Our cruise was the seven day beginning March 4 in Galveston with stops at Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Falmouth, Jamaica.
This was quite obviously the week before spring break mania. There were very few children, teens and young people on the trip. There were always plenty of chairs by the pool no matter the weather conditions. The demographics swayed toward older Texans. The shows were played to appreciative, packed houses. Everyone was polite and well-behaved.
That was all fine with us. We are from Minnesota, traveling with four daughters -- 20, 18, 8 and 3 -- and another 20-year old who is friends with one of my daughters. We chose this cruise for convenience -- we drove from Minnesota in a minivan, so didn't have to pay airfare -- and price, as it was very reasonable. We stayed in adjoining interior rooms on the sixth deck -- my wife and I with the little girls in one room, the older girls in another. And, yes, I did hit my head on the pull-out beds a couple of times in the middle of the night.
Our family has taken five cruises together on Royal Caribbean and realizes that you don't spend any time at all in your rooms except to sleep and change clothes, so the size of the room isn't a big deal. We were right off the main mall area, so that was convenient, as we were one flight up from the Cafe to race down for snacks and coffee.
We got to the dock at 11 a.m. on Sunday and got on ship about an hour later. We were among the first people on board. I parked at the dock after dropping off the family. It's 65 bucks, but it's the fastest way to get on and the quickest way off if you are driving.
The weather leaving Galveston was comfortable, but seas were rough the first four days. The first day at sea, as we headed to Mexico, was a bit chilly. You could find pockets of sun, but walking around, you needed a sweater. Our little girls participated in Adventure Ocean and loved it, although we only put them in a couple of times during the cruise. This was our first cruise where basically "day care" was available for most of the day in Adventure Ocean when the ship was at sea.
Day 1 was formal night. Our server in the Sound of Music dining room, Kibwe Providence, was wonderful. We ate all our dinners there. She dealt with the little girls well and charmed the older girls, even playing tricks on them (they loved desserts, and she brought them a great-looking chocolate dessert one night that turned out to be made out of metal ... great humor).
Day 2, at Cozumel, we took a cab to Chankanaab and had a nice day snorkeling, in the pool, at the sea lion show. We did not go into Cozumel, but shopped at the dock (international pier) for a few souvenirs (we aren't big shoppers).
Day 3, at Grand Cayman, the seas were rough and the tenders bounced around a bit. They really jam the people on them, but it wasn't a terribly long process. Unfortunately, all the snorkel trips and trips to Stingray City were canceled because of the rough water. We ended up taking a bus to 7-mile beach and had a pretty good time just hanging out on the beach.
Day 4, at Falmouth. The pier area there was all safe and good shopping, but going past the fence left you open to a lot of people trying to sell you drugs. It deal feel a bit unsafe. There are no close beaches, so any trips you took to a beach or to Dunn's River Falls was a lot of time on a bus. Since the ship had a lot of older people, they mostly signed up for trips to plantations, etc. We had a good time shopping, but this is not a great port for much else. I guess RCCL built their own dock there to save on the money they paid at Ocho or Montego. But -- you can always stay on the ship and go swimming. Our 8-year-old had her hair braided for 20 bucks. And I had a nice cigar.
Day 5 and 6 at sea, the weather was great and the seas were calmer. The cruise staff did a nice job with the usual pool-side games, but as I say, there weren't many young folks on there, so it wasn't lively. On the plus side, things were always calm up on the top deck, so you could move around or swim or get a spot by the pool or in the hot tub.
For instance: the free-throw contest included only two participants, our 20-year-olds. There was never a line for the rock-climbing wall. You never had to wait to play mini-golf. They actually had to recruit people for the sexy man contest and the bellyflop contest.
We ice-skated at every opportunity. The 8-year-old loved that. The ice rink was rarely crowded. It's a unique opportunity on a ship, I would say.
We liked the entertainment on the ship. The Platters were outstanding. (Yeah, I know it's not the original members). El Gaucho was funny. The Royal Caribbean singers were great and the dancers, well, they were good, I guess dancing really isn't my thing.
The ice shows are always fantastic.
The cruise director, Mitch, was funny and did a nice job at everything.
Our girls hit all the bars to search for the party action, and said they were fun, but not overly lively. As mentioned, we ate all our dinners in the main dining room, and the food was great. The Windjammer was also very, very good, imho. We actually sneaked up there after dinner a couple of nights to get a little salmon and sushi and desserts. We don't drink much, but basically had foo-foo drinks each night at the show. Didn't try the specialty restaurants (Portofino or Chops) as the food in the MDR is really fine for us.
Workout center is great. We all worked out like crazy all week. Uh, not really. But we did use it.
Our bed was quite comfortable, the girls said the pullout beds were comfortable, our room steward was really good (he had to make up two rooms where seven messy people were) ... his name was Allister Paris.
Debarking in Galveston seemed fine. We were out of our rooms around 8, we waited in one of the lounges, and got off around 9:30. Took about an hour from that point to get the luggage, get through customs, get the car, and pick everyone up.
We are Platinum members of Crown and Anchor, so got some benefits (a separate embarkation line, a departure lounge) but missed the captain's reception and found the coupon book for our level to really not be worth much.
Of note: The girls had their photos taken about 100 times by the ship's photographers. We didn't buy any of the photos BUT were able to combine the two rooms and get a CD of all the photos for $200. That seems kind of high, but my wife is a photographer and was able to get the 100 pictures downloaded off the disc and made into a lot of prints (plus post them all on Facebook) so it seemed worth it (we had $250 in onboard credit anyway for using a RCCL credit card).
We have driven down and cruised out of Galveston four times as a family now and would do it again. You always take a chance with the weather, but we get there a day early (we stayed this year at the new Country Inn and Suites) and have never had travel issues.
Oh, and we go to Mass before we get on the ship and right after we get off. There's a Catholic Church (St. Patrick's?) right close to the dock.
The Mariner is going into drydock next month, but we saw no signs of wear and tear. My wife though the carpet might be getting a bit dirty, but everything seemed super to me. Even the showers seemed big enough (or maybe I'm finally getting used to them).
Sounds funny to say, but I think we are hooked on cruising. It's a great getaway where you don't have to clean or cook for a week, you can eat whenever you want, you get some hot weather and the kids are always entertained.