Relaxing Family Vacation, for the most part...: Mariner of the Seas Cruise Review by transviet

Mariner of the Seas 4
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Relaxing Family Vacation, for the most part...

Sail Date: October 2011
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
Embarkation: Other
Our family of 7 adults took the 12-night Holy Lands cruise on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. Two of us are repeat cruisers and the rest were newbies. Here are our observations:

PRE-CRUISE: We arrived at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome two days before our cruise. We used to book transport to our hotel by a company called SAR Hire (you can book with them directly too on their website It may be cheaper but the only thing is their English is limited). The driver was there waiting for us at the agreed time. He had a big van with plenty of room for us and our luggage. He was an excellent driver and even though he didn't speak English, he had a printout of our reservation and knew exactly where to go. It costed 60 Euro for our entire group, which is a deal compared to what other companies were quoting us.

We stayed at Hotel Florida in Rome (address: 243 Via Cola di Rienzo, 00192 Rome-Italy, Tel: 0039-06-3241872). We used to More book one triple room and one quadruple room. One room was average and the other small but both were absolutely spotless. The cost for 2 nights was 576 euro (not including breakfast or the 2 euro pp Rome hotel tax). Sounds pricey but I checked many hotels in the area and that was the best deal. Great location, about a 5-10 minute walk from the Vatican, also near bus stops to go to the Colosseum.

On the day of our cruise we took a 5 minute taxi ride to the San Pietro train station and bought tickets to go to Civitavecchia (8.4 euros per ticket). It was about a 45 minute ride to Civitavecchia and a 15-20 minute stroll to the port gate where we took the free shuttle to the ship.

By the way, we booked the cruise through an Internet company. We booked it during the RC "Wow" promotion and received $250 shipboard credit per cabin. It was a pretty good deal. Keep in mind though that if you are planning to use the shipboard credit for gratuities, you must give the full suggested gratuity amounts, you can't decide who gets what. It's all automatic and comes to $140 per person for a 12-day cruise.

EMBARKATION: was a breeze. It only took about 10 minutes. TIP: Make sure you have your luggage tags from the cruiseline on your luggage before you get to the port. That way you can just drop off your luggage and get in line right away to embark.

THE SHIP/CABINS: were in great shape. Everything was spotless. We had an inside cabin (#6371) and we found it roomier than expected, very comfortable bedding. It was also quiet. However, since it was towards the back of the ship, there were a few nights when it was very shaky, as if we were right above the engines. Next time we will choose a room more towards the middle of the ship. Shampoo and soap are provided, no conditioner.

DINING: was mostly good. The Windjammer had a nice variety of food. We usually went there for breakfast and lunch. On port days it was super crowded in the morning so the better option on those days is to go to the dining room for breakfast. You can order from the menu or eat from the breakfast buffet there. The buffet is not as varied but it's better than circling the Windjammer for 10 minutes looking for a table. The lunch menu in the dining room is the same everyday now and some complained about that. We never went there for lunch.

We had dinner in the dining room the first night and we all ordered prime rib. It was terrible, very dry. We discovered that if you order your beef medium rare, it was much more tasty and tender. After that the rest of the dining room dinner meals were pretty good. Our waiter Mary Ann and the assistant Ramzi were excellent. By the way, they no longer have midnight buffets (or even a gala buffet)and they no longer serve lobster (replaced by giant shrimp). Kind of disappointing.

One thing we thought was strange was the seating arrangement. Our group of 7 was seated with another couple. Why would you seat 7 people who are in one family with two strangers? Wouldn't it make more sense to seat them with other couples that don't know each other? Fortunately the couple was extremely nice and patient but we felt bad for them. Our parents don't speak much English so we would often speak to them in our native language and this poor couple didn't know what was going on. So if you are in a group and would prefer your own table, arrange it with the maitre d' as soon as you get onboard. On the other hand, if you are on your own, it may be good to check to see if you are seated with a group travelling together.

We didn't go to Chops or Portofino's but did try Johnny Rockets. The burgers, hot dogs, onion rings and fries were all-you-can eat and were good. The Oreo Sundays and apple pie were delicious as well. There is a $4.95 cover charge pp but we thought it was money well spent.

The Cafe Promenade is open 24 hours and had a nice variety of sandwiches, desserts and pizza.

PORTS OF CALL: We went to 7 ports of call: Naples, Ashdod, Haifa, Rhodes, Ephesus, Athens and Crete. The details are in the port reviews. They were all great and we were docked in each port.

ENTERTAINMENT: We thought the RC production shows were terrible, although older passengers seemed to enjoy them. The Ice Show was good though, amazing what those skaters can do in a small ice rink. They passed out tickets on the 2nd day during a 2-hour window and we didn't realize ALL the tickets for all 6 shows were passed out at once (which is goofy) so we didn't get any. If you don't have tickets, you can come 10 minutes before the show and if there's room they'll let you in. We were able to get in for the last show. We saw the magic show, it was ok. We wanted to see the Beatles tribute but forgot all about it. Heard it was 4 guys that were flown in and were very good. There is a small movie theater but the picture isn't very clear and they don't have popcorn available like on other cruiselines. The Sports deck has ping pong, a full basketball court, rock-climbing wall, small in-line skating area and miniature golf. Tried everything but the in-line skating and it was all good. They have a great gym onboard too. We didn't use the pools or the jacuzzis. It was sunny but cool (60's & 70's) during our cruise.

DISEMBARKATION: This is where we had trouble in Paradise. It was a total NIGHTMARE. On other cruises we've been on, they pass out a survey a few days into the cruise to find out your travel plans so they can figure out who should get off the ship first. On this cruise there was no survey. They just assigned you a colored tag with a preset time. You had the option of "express departure" where you lug your own luggage off the ship(which means you don't leave it out the night before) anytime after the ship is cleared by port authorities. That's what we opted for. Our ship was cleared at 6:45 am and everyone and their mother seemed to be on the elevators to get down to deck one to get off the ship. There were people who didn't have a flight until 2:45 pm (ours was 12:15) and they were trying to get off the ship early. It took us a good 20 minutes before we were able to get on an elevator. When we got down to deck one, there was total gridlock because they weren't letting anyone off the ship yet. Why would you make an announcement that the ship was cleared and then not let anyone off the ship?! Ridiculous! People were packed like sardines all the way up the staircase. We had to wait 30 minutes before they started letting people off the ship. It was raining really hard and that just made it even worse. There was no one directing us where to go once we got off the ship. We just followed the crowd into the cruise terminal where the luggage was but when we came outside, there were NO ONE to direct us on where to go to catch the shuttle back to the port gate. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up at 7:30 but we didn't see him among the tons of confused people everywhere. Our group was separated so that worried us too. In the end, we asked a bus driver if his bus was the free shuttle and when he said yes, we hopped on. Fortunately we were united with the rest of our group at the port gate but our driver was no where to be found. We ended up asking a very nice girl at the train ticket kiosk if we could use their phone and called the shuttle company (the same one we used to pick us up from the airport). Turns out he was waiting for us back at the cruise terminal. Had it not been so chaotic we probably would have found him before getting on the shuttle. He came to pick us up where we were at. Thank goodness, he really saved the day by not taking off even though we were 35 minutes late. However, the whole disembarkation process was so horrible that we're not sure if we will take another RC cruise for that reason alone.

One more tip: On the morning of disembarkation, if you are leaving early, don't use the safe for your cash or other valuables. It's better to bring them with you when you go to eat breakfast. We used the safe and when we returned, we couldn't get it opened. We called Maintenance and were panicking because we didn't know how long it would take to get someone to open it. We kept on trying to open it for the next 5 minutes and it finally opened. Phew. Another lesson learned...

Overall, we enjoyed the cruise and the itinerary but hope RC will make major adjustments to the disembarkation process or they will lose a lot of business. Less

Published 10/28/11

Cabin review: N6371 Interior Stateroom

Quiet location but pretty shaky (you can feel vibrations coming from beneath the cabin) when the seas are rough.

Read All Interior Stateroom (N) Reviews >>

Port and Shore Excursions

Upon walking out of the port, we bought bus tickets at a newspaper stand for 2.4 euros each took bus # 843 to the train station. We found out later that we could have bought a ticket that is good for the bus AND the train for 2.80 euros. Rats. Don't forget to validate your ticket on the bus and on the train. Anyway, at the train station we bought roundtrip tickets for 2.80 euros each to get to the Monastorian station, which is in the heart of the Plaka area and a short walk to the Acropolis. It took about a half hour. The area around the Acropolis is pretty junky, lots of graffiti everywhere, but the Acropolis itself was amazing. Tickets to get into the Acropolis was 12 euros each. The walk is about 15-20 minutes uphill, so wear comfy shoes. On a small rocky hill next to the Acropolis is the Areapagus, or Mars Hill, which is where the apostle Paul gave his famous speech (Acts 17:16-34). This site isn't advertised much but it has a lot of meaning if you are a student of the Bible. There is a plaque on the hill that explains the site. After visiting the Acropolis, we went shopping in the Plaka. Tons of shops but very aggressive salespeople, so we didn't enjoy shopping very much. We picked up a few spices and olive oil soap but that's about it. Overall, a very nice day trip that is very easy to navigate on your own.

Actually, the first port we went to was Ashdod but it isn't listed on the cruisecritics ports of call so I'll just include it with info on Haifa. Months before we went on the cruise, I booked tours for Ashdod and Haifa through after reading rave reviews about this tour company. It appears, though, that they use free lance tour guides so it's really hit and miss as far as who you get. For our group of 7, Ashdod was $115 pp and Haifa was $99. For Ashdod, the email from Guided Tours Israel said that when we exit the ship we were to proceed to where the vans are parked to meet our tour guide. We did exactly that but there was no tour guide to meet us. Needless to say I was very panicked and walked up and down the line of buses and vans to find a sign with our group name on it. Nothing. A very nice tour guide who was waiting for her group let me use her phone to call Guided Tours Israel. I was told to take the free shuttle to the port gate to meet my tour guide. That was not what we were told in the email. Anyway, we looked for the free shuttle. No free shuttle. The only transportation available to the port gate was a Royal Caribbean bus that was charging $10 USD roundtrip per person. Since we had no choice, we used this bus. By the time we got to the port gate, I was pretty irritated. The tour guide was indeed there and when we told him we were waiting outside of the ship, he was surprised and asked: didn't the agent tell you to meet me at the port gate? Grrr. He explained that the port authorities used to let tour guides come in to the port up until 2 weeks ago, then they wouldn't allow them in. It would have been nice if Guided Tours Israel had informed us of this. Our tour guide looked like he was around 70 years old, which, to be perfectly honest, was alarming because let's face it: who wants a senior citizen to be driving a huge van-ful of people around for 10 hours?! I have to say though, he was very kind and did a good job of navigating the roads, especially since it was during the Succoth holiday and some roads were closed. He was very knowledgeable about the history and geography of Israel. However,he had a strong accent and sometimes it was hard to understand him. Also, since we are keen Bible students, we found many of his explanations of Biblical events to be based on myth or tradition rather than the Bible or other solid evidence. He also sometimes got a bit carried away and would stop the van for 10 minutes to explain something, which we felt wasted valuable time. We had told him from the beginning that we were not interested in seeing churches but would really like to see Hezekiah's tunnel in Jerusalem. He said he would try to fit it in, but we ended up seeing a few churches and not having enough time for the tunnel, so that was a bit disappointing. We ended up seeing the Garden of Gethsemane and the church on its site (the church part we really weren't interested in seeing), the Mount of Olives, the Wailing Wall, the Via Delarosa (the path Jesus supposedly took on the way to his crucifixion) and the Dead Sea. We enjoyed the Garden and the Dead Sea most of all (the Dead Sea was an additional $14 USD pp). For lunch, the guide took us in this hole in the wall place in Jerusalem and ordered salad, hummus, and falafel. We ordered drinks as well, and since he didn't order any meat, we asked if we could also order a meat dish. So he ordered two small plates of lamb kebabs, so we each got 2 small meatballs. He also ordered a small plate of roasted lamb. When I mean small, I mean tea saucer size. We didn't think it would be very much but when the bill came, it was $18 USD per person! What a rip-off! And we had to pay for the guide too. So another lesson learned: Always ask to see the menu prices first! For HAIFA, again we had an older gentleman as our tour guide. I'm thinking: Do they not have any younger tour guides in Israel?! His English was better than the first guide but he was a bit disagreeable and again, tended to base his explanations on myth and tradition. When we objected to some of his explanations, he was pretty dogmatic. We had learned our lesson the day before and asked to be taken to a more reasonably priced place for lunch. He said lunch there would be no less than 20-25 USD pp, which we didn't buy at all. We said we could just go to a strip mall and eat whatever food was there. So that's what we did and there was PLENTY of eateries where you could get a meat and veggie filled pita and drink for less than 10 USD pp. He went off and got his own lunch, which was fine with us. On the tour we saw the city of Nazareth (and the supposed site where the angel spoke to Mary), the Sea of Galilee (very pretty), The Jordan River, and Capernaum and the supposed site of Peter's house. We enjoyed seeing these sites. Overall we enjoyed seeing most of the sites, but I would not book through Guided Tours Israel again. I think I would make more of an effort to get the name and email of a tried and true tour guide and communicate with them directly.
Read 141 Haifa Reviews

We wanted to see the Pompeii ruins in Naples. When we got off the ship in Naples, we couldn't find an information desk anywhere. We walked towards the road to get out of the port area and there were very aggressive taxi drivers along the way. We just ignored them and walked straight out of the port. When you get to the main road, across the street you will see a newspaper stand to your left and a tram station to your right. We bought combination tram/train tickets at the newspaper stand for 8.40 euros each. We found out later that since it was a Saturday we could have bought the same ticket at the weekend rate of 4.50 euro. Rats. Anyway, we walked over to the tram station and took tram #1, which will take you to the train station. I think we had to validate the ticket on the tram. Once you're at the train station, validate your ticket again before you board the train to Pompeii Scavi. It took about 45 minutes to get to the Pompeii ruins. TIP: After getting off the train you'll probably need to use the restroom but don't use the one right by the train station, which charges 1 euro pp. There are free restrooms by the Pompeii ruins ticket office which is less than a block away. The tickets for the ruins were 11 euros each and are supposed to come with a map but they supposedly ran out of them (at 9:00 in the morning!) so we had to buy one for 2 euros at the gift shop. It wasn't a very good map but better than nothing. The ruins are really spread out over a huge area and we were surprised at how little information there is about them. Hardly anything is explained so we had to resort to secretly tagging along tour groups to get some explanations. The map lists a few notable sites but doesn't give any information about them. The temples and Roman bath houses were neat, and it was interesting to just wander around. The ruins are totally exposed so you can walk all over the place. Definitely worth visiting. When you're ready return to the ship (give yourself plenty of time), go back to the train station and go downstairs and then upstairs again to get to the platform opposite of the one you arrived at. We waited a good 20 minutes for the train to come. Then we took the train back to the Naples train station and took the #1 tram back to the port. We waited for the tram for about 10-15 minutes. Overall, a pretty easy day trip to make on your own.
Read 1162 Naples Reviews

Rhodes was a great stop. It's an easy 10 minute walk into old town where there are shops galore. The buildings and roads are well kept and the salespeople were very pleasant, not pushy at all. The prices were pretty good too, so now looking back we wish we had bought more souvenirs here.
Read 382 Rhodes Reviews

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