We travel quite often, both in the United States and Europe. Normally, we choose to cruise if the itinerary and cost fit into our plans. This cruise filled our desires to see Israel and Turkey as these are places we have not previously visited. The cruise allowed us brief views of both of these countries as well as looks at Naples and some Greek ports. Overall, the cruise offered excellent value and the service was superb except for a couple of issues that will be discussed later in the review.
Pre-embarkation and embarkation. We arrived at FCO the day prior and stayed overnight to spend the night at the port. I was disappointed Royal Caribbean did not offer transportation from FCO to the port but we were able to coordinate a van with two other couples thanks to cruise critic message boards. Unfortunately, the van driver did not show up. Luckily, we were able to book a van for the same cost by negotiating at the baggage claim door. At the port, our hotel was Porti de Roma and More
was very serviceable. The room was clean and the staff was extremely helpful. We easily walked from the hotel to the port entrance with one large rolling bag each. We entered the port at the port entrance gate (Southeast corner of the old Fort) and jumped on one of the shuttle buses provided by the Port of Rome. This bus dropped us off at the embarkation point. The departure process was extremely easy and took no more than 15 min. Public areas and state room. The public areas were extremely nice and totally clean with three exceptions. The only area showing wear was the hallway in front of our state room. The carpeting in this area was worn and should have been replaced. The library looked nice but was totally inadequate. By the end of the second day there were virtually no books available in English. If you cruise on mariner of the seas make sure and bring all of your own reading material. The Internet/online service was extremely disappointing. First of all was the cost. There were several plans available either by the minute or a pay in advance plan that offered a slightly reduced rate. These plans varied from slightly over to slightly under $40 an hour. In my opinion this is an outrageous cost. Royal Caribbean advertised the ability to connect wirelessly from some rooms. My computer was able to detect a wireless connection but I was never able to establish the proper user-name/password to use the service. There was never any one in the Internet area that could help me with this problem. Finally,the ability to use a printer was nearly nonexistent. On several occasions I wanted to print confirmations of private excursions. There was seldom paper in the printer and I could never get anyone to respond to calls for service. Finally, I stopped calling for help and just assumed there would never be any paper in the printer. On a happier note our state room was extremely nice and had adequate storage. The bed was comfortable, the shower worked well and was large enough, the television and phone worked and the balcony was great. I recently cruised on Carnival and they provided a large amount of soaps, toothpaste, creams and even a razor with extra blades and shaving cream. Much less of this was provided by Royal Caribbean. Service. The service was fantastic. I could not have asked for better service from either our waitstaff in the dining rooms or our room attendant. I cannot say enough about this. If I cruise with Royal Caribbean again it will be because of the wonderful service we received.
Entertainment and shows. The entertainment was very good. We saw one of the special entertainers. She was fabulous. We were never able to properly schedule the ice show. I understand this could have been done over the Internet prior to the cruise. If that's the case, I highly recommend you do this. Everyone raved about the show and we could just never make it happen. I chalk this up to my fault rather than Royal Caribbean's.
Dining. Breakfast. We ate all but one breakfast in the Windjammer Cafe. We were extremely pleased with the Windjammer. The hot food was hot and cold food was cold. Everything was spiced well. There was an excellent variety. I was very pleased with the omelette's that I had made. The longest I had to wait was about 4 min.'s. We ate one breakfast in the formal dining room. We were disappointed with this breakfast. There was nothing on the breakfast menu that was not provided at the Windjammer and hundreds of items at the Windjammer and were not provided in the main dining room. One thing for both. I thought it was extremely cheap of Royal Caribbean to charge a $3.00 fee for orange juice. Lunch. All of our lunches were in the Windjammer and they were excellent. Super variety and very tasty. The only downside was it was crowded on sea days and seating could be difficult. Dinner. We used my time dining and we are very pleased. The food was very good to excellent. Of the 12 dinners I had I was only displeased once. Super service.
Disembarkation. Disembarkation was a disaster. We needed to use express disembarkation to meet a previously scheduled bus to the airport. We were informed that all we needed to do was go to deck 1 at 6:45 A.M. and walk off the ship. Unfortunately, there were hundreds of people with the same idea and there was no crowd control offered from Royal Caribbean. It became a shoving and pushing match to leave the ship. Add to this the extremely poor decision to close express disembarkation at seven o'clock for 20 min. We were told this was for our safety as bags were being transported near the gangway. We were lucky as we eventually were able to struggle off the boat and make our bus but I know there were many people who missed scheduled buses and taxis because they were upwards of 45 min. late for their scheduled time. This was all due to extremely poor or nonexistent planning by the Royal Caribbean staff and an abdication of their responsibility for safe disembarkation. Less
Mariner of the Seas Cruises to the Eastern Mediterranean
From the Athens port of Piraeus we chose to walk to the train station and take the train to the Acropolis. This walk is extremely easy, especially compared to the walk to the train for Pompeii and Herculaneum. We bought all day tickets for five euros in case we got lost or wanted to go other places in Athens. A simple 1.70 round-trip ticket would've sufficed. The trains ran on time and were extremely clean. Remember, when changing trains that cross tracks, trains are on different levels of the subway system. If in doubt, ask anyone and they will gladly help you(at least from my experience). The walk up the Acropolis is extensive but not as bad as the walking in Jerusalem. I was told that there is an elevator available for the handicapped. I didn't see it but I would ask, if it was needed. After climbing the Acropolis and looking at the Parthenon we had lunch. Lunch in this area appeared to run 15-20 per person. To save money, eat from street vendors. We had 3 gyros and three diet Pepsi's for a total of 10. The key to eating cheap in Europe is to not sit down at a restaurant. Eat street food and find a place under a tree to sit on a curb or on a park bench. You'll save money and the experience will be better.
We stopped at Crete for about five hours. There was a local bus that served as a shuttle bus from the ship to downtown. This bus cost 1.5 Euro each way. When downtown, we jumped on the hop on/hop off bus and toured the area. This bus cost 15 each and was worth it in that we saw the old port, much of the city, old churches and mosques and fabulous views of the port from high hills. We also heard much about the history of Crete. People who just walked around town saw and heard none of this. After the tour we decided to get the bus back to the port. There was a problem in that there was a demonstration by striking police and firemen in the square where the bus stopped to pick up people. This caused a delay in buses and crowds built up at the bus stop. When buses pulled up there was a pushing and shoving match to get on the bus. When you were in the crowd it was impossible to withdraw from it. You just had to let the wave of humanity push you to an open bus door. Luckily, no one fell or they would have been trampled.
We also used Cruising excursions.com for this tour. Our tour guide was Jossi and he was excellent. We were able to see the entire Sea of Galilee area, Nazareth and the Jordan River along with a trip to and lunch at a kibbutz. Fantastic insights into the biblical history of the area.
We visited Jerusalem by stopping at the port of Ashdod. We used a private tour from a company called Cruising excursions.com. Our tour guide was named Udi. This tour was fabulous and we saw many sites in the city including Mount of olives, the Church of Gethsemane, the old city of Jerusalem and the old city of David and many others. Most Jerusalem tours require a significant amount of walking and Jerusalem is an extremely hilly area. If you are not capable of walking several miles with some of that walk being on steep hills then you need to inform your tour operator. Tours can be set where the tour van can drop people off at certain locations and pick them up prior to having to make extremely strenuous walks. People needing this service may not see absolutely everything, but it is better to let the tour guide know of physical liabilities rather than find yourself needing medical treatment in a foreign country. Note. If you plan a private tour from Ashdod port make sure you understand where your tour guide will pick you up. Some buses and vans are allowed close into the ship while others are kept at a holding area. Royal Caribbean charged a $10 fee to get to this holding area by shuttle bus. The Israeli authorities will not let you walk to this area. This didn't present a problem but is something that needs to be understood. Additional note. If you are going to book private tours make sure you have a cell phone that works in all the countries you intend to stop. A quick cell call can fix confusion immediately.
Kusadasi is a Turkish port. Cruisers usually take excursions to the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus. These ruins are special because they are far more preserved than either Pompeii or Herculaneum. At the height of the Roman civilization Ephesus was the second largest city in Rome. We had a private tour scheduled that failed to materialize so we booked an excursion through Royal Caribbean. This excursion was good but nowhere near as good as our previous excursions to Jerusalem or the Sea of Galilee. The reason this excursion was not as good comes from the fact that private excursions normally have at most 12 participants. This excursion had at least 50. There is no way a tour guide can be as personal with a group of 50 people as he or she can be with a small group. Additionally, one third of this tour was devoted to a carpet shopping sales pitch. It seemed a little tacky for me to pay to have someone try to sell me something I don't want.
We had never been to Pompeii and Herculaneum and were excited to see this cruise stop at Naples. We chose to walk to the Circumvesuviana train station based on Internet reports. This worked extremely well for us and cut the cost of a ship provided tour by 70%. One note. This is not as short walk as is depicted by some writers on their travel blogs. It is a brisk 45 min. walk to the station. If you have anyone who is not able to walk about 1 1/2 miles each way to the train station and walk about 2 miles at excavation sites I would take a taxi to the train station. People were negotiating taxis for 10 Euro each way. 10 could be a good investment if your legs aren't up to a three mile round-trip walk to the train station. Additional note. Buy a ticket for both Pompeii and Herculaneum at the Pompeii entrance. The combined ticket reduces your cost by nine euro for each person in your group.