Left PHL on USAir at 6:55 AM the day before the cruise just beating out an expected snowfall predicted to leave about 1-2." Plane had to be deiced first which was a unique experience for me. Great flight to Phoenix and after only about a 55 minute wait, flew on to LAX. My daughter and granddaughter flew a later United Flight and had to sit on the tarmac for two hours because the snow was falling faster and the deicing line grew longer. We stayed at the San Pedro Doubletree. Very nice room and the staff were exceptionally great. We used their courtesy shuttle to eat at a nearby seafood restaurant for dinner. Not a remarkable meal but all of us were famished after a very long day of traveling. Their shuttle also delivered us to the pier, also for free.
Arrived at the pier at about 10:45 AM and dropped the bags off with a porter. With Set Sail pass in hand, signed in easily and quickly. After receiving Sea Pass cards, we were directed to have seats until allowed to board at 11 AM. Out of all my cruises, this was the fastest, best organized embarkation of all. In talking to some of the Royal check in staff at the pier, they were very sad that Royal would no longer be a presence in LA. I 'm sure that there will be a negative economic impact effect on all the restaurants and hotels nearby the port area, too.
DAY 2: Sea Day. Although were many miles south of LA, the temperature on deck was only about 50 degrees at about 9 AM. Hopefully, it will warm up later on in the day for some sunning and perhaps time in the pool.
DAY 3: Cabo San Lucas: We were allowed to begin tendering from ship to shore at about 10 am. For the amount of passengers on board, the process proceeded smoothly and rapidly. When we got to the pier, we contracted with a water taxi (Brayan Tours) to take my daughter and granddaughter to snorkel at Lover's Beach then taking my wife and I to another beach to sit, soak up some sun, and have some tropical drinks. At a prearranged time, our tour guide would pick up daughter and granddaughter, then come for wife and I so we could all return to the tender. At the tender/port area, we enjoyed a very filling Mexican lunch. Although the food was pretty good, the service was s-l-o-w. There were two very long lines waiting to be tendered. One was for the Mariner and the other for a Carnival ship. The line moved along quickly since there seemed to be an infinite number of tenders operating for both ships. Cabo seemed to be a very desolate place with the exception of beautiful rock formations jutting out of the water. It's not fair for me to harshly judge Cabo since we only got to see a small slice of the place.
Day 4: Mazatlan: The day dawned sunny and bright. With absolutely no plans or organized excursions through the ship, we contracted with a taxi to show us the sights and visit a nice beach. What a great day it turned out to be! Our driver was Martin Salazar, a true gentleman and all around great person! He took us first to Royal Villas Resort where we enjoyed a very quiet, very beautiful place full of wonderful amenities for our use. The only charge was for any food or beverages you wanted. The entire staff at Royal was wonderful and pleasant, catering to our every whim. On the beach were parasailing, jet skis, and horseback riding. The ubiquitous beach vendors weren't allowed on the property's terrace which made it all the more "civilized." When Mr. Salazar picked us up at the agreed upon time, we were anxious to get a bite to eat. We asked him to suggest a good place and he recommended Lamar Seafood Restaurant to us. This place was another winner! We had a table overlooking the water, the music was quiet and low-keyed, and the food excellent. After our meal, we were taken on a short tour in the hills overlooking the water. Mr. Salazar pointed out some homes owned by Americans and others and gave us an idea of current real estate values. For about $500,000 really nice place with a stunning view could be all yours.
Mazatlan was a shining jewel in my opinion. Naturally, there are all kinds of touristy places since ships come here, but there was a quaint, Mediterranean kind of charm despite the fact it's in Mexico. Every person we met went out of their way to be friendly and hospitiple to the cruise ship visitors. This wasn't a paste on type smile but genuine friendliness.
DAY 5: Puerto Vallarta: Out of all the destinations on this voyage, this was by far my favorite. You could spend weeks here and not see 1% of all the beauty or experience all the things there are to do. Puerto Vallarta is both modern yet quaint in so many ways. Like Mazatlan, there seemed to be a certain colonial and Mediterranean flavor to this city. After debarking the ship, we contracted with a taxi driver to show us the sights, take us to a beach, and then to a restaurant before returning to the ship. We had Pedro Vargas for over six hours at a cost of $100 for the four of us. It didn't seem exhorbanant to pay $25/pp but was told later it could have been cheaper. I felt that I got more than my money's worth, however. After taking us high into the hills where the film 'Predator' was filmed, we sat down for a quick snack and a few beers. The bulk of the day was spent at a beautiful beach at Mismaloya Inlet, south of Barcelo Hotel. There, we enjoyed the sun, surf, and spectacular scenery. My wife, daughter, and granddaughter had manicures and pedicures while I had a neck and back massage, all for a very reasonable price. While there, we met Adrian, owner of Sea Adventure, who gave us honest and valuable advice about what things should cost, inside information about Puerto Vallarta, and so much more! I enjoyed talking to him so much that when we next return to this place, I'll either call him or email to have him set up a custom itinerary. He's the type of person you trust instantly and very likable. We wanted some "real deal" Mexican food. Adrian recommended we try Jacalito which wasn't too far from the beach. Our lunch was among the best Mexican food we've ever had. The total bill, for four, was just $50 and well worth it. Keep in mind, Jacalito wasn't a fancy place but a real, down to earth, rustic, quiet place rather off the beaten track. We got back to the ship at about 6 PM as the day faded into evening. I saw the Mariner bathed in lights which was a sight I've never seen before. It seemed 10X larger in the early evening with all her lights on. Quite a sight. Everyone in Puerto Vallarta knew this was the last visit for Mariner and they were visibly sad. Even though January is part of their high season, many have told me that business was just a fraction of what it used to be. More on this further in the review under "Final Thoughts."
Day 6: Sea Day: Weather still very warm and most of the day was spent by the pool soaking up the wonderful sunlight.
Day 7: Sea day: Moving north, the day wasn't as warm as previously so not much time was spent on deck. It was a good day for just 'goofing off' and enjoying the final hours of the cruise. We all attended "Captain's Corner" to learn some behind the scenes things about the ship. Afterwards, there was a nice question/answer period with the captain.
Day 8: Debarkation: We chose the Express Check Out where you take all your bags off the ship yourself. This worked out wonderfully because it saved time retrieving your luggage at the pier. Since we had a rather early flight back to PHL from LAX, we had caught a taxi within minutes of leaving the Mariner and got to the airport in plenty of time. Our flight left exactly on time and actually arrived in PHL about 20 minutes early. The whole debarkation process, including clearing customs, took perhaps 15 minutes.
Food: This is always the most subjective part of any cruise review so your mileage may vary. Generally, the quality of food was usually good to very good. On two nights there was prime rib and we got very nice cuts of meat done exactly how we asked. The Windjammer fare wasn't too bad with a very long list of selections that seemed to please everyone. Many have addressed how food quality has declined. My biggest gripe is how bad the coffee was. At one time, they served Seattle's Best ship-wide and it was something I really looked forward to at breakfast. However, whatever they're using now seems to be some generic bargain brand and had little, if any taste. Their juices seemed a bit more watered down and weak compared to years past.
Final thoughts: Sailing on Royal's last Mexican Riviera cruise was bittersweet. All my cruises have been on Royal and they have always been perfect. The staff was awesome, as usual, and that's something that always has me coming back. The sad part of the cruise is that Mexican ports of call aren't packing the cruise ships, so more lines will probably concentrate more on other itineraries, primarily in the Caribbean. Although Royal's move to reposition the Mariner was a "business decision," I think it's because travelers are increasingly wary of news about violence and the drug trade in Mexico. I've heard from other passengers that Royal is very worried about liability issues should something happen to their passengers while on a ship sponsored excursion. Although this was my first visit to the Mexican Riviera, t no time did I feel unsafe, threatened, or in any danger. As in any trip, visitors should be wary of their surroundings and be very careful if going somewhere far off the beaten path. Should we not go somewhere because there's a very, very slim chance of violence? With that sort of reasoning, maybe we shouldn't fly since there's a minute chance of crashing. So, no matter where we go or what we do, there's inherent risk involved.
Since I enjoyed this vacation and itinerary more than any other, I will make plans on returning next year. I'm toying with the idea of staying at a good, all-inclusive hotel as a base then visiting various sights by taxi. Or, perhaps it will be another cruise with a different cruise line. I am still very loyal to Royal and am sorry to see them leaving this area for greener (more profitable) pastures.
If anyone would like further information about my experiences, or additional information not included in this review, please feel free to email me at 'mystyou (at) Comcast.net'