My wife and I took our very first cruise in April of this year and enjoyed the Carnival 4-nighter so much we booked a 7-nighter as soon as we returned from our first experience. Unfortunately, this cruise was booked via a Royal Caribbean recommended travel agency. Absolutely no help whatsoever other than taking my money. That's a story in itself. Lesson learned: Like the first cruise, we will book future cruises ourselves online.
The transfer from LAX to San Pedro was smooth and we received our luggage at our suite about an hour after arrival at the ship. My suitcase was so damaged it was almost unrecognizable as luggage. When I was asked if it like this when I retrieved it from baggage claim at Southwest Airlines I knew it was game on. But this was my vacation, so I grabbed the suitcase, gave RC employee the "You gotta be kidding" response and went to my room. Duct tape is amazing stuff and my suitcase now resides in the Phoenix city landfill.
We booked one excursion for this trip as my wife and I don't like schedules. We should have booked none. Upon reaching the pier in Cabo we were drenched in sweat from the stifling heat and humidity. After being attacked by every possible glass bottom boat operator, sea taxi service and bicycle taxi dude, we went on the "tour" which consisted of sailing out to the FAMOUS arch, taking a peek from both sides and returning. Not worth the $58. But the thing that really ticked us off was the dude walking around with a pitcher and sticking in our faces wanting tips while on the "tour". I understand that this is how they make money, but we felt trapped at sea by extremely young wallet pirates. They even had a pitcher ready the second you stepped off the vessel. So it was back to the ship and beautiful air conditioning.
We remained on the Mariner for the rest of the cruise. We weren't interested in being attacked by impoverished Mexican vendors in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Other reviews here confirm that our decision was sound. Sailing from Cabo to Mazatlan I went to the Casino to kill some time. I gave my drink order to the waiter along with my SeaPass card. About 10 minutes later he returned panic stricken and told me my SeaPass card was stolen off of his tray while HE was making my latte. We immediately went to Guest Services to report it stolen. The waiter, God bless him, went to an open spot at the counter and stated what happened with urgency in his voice. When we were told to get in line (at least 15 deep) and that he'd get to me, I lost it. So as to avoid a potentially explosive scene, the guy canceled my card and issued another with a different folio number on the spot. Although the waiter goofed up, that poor kid knocked himself out (and probably got fired) trying to help me. I got a free latte` and tipped him $10 for his effort.
In general, the food in the dining room at dinnertime was very good and the waiters were efficient and friendly. We found the room service menu skimpy at best. The food in the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch was OK, but thought the "waiters" left a little to be desired. On three occasions I had to get our own drinks as no-one ever came by. A few of them knew no more English than my dog.
We found the ship to be clean in the restaurants and stores we visited. Our steward was average as she did little to go the extra mile when compared to the service we received on Carnival. (I do think if you spend the extra bucks on a suite you should be treated a little special by the steward). Sometimes the little things, like bringing you ice without asking or asking if there is anything they can do for you before they go off duty, goes a long way. When we first got on the ship and met our steward we gave her $50 and told her we'd be spending a lot of time in our room and on the balcony (hint, hint). We tipped her the recommended minimum amount after the cruise because she and her staff did little other than clean the room on schedule.
The one thing that left us certain that we would unlikely cruise with Royal Caribbean in the future was the constant 'commercialism", ie, someone always trying to sell you something. It seemed that no matter where you turned there was a table set up with a RC employee trying to sell the Spa, jewelry or over-priced water. To us it was a constant reminder to open your wallet and spend, spend, spend. Had we not been on Carnival before this trip we would have no point of reference. But in retrospect, Carnival did none of this on our cruise with them except on the TV channel dedicated to what the ship had to offer. Maybe we're just sensitive to it, but while we were on vacation aboard a ship, we felt like very captive consumers. Maybe this is no big deal for others, but we just found the constant reminders of their Gold Award Service and how we can spend more money a little overbearing.
If anyone thinks that slot machines in casinos aboard cruise ships are tweaked so as not to pay...not so. Our last night at sea we paid for our entire cruise expenses with one tug of the "12X Pay" machine. $2,140.00 made a lot of the cruise negatives go away. While Royal Caribbean may be the choice of many, I doubt we will ever sail with them again. By far we found our experience aboard Carnival to be far superior and will gladly book with them in the future.