I must begin my review of the absolutely stunning Mariner of the Seas by thanking Captain Johnny for a perfect week. This captain is friendly, personable and a bit "off the wall" in a good way! His wonderful relationship with every one of the crew members made this my favorite cruise to date! A few of the staff told me that when other captains call a meeting, they dread attending, but when Capt. Johnny calls one, they can't wait to get there! It's amazing how this attitude is passed on down to the passengers. This is the first time I did not hear one complaint from any fellow cruisers!
We awoke to hear that Saddam Hussein had been captured! What a way to start a vacation! We began the 2-1/2 hour drive to the port in weather that was bad. Rain and winds made for a difficult drive. We arrived at Port Canaveral about 1 p.m. Parking and unloading is a disaster, but there is a lot of construction in that area now and I am sure all will be smooth in no time! Parking is $10 per day, prepaid. You may use cash, MasterCard or Visa but not American Express.
We entered the terminal through x-ray with our carryon bags, one of which contained a bottle of champagne, a bottle of wine and a bottle of Kirshwasser (horrid stuff). The latter was a gift to a couple of Swiss guys we had met on message boards before our trip. We were nervous about this being confiscated but our fears were calmed when we reached the end of the belt and the x-ray tech smiled and said "Good Stuff."
Although the lines were long they moved quickly. Our Seapass card was misplaced so we waited while new ones were made. From the time we arrived at the port until we boarded was about 1-1/2 hours. We entered the ship and went to check out our first-ever balcony cabin, which was beautiful, clean, fresh and new! But we didn't linger, as we needed to check out other parts of the ship and make our way to Ellington's (part of the Viking Crown) to meet up with Meet and Mingle members for an ornament exchange. It was so great to finally put humans to pen names!
We went back to our cabin and grabbed life jackets for the most painless muster drill ever -- it was over almost before it began. We returned to our cabin for sail-away with champagne on the balcony. We took a moment to adorn our balcony with Christmas lights we had packed for this purpose! We met one of our next door neighbors, whom I spoke with several times although we never did exchange names. The whole week was like that -- everyone friendly and happy, one big block party all week!
Our luggage had been placed in our cabin so we unpacked and settled in for the week, and got ready for late dinner, which was 9 p.m. this evening but 8:30 the rest of the week. Dress was casual this evening. Our table #550 was just wonderful! I don't know how Royal Caribbean does it, but we were at a table for eight and all got along wonderfully! Our waiter Alex and assistant Cruz were terrific. The atmosphere at our table and all the others nearby was fun the entire week.
One thing about the "wine and dine package" -- it was $160 plus 15% gratuity for seven nights. We ran into a problem one evening when we decided to dine more casually in the Windjammer. Our head waitress, Marianna (who was wonderful), told us the evening before that we just needed to show up at the Windjammer and give our table number and name, and there would be no problem enjoying a bottle of wine with our dinner. Not so. I don't think we will purchase this package when we return in April; it would be easier to order wine by the glass.
After dinner we went back to our cabin to meet our Steward Hussein (imagine the ribbing he got all week!). I requested a larger ice bucket and from then on found not one but two ice buckets in our cabin, always full. We checked out the ship a bit and finally succumbed to much-needed sleep. We slept that night with our balcony door open.
We awoke to room service calling to see if it was OK to bring our order, and had breakfast on the balcony. We went to the upper level of the ship and walked the mile loop along with about 60 other folks, then did some exploring. We went to the duty-free shop and bought some rum and Absolut to take back to our cabin. After learning there is a $9.50 per BOTTLE charge for bringing it to our room we opted to save all but two bottles until departure day.
We ate lunch at Johnny Rockets -- very good, but the double burger wouldn't fit in King Kong's mouth! Then at 1 p.m. it was off to our Meet and Mingle once again in Ellington's Lounge. We met Tracy, the ship's social hostess. She is very sweet, from York, England! Considering that she was in need of a root canal that week and had to wait until we reached Cozumel, she did a wonderful job! Then we strolled around the main pool area and got there in time to see Mr. Skinny Legs! I am not a huge fan of this type of activity but it was the funniest thing I had seen in a long time! At 3 p.m. we met my Mom at the wine tasting (don't waste your time).
Because it was formal night and I had never had an "up" do, I made a spa appointment for 7:00. Another word: Do NOT have too many cocktails before you get your hair done! The price for the do wasn't too bad but I am now the proud owner of a diamond barrette that I need to lock in a safe! I won't even tell you what I paid for it!
I scrambled to get dressed and get out of our cabin to watch Captain Johnny welcome us aboard -- what a show! Then it was off to dinner and the Karaoke talent contest (more laughs), then to bed since tomorrow we would be at Labadee and we wanted to get up early to watch the ship sail in!
Haiti is absolutely beautiful from the ship, with lush green mountains rushing down to meet the blue Caribbean Sea. The tenders here are huge and there's virtually no waiting to get off the ship. Labadee is very pretty. The area is broken up into coves and beaches. The far side of the island has a longer beach but because of the steep incline it really isn't the type of beach to take a nice long walk on! Don't rush to be the first one off the ship -- there are lots of people just waiting to set up lounge chairs for you -- for a tip, of course! (If you wait a while, many lounges are abandoned and you can just ease into one!) After the BBQ lunch we headed back to the ship so we could be chair hogs!
Tonight was 50's night. There was a C&A repeaters' party in the Lotus Lounge starring Ken Rush and Capt. Johnny! We learned that the new Ultra Voyager would be about 100 yards longer than the Mariner! When asked what the new ship might have to fill in the extra space, Capt. Johnny suggested tennis and a bowling alley! After dinner was the Quest! I can't say too much about it...I laughed so hard it hurt!
I was hesitant about this port, but don't believe all that you read. Jamaica is beautiful. In our usual "vacation" mode of strolling off the ship we were a bit late for our Peat Taylor tour. But Peat arrived within minutes and gave us a special ride over to Dunn's River Falls! I had e-mailed him back in August. It amazed me that when we got on his bus he greeted me by my name. We were careful to walk the way Peat told us to, avoiding the hagglers who lurked off to the right and left of the park. There is one comical man dressed up as a woman who has a donkey covered in flowers. DO NOT take his picture...it will cost you!
We met our group and proceeded to the bottom of the falls. This is a spectacular sight -- the river flowing out to the open sea. We held hands in a human chain and proceeded to ascend the falls. What great fun! As you leave the park you must be careful not to stray. A couple on our bus was told they HAD to go through the marketplace. One of the young men was asked his name and the next thing he knew his name was engraved on a wooden statue! Lucky thing for him his wife had all their money and she was able to get him out of his jam!
Peat then took us on a wonderful ride/tour through the fern gulley and up into the mountains. Then it was back to the ship for a quick lunch. We decided to go to Margaritaville after lunch, where there were lots of folks having lots of fun! There is a new shopping area called Island Village where I got a really different wooden wind chime. We walked back to the ship and found an invitation to join some of our friends in their owner's suite for sail away! After dinner this night we were beat and never made it to the Caribbean pool party on deck.
This was the day I had waited months for -- Grand Cayman and swimming with the sting rays! But one look at the shoreline and I knew we weren't going to Grand Cayman today. The waves breaking on shore must have been 40 feet high.
To compensate Capt. Johnny bought us drinks for one hour! We visited the Solarium pool -- no retractable roof and it gets quite stuffy during warmer weather. Then it was up to the gym, which has tons of modern equipment. There is no better feeling than pedaling and looking out over the front of the ship. The weather wasn't too great this day so we visited the casino, had a Molito at Boleros and checked out the ship some more. Tonight was the Platnuim/Diamond repeaters party -- very nice and Ken, Johnny and Tracy were all there to chat with us.
We got off the ship, met our Swiss friends and hopped a cab to XelHa, but found there really is nothing there and headed back to the pier. The water was still rough from the storm that passed through the day before. We decided to rent a car for the day, which turned out to be a great idea. It was $85.00 for a Hertz Jeep Wrangler. We headed out along the coast and found Paradise Beach. A very large green lawn leads up to a manicured parking area! They must have imported the sand...soft and white. There were chaise lounges there with small tables and umbrellas. It had a great bar and new, clean bathrooms. The service was great!
Chi was our waiter for the day and he made sure we had plenty of beer. We snorkled and lounged and drank and ate had a very nice day. The time was up before we knew it and we decided to take the long way back to the ship. There are so many pristine beaches along the south side of the island -- very picturesque. We decided to make a pit stop at the Mayan Ruins, but don't bother – it's a waste of time and money (although I did get a great photo of an iguana).
We made it back to the ship for sail away! The first time I was in Cozumel I didn't care for it, but now I can't wait to go back. We were so exhausted from the daytime activities that we skipped dinner.
Time to pack up, say goodbyes, hand out tips and promise to e-mail everyone! And don't forget, it's Snowball Bingo! I went down to play for the jackpot. A lucky lady from Colorado won over $8,000. The weather was cold as we sailed past Cuba, so we stuck to indoor stuff today.
Final words -- make your way into the Dragons Liar at least once and say hi to the Bartenders (we witnessed a Michael Jackson dance contest one evening…these guys were professionals); also Kevin and the boys up in Ellington's as well as the folks in the Plaza bar. There wasn't enough time to sample all the different bars. We never did make it to the Vintages Wine Bar, the Champagne Bar, the English Tavern or The 19th Hole. Boy, there are a lot of bars on this ship.
The staff in the Windjammers was helpful, friendly and happy! The entire atmosphere of this ship just blew my mind -- so much so that we are going back in April!