So, we had the good fortune of sailing on the Mariner just two days after our wedding. This was our fourth RCI cruise, and the largest ship and longest trip we had been on. We got lost in the parking lot - first time that's happened! Somehow I bypassed the person who normally tells you where to go, and ended up driving in circles trying to figure out where I should actually park, and how to get into the lot. There really isn't great signage...there also no signs indicating where to go once you've parked (as in signs indicating where luggage drop off is, for instance), so really you just head towards the throngs of people and hope for the best. As we were admittedly a little early, there were still crowds who had just gotten off the ship and were awaiting ground transportation. So after standing around looking lost for a bit, we finally saw a porter coming around who was obviously loading up new luggage, and we were able to off load.
Check-in was a snap! We got in the building around 11:40am, walked right up to the available hosts, got checked in right away and proceeded immediately to the boarding line. This was so much better than previous cruises where we had to get a boarding group card and wait in a holding room. There was a bit of a line to get on the boat, but we were through in 5 minutes and on board!
The ship is beautiful and elegant. You can't say much more than that. Every crew member we encountered was friendly and helpful, and there seemed to be less urgency to up-sell wine or soda packages and so forth, which we experienced on smaller ships. The ship is laid out well, and it didn't take much time for us to feel like we knew our way around the ship. The maps at every elevator and on the promenade were exceptionally helpful. Probably the most "confusing" layout element is the split deck involving the promenade; if you're in the Savoy Theatre on Deck 3 forward and want to go to the Sound of Music Dining Room on Deck 3 aft, you actually have to go up a level or more to go across. Even that wasn't so bad.
This was our first trip with an ice skating rink, and the show did not disappoint! They were exceptionally talented and made use of their relatively small space quite well. The Singers and Dancers were okay - admittedly I think a better caliber than we had seen before (though one of our table mates who is a dancer was quite critical of their dancing ability). The shows themselves were not exceptionally entertaining; it's a material problem - the musical selections which by and large were not particularly well know to the audience. I thought the choreography and sets were top notch though. There was a Beatles tribute band that performed one night, and they were the best tribute band I have ever seen. Really went for an authentic feel, and delivered. There was also a juggler on the last night who was simply amazing, but the comedians were hit and miss. The first one we saw was actually pretty good, but the second, who joined the ship mid-cruise, did an "adult" comedy show which was PG at best and not particularly funny.
We found the food and food choices to be outstanding. Could they use more variety in the dining room? Sure, especially at lunch time. But the Windjammer had a great and expansive selection, and with so many additional choices you can't go wrong. We were certainly never hungry, nor did we get a chance to try everything. Service was exceptional and attentive everywhere. Johnny Rockets we did try. It wasn't bad, and certainly nice to have a milkshake. Is it worth spending $4.95 a person and $4.50 a milkshake when there's so many other free options? Well, I didn't mind trying it once but I don't think I would again. It was nice to have fries and onion rings and a burger way fresher than the Windjammer, I'll say that. Only one criticism of food - they overcooked the steaks. Every night, every person we saw, even in Portofino's. Rule of thumb - ask for it less done than you normally would. The steak in Portofino's was definitely tasty though. We didn't make it to Chops, but I would definitely recommend trying Portofino's. I was surprised that Jade was not a separate establishment. Really it was just the first buffet line you come to in the Windjammer, which is fine I guess. Just didn't seem like it was its own entity at all.
I believe this cruise was sold out...but did it feel crowded? No. There's so much space and so many places to be while on board, that it seemed it must be half empty. The only real lines we encountered were for bingo...they might consider increasing the amount of sale time available, which is currently 30 minutes prior to game starts. But even and the self-serve frozen yogurt at the pool deck, we never saw a line of more than 8 or so, and with two machines it went by quick. Certainly, this was all in all a very enjoyable ship to be on. Only complaint? Not enough time to do everything! There's too much going on and often things scheduled so that they overlap dinner times or other events of interest. (Oh and we had second seating for dinner, though this ship does offer MTD).