I have enjoyed reading the many reviews of the Mariner of the Seas and I have learned a lot of great things from those reviews. We just got back from our 7 night Eastern Caribbean Vacation (our first cruise ever) and I wanted to share my experience with the hope that it might help some other first time cruisers. I know that this is a long review, but this review is for those who have a fear of the unknown. If you have any other questions, please feel free to email me privately.
Getting to Port Canaveral:
We drove our own vehicle to Port Canaveral. We took the Beeline Expressway as directed and once we were getting close to the port there were numerous marquees with specific directions for Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas. I will confess, once we first spotted her from the expressway, the butterflies in my stomach became intense. She was sitting in port with two other ships, Disney Magic and the Carnival Fantasy. There was no questions which was ours, she was by far the biggest and most beautiful. We were directed to Cruise Terminal A. This is indicated on the marquees as well as the cruise documents you should receive before your trip. Once we got closer to the terminal, there was an abundance of signs telling us exactly where to go. Once we made it to the Royal Caribbean area, a very polite security guard who wanted to see our cruise documents only to make sure we were in the proper spot met us.
Unloading and Parking:
We actually arrived at the Port around 11:00 a.m. I had read numerous reviews and it was suggested that we arrive early even though our documents stated that loading wouldn't begin until early afternoon. We were directed down a long street and told to drive in front of the terminal to unload all our CHECKED baggage. As we were doing this, I will warn you, that there were a lot of people. Some going to the ship and some just leaving the terminal. It was slight chaos. We waited in a line of cars and as we crept closer to the terminal we were directed to a parking lot where porters were waiting to take our bags and put them on luggage carts. These men were taking our luggage and putting them on carts that were going to go straight to the ship. Please people, to speed things along .have your luggage tags already on your luggage BEFORE you get to the terminal. I think at this point we could have let others in our party out with our carryon luggage at the terminal and have them wait for us, but we decided to all go and park together. There were actually 13 of us and we had 3 vanloads of people and luggage. After unloading our checked bags, we were directed to the parking area. It is here that we paid our parking fee. Information I had stated that parking was $10 per day and we would be there for 8 days, however, prepaid parking only cost us $70. I was very pleased to find out that we would actually be parking in a parking garage. I worried about our vehicle being parked in the open Florida sun/weather for that long of a time. And because we were early, we got to park on the ground floor.
Check-in, Security and Embarkation:
When we entered the terminal we immediately had to have our carryon luggage x-rayed and pass through a metal detector ourselves. They are very strict about this. The lady in front of me had an infant in a stroller. They made her pick up the baby and hold it out at arms length in front of her as they both passed through. After clearance, we were asked by personnel if we had all of our documents, including the Bahamas Immigration Form. Which we did! However, I don't understand how some people said they didn't even have their tickets, let alone their Bahamas form. This form comes with your cruise documents. Take the time to have this filled out along with your charge account information. We were sent on to check in - a real time saver. We proceeded up an escalator where you see a clerk that corresponds to the deck your cabin is on. It is here that all your forms are taken from you and you receive your Sea Pass card. Once you are through this, it is on to the ship.
When you actually cross the gangway and enter the ship, you have to insert your Sea Pass into a machine and have your picture taken. This was probably the worst photo ever taken of me. I had no idea what was going on and didn't know exactly where I was looking or why I was doing this. However, each time you get on or off at ports, this picture pops up. After that, you will be met with the first photographer of your cruise for your welcome aboard photo. I redeemed myself on that pic!
Our Official Day 1:
Once we entered the ship, we were met by some Adventure Ocean (Children's Program) staff. Any children under the age of 12 are required to wear a wrist bracelet for the duration of the cruise. The purpose of this is if you become separated from your child during an evacuation, the bracelet lets the staff now where to find the parents. In theory, this is a wonderful idea, however, my 8-year-old daughter came to hate this bracelet. It was tight and often scratched her. Honestly, by Friday of our cruise. We cut it off. She did not participate in any of the Adventure Ocean activities and never left our side anyway.
Our Stateroom was not available until 1 p.m. that afternoon, so we were told we could go to the Windjammer Café on Deck 11 for lunch. This was great, however, you have to keep your carryon luggage with you and it became it was a pain to have to carry our entire carryon luggage with us.
The rooms were okay. We had an inside stateroom with 2 pull down beds, (Kids loved em). We put the two twin beds together, however, I think they may have been full size beds, because it felt like a king size bed instead of a queen. There was a safe in the room and a small refrigerator. We did bring our own pop on board in our suitcases and asked our wonderful stateroom attendant "Catur" to empty out the minibar. This was no problem. The storage spaces in the inside staterooms are minimal. There is a closet with some shelves, but no dresser drawers like in a hotel room. There is minimal cabinet space and a few drawers in the desk. There is a small couch in the room. We stored our suitcases under the bed along with our lifejackets.
We were to leave for Nassau at 5 p.m., but we didn't leave until after 6 p.m. apparently there was a security problem following disembarking that morning and it took several hours to regain security clearance. There was also a storm that moved through and the captain decided to wait to leave so we could be on deck to watch.
We had booked the excursion, Blackbeard's Cay Beach Break. It was okay. The beach we went to was a private island. However, it was very rocky in the water. We could not be in the water without beach shoes. It wasn't overly crowded and we had a good time. Those who book the Stingray Snorkel go to this same island. We didn't do this, but could see that the area where you snorkel is enclosed within a fence and it seemed to be very crowded.
We didn't get to explore Nassau other than the walk we had to take to get to the exploration boat. It happened to be Bahamas Independence Day and a lot of the shops were closed anyway.
Tuesday at Sea:
This was our first chance to really enjoy the ship. This is also the day we could really feel the ship moving. Yes, people even a ship of this size rocks in the water. We encountered 45 mph head winds this day and it was quite a challenge to even walk the top deck. I would not let my 8 year old on the top deck because of the high winds. It was nice to sunbathe on this day, because the intense sun/heat was less noticeable with the winds.
What can I say!! LOVED IT!! (The shopping anyway). We had an afternoon excursion so the morning was free to shop. We got off the ship and was met me eager taxi drivers. It cost us $3 per person each way to hitch a ride to town to shop. We drove to downtown, but there is a shopping mall within walking distance of the ship. Much of the same shops as downtown, but not as many sidewalk vendors. The sidewalk vendors are what I really liked though. A wide variety of t-shirts, island wear, and best of all, designer purses. A word to the wise.if you see something you like, BUY IT. I didn't buy a purse I really liked thinking I would find the same things on St. Maarten. Didn't happen. People, don't waste your time shopping on St. Maarten. Buy it on St. Thomas. After leaving the island, I joked about asking the captain to stop back by St. Thomas and let me get the purse.
Our afternoon excursion was the St. John Beach Tour. Highly recommend it! We went to Trunk Bay and it was absolutely beautiful. We were able to snorkel and no additional charge and it was amazing. I tried to snorkel in Hawaii and hated it. But the waters here were so calm it was wonderful. I only wished I had spent the whole time snorkeling.
Like I mentioned before. Don't waste time shopping here. We were constantly hounded for hair braiding and to shop in their shops. The T-shirts here were of very low quality at least at the sidewalk vendors. There were a few stores that had quality products, and they were willing to give you a decent buy if you purchased several things.
We booked the Afternoon Beach Break at Orient Beach. Over 250 people on our ship also booked this tour. However, this strip of sand is quite large and it didn't seem overly crowded here. The water here was very rough though. My nephews were finally able to do some body surfing here. The waves were strong enough to knock you down without being to far out. We were warned about possible nudity on this beach, but I only saw one lady topless (and you had to really look to tell if it were a man or woman). The provided lounge chairs were very comfortable and the punch was okay.
Last Sea Days:
The last two days were at sea. We enjoyed the pool, rock wall, ice-skating, inline skating, etc. I personally didn't get to do too much on Saturday as I spent most of the afternoon packing. All checked luggage has to be outside of your stateroom between 7 p.m. and midnight.
Other Ship Activities:
Rock Wall - I didn't do it. But my daughters did. There are 3 different levels you can climb. You have to sign up and parents have to sign waivers for their children and for yourself. There was usually a line, but it goes fast because they can send 3 at one time.
Ice Skating - The show was wonderful. However, I didn't like the way they did tickets. You have to have tickets to go to the show, and tickets were made available while we were at an excursion in Nassau. We did manage to get them once we got back on the ship, but I think they should do this differently. Actual ice-skating was okay. It's a small rink and it can get crowded. They usually let you skate for about 15 minutes before they ask you to get off and let others skate. Again waiver must be signed.
Inline Skating - Small track, but not usually too busy. Tried it. Feel on my butt. I was done. Parents again must sign waivers.
Miniature Golf - I personally didn't do the golf, but the rest of my family did. Can't offer an opinion here.
Promenade Parades - Stay up late the first day and go to the Welcome Aboard Parade. It was wonderful and a great way to kick off your vacation. It starts at 10:45 p.m., but worth it! The farewell parade left a little to be desired and didn't at all compare to the welcome parade.
Windjammer / Dining Room - We ate all breakfast & lunch meals in the Windjammer Café. It is a buffet style - pancakes, waffles, bacon, for breakfast and hotdogs, hamburgers and wonderful French fries for lunch. There were a lot of other types of food too. The food was average. Nothing exceptional, but certainly a wide variety. I will say to try the Pan de Sal Asian bread in the Jade area. Wonderful!! That I truly miss. The Dining Room was beautiful. We ate there every night but the first. We had the best waiter, Tong. He was from China and he was the best. I wish we could have brought him home. We had two tables for our family. The kids sat at their own table and Tong referred to them as "his little friends." It was really fun talking to him about American customs. The boys enjoyed trying to teach him about baseball. As far as our Assistant Waiter and the Maitre D. We personally couldn't understand anything they said. Our AW was from Indonesia and the MD was very French and arrogant.
Be for-warned.the majority of the RC staff are from other countries. I only saw a couple that were from the states. Most can speak English, but it is difficult to carry on conversations with them.
Shows - Shows were great. Our first show was The Platters. They were wonderful. The comics on board were hilarious. Take the time to go to these shows. Worth it!
Disembarking the Final Time:
On the last night, you will receive in your room disembarking instructions along with new color-coded luggage tags. These tags will determine how soon you get off the ship. You must leave your stateroom by 8 a.m. and go to one of the theaters or open decks to wait. We were in the Savoy Theatre by 7:30, but didn't leave the ship until 10:15 a.m. Our color was in the middle of the pack. I have a hint - but don't know if it will work. The night before in front of guest relations are the color-coded tags in case you need extra and you will know the color order from your cruise compass. In hind site, I'm wondering if I would have gotten a color closer to the beginning we would have been on the road much sooner. Keep in mind, others may have been doing this and it may create a mob getting off the ship. We didn't have much problem once I color was called. And your luggage doesn't go to the terminal until your color is called.
Once our color was called, we left the ship and had to go through U.S. Customs. It was chaotic with everyone trying to go down the escalator, but after that we were through customs quickly. Its then off to get your luggage. The different colors are at different carousels. We found ours quite quickly and grabbed a porter and we were soon on our way home!
Overview - I had a wonderful time. I thought I would be ready to get off the ship after 8 days, but I wasn't. I could have easily gone out for another 7 nights. I've read many reviews about people complaining about all the kids. This cruise was in the middle of the summer. We were at full capacity. 5000 people and crew. Yes, there were kids and teens, but I never encountered any rude children. And the only crying child I remember hearing was in the theatre waiting to get off the ship. If you take a cruise looking to find things wrong, than you will find them. I went on this cruise for the vacation of a lifetime and that is exactly what I experienced.