Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cruise Review: Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise

My husband and I just returned from a seven day cruise on Royal Caribbean's "Mariner of the Seas."  It was his first cruise and my third. We went with some friends of ours from Seattle and had an absolute blast! 

This week, I'll be posting about the cruise ship, the activities we took part in, what I packed (clothing and beauty items) as well as the steps I took to organize our belongings in a small stateroom. 

Click below for part 1: Review of Mariner of the Seas.

Mariner of the Seas Savoy Theater
Mariner of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean's Voyager Class, which is a group of ships that the cruise line  distinguishes by size and amenities. This ship was completed in October 2003 and has the capacity for over 3,000 cruise vacationers. Despite it's size, Mariner of the Seas is not at all overwhelming. It's easy to navigate the decks, thanks to very clear signage as well as the new touch screen interactive maps that are located throughout the ship. There are TONS of things to do on this ship, which I will get to later in this blog entry.

My husband and I chose an aft facing balcony stateroom because we wanted an over-sized balcony and we thought it would be quieter than a room on a long hallway. Our room was here: 

Let me just say that this was AWESOME!!! Not only was it quiet, but I spent just about every morning (unless we had to leave early for an excursion) on the balcony, with my coffee, reading a book on my Ipad. 

Our stateroom was also very comfortable. While it was small compared to what we are used to at home, the stateroom was obviously well planned and nicely laid out. It contained a queen sized bed, a closet, desk area, flat screen TV, couch, coffee table and a bathroom.

Our balcony was also wonderful! I spent a lot of time there and it was extremely relaxing. This balcony was larger than normal due to its location on the ship. 

We were taken care of by our amazing room attendant, Jenerio D'Silva. Not only did he keep everything clean and tidy, Jenerio kept us informed of everything going on the ship every day. My husband and I really enjoyed chatting with him and learning about him. He was really great and our lives were definitely enhanced by meeting Jenerio!!!

My husband and Jenerio
Everyone always asks about the food on a cruise and I have to say, Royal Caribbean did a great job in this area, with a few caveats. After boarding the ship (which was an incredibly easy and fast process), we made plans to meet the friends we were traveling with at a cafe in the promenade area, on deck 5. Once there, the offerings were sandwiches, pizza, some cakes, cookies and water, iced tea and coffee. It was not great but we were hungry. We later learned that this was the place to go if one wanted food after the other restaurants closed. Not a great start to our cruise but it got much better from there! 

Picture via

My husband and I signed up for "My Time Dining" which is Royal Caribbean's flexible dining plan. With this plan, we weren't locked in to a specific dinner time and only had to make reservations each morning for the time we wanted. The other option would be to choose a fixed dining time for either the early (5:45) or late (7:45?) seating and have the same table and waiter every evening. Before the cruise, I used Royal Caribbean's online tool to book our dinner reservations for 7:30pm in the main dining room for all nights except two, when we had dinner in their "ulta-fine" dining restaurants, Giovanni's Table and Chops. 

The dinners in the main dining room were excellent and were mostly very creative. I really didn't know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. My husband and I are both "foodies" and  were quite satisfied with the offerings. I mostly eat seafood and vegetarian dishes while my husband likes meat and we were both happy. Some of the highlights for me were their imaginative salads, a shrimp and scallop entree I had one night, the grilled salmon (although I would have preferred wild salmon to farm raised but really couldn't expect them to do that with the mass quantities of food they had to prepare) and the desserts. My husband thoroughly enjoyed the prime rib, fillet mignon and lamb shank that he chose on various nights.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure we had in the dining room, however, was the care given by our waiter, Robert Coronel, and our assistant waiter, Myra Paut, from the deck five dining room, The Sound of Music! After our first dinner with them, I went to the maitre d' and asked to be be seated in their areas every night we were in the dining room. They did such a great job and we loved getting to know them! Robert also orchestrated getting the Royal Caribbean cookbook signed by the chef. He and Myra signed it as well, which was very special.

Neither my husband nor I woke up early enough to have breakfast in the main dining room so he regularly ate breakfast (and I ate lunch) in the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11. The food here was served as a buffet and there was a huge selection available that would satisfy just about anyone from classic American hamburgers and hot dogs to Indian dal. While the selection was excellent, the taste/presentation was not on the same level as the main dining room or the fine dining restaurants on the ship. Most days, I had a bowl of soup and maybe some rice and a vegetarian dish made with lentils or chick peas. While the food wasn't as good as that in the main dining room, it was still very good. My husband especially enjoyed the breakfasts they served.

For two evenings we had dinner with our friends at
Giovanni's Table and Chops Grill. Giovanni's Table is an Italian eatery that carries an upcharge of $20 per person. Our excellent waiter, Gary, encouraged us to take advantage of the "family style" method of ordering and we let him choose the appetizers/salads. He brought us a baked eggplant dish, caprese salad, grilled scallops and crab ravioli. For my entree, I had sole and my husband had osso bucco. Gary brought out the dessert cart and it included tiramisu (yummmm!!), a cherry liqueur parfait, a strawberry liqueur parfait, chocolate almond cake and two kinds of cannoli. Everything we ate that night was amazing!!!

Giovanni's Table Baked Eggplant photo via

Giovanni's Table cannoli photo via

Chops Grill, an upscale steak house on board, carries an upcharge of $30 for dinner. It offers classic steak house fare, as well as other options for those who do not eat steak. I had a gloriously wonderful mushroom soup with truffle oil as well as grilled halibut. My husband had a fillet and he said it was excellent. For dessert, most of us at the table had the creme brulee, which is one of the best versions of that dessert that I have ever had. Mark delos Santos was our waiter, and he did an excellent job. As a bonus, Mark made us each origami frogs as souvenirs. What a great dinner!!!

Chops Grill creme brulee photo via

One of the few areas of contention that I have with Royal Caribbean are regarding the drink packages. Unless you choose a drink package, everything you drink on the ship is at an "a la carte" price. For that reason, it's very important that you purchase a package. Even so, there are a few problems with these packages. Firstly, my husband and I are very different in how we drink. I may have 1 or 2 glasses of wine per month and maybe 1 liquor drink every couple of months. On the other hand, my husband loves single malt scotch, craft beer and wine. Apparently, RCCL has a policy that if one person purchases a "premium" type of drink program (which matches my husband's tastes), every adult in the party has to purchase the same package. I understand that from a program management perspective (some people will "cheat" and get premium drinks for others in their party) but when you really don't drink regularly, it's a huge issue. The premium package (which is supposed to get you everything but we found some definite caveats) costs over $300 per person and there is NO WAY we could drink almost $700 worth of drinks on a 7 day cruise. 

Wig & Gavel Pub via
We also found that the premium drink package didn't include everything we thought it did. For instance, there were MANY beer selections at the Wig & Gavel Pub that were not in the package. The wine selections included were also pretty mediocre (house red and white, anyone?) so we ended up purchasing (at about $50 each) several bottles of wine. Bottles of wine are NOT part of the package. So that means you're purchasing a $20 bottle of wine for $45, then add gratuity (and tax, I think) and you're over $50 right there. Needless to say, on our next cruise, we will NOT be purchasing a premium drink package.

Main pool area

There is no way that someone could ever be bored on Mariner of the Seas. Although the ship has a lot of great amenities, it was physically impossible to take advantage of them all. The Savoy Theater had some excellent shows, there was an ice show one of the first evenings that I heard was great and, in general, there was just a lot going on at any time during the day or night. Whether it was a movie on the big screen TV at the main pool, dance lessons, exercise classes, beauty treatments or massages at the spa or the climbing wall on the top deck, there was ALWAYS something happening! On sea days, we tended to shop in the duty free stores (alcohol prices were really good, makeup and perfume prices were so-so--just a few dollars less than the department stores but also no sales tax), play miniature golf, read in the library/on our balcony or just hang out with our friends. It was definitely a good time!

 Last but not least, disembarkation from the Mariner of the Seas was handled well by the cruise line but U.S. Customs in Galveston left a lot to be desired. It seemed like there was some kind of technical problem with scanning in the passport information (at least that's what we heard), so the delays were pretty long. Our number was called at 9:30 and it took us a full 2 hours to get thru all of the lines to get on our bus back to Houston Intercontinental. 

Would I book another cruise on Royal Caribbean? Abso-freakin'-lutely! We had a wonderful time and can't wait to do it again!!!

Stay tuned for more information on our stops in Roatan, Belize City and Cozumel, as well as posts on packing, organization and beauty products that I took on the trip.