The following is a fairly lengthy cruise summary from our sailing on RCI's Mariner of the Seas. I deliberately didn't use the phrase "cruise review" as I don't think anyone of us that are on vacation is qualified to write a cruise review. That's the job for a professional person that is paid to be picky and be objective about the cruise experience. For the rest of us, when we write about our cruise experience, it's just a summary of past events and not a cruise review per se.
At any rate, some background before we began. Middle age family guy with wife and 2 boys (ages 9 and 7) and my in-laws as well - total of 6 of us. This is my eleventh cruise - my youngest kid's fifth cruise and everyone else is in-between in terms of cruising experience. I think cruising is the ultimate family vacation, especially on these mega ships where they have many activities to please multi generations. Also cruising is great in that it's a lazy person's vacation - no worries on preplanning activities on a day to day basis like a driving trip. My only worry is to get us to/from the pier and leave the rest to the cruise line.
Here is my personal email at Harryfat@yahoo.com if anyone has a question/comment on what I said. Some comments I am sure are not politically correct, but I try to be as objective as possible, but as discussed above, it's not always possible as this is a summary of past events of our family vacation.
SUMMARY - If you don't have the time or patience to wade through all the gibberish below, just know this. Beautiful ship. First couple days my wife and the boys were saying "WOW" every time they walk around the ship and saw something they have never seen in previous ships. Such that my 7 year old said, "This is the WOW cruise" since we said wow everywhere. However, it wasn't a perfect cruise as RCI has some major drawbacks in food and entertainment. So while I will recommend RCI to anyone looking to try a new cruise line for the family vacation, I do want to caution that you need to tone down your expectation on those 2 areas especially if you are coming from another cruise line.
Why pick this ship/cruise? Partly due to rotational basis - we like to rotate between cruise lines. We have sailed on Carnival/Princess/HAL/RCI and Celebrity previously, so deliberately are not Homers to any given cruise lines. All cruise lines have its strengths and weakness, just be sure you know what they are before you book yours. RCI announced awhile back that they are abandoning the west coast Mexico cruises and moving Mariner to Texas. So this was our lat chance to catch the last mega liner in the West Coast before she leaves.
I have sailed on RCI many years ago on the old Viking Serenade (no longer with the fleet) and have sailed on the 7 night Mexican Riviera itinerary back in 1997, so in some ways this whole cruise was a refresher lesson in history for me.
Ship - I don't think I read bad reviews on the layout/design of the Mariner (the fifth and last ship in the Voyager class). Easy to get from one end of the ship to another on deck 4 and 5. Nice muted colors throughout. Promenade deck gives the illusion of being in Europe/Asia where the residential houses are sitting atop of the commercial buildings. If you have never been on the ships with the Promenade decks, you owe it to yourself to see it for yourself.
Cabin - Having said that, we booked the 3 cabins on deck 7, overlooking the Promenade deck. Of the 3 cabins, 2 are connecting (for the kids) such that for the 4 of us, we effectively had over 300 square feet of space and 2 bathrooms. Better deal than any balcony or suites for my money. If we sail on another RCI ship with the Promenade view, I would not hesitate to do this connecting cabin arrangement again. Really nice to sit out and catch the parade in the room and people watch down below. Maybe the only thing different I would do is maybe go down to deck 6 to be a little closer to the action and even more center top the bridge area where the singes stand.
Food - Granted it's a very subjective matter, but I still want to devote few sentences on it. Obviously one person's great food can be another garbage. That being said, in my personal opinion, RCI probably ranks the lowest in my own when you stack up the various cruise lines we have sailed on. That's not to say someone else can't rank them number 1, but for what we eat and where we eat our meals (no specialty restaurants), RCI does not provide the best cruise out there. Not to say their food is really bad, but they lack in presentation as well as flavoring. Many times the food was either too sweet or too salty. Hard to find a good state in the middle somewhere.
Pre-cruise. We drove from the SF bay area down to Torrance the day before the cruise. Stayed at the Stay Bridge Suites as they have big 2 bedroom suites with kitchens that can sleep a family of 6. After checking in, we went to dinner and walked around the shopping area before calling it a night.
Due to unexpected family emergencies, we were slightly late in arriving at the pier. I had hoped to be at San Pedro no later than 11 AM, but we arrived closer to 12 noon, which is the official arrival time for everyone. So there was a mad rush of people unloading their stuff all along the long stretch curbside. I found a spot near the far end and dropped everything off and I went around parking the van in the open lot. After walking back and meeting up with the rest of the family, they had already found a porter to take all the luggage, so we proceeded to walk toward the terminal. Greeting us was a long line out the door (at least 250+ people) waiting in the blistering LA heat.
That took 20 plus minutes before we were inside the building to be in line for one of the 3 security scanners. Once that was done, we filled out our health questionnaires given to us and then stood in another set of lines to check in (around 50+ people) in our lines of decks 3 to 7. Check in itself is pretty straight forward as we had done things online ahead of time. Then we proceeded to go up the escalators to the second floor for a long walk to the alongside the pier where we did the obligatory ship boarding pictures and then we were on board the ship officially.
There weren't much instructions from the workers on what's what once you walk in, but I knew from previous experience the first order of business is straight to the buffet line. I had read enough bad things about RCI food so I know to ratchet my expectation down a notch and good thing I did as I was disappointed in the overall quality and presentation on various nights.
After lunch, we made our way to the cabins and after settling in, I made my way to deck 5 to change our flexible dining time to 7:30 PM instead. Later on, the cabin steward (Randy from Philippines) showed up and introduces himself. We requested that the connecting door between the 2 cabins be opened and he did that by the evening. As the luggage was arriving slowly, we walked around to explore the ship. I missed having the ship tour like the ones given by Carnival and HAL. On RCI, you are on your own to find out what's what. They do reserve a spot where first time cruisers can go and ask questions, but that's not the same as a walking ship tour.
We explored various decks and ended up at the top deck to play miniature golf. My younger son got a hole in one on hole #3 and he was disappointed when I didn't have the camcorder on him in hitting that shot. My bad. Then had to get some water at the pool bar afterward as it was just way too hot in the LA 82+ degree heat in December. After which, it was the mandatory muster drill and like HAL, they also take attendance on what passengers showed up at each station.
After all that, the cruise vacation officially begins. Sailing away was a dusk/night given the early winter sunset time. After which, back to the cabin to unpack. And of course, we were missing one suitcase - mine. My cabin steward suggests I go down to security level and see what happened and so I went down to deck 1 security area and there must be at least 300 suitcases in various spots. Found someone there to help me and he asked me if I had liquor in my suitcase - and I don't. So finally found mine on the other side (light blue suit case is great in a sea of black and reds) and they wanted to scan mine once more to make sure it's all good - think it's my computer cables and extension cords that threw them for a loop initially.
Anyway, after everything was good, took my suitcase back to the cabin. But by then, my wife had already unpacked the clothes into the 2 cabins and so I had to utilize whatever is leftover and that confused me the rest of the cruise as I had clothes in both cabins and had to go to both sides to get dressed daily. We took the kids to the Adventure Ocean to sign them up for the rest of the week and also checked out the Promenade and went to dinner on deck 5. I had requested a table by the balcony and was granted a nice view table #540 with Lloyd, our waiter. The guy is from India and every night we were there, he would give us a recommendation of the day.
If you are on the Mariner and have MTD, request his tables and you won't be sorry. The head waiter came by mid dinner to introduce himself and asked if there was anything we needed from dining the whole cruise. Just ask him for it. I told him we like the table and our set of waiters and asked that we be seated at table 540 the rest of the cruise and he said he will make it happen on the reservation system.
After dinner, we walked around the ship some more and checked out the Promenade deck, which changes color/lighting in the evening. Also went to deck 3 to look at the onboard pictures and saw that RCI have kiosks that you can use your room key to access what pictures are linked to your account, a convenient feature.
The kids were getting tired by then after a long day so we went upstairs and they waited for the late Promenade parade to start before they went to sleep. Whereas I was finally able to take a shower since I didn't have time to do so before dinner since I had no change of clothes from my luggage to change into. After the parade, we all hit the sack after our first day on the cruise. Oh, BTW, it was a nice parade. Great to watch it from our cabin in our PJ's and not have to fight the crowd for a good spot.
I have always said the first day of the cruise is the most hectic as that's when you have so many mandatory activities (i.e. boarding the ship/muster drill) and things are happening really fast while you are trying to absorb the new ship surroundings. Whereas the rest of the cruise, you have ample time to know what's coming around the corner. Someday if they can PDF you the schedule for the first day before you leave for the cruise that would be most ideal for anal people like myself that likes to plan things out way in advance.
After breakfast, the kids went off to Adventure Ocean and rest of us attended the "Port and shopping talk". Somehow I like to attend all of these things even though I have either been to these ports previously or know enough about them through months of research on cc, so there is in theory nothing to learn from these port talks. Nevertheless, I attend them all as part of the ritual. Makes me feel like a first time cruiser again.
But RCI takes these Port talks one step further. The only thing remotely resembling the "port" part of the talk is that they tell you where each stores are in each port. Think the port person gets paid by the number of times he says the words "Diamond International" in his presentation. I would have liked to at least know what excursions are available at the ports - guess would have to just watch the endless loops of excursion info on the TV in the cabin to get that info. The only port part of the Cabo presentation was him showing you on the map how to walk to Diamonds International from the tender dock.
Anyway, to say that the whole hour wasn't a waste, they had a raffle drawing at the end to prevent the many people that walked out during the presentation and they called my name in winning the spa treatment. Wooh Hoo! That on top of the free one we got from the TA, we now have spa treatments galore.
After that, we picked up the kids and went to the cruise critics meeting. Of all the cruises I have been on, this roll call was the most active by far and the turn out was huge. Over 100 people went and to RCI's credit, they gave out souvenir prizes to all that showed up as well as various other souvenirs prizes for the raffle. We didn't win anything from that, but it was a good chance to say hi to the people that you conversed online and we saw various folks from cc throughout the rest of the cruise.
After lunch at Windjammer, went over to the spa to have an idea on what I have won from the raffle drawing and also how does that dove tailed with the free spa treatment we got from the TA. Anyway, they booked us on a back to back spa treatment for 2.5 hours on next day while we are in Cabo (supposedly our free spas can only be used on port days - when the spas are not as popular). The flip side of things is that it cuts our Cabo day short.
Don't recall what we did the rest of the afternoon (can't look at the pictures as they were lost). Next thing I recall us doing was we went to the ice show at 4:45 and snagged a decent seat along center ice by row 3. In reading various reviews online, I know this is a not to be missed event and I concur. Bar none, the best entertainment on high seas on all the cruises I have been on.
The show was over before 6 and we rushed back to our cabin to shower and change for the 7:30 dinner. This is one occasion where the 2 connecting cabins are great. We sent each of the kids to shower and that made getting ready a much easier process.
By time we showed up at dinner, it was a zoo with long lines back up and many people were waiting for their tables as the first wave of cruisers are still lingering over dessert, especially on the formal night, people tend to take their time more. Anyway, even by time we got to the podium, our table wasn't ready from the previous set of diners and after another 10 minutes of standing wait by the door, they gave us another table by the side. Not that the other set of waiters are bad, but they are just not as good as Lloyd and I am glad we were there only for one day as we had our table 540 back to us the rest of the cruise.
By time all that was sorted out, we had missed all the shows and captain's welcome and such. Had I known the delay, I would have changed dinner time to 8:15 PM instead and then head off to captain's welcome event and then dinner. Hind sight is 20/20. Oh, well.
We just spent the rest of the evening walking around taking pictures on our own as well as with the professional photographers.
Woke up to bright blue skies in the morning. Cabo was going to be in the 85 range, definitely the hottest day of the entire cruise. By time we ate breakfast and got ready, the ship was already positioned outside the harbor area and getting ready to tender people to Cabo. We went to deck 12 to get some pictures of the town and scenery before headed for the tender. They had the double decker tenders as well as the regular smaller tenders from ashore and it was roomy and comfy and a short ride later, we were in Cabo. On the way to town, I took some pictures of the ship that I thought were good ones of the entire ship (more on that later).
Originally we were planning to do the Lover Beach water taxi thing, but due to the free spa treatments later in the day, we had to scrap the lover's beach thing and just settled for walking around. With the notion that we will come back to Cabo someday for the Lover's Beach thing but the spa thing won't be there next time around.
Cabo certainly have built up since I was last there 13 year ago. Most touristy of the 3 ports and I can see why many people like it the most. After some walking around and shopping, we headed back to the ship for lunch. The kids went off to Adventure Ocean and the wife and I went to the double spa treatment. I know I will catch flak for saying this, but I just don't understand the cost/benefit of the high end spas. Sure, it's nice, but for the price, it's not worth what you get. Glad the only thing we had to pay was the tips. But I also was expecting that they would be hard to up sell every product they have from the spa and I am pretty good at saying "No, thank you".
After spa, went to pickup the kids and got them showered and changed and ready for dinner. Tonight was the flowery dress night so I broke out my Hawaii shirt along with my father in law. Glad to have our table 540 back that night and Lloyd was as happy to see us as well. Nothing like having waiters know that we like hot tea before/during/after dinner (Asian thing) and him knowing what the kids like such that their fruit appetizers showed up as soon as we sat down the remainder of the cruise. I liked my lamb shank that night. Very hefty chunk of meat.
After dinner we went to the show. I know entertainment shows are subjective, but I think RCI has the worst entertainment shows at the main theatre of the cruises I have been to. Even with songs I know like Billy Joe and the Beatles, they just don't excite me. I came close to falling asleep near the end.
By time we went back to the cabin, that's when I realized that I had lost all of my pictures since the beginning of vacation until midway through the day in Cabo. What the heck? Not happy, but what can you do? At least I found out earlier and still have time to remedy some of the ship based pictures the rest of the cruise. But lost all my boarding and Cabo tender pictures.
Day 4 - Stone Island.
Our only planned excursion. We opted for a paid tour instead of doing it on our own. I know we can save money by following the detailed instructions of catching the $2 water taxi and so on, but since we were traveling with 2 boys and the in-laws, decided that simplicity is better than frugality. Maybe in future visits, we will opt to do it on our own but for this trip, we went with an independent operator, King David tours (you can find their link via a Google search). They have received good reviews here at cc as well as at tripadvisor.
I rate these guys top notch. Next time we are in town, we will use them for other tours. For the price you pay ($35/$25 for adults/kids), it's solid value. The tour guide, Leonardo, is hilarious and took care of everyone on the tour from beginning to end.
In all his narrations, he said "How about that? Take a picture" every other sentence. Now 2 weeks after the cruise, my kids still laugh when they repeat that phrase at home. Can't beat that type of experience/memory. That's what family vacation is all about.
I have also uploaded our Stone Island pictures in the photo album online. So you can just follow the pictures with my long narrative below to "see" what I am describing.
The morning we arrived at Mazatlan (December 15, 2010), it was foggy and cool. Our ship was delayed in getting into the port by almost half an hour due to the heavy fog outside the harbor. So by time we got off the ship, it was later than the stated time to join the tour, but the King David folks waited for everyone to disembark before they loaded the group onto various trucks to take us to the dock to start the tour.
Originally the tour includes a one hour harbor bay tour to see the caves and sea lions, but due to the fog, that was canceled. Bummer. Can't do much about that. Such is nature of traveling. So they just took us straight to Stone Island instead. Not a bad thing, I guess, since we had more time there.
Once the boat docked, we were onboard the famous "Mexican Limo" tractor. As Leonardo said before we boarded, please be careful and not to break any windows while we are on it. From there, it was a brief 10 minutes ride to the restaurant, Molokay. Think the King David Company more or less books the restaurant exclusively for their tour groups (I head there were 5 different tour groups there that day). There may have been some non tour folks there, but they are the exception.
So we picked a table and camped out for the rest of the day. For the rest of the morning, the kids played in the sand. The water temperature in a cool day was too cold to swim, so even though we brought swimming trunks, we never changed into them. The weather cleared up after lunch, so if you are looking at the pictures, you will see a big difference between the earlier beach pictures with the later ones in terms of fog/sunshine.
The lunch itself is decent. No coconut giant shrimps as described on other threads. Guess that's the difference in going on your own versus the packaged tour food. No matter, not like it was going to ruin our day with or without the shrimps. One thing you do get with the tour is open bars. All you care to drink during the time you are there on the Island - you can see form he picture that many people like my wife all lined up at the end of the tour on the last call to have one more drink for the road (hey, why not, it's not we are driving). Think I had 3 cocktails and 1 Pepsi. Life is good when the biggest decision of the day was deciding between getting a Mai Tai or Tequila Sunrise. I couldn't decide, so I had both.
As part of the tour package, each person can participate in 2 activities. Since it was too cold to swim, we opted for the land based activities. As a family, we first tried the 1 horse power carriage. It was a private tour in that it was only the 6 of us on it when it was our turn. We took a tour of the village area. The kids and in-law liked it. After that, we went back to the beach area to enjoy the sun that finally broke out.
Later on, the wife and I opted for horseback riding as part 2 of the activities list while the kids and the in-laws opted out. She thinks she has the prettiest horse and I concur. Much better than mine. I think I had the biggest horse of the group and as such, he wanted to be the "leader" and always wanted to b in the front and couple times I was sandwiched in between horses and my horse was trying to squeeze in-between and trying to get to the front. One time even went off trail and our horse guide from behind had to rein him back to the trail.
Anyway, it was an interesting event. After that, it was time to head back to the ship. So as previously discussed, everyone lined up for that last round of refreshment and we headed back to the dock. Going back, we were one of the last ones to board, so we ended up in the smaller truck instead of the tractor. So we got to ride in on both types of transportation - the smaller truck went faster on a short cut and provided more excitement going back.
A quick 10 minute ride back to the dock, during which we each got our personal souvenir. After that, a transfer onto the 45 passenger big bus and we were back at the cruise terminal with plenty of time to spare. Mariner of the Seas passengers never switched to local time, so from our perspective, we joined the tour around 8:45 AM and came back around 2:45 PM (everyone else needs to add 1 hour for local time).
Like I said previously, solid excursion experience. I know it can be done on your own for less and you have more freedom if you choose to do it on your own, but as far as tour excursions goes (and for simplicity sake), I rate these guys very highly and if anyone is interested in doing Stone Island during your visit to Mazatlan, put them on your short list of options.
So after getting back from Stone Island, showered and changed just in time to watch the Sapphire Princess pull out of town as they head north up to Cabo while we headed south. Got a nice picture of them next to the Carnival Spirit that we were on exactly 2 years ago.
Went to the Windjammer and grabbed some light munchies to eat ahead of dinner in couple hours. While we were there, we saw the Spirit pulling out as well in the night, leaving us the last ship in town.
For dinner, had the crab salad, cold berry soup and seafood pasta with banana crème boulee as appetizer. Went to another show tonight and then off to bed as we woke up early this morning with a long but satisfying day.
Woke up with the ship already docked at PV, with the Carnival Spirit next to us once again. Surprising that Windjammer was pretty crowded given it's a port day, but guess since we are docked all day long with a late departure, many people didn't feel the need to rush off the ship. After breakfast, went up to the top deck once more for some pics and then headed out. PV is certainly the most laid back of the 3 ports in terms of vendors trying to sell us stuff. Cabo was the most aggressive of the 3 ports we were on, but that is nothing compared to the Acapulco taxi drivers from our visit 2 years ago. Had one guy that literally walked with me for 100 feet asking where I am from and telling me why I should book with him. In comparison, sure love the laid back feeling of PV.
We took the shuttle that drove us to the beach zone for $4/pp. If you want the shopping area, that is $3/pp. But I wanted to start from the south end and walk back along the water front as I know there is a lot of scenery there. So after walking back up and stopping by the church area and various shops, we saw some really nice sand castle art work. Various folks were spraying water on them to keep them moist. After that, we decided to head back to the ship for a late lunch. Found a big van taxi that could fit all 6 of us and since we were in the different zone, only $3/pp.
After lunch, the wife and the in-laws went across the street to the shopping area (i.e. Wal-Mart) to buy my sister the chili lime popcorn that she loves but can't get them at the regular stores. Meanwhile I went swimming with the boys at the pool area. A lot less crowded by the pool area during port days.
Afterwards, we went back to the cabin, showered and just relaxed in the cabin as I people watch from our PR cabin. Really like that view. Soon after, my wife and the in-laws came back from shopping and we went out to see the Mariner cast off from the pier. I have to say that of all the ships I have been on, the Mariner has the most well lid outside Promenade walking area. No other ships lights up the area like the Mariner - other ship designers must assume people don't walk outside after dark. But I do miss the teak wood deck that's more common of other cruise ships not found on the Mariner.
For dinner, had the lam chops. Easily the best meal on the whole cruise. Real nice flavoring with lots of herbs. After dinner, we attend the ventriloquist show and to top off the evening, they had the 70's music dance party on the Promenade. That is easily the longest parade/party out of the 3 for the cruise. Lasted almost 30 minutes with various hit songs from the 70's. For old folks like myself, it brings back the oldies of Bee Gees as well as the usual favorite YMCA. The cruise director is certainly all into it with his white suit and wig.
There's something to be said about several hundred people dancing to the 70's music in the middle of the ocean in Mexico. Especially these are the older folks that have gone past the prime of the disco era and many likely won't go to the late night discos, but with this 70's dance party, they can all still dance at the Promenade. Guess that's the target audience for this music. Not sure the 18 year old crowd listening to the rap music will be all into this scene - it's more for their parents. As before, saw the show upstairs from our cabin and went to sleep at 11 something.
Started to head back up north and as typical of this itinerary, the ship started to rock the most that day of the entire cruise. As a precaution, took a bonine myself and gave half to each of my kids. After breakfast, went to the towel folding demonstration. Unlike Carnival from 2 years ago, RCI just shows you how it's done versus Carnival which gives towels for you to try yourself and they also sell a book on towel folding. So as demonstration goes, it's pretty blah. Just 5 animals later and you are done.
After which, the wife started to do some serious shopping on the ship for the folks back at home. Then we went top side to watch the belly flop contest and a late lunch thereafter. Think the bonine made me really groggy and I was tired after the big meal and took a long nap in time to shower and changed into the second formal night. After more picture taking everywhere else on the ship, we went to dinner. Had the lobster for dinner but ordered one extra prime rib for "the table" for my wife and I to share with my older son. In hindsight, maybe should have ordered two, but we were short on time.
Another thing RCI doesn't do is baked Alaska. Yes, I know, some say it doesn't taste that great, blah blah. But for me that's another one of the traditional cruise fares I enjoy that is missing on RCI.
When we came out, we saw the captain taking with someone at the Promenade and I asked if my boys can take a picture with him since we missed him o the first formal night. He was very nice and chatted with my younger son for awhile. So he finally got his wish to meet with the captain.
Went to another blah performance by the Royal Caribbean singers. Slightly better than the other nights but certainly nothing to write home about. Definitely not the top things they do well.
The seas have calmed down as we went past the Cabo area. No need for any meds today. Somewhat partly cloudy but wasn't as cold as I had feared for a December sea day out in Baja area - but it was windy outside the deck area. One good thing about this itinerary is that it gives you two days on the back end so you feel more relaxed & rested as you head back home with the extra day to be in the sea. But this being day 7, it meant everything has to be done by the end of the day as there's no tomorrow.
After breakfast, headed off to the "Captain's Corner" whereby you get to hear the captain describing the operations on the ship and get to ask questions. While that's a good forum, I miss having the captain's farewell like I have seen on every other cruise line, including Celebrity cruise. I miss having the various departments on the ship coming out to say goodbye at the debarkation talk. So essentially RCI has no debarkation talk live. It's done via recording by the cruise director and you just watch the endless loop on TV. I am sure people will say they don't miss the debarkation talk. That's fine, but put it on for the rest of us that likes it and our last opportunity to give standing ovation for people that served us the whole cruise.
I would have been very happy if they could have both activities. Or at the minimum have the crew comes out at the end of captain's corner.
After captain's corner, we rushed out to see the cooking demo. Being held at a very small area right as you walk into the Windjammer. Way too small area for this venue compared to what Princess or HAL offered in our previous cruises. Since we had to stand on the side and toward the back, we left shortly thereafter.
Then we went over to the back stage production tour to see what the show's back stage looked like. While that was interesting to see and talk to the various folks involved in the production shows, the whole process wasn't as "wow" as I had hoped. Guess instead of just talking about how they changed into various costumes it'd be better if they can give us some demonstrations on what they do. Way too much talking and zero demonstration.
Time for late lunch and just walking around the various ship area taking the last minute pictures of places that we have missed. Then went to the photography area to buy up the place. As is typical, our family buys the most of all the pictures amongst the various cruisers on the ship. Day 7 is always the busiest time for photograph purchases as everyone waits until the end to pick the pictures they like, so it was a mad house in the area and as always, my wife and the in-laws just take all the pictures we took (I estimated to be at least 80+) and spread them out on the floor to compare and contrast the ones they wanted.
After that, time to go back to the cabin and start the packing process. Always amazed how much stuff we over pack as we always assume we need more clothes than we actually need for the cruise and adding the fact that we always buy new clothes during the cruise as part of eth souvenir, so we always end up going home with stuff we never wore.
Anyway, after packing and doing all the administrative stuff like the cruise satisfaction survey and customs declaration forms, we showered and headed out for one last evening around the ship. They had the singing waiters out one last time and then we bid farewell to the ding room attendants as we enjoyed the time we spent in the dining area.
One last trip around the Promenade area for shopping and pictures and then back to the cabin as we had to wake up earlier on the last day of the cruise. But not before catching the third and final night time parade around 10:30. They had the crew various departments coming out, but that was a very small representative sample (say like 2 per department). Still would have liked the other cruise liens approach of bringing them all out at the stage during the day.
As far as parade goes, this one has the most elaborate costumes and props. So if you only have the time/energy to catch one night time parade, this is the one to catch. Then put the luggage outside the hallway and called it a day.
Day 8 - Woke up to rain in San Pedro area. Big difference from just 7 days ago when we sailed away in 82 degree weather. Today was in the low 60's and rain greeting us as we woke up. Up to Windjammer one last breakfast on board. Since we had requested one of the last tickets to be off the ship (#20), we were in no hurry to eat/get off the ship.
By time we fished breakfast, headed back to the cabin to get the one carryon luggage and then we caped out at deck 5 of the Promenade deck for some water and played cards to past the time. We were supposed to be at the Savoy Theater by 9:50 per the ticket time for group 20, but we never made it down there. Around 10 AM, we heard the announcement that the last call to get off the ship has been issued, so we just walked down one deck and exited on Promenade deck 4.
After going down the elevator, we retrieved out luggage amongst whatever is still left in the big warehouse area. Easy to find our luggage when there's only less than 200 left. Easy customs question/answer session and then we walked across the parking lot with all our luggage and loaded up the stuff. The rain had stopped during the walk to the parking lot, but started to come down hard at the ending part of the process and anytime I came back to the van, I was pretty much soaking wet. Missed the indoor parking of Long Beach pier.
After paying and exiting the lot, got on the freeway and headed up north. The drive through LA was a breeze considering it was raining buckets. No stopping to speak of on the 405 drive up north, but lots of stops after the 5 and 405 merger up north by the Palmdale 14 area. And couple big accidents along I-5 also made going slow at times. The rain didn't let up until we got past the Buttonwillow area. We got home around 6 PM.
Overall it was a solid cruise. RCI builds the worlds prettiest ships in their color design as well as their innovations of what to bring to a cruise. These guys really think outside the box on what it can be done on a cruise ship. For the traditionalist, that's not a good thing as the main emphasize is not to look outside as much as it's to look inside. Other than just couple occasions we never really made it out to the outside deck 4 to walk around like we typically do on the precious cruises. We were to busy taking pictures of the rest of the ship inside to be looking outside.
In that sense Mariner was probably the right ship type for the Mexican Riviera where there are only 3 ports, so the extra sea day is great when there's a nice ship to occupy your time and energy. Probably won't be until after 2014 when the build the new locks at the Panama Canal before RCI will send another mega ship out to the west coast permanently. For those RCI fans in the west coast, they'd need to fly to at east Texas to sail on a RCI ship on a regular basis - unless they do the Alaska sailing during the summer months.
In final analysis, RCI does many things well (beautiful ship/innovative venues), but also missed on other things (balh food). Everyone has always asked me what my favorite cruise line is since I cruise often, but I have always said I don't have one as each one ahs its set of strengths and weaknesses. It just depends on what you are looking for on your cruise bad set the expectation at a reasonable level in picking the right cruise line for yourself. Just be sure to match up the strengths of the cruise lien with your highest priority - for example, if you want great food, don't pick RCI. If you a fun cruise, don't pick Celebrity. If you want a cruise to be pampered with service, don't pick Carnival and so on.
For us, the cruise was solid experience. Notwithstanding its shortcomings, RCI does a great job to entertain the passengers with ice shows/parades and beautiful ships. I would have no problem taking the family on RCI cruise if the price is right.
I typically plan 2 vacations at a time in that I know where I will go on a cruise after the one I am sailing on so that I have something to forward to when I disembark the current cruise. Previously I had thought I will be going back to the Caribbean for 2011 and we still may, but after this cruise, the convenience of just driving down to LA and board the ship versus flying to eat coast and deal with flights/crowds in December is making me wary to just go ahead with the Caribbean cruise without some more thought. But wherever we end up, RCI will be on the short list of possible cruise line we are considering.
RCI typically has a price premium on their cruises over the other mass market cruise lines due to their big mega ships and after having been on one of them, not sure if I am willing to pay that price premium over and over every time I cruise. That's a personal decision everyone ahs to make. Think for myself, if I can get RCI cruise to be within $100 of other cruise lines, I would pick RCI. But if the price premium is more than $100/pp, I would opt for something else.
Anyway, think that's all I have to say. Thanks for reading this to the end for those that stuck with me on the long and windy road. If you read this whole thing, you need a vacation more than me. Regardless, like I said in the beginning, email me if you have any questions or comments on what I wrote at Harryfat@Yahoo.com.