We enjoyed the Mariner Thanksgiving Week cruise from San Pedro (Port of LA), 21-28 Nov 10. I will post a longer review on the Royal Caribbean thread but, in brief, our observations:
A. Just as beautiful as Voyager (we were on Voyager last January), perhaps in a little better condition because it's newer.
B. I'll skip details of the Pacific (Mexican Riviera) itinerary unless someone specifically asks. After all, this ship will (eventually, next Nov 2011)sail out of Galveston. Kept telling folks (jocularly), when they asked why we flew from Texas to LA, that we were "test driving her" to see if she'd work out in Galveston. She does, believe me, she does. We can see why our West Coast friends are as disheartened as we were when Rhapsody pulled out Texas in 2007.
C. Obviously, the ship's entertainment and ambience was keyed to "West Coasters" because the vast majority came from Southern California and up and down the West Coast. But I spoke with the HD and other officers and I suspect that the focus will change, initially to accommodate the cruises to South America and from Brazil, then the Mediterranean (Mariner will be home ported in Citavechhia [Rome] and do mostly Holy Land and eastern Mediterranean cruises), and finally Texas.
D. We were in 1320 (OS) and I'd previously booked it for this cruise in Mar 2012 (w/o mentioning to DW). So I was glad that she decided on Day 4 that she really liked the Mariner and suggested we book it for Spring Break 2012. Without engendering the age old dispute over whether to get a suite or not, our preference is fewer cruises, larger suite. It's larger than early Voyager ships (= Navigator), very ample space and accommodation. We loved the balcony and whirlpool Jacuzzi and used each a lot.
E. Can't comment much on the ports. Our "destination" was, in fact, the ship. I enjoyed the Premier Yacht cruise at Cabo. Otherwise, when folks disembarked at Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, we enjoyed all of the ship venues in relative peace! The older children's pgm for our dau (12) was essentially nonexistent: most of the pre-teens/teens went to other venues. BTW: 967 children on board, not a single problem from our observations. All very well behaved.
F. Food in MDR was actually very good but our expectations are not to dine on gourmet offerings but rather food that's properly cooked and relatively tasty. So we were not disappointed. Unfortunately, we had one bad experience and as much as we loved this ship, I hate to report it but will with an understanding that each person's experience differs. We'd been to Portofino on Voyager and were interested in trying something else especially since DW insisted that the quality didn't seem as high on the second visit. So we went to Chops on Day 4. First, don't eat at Johnny Rockets in the afternoon and then Chops at night unless you have cast iron digestive system. And don't attend receptions earlier either unless you have a lot more fortitude than us. But most of all, do not spend $25pp plus an (extra) tip for Chops if you are expecting a top quality steak. My New York strip was suitable for hiking: it was tough, chewy, and tasteless even though it had been cooked to medium well. My DW's 16 oz. rib eye was not much better. Now, we know from the boards that many others have enjoyed great dining in Chops, and, no, $25 pp does not even begin to compare to the cost of dining at Ruth's Chris, Morton's and other fine steakhouses. But we actually found our steak in the MDR to be better tasting and of no better quality than the Chops steak (which, BTW, you can "buy" for $14.95 in the MDR). Maybe they had a bad night; maybe they didn't get a good shipment. The appetizers were fantastic and perhaps worth the cover charge alone as were the desserts. But for the money, we'll stick with the MDR or Windjammer on our 2012 cruise.
G. Sadly, Mariner will lose a lot of the people from which we received stellar service, especially some of the bartenders and waiters. Brazil apparently requires a certain percentage of the staff either be from Brazil or fluent in Portuguese and so they will have to replace the current staff with additional Portuguese speaking personnel. Many are going to depart before Mariner leaves for the TA to Italy. So we don't know how many will return to Texas but many of the folks from Caribbean nations told me that they hope to be assigned to Mariner in November 2011.