Monday, August 25, 2008

Mariner of the Seas - My First 24 Hours

It has been a very interesting 24 hours aboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. With approximately 3,735 passengers onboard, with quite a mix of ages, ethnicities, languages and socioeconomic classes, there is much that I have observed and some that just disappoints. Overall though, it has been more tolerable than I expected, though not my idea of a perfect cruise.

We arrived yesterday around 11:30 am and had a very painless check-in and were heading up the gangway in about 15 minutes. Our Grand Suite wouldn't be ready until 1:00 pm and we were not permitted to drop off our carry-on luggage so we started a brief tour of the ship a bit bogged down.

First stop was the spa, so the sea day massages could be booked at the desired times. There was no hard sell. I briefly inspected the complimentary steam room and sauna and other facilities and they were quite nice and sparkling clean. We then stopped by Johnny Rockets, the pool (with a scary number of lounge chairs), the rock climbing wall and miniature golf. The kids purchased their soda cards ($25 +15% gratuity) so they can have all the soda they want without the constant single charges.

It was time to eat, so we ventured into the Windjammer Café and had an OK meal from the buffet. (I do not remember ever seeing a hamburger that looked like what they were serving, but it was OK.) The seating was nicer than expected in faux rattan chairs, but the ambiance is not something I enjoyed with literally over 1,000 people walking past.

It was now time to see our suite. I was, and remain, pleasantly surprised by it. It is larger than the suites on Seabourn or Regent Seven Seas or Cunard, with a very comfortable full size sofa bed, queen bed, two comfortable chairs (plus one by the vanity desk), a nice bar, plenty of closet and drawer space and a very nice, large, marble bathroom with double sinks under a granite top and a full bathtub/shower. The balcony is large enough for two lounges, two chairs and a table. While it comes with only one lounge, a request of our cabin steward and a second lounge appeared. TV with DVD and an excellent sound system is also included. The bed was extremely comfortable and the linens crisp and comfortable. It was spotless and smelled clean and fresh. This is becoming my refuge. 

Suites also have the use of the Concierge Club with complimentary drinks and snacks before dinner, as well as a fairly nice continental breakfast. More importantly, the concierge takes care of ice show tickets, tours, etc., avoiding literally hour long lines. It is a bit of a refuge and relief as well.

When I reappeared from my suite a terrible thing happened: Thousands of more people appeared. It turned the Promenade from a curiosity with a couple of possible places to have a glass of wine, to an echoing and loud mall/hall with tables being set up for the sale of cheap jewelry and liquor.

After a rousing game of miniature golf with the kids, I checked out my table for dinner. Incredibly we had been placed in probably the worst table in the restaurant, stuck in a back room next to a service door on the lowest of the three levels...with no view of anything. Shocking for a suite guest to be placed there. Equally amazing there was available an excellent table on the third (top) level right by the railing overlooking the entire restaurant and just above the pianist and violinist...transforming the massive space into what was admittedly a pretty elegant and quaint one.

With the kids enjoying room service (with a limited, but acceptable, menu) and planning out their evening, we had a drink in our suite and then we all ventured out to the show, which was very entertaining with a comic and a juggler (http://jeffthejuggler.com/). Then dinner.

This is where "my" cruise really falls apart. Our waiter is OK, but I cannot tell if he is genuinely friendly or if I should be looking for my wallet at the end of the meal. The service was polite, if not a bit rough around the edges. It was as if I was being rushed to complete my meal after waiting to place my order. The waiter served my wine - which I appreciated - as I saw the next table waiting a painfully long time for the sommelier. My first course was a Hot and Sour Shrimp soup which was hot and sour, but the broth had little other flavors and the shrimp had that watered down taste and mushy consistency of thawed shrimp that had been dumped from the tub with the defrosted water into the soup at the last minute. My wife's onion and cheese tart was OK, but with no style and curiously covered with red peppers. Salads were basic. Her sirloin steak was marginal at best (small, thin and tasteless) and was accompanied by a scoop of mash potatoes (you could see the scoop marks) and some diced vegetables. I went with the end cut prime rib and baked potato. The meat was dry, but it had a bit of flavor. It was, alas, food and nothing more. (Tonight we are trying Chops.)

We ended our evening in the Connoisseur's Club, the cigar and whisky lounge. It is a very nice venue, but curiously had a big screen TV which dampens the ambiance; though it remains one of the quietest places on the ship...which is hopping everywhere else! It is very sparingly used (maybe 3 couples at a time), but it does need better ventilation.

After a very restful night's sleep our breakfast arrived. The order had most of what we ordered, much we did not. It had tasteless powdered eggs and paste-like potatoes with dry, tasteless pastries. The coffee was actually quite acceptable as was the bacon. The rest was pretty much inedible, so cereal and fruits may be the only way to go.

I won't bore you with our morning activities, but the pool was pretty much filled and, as such, the whirlpool tubs were overwhelmed with kids. The Promenade was filled with announcements for raffles, etc. I like my suite.

We tried lunch in the Dining Room. The service was even more rough and let's just say that I will not be eating any more shrimp on this ship. I actually think the buffet might be a better option...if you can deal with all the people.

That's it for my first 24 hours.