Let me begin by saying that I am a Diamond member and have sailed, almost exclusively with Royal Caribbean. This was our first cruise on the Mariner, and to the Mexican Riviera. The rest of our cruises have been in the Caribbean, including a nice cruise to the Panama Canal. A few observations and words of advise to others taking this cruise/route for the first time:
WEATHER--so, to be honest--I read many reviews about the sea days being cold, but attributed that to the time of year--most of the reviews I was reading were cruises in March and April. I have cruised in the Caribbean in March and April, and sea days can be "cool". We were scheduled to cruise at the end of June on Mariner, so I packed a "light" sweatshirt in anticipation of maybe a 70-75 degree sea day.....I was hardly prepared....60's and WINDY for the first sea day, second sea day started in the upper 70's but dropped to the 60's by afternoon, last sea day was cloudy and in the 50's. There was literally no one on outer decks. If you are a sun worshiper looking for warm weather for 7 days, this is not the cruise for you. Even the Solarium was cold--spent $120 on heavy sweatshirts at the gift shop. Live and learn. I did have a conversation with one of the waiters, and he said sea days are almost always cold on this cruise, regardless of time of year. Hmmmm, wish I had known that, since I live in Chicago, and I prefer to take vacations to warm climates. Hence the reason I have not yet done an Alaskan Cruise....
EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION-I have always found this to be quick and painless on Royal Caribbean. Have always boarded early. Waited awhile for luggage though this time. We have early seating and have almost always had our bags before dinner. Not this time, but that actually forced me to attend the sail away party, instead of unpacking first!!!
SERVICE-I have always found the service to be very good on RCCL. Although it is apparent over the years that cost cutting measures have impacted the quality of service. Alot of the dining waitstaff and cabin attendants seemed very rushed (and perhaps overworked). Exception to this was the bar service, and in particular the pool area. Seemed they had about 20 waiters on decks at any given time (with the exception of the last sea day ;o( --the sole pool bartender was wearing a parka and ski cap!)
Speaking of the pool, don't forget to turn in your pool towels, or they will wind up on your ship charge, and you will have to wait in a very long line on disembarkation day trying to get the charges reversed. I wish they would just go back to the old gold towels and the honor system of returning them. Now the towels have a RCCL logo, but they are certainly not worth $20 each....
As my husband and I are Diamond members, we have always enjoyed access to the concierge club, although we rarely used it for anything other than getting a cup of coffee in the morning. This is now restrcited to Diamond Plus and Suite members. Not a big deal, but it would seem they have moved to a system of rewarding those who spend more rather than based on a loyalty system.
PORTS-Only did one excursion in Puerto Vallarta. The Dolphin Encounter. while it was expensive, it was an amazing experience! My ten year old daughter is still talking about it. As always tours are well organized through RCCL, and transportation is efficient.
In closing, we enjoyed this cruise, primarily because we traveled with a large group of great friends, however we didn't enjoy the drastic climate changes on this cruise. Back the the Caribbean for us next time!!!!