strange here as well, as we tried a couple times to eat here, only to find it closed. When we did finally eat there, we thoroughly enjoyed the burgers and onion rings. I am not sure we would have tired it if we didn't have the free coupon though.
We only experienced about 1/3 of all the entertainment options, as there were many things to choose from. Of the things we did see, the ice skating show was of course our favorite, followed by the ventriloquist comedian. The 80's variety show was ok, and the farewell show was pretty good with the comedian and juggler. There was a jazz band up in the Viking Crown Lounge the last night, and it would have been nice to see them every evening, but I don't think they were playing any other time (we could have just missed it though). I also really enjoyed the love and marriage show, and the Quest show was pretty good too. The magic show was the only disappointment in regards to the main shows we saw. It was still entertaining of course, but I have seen much better.
The cruise director, Ken Rush, did a great job, except in one particular area. He seemed to constantly try to "convince" us about what a wonderful job everyone was doing on the cruise ship and almost made it feel like he was forcing us to applaud and show appreciation for everyone working on the cruise. Don't get me wrong, the cruise staff and service personnel did a great job for the most part, but telling the audience day after day about how hard everyone is working for us and telling us to clap for everyone just gets a little old. This was his last "regular" cruise on the Mariner before he heads off to join the crew of the new Oasis (he was still going to do one more charter group cruise after our cruise). I also thought the captain was very personable and very good (in the entertainment area of things).
There were plenty of thing to do on this ship of course, so there was never a dull moment...unless you wanted one. It was a little cold the first half of the cruise, so we didn't get outside too much, but there were a few nice warm days on the way back to Los Angeles where we could swim or use the outdoor areas. Ice skating was actually very enjoyable, but our favorite thing to do was to play cards, and relax in the wine bar or the cafe.
We cruised with our 11 year old and 8 year old. They both loved the kids program and participated often!
I really don't like to review ports, as this is a cruise ship review. Plus, we barely got off at each port, and I can't really comment on what to do at each stop since we didn't do anything. However, it was interesting that when we arrived at each port, the ship was constantly filled with travel agents from the local area with a visitor passes touring the ship. In Victoria, I talked to a few visitors who were actually on the Carnival Splendor docked next to us. A few of them commented to me about how much nicer the Mariner was than the Splendor and they looked pretty envious! I can imagine with the new Pacific Northwest itinerary, having a big ship like the Mariner in port is a big deal and a rare chance for travel agents to tour the ship. I just wish that there was a way for passengers to actually get a pass for a few hours to tour the other ships in port. Even though I am not a fan of Carnival, I would have liked to at least toured the Splendor while it was next to us, and in Seattle, the very small Pacific Princess was docked next to us as well. Unfortunately, I asked around and even called Princess to see if they would let me on board for a quick tour, but of course they will not allow that to happen unless you book the cruise.
Overall, the Mariner was probably one of the prettiest ships we have ever been on. There was always something fun to do and it was a great cruise. However, other than the amount of things to do, there just wasn't anything that stuck out as being better than other cruises we have been on. I say that with caution though, because even an average cruise is a GREAT vacation, and this one was very enjoyable. But unfortunately, Royal Caribbean (more specifically the Mariner) just didn't rate "outstanding" in any particular area...other than having a really cool BIG ship.
While on board, we took advantage of booking another cruise for next year (on the Radiance of the Seas). Because we booked on board, we were able to get $200 on board credit per cabin for the future cruise (to get the $200, it had to be at least a 10 day cruise). The lady who assisted us in booking the cruise just didn't seem that knowledgeable though, and that was somewhat disappointing. She was nice enough, but I was hoping that she would be more helpful with answering some questions, and she really didn't have any answers. Oh well...we are still very excited about our next cruise on the Radiance.
While we had a great cruise, there were some criticisms I have about a few things. Some I have mentioned already, but I'll summarize all of them below:
First, the food was pretty mediocre in the dinning room. I know they are feeding almost 3000 people, but the steaks were not good, and some of the other items were pretty low quality. We are pretty easy going with food and we ate PLENTY of good food on this cruise, but it really has declined. No one at our table was allowed to get a second lobster, and we were told that lobster was going to be removed from the menu in the near future (other people on the cruise had seconds and thirds we had heard, and who knows if they will really remove lobster or not). Maybe the extra charge dining options (like Chops) have caused this decline or maybe it's just something where they are cutting back to save money...I am not sure. Either way, the food is still pretty good...just not outstanding and very average.
Second, there was a very bad odor at the self service coffee machine in the Cafe Promenade. I have no idea what it was, but it was always there. The coffee always tasted fine, but the odor was pretty harsh!
Third, I wish that they didn't make the dining room wait staff have to do their song and dance routine. The waiters are there to serve food...not to entertain. I feel bad that they work so hard serving the tables, then they have to stop everything, go parade around the dining room, and then all sing a song!?! This is not necessarily a criticism on Royal Caribbean, as almost every other cruise ship and cruise line does the same thing. It's just one of the little things that annoy me about cruises. I also don't like the ridiculous "pirate" who goes to each table in the dining room and interrupts dinner to try and get a picture with each couple at the table. We politely refuse the picture each time, but it does seem a bit over the top. Again, almost all cruise lines do this, and this is just another little annoyance.
And finally, my biggest problem with this cruise (and other cruises we have done) has to do with the swimming pools and hot tubs. My family and I really enjoy swimming and using the hot tubs when we cruise. We almost always cruise in the Pacific Ocean (we live in Phoenix, and California is much easier to get to than Florida or the East Coast), and that usually means cool or cold sea days, and generally cooler weather than the Caribbean cruises. I don't understand why they keep swimming pool water temperatures so cold! During our cruise, there was a question and answer session with the Captain, and I asked him if there was any way they could heat the pools to a warmer temperature, and he simply said "No". He said they stay at 74 degrees and that was that. We were sailing to the cold Pacific Northwest on our cruise, and why they couldn't heat the pools to a nicer temperature, just frustrates me. It also seemed that only one of the two main pools was even being slightly heated, as the other one was always much colder.
I also don't understand why they don't use fresh water in their pools. We loved the fact that when we sailed on the Grand Princess a few years ago, that they only used fresh water in their pools. Why other cruise lines refuse to do this frustrates me as well. I know it costs more to desalinate additional water for the pool, but other cruise ships (like Princess) can do it, so why can't RCCL and other lines follow suit? Both of these criticisms are not specifically directed at the Mariner or Royal Caribbean, but they weren't any better in this regard either. However, I do have a major problem with some of the decisions made on our particular cruise about the timing of pool and hot tub maintenance. As I mentioned before, the first half of our cruise was very cold. Our first real day of sunshine was during our last stop in Seattle. The sun came out in the afternoon, and when everyone started returning to the ship that afternoon, the pool deck quickly got crowded. I was puzzled when I saw that they had four of the seven hot tubs on the ship closed, and also had the solarium pool closed!?! I asked one of the pool deck crew members (a senior looking crew member wearing a suit) why the Solarium pool was closed, and he was very surprised to hear that it was closed. He told me he would get it opened immediately and that there was no problem with the pool, but it was still closed when I went back and checked an hour later! The three remaining hot tubs that were open that afternoon filled up fast and were totally crowded! It was our first sunny afternoon where you could comfortably be outside and they decided to drain the other tubs for their daily cleaning? Why not wait until the late night hours or early morning hours??? In addition, during the final two sea days (which were also sunny and slightly warm), they decided to do the hot tub maintenance in the late afternoon hours while we were swimming. We actually were one of the few people in the pool area at the time, and there were still other hot tubs open, but it just seems to me that they should do their maintenance after hours instead of during the daylight hours.
Cruising is a great vacation for us, and we had a great time on the Mariner, despite a few little annoyances. Unfortunately, the Mariner didn't really stand out above other cruise lines that we have sailed on in any one area, but they do excel in large ships if that is what you are looking for. I do have to say again that Royal Caribbean was VERY generous in their compensation to all of us who decided to keep the booking, even though we didn't go to Mexico. So, I suppose they DID excel above the other cruise lines at least in their generosity!
It's great to finally have a ship like the Mariner on the West Coast. While the Mariner is not a perfect ship, it sure was a great way to spend a vacation! Less