We flew to Rome (FCO) via Lufthansa from Houston (IAH) via Frankfort. I'm glad that we booked a longer layover since our originating flight was delayed 2 hours. We flew into Rome 4 days before our cruise and stayed in an apartment in the Vatican area with friends that we met on CC Roll Call for our ship. The apartment was close to the Metro and bus stops which made it convenient for sightseeing. Since we had previously been to Rome, we used this trip to see the Borghese Gardens and Capitoline Hill as well as visit the usual sights of the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navonna, and Campo di Fiori, We took a guided tour of the Vatican Gardens (arranged through the Vatican) and Museum which was so beautiful. We had previously seen the gardens after climbing the Duomo and was curious to get an up-close view. Well worth it! We enjoyed a pre-cruise dinner the night before we boarded at a local restaurant with some of our fellow cruisers that we met on CC.
We prearranged a van with Rome in Limousines for transport to the port which I'm glad we did since it had poured rain that morning, effectively shutting down the Metro for a little while. Some of us met at our apartment then we set out to pick up others on the other side of the Vatican. It was a pleasant drive to the port where we arrived around 12:30. Embarkation was smooth. We even got to keep the several bottles of wine that we had purchased in Rome. No one even asked for them although we were ready to declare them since we had no intention of drinking them onboard. I think we went to the Promenade Cafe for lunch to avoid the crowds in the Windjammer.
We have always booked inside cabins since I prefer to be on one of the lower decks and mid-ship to avoid some of the ship's motion but we decided to splurge on a Promenade cabin since it was more central than the inside cabins on this ship. The cabin was a bit larger than I expected but that might have been an illusion because of the window. The only time we heard noise from the Promenade was during the parades but it was a great vantage point from which to see them as well as to gauge when to go down to the sidewalk sales since we were right above the General Store. Since this was our first crossing I worried about getting seasick so I donned sea-bands and began taking ginger capsules twice a day. Despite several days of 15 foot swells, I never really got nauseous until our ship entered the Gulf of Mexico (I had forgotten to take a dose of ginger which also might have had something to do with the queasiness).
Our first port was Mallorca where I headed 3 busloads of CC passengers on a tour of the city. Our guide, Miguel Corral, was wonderful and made the tour memorable. After touring the city, we got out to see the Mallorca Pearl Factory and Bull Ring and then made a second stop at the Cathedral which was incredible. I'm glad he explained the symbolism in the modern art altar which helped me to appreciate its beauty. The port is just beautiful, with many sailboats and yachts in the harbor. That night we celebrated our anniversary at Portofinos with a fabulous meal - well worth the price. The chef came out to congratulate us and gave us a special dessert with "Happy Anniversary" written in chocolate on the plate.
I have to interject here my complements to Mariner of the Seas for their recognition of my husband's birthday and our anniversary. We usually cruise this time of the year to celebrate both of these occasions and this is the first time that I felt the ship itself had gone above and beyond to recognize these occasions. Not only did the wait staff sing for us but the ship staff gave us certificates for either $15 Internet time or a phone call home for each of them. The last RCI ship didn't even sing. It certainly made us feel special.
Our second port was Cartegena, Spain, which was a very accessible port and didn't require any additional transportation to get off the ship and into town. Since the double-decker bus was full when we got off the ship, we just walked around in town and shopped. This is a great port for shoes since there were many stores that carried them. We took the bus a couple of hours later when the crowds thinned for about 4,50Euro each. I believe that for 10 Euro, they included entrance into several tourist stops. This is not a HOHO but did a circuitous route with narration. Another pretty port with many sailboats in the harbor.
After another day at sea before we reached our third port, Funchal, Madeiria, Portugal where another CC member made arrangements for tour buses and vans. We were dropped off at the cable car which rode to Monte at the top of the mountain. The scenery was spectacular. Once at the top, you could chose to ride the toboggan down the hill. We chose to ride down in the van and met the others at the bottom. Our driver then took us on a tour around the area and out to the second highest sea cliff in the world with such a spectacular view!
Our next port was La Palmas, Canary Islands. Since we arrived on Nov 1 which is a holiday we were concerned that there wouldn't be much open so we opted to take the ship's Volcano and Wine excursion. After seeing some of the local scenery and a stop at a beautiful garden, our driver took us to the volcano. Although not as spectacular as those in Hawaii, we were able to climb to the top for a wonderful view of the sea as well as the inside of the volcano. The hike up is rocky and often narrow with no guardrails so you really need to be careful. The winery stop was not remarkable and we only brought the wine as cheap souveniers.
Now on to 6 days at open sea which was quite relaxing. There were several planned activities that interested me. I participated in some of the lectures about immigration, took piano lessons and did origami. They had lots of dance lessons which didn't interest me. Our CC friends organized many activities to keep us busy on these sea days. We had a 3 day mini-golf tournament, slot pull, poker run and cabin crawl which were all fun. Mostly I just read my Nook up on deck and enjoyed the meals. We did get to try the hot tub in the Shipshape Center which had some powerful jets for the lower back. AAAAHHHHH!
Our last port was Nassau where we shopped til I dropped.
Another great thing about a westbound transatlantic is the added hours. It seemed like almost every day or every other day we gained an hour when we rolled the clocks back. It was especially appreciated the night before we sailed into Galveston so we didn't feel like we had to get up at the crack of dawn to make our way off the ship. Since we live about 2 hours north of Galveston, we took our time getting off the ship. My husband took a taxi to Enterprise Car Rental to get the rental van and came back to the port to get us (we drove our friends from the apartment to Hobby Airport). I think we were out of customs by around 11 and they remarked that it went much smoother this year than last.
The crew on the Mariner were outstanding. Our waiter, Valkey, and assistant, Renee, kept our table filled with appetizers that were on the menu early in the cruise which were appreciate and they saw to it that we had them most nights. They went out of their way to see if they could get us special items whenever we asked. Our head waiter, Ashton, was the best we've ever had. He was at our table every day not just visible with his hand out on the last night. He went out of his way to get us extras, too. Our cabin attendant, Doisey, was also the best we've ever encountered. He sought us out, always calling us by name and carrying on conversations about us, the cruise and his homeland. He kept our room spotless. The captain, Flemming Nielson, is the friendliest I've ever encountered. He was often strolling the deck talking with everyone. I didn't see our cruise director, Paul Rutter around except at the shows. The shows were quite good with the exception of a former Starsearch winner (I can't remember her name) I felt sorry for her - people were leaving in droves during her show. I wish the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers could have done another show or two. They were really quite good. I loved the Beatles tribute the best. I'm glad that I got to see the ice show. Tickets were distributed the second day of the cruise when I had slept in so I missed getting them. Just waited in line the second day of the show and was able to secure seats way in the back. It was a fantastic show. Another funny show was the Quest. Our table-mates gathered in the back so that we didn't get too involved but it was funny to watch.
The art on board is wonderful and worth a day or two to explore. One of the surprisingly prettiest places on the ship is the ladies room on deck 11 aft where you have a wonderful view of the sea. It makes waiting in line a pleasure.
This ship was crowded with many Diamond and Diamond Plus members which led to some slow service for the rest of us. It was almost impossible to get elevators down to the dining rooms because they were all coming down from the Viking Crown lounge at the same time. My husband was getting very frustrated at the many rude passengers which led him to not enjoy this RCI experience as much as our last. That was also a smaller ship and our first experience with RCI. But his frustration didn't prevent us from purchasing Next Cruise certificates while onboard. We look forward to sailing with RCI again but it will be the itinerary which will continue to be our driving force when choosing our next cruise.