My wife and I took our ninth Royal Caribbean cruise and twentieth overall on Mariner of the Seas departing on May 31. This was a seven night trip originating in Los Angeles with a revised itinerary because of the flu issues in Mexico. We booked the cruise after the ports of call were switched and were quite happy to visit San Francisco, Vitoria BC and Seattle, and in fact prefer these to the Mexican stops. This trip was an anomaly, possibly not to be repeated so I will confine my remarks to the ship itself except to state that sailing into San Francisco bay under the Golden Gate Bridge was very special.
The ship seems new, very well maintained and clean. Our interior cabin on deck eight had a window facing the promenade. We thought that noise from the parades and entertainment would be an inconvenience but that was not a problem. One aspect of the room which got our attention quickly was that the windows are uncoated, plain clear glass so that all activities in one's cabin as well as those across the promenade are visible. The curtains do block all light however, so good sleeping is possible.
Our interior cabin on deck eight had a window facing the promenade. We thought that noise from the parades and entertainment would be an inconvenience but that was not a problem. One aspect of the room which got our attention quickly was that the windows are uncoated, plain clear glass so that all activities in one's cabin as well as those across the promenade are visible. The curtains do block all light however, so good sleeping is possible. Bar soap was provided instead of the dispenser type although shampoo was from a dispenser. The cabin had a small sofa and love seat. Closet space for hanging items was sufficient although only a slight rocking of the ship started the hangers banging together, so much so that I got up and took the empty ones off the rack and laid them down to stop the noise. I'm a light sleeper however.
The ship's employees were all friendly, courteous and eager to please. Our dinners were in the Top Hat and Tails restaurant where we experienced excellent service from the wait staff. As has been mentioned in other reviews the portions have been reduced and so has the quality of the food. We think that the cuisine was at as low a level as any we had experienced on other cruise ships from the perspective of quality of the ingredients. Preparation was good though, but as one passenger remarked, "Even a perfectly prepared taco is still just a taco". An example of the decline in dining is that the lunch menu is identical each day. They do provide a very nice salad bar at lunch that my wife and some other table mates greatly enjoyed.
An unusual event happened to tablemates who arrived for dinner the first night and found that their seats had been preempted by two other passengers who had actually been assigned to a different table. For unknown reasons, possibly proximity to a window these people could not or would not move to their assigned table producing an uncomfortable confrontation. The displaced diners were reseated to our table and they were the most pleasant and fun dinner partners we could have hoped for.
Several changes have been made on RCL since our last cruise with them in October 2007 that negatively impacted the experience, in our opinion. Some of most obvious of these are the champagne welcome has been stopped, there are no chocolates on the pillows as part of the turn down service and there are no after dinner mints or candies provided in the dining rooms. We were told by an employee that discontinuing the pillow chocolates will save RCL $400K per year. Food in the Windjammer was unremarkable, standard Vegas buffet variety and quality although service was very good. We began cruising in 1999 and so still remember when almost every dish was the best we had ever had in quality of ingredients, portion size and service. If one ordered water melon the slice served was the best water melon, the steak was the best, etc. On this ship the food items were nothing special. New cruisers seemed very pleased however.
For part of the cruise we were shadowing the Carnival Splendor and in Victoria we were berthed next to that ship. In conversations with those passengers it seems that Carnival, or at least the Splendor, has matched or surpassed RCL in food, amenities and staff service. Also, contrary to some perceptions, the passengers from Carnival Splendor that one met were indistinguishable in demographics and deportment from the RCL passengers. We had taken Norwegian Cruise Lines on our previous two cruises and they have clearly overtaken RCL, or perhaps RCL has fallen behind them in many aspects of cruising although the NCL fleet seems older and their ships smaller.
In summary, Mariner of the Seas is a five star vessel with a five star staff but has three and one half star food and amenities. We will certainly use RCL again and even made future cruise deposits but we will always choose NCL over RCL if the price is the same or less and we will probably try one of the newer Carnival ships.