Monday, February 6, 2012

Mariner of the Seas

Mariner of the Seas Review 1.29.2012

Just The Facts:
Ship: Mariner of the Seas
January 29-February 16, 2011
Captain: Flemming G. Neilson
Entertainment Director: Kieron Buffery
Ports: Galveston-Roatan-Belize-Cozumel-Galveston
Weather: Very Good--clouds and sun

This is my 16th Royal Caribbean cruise and 2nd on the Mariner of the Seas. We booked this cruise very early in order to get our favorite aft cabin on deck seven. We are traveling with cruise friends. There will be some comparisons to the Voyager of the Seas since we have sailed her six times and it was the previous Royal Caribbean ship sailing from Texas.

Day One--Sunday—Embarkation
After checking weather for Galveston, we left the Ranch at 6:24 a.m. it doesn’t look like there will be any problems with fog as they had the previous week. We stopped at the new Love’s Country Store outside Hearne, Texas that will be our new rest/break area as it is about half way on our drive to Galveston. We arrived at EZ Cruise Parking about 11:05 and it was already beginning to fill with early arrivals. Both the Carnival Magic and Mariner of the Seas are boarding today. We used the EZ Cruise shuttle from the parking lot to the pier. The Diamond check-in was a smooth process although boarding was a bit delayed as it was the weekend of a mandatory crew check with U.S. Customs. We were aboard about 12:20 and went up to the Windjammer for lunch. The salads were very good as usual and I had the roast beef from the carving station. The roast beef was very good but the fried chicken cutlet was even better. The Windjammer soon got very busy and soon ran out of places to sit. I guess because boarding was delayed and many boarded at once. It was much more busy than other embarkations I have experienced. Our friends found us in time for dessert, I enjoyed the key lime mouse and the strawberry mouse. We found the cookies not near as good as in the past. When cabins opened at 2:00 p.m. we went to deck seven and our favorite aft balcony cabin. We’ve had this cabin location many times on several RCCL ships. The cabin was not quite ready, but since it is located at the far end of the ship cabin that has happened to us before. In the rush to get it ready, the carpet was not cleaned (we found an ear ring, lid, and confetti), and a few items left in bath. No harm though and by evening our cabin steward Ashton had everything in great shape. A new change is that there is no ice unless you request it and of course we want both the ice bucket and our small cooler filled daily. Our bags arrived about 3:30 and they brought them into the cabin, an improvement from leaving them at the cabin door. Muster drill was held about 4:00. You do not take your life jacket to the muster location as in years past. Your muster station is now prominent on your sea card and the crew assists passengers to the proper location. We sailed away about 5:00 and we watched from our great aft balcony. The weather was very nice and the dolphins were active too. The photo (above left) is the Mariner of the Seas as she was leaving Galveston. It was taken by a friend on the Carnival Magic. Great sunset to say the least. The Diamond Nightly Event is located in the large Lotus Lounge on deck 5. We went by for a glass of wine before dinner. We have 8:00 seating in the Rhapsody in Blue dining room on deck 3 and have a nice table on it’s own platform near the entry. Dinner was very good. I had the Vidalia onion tart, Tomato soup, the Pork medallions, and Savrin for dessert. The onion tart was exceptional and the pork very good. The ‘Welcome Show’ featuring the band, dancers and Cruise Director was at 10:00 pm in the theater and an Islands-a-go-go Parade down the promenade was at 11:15.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
A very restful night and the weather is very nice. DW ordered her usual Room Service breakfast in bed and I had breakfast in the Diamond section of the dining room. I had eggs Benedict, bacon and hash browns. It was just OK, not as good as on the Voyager, but we’ll see how it progresses. They did fix a leche caliente for me and it was good. Some good balcony time and the Carnival Conquest is sailing along side this morning. I had a nice walk along the upper decks and around the pool. (see photo of pool area) I attended the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle at noon in the Ellington Lounge on deck 14. There was a fair crowd and they actually had good appetizers: cheese trays, fruit trays, and canapé trays. A very nice improvement to what they served on the Voyager. Not sure if this is fleet wide or not. For lunch we went to the Main Dining Room (MDR) as we know they have a nice salad station where you select your own individual salad items. It was windy on deck, but the aft is protected so we enjoyed some very nice balcony time until it clouded up in the late afternoon. The Captains reception was this evening although we passed on attending. The Captains Gala Dinner was a wonderful dinner, I ordered: Shrimp Cocktail, Escargot, Lobster Bisque, Seafood Brochette with scallops and shrimp on a monkfish, and the Filet Mignon with horseradish. For dessert I had the Chocolate Soufflé with a chocolate crème sauce. This was an excellent dinner, one of the better served on a cruise ship. After dinner we attended the late feature show, Voices 3 Las Vegas, in the Savoy Theater. It was a very enjoyable vocal musical show. After a long and fantastic first day at sea it was time to retire.

Day Three--Tuesday—Sea day
Weather is even better today as we enter the Caribbean. Midday temperature is 80°. DW had her room service and I had breakfast in the Diamond area of the MDR. The daily special was an open-faced omelette with peppers, onions, potatoes, and bacon. I’m still not impressed with breakfast. We had some good balcony time before a late Windjammer lunch. The first Ice Skating show was full so we spent a very nice afternoon on the balcony. The Crown & Anchor past guest parties were held in the afternoon, but we ordered cheese & fruit plates for a late afternoon balcony party. We did go to the Diamond function for a glass of wine before dinner. The late seating MDR is not that full, in fact our waiter Rosephil, from Goa, has only had only our table the past two nights so we are getting a lot of attention and service. The four of us in our party have the nice six-top table to ourselves. The Maitre’D brought a special Hearts of Palm salad, the fanciest one I have ever received. I ordered the Asian Noodles, Indian seafood soup, and the Surf & Turf, for dessert we all had the Kaluha Banana Crème Pie and a Coconut Crème Brule. After dinner we went to the Savoy Theater (photo above) for production showtime: Gallery of Dreams. It was a very interesting show featuring the Mariner orchestra and the Mariner singers & dancers.

Day Four--Wednesday—Roatan
We arrived by 8:00 a.m. and the weather was great very early-you could even see the mainland and the whale tail of the Carnival Legend at Mahogony Bay. We are docked at Coxen Hole and over the years we have watched the dock area improve, our balcony is facing southeast towards the mainland. We made no plans for the day other than taking it easy so no rush this morning. I had a nice breakfast, best so far, in the Diamond MDR and DW her usual room service breakfast. We were enjoying the view from the balcony and soon the weather changed with clouds rolling in and good rain began. Our balcony is deep and covered so it was great so we stayed there until lunch in the Windjammer. They had a very nice Sirloin in the carving station. The vegetables and mashed potatoes have been excellent. The afternoon was more balcony time. There was another shower then it completely cleared. At one time you could see the mainland better than I have ever seen it before. Usually the mountains are always covered with clouds but the storms had blown them away. Once it actually completely cleared in Roatan the mainland was again covered in clouds as usual. Interesting. We went to the Ice Under the Big Top show in Studio B at 6:30. (photo left) It was great to see a new ice show and it was very enjoyable. Do not miss the ice show. It was now time for dinner and it was another good one. DW said the Butternut squash with White Bean Salad and Spinach Ricotta was the best vegetarian dish so far. I had the Crabcake, Harira soup, a special Hearts of Palm salad, Beef Stroganoff, Black Angus steak, and Berrymisu for dessert. The crab cake and hearts of palm were excellent. After dinner they had the Love and Marriage Show (adult only) in the Savoy Theater and later a buffet and country music band on Lido deck.

Day Five--Thursday--Belize
We are anchored off Belize by 8:00 am. and the weather is partly cloudy but very nice. We are sleeping in this morning and DW had room service and I went to the Windjammer as the MDR is closing at 9:00. I had a nice western omelette from the omelette station. They have a different system: you turn in your egg order and receive a number within a few minutes you pick up you eggs. Easy. We had not intended to go ashore, but decided that we would ride over to the tourist village. The tender takes about 15 minutes, but about that long for loading and unloading as well. Belize is a great place for taking tours, but there is really nothing more than touristy shopping in the tourist village. Since we have done numerous tours in the past (Belize Zoo, Cave Tubing, City Tour, Cay Caulker, Snorkeling, etc.) we just looked at some shops and returned to the ship in time for lunch in the Windjammer. They had Leg of Lamb at the carving station, but I had a pork cutlet, pasta and mashed potatoes. I took a sample of desserts back to the balcony to enjoy. Great weather for balcony time and sail away from Belize. We did go to the Diamond lounge for a cocktail before the production show: Center Stage. The show was great featuring the orchestra in a Hollywood bowl sitting with the production singers and other musical acts did production songs and tunes. It is a very good show. Dinner was very good, I had: the Scallop Risotto, Hearts of Palm, Antipasta, Black Angus Steak, Tiger Shrimp, and Tiramisù for dessert. DW had a mixture of fresh vegetables and potatoes. After dinner they had the very popular Quest in Studio B. First time cruisers should not miss the Quest.

Day Six--Friday—Cozumel
We entered the Straits of Cozumel on schedule just a head of the Allure of the Seas. Then a full stop of the ship, as it seems they had a ‘man overboard’ situation on the Allure. The Mariner lowered some boats to assist the search but proceeded to the dock as the search area was too small for the large ships. We arrived just a little later than the 8:00 am scheduled arrival time at the International Pier. I then had a good main dining room breakfast of Huevo Rancheros while DW had her room service. By the time I returned to the cabin the Allure began to dock opposite us on the same pier and we had front row seats from the balcony. It’s very amazing to see the largest cruise ship in the world docking next you. As the Allure got closer and we could see the passengers on her we noticed something interesting, they were ALL men. Yes it seems this was a special charter cruise for gay men. It will be interesting in Cozumel today. There were five ships in total in Cozumel today including the Conquest, and two NCL ships at Puerto Langosta. We had no big excursions planned, just an afternoon in San Miguel. We left the ship about 10:30 and took a taxi to town. We saw our friend Nelly at her new shop Caribbean Angel and Pepe at the Mayan Pearl. As usual I had my hair cut at Antonio’s barber shop. Martin has been cutting my hair for over five years. We were meeting friends for lunch at 1:00 at Wet Wendy’s so we went over a little early for a Bohemia beer and some guacamole & chips. When our friends arrived we ordered some of their signature huge margaritas. We both got the mango favored ones (photo left). For lunch I ordered a meat & cheese Chili Relleno and DW had cheese quesidillas. They were great. After a bit more of shopping we took a taxi back to the ship about 3:00 pm. Those that have sailed from Cozumel are aware of the ‘drunk walk’ on the pier that many make on returning to their ship. We were anticipating an interesting show between the Allure and the Mariner and it did not disappoint. Our aft corner balcony was a great location and the beginning of the ‘tunnel’ created by the two ships. (In the photo our balcony would be the one with the upper 'O' section, but on opposite side) Soon enough many of the gents on the Allure were partying and ‘doing their thing’ from the balconies. They were certainly getting attention and it was somewhat humorous, but it went too far when the nudes came out. There was a ship horn exchange and a lot of cheers both ways when the Mariner began pulling away from the pier. We enjoyed the free show and the cheese & fruit trays we ordered for sail away. Tonight’s production show was before dinner for late dining guests and featured Paul Boland, the man of a 1000 voices. This was the second formal night of the cruise and dinner was very good, my favorite of the cruise. I had the Seafood Salad, Mushroom Pastry, Hearts of Palm salad, Prime Rib, Lobster, and Cherries Jubilee. After that great meal and a busy day I retired to the cabin for the evening.

Day Seven--at Sea
Sunny today and our aft balcony is perfect as it blocks the wind and has shade. It is Chocolate breakfast day in the dining room. You could get chocolate éclairs, donuts, cakes, chocolate
pancakes, hot chocolate, chocolate milk shake, and more. I had a traditional fried egg breakfast and my usual leche caliente. MDR breakfasts did get better! DW had her usual room service breakfast. We had balcony time and worked on debarkation paper work in the morning. We attended a behind the scenes tour of the Theater and following a Meet the Stars event. These were Diamond activities and interesting additions, but there was no Diamond luncheon as they used to have on the final sea day. Time for a late lunch in the Windjammer and they had ham on the carving station. We had more balcony/cabin time and the weather was fantastic all afternoon and a beautiful sunset. We went to the Farewell Showtime which featured the Orchestra, CD Kieron, and comedian/juggler David Aiken who was very funny. Dinner was again good. I had the Shrimp Cocktail, Onion Soup, again a Hearts of Palm salad, Pasta with Marinara Sauce, NY Strip steak, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. After dinner we returned to the cabin to pack. One of the best events takes place late on Saturdays in Boleros when the ship’s orchestra breaks into a Jazz group.

We were docked by 6:45 am in Galveston. It was raining, but we were lucky that there was no fog as the Triumph was delayed until noon on the previous day. No room service on debarkation morning, but a full breakfast menu in the dining room. We both had a MDR breakfast early this morning. They started allowing the self-debarkation people off just about 7:45 a.m. It was really fairly smooth considering how many people are using it. We rolled our bags to EZ Cruise parking and were on our way to fill up and head north. Gas was $3.34 in Galveston, and we crossed the bridge about 8:55 a.m. Round trip drive from the Ranch to EZ Cruise parking is 576 miles.

The Mariner of the Seas replaced one of my favorite cruise ships, The Voyager of the Seas, as the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship home porting in Texas. They are very similar as they are the same class of ship so not much difference between the two. With a large ship there are a lot of people and the pools can be very crowded during peak times and the elevators are always full, but 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.

The staff and crew are very good. Our waiters were excellent. Our cabin steward was very conscientious and did a great job. The Captain held a Q&A on the last sea day.

We have cabin 7688 a corner aft on port side. It is one of our favorite cabins on a cruise ship. The room is a standard size, or actually slightly smaller, but the balcony is one of the largest on the ship. The cabin has: key pad safe, hair dryer, refrigerator, short couch, nice sliding door shower, and more. Air worked well. A long walk to the stairwell and elevators, but I needed the exercise.

Our dining room is the Rhapsody in Blue, deck three the lower level of the 3 level restaurant. It was table 313 a six top table for the four of us on a raised platform and rail around it. It had a nice view of the dining room from near the entry. Our waiter was Rosephil a friend of our previous waiter Bonneventura both from the Goa India area. Rosephil was very good. The head waiter, Jean Pierre, from France came by every evening and arranged the hearts of palm for me. The bread is very good and they serve a different specialty bread in the dining room each evening. The Windjammer is excellent. Best buffet at sea IMHO. Room service was always good and prompt. Johnny Rockets was a good alternative for lunch or afternoon snack. Lunch in the dining room has the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. There are several ice crème and yogurt machines. Room service is great. In addition to the annual crew customs situation on embarkation, the ship did receive it’s annual health inspection and received a 100% grade. That’s very good.

Cruise Highlights
Dinner & Service in the dining room, the Ice show, and the two production shows. We didn’t use many of the public areas of the ship as much this cruise as we really used our balcony a lot. On many cruises it is too hot or even too cold to use the balcony, but this cruise the weather was perfect for balcony use.

Needs Improvement
Cookies. Historically we loved the cookies on both The Rhapsody & The Voyager, but on the Mariner they were too hard to bite into them. It has to be a good cruise when the only item I’d improve is the cookies.

They really seem to do a very good job of scheduling the entertainment and production shows then coordinating them with the various receptions, and other events. We were as busy as we wanted to be all week, but we really enjoyed the relaxation time as well.

Overall another fantastic cruise!