After our crazy adventure in Miami, Florida a few years ago when Hurricane Wilma hit, my friend and I got brave and decided to give cruising another try.
(I posted a review about that cruise a few years back. We sailed the Carnival Fascination. It was supposed to go to Key West and Cozumel, but because of Hurricane Wilma, ended up going to the Bahamas instead. That review is on here somewhere. Good for a few laughs I supposed.)
We decided this time to do the Mexican Riviera Cruise, on board The Mariner Of The Seas, from September 5th through the 12th, 2010.
PRE-CRUISE: We were checking various websites for the best deals. We were trying to decide between Carnival and Royal Caribbean. (I had sailed to the Mexican Riviera a few years ago with singlescruise.com on board the Carnival Pride.) It was a toss-up between booking through vacationstogo or through the cruise line directly. We found what looked like a great deal on the Mariner of the Seas, but I needed to check with my boss first before booking. Unfortunately the two days it took to get approval, the price went up by about $200. Word to the wise: If you see a good deal on a cruise, JUMP ON IT, DON'T WAIT! If you wait, the price will probably go up. Anyway, Royal Caribbean had a better deal at the time. We opted for an ocean view suite with a balcony.
On Yahoo Answers, and other message forums, there has been a lot of comments suggesting that people go to cruisecritic.com and participate in the message boards. My friend and I decided to do that, but were disappointed in how the messages easily got lost among all the other postings. We couldn't see a way where you could reply directly to a particular message, without our replies simply showing up at the very end of ALL those umpteen messages, becoming lost in the shuffle. We also didn't see a way to send private messages to any of the users in the message boards. We feel the message boards on cruisecritic are somewhat lacking and disappointing because of that. We finally gave up on participating in there because the threads were just too busy, and the messages kept getting lost in the crowd. We DID sign up for the meet and mingle though. More on that later...
Royal Caribbean does their ticketing electronically. Unlike Carnival, who would send "ticket coupon booklets" in the mail, everything with Royal Caribbean was done on-line. It was quick and easy. We just went on-line, filled out our information and printed out our sea passes and we were good to go. Royal Caribbean did send us some luggage tags. Looks like they are a step ahead of Carnival, in that the tags already had our names and room numbers printed on them, along with computer bar codes. Very nice.
We booked our airfare separately. We're from Salt Lake City, and because Delta has a hub here and flies non-stop to LAX, that's who we flew with. We shopped around a little bit for the best deals on airport transfers from LAX to the port and ended up booking the transfers through the Cruise line. It was about $50 round trip per person.
When we got to LAX, we retrieved our bags and quickly located the Royal Caribbean reps. We waited maybe 30 minutes, and a large, air-conditioned bus came along to give us a ride to the port. Our luggage was taken to a separate truck, and delivered right to the ship and to our cabins. We never had to worry about it. The reps on the bus were EXTREMELY nice!!! I really felt that they had our best interests at heart. They took VERY good care of us. The bus ride to the port was about 45 minutes. There were quite a few people on that bus who were from Scotland. We had a friendly chat with several of them.
THE PORT OF LOS ANGELES: What a Ghetto! It's really mehhhh. Nothing at all to really write home about. Miami and Long Beach are much prettier than this dump. At least we didn't have paranoid security personnel demanding that we shut off our phones and put away our cameras when we were inside the terminal. (Carnival is PARANOID about this!) Maybe because there was really nothing to see? We arrived at the terminal about 11:30. It was crowded, but the line moved quickly. The gangway is long and huge, and it seems that's where the real bottleneck was.
Oddly enough, we were NOT stopped and asked to have our photos taken for a souvenir. I expected them to do this, but they didn't. Didn't hurt my feelings much. Once we got up to the security checkpoint and put our cards into the "Machine that goes 'BING!' " we walked right onto the ship.
THE SHIP: Wow! It's a beauty! Until this cruise, the Carnival Pride was the largest ship I had ever sailed on. The pride is very elegant and classy, but is a little bit smaller than the Mariner. The Mariner isn't quite as elegant (I didn't think) in most places. It's more FLASHY than it is elegant, but it's not over-bearing. It's beautiful, and very modern. Now the DINING ROOM, however, truly IS ELEGANT! It has 3 floors, and an absolutely beautiful grand staircase, with a grand piano on the landing. Absolutely gorgeous. We were able to walk in there the first day and take pictures.
There are 14 decks on this ship. WOW! (Plus a chapel at the very top. The chapel I thought was somewhat lacking. It looked rather plain.) Like all the other ships I've sailed on, it was "Here a bar, there a bar, every where a bar!" That hasn't changed. The bars and lounges on this ship are really nice. The dance club, called the Dragon's Lair is really cool-looking, although most of the time it was either closed, or nearly empty. Not a lot going on there, unfortunately.
The Promenade Deck was impressive! It is designed to look like a quaint town's main street. I like how it is about 3 or 4 decks high. The interior cabins have bay windows that overlook the Promenade deck, and so if you're on the Promenade, they look like apartment buildings above all of the shops. Very cool!
The main auditorium on the ship, called the Savoy is big, but somewhat plain looking. The Taj Mahal on the Carnival Pride looks much more elegant. Seating in the Savoy is nice, very comfortable, and there aren't a lot of obstructions in the way, so you'll get a good view of the stage from pretty much anywhere you choose to sit. There's a smaller auditorium (more like a lounge) above the main one. We listened to some Karaoke one night.
The ice skating rink is impressive, but a little on the small side. This is called Studio B. This is also where they hold the game show "Quest" . We were disappointed when we went to see Quest because seating is very limited in there, and unless you get there early, it's likely to be standing room only, where you're just standing around watching the show on the overhead monitors. Quest was a RIOT though, and is definitely worth attending.
THE CABIN: We were on Deck 7, in room 7668. On day one, the beds were made up as on queen bed. Since we're a couple of guys, we looked at the bad, then at each other, and laughed, and said, "Uh... NO!!!! Who gets the bed, and who gets to sleep on the couch?" We found our room steward and asked him if he could separate the beds into two twins. He came back that evening and did that. The room had a small balcony. It was great to sit out there and enjoy the ocean breeze. At night, it sometimes got annoying when the neighbors would forget to turn off their balcony lights. Not a huge deal, but it would have been nice. The room was VERY quiet. Sure, we could hear the occasional thump of a door closing or someone bumping into a wall, but we couldn't hear anyone talking in the rooms next to us. It was nice and quiet. Except for one thing....
Most people snore a little bit. Those who claim they don't are either lying through their teeth, or have been very blessed. My friend fell asleep before I did. My feet were really hurting from all the walking around that day, so I was having some difficulty getting comfortable. I'd no sooner get comfortable and almost drift off to sleep, when my friend would let out these horrendous SNORTS!!! It was all I could do to keep from laughing! They were inconsistent. There'd be the typical, soft ZZZZZzzzzzz or coo, and then, without warning, "S N O R T ! ! ! !" At one point it sounded like the poor guy was being attacked by Freddy Kruger, or that someone had let a Sabre Toothed Tiger in the room! It was hilarious! My friend mentioned to me the next morning that I would snore and would occasionally laugh or giggle in my sleep. What he maybe didn't know was that I was giggling at HIM!!! "Good LORD!!!!!! Did ya have to cut down EVERY SINGLE TREE in that Forrest?!!!?" "Look who's talking! YOU'VE got room to talk!" too funny. The next nights, I wore ear plugs. Problem solved. Good times!
The cabin had a small, 19-inch TV that was bare-bones. It had no way to hook up a camcorder or DVD player to it. No biggie. The selection of channels was mehhhh. What my friend and I both found amusing was "The CLOCK channel". All this was, was a picture of a giant clock, showing the time. I think it had classical music playing as well. My friend was constantly tuning the TV to that channel. I think he was doing that just to annoy me. (at least I HOPE that was the only reason!) We both laughed about the possibility of maybe an older, retired couple spending all that money to take a cruise, only to spend the entire time in their cabin, eyes GLUED to the clock channel! Whatever rocks their boat I guess...
The bathroom in the cabin is a little bit smaller than what I've seen on the Carnival ships, but they're adequate. The toilet is the typical "SLURRRRRRP!!!!" vacuum sound, and the counter space is so-so. There's a small medicine cabinet on either side of the main mirror. There is a 110 volt ac outlet on the light fixture, covered by a plate. This fixture will not accept polarized plugs (where one prong is wider than the other). This outlet is really only good for certain electric razors or air fresheners. Most hair dryers, flat irons, and some night lights have polarized plugs and won't fit in that outlet.
The shower is round-shaped, with curved, glass doors. I really liked that, compared to the shower curtains that would always get a little too friendly with me, on those Carnival ships. Shower doors are definitely the way to go.
There's a vanity desk and mirror in the cabin, and it also has storage space on either side. It also has two standard, grounded, 110 volt outlets. I brought along a plug strip so we could plug our electronics in.
I have what some would call Naturally HOPELESS hair, and so I brought my flat iron with me. It worked fine. (You're really not supposed to bring any kind of heating appliances if you bring a straightener, DON'T set it on the table. When you're done with it, unplug it and set it on the bathroom counter and let it cool down before you pack it away.)
My friend kept teasing me. "Emo kid!!!" to which I'd just shoot back, "Lumberjack!!!!" "EMO KID!" "Hey, YOU'RE the one who enjoys sitting in the cabin, all alone in the dark, playing your hand-held video game when I'm out on the pool deck catching some rays!" "Ouch!" Good times... (some hand-held video games are hard to see in direct sunlight apparently.)
THE POOL DECK: There are three pools. Two of which are pretty much side-by-side, with a few hot tubs surrounding them. They have blue-colored outdoor carpeting, which is a nice touch, and feels great on the feet, compared to trying to walk across really hot, wooden decks. Lounge Chairs and towels were always plentiful. There was a reggae/caribbean band playing out there, and they were quite good. I was really hoping to hear a bigger variety of music, such as pop or rock, but I guess that just wasn't going to happen. There is a third pool, in another section a little ways from the main pools, which is adults only. It's about the same size as the other pools, maybe slightly smaller. All three pools were often crowded, making it difficult to really swim in them, but they're GREAT as far as just being able to jump in and cool off! And... when the ship gets really moving or rocking, I loved the "teeter-totter" effect, where the water in the pools would make some pretty nice waves! The water in the pools is salt water, so it's not very forgiving on the eyes or the taste buds. The shower water is fresh water though. The hot tubs feel GREAT! By the adults-only pool, there are two larger hot tubs that will accommodate several people.
THE ELEVATORS: Let me put it this way; I think there should be a sign posted next to them that says, "Are you feeling lonely or isolated? Would you like some company? LOTS of company? Simply press this button, to attract an instant crowd, magically, from out of nowhere!" The elevators were typically very crowded, and very slow, especially during peak times, like at dinner, before and after the shows, or on days in port, in the mornings and evenings. My advice is use the stairs if you are going down, use the elevators only when going up. If you only need to go up one floor, use the stairs, it's a LOT quicker.
THE FOOD AND DINING EXPERIENCE: On the first day of the cruise, shortly after boarding, we made our way up to the pool deck (Deck 11) and headed for the Windjammer cafe. OH.MY.GOODNESS! That place was CHAOS! People everywhere, and available tables were few and far between. We finally found a table, while one sat at the table guarding it, the other fought the mob at the buffet tables and got some food. While we were eating, people would stalk us, asking us if we were almost done, or if anyone was sitting there. It was ridiculous. Reminded me of the parking lot at Walmart, where people just drive around and around, waiting for a parking space to open up. On the other days, the buffet was much more tolerable, as the other eating establishments were also open. We didn't try any of the specialty restaurants, as we didn't feel the need to. I found it kind of silly that they placed the main specialty restaurants (Which have a cover charge) right next to the buffet which is free. "Hmmm.... free food, or pay money to eat? Gosh, which one do you think people will choose? I give up!" The food was plentiful. And while it was good overall, I wouldn't say that it was always great. Some days the food was better than others.
SNOBS IN THE DINING ROOM: As I mentioned earlier, the dining room was BEAUTIFUL!!! And the live piano music was a nice touch. We went with the "My Time" dining, but I think if we had to do it over again, we'd go with the set time instead. The first night, we sat with a lively couple. I forget their names but they were from Denver. They mentioned "We always have a great time at dinner, and our table mates always tell us they definitely want to come and sit with us again, but the next nights we usually find them sitting a table or two away from us, hiding behind the menu, trying to avoid eye contact! Now why is that??!!" My friend and I assured them we wouldn't do that, and would be delighted to sit with them the next evening. Well.. next evening rolls around, we went to dinner, but we couldn't find that couple, so we sat somewhere else. As luck would have it, we ended up on the pool deck later that evening to get some ice cream, and guess who we ran into! You guessed it! They teased us about snubbing them. Honestly we didn't! We never saw them again the rest of the cruise. The other nights that we ate in the dining room, we sat next to an equally delightful group; Mindy and Rich, and another couple, Bernadette and Byron. Rich had us in stitches, telling us about his grand kids. While eating prime rib (which was served on two nights), Mindy mentioned to me, "You look like you're really enjoying that. You should order another helping!" Next thing I knew, she told the waiter, "That young man would like some more Prime Rib Please!" I'm thinking to myself, "But, but... I don't remember SAYING THAT!" Sure enough, out comes some more Prime Rib. Too funny. (Yeah, I ate it, I stuffed myself silly, but boy was it good! I don't know when I've eaten so much food!)
They had two formal nights on this cruise. The difference in the class of people on Royal Caribbean compared to Carnival was definitely made obvious on these nights. The majority of the guests on this cruise took formal night rather seriously. LOTS of men were wearing tuxedos, and the ladies were in evening gowns or cocktail dresses. My friend and I both felt very under-dressed, as we wore dress slacks and button down shirts. (Forgot to bring ties.) On Carnival, formal night seemed much more casual.
ACTIVITIES AND SHOWS: We went to the cruisecritic meet and mingle, which was held on the second day of the cruise. This was a bit disappointing really. Most of the people there were quite a bit older than we were. There really WASN'T much mingling or interacting. It would have been nice if they had a few games that involved mingling and interaction. As it was, for the most part, everyone just sat there. They did hold a raffle and gave away a few prizes, but other than that, it really wasn't any big deal. Rather disappointing.
SINGLES PARTY: There was supposedly a singles party held in the Schooner bar one evening. We decided to check it out. Big disappointment. It was a very small group, and again an older crowd. We took one look and just kept on walking. Singlescruise.com it wasn't.
MAN OF A THOUSAND VOICES: This was a family show. It really wasn't our cup of tea. It was OK I guess, but I didn't really think all of the impressions were that good. I'd rate it a C plus.
COMEDIANS: There were two nights were they featured a late-night, adult show with a comedian. They were both funny to a point, but not nearly as funny as the comedians I had seen on other cruises. I'd give them a B minus.
THE STAFF: Outstanding! Our room steward was top-notch. Even the stewards who weren't assigned to our room were extremely friendly and courteous. There was a really cute blond girl from Brazil, I didn't get her name, but we chatted for a little bit, and she was telling me how much she loved what she did. One thing that really stood out on this cruise compared to Carnival, was the wait staff in the buffet of all places. On Carnival, it seemed the waiters were non-existed. On the Mariner Of The Seas, they have cards on the tables, displaying the name of the waiter assigned to that table. Sometimes it seemed they were a little TOO ambitious! I'd get up to get another helping, return to my table, and my napkin and flatware would be gone! "THEIVES!!!!!!" They kept that ship squeaky clean. The crew looked SHARP, too! The staff in the jewelry shop all looked like fashion models.
THE WEATHER: From Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas, the weather was HOT and humid! Once we arrived in Mazatlan, the weather became cloudy and rainy. On the way to Puerto Vallarta that evening, we were right smack in the middle of a thunder storm at sea! That was quite the experience. We were eating dinner in the Windjammer when there were these bright flashes of lightning, followed immediately by a horrendous BOOM!!!!!!!! The entire ship shook! It got pretty intense for a while. We enjoyed our balcony immensely, and it was awesome to sit out there and watch mother nature put on quite the show for us.
While in Mazatlan, it was raining torrents. We all looked and felt like someone had opened a fire hose on us. We got DRENCHED! I found out my camera doesn't like water. It began to malfunction while in Mazatlan, and didn't start working again until 3 days after I got home from the cruise. Fortunately my friend had brought along a spare camera, so all was not lost.
THE ITINERARY: We really liked having the two days at sea at the END of the cruise instead of at the beginning. This gave us a couple of days to just relax and recouperate from all that walking around. It was great to be able to sleep in, and go sit out on the deck, enjoying the ocean breeze, while listening to my Ipod, and just let my troubles melt away even if only for a couple of days. It was time and money well-spent.
All in all, we had a great time!