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KT Picard

Age: 55

Occupation:freelance writer

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Sailing Date: April 4th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

We had a terrific week on Mariner of the Seas. It's a beautiful, new ship with almost more to do than can be done in a week's time. There is something for everyone -- basketball, mini golf, ping pong, swimming, jogging track, ice and inline skating for the sports enthusiast and many quieter activities for others, including an internet center and a very comfortable and well-stocked library. You can "people watch" at the Cafe on the Royal Promenade and enjoy a cup of coffee or stretch out in a comfy lounge chair in the Solarium. We loved the Solarium as opposed to the larger and louder and more crowded pool area.

Even though Mariner is an enormous ship -- there were 3,500 guests plus crew on our sailing and 1,000 were kids! -- it rarely seemed crowded and we never waited more than a few minutes in lines. There are so many different activities on many different decks, but one can always find a quiet place. The promenade deck (deck 4), for example, is very wide and circles the ship. In the old days aboard ship this was the place folks gathered or sat to read or take walks as there wasn't much in the way of entertainment. Today, however, the promenade deck is little used as people are mostly "inside" shopping or eating or lounging at the pool or involved in a myriad of activities. So, the lovely, wide promenade deck is all but vacant. Many times I took daily walks here, as opposed to the more crowded jogging track, and would often be one of only 8 or 10 people around. It's a great place to lounge in a chair and read or enjoy the view or take a stroll after dinner and watch the sun set. Another quiet spot during the day is the heli pad. Go to deck four and walk up the stairs at the front of the boat to the heli pad. There are benches to sit on and the view is great. Or go up to the "peek-a-boo" deck (outside of the solarium) and look down through the windows and watch the crew operate the boat. Or go all the way up to the fifteenth deck (the red-carpeted stairs outside of Ellington's)and see the sunlight come through the stained glassed ceiling of the lovely little chapel. Everyone on board finds the "active" spots, but some of the quieter ones are special, too.

We enjoyed the shows in the Savoy Theatre and went almost every night. We had main seating at dinner (6 o'clock) and then had a chance to go back to our rooms and relax a bit before showtime. The early dinner worked great for us. We never had a line getting into the dining room as I noticed sometimes for the later seating and we never had a problem getting a great seat at the theatre. The ice show was perhaps the best entertainment on board. Be sure to see this performance and check about tickets. Though the Savoy theatre does not require tickets, the ice show does. There is no cost, but you do have to get them in advance. Costumes are fabulous.

There are bars galore and nightly entertainment here, too. I liked Bolero's Latin music and the band there was quite good. The singer in the Wig and Gavel was good, too, and the mimes and comics and singers on the promenade were always good. The parade (don't miss the parades and get there on time as they last only a few minutes) were very colorful and unexpected on a boat! Vintages wine bar was especially nice and offered wine tastings almost every day. The staff there were so nice and informative.

The ship's staff in general were excellent. Our room attendant was always cheery and seemed to time our comings and goings right each day, providing a different towel animal each night and taking a moment to converse with us about each of our excursions ashore and inquiring about our activities. Our dining room staff were exceptional, as well, and made a point of remembering what each person liked to drink and doing everything they could to make our dining experiences enjoyable. We were at a big table and thoroughly enjoyed all the folks we were paired with. In fact, we were going to dine in Portofino's or Chops one night and cancelled our reservation as we preferred to spend the time with our new dinner mates.

For the most part, we had a terrific time. The weather was superb -- sunshine every day and clear, still, looking-glass seas with hardly a ripple. You couldn't even tell you were on a boat! We had a suite with a wonderfully large balcony with lounge chair and a small table and chairs where we had breakfast several times. We splurged to get the suite and it was worth it. There was a large bathroom with tub, two sinks, and two walls that were mirrored...a large closet, bar,sofa bed and queen bed. The suites also come with concierge service -- complimentary continental breakfast and complimentary drinks and hors d'oerves before dinner.

I really cannot come up with anything negative to say about the Mariner. Our trip was just great and everything worked out well. Even getting off and on the ship, which I expected (with the new security regulations, etc) to be exhausting, wasn't. The lines moved efficiently and quickly. We never had much of a wait anywhere.

Shore excursions we liked: swimming with the stingrays at Stingray City on Grand Cayman, the Coyaba River Gardens on Jamaica (don't bother paying to shop at "Island Village," it's in walking distance of the is the Taj Mahal)and the Atlantis submarine in Cozumel (also available in Grand Cayman). The sub goes down about 100 feet at Chankanab National Park...the fish are beautiful and everyone has a window to view the scenery. Kids went on the sub, as well as one very elderly couple. It was a treat.

My only disappointment didn't have anything at all to do with the ship per se, but rather with cruising in general. I have traveled extensively in many parts of the world and this trip made me realize just how very different "traveling" is from cruising. A cruise is a wonderful chance to relax, to get a glimpse of a lot of different places, to do some shopping, and to be catered to in so many ways. The drawbacks for a "traveler," however, is that one gets only a glimpse of the places visited. Our trip was to the Western Caribbean (Cococay Bahamas, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Cozumel) and I would like to have spent a little more time in each place. I have been to the Caribbean many times and I realized on this week-long journey afloat that folks who had never been to the islands were going back home after a week with only a vague notion of the places they'd seen. I missed lying on the beach amongst the seagrape trees, listening to the rain at night, hearing the birds sing in the early morning, and smelling the tropical flowers. The ports-of-call are bustling places to shop, but they are not truly indicative of the culture or the people or some of the finer pleasures to be had in the islands.

So, my advice would be: if you've never cruised, don't miss doing it! And choose a ship like the Mariner that has something for everyone, from the kids to the grandparents, from the active to the passive, from the artist to the athlete. On the other hand, if you've always been a "cruiser," consider choosing one of the places that have intrigued you most and next vacation go there for a week and relax on land and get to know the people and the place and the culture up close. The world is full of wonderful possibilities.

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