Mariner of the Seas Entertainment & Activities
Where do you even begin? It can be very hard to relax on Mariner of the Seas -- even on sea days -- because of the head-spinning array of activities that run from dawn to dusk and beyond. The ship's entertainment staff offers an intriguing blend of options, and everyone, from the most traditional passenger to the completely contemporary traveler, will find something to do.
Highlights? During the day, you'll find plenty of traditional cruise activities, such as bingo, dance lessons (line-dancing), horse racing, art auctions, seminars (on everything from healthy eating to gemstones), Mr. Sexy Legs contests, bridge pairing, art and craft workshops and films in the tiny cinema. More unusual activities include rock-climbing wall competitions and "Ice Under the Big Top" -- the ship's ice skating show. Poolside, throughout the day, a live band plays a blend of Caribbean and American songs.
Throughout the day and night, there's often some type of performance along the Promenade, such as the "Enchanted Knights Parade," performances by Krooze Komics, instrumental trios or mini-comedy shows.
At night, the 15 bars, clubs and lounges swing into full party mode (at differing decibel levels). And, while Royal Caribbean offers the usual lavish, Vegas-style, main-showroom music and dance extravaganzas (starring the Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers), what really captivated the crowd on our cruise was the audience participation programming. Chief among them was "Karaoke Idol Search," which was a series of auditions throughout the week, culminating in a well-attended "finals." And, all of Royal Caribbean's ships offer the Love and Marriage Show (a take-off on television's "The Newlywed Game"), and it is, indeed, hysterical.
Beyond performances, lounges all offered trademark-style entertainment at night. At the Wig & Gavel pub, a mournful guitarist-singer sang mellow tunes and rock classics. Bolero featured Latin dance music. The Schooner Bar's pianist played pop and torch songs. Ellington's is the place for jazz. The Lotus Lounge, when not otherwise engaged in karaoke competitions, was the prime dance venue, and the Dragon's Lair -- the ship's wannabe-goth disco (that didn't even open until 10 p.m.) -- was the destination for late-night reveling and featured a D.J.
Casino-lovers will find everything from penny slots to gaming tables (including roulette, various versions of poker, blackjack and craps). Put your key card in the machines to win extra prizes as you play. You can charge your card to get cash to play, but there's a three percent surcharge in the casino (no charge if you've arranged to pay your onboard bill in cash).
Mariner of the Seas Public Rooms
You need more than a week -- and perhaps an all-at-sea itinerary -- to experience all of Mariner of the Seas' public rooms! Thankfully, you can use the digital WayFinders to navigate your way around the ship.
The main focus, especially indoors, is the ship's fabulous Promenade. It's the pulse of the vessel. It's lined with shops (the usual cruise-style boutiques that sell logo items, duty-free liquor, perfume and cruisewear) and bars like the British-esque Wig & Gavel pub, the cave-like Vintages wine bar and the somewhat-elegant-but-mostly-bland Champagne Bar. However, the highlight is the 24-hour Cafe at the Promenade, which is a great place to snack and people watch.
Off the main promenade, in various directions, are the Lotus Lounge (the ship's secondary theater with entertainment ranging from line-dancing classes to cooking workshops) and the Connoisseur's Lounge (a very elegant, cozy cigar bar). Connected to the Promenade, via various stairways, are additional entertainment arenas, including Casino Royale, the Schooner Bar, Bolero's, the Savoy Theater and the Dragon's Lair disco. Tucked away a deck lower -- easy to miss -- is the ship's intimate cinema.
Studio B is located on Deck 3, with access only from the aft end of that deck, by the dining room; it houses the ship's ice-skating performances and activities, as well as occasional adults-only comedy shows. Arrive early for the best seats, as the theater is fairly small (though sightlines are good throughout).
Other public areas include a decently stocked library. The CyberZone is one of the more inviting onboard Internet centers we've seen, and it never seemed over-crowded.. The cost for Internet access, via bow-to-stern Wi-Fi or at a work station, is 65 cents a minute, or you can buy packages of 60, 100, 150, 250 or 500 minutes for $35, $55, $75, $100 or $150, respectively. The Photo Gallery on Deck 3 is the place to giggle over silly photos of your shipmates and buy your own for outlandish prices. BR>
For a great view, the Viking Crown Lounge area, sitting atop the main pool, is divided into three rooms. Ellington's, which transforms into a jazz club at night, is almost as popular during the day as a spot for quiet reading (and a bird's-eye view of the scene around the pool). Other areas include the 19th Hole sports bar and a dedicated quiet area.
We loved Vintages wine bar -- a new addition to Voyager-class ships, beginning with Navigator of the Seas -- with its cozy, wine-cave feel. You can purchase wine flights to do your own tastings of California wines. The fabulous and colorfully electric Bolero's (on Deck 4, under the Champagne Bar) was unfairly bypassed by many cruisers, and it seems as if its lively ambience would be more appropriate for the Promenade.
Mariner of the Seas Spa & Fitness
Voyager-class ships -- and Mariner of the Seas is no exception -- are famous for their "get out there" philosophy, when it comes to onboard recreation. As such, a huge area (aft) is dedicated to the pursuit of athleticism. There is, of course, the rock-climbing wall (instruction is available), along with a golf simulator (for an extra fee), full-court basketball, Ping Pong, a rollerblading rink and miniature golf. The ship also offers a handful of ice-skating opportunities on sea days down in Studio B.
The ship's main pool area -- decorated by Romero Britto, a South Florida artist, known for his colorful, exuberant designs -- looks like a fabulous scene from St. Tropez. The outdoor deck is a scene in its own right and features two adjacent pools, jumbo, tea-cup-shaped whirlpools (and normal ones, too) and stadium lounge seating. A poolside jumbotron movie screen displays inspirational scenery, as well as movies and sports. One interesting note: One of the pools and a whirlpool have hydraulic lifts for the disabled.
The solarium pool is an adults-only area. It's lovely; lounges are outfitted with cushy, blue-covered cushions. The only downside: The area is in shadow for long periods of the day, due to its placement; sun worshippers are pretty much limited to high noon. And the area itself is fairly small (and, alas, quite popular); on sea days, we saw quite a bit of unmonitored chair saving from 8 a.m. onwards. The pool -- the only one onboard with actual steps, rather than just ladders -- is flanked by two larger whirlpools. The adjacent bar serves up "power smoothies" in addition to the more typical sodas, beer and cocktails.
We loved Mariner of the Seas' "ShipShape" Center. A two-level fitness facility/spa, it features a group exercise room for fitness classes (some, like spinning and yoga, charge a fee), an indoor thalassotherapy pool (free of charge), plenty of fitness equipment (we never saw a crowd) and the spa itself.
The facility features men's and women's locker rooms with a steam room and a sauna.
The spa and beauty salon, operated by the ubiquitous Steiner Leisure, Ltd., offered an excellent range of treatments (massages, facials, Ionithermie Algae Detox). There's even a Rasul room, a private steam and shower room, which couples can book to spend an hour slathering each other in exfoliating lotion, mud masks and moisturizers, while steaming their pores open. Service in the spa was outstanding -- and the quality of the treatments themselves was very high.
A couple of caveats: Be prepared for sticker shock, with a basic 50-minute massage now costing $119 or more. A traditional 25-minute manicure is $29; a 45-minute pedicure is $45. The spa did offer "discounts" on port-of-call days (and as the cruise wound down).
But beware: Treatment employees will engage, way too aggressively, in the much-loathed "Steiner Product Pitch" at the end of your appointment. The products are also over-priced. Just say no.
Mariner of the Seas For Kids
Mariner of the Seas is an outstanding choice for family cruisers. The facilities on this ship are among the largest in the industry -- encompassing 22,000 square feet -- and include computer stations, arts and crafts workshops, science areas and a video arcade. The ship is making a real effort to court families with teenagers; these young folks have three rooms to call home, including a nightclub (Fuel), a hang-out (The Living Room) and The Back Deck, which is a teens-only outdoor area.
We missed having a kids-only pool area like those on Royal Caribbean's Radiance-class ships, however.
Royal Caribbean's excellent Adventure Ocean Youth Program divides kids into age-appropriate groups. For instance, Aquanauts (the program for ages 3 to 5) may feature activities like "Alphabet Scavenger Hunt," story time and Adventure Theater acting classes by Camp Broadway. Explorers (ages 6 to 8) play backwards bingo, make their own surfboards and engage in basic science activities. Voyagers (ages 9 to 11) play foosball and capture the flag, as well as engage in science experiments that range from earthquakes to hailstorms. Even the teens are divided into two groups. Tweens (ages 12 to 14) have "open-mic" karaoke contests and a rock-wall challenge. And, the coolest group (ages 15 to 17) -- so cool, they don't have a kitschy name -- has its own dance parties and arcade competitions. In addition, Royal Caribbean has partnered with Fisher Price, Mattel and Crayola to offer a variety of kid- and family-friendly games and activities for all ages.
For the youngest set The Royal Babies Nursery (ages six - 18 months) offers interactive enrichment activities developed by the experts at Fisher Price; while the Royal Tots program (ages 18-36 months) offers 45-minute interactive playground sessions. A parent or caregiver must accompany all youngins during activity sessions.
Generally, activities at Adventure Ocean cease during lunch and dinner times, but there is the occasional organized meal outing (to Johnny Rocket's, for instance). On sea days, you can leave your kids (ages 3 to 11) at Adventure Ocean for a noon to 2 p.m. lunch-and-play for a cost of $7.95. Plus, new My Family Time Dining offers an option that lets kids finish dinner in the main dining room in 45 minutes, then get escorted by Adventure Ocean counselors back to the kids' club to play (letting Mom and Dad enjoy a more leisurely meal).
Late-night group babysitting in the kids' areas (for ages 3 to 11) is available from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for $5 per hour, per child. In-room babysitting for kids over the age of 1 (up to four children) costs $18 per hour and requires a 24-hour advance reservation.