1) Flight and Pre-Cruise Hotel
We flew into LAX the day before our cruise via our favorite airline, Southwest. Thanks to advice from Cruise Critic, we had made reservations for the Super Shuttle and the van picked us up at the assigned location and took us to our hotel in short order. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza in San Pedro which is a short distance from the cruise port. Again, thanks to Cruise Critic, we had made reservations via Priceline and got a terrific room for $75 plus tax. We had dinner at the San Pedro Brewery (recommended by Cruise Critic posters) which was a block and a half up the street in what appeared to be a safe area. The next morning I walked up to the Numero Uno Market (about a ten minute walk from the hotel) and purchased a 12 pack of Diet Pepsi to take on the ship (no problems getting it aboard inside my carry on) and some terrific Mexican pastries for breakfast. We settled for coffee which we made ourselves in the room. The hotel provided a free shuttle to the port (first come, first served). We only had to wait a short amount of time for what was a very short ride.
We arrived at the port shortly after 10:30 and were checked in very quickly with no lines, but ended up waiting for over an hour in the terminal as the Mariner was undergoing its annual Coast Guard inspection. Shortly before noon, we were allowed to board and since our cabin was not ready, we headed up to the Windjammer for lunch. It was starting to get crowded, but we did find a table and our cruise had begun. An announcement was made that cabins would not be ready until 2 p.m. due to the earlier inspection, so after lunch we took photos and enjoyed the sun on top deck.
3) Cabin/Steward/and Smoking
At 2 p.m. we ventured to our cabin, #7626. It was a "hump" cabin just a few steps from the elevator on the port side in the center-rear of the ship. The cabin was clean and spacious with plenty of storage space. We never met our steward until he delivered our luggage at about the time of sail-away. ON past cruises, the steward usually makes it a point to stop by in the afternoon to introduce himself, but this one did not. We don't expect much from our steward other than making the bed each day, changing the towels, and keeping the ice bucket filled. Ours did just that, but not much more. No big deal, but attention to detail was lacking (e.g. the vanity lights had a burned out bulb all week, one of the reading lamps was dangling, and the televsion screen could have been cleaned. Smoking is always a controversial issue on these boards, and we are now 2 for 4 on RCCL ships. There was often a smell of smoke. Not overwhelming like the chain smokers next to us on the Jewel of the Seas, but annoying nonetheless. When will RCCL smarten up and not allow smoking on the balconies?
*My Time Dining: We were introduced to My Time Dining on Independence of the Seas and it made us converts. We dined the the MDR on six of the seven nights. We never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a table for two and after the first night requested he same wait staff of Richard and Scott who were fantastic. With My Time Dining, the tips are prepaid, but we had such great service, we left each of them additional on the final night.
*Quality of Food: This is certainly an objective issue and I have felt that posters have been hypercritical on Cruise Critic in the past. Overall, we enjoyed our meals, but they were not spectacular. I am a big guy and usually never complain, but one night I only ate half of my steak because of the poor quality. In fairness, I did not say anything to the waitstaff, but just let it go. It was my own fault.
*Windjammer: We had breakfast our first day in the MDR and were irritated that they would not seat us at a table for two. We found service to be horribly slow and thus ate in the Windjammer for breakfast for the rest of the cruise. The selections were great although at times we had to look around for a table. We found that if we arrived before 9 a.m., it was easier to get a table. We had lunch in the Windjammer on the first day and two of the sea days. It was okay, but none of the meals were memorable.
*Chops: We always go to a specialty restaurant on the first of the so-called formal nights. It makes for a nice romantic meal that it much quieter than the main dining room. Although they no longer bring out a cart before you order to show you what is available (unfortunate, the food and service were outstanding. We had the Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert. Awesome! Although some debate doing so, we left the wait staff an additional $20 tip for the excellent service.
*Johnny Rockets: The first time we went to Johnny Rockets was on the Independence of the Seas and it was a great diversion on a sea day for lunch. The dancing waiters are a hoot. There is a $4.95 pp cover charge. RCCL used to have a BOGO Free coupon, but no longer although you can get a BOGO milkshake. Buy the time you are done, you have paid close to $20 with tip. I am not so sure that it is worth it, but there was quite a line, so RCCL is making some bucks.
*Dress Code: How folks dress is a major issue on these boards although I am not sure why. Quite frankly "The Clothes Police" only exist on Cruise Critic. Do not let anyone intimidate you or try to relegate you to dine in another venue because you do not meet their standards, especially on the so-called formal nights. I do not own a tux nor a suit that fits well, thus I wore a long sleeved dress shirt with tie, dark pants, and a blue blazer. No one said a word, nor did I discern any dirty looks. I normally don't pay attention to what others wear, but I did look around on both of the so-called formal nights and estimate the following. Approximately...
...10% wore a tux
...40% wore a suit
...25% wore a sport coat with or without a tie
...10-15% wore a long sleeved shirt with or without a tie
...10-15% wore something else
*Room Service: We used to always order chicken drumettes through room service in the late afternoon and enjoy them with a cheese plate and a drink on the balcony to watch the sunset. The drumettes are no longer available and thus we did not use room service. Another cutback from RCCL.
5) Meet and Mingle and Cabin Crawl
Cruise Critic had a number of us participating on the forum board and many of us were looking forward to the Meet and Mingle on the first sea day. Quite frankly, RCCL was overwhelmed with the number who showed up. They assigned only one junior member of the Cruise Director's staff. By the time everyone had signed in and he made his speech and awarded raffle prizes, the time was up. That's right, at the conclusion of his remarks he told us to feel free to stay and meet one another, but that we needed to vacate the room in about ten minutes or so as another function was going to take place. Way to go, RCCL, "Here is your hat and coat. What is your hurry?"!!
We did have a cabin crawl on the second sea day and it was terrific. We had made it a point to meet up and a group of us had the chance to visit cabins of Cruise Critic forum posters. Now my wife and I have been on 19 cruises and have only had a balcony on the last four. You should have seen the look on her face when she saw the size of an aft balcony. The Royal Family Suite left her speechless (and that does not happen often)!
6) Activities and Entertainment
We have been on many cruises and quite frankly find the production shows to be old hat, thus we skipped them. You know you are getting old when you are in bed at 10 p.m. on a cruise! We do enjoy string music and looked forward to relaxing in the Ellington Lounge, but left after 15 minutes because it was so bad. We enjoyed the ice show on the Independence of the Seas and looked forward to it on the Mariner and were disappointed that it was only held earlier in the week. We expected it to be repeated later in the week. It wasn't!
We enjoy trivia on sea days and participated in several. We love to read and were greatly disappointed with the limited selection and hours in the library. Although it was right around the corner from our room, books were locked up and could only be checked out for a couple of hours a day. I did speak to the staff on the last day and they said that previous to that week, it was open 24/7 and sign out was on the honor system. Evidently many, many books had sprouted legs and had walked off the ship.
We did enjoy some historical lectures by a professor from Oregon State University on Mexcio which were held on all three sea days. What a refreshing change from those silly Port Shopping talks!
7) Port Reviews: See separate section below.
8) Disembarkation: The last day is a great deal of hurry up and wait, so we cleared our cabin by 8 a.m. and went topside for breakfast in the Windjammer. Since we were extending our stay in the LA area and did not need to make a flight, we played by the rules,reported to our assigned location and waited until our luggage tag color was called. Unfortunately, many others did not. By the time our color was called some 30 minutes later than the tentative time listed, the line to get off of the ship was huge. To make matters worse, once you found your luggage in the terminal, Customs and Immigration officials were overwhelmed and the line moved ever so slowly.
9) Post Cruise: Once we left the terminal with out luggage, we caught the van for Enterprise Car Rental which took us to their office where picking up our car for the day was a snap (again thanks to Cruise Critic posters for the advice). We spent three days in the LA area. Some highlights:
*A visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. He is not one of my favorite presidents, but one can not overlook the historic value of the visit.
*We stayed for three nights at the Comfort Inn in Santa Monica. Clean, safe, and convenient with a great breakfast.
*We visited the Santa Monica Pier and found dinner at a place called Carrows to be excellent.
*We took an all day tour of LA, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills through Star line Tours. They will pick you up and return you to your hotel.
*Driving is surprisingly easy in the LA area even with the freeways, remember we are from New England where the streets of Boston are configured from old cow paths! My wife is a fan of the "Combat" television series from the sixties and we took some time exploring Franklin Canyon which is north of Hollywood.
*We went to the Warner Brothers Studios to see a taping of the "Big Bang Theory" television series. What an experience! Warning--you must reserve tickets a month in advance on line and they go fast.
*Our hotel was a ten minute drive from LAX and returning our rental car was a snap.
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and had a terrific cruise!