We took a family cruise on the Mariner of the Seas the first week in August. We live in Texas and wanted something different from the standard western Caribbean/ Cozumel cruise. (Plus RCCL only operates seasonal from Galveston and we are not Carnival fans). This was our 5th cruise and the 4th on RCCL. This was our second cruise on a Voyager class ship.
The Mariner as a whole was clean but seemed to be showing its age particularly in the hallways, fitness center, and some common areas. The staff, however, was overall the best we have EVER experienced on a cruise. They were very service oriented and proactive in handling situations. They are well deserving of their 4.5 star rating. We did a 5 star a few years ago and the service on this boat actually topped it.
We took a 8:30 AM Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas Love field to LAX with a brief stop in El Paso. The plan landed early and we appreciated the "no bag fee" as we ended up with 8 checked bags for our family. We grabbed the Prime Time shuttle to the pier for $16 a head and by 11:30 had arrived at the pier. It took us about 15 minutes to locate a porter, but there was no line at the check in desk and we were on the ship by noon.
We had two Promenade rooms. We were disappointed as the windows overlooked the centrum spiral staircase instead of the Promenade which we had enjoyed on a prior cruise but were still nice rooms. Our kids were in a separate room and we were able to request extra keys to allow us to enter each other's rooms if needed.
My 18 and 20 year olds were concerned about meeting friends on the boat as they had done the teen club on prior trips. Mariner had several 18-20+ get togethers at the Dragon's Lair. This was not as structured as the teen program but they still were able to meet young adults around their age.
Dined at a table of 8 in the Sound of Music dining room. We had requested a table of 4 on our reservation, but quickly bonded with our tablemates from Canada. Getting to know "D&A" and their two daughters made the nightly dinner the highlight of our cruise. We decided Canadians are every bit as crazy and fun as Texans and really enjoyed getting to know them. Christian and Bernado were our waiters. They were great! Portions were smaller than we remembered as other cruise critics have shared. Still enough for us plus they offered us seconds on several entree's. Two of our tablemates were vegetarians and the assistant head waiter bent over backwards with the chef to accommodate with superb alternatives.
Wait staff in Windjammer were better than I remembered. Quick to bring you drinks, clean plates, helped you find open tables. Supervisors were actively working the floor with their wait staff which helped. Food choices seemed to rotate a little better than I remembered on other RCCL ships.
Our only real bummer on the trip was the internet and cell phone connectivity. Internet was slow and spotty at best. Laptop worked in our cabin the first day buy had to use shipboard computers afterwards. Could never get a laptop connections afterwards and the wireless connectivity has worked flawlessly since we returned home. Several other folks I met in the internet room shared similar experiences. The internet cost between 35 and 65 cents a minute and provided dial up speed at best. It would take up to 5 minutes to load and reply to a simple email on Yahoo mail service. RCCL really needs to upgrade this service on the Mariner!
Cell service at seas was also spotty. We had 5 cell phones between our family members. The one AT&T phone we had did not work at all except that I received 5 days of work related text messages at 4:30 Friday morning while at sea. We never had voice connectivity the entire trip on AT&T. At any given time we could only get one of our four T-Mobile phones to work at sea and the working phone seemed to rotate every time we had to make a call. It is worth noting we have not had this problem on any other RCCL ship we have traveled on. The shipboard room telephone also was difficult to use.
CABO SAN LUCAS- First port- City seemed a little slower economically than we remembered from a trip about 6 years back. It was just too darn hot and humid that day even by Texas summer standards and we quickly melted and wilted in the heat. We stayed on shore for only about 2 hours then back to the air conditioned ship for recovery.
MAZATLAN - Second Port - Our first visit there. Nicer Weather. We had planned to take water taxi to Stone Beach, but were advised they had a jellyfish problem that day. We hit the pier with no real "plan B" in place. Gentleman in cruise terminal tried to sell us a day pass to the Hotel Flores in the golden zone for $36 a person. We declined and found a friendly taxi driver who agreed to take us to a free beach hotel in the Golden Zone. (Which turned out ironically be the Hotel Flores). The cabbie was great. Mazatlan loves baseball and we talked almost the entire ride about great baseball players that had played on the Mazatlan team. He even drove us by their new stadium on the way to the Golden Zone. The Hotel Flores turned out to be OK. Nice pool, friendly staff, and we were able to cut a parasailing deal for about $30 a piece which was a lot less than the quotes in Cabo (this was a great experience!! Really enjoyed it). Beach was small but very pleasant. We found some neat local shops across from the hotel and stayed on shore for about 5-6 hours.
PUERTO VALLARTA - Final Port - Spent the day at the Fiesta Americana Hotel. This was an older, beautiful property with great service. Purchased a $35 day pass per person which $25 is credited back towards food and drink. (Be careful, quoted a lower $25 price on the internet, but found the price higher when I actually arrived. Be sure to print any correspondence to get the price they quoted.) The hotel was wonderful, and reminded me of one of those Travel channel most beautiful beach shows. This was the most relaxing day of the cruise. Javier, our beachfront server, went out of his way to take care of us at the hotel. Our curiosity got the best of us and we decided to visit the Walmart across the pier from the ship. It was similar but different from US Walmarts. It looked like a supercenter but with a lot of local products. The attendants in the health and beauty section were very helpful and provided us with some Mexican products that were comparable to US brands. Also purchased some products that were cheaper than on the ship.
Back on the ship, Trivia seemed to be a bigger event than on other ships. We enjoyed competing with our fellow guests. Ricki Ricardo was a great host. We enjoyed the Walk for Miles fundraiser for Make a Wish Foundation. Ship booked the Las Vegas act the Scintas. Best overall entertainers we have seen anywhere! What made it even more fun is after the show they settled into the Schooner Bar for about 3 hours and kept the group there entertained until well after 2 AM. A Temptations tribute band was average at best. The RCCL singers did a Broadway tribute but played a lot of lesser known songs which took away some of the fun. Several guests commented on this. A second RCCL show was cancelled as one of the lead performers became ill.
Love and Marriage game was absolutely hilarious. I don't think anyone on board can every look at a Christmas tree lot quite the same way again.
The Quest - Very raunchy event. We are not prudes, but the guest nudity, especially the guys flashing the audience was tasteless and I cannot recommend it nor will I attend this event on a future cruise!
Disembarkation was a breeze. Off the ship and bags claimed in about 45minutes using regular checkout. Took a yellow cab back LAX and were at the airport by 10:45. (Note: Galveston could take a lesson from San Pedro Custom's operation). Overall this was a great trip. Mariner moves to Galveston in 2011-2012. I suspect we will venture forth on it in the future.