First, let me explain our cruise plans. We had been planning this "wonderful family trip" to Mexico for over 2 years. My son was on a church mission and returned last winter. Instead of going to pick him up, we decided to take the entire family adults (3 additional married sisters ranging from 25 to 33 and their husbands) on a cruise vacation as a "Welcome Home Party". I was so disappointed when RC cancelled our trip to Mexico that I even tried to reschedule to the Caribbean, but it was almost impossible due to the length of time we had until our trip. I understand RC and their reasoning and feel they did everything within their power to make it an enjoyable experience. They agreed to lower our price and made some other concessions and after reviewing our options and the money we would lose by cancelling our airline tickets, we decided to just go ahead and do it.
EMBARKATION - One of my daughters had made the transfer arrangements from the airport to the port and everything worked just fine. The only issue was our decision to fly into Long Beach Airport because it was closer and a little cheaper. We thought we could get a bite to eat prior to going to the port, due to my experience with another cruise line a few years ago where it took forever to register and board. The food at the airport was almost non-existent, but we did have a nice ice cream treat while waiting for our ride.
I was prepared for the worst at the port. SURPRISE!! We arrived a little later than most (3:00 PM) due to our connections and it was so slick I cannot even believe it. From baggage scanning to walking on the ship took no more than 10 minutes and 8 of this was spent walking. When you handle this many people, I just expect to stand it lines, but it was a real relief. By the time we arrived and unpacked it was Bon Voyage and we were off.
THE SHIP - Mariner of the Seas is a tremendous ship. It was built in 2004 and is now over 5 years old, but she does not look her age. One of my son in laws commented about another cruise ship parked next to us that had areas of rust on her hull. None of this was observed on Mariner of the Seas. The carpets all appear almost brand new and I did not notice many areas of wear. While we were there, a continual repair and upgrade was going on. Two holes on the miniature golf course were in a state of being repaired and a couple of the benches around the two family swimming pools were also being repaired. Neither of these were an inconvenience to a great degree. Instead, they added reinforcement that the company actually cares about the ship and keeping it in good shape. The ride was generally smooth and enjoyed by all; although one son in law did experience seasickness one evening due to rough seas. (I would encourage everyone to bring a supply of seasickness patches or pill to assist with this.) The rest of our group, although they could feel the roll of the ship from time to time, were not affected to any great degree. It was actually a little fun stumbling down the hallways from time to time. The ship looked wonderful from the theatre to the spa with little need for repairs. I was particularly impresses with the bow-thrusters and the full rotating stern drive that allowed us to easily approach the piers. It was a pleasure to ride on this ship.
ACCOMODATIONS - We had originally selected adjoining cabins with balconies. All of the rooms were very nice. Needless to say, they are smaller than they appear on the web site, but that is to be expected and was not a big deal after the initial shock. We did have some minor issues with heating and the like, but based on the total experience, these were only minor inconveniences since we came to play. Our cabin steward, like all service on this RC trip was outstanding. I remember asking her to see if she could have someone check into the heating issue. By the time we returned the hallway wall was torn apart and the repairman satisfactorily resolved the issue.
FOOD AND DINING - We had requested the 6:00 PM dining and had requested to all sit together. What a treat! We were on the outside of the Sound of Music (Deck 5) right by the windows. It was nothing short of spectacular! (Two of the seven nights we had dolphins racing outside our windows.) Our waiter and assistant waiter were outstanding. We ate all dinners but one in the dining room and after the first night, we were on a first name basis. I had read a number of reviews that were not complimentary of the food in the formal dining rooms. I did not find this to be the case. Living in a small town in Utah, our dining options are limited, but our three daughters also felt the same way. They live in larger communities (one just outside of Seattle) and each one of them were very pleased with the dinners. Our son-in-laws also enjoyed the ability to order multiple main courses which added to their satisfaction. Given the task of feeding 1,000+ two times a night, I found the food very good. We failed to eat in the dining room for breakfast and lunch so I cannot give any opinion of these meals, but I heard nothing but good comments from everyone I talked with. The food on the Windjammer was also good, given the situation. (Some might refer to this as average.) There were usually several specialty items that changed throughout the week, but most of the food was consistent and very acceptable. We ate at the Windjammer and the Jade every morning and although challenged to eat as a family, we could usually find tables close together. Again the service was outstanding. I have taken one previous cruise about 3 years ago on another cruise line. I work in the services industry and do not remember the service that we received at that time. To me, this means it was not special. That is not the kind of service that I received on RC. It was outstanding! Staff was always on hand to meet your every need. Beverages were constantly refreshed and the tables were always clean when we arrived. (All of the boys purchased unlimited soft drink plans which I would recommend to everyone traveling with young adults, although one son in law did express his dissatisfaction that only Coke, Diet-Coke and Sprite were available.) My daughter from Seattle went to dinner at Portofino, the Italian specialty restaurant. She was thrilled with the food and the service and had an outstanding experience. We had originally planned to dine at Chops - the steakhouse, but since the food was so good at the dining room, I could not get any of the others to join me. We had all planned on attending Johnny Rockets for lunch, but it was so busy most of us could not get in. One of my daughters endured the long wait and had an enjoyable meal, in fact; one son-in-law talked all of the boys into going back for a late night feast of onion rings and malts. We also enjoyed the unlimited soft serve yogurt and the Ben and Jerry's station.
The one area I had a complaint with is the food available during off dining hours. The only real place to eat was at the Promenade Cafe, where food selection was quite limited. Also, I believe RC should have other drinking options besides coffee, tea and water. For those of us that do not drink coffee and tea, this was very limited and disappointing. I would like to see the lemonade offered at the Windjammer also available at the cafe. Other food options should include a limited salad bar for those not wanting to eat straight carbohydrates and sugar. The seating is also limited and was often completely full, although during the late night you could usually find a place to sit and enjoy yourself. I would also like to add that all of my family did not feel this way. Some felt that the situation was just fine, but I would like to see a more balanced approach during off dining hours. On my previous cruise, the food bar (similar to the Windjammer) was open 24 hours a day with great variety to the menu.
DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS - I cannot remember the number of bars on the Mariner. Someone told me there were 17, maybe this is true. As a non-drinker, this did not bother me from the sense that I am sure RC generates a substantial amount of income from this activity. I was put-off by the fact that other types of facilities were lacking. RC puts a lot of advertising into the fact that they are the "Why Not" company and almost all advertising include families and young married individuals. Although I would immediately agree that we are in the minority (as non-drinkers), I could see some people not returning to RC due to the imbalance of drinking establishments and the lack of family friendly dining on the promenade.
ENTERTAINMENT- Wow is all I can say! I was referred to RC by a friend who was a travel agent for several years. She stated that given the age of those going, RC was the only logical choice and she was so right! I have two acquaintances that recently cruised on other lines. One is about the age of my children and the other is slightly younger than my wife and I. (She had actually cruised on Mariner several years ago, but elected to go on another cruise line because of location, price and availability.) Both had poor experiences and were not pleased with their cruises.
The shows were all excellent. The singers and dancers did a very good job while the specialty acts were also very good to excellent. One of my daughters likes to do Karaoke, so we spent some time doing that which was interesting and enjoyable.
CRUISE DIRECTOR - Ken Rush - This man knows what he is doing! I do not know his background, but he was a great MC and knew what to say and when to say it. I talked with him briefly and found he was only filling in on a short term basis on the Mariner, although he did work here several years ago. He will be taking out the Oasis of the Seas in January and his participation on that ship makes me want to go and sail on the Oasis. If he is in charge of the program, I am sure it will be top notch. I also found him very personable and willing to stop and talk with you at any time for any reason. A great guy as far as I am concerned.
OTHER ACTIVITIES - One of the reasons that we chose RC were the other activities and we were not disappointed. The only negative item was the raining days in and around Seattle. The pools were almost deserted, but we did manage to visit the hot tubs almost every night before going to bed. Almost the entire family would go together and it was a great time to reflect upon the activities of the day. The climbing wall was a definite hit. We visited there on Friday as we were returning to LA and it was nice and warm. We also visited the miniature golf, basketball, ice skating rink and the spa. My wife and the three girls all attended sessions at the spa. Although we did not spend huge amounts of money, they enjoyed their visits and found the staff very professional and friendly. Some of the guys tried to attend the gym and enjoy the exercise equipment, but with the number of people on board, RC just cannot handle the numbers in the early morning hours. The rest of the day, was not an issue, but from 7-9 AM it was very busy. One of my daughters who visited the gym repeatedly told me that this only occurred at the beginning of the cruise and it was not a problem later in the week.
EXCURSIONS - We had scheduled three excursions for Mexico which were all arranged through RC and were we glad we had done so. All three were quickly cancelled and credited back to my Visa card. Due to some unusual circumstances, we elected to do it on our own this time around. This was due to one of my children living around Seattle and another one that lived in Astoria at one time. Each one of them took charge in their particular area and all came off without problem. We were able to visit Cannon Beach and also the school from Kindergarten Cop and the Goonies House in Astoria. In Seattle, we really appreciated the bus to the Space Needle and then visited Pike Street Market, Underground Seattle and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop down on the wharf. We had lunch at Ivar's on the wharf which is always good. In Victoria, we wanted to do something exciting, and I had found a ZIPLINE company, but also wanted to see Butchart Gardens. Due to the rainy weather we decided the gardens should win out. It was a spectacular experience, but would encourage using the ships excursions for such an outing since we spent a lot of our time waiting for the city bus to arrive downtown. Fortunately, we were able to go and return without any problems. We also were able to visit the Empress Hotel and do some shopping downtown.
SUMMARY - I started this cruise with a definite dissatisfaction, but this quickly changed. I was overwhelmed with the customer service that was provided almost every time you turned around. Stateroom assistants were excellent and so were the dining room staff both in the formal dining room and the Windjammer. Food was better than expected and the responsiveness of the waiter and assistant waiter was outstanding. We loved the outdoor activities and the skating rink, and the hot tub was a total success. Although I do have some reservations in the area of promenade food and drink, I found the total experience outstanding and have already recommended RC to several friends and acquaintances. Way to go RC! We will definitely use your services in the future and encourage all we know to do the same.