Mariner of the Seas Cruise Journal

 

Mike summarizes his experiences on Mariner of the Seas

I must admit that it does seem a bit decadent to go on a one-week cruise within three months of sailing on another cruise. Our experience on HAL was so underwhelming that both Lee and I felt that we needed to get a dose of Royal Caribbean to get the bad taste out of our mouth. If that isn’t enough of a reason, Lee also wanted to celebrate completing his university degree. He has been working hard for the last two years; this cruise was going to be his reward. We’re not made of money however, so to keep things cheap we decided to wait and try to get a last minute deal. We monitored the prices for a few ships, including Adventure of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas. Air fare to Puerto Rico was high, so we narrowed the choice to Explorer and Mariner. We decided that if a cruise went down to $599 we would book. We charted the pricing trends from the Happy Hour specials posted over a certain period of time and we felt we could realistically get that price if we waited to book until a few weeks before sailing. Originally, our plan was to travel the week of Easter, but when Lee’s exam schedule was posted, his last exam was going to be the Tuesday of that week. We had to reschedule to a few weeks later in April. Feeling confident that we’d get a good deal on at least one of the ships, we booked air fare without knowing which ship we would be on. We got a good deal on a flight to Tampa. From there, we could realistically get on either cruise. If worse came to worse, there was a Princess ship we could book for a reasonable price. We weren’t sure if we were ready to try another cruise line just yet because we didn’t want another HAL experience, so we were both rooting for Explorer or Mariner.


To our delight, Royal Caribbean had a spring sale the week before the Happy Hours for our sailing were going to be released, and inside rooms on Mariner were discounted to $599 US, our magic price point. It was difficult trying to decide whether to wait to see if the Happy Hour was going to go cheaper than $599; we decided to book with the sale price. It was the right choice as Mariner of the Seas did not appear in the Happy Hour specials the next week. After we booked, the price jumped back up to $900. We booked at exactly the right point to get the cheapest rate. I love it when that happens! Once the sale price was posted, we asked for bids from CruiseCompete.com. Cruise Value Center offered us the same rate as Royal Caribbean with $110 room credit; we booked with them. Lee felt a Promenade room would be better than an interior, so we changed our reservation. Like I am going to argue with him…


Mariner of the Seas leaves from Port Canaveral; we decided to stay the night before the cruise in Orlando. Lee bid on Priceline and got a good rate on a room at the Gaylord Palms hotel in Orlando and we booked a rental car to pick up at Tampa airport and drop off at Port Canaveral. Our plans were falling into place!


As an added bonus, my birthday was a few days before we left for the cruise. My friends know me well enough now to know that ship-board credit is always a great gift. I ended up with a good chunk of credit that would help with my bar tab!


Saturday, April 21st – Leaving Ottawa

The flight from Ottawa to Tampa through Dulles left at 6am, which meant we had to get up at 3:45am. We were in bed by 8pm on Friday night so we would get a full night’s sleep. We decided to drive to the airport and use the Park ‘N Fly. This way, we didn’t have to worry about taxi delays in the morning. To our surprise, there were quite a few flights leaving to the US at that time of morning, the line at Customs was quite long. Our mascot Dory travels with us on all our cruises. The security agent at Ottawa airport was quite concerned that my plastic fish might be a security risk. He asked what Dory “did”. I didn’t know how to respond to such as question, so I said “she bring happiness and joy to children everywhere”. What else could I say…it’s a plastic fish, it doesn’t “do” anything! The flight to Dulles was uneventful and we made our connection easily with time for coffee at Starbucks. We arrived at Tampa right on time at 10:35am. We picked up our car at Budget, and ended up with a Chevy Cobalt. The rate for the car for one day with a drop off at Port Canaveral was reasonable for $40 US. Lee wanted to spend the afternoon at a water park. The weather wasn’t great, but I enjoy a water park as well. We drove directly to Blizzard Beach at Disney World. All the staff at the park was dressed in long pants and jackets, all the guests were in bathing suits. Our first trip down the water slide was cold; there was a lot of shrieking. Over time, the water felt warmer.


After a few hours at the water park, we checked into our hotel. Through Priceline, we got a nice room at the Gaylord Palms hotel. The hotel is HUGE, with an immense glassed-in atrium. The room was comfortable with a large bathroom area. We didn’t spend much time at the hotel; we showered, changed and left almost immediately to go back to Disney World for dinner. Lee had made a dinner reservation for my birthday dinner at the California Grill on the top floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. When he booked the reservation the operator told us that we’d have to pay for parking at the hotel. When we pulled into the parking lot however, the security guard directed us to a spot and did not charge us. I had never been on the Disney monorail, so we took a ride over to the Grand Floridian hotel and got back to the Contemporary Resort just in time for our reservation. We were given a great table next to the window, overlooking the lagoon with the Magic Kingdom in the distance. The dining room and the view from our table were stunning. Dinner was great; I enjoyed a crab appetizer, pork tenderloin and a strawberry meringue desert. The restaurant features wine from California, the waiter suggested a Pinot Noir that was delicious. After dinner, we got back into the car and drove to Downtown Disney. We got a bit lost leaving Disney World, but eventually got back on track. Downtown Disney was jammed packed; we circulated around the lot for quite a while before finding parking. The long day and the activity level were starting to take its toll. About 11pm, we went to go back to the hotel and hit the sack.


Sunday, April 22 – Embarkation

We were up early this morning. Let me rephrase that: LEE was up early this morning, so as a result, I was up early this morning too. We showered and I commented on how many towels we had used during our one night stay in the hotel. It’s just so happened that today was Earth Day, so every time we did something wasteful during the week, we wished each other "Happy Earth Day". We wished each other this quite lot it seemed! We packed up and hit the road, stopping for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s. We popped into a Target store to buy some bottled water to bring on board and after getting lost again, we go on the road to Port Canaveral. The ride from Orlando to Port Canaveral is pretty boring; there is not much to look at. It was cool to come over the bridge coming into Cape Canaveral and see the ships at the port ahead. We dropped the car off at Budget and the shuttle bus left almost immediately for the port. We noticed a sign at the rental car place warning people that there were alligators in the creek next to the car lot. Yikes!


We got to the terminal around 11am, and got checked in very quickly. I had a bit of a problem at check-in when the clerk left with my passport to take a photocopy of my US work permit. When she came back, she told me she’d had to keep the document. I did not feel comfortable surrendering this document since it is important for my work. We had a bit of a showdown over it, and finally the options were to surrender the document or not get on board. She assured me that I would get the document back on board later in the week. Against my better judgment, I let her keep the permit. The line to get on the ship was long and only started moving after a bit of a wait. We got on-board about 11:45am.


Our first stop on-board was to make dinner reservations at Portofino and Chops. I can not recommend the specialty restaurants enough. The food is outstanding and the surcharge is reasonable considering the quality of the food, and includes the tip. We always book immediately upon boarding to get our preferred dates and time. Lunch in the Windjammer was followed by coffee in the Promenade Café. The Windjammer, as always, was noisy and crowded; we both got a bit stressed. The peace and quiet of the Promenade Café was welcome. The hallway to our room was being opened just as we got to our floor, so we were able to get access to our room right at 1pm. I had forgotten just how small the Promenade rooms were, especially after our delightful aft balcony on Freedom of the Seas.


Shortly after getting to the room, our room attendant Henry came by to introduce himself. He gave us details of his schedule and what we could expect in terms of the room service. This was very helpful, and was the first time that a room attendant explained things so well. Just as we got back from quick tour of the ship at 3pm, our luggage was delivered. We were just thinking that it would be nice to take a dip in the pool, but neither of us kept a bathing suit in our carry-on bags. We unpacked and got our things organized. It was nice to get that out of the way so early. We went up to the hot tubs and had a drink at the Sky Bar.


It fascinates me how many people bitch and complain about having to attend the muster drill. I wanted to smack the women next to me, they did nothing but complain the whole time. This was particularly weird considering that a cruise ship sank a few weeks earlier. The drill is for your own safety, you stupid cows. Shut your cake holes and listen! Its 10 minutes out of your life, you’ll survive. They also bitched about having to listen to the translation of the safety message. I guess according to them, non-English speakers were supposed to drown. A Carnival ship was leaving the port as the muster drill was taking place. They turned around in the basin just in front of us and headed out at full speed.


After the muster drill, we went up to Deck 12 to watch the sail-away from Port Canaveral. One of the Disney ships was parked next to us. It looks quite small compared to Mariner. Lee has mentioned a few times that he’d like to sail with Disney. I am concerned about Mickey overkill and the quantity of children. But, we’ll see…There were quite a few people parked along the channel out to the ocean, waving and beeping their car horns at us as we left the port. We waved back and had a good time watching pelicans diving into the water. Of course, no sail-away is complete without a delicious frozen cocktail.


When we booked the cruise, we requested early seating at a large table. We were assigned a table for six on the Sound Of Music level of the dining room on Deck 5. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to walk into the dining room on the first night not knowing who you are going to be sitting with. We had nothing to worry about this time, our tablemates were delightful. Ron and Chryl (yes, that was how it was spelled) from Maryland and John and Gerry from Latrobe, PA (near Pittsburgh) were a lot of fun to spend dinner time with. We even went to some of the shows and events with them. We were always the last table to leave the dining room since we were chatting and laughing. Our waiter thought that we had been traveling together since we were so chatty with each other. Once again, we purchased the Wine and Dine package, this time from the Royal Caribbean Web site. Even though we did not find a record of the purchase when we got to our room, the assistant waiter, Joseph was able to track down our order. Dinner the first night was tomato soup, spinach salad, brie stuffed chicken and fruit salad for dessert.


I had made a pact for the week that I would not have the same drink twice. I get into a cocktail rut where I order the same thing over and over again. The plan worked well, and I got to try some great drinks I would have not tried in the past. The Mai Tai I had was amazing as well as the Red Delicious Apple Martini. I never got to try the Pink Grapefruit Cosmopolitan that I was looking forward to as all the bars had run out of the ingredients.


After dinner, we went directly to the Savoy Theater for the Welcome Aboard show. This was our first opportunity to meet Graham Seymour, the cruise director. He was quite funny. Every morning, he would host a program on RCTV where he would describe the day’s activities with his twisted humour. It was hilarious. His description of how luggage is delivered upon disembarkation almost made me pee my pants. The show also included a balancing act with Dany and Edina, and a comedian. The balancing acrobat had a hard time doing his shtick as the ship was rocking quite a bit. It was an enjoyable show. I must admit, we were a bit disappointed when we heard that Graham was going to be the Cruise Director on our sailing while Becky, the usual Cruise Director, was on vacation. We had read SO MANY good comments about Becky, that we thought we’d be losing out with someone else. Nothing could have been further from reality. Graham was a delight.


Lee was particularly active in the Cruise Critic message board for this sailing of Mariner. He had chatted with several members of the discussion board beforehand; we met several of these people over the week. It is weird to have people know all about you are before even meeting them. I had a few people come up to me and introduce themselves since they had recognized us from our previous cruise pictures posted on-line.


While enjoying a late evening drink in the Viking Crown lounge after the show, we watched the water in the pools splashing out onto the deck. The ship was really rocking. At one point, all the lights on the pool deck went out. It must have been dangerous for anyone out on the pool deck since there was water all over the deck, the ship was rocking and rolling and there were no lights on. We stopped for a quick snack in the Promenade Café, and heard the first of two Alpha-Alpha-Alpha alerts as someone on-board required emergency medical attention. Lee met the staff person who called in the emergency later in the week and he said that the ship’s doctor was on the scene in less than two minutes. The parade was just about to start by this time of the evening, so we watched it from our Promenade Room. The parades are kind of pathetic; I am not a big fan. We were in bed by 11:30pm.


My first impression of Mariner of the Seas was that the ship was certainly due for a refresh. The walls were pretty banged up, there were handrails missing here and there, and the bedding was ready for the trash. Some of the automated doors did not open on their own anymore. The pool deck on Mariner was designed by pop artist Romero Britto. It was quite nice, unfortunately, some of the pieces like the canopies over the hot-tubs and the band-shell have been bleached by the sun and no longer have their original brilliant colour. Luckily, the ship was going into dry dock the week after our cruise. Once it gets fluffed up during dry dock, I think it will be quite a stunning ship once again. When we were on Freedom of the Seas last fall, we did not think that it felt much bigger than the Voyager class ships, such as Navigator of the Seas. Coming onto Mariner of the Seas however, we did notice that the ship was smaller. The Promenade seems narrower and shorter compared to Freedom of the Seas.


Monday, April 23rd – Sea Day

Lee was up early but since I had no reason to get up early today, he let me sleep in until 9:30am. The ship rocked a lot during the night and there was an annoying creaking sound just above our heads. I got up during the night and tried to figure out what was making the noise, it seemed like it was coming from a point just above where the walls met the ceiling.


We had breakfast in the dining room and were lucky to nab a nice table for two. I had only been awake for a few minutes at this point, so having to make chit-chat with people at a larger table was not something I was looking forward to. After breakfast, we went to the first session of Bingo in the Lotus Lounge.


Royal Caribbean is very supportive of the Cruise Critic web site and on each of their sailings they hold a Meet and Mingle get together for the Cruise Critic members on-board. After lunch, we went up to the Viking Crown lounge for the get together. It was nice to meet everyone that had posted to the discussion group before our sailing. Lee won the door prize for the event, a computer mouse filled with water and a little floating cruise ship. I tried to get one for him on eBay one time and it was sold out from under me for about $60. I am glad he finally got one.


After the Meet and Mingle, we went to Business Services to talk to Lynn, the loyalty ambassador to book our January get-away. She was delightful and knows our home town of Ottawa very well. She was actually going to be coming to Ottawa within the next few weeks on her break between contracts. We knew exactly what we wanted to book (Majesty of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas back to backs) and I think we surprised her with our level of pre-planning. We knew what rooms were available, how much they cost, what deals were on at the moment and so forth. We also booked rooms for our friend Melynda who was planning on coming with us. We ran into Lynn several times over the week, she was always so nice and friendly.


It was quite windy out today, and we ended up spending most of the day indoors. Crown and Anchor members were given a coupon for a free wine tasting. The event was held in the dining room and allowed us to try 4 or 5 different wines, with a commentary by one of the sommeliers. It was fun, but over very quickly. After the tasting, I went to gym for a bit of a workout.


The first of two formal nights was held this evening. Lee and I had our traditional champagne drink before dinner. I enjoyed shrimp cocktail, lobster bisque, fillet of beef and a sugar-free coconut cake. Tonight’s meal was outstanding. The waited came over to the table often during the meal asking us if everything was okay. He asked a little too often though; it got to be annoying to be constantly interrupted. Was he expecting us to complain?


After dinner, we went to the Royal Promenade for champagne and to hear the Captain’s toast. Considering we had drinks before dinner, wine with dinner and free champagne, both Lee and I were feeling a little bit looped by this point. We ran into some Cruise Critic friends and hung out with them and chatted during the reception. I hope we weren’t too disruptive. During the reception, the captain told us that there were 3388 passengers on-board, and that 48% were returning Royal Caribbean guests. There were 44 honeymooning couples on this sailing.


The show this evening was called Front Row and included music from a variety of musicals such as Movin’ Out and Sunset Boulevard. I must admit, I did not recognize a lot of the music; it was all very well done however. The band performs live, not recorded like on Westerdam. There were two male and two female singers in the show and six or seven dancers. They were really moving! Royal Caribbean sure knows how to put on a great production show. My overindulging in liquids hit me hard, during the show I thought I was going to pee myself. I didn’t want to leave because the show was so good, but finally, I had to make a run for the washroom.


After the show, we changed into shorts and went to the casino so Lee could play a bit. He managed to leave the casino about 45 minutes later $1.00 ahead. Lee went back to the room to bed; I did a tour of the bars and lounges to check out the entertainment. In the Lotus Lounge, there was a band playing dance music. In Ellington’s, which is part of the Viking Crown, there was a mellow jazz band. There was Latin music and dancing in Boleros, and a lounge singer at a piano in the Schooner Bar. You could sing karaoke in the Wig and Gavel Pub and there was really bad hip-hop music in the empty Dragon’s Lair disco. Things were pretty quiet in the lounges, I returned to the room and went to bed around midnight.


Tuesday April 24th – Labadee

This was the second time we have been to Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private “island” on Hispaniola. This is one of our favourite beach destinations. We wanted to get to Labadee early to be able to get a shaded spot on the beach. After having a room service breakfast, we were on the second tender at 8:40am. Once off the tender, we walked directly to Hideaway Beach at the end of the resort. There was almost no-one there yet, so we snagged a great spot under one of the shaded umbrella things. It was nice and quiet for the first little while. A couple got married on the beach that morning. The weather was pleasant, but there were cloudy periods during the day. We spent some time listening to books on our iPods and enjoying the beach. We rented mats and floated lazily on the water. It was very relaxing.



We had lunch at 11:30am, just as the food service area opened. The lines got long by the time we had finished lunch, so it was nice that we went early. A zip line course has been built at Labadee and from what were told, it was going to be opening the next week. There is one zip line that goes from the top of a hill over the water to the area near Dragon’s Breath Point. You won’t catch me on it, but Lee was wetting himself in anticipation at the thought of coming back sometime to try the zip line. There is another smaller zip line near the beach where we were sitting.


Lee and I returned to the ship around 2:30pm. After a coffee in the Promenade Café, I sat by the pool and Lee went into the sauna. We are always curious to see what kinds of rooms people get on the ship, so Lee organized a cabin crawl. Anyone in the Cruise Critic group who had a unique type of room would let us all check out their room. One couple had the same aft balcony room we had on Freedom of the Seas, I forgot how amazing that room was. After the cabin crawl, we hung around the Viking Crown lounge and chatted with some of the people from the group.


Dinner this evening included a caprese salad, scallop risotto, and chicken marsala. I couldn’t decide on desert, so I had both the warm chocolate cake and tiramisu. The tiramisu was disappointing, but the chocolate cake was wonderful.


The show this evening was comedian called Ralph Harris. He was billed as being one of the stars of the movie DreamGirls, but I didn’t recognize him. He was very funny, his act was professional and he did not have to resort to profanity or dick jokes to get a laugh. He did a great bit at the end where he did an impersonation of his grandfather, completely changing his body language and speed to mimic an older man.


After the show, we went to the Promenade for the 70s dance party. The Promenade was packed with people dancing to fun disco music. We’re both a bit concerned about the homogenization of the experience on Royal Caribbean as this dance party was identical to the one we attended on Freedom of the Seas. This saddens me; I really like Royal Caribbean but I think we are going to hit a point where we will have to go on other lines to avoid repeating the exact same vacation over and over again.


Before tucking in for the night, we stopped by the photo gallery to take a look at our formal photos from the night before. They did not turn out very well, so we turfed them into the bin. It was a beautiful night out, warm and not too windy. We walked the deck and enjoyed the sea air on our way back to the room.


Wednesday, April 25th – Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Jamaica is an awful, awful place. Neither Lee nor I have any interest in getting off the ship in Jamaica. Instead we use the opportunity to enjoy the ship while everyone is ashore. Our plans we stymied by the poor weather however. It rained most of the day.


We slept in and had a late breakfast in the Windjammer. Since we had been docked for a while already, the place was a bit less crazy than usual. On our way up to the Windjammer, we saw the crew performing their safety drills. Our initial plan was to spent time by the pool, but since it was raining, that wasn’t an option. Instead, I decided to walk the decks on the ship looking at the art. Mariner of the Seas has a huge collection of great art in the hallways and public areas. Many of the pieces centered on different modes of transportation including cars, airplanes, trains, bicycles. There were some interesting mixed-media pieces, traditional paintings, 3-D models, sculptures, dioramas, photographs and more. Some pieces even included crocheted airplanes and Barbie dolls. The art was imaginative and playful and truly reflected the personality of the ship.


People who did get off the ship started to come back early because of the rain. Lee and I sat for a while outside the Promenade Café watching people go by and overheard many people complain about being harassed by people trying to sell them crap in Jamaica. The sun finally came out, by the time I had grabbed my stuff and hit the pool deck, the clouds had rolled back in and the rain came back.


I was getting a bit concerned that I had not heard from anyone about my work permit that was taken upon check-in. I went to Guest Services, and as I had suspected, they knew nothing about what I was talking about. They said there would be no reason to keep such a document and I must have been mistaken. Lee should be proud of me, I didn’t freak out. Instead, I gave the details to the Guest Services rep and she was going to contact the shore agent to find out what was going on.


The Crown and Anchor Welcome Back Reception was held just before dinner in the Lotus Lounge. They offered us drinks and hors d’oeuvres and the captain and loyalty ambassador said a few words. One thing I was surprised to hear was that Port Canaveral was upgrading its port to be able to receive the new Genesis class of ships that are currently under development. The captain would not divulge whether the ship would actually be based out of Port Canaveral, but he did also say that people have been working on simulations to see how the ship would behave in the channel.


After the reception, Lee and I went to Portofino for dinner. Portofino is the Italian specialty restaurant on many Royal Caribbean ships. The food is outstanding. There is a $20 cover charge to eat at Portofino, it is well worth it. Reservations do fill up quickly since space is limited. The bread basket that started off the meal was great, with a variety of five or six different breads, with three different spreads and a bulb of roasted garlic. I enjoyed a great salad with gorgonzola, candied walnuts and pear, along with an appetizer-size portion of pasta with a chunky tomato and meat sauce. I had grilled halibut over a seafood risotto for my entree. It was SO good. I was really filling up however. Against my better judgment, I ordered the desert sampler, which includes a taste-size portion of tiramisu, flourless chocolate cake, white chocolate mouse and pistachio panna cotta. I had overeaten, and felt kind of gross. During the meal, we had started chatting with the couple seated next to us. Strangely enough, both Lee and I consider ourselves shy, but it seems like we always end up talking to people. This was their first cruise and they loved it so far.


On the first day of the cruise, Lee picked up tickets for the ice show Ice Under the Big Top. Our tickets were for the 9 o’clock show this evening. We got to Studio B early enough to get a good seat for the show. I was under whelmed by the ice show. The skaters are amazingly talented, but the choreography they are given to perform is atrocious. That is just my opinion mind you; everyone else, including Lee, seemed to love the show. We took a walk on the upper decks after the ice show; they were setting up for the late night buffet and deck party. We had a big day planned in Grand Cayman, so we decided to save our energy for the next day and went to bed.


Thursday, April 26th – Grand Cayman

At first we had no idea what we would like to do while in Grand Cayman. We had been here on Freedom of the Seas last fall and had enjoyed it. I thought it would be fun to rent a convertible and drive around the island.


We were up at 7am and were ready to get off the ship once we were cleared in Grand Cayman at 8am. We had booked a Jeep though Avis; they offered a special package for cruise ship passengers which included the rental for the day, all the insurance and the driving permit for $99. It’s a bit steep, but cheaper than booking a cruise ship excursion. It took us a while to figure out where the rental car place was. It turned out you had to go to a specific shop in town and Avis would send a shuttle but to come pick you up. They didn’t tell us that when we had booked. We drove to Rum Point, which was a nice beach area with a bar, restaurant and gift shop. We had taken the roof off the jeep for our ride, but once we got to Rum Point, it started to rain. Unfortunately, I did not pay attention when the attendant lowered the roof. Neither of us could figure out how to lock the roof back in place. As the rain came down, somebody came out and told us how to lock the roof in place. Of course, a few minutes later, it stopped raining and the sun came out. Isn’t that always the way? We couldn’t spend much time at Rum Point since we had another commitment. I would definitely come back to this beach if I was to ever return to Grand Cayman.


For my birthday, Lee booked a helicopter ride for us over the island of Grand Cayman. I had never been on a helicopter before; I was really excited about it. We had to scramble to get the rental car back to Avis and get to the dock for pickup for the helicopter ride. Lee had arranged with Paula and Mitch from our Cruise Critic group to share the helicopter since the operator requires six people to fly. The tour operator said they would find another couple to fill the helicopter. The ride was so much fun; we flew over the island and hovered over Stingray City. From the air, we could see all the stingrays in the water. We also hovered over a reef and could see sharks and sea turtles swimming around and bright red starfish on the floor of the reef. We then flew over the cruise ships. The ride was 20 minutes long, and went by really quick. It was a really exciting way to see the island. I would highly recommend this tour. As a bonus, since we had booked it directly with Cayman Island Helicopters, Lee got it for a cheaper price than booking directly from Royal Caribbean.


After the helicopter tour, we went back to the ship. Since we had missed lunch because of the excursion we stopped for a quick snack in the Windjammer. I sat by the pool for a while listening to music on my iPod, it was beautiful out now.


In speaking to an agent at Guest Services about my missing work documentation, I was told that they had interviewed the woman who had checked us in, and she insisted that she had not taken any paperwork from my passport. I was starting to get ticked off. If I lose this document, I could potentially have huge problems next time I need to go teach in the US. The manager of Guest Services was now involved and they were going to investigate further, and Royal Caribbean’s head office was advised of what was going on.


Tonight was the second formal night. Lee and I got dressed up and went up to Schooner Bar for a pre-dinner drink. We ended up talking to the waiter a while, he told us about all the ships he has worked on and all the places he has seen in his 9 years with Royal Caribbean. I was surprised when he said that his favourite port that he had visited while working on the cruise ships was St. Petersburgh in Russia.


For this evening’s dinner, I ordered the “Maryland” crab cake, focaccia salad, lamb chops and chocolate mousse. There was a lot of discussion at our table about the crab cakes. Being from Maryland, Ron and Chryl were crab cake connoisseurs and when the waiter asked what we thought of the crab cake, he got very detailed evaluation. Everyone agreed that calling the dish “Maryland” crab cakes was not correct as it was in no way a Maryland-style crab cake. The poor waiter seemed sorry he asked!


The second production show of the cruise was called Pure Energy. This show was a fun tribute to the music of the 80s. I loved the show since this was the music I listened to in college. There were a lot of costume changes during the show, each one more embarrassing that the previous. The 80s were a bad period of time for fashion! Keeping up with the 80s theme, there was a dance party in Studio B with music from the era. The music played was exactly the same as on Freedom of the Seas. We could tell which songs were coming up next. Come on, there was a lot of music during that decade, they could create a different collection of music, or have a live DJ. The activities staff was annoying during this party; they were always herding people across the dance floor, so the crowd would look bigger for the video. After several attempts to herd us to the front of the stage, I was seconds away from telling them to F’ Off and leave us alone. Their constant encouragements to yell and cheer really tick me off. You can’t fake having a good time by cheering. Leave us alone…we’ll decide whether we’re having fun or not. (Omygosh, when did I turn into an old man…)


After the show, we stopped in the casino and while Lee was playing, he noticed that someone had left their SeaPass card in the slot machine. He handed it in to the bartender for safe-keeping. Then, he noticed there was a Sea Pass in the slot machines next to it. He brought that one to the bartender as well. He noted the people’s names; they were a husband and wife couple. The gala buffet was opened for pictures at 11:15pm. We walked through the buffet line to look at the creations, but we had no interest in eating at this late hour. It’s too bad we weren’t hungry; everything was made to look so good!


Graham Seymour performed a stand-up comedy show late this evening. This was billed as an adults-only event. Good thing they pre-warned people, his language was quite blue. Graham is a very funny man, but I hate when comedians resort to cursing to get cheap laughs. Whenever he would say “fuck” people would laugh. Why bother being clever if you can get a laugh automatically by using a word. I don’t know if all the Americans got some of the British references in his routine, I thought they were hilarious.


Friday April 27th – Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel was the last stop on this itinerary. In Cozumel, we decided to go to the Playa Mia Beach Club for the day. This is the same place we went for the Mexican cooking class when we were on Freedom of the Seas last fall. We didn’t get a chance to use the beach that time, but it looked nice and clean so we decided to return.


We slept in until 9:30am and I went up to the Windjammer and brought some bread and cereal back to the room for breakfast. We bought the excursion to Playa Mia from Royal Caribbean and included transportation, all drinks and lunch. We were picked up at the dock at 11am. They had done some major improvements and repairs from the hurricane since our last time there, the place looked really great. The resort offered massages on the beach, so Lee took advantage. He said the guy was very good and seemed to have been trained for massage therapy. His massage was much better than what they would give you in the spa on the ship, for about half the price.


Drinks were included as part of the excursion, I knew what kind of day we were looking forward to when the bartender offered Lee a shot of tequila with his first beer. We spent the rest of the day loafing on beach. We also took out one of the pedal-boats for a spin. We had a lot of trouble keeping the pedal-boat going in one direction; the steering did not work very well. The day seemed to fly by quickly. At the duty free store on the dock, Lee bought a bottle of tequila cream liquor. We had heard of this liquor on a program on the Travel Channel, it was delicious. The ship was going to be staying in Cozumel until the early evening. Lee was feeling a bit looped from the liquor and the sun, so when we got back to the ship, he took a nap for a few hours. I spent that time enjoying the pool deck and the hot-tubs.


I was quite happy to get a phone message from the Guest Services manager saying that they had tracked down my work permit at the port. A fax of the document was available at Guest Services to confirm that this is what I was looking for. It was the right document! The document would be brought aboard when we docked in Port Canaveral and I could pick it up at 8:30am on Sunday at Guest Services. That was a relief.


We had booked dinner at Chops for this evening. Lee had recovered a bit from the day by this time. We had a nice meal. I had crab cakes, lobster bisque and a filet mignon. The restaurant was looking a bit scuffed up, the dark wooden panels on the walls and the counters were scratched and chipped and the cart used by the serving staff had a mind of its own and would not roll in the directions they wanted it to go in. The menus were quite worn and dog-eared. I hope they touch up these things during the dry dock. As we were finishing dinner, a large group came in and they were VERY loud and annoying. The people who were in the restaurant already gave each other rolling-eye looks as these loud-mouths took over the restaurant.


We did not go to the show this evening since we finished dinner after it had started. The show was a tribute to Motown music performed by a group named Spectrum. Our tablemates told us the next evening that they had enjoyed the show a lot. We noticed that Spectrum had a table in the Promenade later that evening signing CDs.


Lee wanted to attend the Quest game show tonight, but he was feeling a bit woozy after dinner, so he went back to the room for another nap. I went down to the wine bar and met with Stephanie and Chris, our new friends from the Cruise Critic group. We chatted for a while and when Lee joined us later on, we moved to Studio B for the Quest. This was the fourth time seeing this, and it is starting to become repetitive. It is quite funny however to see what people are willing to do in front of a crowd.


A couple sat next to us in Studio B. When they introduced themselves, Lee recognized their names and realized it was the couple who had left their SeaPass cards in the slot machines the night before. They were very appreciative that their SeaPasses had been turned in. They didn’t realize their cards were lost until later that night when they tried to buy a drink.


Saturday April 28th – Sea day

The weather was fantastic for our final sea day. We got up late at 9:30am. We had a lunch date with Stephanie and Chris at Johnny Rocket’s at 11:30am, so I grabbed some cereal in the Windjammer to keep me going until then. Lunch in Johnny Rocket’s was really good. The food was very fresh and hot. We used our coupon from our Crown and Anchor booklet and did not have to pay the $3.95 cover charge.


After lunch Lee and I found chairs on the pool deck and enjoyed out last afternoon on board. At one point, they had a demonstration of ice carving and one of the kitchen staff carved a fish out of a block of ice in the space of five minutes. I was debating whether I should go to the gym, but I decided to loaf more. Lee went off to the gym, I stayed on deck for a while, and moved into the Solarium once I has my fill of sun.


Late in the afternoon, I returned to the room. Lee had just gotten back from the gym, and we started packing our bags. Before heading to the dining room, we popped into the Viking Crown lounge for a pre-dinner drink and went to the dining room for our last dinner. My meal this evening was a Caesar salad, pumpkin soup, shrimp cocktail, tempura mahi-mahi and the banana crunch parfait.


After dinner, we went back to the room to finish packing and get our bags out in the hallway. It got confusing trying to pack things but still remember to keep clothing out for the next day. I kept packing my going home clothing over and over again. I finally had to move it to the other side of the room.


The Closing Show included the couple who did the balancing act earlier in the week performing a comedy/ballet number. There was also a comedian who was not very funny. As part of the show, Graham Seymour sang a Robbie Williams song called Angel. He did an excellent job of this great song. At the end of the show, a group of ship staff came on stage to say goodbye.


After the show, we bid farewell to our tablemates who were sitting near us in the theater. We had really enjoyed their company and we were sad to say goodbye. We hope to run into them again on another cruise. The last day of a cruise is always such a sad occasion. We’d been having so much fun that the thought of going back to our day to day routine is a total downer. We did our final lap around the ship and went to bed around 11:30 in anticipation of our early wake-up time the next day.


Sunday, April 29th – Going home

We were up at 7am and were ready to leave the room shortly after. We had breakfast in the dining room and we were seated at a large table next to a couple of nice ladies from Scotland. They were impressed that we knew they were from Scotland by their accent. Their accent was so thick you could have cut it with a knife! I had to wait until 8:30am to pick up my work permit from the Guest Services manager. As we were standing in line at Guest Services, the manager walked by and we called him over. Luckily, he had my work permit already. I thanked him for his work in finding the document. Our colour group had not been called yet, so we kind of sat around until we got word that it was okay to disembark. Finally, Orange 1 was called to disembark at 9:40am. Once off the ship, the line to US Customs snaked for quite a while through the terminal until we finally got to an agent. Lee was not asked any questions, I was given the third degree about all of my work travel and why I had a Visa from Venezuela in my passport. (um…because I went to Venezuela?....). We did not have to wait for our luggage as it was already coming off the carousel.


We had booked a car from Budget to get back to Tampa. We ended up with a Ford Mustang convertible for the ride. The price was reasonable, considering that a one way transfer from the ship to Orlando airport would have been $32 each, and the car rental to Tampa was $50. The added benefit over the cruise line transfer was that we could stop anywhere along the way. As we passed through Orlando, we stopped at the Florida Mall. We walked around a bit, but neither of us was very enthusiastic about shopping. We decided to find a Costco so we could check to see what their wine selection was like. At the Apple store in the mall, we use one of their computers to do Google Maps search for the Costco. We had lunch at Chipotle, and easily found the Costco.


We eventually got to the airport in Tampa around 4pm for our 6:30pm flight. The line to drop off our rental car was quite long; it took quite a while for someone to come check the car in. There was no line-up to check in for the flight and we had a bit of time to wait before the flight, so we had coffee at Starbucks and read magazines.


Our flight on Ted was full; it was a tight fit on the plane. We did not have a lot of extra time to make our connection to Ottawa in Dulles, luckily our flight from Tampa was on time. We did not have enough time to eat between flights, so we bought some quick takeout and brought it onboard the plane. It was another uneventful flight and we arrived back in Ottawa around 10:30pm. Picking up the car at the Park ‘N Fly was quick and easy and I finally dropped Lee off at his apartment around 11:30pm.


Another successful cruise had come and gone.


Things I liked

  1. The art on Mariner of the Seas is outstanding. It is a pity that many people will walk right by without noticing it. I spent the good part of one morning just walking the decks looking at what was on the walls.

  2. The staff on the ship was very friendly. The loyalty ambassador, Lynn was a delight. The bar staff chatted with us on many occasions. We talked to many longtime employees and they all said great things about working on Mariner of the Seas.

  3. The pool deck staff went around and removed towels if people were trying to save seats. They were very proactive in keeping kids under control and were constantly monitoring activity on the pool deck, moving chairs back into place and keeping things tidy.

  4. Portofino was fantastic. The food is great, the menu is interesting and the service staff is efficient and knowledgeable.

  5. The drinks are reasonably priced and potent. The bar servers are quick and even if there is a line at the bar, you never had to wait long. They also did not also try to sell you the stupid collector glass if you didn’t tell them otherwise. They did run out of a few liquors. On the first day of the cruise I tried to order a Grapefruit Cosmopolitan from their bar menu and they did not have any of the ingredients; they could do a better job of stocking what they are promoting. Royal Caribbean must have introduced a new bar menu recently since we noticed several times that the bartenders had to look at the menu to know how to make some of the drinks. We also noticed some of the servers having a hard time finding the item on the computer.

  6. The Cruise Director, Graham Seymour was great. I love his sense of humour. His daily television program was hilarious. It repeats on a loop on the TV, so you can watch it anytime in the morning. Graham also sells a DVD in the General Store with some of his comedy. He’s a great singer too.

  7. The production shows were amazing. I love the live band, the great singers and enthusiastic dancers. The staging, lighting and sound are excellent.

  8. There were more non-smoking areas on this ship than on others. All of the tables in the lounges and restaurants that are close to the Promenade are non-smoking.


Things I didn’t like

  1. The activities staff was awful. They were not very personable and were quite bland. They guys were particularly annoying, trying to get everyone to bunch together during the 80s dance so they could body-surf over the crowd. Their constant chatter on the PA system on the pool deck is annoying.

  2. The food in the dining room was mediocre. The food was never very hot. The wait staff was good, but they got to be a bit annoying asking us every two minutes if everything was okay. It’s nice that they check in and ask, but doing it every few minutes is overkill. They use rolling carts in the dining room to bring trays in and out of the kitchen. Talking to one of the servers, she said she likes working on Mariner best for that reason. It is easier on her physically since she does not have to carry heavy trays all the time. Seems like a good idea to me. On our Freedom cruise we had seen a tray with several plated meals come crashing down. Carts seem like a safer way of bringing stuff in and out of the kitchen.

  3. The ship is starting to look pretty thread bare. I won’t hold this against them though, since the ship was scheduled to go into dry dock the week after our cruise. The pool deck was really faded, the canopies over the hot tubs were bleached out by the sun and the paint job on the floor of the pool has become discoloured. I thought the use of yellow and orange was an interesting choice, until I saw that originally it was red and other colours. The bedding in the staterooms is ready for the garbage.

  4. I am a bit concerned about Royal Caribbean making all of their ships so similar. The 70s party in the Promenade, 80s night, the Quest and so forth are fun once or twice, but repeating them over and over again is going to get tired fast. I love the design of the Royal Caribbean ships, I love their shows, and their staff is great. I’d hate to have to move to other lines to get any hint of variety. We are going to hit a point soon where we will have to try other cruise lines to avoid repeating the exact same vacation over and over again.