My family of 4 (two adults, 15 and 12 year old) and my in-laws from Texas just came back from a holiday cruise on the Mariner of the Sea out of Galveston (sail date Dec 18th - 26th). Overall, the vacation was okay, but it was seriously marred by poor management of the ship and crew.
The trouble started when we tried to board on Dec 18th. As mentioned in a previous post, the ship had a high rate of flu-like disease in the previous sailing. Unbeknown to us, this virus onboard meant that the ship needed to thoroughly cleaned before boarding could start with new passengers. Boarding was supposed to be between noon and 4 pm. Our group of 6 arrived at the terminal at 1:30 pm and stood in a line that didn't move for over 2 hours! During this time, we got ZERO information from RC personnel, and only had some hearsay from the luggage porters about the virus cleaning situation. As we moved forward in the line after waiting, we realized that everyone was being loaded onto buses and being taken to the Galveston Convention Center for check-in. Fortunately, my in-laws are RC Platinum members so we averted a very long line at the convention center and checked in quickly. We then were given a bad cold sack lunch (it was around 4:30 pm at the time), and a number for a return bus. Our bus number was 48 and they were currently only loading bus 14, so we paid $20 to take a cab back to the ship and were able to board without further delay.
The poor communication didn't stop there though. There was no posted or circulated updates to the ship's schedule for the first day. This lack of communication meant that the mandatory lifeboat drill happened right as our dinner was being served during our dinner. There was no update posted or distributed about revised activities and the kids clubs were closed but no notices were posted (the staff cleaning inside simply shooed us away).
Regarding the rest of the cruise, I would best characterize it as "mediocre". The food in the main dining room and buffets were mediocre - consistently under-seasoned and rather dull. The food from Chops was outstanding, if you want to pay the $30 cover charge (or $15 for the filet entree in the main dining room). Other reviewers seemed to like Portofino's but I found the food to be on par with a chain restaurant like Macaroni Grill or Carraba's. The waitstaff was inconsistent - some were excellent and attentive, other times orders took exceedingly long or you got your beverage after you finished your meals. Especially annoying were the bar waiters and deck beverage staff who ignored or delayed requests for sodas on the pre-paid cards. When asking for a soda with "light ice" I consistently got a glass only 2/3 full and once I even saw the bartender dilute the drink with soda water.
Another disappointment was the lack of holiday decorations and holiday related activities on this cruise. A few years ago we sailed New Year's on a Disney Cruise and found the environment to be much more festive and celebratory. On the Mariner, I felt that it was mostly business as usual. There was very few holiday related activities - a few religious services, a holiday trivia game and 15 minutes of Christmas Caroling. Decorations were pretty much confines to the Promenade area only. They did have present from Santa, where kids under 18 were given a wrapped present containing a small backpack or blanket. Also, there was a nice touch on Christmas morning when they had eggnog available. But again illustrative of poor communication with their staff, when we arrived in the dining room and asked for eggnog, the waitstaff (mostly from India) had no idea what eggnog was. Then just a few minutes later someone comes in with a trayful of the stuff.
The onboard entertainers were also very disappointing, most of them with a target audience of 65+. You would think that RC would realize that a holiday cruise would have a lot of families and kids on board and adjust accordingly.
The disembarkation process almost as equally chaotic and poorly communicated as the boarding. We were made to gather all of our luggage before joining a ill defined line for Immigration and Customs clearance. Evidently, the line moved half as fast if you toted your own luggage rather than use their porter service. We were supposed to disembark at 9:15 am, but did not clear customs until 11:15 am. When I asked several of the security officers in the terminal if this was common, they all admitted that this was an RC phenomenon, and did not happen with other lines out of Galveston.
Overall the experience very much soured us against Royal Caribbean and we will be looking for another alternative for spring break.