Monday, June 22, 2009

Review--Mariner of the Seas--6.14.2009

Mariner of the Seas Review 6.14.2009

Just The Facts:
Ship: Mariner of the Seas
Date: June 14-June 21, 2009
Captain: Johnny Faevelen
Cruise Director: Abe Hughes
Ports: Los Angeles – San Francisco - Victoria - Seattle - Los Angeles Weather: Good all week

I am cruising as a solo and this was my 12th Royal Caribbean cruise, 51st overall cruise, and 1st cruise on the Mariner of the Seas. I am attending a Seminar at Sea presented by Royal Caribbean while aboard. I’m also participating in a Whodunit Production Murder Mystery that is a bit different, it’s not just one night, but over the course of the entire cruise.

Day One--Sunday—Embarkation
This is different for me in that I am both flying to a cruise AND flying into port on the day of the cruise. It’s always safest to fly in a day early in case of potential problems, but the air transfers work well for embarking on the west coast due to the time gained. The day started at 3:45 a.m. on the ranch with last minute details, loading the truck, etc. and I got away heading to the Waco Regional Airport about 4:20 a.m. It’s about an hour drive and by the time I parked in the remote parking (free) and made the terminal they were already screening passengers for the 5:45 am boarding. We pushed away right at 6:00 and were at DFW in just a few minutes. The connecting flight from DFW to SNA (Orange County-John Wayne) was 3+ hours and went well. I would have preferred to have flown into LAX or Long Beach, but I was using AA Advantage miles so had to use SNA. The shuttle was $50 to the San Pedro Cruise Terminal and that was a bit dear and more than expected. With the gaining of two hours that put me at the Terminal about 11:00 a.m and it was just about right for check-in and a short wait before actual boarding. No champagne as with the Voyager and Galveston embarkations. I recognized and spoke with John Joseph in the waiting area and was pleased to hear that he would be doing a show the following night. I was beginning to get hungry and realized that it had been 8 hours since that biscuit back on the ranch. The Diamond and Priority guests boarded about 11:30 and I headed to the Windjammer. I wasn’t really in a big hurry, but using the experienced cruiser routine (skipping photos, using back bank of elevators, etc.) actually ended up being the first in line at the Windjammer buffet. I always enjoy seeing the presentation of the food before the masses arrive. They had the usual RCCL first day buffet. The roast beef from the Carving Station was very good as were the salads and the desserts. Since I couldn’t bring cokes I did purchase a Coke Card. I’ll report on its use. It is $6 per day + 15% tip so almost $50 for an adult. It may keep me from buying too many of the drinks of the day.

I went to my cabin shortly before 1:00 p.m. when cabins become available to guests. I have cabin 2254 an ocean view forward on starboard side. It’s a large cabin very nice and clean and has a large porthole window. I bet I see waves! I was hoping to take a nap, but they are loading luggage just below my cabin and it’s interesting to see a forklift swing by the porthole window every ten minutes and a bit noisy. Won’t be a problem after sailing. The cabin is an ‘adjoining’ cabin and I’ve noticed the main difference is that you have a large padded chair and not the small sofa. The cabin set up is great for me as a solo.

Our first Whodunit meeting was this afternoon in the Dragon’s Lair lounge and we are all in a mob family with two major branches, the Rubys and the Sapphires. My character is Ray Ruby. So I am in the Ruby family. I met the new acting Don of the family, Jimmy the mouth Sapphire. This may be interesting. Muster Drill was scheduled for 4:15 and seemed to go smooth. My luggage didn’t arrive until 4:45 pm. so I unpacked and then went to the upper decks for sail away. We sailed a little late, about 5:30, and we sailed out the channel into the Pacific. We could see the Carnival Splendor sailing out of Long Beach. It was a nice sunny and mild day and you could see Santa Catalina Island. I didn’t attend the Welcome Show as I attended a reception for the Seminar at Sea group in the Cloud Nine lounge. The cocktails were complementary so I had two very nice mojitos since we were on the Viking Crown level and that is one of their specialty drinks. That was very nice, thank you, Royal Caribbean. Dinner was 15 minutes later than scheduled as is common on embarkation day. Most Seminar attendees are all at the same table and area in the Top Hat and Tails dining room. I had the Vidalia onion tart and Tomatillo (spicy) soup. I also had the Prime Rib (with fresh horseradish) as an entree and Savrin for desert. After a LONG busy day and dinner I retired to the cabin for the evening.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea / San Francisco
I slept very well and hopefully now I am acclimated to Pacific standard time. The starboard side is great as from my large porthole window I can see the California coast as we sail north. I had a very nice breakfast in the Rhapsody at Sea (main) dining room. Chocolate chip pancakes was the special, but I had Eggs Benedict. After breakfast I checked on getting tickets for the Ice Skating Show, but I was told they didn’t use the ticket system, you just show up at the performance. That could be good or bad, we’ll see. It’s a mostly cloudy day and chilly on deck. Some are using the hot tubs. I was lucky and I did see a whale this morning, but later we passed a large pod of whales and the Captain slowed so that many could see them. There was a Diamond family reunion at 11:00 am and I met the various members of the ‘family’ (Whodunit actors). It’s fun so far. I had a light lunch in the Windjammer. They had roast pork at the carving station and the specialty station. There was a wide selection of items in the buffet.

I have to admit crossing under the Golden Gate Bridge was a real highlight and a lot bigger deal than I originally thought it would be. I was on the center observation area above the Sky bar and it was a great spot as the forward tower/mast was ahead and it really looks like it would not clear as you approach. Of course she did, but by only 17 feet and this was at low tide. It is a very close fit. Just as we passed under the bridge the captain blew the ships horn and everyone cheered. A very unique experience. It took another hour plus to reach the dock and begin debarkation. I took my time as I wasn’t planning a tour and left the ship about 2:00 pm. I walked down to the original Fisherman’s Wharf and had a whole crab from the Fisherman's Grotto crab stand. It was great. Not near as many tourists in the original fishing piers behind the dockside restaurants. I remember taking a charter fishing boat out of there when I was a teenager. Most tourists now go to Pier 39 that has all the tourist places, shops, and chain restaurants. I did buy some beautiful Bing Cherries from a fruit stand and they were great. I returned to the ship about 4:30 for a nap. About 7:45 I went to the alternative Concierge lounge located in the Dragon’s Lair only one deck above my cabin for a pre-dinner glass of wine. Dinner tonight was at the usual 8:30 pm in the dining room. It was Italian night and I had the Scallops Risotto, Chicken Marsalla and Tiramisu for dessert. The waiters ended Italian night by singing O Solo Mio. After dinner I attended the John Joseph & Johnny B show in the Savoy theater. I really enjoyed it. I first saw John Joseph on the Splendour in 2006 as a solo. Very funny man and act.

Day Three—Tuesday—at Sea
Weather was cloudy & chilly and we can still the coast as we sail north. I had breakfast in the Rhapsody in Blue dining room. A very good breakfast: tomato juice, grapefruit, fried eggs, bacon, corned beef, hash brown potatoes, and toast. I activated an Internet program and caught up on some emails and business this morning. We had a meeting of the
Whodunit family at 12:30 and folks made arguments about who the next ‘Don’ should be. Following that a large group of us had lunch in the Windjammer. They had roast turkey on the carving station. I had the turkey, mashed potatoes, and a very nice salad. Following lunch I had a very nice nap. Petit-Fours and Chocolate Covered Strawberries were delivered to the cabin and they made for a nice snack following the nap. We had the Diamond Family ‘Gala’ in the theater at 6:45 when we discovered that Uncle Vinnie has now also died. Very entertaining except when I was a backup dancer for Lulu Von Tramp. This was formal night so I prepared for the Captains Cocktail reception that was held in the Grand Promenade. The Captains Dinner was very good and the dining room was at capacity this evening. Escargot, Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Filet, Sea Bass, and Grand Mariner Soufflé were my selections. The feature production show was after dinner this evening in the Savoy Theater was Front Row. The show is very enjoyable and featured various show tunes, popular tunes, and dance numbers.

Day Four--Wednesday—Victoria, British Columbia
It was very foggy in the early morning when I first looked out the porthole. We must be in Puget Sound as the water is smooth as glass. We are supposed to be docked about noon. I again had a very nice breakfast in the Rhapsody in Blue dining room then checked email from a Promenade deck WiFi hot spot. The Whodunit group had a memorial service for Uncle Nicky this morning. It was very good, the best event so far in the program.
We arrived at the pier in Victoria on time and docked next to the new Carnival Spendour. I met some friends and we went into downtown Victoria for a nice lunch on the inner harbor. We visited the Empress Hotel and the shops before returning to the ship. I took a nap before attending the Ice Under The Big Top show in Studio B. It was a fantastic show and we actually had a show within a show with two overly exuberant inebriated ladies on the front row. I don’t know how they kept from falling over the rail onto the ice. Dinner was again good, I had Shrimp & Crab Salad, Jalepeno Potato Soup, Black Angus Steak, Tilapia, and BBB for desert. The BBB was a new dessert consisting of bananas and Baily’s Irish crème made into a brule. The Love and Marriage game show hosted by Abe was this evening in the Savoy Theater, but I had some cabin time and watched a movie after dinner.

Day Five--Thursday—Seattle
We docked very early this morning and it was a cloudy day, but the weather improved over the day. I had breakfast in the Windjammer and caught up on emails in the morning before leaving the ship. We are docked at pier 66 and it is very convenient for downtown and especially the Pike Street Market. I really enjoyed watching the famous fish market area where they throw the fish as it’s ordered. Very interesting and good teamwork by the fish mongers. I had to buy some Mt. Rainier cherries and they were excellent. I returned to the ship in early afternoon and had lunch in the Windjammer. They had lamb on the carving station, but I had a very nice salad. I watched the Love & Marriage show on the cabin TV this afternoon and took a nap. I watched the sail away and then we had our final Whodunit gathering. I submitted my guess as to the murderer, but was off base. I’m sure they have several alternative endings. The actors were all very good. And it was a very enjoyable experience. I spent some time in the Concierge lounge. They have very nice snacks in addition to the cocktails. LaRaf was the headline showcase, but I have seen them several time on the Voyager so only watched the first act then returned to the Concierge lounge to visit with friends. Dinner was again good, I had the Maryland Crab Cake, Soup, Grilled double sliced Pork Steak and the mango parfait for dessert. This evening the Quest was held in Studio B, but I watched Matt Yee’s show in the Schooner Bar. He was very entertaining and really gets the audience into the show. Now being late I retired to the cabin.

Day Six--Friday—at Sea
It is a cloudy & windy day today. The Captain is not hugging the coast line on the return and we are experiencing some high Pacific waves. I am getting spray on my porthole window so it’s a nice ride. I had another good breakfast in the dining room. I enjoy the service of the dining room especially on sea days when we have plenty of time. After breakfast I again checked email and news on the Internet. Having a satellite system in the country I understand why the system may be slower on cloudy days at sea. The ISP system on board ship is very similar. I walked around the ship and then had an early light lunch in the Windjammer. They had corned beef on the carving station. I watched a movie on the cabin TV and later went to hear the Mariner of the Seas orchestra play jazz on the promenade from the Wig & Gavel. They had a nice cocktail reception for the Whodunit participants and cast in the early evening. It was interesting seeing the actors not in character. The Captains C&A past guest reception for Platinum & Diamond guests was also this evening so it was very busy. Tonight is the second formal evening and dinner was again good. My selections were a Garden Salad, the Fisherman’s Platter (Lobster & shrimp) and the assorted dessert selection. The second production show for our cruise was after dinner. The show was Pure Energy featuring the Mariner Singers and Dancers in a 1980’s style review show featuring popular songs from that era. It was an excellent show and not to be missed. Following the show several of us caught Matt Yee’s adult version of his Divas Live show. After a very long evening I retired to the cabin

Day Seven--at Sea
Very pleasant and sunny weather this morning, probably the best weather of the cruise. I slept in a little bit this morning as it was a late night. I did have a 10:00 a.m. seminar to attend as a part of the Seminar@Sea program. The Whodunit folks discussed the group aspects of this type group on board ship. After business I ate in the MDR (main dining room) for the first time for lunch. It was wonderful. They have a build your own salad bar where you choose the ingredients and items in want in your salad. They then add your choice of dressing and crush/cut the salad for you and viola a wonderful chilled salad just as you like it. I also ordered the open face steak sandwich that is served with fried eggs and on a thick slice of bread. If you wait until after 3:00 pm on the final sea day and purchase liquor from the General Store you can take it with you to your cabin. Passengers really enjoyed the pool deck this afternoon. There was an Enchanted Knights Parade in the Promenade, nice to see it earlier in the day. Last visit to the Concierge lounge before dinner. It has been enjoyable having a location to meet other past guests. Dinner was again very good. I had the Cesar salad, New York Strip Steak, French Onion Soup, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. All selections were very good.

I was up early and as mentioned there is a gangway below my cabin so I knew we had arrived back at San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. No room service on debarkation morning, but a full breakfast menu in the dining room so I took advantage of that very early. They use the new debarkation system that works very well. No general announcements, only announcements to the individual debarkation stations. I left the ship about 8:30 and since our last port was in the USA customs was a breeze. I actually got a shuttle right away and was off to John Wayne Airport. I wanted to arrive early as there was a mix up with my air tickets, so I had a nice wait before beginning the journey. I arrived back in Waco at 9:30 Texas time and it was an hour drive back to the ranch. I’m not keen on air travel, but this cruise was worth the effort.

This was my 5th time on a Voyager class ship. I am still very impressed with these magnificent vessels. I know the people on the West Coast are happy to now have a Voyager Class ship available to them for cruises. There are good and bad things about the size. The elevators can be busy or full and I recommend taking the stairs when possible. The additional size also means that there is room for the photo gallery, casino, bars, etc. without any one of them dominating an entire deck. The Grand Promenade is very impressive indeed and must be experienced. One difference is that they have a wine bar on the promenade where the Voyager has a sports bar. The ship was very clean and the public rooms were always spotless. I noticed a new sign in the elevator, No children under age 11 without a parent. They also have their alcohol policy prominently displayed (drinking age is 21) at every bar and lounge. The theme of the casino is State Fair. I love the dining room and the chandelier, but I don’t believe the chandelier on the Mariner to be near as large as the one on the Voyager. That’s an observation I’d like confirmed just to satisfy my curiosity.

The staff and crew are very good and very friendly. Captain Johnny made his daily announcements around noon each day and kept us informed of the weather and activities. He was also seen out and about on the ship and had a Q&A session on the last sea day. I thought all the crew were very nice and greeted guests very well.

I have cabin 2254 a Ocean View on deck two forward starboard side. There is little noise as it’s on a deck with few cabins and little activity. As mentioned there is noise at embarkation and debarkation but that is fine as your not really using your cabin at those times. The cabin steward was good and the cabin is clean. As mentioned the cabin is an ‘adjoining’ cabin and I’ve noticed the main difference is that you have a large padded chair and not the small sofa. That actually allows more floor space and I never noticed any noise from the other cabin. The safe has a button keypad. The air conditioning worked very well. You can check the status of your on board account using the RC-TV. The cabin refrigerator was well stocked, but I never used it. I had a nice towel animals most nights. I would have no problem staying in this cabin or location again.

I had second or late seating for dinner. Our dining room, Top Hat & Tails, was the deck four (middle level) of the three level restaurant. It was a ten top table with others participating in the Whodunit show and the seminar. A wonderful collection of table mates. Our waiter, Denise from Romania, was very good and called me by name each evening. Lunch in the dining room has the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. The new salad bar is wonderful. The Windjammer had a daily pasta bar and a carving station for nice meat selections. I enjoyed the green salads and specialty items. All the bread selections are very good on board. The desserts are very good in both the Windjammer and the dining room. There are several ice cream machines with vanilla, and chocolate flavors. I do not use Room Service as much when I don’t have a balcony cabin, but the assorted fruits and cheese plate are my still my favorite items. You can order room service on the RC-TV, but I recommend calling room service. Service was good when used.

The weather was primarily cool & cloudy especially in the mornings, but most afternoons cleared with sun. Very enjoyable weather especially if you were looking for relief from heat.

Diamond Value Booklet
The new C&A Diamond booklets are now out and were used on this cruise. Basically there are no benefits for the returning guests, only incentives to purchase at a discount. The only coupon I used was $10 off on purchasing internet service and it wasn’t properly credited. Missing are anything that was free on it’s own, i.e. Johnny Rockets cover charge coupon, free drink coupons, etc.

Cruise Highlights
I really enjoyed the Whodunit Productions murder mystery program. The program was very entertaining and the camaraderie of those in your group was wonderful. The Ice Under the Big Top and the two productions shows, Pure Energy and Front Row, featuring the Mariner Singers and Dancers were very good. The Schooner bar with Matt Yee was very popular with the passengers. My favorite port this cruise was Victoria.

This was a great cruise for me as I received a very fair single supplement fee and experienced a new ship and new ports. I also got to experience the Whodunit Mystery experience that was unique and enjoyable. I really enjoyed the Diamond Concierge lounge and hope future changes don’t diminish that experience. Overall a VERY GOOD cruise.

Whodunit Productions:

Thanks to Jake Tomlinson and Bart DeBoer for photograph
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -