This was my 66th cruise, I am a Gold Crown and Anchor member after 3 cruises with RCCL. I was with the large gay group on board. I was accompanied by three close friends. We booked two inside cabins near each other. We were told that all of deck nine was for our group by our agency but, unfortunately, this was not the case. I think this might have caused some problems between our group and the other passengers. However, I must say that overall the cruise was very enjoyable and I would definitely cruise with RCCL again in the future. Due to late arrival of flights and luggage we did not arrive at the pier until 2 PM. As I am local we made the trip from the airport in my car and due to the line entering the pier area we decided to park first and bring our luggage to the porters. Even though they were busy unloading transfer buses, they stopped and gave us our luggage tags and assisted in filling them out so no complaints there. We got on line for check-in and proceeded upstairs. The line moved smoothly and we were on board by 2:50PM. After giving our cabins a cursory examination we proceeded to the Windjammer for the first meal of the trip. Although crowded there were 4 serving stations and lines moved fast again. Back to the cabins to unpack (really quick luggage delivery) before lifeboat drill. Our group was given level 4 (Top Hat and Tails) second sitting (8:30)as our dining venue. We were given specific table assignments for the first evening but were told we could move around and switch tables at will as our gratuities had been prepaid with the group fare. The staff was a little nervous about this as not all of them has been told of the prepaid tips but eventually it all worked out. My small group wound up sitting at the same table every night anyway unless someone felt like the buffet. Our waiter and assistant were courteous. professional, smiling, and always helpful. The head waiter for our section was very chatty and this became an annoyance after the second night but we explained our frequent cruiser status and he then left us alone. I have to say that I think there has definitely been a decline in the quantity and quality of the food served in the main dining rooms compared to previous RCCL cruises. The presentation was good but some items had little or no flavor and some meats were fatty, gristly, or tough. One evening , the minestrone soup tasted just like Chef Boyardee canned spaghetti for kids! I always eat Breakfast and Lunch in the dining room as well as I have been cruising since 1958 and am accustomed to being waited on as opposed to cafeteria lido buffet style. Lunch and breakfast menus were identical everyday but there were still enough choices to please. I have to say the food in Windjammer/Jade buffet was surprisingly good and many in our group preferred it. The late night snacks at the Royal promenade cafe were fine too. RCCL tries to maintain the traditional two sitting dinner plan so I was a little put off when, on one evening, there was a noisy children's parade through the dining rooms during the meal. Cruiselines used to always put families with children at first sitting and let the adults dine in peace. The singing and dancing waiters became annoying after the first performance as well but, again, this is what mass market cruising has become!
As all of my little mini-group live or have lived in Florida, Coco Cay was not important to us so we did not go ashore. The other group members were given a private party on a remote section of the island and said it was fun. I have been to St Thomas over 100 times so am familiar with all its sites and attractions. We just walked leisurely through all the shops at Havensight Mall and made our purchases of duty-free liquor, cigarettes, cologne and jewelry. There is a wonderful bookstore there that few know about and I was able to purchase 4 new Maritime books to add to my collection of Nautical memorabilia. Also it was fun to visit the small supermarket and see food from all over the world. We also found the fully stocked drugstore/pharmacy to be quite a lifesaver. We had drinks and snacks at one of the bar/lounges there and it was pleasant to relax and watch the iguanas walk around nearby. As it rained in St Martin, all shore excursions were cancelled but those that did venture ashore found plenty to see and do. Prices on many items are actually lower there than in St Thomas. On board the ship, our large group (over 500) had private functions at the Solarium pool area, conference rooms, Lotus lounge, and Studio B after hours. I know that some of the other passengers were upset that the Solarium was restricted to our group only but this is not the forum for that discussion. As a retired travel agent and frequent cruiser I am well aware that cruiselines often block off certain parts of the ship for large groups. It is a simple fact of life and should not ruin your vacation. The Mariner is certainly large enough to offer many alternatives if a particular venue is closed to the rest of passengers. I had the distinct privilege to have two private meetings with the Captain of the vessel and he is a charming gentleman and the most gregarious Norwegian I have ever encountered. He certainly had his hands full on this trip! The two days at sea on the return were extremely pleasant and a chance to wind down and relax. Our inside cabins were well fitted out and had plenty of closet and storage space. I also appreciated the real plexiglass shower door instead of the usual flimsy shower curtain. Our female room stewardess was very efficient and helpful. All the public rooms on the ship were well maintained and a pleasure to enjoy. Never felt crowded in any of them. The library and internet centers were especially nice.
We arrived back on time and with good weather awaiting us. We had our final breakfast in the main dining room and the service was just as pleasant as the rest of the cruise. We had one of the first colors called off the ship but lingered at the breakfast table and said our goodbyes. Getting off a cruise is never really fun but this was about as good as any other. Our luggage came off promptly and the porter took us to our parked vehicle. All in all , very good value for the money and a restful vacation. It's a shame that some had to ruin it for others but in a vessel carrying over 3600 passengers that's to be expected. I've learned after 48 years at sea on 66 cruises not to let little things bother me. Maybe others can as well.