The Royal Theater features original and reimagined Broadway-style productions in the evenings. Inside you'll find tiers of bench seats, with lighted cocktail tables and a few groupings of cozier seats scattered throughout. Generally, they put on two shows each night: one at 8:30 p.m. and one at 10:30 p.m., but times vary by performance. "Gallery of Dreams" follows an artist who brings history to life through his sketches, jumping from Austria to the Wild West to 1940s Morocco. It's a full-blown stage production, complete with singers and dancers and a live band. During the Day, the Royal Theater shows movies in 3D.
Where do you even begin? It could be hard to relax on Mariner of the Seas because of the head-spinning array of activities that run throughout the day. There's karaoke, themed and general trivia, dance classes, Wii gaming, movies, basketball tournaments, volleyball games, limbo competitions and a number of silly scavenger hunt-type activities by the pool, along with poolside belly flop competitions. There are also fitness and healthy living seminars, poker tournaments, a pamper party in the fitness center and DJs around the ship.
Laser Tag, Battle for Planet Z took place on the first day of our sailing. For this adrenaline-fueled game, the floor of the Studio B ice rink is covered with inflatable walls and obstacles. The lights dimmed and two sides battled for the control of a planet. When the action begins, the teams hunt one another using sophisticated laser guns and targets worn on the body. It's fast-paced and thrilling, and there were nearly as many adults playing as kids. Best of all, it's an included activity.
One of the most fun things do to onboard was The Observatorium escape room experience. For those not familiar with escape rooms, the concept is simple: You're "trapped" in a room and have one hour in which you must complete a series of tasks in order to "escape" the room, save the world or do some combination of each. You win by solving physical puzzles and riddles. Challenging, fun and beautifully decorated, The Observatorium is great for groups small or large (up to 14 in one game). The additional charge to play -- $19 -- is nominal compared to the fun of it.
On Deck 12, Challengers Arcade is open 24 hours, and a number of the games (those without prizes) are free to play. We saw a steady mix of adults, teens and kids there, as well as Royal Caribbean staff keeping an eye on things.
There's also the sports deck, with its climbing wall, basketball court, Sky Pad, FlowRider and The Perfect Storm twin water slides available during the day and evening.
With all the activity, there are still enough spaces on the ship to find a moment of calm; you never feel pressured to participate.
Nightlife aboard Mariner of the Seas is as lively as the daytime. Some of the same activities -- wacky scavenger hunts, dancing lessons, dance parties, tournaments in the casino, game shows and movies on deck -- extend into the evening. Other evening activities include comedy shows, big stage productions, ice shows, meetups and get-togethers (singles, LGBTQ, etc.). Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade always had a decent crowd watching whichever sport was in season.
Also at night, the 10 bars, clubs and lounges swing into full party mode (at differing decibel levels) and each has a distinct vibe. At the British Pub, a mournful guitarist-singer performed mellow tunes and rock classics. Boleros featured Latin dance music. The Schooner Bar's pianist played pop and torch songs, kicking off plenty of sing-alongs. Ellington's is the place for jazz. Studio B turned into a late-night dance party with DJ, and every night (weather permitting) there was a DJ or band by the pool.
Casino-lovers will find everything from slots to gaming tables. 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 3 percent surcharge in the casino (no charge if you've arranged to pay your onboard bill in cash). If you don't know how to play, there are a handful of "Learn to Play" sessions that cover table games and slot machines.
Studio B (Deck 3): Studio B is a multifunctional space, hosting various activities on different evenings. Among those activities are the "Under the Big Top" ice show; "Battle for Planet Z," a laser tag game; and a late-night dance club that opens following the "Quest" adult scavenger hunt/game show hybrid. A pair of bars on either side of Studio B serves thirsty passengers their choice of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. The atmosphere varies by activity, but the space is the same: The dance floor/ice rink/laser tag arena is in a sunken space in the middle with stadium seating wrapping three sides; to the aft of the space is a stage. Arrive early for the ice shows to grab the best seats, as the theater is fairly small; sight lines are good throughout, however.
Schooner Bar (Deck 4): Replete with nautical decorations that are just dramatic enough to steer clear of tacky waters, the Schooner Bar features a pianist who belts out great versions of pop songs spanning the decades. Leading sing-alongs and taking requests, he keeps the crowd entertained throughout the evening. The bar menu offers a number of takes on the Old Fashioned. There's seating at the piano and at tables and benches surrounding the piano, spots at the bar and intimate seating for two and four off to the side (where you can hear the piano, but still hold a normal conversation).
Casino Royale Bar (Deck 4): The bar at Casino Royale primarily serves casino patrons. Smoking and vaping are allowed in the casino and at the casino bar.
Boleros (Deck 4): Boleros serves chic drinks in a space that features a small stage and dance floor. Bar seating and tables for two and four fill the space, but many patrons stand at the balcony overlooking the Centrum and onto Deck 3, where you can watch Studio B show-goers coming and going. The feel there is distinctly Latin, with salsa dance lessons during the day and salsa music at night. A number of guests taking to the dance floor to twirl, whirl and glide across the parquet. Boleros gets livelier as the evening goes on.
Star Lounge (Deck 5): Star Lounge, the ship's secondary theater, has a small bar area, but passengers go there primarily for the live music and activities like game shows.
Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade (Deck 5): Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade has that neighborhood sports bar feel, complete with nearly three dozen televisions (all tuned to sports or sports highlights), a small pool table, outdoor games like giant Jenga and oversized Connect Four, a handful of arcade games and a food menu of items like wings and sliders. During games and in the early evenings, Playmakers can get crowded, and there might be a short line at the bar. The same holds for later at night.
English Pub (Deck 5): Serving a good selection of beer and cider, the English Pub is always busy and bustling but never crowded. Dark wood paneling and furniture give it a cozy pub-like feel, and its front looks like a pub, complete with multi-paned windows and oversized doors. Musicians show up from time to time to play for drinkers, and their catalog of tunes is usually on the slower, singer-songwriter side.
The Bamboo Room (Deck 5): Added during the 2018 refurbishment, The Bamboo Room, a Polynesian-inspired bar with updated versions of classic tiki-lounge cocktails, looks amazing with its bold, leaf-patterned wall coverings, dark wood and bamboo accents throughout. The menu was inspired by tiki bar classics, so expect lots of rum, fruit juice and bartenders who are friendly, fun and know their way around a cocktail shaker.
Solarium Bar (Deck 11): Located in the adults-only Solarium, the Solarium Bar serves a standard selection of cocktails, beer and wine. Attractive and welcoming, thanks to brightly colored tiles and a wide-open front, the bar gets busy midday and in the early evening, though any wait is reasonable, as there are never more than a couple of people in line.
Pool Bar (Deck 11): The Pool Bar is only steps away from the pools and whirlpools, and as such, it often has quite a line. Cocktails ran the gamut from sex on the beach and martinis to Cuba Libres; the selection of liquor is better than the selection of beer or wine, though the bar serves plenty of all three. Expect a wait, especially at midday.
Plaza Bar (Deck 11): Plaza Bar sits just inside the entrance to Windjammer Marketplace, between the specialty dining venues Jamie's Italian and Chops Grille, making it a good spot to wait for your reservation or to people-watch. Often overlooked, there's never more than a quick wait, making it a good spot if you want quick service and a full bar.
Sky Bar (Deck 12): Sky Bar overlooks the pools on Deck 11 and provides a standard menu of cocktails, beer and wine, as well as a bit of shade. As with the Pool Bar, cocktails are standard, and the liquor selection is rather good, though beer and wine are limited. The wait isn't overwhelming, even at the bar's most crowded times.
Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 13): Viking Crown Lounge is part of a four-lounge complex that includes the Suite Lounge, Ellington's Jazz Club and the Diamond Club. There you'll find excellent cocktails with hardly a wait, a good beer selection and a better wine selection than other bars onboard.
Suite Lounge (Deck 13): Reserved for the exclusive use of passengers booked in suites, the Suite Lounge has great views, thanks to a bank of windows along one wall. Drinks are top shelf and complimentary.
Ellington's Jazz Club (Deck 13): Ellington's, which transforms into a jazz club or dance party 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. The selection of liquor and wine is good, beer and cocktails slightly less so.
Diamond Club (Deck 13): The Diamond Club is a lounge dedicated to Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club Crown & Anchor Society members. Amenities include complimentary cocktails at happy hour and a Continental breakfast.
On Deck 11 you'll find the ship's pools, including a pair for adults and kids to use and a trio of whirlpools (two smaller, one larger). Surrounding the pools are the loungers, collections of couches and tables, a bar and the Boardwalk Dog House. There's also a large movie screen hanging above the pool for evening screenings.
The Solarium, also on Deck 11, features a pool and a pair of whirlpools, plus loungers, tables and large daybed-like areas to relax on. The Solarium is adults-only, so it tends to be quieter and more reserved. Due to its shape and position, sections of it are in shadow for long parts of the day, with the best sun exposure coming around noon.
Lifeguards are visible and on duty whenever the pools or hot tubs are open. Hydraulic lifts are available in pools and whirlpools, both in the main pool area and in the Solarium.
There's no shortage of recreational offerings on Mariner of the Seas. The rock climbing wall features routes of varying difficulty and all the safety harnesses and belay equipment you need to get a taste for the sport.
The FlowRider, Royal Caribbean's signature surfing simulator, always has a line. You'll see everyone give it a try, from experienced surfers to newbies. The instructors and safety crew give tips to everyone who rides, and those who fall off early get a quick second ride before rejoining the line. Nearby seating allows a crowd to gather and watch those brave enough to try.
The Perfect Storm -- twin racing water slides that appear to hang out beyond the edge of the ship -- was another popular spot for kids and adults alike. Though the line is often considerable, it moves reasonably quickly.
You can't miss the Sky Pad, a giant yellow orb overlooking the sports court and FlowRider. A virtual-reality bungee trampoline experience with four trampolines, the Sky Pad always has a long line of cruisers ready to strap themselves into a harness and virtual-reality headset. Once bouncing around on a trampoline, they could choose one of several VR "games" to play.
We rarely saw anyone using the sports court -- where you can play soccer and basketball -- with only a few intrepid hoop-shooters stepping onto the court to shoot a dozen free throws and leave for the more exciting FlowRider or Sky Pad.
Adjacent to the Sky Pad and FlowRider, the Sky Climber gives kids a chance to play outdoors as they scramble over, under and through obstacles in an enclosed, multilevel playland; nearby swings provide further distraction.
At the front of the ship on Deck 13, Mariner Dunes is a nine-hole mini-golf course, featuring bright, cartoonish obstacles like lighthouses, pirate ships, shells and dunes.
The primary sun decks aboard Mariner of the Seas surround the main and Solarium pools, and extend up onto Deck 12 above. Tiers of loungers to either side of the pool bar are reserved for suite passengers. The pool deck does get crowded, but the sun deck above usually has plenty of room to spread out. Signs advise passengers not to reserve seats, but that didn't stop people on our sailing; as a result, pool attendants were vigilant in removing any paperbacks, cover-ups, sunglasses and flip-flops being used to save seats after a reasonable time span.
Other sun decks are located on Deck 12 aft and Deck 13 aft and forward. The aft area is a mix of tables and seating overlooking the Sports Court, FlowRider and rock climbing wall. The forward area on Deck 13 -- Mariner Dunes -- is packed with loungers that are seldom used, as this is where the ship's nine-hole mini-golf course is located.
Mariner of the Seas offers a bevy of services and shops, with many of the service desks located on Deck 5's Royal Promenade. There you'll find the guest services, as well as the next cruise desk, where you can score discounts on booking your next Royal Caribbean sailing. Also on the promenade are the shore excursions desk, where you can learn more and book your shore excursions, and the library, which is comfortable, quiet and well-appointed with books and furniture.
The Royal Promenade is also home to several shops featuring duty-free liquor, Royal Caribbean- and Mariner of the Seas-branded clothing and merchandise, and a jewelry store. On Deck 3, the Art and Photo Gallery draws visitors to look at the artwork for sale and the photos taken by the onboard photography team. The conference center on Deck 2 offers ample meeting space.
You need more than a week -- and perhaps an all-at-sea itinerary -- to experience all of Mariner of the Seas' spaces. Thankfully, you can use the digital WayFinders to navigate your way around the ship. These touch-screen maps show your location and allow you to search by deck, by activity (dining, shows) or by what's happening now. WayFinders are located near each bank of elevators, between the elevators and stairs on each floor.
There's no self-service laundry onboard Mariner of the Seas, but you can pack a bag with dirty clothing and have it washed and folded for $34.99 per bag, as much as you can fit in.
Royal Caribbean claims its VOOM Wi-Fi is the fastest at sea; we don't know if it is indeed the fastest, but we can say it was reliable. We found only a couple of dead spots on the ship (on the lowest decks, where interference was greatest) and noticed it slowed whenever when we were in areas with heavy use. (We could see other passengers on Instagram, email and other apps.) Access is tiered, with Surf or Surf & Stream options. Each tier provides different speeds, with Surf being slowest and Surf & Stream being quick enough to stream and Skype/FaceTime. Pricing runs from $14.99 per day, per device, for a Surf package to $19.99 per day, per device, for the Surf & Stream package. Single-day passes are more expensive, and you get a discount if you purchase your package prior to cruising. We never did find the Internet Cafe -- called iCafe -- though employees pointed us in the right direction (Deck 5, near the library).
Vitality Spa, operated by Steiner Leisure Ltd., is a lovely space, open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., offering a large range of treatments that include Swedish and deep tissue massage, acupuncture and facials, as well as medi-spa treatments to fill or smooth wrinkles. Soft colors, pleasant music and essential oils scenting the air via discreet diffusers add to the atmosphere. Individual and couple's treatments are available, with private and couple's treatment rooms provided as appropriate.
The two-level Vitality Fitness Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., giving cruisers plenty of time to get a workout in, take a class like spin (extra fee) or yoga (included). Vitality is well-outfitted, with a good amount of cardio equipment (treadmills, upright and recumbent bikes, elliptical machines) and strength training machines, as well as a free weight area.
The jogging/walking track on Deck 12 gives you a view and a breeze while you exercise; eight laps around is 1 mile.
The facility features men's and women's locker rooms with a steam room, sauna and showers.
Mariner of the Seas is an outstanding choice for family cruisers, with facilities for kids (computer stations, arts and crafts workshops, science areas) and teens (a video arcade, teens-only nightclub and The Living Room hangout). The only thing missing is a kids-only pool.
The Royal Babies and Tots Nursery is located on Deck 12 aft. Hourly fees are $6 per child for daytime services and $8 per child after 6 p.m. Reservations are recommended to ensure you have a space.
Autism-friendly activities are provided as needed, as are other program modifications designed for children with a wide array of needs.
Royal Caribbean's Adventure Ocean Youth Program divides kids into age-appropriate groups. Only children 3 and older who are fully toilet trained may participate. Aquanauts (ages 3 to 5) might feature activities like an 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 on topics that range from earthquakes to hail storms. It's at the Voyager level that kids can start to sign themselves in and out of the program.
Generally, activities at Adventure Ocean cease during lunch and dinner times, but there is the occasional organized meal outing for lunch (to Johnny Rockets, for instance). In the evening, Adventure Dining lets the kids dine with the Adventure Ocean staff and their new friends, giving their parents a break for dinner.
The Late Night Party Zone, a group baby-sitting program, is available until 2 a.m., with age-appropriate activities provided, including a quiet option for Aquanauts. Be sure to pick your kids up on time. If you're more than 15 minutes late picking up the kid(s) from an activity, you'll be charged $1 per minute, per kid, for each minute you're late, beginning with minute 16.
Teens are divided into two groups, as well: Tweens (ages 12 to 14) and teens (ages 15 to 17) -- so cool, they don't have a kitschy name.
All have a robust offering aboard Mariner of the Seas. Activities designed for tweens and teens include get-to-know-you mixers and icebreakers, a selfie scavenger hunt, card games, party games and activities that run from 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Other activities include Perfect Storm water slide races, game shows and themed parties. On shore days at CocoCay, there are teen activities onboard and on shore.
There's also a teen dance club, Fuel, on Deck 12 near Challenger's Arcade, where kids can cut loose on the dance floor. There's also a space called The Living Room, a lounge perfect for hanging out with newfound friends; it's adjacent to Johnny Rockets.
On our sailing, activities for tweens and teens were combined, due to a low count of age-appropriate participants. On typical sailings, activities are divided by age, though the games and activities are of a similar type.