Mariner of the Seas Inaugural
What a cruise! I've never been on a maiden voyage before. This one was a blast!
A quick, one-word review for the major items:
Crew: excellent Food: excellent Service: very good Entertainment: good (we didn't go to any shows, but they looked good) Ports: very good (Port Canaveral, Nassau, San Juan, St. Martin, Port Canaveral) Ship: Beautiful!
Mariner of the Seas literally gleamed as we pulled up to the port. Fresh from her journey across the Atlantic and her 2-day cruise to nowhere, she awaited her first real boarding of passengers.
Our group consisted of 6 friends. Four of us had cruised before. Two of us had been on 5 RCI cruises before this one, one of those on Explorer, so we were familiar with the Voyager-class ships.
Our trip started the Thursday before the cruise. We went to Orlando and visited Disneyworld on Friday. Had a good time there. Saturday we drove to Port Canaveral. We stayed at the Radisson Resort. It has a great pool area. I thought it had a view of the port, but it doesn't.
Almost immediately we started meeting people who were also on the cruise. There were quite a few there. Some of them we had already met online, but we had no idea what they looked like. It was fun to put faces to names.
That evening we went to Grill's, a bar & grill type place that the ships pass as they take out. We were supposed to meet some of our online friends there. After meeting up with them we all sat around several tables drinking, eating, and getting to know one another. Soon we watched Disney Magic and HAL Maasdam sail out and begin their journeys. The next day would be our chance.
Sunday morning we dropped of our rental car and took their shuttle to the pier at 10:45. Mariner was waiting. We flew through the security entrance and went directly to the check-in lines. Something new that I hadn't seen before was that RCI had different lines for different cabin levels. Decks 2-4 had one line, 5-7 another, etc. We checked in at the Platinum & Diamond counter. The line there was the same as any other, so it wasn't much of an advantage to check in at this counter. Later in the day it was probably more of a benefit. We were told we would board first, but at 11:30 they actually opened up all boarding.
After taking the obligatory boarding picture, we made our way down the hallway and boarded Mariner of the Seas.
As could be expected, everything was shining like new. We made our way to cabin 9390, a starboard aft cabin on the corner. I had thought the balcony would be larger, being an aft cabin, but it was a quarter-pie-wedge shape that didn't stretch back too far. The balcony also had no cover, which I kind of liked, because you could lay out on your balcony with no shadows. One drawback, though, was that the balcony above could look down on you.
One thing I did like was the access to the balcony. No sliding door. Instead there was a regular, half-glass door situated next to a large round window. I always thought the sliders were a little cumbersome to open and close quickly.
You can peek around the balcony dividers easily, and I could see that the balcony in the identical E1 cabin next to ours was at least twice as large. While we had just 2 chairs and a small table on our balcony, the balcony next to ours accommodated 2 lounge chairs from the pool area. Still, I enjoyed our balcony.
We walked down to the Royal Promenade and looked around. Vintages, the wine bar, looked cozy. The Wig & Gavel also appeared like your bar around the corner. All the other stores had their usual RCI appearance. Café Promenade already had their snacks stocked.
We ate in the Windjammer. This Windjammer reminded me of the one on Brilliance. It was very warm and welcoming. The entry foyer had teak benches arranged for conversation. The layout of the Windjammer was easier for large groups, with food spread out all over. It took people a while to realize that the first line they came to was not necessarily the line they wanted to be in.
Jade is the first are of the Windjammer. It serves up Asian-inspired cuisine, complete with square trays and chopsticks. Portofino and Chops are also at the entry to the Windjammer. Prices for these two alternative restaurants is $20/person. We never got to eat there, so I can't tell you how it was.
Past Jade is the usual Windjammer, again with different lines of food, some serving the same things to ease the flow of traffic. We only ate there this first day, and on the last day before debarkation.
We went up top for sailaway and met up with our new friends. Protesters were making their presence known by flying a banner behind a plane saying "Got sewage? RCI dumps their daily." It was a little humorous, actually. Sailaway was delayed due to a late produce truck. We watched it unload its foodstuffs onto the ship, and then we were off. We again encountered protesters alongside the channel, but their small group seemed impotent juxtaposed against a behemoth like Mariner. I would never begrudge anyone their right to voice their protests, but it wasn't going to get me off that ship!
Dinner that night was served very late -- 9:00pm. Didn't bother me, though. The dining room is just incredible. At the landing between floors 1 and 2, there are bronze statues of Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews as the Captain and Maria von Trapp from "The Sound of Music." Behind them is a mural of the large staircase inside the mansion that was von Trapp's home.
There are deep wood columns with beautiful light fixtures, but the crown jewel of the dining room was the chandelier. I understand the one on Voyager is a sight to behold, but this one was breathtaking. The dining room had a very formal feel to it, more than any I've experienced. I liked it.
It was soon clear that the waters were going to be a little rough. Motion was certainly detectable, although it wasn't too harsh. The captain warned us it would be rough for a while. In fact, it was still so rough on the 2nd sea day that the pools had to be shut down. The water was being tossed around so roughly that it was spewing out of the pools in huge sprays.
Monday saw us in Nassau. Just did some shopping here. The next day was at sea. The winds had picked up the night before, and they continued on this day at sea. It was also pretty cloudy. These factors combined with the rough seas made for a tough time to lay out and get some good sun. But it was still possible.
San Juan and St. Martin were fun. Saw San Juan with a small tour bus group that included the Bacardi factory, and we hired a cab in St. Martin. A word about rental car agencies: one of our friends had reserved a rental car with Budget for St. Martin. He arrived at their booth at the pier to pick up his car, only to find the booth unmanned. He was told by someone that hardly anyone was ever there. He called Budget, and they told him he would have to take a cab to their other location. He canceled the order and used another agency that was at the pier.
A tip about the Bacardi factory: you never actually get to see rum being made or processed. The free tour is just a stop at their visitor center, which has staged replicas of the original factories and a short movie about the Bacardi family and their history.
I worked out almost every morning in the Shipshape Center. One thing that was a small inconvenience there was the fact that to get a key for a locker, one had to go upstairs to the Shipshape Spa. Not that far, but the spa opened at 8:00, while the workout area and lockerrooms opened at 7:00. So if you don't trust your items in an unlocked locker for an hour, you'll have to carry them around in the Shipshape Center.
There were plenty of cross-training machines and treadmills. There are weight machines and free weights. All the machines are by LifeFitness, and you can probably see them on their site.
There were 2 parades during the cruise, both on the Royal Promenade. There was to be a Caribbean party on the pool deck on Caribbean night, but it was too windy and rough, so they moved it to the Royal Promenade.
There were different theme nights for dress. They are as follows, along with the entertainment for that night.
Day 1 - Casual; Comedian Jeff Jana Day 2 - Casual or Colorful Caribbean; Comedian Rondell Sheridan Day 3 - Formal; RCI Singers and Dancers, "Front Row" Day 4 - Smart casual; Ice Under the Big Top, ice show Day 5 - Casual or 50s-80s attire; RCI Singers and Dancers, "Pure Energy" Day 6 - Formal; The Original Drifters Day 7 - Casual; Farewell Variety Show and comedian Tim Jones
One budget-tightening move I noticed, which was probably a good one: instead of printing a "Cruise Compass" AND a daily planner, the planner was incorporated into the "Compass" and could be torn from the "Compass," resulting in a pocket planner.
I liked that RCI left a form in your cabin, allowing you to elect to pay gratuities via your SeaPass account OR allowed you to pay via cash on your own. This way you didn't have to stand in line at the Guest Services desk to let them know which one you wanted to do.
A nice surprise was that everyone received in their cabins one night a certificate certifying that they were a guest on the inaugural sailing of Mariner. Each certificate was accompanied by a photo of Mariner, similar to the type you'd buy in the photo shop. Also, we were given fanny packs with the RCI logo and name of the ship embroidered on it.
One entertainer you can't miss while onboard is Matt Yee. He is the piano entertainer at the Schooner Bar. He is HILARIOUS! He's a great singer, but his big thing is audience participation, and he get people involved almost to the point of embarrassment. I attended his show on more than one night. He plays great sing-a-long tunes, and everyone has a great time.
The captain is Johnny Faevelan and he is the best captain I've experienced. He's personable, outgoing, funny, and a great speaker. Ken Rush was the Cruise Director, and he's also tops, constantly facilitating activities and getting passengers involved.
While there were some kinks on this cruise, they were to be expected on a first sailing. It was never enough to mar the fun of a cruise. This was my 6th RCI cruise, and I know I'll be back for more.
Pictures are posted on the following 3 web pages:
Philip Austin, TX