Steve (DOS) and I are currently on an 8 night Royal Caribbean (RCCL) cruise, sailing to Curacao, Aruba, and a lazy day at Coco Cay. We are sailing aboard the beautiful Mariner of the Seas, which for RCCL is now one of their “smaller” ships at 138,000 tons and a passenger capacity of between 3,334 passengers to a max of 4001 passengers. This pre-summer sailing seems full, with lots of new college graduates and their families, and surprisingly a lot of kids, even though most schools don’t get out for another couple of weeks. Fortunately even with over 3,500 passengers this week, the ship is large so there are plenty of venues to spread people out.
This cruise is a major milestone for me/us, as this is the first cruise I’ve taken since my open heart surgery last year in Seattle, when I was airlifted from Ketchikan while on our Princess Alaskan cruise. On this our first cruise back, we wanted to sail rather close to home; i.e. no airline flights to get to the ship, and not to remote areas of the world where we could go should there be an emergency of sorts. This is now our third day, am I doing great so far, with daily walks around the deck, and even taking the stairs sometimes (but only for a couple flights)! It feels so good to be back cruising again!
Our cruise left on Friday from Port Canaveral, which is only an hour or so drive from our house. Port Canaveral has really expanded since our last sailing from there a few years back, and now is the largest cruise port in the US in terms of passengers, which has increased due to more cruise lines serving the port, as well as the mega ships that port there as well. Princess Cruise lines is also scheduled to begin departing from Port Canaveral sometime in 2024 as well.
We booked this cruise just a couple months ago, and picked it specifically due to location and the relaxing itinerary with a total of four sea days! We love sea days, and have been to both Aruba and Curacao before, as well as Coco Cay, but have not been to Coco Cay since it had it’s major island make-over with the waterpark, overwater cabanas, and other attractions. Plus now it can dock at Coco Cay instead of the previous cruises which had to tender into the port, which is time consuming and subject to the whims of the weather due to possible port cancelations.
Check-in at Port Canaveral was super quick once we went thru security around 11am. We first arrived at the port (Terminal 5) and dropped off our luggage which was a breeze, and then parked in the attached garage right above the drop off area.
As always we remembered to take a photo of our parking area, as after 8 days we might not remember where we parked! Note: there is a skybridge from the parking garage on level 2, which connects directly to the terminal, so don’t take the elevator to level 1 as that is the busy luggage drop off point, and you will need to go back over to level 2 to enter the terminal.
After going thru security, the port agent scanned our phones (you need to download the RCCL app for checking in among other things), showed them our passports, and we were then boarding the ship. RCCL has really simplified the boarding process, and although our rooms were not ready until 2pm (it actually turned out to be 1:30pm), we had time to have lunch and explore the ship.
We were amazed at how clean and fresh the Mariner Of the seas (OTS) looked and felt, probably aided by the recent dry dock this year in March and April. We previously sailed the Mariner OTS at least 10 years ago, and it’s even nicer now that I remember it. The ship originally entered service in 2003, but it is kept immaculate, and even on our full sailing, it seems very adequately staffed in all areas.
We had our first meal at Johnny Rocket’s for lunch. On this cruise we purchased the unlimited specialty restaurant dining plan, and as Johnny Rocket’s was on the plan, it made for a nice and quiet area compared to the busy Windjammer Buffet, where most passengers go as soon as boarding the ship. DOS and I both had the burger and fries (not salted per our request) and a side of onion rings.
On this cruise in addition to the unlimited specialty dining package, we also had purchased the soda plan, which provides unlimited soda drinks for the cruise. Normally we get the full beverage package, but as we have Diamond Plus status with RCCL, we get 5 free drinks a day (alcoholic or mocktails) for each of us, which is more than adequate for us, especially now as I don’t want to overdue the alcoholic drinks. (We also get free drinks from 5 to 8 pm as part of the Suite perks; more on that later, and also get a 40% discount on a bottle of wine which we have for dinner, thanks to the specialty dining plan. Yes 5 Crown and Anchor Diamond Plus drinks a piece is plenty for us on top of the other options! Anyway, our burgers, fries, and onion rings where served with a smile, both from our waiter and even the smiley ketchup plate!
EXPLORING THE SHIP
After lunch we headed down to the Royal Promenade on Deck 5, which is the heart of the “city”; i.e. ship. Royal Caribbean utilizes this open corridor, mall like, sidewalk cafe concept on all of their ships now I believe (at least since the Voyager Class), and it’s really a great place to sit, have a drink in a pub, have a snack (pizza, sandwich, cookies, cake, coffee etc, shop etc, not to mention some of the parties and parades they host there throughout the cruise.
While we were waiting on our room to be ready, we (ok me), had a few brewskis at one of the pubs along the indoor promenade area, sitting “outside” the pub along the busy thorough-fare of the promenade. At this hour, it was quite busy as people were embarking the ship, and wondering around about where to go, and waiting for their rooms to be ready. It was quite fun sitting there and people watching. We met a nice couple from the Jupiter, Florida area, and enjoyed having our drinks with them – here we are looking a little “blue”; not from the brewskis, but from the mood lighting thank you!
CABIN ACCOMMODATION – Our Home Away from Home!
We ended up enjoying the pub with our new friends until around 3pm, well after our rooms were ready, and then headed up to the 10th floor to find our room. We are in Owner’s Suite (1320) which is a wonderful cabin with a large living space and comfortable balcony, located on the “hump” of the ship. The “hump” curves out slightly, making the balcony feel a bit more private, and not just a long row of balcony cabins, as it breaks up the views from the front and the back of the ship. While we normally like having an aft facing cabin, this cabin is in a great mid-ship location, across from the stairs and mid ship elevators. (No issue with noise whatsoever, and it’s a very convenient location as well.)
When we got to the room, our key and welcome envelope were waiting for us on our door, and our cabin steward “Su” immediately welcomed us aboard. Su asked if we needed anything and I just said maybe one extra pillow, and he said “how about two”, which he promptly delivered.
The suite itself is very spacious, and we had several tasty treats provided as compliments of the Hotel Director, and RCCL’s loyalty program for Diamond Plus members. These included 2 bottles of red wine, 1/2 a dozen bottles of water, 2 fruit and cheese platters, some delicious looking chocolate cookies coated with icing in different colors, and a fancy array of hors d’ourves including shrimp cocktail, breadsticks, some type of juices or energy drinks etc, all plated under a heavy glass raised cake platter type service dish. Wow – lots of stuff already – and we just boarded! Welcome Aboard!
Here are some photos of the room, balcony, and bathroom with Jacuzzi tub.
Our checked luggage was waiting for us, so we quickly unpacked, and utilized only a handful of the umpteen drawers and cabinets in our suite. DOS hooked up all of our electronic devices via the cords we had brought for our iPhones, iPad, watches, and my MacBook. While you can not bring a surge detector on a cruise ship, you are allowed an extension cord with 3 way adapters, which we always bring.
We then walked around the ship a bit more, re-familiarizing ourselves with the ship, and taking a few photos along the way. We had also sailed on the sister ships of the Mariner OTS, the Adventure OTS (Trans-Atlantic), and Navigator OTS (Med) a few years back, which are of the same ship class and very similar in layout, all the decor differs a bit on each ship.
After a shower, it was nearly time to head to the Suite Lounge, which is located on the 14th floor, and occupies a fairly large section of the Viking Crown Lounge, and even has a private section outdoors as well, overlooking the basketball court, Sky Pad, and rock-climbing wall. Not that we would do it, but the Sky Pad was closed this cruise, which is supposedly a trampoline like thrill attraction using virtual reality type goggles.
We went to the Suite Lounge around 6:45pm, which is available for Grand Suite and above, (as well as the top tier Pinnacle members) and met the lovely Concierge Host, Jennifer, whom DOS had corresponded with via email a week or so before our sailing. Jennifer arranged the times for our nightly dinner, with a standing 8pm reservation each night in Chops Restaurant, although we will alternate a couple nights most likely with Jamie’s Italian Restaurant.
The drinks for the Suite Lounge are complimentary (unlike the Diamond Lounge which count against your daily Crown and Anchor drink limit). I must say we were so impressed with this Suite venue, and the bar service by our friendly server is tops. You can order whatever you like to drink (complimentary) and there is also a nice spread of hors d’ourves in the evening as well. (Breakfast is also available until 10am in the mornings, and at 11am small sandwiches and snacks are available as well.)
We enjoyed our drinks and chats with our server and Jennifer as well. On our second night we met Maria, who is from the United States (unusual for a ship employee, except for the entertainers, and certain officers as there is such a diversity with crew members coming from so many different countries), and she is in charge of the employee training. She was a delightful person to talk to, and we sincerely told here how impressed we were with everything so far, quality of food, accommodations, entertainment, but especially the outstanding crew. The service comes from the top, we told her, as evidenced but the training she provides. Maria had traveled for RCCL and a couple other lines over her 25 year career, and has literally sailed around the world, so she had a wealth of experience to offer, and we had such an enjoyable conversation with her.
Our first dinner aboard, (and our second, and tonight third) was at Chop’s Grille, a specialty steakhouse aboard the Mariner OTS (as well as most of the other RCCL ships). We have eaten at Chop’s on all of the RCCL ships we’ve taken that had them (the old Sovereign and Monarch did not have them and are no longer part of the RCCL fleet), and always enjoyed it, but it never seemed as polished on the other cruises as it did on this one, both in service and food quality as I remember our dinners from a few years back.
I must say the food and service at Chop’s aboard the Mariner is OUTSTANDING and definitely top quality; it really blew us away! I much prefer the RCCL specialty dining restaurants to those found on Princess Cruises, which we’ve taken several times within the last year and a half.
So far I’ve had the same meal both nights, although I will mix it up on different nights as they do have other dishes besides steak, such as Salmon, and other entrees. For starters DOS and I both had the JUMBO shrimp cocktails, which was 4 very large shrimp served in a nice iced dish with the traditional cocktail sauce and lemon wedge. Fantastic!
We also split a crab cake the first night, and a “grilled black pepper bacon” appetizer the second night. I have to watch my salt intake, so I only had a small portion of the bacon, and it was delicious! We also had a nice salad as well.
For our main entree, DOS had Rack-of-Lamb one night, and a Bramzino fish, which is a Mediterranean Sea Bass.
I kept my meals consistent at least with my Rib Eye steak and a side of horseradish.
And for the “best part” as our waiter would say, I had Key Lime pie one night, and Red Velvet cake last night.
Since we didn’t have the drink package, we ordered wine with dinner, which was extremely reasonably priced, especially when we got a 40% discount on bottles of wine under $100 with our specialty dining package. We had a nice bottle of Sequoia Grove the first couple nights and will probably get another bottle of this nice vino tonight as well. We’ve been to the vineyard in Napa Valley a couple times, and really enjoy the full body Cabernet Sauvignon; the onboard vintage is 2019.
Chop’s Restaurant, as well as Jamie’s Italian Restaurant are both on the 12th floor, so they offer wonderful views of the sea below. Also as a suite passenger, we can have a full breakfast in Chops each morning, which is a wonderful perk.
Royal Caribbean is definitely on the casual side of the dress attire, especially in the Caribbean and on shorter cruises. Many people wear shorts even to dinner, and even on Formal Night (they call it “Dress Your Best Night”), only a handful of men had jackets on (almost all with open collar, no tie). Most people did dress business casual on the “Dress Your Best” night, i.e. slacks and a polo type or Hawaiian/Caribbean shirt for men, but no tuxedos for sure. DOS and I do like wearing a tuxes on longer cruises, but on this 8 day cruise, we only wore a Hawaiian shirt with a blazer and slacks, without a tie, and felt comfortably attired, (actually enjoyed the casual atmosphere), even removing our jacket at dinner and later during the production show.
These days, dressing up is slowly becoming a thing of the past on many mainstream cruise lines, although Princess does have an edge up on RCCL in terms of Formal Wear and Jacket/Tie etc. I think in part this is due to some of the longer and more exotic cruises we’ve taken with Princess (Norway, Panama Canal, Alaska etc) and the age group is older on Princess as well. There definitely is something for everyone, and on RCCL passengers tend to change into shorts after dinner (if they are not wearing them to dinner) even on the “Dress to impress nights”. The age of passengers is much lower than the average age of Princess passengers, and RCCL is definitely more of a family cruise line with loads of activities of kids, all of which invites passengers to loosen up and just have fun! No complaints there, and it’s much easier pack with less clothes too!
It’s only the third day of our cruise, but so far the entertainment has been great. There’s usually a band playing at the pool, and most of the venues have live entertainment. The first night we went to a karaoke event, and the lounge was packed to a nearly standing room only crowd. The karaoke singers that went up on stage varied from terrific to gong-show horrible! LOL! (I think alcohol helped with the later group!). Regardless, we love watching karaoke, for better or worse, and got give credit to anyone brave enough to get up on stage and sing. Or at least try to.
Last night we saw the first production show which was amazing! The talent of the singers and dancers was awesome, and the sets and costumes, coupled with the technology of the theater and accompanied by the show band made for an energetic and original show. The show was themed around an art gallery, and the first scene has gigantic painting on display. As the gallery is about to close for the day, a couple of the paintings literally come to life! A person actually walks out of the painting to sing or dance – really cool, and very original!
There was also a huge set that consisted of a train, that coupled with video appeared to actually be moving, until the cast departs the train for some more singing and dancing. Quite an energetic show, and kudos to the talented singers and dancers!
Anyway, a very special shout-out, hug, and thank you to all of the Mother’s out there, on this Mother’s Day. My Mom passed nearly three years ago, and I miss her so much. Here’s a big hug to you in Heaven Mom!
Onboard the ship today, the Cruise Director said a special thank you to Mother’s everywhere from passengers sailing to crew member Mother’s, to those not sailing with us and those who are no longer with us. The Cruise Director made a special thank you and honor to his own Mother for all she had done to get him where he is today. Thank you Mom’s everywhere! And the Windjammer Cafe even made a HUGE Mother’s Day cake!
So signing off for now from the Mariner of the Seas! It feels great to be sailing again! And tomorrow we will arrive at beautiful Curacao.