My family & I (2 adults, 3 teens - 17, 15 &12) just returned from a week cruising on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas - Western Caribbean. We had port stops at CocoCay, Ocho Rios Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. This was our first cruise. Overall, we all had a great time. The ship is absolutely magnificent - only 5 months old. It was packed full - 3,500 passengers of which 1,000 were under the age of 18.
We were quite surprised to find that our dining location was a private table near the windows. The food was quite good - I had expected it not to be, based on various comments I had read online. We live in the NY metropolitan area and go to many fine restaurants. Although the buffet was cafeteria style, the food there was not your typical cafeteria food. The dining room food was quite good and presented well. All the service people were extremely pleasant and very accomodating - couldn't ask for better service.
We did not book any Explorations through the cruiseline. We used Peat Taylor in Jamaica. Peat gave us a tour of Fern Gully and the local countryside before taking us to Dunns River Falls. Once there, his son escorted us in and turned us over to a guide. We all hiked up the falls - there were people who took your camera and took pictures of our group. Also, there were people filming a video of us - we purchased the DVD at the end - bargained down to $35 from $40. We avoided the marketplace there as I had read that the vendors were quite pushy. Peat then took us back to the ship for lunch and then met us one hour later to take us downtown for some shopping. We bought some T-shirts, a reggae CD, a fake cuban cigar and a bottle of Sangster's Cream Rum. Upon returning to the dock I purchased more cream rum and Appleton's at the pier - prices were cheaper there than downtown. Peat only charges $30 per peson and that included the $10 admission to the Falls. I highly recommend Peat Taylor.
The next day we went to Grand Cayman. We booked the Stingray City tour through Native Way Watersports. The tour was great and also included snorkeling at Coral Gardens. Very nice people to deal with - my middle son and daughter sort of freaked out and decided they did not want to go into the water with the stingrays. We were charged only half price for them since they did not participate - they just took the boat ride. The cost is $30 per person - again, I highly recommed them. Spent some time shopping for watches in Grand Cayman - didn't buy the real expensive stuff but got some great deals. Also found a legitimate store for Cuban cigars - I purchased a few to smoke aboard. There was a Cigar lounge that was open from 9pm - 1am each night.
Our next port was Cozumel. We decided that we were trying to pack too much into the days, so we decided on just doing shopping. We bought lots of silver jewlery, t-shirts more watches and more liquor. Next time I would definately like to check out the beaches there.
We attended the shows in the evening. One night they had Kenny James perform - a 13 time Star Search champion. He was very talented. Another night Bowser, from the group Sha-Na-Na performed the Bowser Rock 'n Roll show. Boswer was very entertaining and the next night he was available to sign autographs on his photo. The comic on the last night wasn't too funny. The Mariner of the Seas orchestra was great, as were the singers and dancers. I didn't bother with the casino, as the craps tables only offer single odds and I figured that this was a family vacation - I didn't need to go off by myself to gamble - I can do that in Vegas or Atlantic City. There are so many things to do aboard ship, we had trouble finding the time to participate. In the end, we decided to just relax by the pool on the days at sea.
My wife and daughter both got sea sick during our first full day at sea. Our family is quite used to boats, as we own our own boat and spend a considerable amount of time on the ocean. The water was quite calm but, something came over them and they both got sick. You never know. I purchased 2 sets of wrist bands and administered meclizine daily to them for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, my wife was very leary to drink any alcohol or eat much food for the rest of the trip. My boys and I had no problems.
The only complaints that I could have is that the ship is so large, you realy don't feel as though you're on the water. That could be a good thing for some. My other complaint is how regimented everything is, especially on the days that we were in port. Not enough time in port. The day we were in Grand Caymen, we had to be back on the ship by 3:30pm. Since we did the stingray city tour - we couldn't shop unitl 1:30pm. We shopped until 3:15 and headed back to the pier. We were rushing to pack in as much as we could. Once at the pier I tried to purchase some liquor and they said it was too late and they wouldn't let me purchase a bottle and carry it to the ship. When we got onboard we realized we hadn't eaten since breakfast so we thought it would be a good time to go to Johnny Rocket's. Only problem was that was the night I had made a reservation at Chops - the steakhouse. So, when we sat down at 7pm, nobody was hungry for dinner. My wife and middle son had some shrimp cocktail, my daughter only took 3 bites of her prime rib. So, I kind of wasted $100 on a dinner that nobody wanted. We booked the dinner the first day, not knowing how the timing would work out for us.
I thought that Jamaica was the prettiest of the islands, but the level of poverty made it kind of depressing. Cozumel was typical Mexico to me. Grand Cayman is much more wealthy - they wouldn't bargain at all. I would go back to Grand Cayman - but since my wife is not anxious to take another cruise for a while (understandably so) I would fly there.
Overall, we had a great trip - I like the fact that our family enjoys spending time together. Too many parents shipped their kids off to the kids program or just ignored them. More than once we noticed children asking parents to join them in the pool and all the parent wanted to do was sit and read their book. In my mind, my kids are growing up too fast and I treasure each and every minute we can spend together. We made some fabulous memories together this trip - ones that I know my kids will cherish for the rest of their lives.