Mariner OTS Jan 29 to Feb 5, 2012
As the annual cruise date rolled around my friends, my GF and I all were more than ready to scram out of our hometowns for a few days. No jobs, no phones, no kids... Uh well not quite on the last one actually as my friends' teen daughter went on her first trip. For her, I suspect it was a bit of a wash-out. For the rest of us, a great cruise.
Our normal habit is to arrive the day before our sail date and spend that night unwinding from the airline experience. Although I've yet to run across less than professional service from the airlines, the experience is never going to be something I relish. It is a means to an end and further description would require words not used in polite company.
This trip went went in two days early so as to have time to visit Moody Gardens. Since the teen in the group loves penguins, we went all out and did the penguin encounter there. Good experience.. take a breath mask or don't breathe. The smell backstage is indescribable. Other More
than that very cool.
Our hotel was the Quality Inns and Suites on Seawall Blvd. Clean, great people, good rates, decent breakfast, beds were as soft as limestone. Still, over all a good place to stay for a day or two.
Embarkation day- Looks to me like Galveston has resolved some of the nightmares people have reported before. We arrived around 11am, got checked in and found places to land in the Priority Lounge. RCI had staff in there keeping lemonade an ice water available. Around 12:20pm boarding began and we had quite the cattle call getting on board. But, it was not a horrible experience and flowed reasonably well.
We two meter wave heights according to Capt. Flemming for both or our sea days. There was enough motion for some people to have some issues. Not enough to really bother us however. But when you are moving at close to 20 knots the motion is more pronounced than at lower speeds. For us, these two days were mostly rest days while we tried to heal our lungs from the penguin encounter.
We also found out that our cabin attendant Clever and our waiter William from last year were both still aboard. It took a couple of days to find Clever, but we found William the first night and it was good to speak with both of them again. They promptly caught our service folks for this trip and told them to take care of us well.
This year, our cabin attendant was Sebastian. He was very personable and somewhat new to his job. You could tell that he was still getting into the groove of things. However, he was making a great effort to that end and will no doubt be providing excellent service to all as he gains experience.
Our Waiter and Assistant Waiter for this year were Irene and Curtis (aka "Spicy"). They were also the recipients of my WOW cards this trip. Service was fast, accurate, and very very well done. Curtis had our drinks down from night one and we never had to mention what we wanted again. Irene made her menu recommendations with care and attention to detail. When we encountered them elsewhere, on board or on shore, they greeted us with a smile even though they were off-duty in at least one case.
The menu has not changed from last year, but preparation and presentation was good and very acceptable. We are not foodies so this still remains very subjective for everyone.
Mariner herself is showing some age. She is due a dry dock sometime in the not-so-distant future and it will do her some great good. Some furnishings are showing wear and I did see some bits missing here and there. Still, her crew was attending to detail every day and the experience was quite pleasant. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Belize gets panned by many people as a port. I suspect this is partly because they never get out of Belize City. If you stay in town, you are screwing up by the numbers! Find a tour that gets out of town (and I don't mean that excuse for a zoo either!) and go! Much better that way.
Major Tom gets the nod for cave-tubing and ziplines in Belize. It's a sizable drive out to the Cave Branch site, but worth it. Belize geography changes radically in that hour ride. From coastal swamp to rain forest in literally nothing flat.
Now, I've been to Belize before and did the cave tubing with Tom then too. But I was the only one in my group that had been there before so I got quite the kick out of other reactions. Four of us did the ziplines. My GF could not due to bad shoulders and you must brake on these lines. Now folks, these lines do not play. These lines are terrifying and exhilarating all at once. You look out and there nothing but 300-400 feet of air and jungle below the platform and about 500 feet worth of zipline in front of you! Wow! Scream and go! But no videos, pictures, or hanging upside down on these lines. You have to pay attention to what you are doing here or you are in for a real jolt at the end.
Cave tubing remains quite fun but I miss the old truck tubes they used to use. Someone got fancy and that forced all the tubing companies to pony up to new, fancy, STIFF, tubes. Next time I go I'm asking for that old, ugly, comfortable truck tube back.
Tom sent us out with Charlie for this run. Charlie did a great job with Jungle Botany 101 and our group was very much into the learning aspect of it. If you could remember it all, you could be dropped in the jungle with naught but a good knife and survive. Like Tom, Charlie is a Maya-Yucatec and still lives in the village he grew up in. They still live the old way he told us. No power, plumbing, or what not. Hey, it's his home and he's happy with it. All good, but I am going back to my computer eventually.
Back to the ship with the better part of two hours to spare so it was raid the port shops for (what else?) a bottle of Parrot 3 Barrel rum and some t-shirts. I'd picked up a slate Mayan calendar that I liked out at the cave site so I was set.
Cozumel gets called the "Mall of the Western Caribbean" by me and for good reason. Five, yup, I counted, five ships in port that day and I know they've had more.
Most of our day was at Chankanaab Park and it was well worth the time. We went over as observers to the dolphin swim while three of our group did the swim. I've already had that experience twice before so did not feel the need to do it this trip.
The park is nicely laid out with snorkeling areas, botanical gardens, and places to simply take a load off your feet and enjoy the day if you choose. However, be prepared for an olfactory assault if you must make use of the facilities near the entrance. They looked clean but eau de poo was the best description of the atmosphere within. That was however, the only negative at the park.
Docking in Roatan was at Coxen Hole. The small shopping venue there was bright, clean, and easily navigated. Even more so because the pier there is designed for just one ship so you do not see mass crowding at that location. Roatan itself seemed like many Caribbean islands. A mix of good, bad, and so-so that is relatively normal. The people we encountered were friendly even if they didn't speak English (though most did).
From information found on CC and elsewhere, we elected to give Victor Bodden's team a try with their Zip and Dip excursion. Very fun, freestyle ziplines where a little goofing around is pretty much mandatory. You do not have to deal with braking on these lines so hanging upside down, taking pictures, etc can be done with relative ease. We had one added amusement to our run. It started raining. Did that stop us? Nope, not on your life! So off we went, zipping through a downpour and laughing ourselves silly.
From there, we went over to the West Bay beach. The water was cool at first but easily adapted too and we spent a couple of hours with sand in the toes and salt water up the nose. The highlight here was a large starfish that was found near the shore. The starfish was the classic type you think of when starfish are mentioned and was easily a foot across. Roatan prohibits bringing any live critters out of the water, so be careful with anything you find that's still alive. The locals will tell (correctly) to be careful with them. Needless to say, the starfish got lots of attention, but was carefully kept under the water while we were there. I left it in about 4 feet of water when we got out so hopefully anyone else that found it was good to it too.
We returned to the pier a bit after 1pm. Crowds from the ship were reasonable and we snooped around for a bit before going aboard for a late lunch. Later I came back down and hunted up some of the Roatan "Pirate's Grog" for my normal rum run. Be advised to shop around. The stores in the pier area are competing with each other for your business. I saved a couple of dollars on my rum by looking around. (Incidentally, that "Pirate's Grog" appears to be about an 8 year rum. Quite tasty!)