www.ericjung.com

Mariner of the Seas
January 2004
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

Photos

Hundreds of photographs from our Mariner cruise vacation are posted at www.ericjung.com/Mariner. Some of the text below has been linked to relevant selections from the same pictures.

Booking

We booked this cruise at about the same time we booked our October 2003 Golden Princess cruise. This is the first time ever I've had what the addicted call "stacked" cruise bookings: more than one future cruise booked. I'm truly an addict now.

We booked through a travel agent we trust. He just loved Explorer of the Seas and urged us to try a Voyager class ship. We're glad we did.

Pre-Cruise and Embarkation

We decided to spend a day at Cape Canaveral / Cocoa Beach before the cruise. We flew into Orlando and rented a car. It was a very simple one-hour drive to Cocoa Beach. We stayed at what appears to be a 1950's style motel converted to a bed & breakfast. That means they cleaned it up, dressed it up, and provided good service, but the building itself was not impressive. It was within walking distance to the beach, and weather was perfect, so I was happy. I achieved my goal of flying in the morning and swimming in the ocean by the afternoon. I found out later that we were lucky to have weather warm enough for swimming in January.

That evening we went to an Indian restaurant on a whim. It was OK, but in retrospect was probably a mistake. It is a bit of a tourist trap area, so researching good restaurants might pay off.

After a nice walk on the beach at dawn, we were off for embarkation. The staff at Hertz were very friendly and helpful. They told us to kill a little more time because they wouldn't even be allowed into the terminal before a certain time (I think it was 11:00). But pretty soon other cruise passengers arrived, and we filled up their van and headed out. The van driver had a hard time getting a parking spot at the curb, but once he did, we were checked in and on board in no time at all. While the embarkation line was long, it moved at a good pace, taking perhaps 20 minutes.

On prior cruises, we always noticed the people comfortably lounging by the pool as we were just getting on board. This time, we set a goal to be the cool people at the pool. It worked! We had a quick lunch at the buffet and went straight to the pool. Ah, you just can't beat a cruise. There would be plenty of time later to explore the ship.

On-board experience

The Mariner of the Seas

The Mariner and the other RCI Voyager-class ships are amazing. From the moment we boarded, we noticed this was a beautiful ship. The central promenade is unequalled in the cruise industry, and we were expecting it to impress us. But we were also impressed with other elements of style and design. The use of wood paneling and display cases at the entry to the Windjammer buffet, for example. The hallways on the passenger decks were wide and suitable for walking two abreast or for wheelchairs and scooters for disabled passengers.

Rock Climbing Wall

I'm glad they put these rock walls in to remind me that I'm not as young (or fit) as I used to be. On my first attempt, I did not climb properly. Despite being advised otherwise, I used my arms too much and quickly exhausted them. I thought to myself that I would try again after letting my arms rest for a day. Unfortunately, that night when walking to the hot tubs on a wet deck in flip-flops, I slipped and broke a toe. So the conquering of the rock wall would have to wait till our cruise on Empress of the Seas. I also wrote a review of the Empress of the Seas, but here's a short preview: The rock climbing was much better on Empress because the wall had a better view of the sea, and because the staff were much more relaxed and helpful.

Cabin

Our inside cabin was roomy as far as these things go. There was a large, comfortable couch. The desk space and refrigerator were cramped with things to buy. We asked the cabin attendant to take them away, and were a little shocked when he refused.

Towel animals invaded our room nightly, sometimes trying to steal our sunglasses. Though Sue had seen this more in the good old days, this was the first time I experienced the creatures so regularly. We both enjoyed them.

Cruising

If you think you'll never feel the motion of the ocean on these monster ships, you're wrong. It was not bad at all, but if you're susceptible to seasickness, be prepared. Bonine is a whole lot cheaper at your corner drugstore than it is on ship, and it's more effective if you don't wait until after you feel sick.

There was plenty to do during days at Sea. I was generally on the sleep-eat-sunbathe-eat-sleep-swim-eat agenda. Sue as always seeks out vegetable carving, ice carving, napkin folding, etc, yet we always ate together. We both tried roller-blading and mini-golf.

Captain Johnny

The ship's captain was Johnny Faevelin. He is quite a character, and really enjoys the social aspects of being Captain. He was always around ship, and willingly attended organized activities. Passengers can tell when the captain only begrudgingly attends the social activities. Johnny has what he calls a Harley Davidson (it's a small electric scooter) to get around the bridge. He was also selling a short biography. I bought one, and let's just say that as much as I love cruising, I still haven't finished reading it.

Ports

Nassau, Bahamas

We took the ship's tour to Ardastra Gardens, which included a little island history tour. The highlight of the Gardens was the troupe of marching flamingos. A "drill instructor" leads the flamingos through a series of military-precision maneuvers. Well, perhaps it was more like a second-grade soccer team than a drill team, but it was still fun. The free-roaming flamingos were even more fund than the marching demonstration. We were a little rushed at the Gardens, and the island history was not not very interesting. If I do it again, I will take a taxi to the Gardens, which would probably have been both cheaper and more relaxing. Before getting back on board, we wandered up and down the shopping area near the ship, but other than cold drinks, we didn't find much of interest.

Saint Martin

In Saint Martin we just took a taxi to Orient Beach. We rented chairs and an umbrella and had a wonderful day on the beach. Captain Johnny told us that the Mariner of the Seas, then RCL's newest and biggest ship, was docked behind RCL's first and smallest ship. The older ship is no longer in the RCL fleet, but while it was, it was the first ship of which Captain Johnny had been Master.

Saint Thomas

In Saint Thomas, we took a taxi to Morningstar Beach. It's always annoying waiting for a "taxi" (van or pickup) to fill up in Saint Thomas. But alas finally it was sufficiently filled and we got to the beach. We rented chairs in the shade and had a great day. There were quite a few pelicans having a meal in our area. I really enjoyed watching them dive for their lunch. You don't realize how big they are until they take a 40-foot dive into the water 10 feet away from you. I tried to photograph them diving, but it was not really easy, so here's a floating pelican. There was also an iguana attracting some attention while sunning on the beach.

Overall experience

We had a great time and loved the ship. Our most recent prior cruise had been on the Golden Princess, after which I wrote this in the cruise review:

Next we’re booked on RCCL’s Mariner of the Seas for January, 2004. I'm excited to see a Voyager-class ship, and I'm looking forward to the better and varied entertainment of RCCL. I'm also looking forward to a different menu. I'm not looking forward to the RCCL staff pushing drinks, especially the way they do at sail-away and by the pools (no, I still don’t want a Bahamamama). I will miss the fresh water pools and hot tubs, especially in the evenings when RCCL usually closes theirs.

Well, the ship lived up to (and exceeded) expectations. The entertainment was better than on Princess but the song and dance revues on all ships are getting old to me. The bar staff poolside on Mariner was pushy as ever. I hate to see them on the first day pushing sail-away drinks into the hands of first-time cruisers who think they're getting something for nothing. This must leave an awful taste in their mouths (so to speak). On a positive note, I found a nice bartender at the Schooner Bar who poured my pre-dinner drink every night. The drinks got bigger as the week went on, and he even offered a second drink on the house, a practice that completely surprised me (but didn't surprise me out of accepting the drink).