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Aylene

Age: 33

Occupation:Homemaker/college student

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 22nd, 2005

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Sailing Date: May 22nd, 2005

I was very excited about this trip. This cruise was my first vacation in over five years and the very first time to get away without my two children. It was a gift from my mother and we were looking forward to sharing a vacation together away from the grandkids, work, and school. My mother had previously traveled with RC’s sister company, Celebrity, going to Alaska and Hawaii. She raved about the excellent service and luxuriousness of the ships, including their spas, entertainment, and room service and dining. We were planning to enjoy several excursions but were primarily taking a cruise because of the luxury and ability to not have to worry about anything.

Originally my grandmother asked to join us so we booked a room with handicap access because she uses a walker and might even need a wheelchair. Unfortunately, my grandmother’s health declined so she was forced to cancel. Instead we brought along one of my mother’s work friends. Though we offered to exchange the handicapped cabin to someone else if needed, we ended up in that cabin for our trip. Our cabin was 1608, on the 10th deck, amidships.

We chose to book a bus ride through RC from our hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to Port Canaveral. We all agreed that this was a good choice. The expense was less than gas and parking for a week would have been, plus we had priority at parking and lots of help in moving our luggage. Our experience at embarkation was pleasant overall. The ticketing agent checked our passports and was pleasant. Unfortunately, she failed to clear our cabin mates Sea Pass card which caused a delay in boarding the ship.

Once we got on the ship there was no one to point out what direction we should go so we ended up wandering a bit before we found the elevators. Throughout the trip a common complaint we overheard from other passengers and shared was the lack of a map to the ship. Though there were many found around the ship it would have helped me to feel more oriented if I had some kind of map that I could refer to when planning my day.

We eventually found our cabin. The cabin has a large balcony which accommodates a lounge chair, two chairs and a small table. There was a sliding glass door and a set of windows looking out onto the balcony that were as large as the glass door. As a group we spent most of our down time on the balcony enjoying the view of the sea and the spectacular sight of our ports of call coming into view early in the morning.

Because it was designed for handicap access the cabin itself was quite spacious. There were two single beds, two bedside tables, a chair and ottoman, a foldout couch and a vanity with a chair. Even with the bed folded out to a double there was still plenty of space to pass between the couch and beds and there was no problem accessing our balcony. The bathroom was equally spacious and the closet was a walk-in with one set of shelves and a hanging rack along the back.

The negative aspects of having a handicapped cabin included the fact that the shower wasn’t at all enclosed, so that when anyone took a shower the water spread all over the bathroom floor. (To quote our cabin mate after her first shower, “Houston, we have a problem!”) It was tedious and time consuming trying to scrape the water back towards the drain with your foot so that others could use the bathroom without getting drenched.

The closet included a special drop down rack that would allow a person confined to a wheelchair to hang their clothing. Great! Except, the bar was larger than the hangers the ship provided so we were unable to use over a third of our hanging space. With three women trying to hang up clothes that was a major annoyance.

Our steward, Echo (short for something Indian that he didn’t even try to get us to reproduce), introduced himself. He had very little to say but was very friendly. We had no complaints with Echo. He did his job conscientiously and we always returned to find our cabin in good condition, bathroom floor dry and clean, with adequate towels. We especially enjoyed the towel animals that he created for us on five nights of our seven night cruise vacation. Our only complaints were no pillow chocolates the first night and the apparent stinginess of the ship in providing only one shower cap for three female guests and one box of tissue. No extras on this ship!

We chose first seating, being used to eating with small children earlier in the day, and were seated at Top Hat and Tails, the middle “layer” of the dining room. The name was derived from some kind of Rogers and Astaire connection, only evidenced by a few costumes located at the entrance. The dining room was reasonably attractive with dark woods accented with navy and burgundy upholstery and a large staircase leading from the second floor down to the first. Overall the impression wasn’t that special, the most attractive item being the beautiful chandelier which was viewable from all three floors of the dining room.

We received very good service from our waiter, Ilarion, and his assistant, Jeethu. They were attentive and always willing to bring us anything we desired. Unfortunately for the gentlemen seated at our table several times Ilarion forgot to come back to them for their orders so they have to wave him down to place their orders. I can only guess what caused these oversights. The food was generally well-prepared and we enjoyed the selections. There was typical cruise fare; prime rib offered several nights, shrimp cocktail offered two nights, Florida lobster one night, New York Strip offered one other night. Several comments/complaints….the evenings when Cherries Jubilee and Baked Alaska were served was a disappointment as all of the “flaming” must have been done in the kitchen. According to our waiter the insurance company had put a stop to using the live flames. It was a letdown. Also, dinners were carried out covered with brown plastic covers instead of the expected silver/steel. Desserts were frequently served in little clear plastic bowls, instead of crystal. This made everything feel a bit like being in a hospital, not the luxury dining that we were expecting.

That evening we explored the ship a bit before heading to an early bed. I was almost 3 months pregnant at the time of this trip and suffered a bit with getting my sea legs so we all agreed that an early night should help. The “Royal Promenade” was a bit of a letdown. I’d seen all of the pictures and read descriptions that lead me to expect something a bit grander. That came to be a theme for the trip.

On day two we explored the ship and rested up for our upcoming excursions. The pool decks were as expected. I was grateful that there was an area available for those who didn’t want to be splashed by children (I love kids but this was my vacation!) that adjoined the spa area. On the Celebrity cruises that my mother enjoyed she had paid a membership fee so that she could enjoy scented steam showers and have access to their healthy breakfast bar that adjoined the spa and steam room. This ship didn’t offer any of those amenities. There was a gym which I used once (walking on a treadmill to the rocking of the ship proved to be a challenge beyond my abilities!), with a changing room that included a sauna, then upstairs were the small private rooms where you could purchase spa services and the ships salon. We opted to not use any of those services, the prices seemed exorbitant. Instead of the healthy breakfast bar offering yogurts, fresh fruit, granola, etc… that my mother had enjoyed on her Celebrity cruises, Mariner had the standard alcohol bar in place.

The Windjammer Café on the 12th deck adjacent to the pools was pleasantly decorated with a modern feel. The food selections were fairly basic, salad bar, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers, with a choice of two hot entrees such as baked ham and roast beef. At Jade, the adjoining Asian buffet there was always a selection of fried rice and cooked entrees, however, I never saw any sushi. Servers offered ice water, iced tea and coffee. Sodas were available for a price. The food was good and usually well-prepared but nothing special.

The other dining venue that we used on the ship was the Café Promenade, a small eatery found on the Royal Promenade. This area is open 24 hours a day offering sandwiches, pizza, cookies and assorted other desserts as well as coffee and ice water. Outside of the café was a bar where you could purchase other drinks as well as the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. The food served at the café was pretty good and we usually found the café in good clean condition. Other than the first day at sea it wasn’t usually too crowded to find a place to sit.

Throughout the trip we experienced several instances of bad service from the ship’s crew. The first occurred on the second day when my mother and her friend went to purchase some duty free items at the Promenade. They both felt that the man working at the register was quite rude and had a bad attitude. Later that night we called for a late night snack from room service and were shocked at the reluctance of the server to take our order. She discouragingly told us that it would be *at least* 45 minutes for a pot of coffee and reminded us that the Café Promenade was open 24 hours for service. We were astounded but said we would prefer the room service. (Note: when we finally received our order several items were missing and the quality of the food was pathetic, i.e. a cheese tray served with only a few grapes and individually packaged saltine crackers.) This kind of attitude from room service was common throughout the cruise. Another evening we were returning to our cabin from a show and paused to use a phone in the lobby to order a pot of coffee since we knew that there would be quite a wait. We were informed that they could only take a room service order phoned in from our actual cabin. No reason was given.

Our biggest disappointment occurred on the afternoon of day three of the cruise when we returned from the beach at Labadee. We had enjoyed snorkeling in the ocean, shopping at the market (beware of pushy vendors!), the day was quite warm and the tender ride back to the ship had felt like forever. We all were looking forward to getting a shower and enjoying the island view on the balcony for a few hours before it was time to dress for dinner.

I gratefully reached our cabin and rushed in to take a shower. A few minutes later I stepped out of the shower as my mother and our friend returned to the cabin. They cautioned me not to come out of the bathroom, because “the men would see me”. I laughed, assuming that they meant people out on the beach or in the ocean but they insisted. It turned out that they were referring to the group of four men on our balcony!

My mother went to investigate what was going on since we had received no prior notice of any maintenance. It appeared that they were painting the pillars of our balcony. My mother opened the sliding door to ask what was going on and we were assailed by strong chemical fumes that instantly filled the cabin. She insisted that they cease painting immediately until we could determine if the paint might be toxic (remember – I am three months pregnant!). The supervisor acquiesced and the group moved on to the adjoining balcony.

Needless to say, we were very upset by this situation. We called guest relations to place a complaint and were told that if I was concerned for my health I should go to one of the public lobbies. (Right, the ones where people are constantly smoking cigarettes? Sounds like a great place to take a nap.) The guest relations person on duty said that they didn’t know anything about the situation and would call us back when their supervisor was available. We waited but finally decided to leave the cabin to escape the fumes. We went down to their desk and got no further. We returned to our cabin and decided to open the door to the hall and the sliding door, knowing that creates quite a wind. We hoped that this would clear out the fumes so that we would have a place to sleep for the night.

This is when the operations officer finally came to our cabin accompanied by several service crewmen. He claimed that the chemicals weren’t at all dangerous and that the workers didn’t even wear masks – we quickly corrected him and pointed out that all of the men had been wearing breathing masks when working on the balcony. When we asked for information regarding the chemicals used he agreed that they would be provided; however, in later discussions with guest relations they stated that they couldn’t provide anything in writing due to liability concerns. The whole experience was a major case of CYA and no one would take any responsibility for the failure of communication to us. Our concerns were twofold – first, the loss of the use of the cabin that we had paid for and space we intended to use. This was a situation of basic maintenance, not emergency repairs and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why they should damage our ability to use the space we rented while they do their maintenance. Secondly, the chemicals used had a very strong odor and we were concerned about their toxicity. Pregnant women are supposed to avoid paint fumes (common knowledge) so it is reasonable to be concerned, especially considering that I already have one child with serious asthma. The remainder of the cruise was marred by our continued efforts to get information about the situation and the crew’s unwillingness to assist us or even offer a reasonable apology for our inconvenience. We were called several times to see how we were enjoying our cruise but when we asked about resolution for our specific concerns we were blown off. The only compensation we were ever offered for our “inconvenience” was a meal coupon to Johnny Rocket’s (wow! $3.95!). Considering the level of our concerns we all felt insulted and declined.

The other issues that we experienced were annoyances, the crew and ship didn’t compare favorably to the previous cruise experiences of my mother; however, this last issue was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We will never, ever cruise with Royal Caribbean again.

A few last comments and notes about the ports of call: In Ochos Rios, Jamaica, we booked the excursion to Brimmer Hall Plantation followed by the walkup at Dunn’s River Falls. Though our driver and guide were very pleasant (Yay, Pat and “Sexy”!), the roads in Jamaica are in truly horrible condition. The 45 minute one way trip was incredibly rough as we drove over roads that were more potholes than paving. The tour around the plantation was somewhat interesting in a PBS kind of way but not worth the exhausting bus ride. A better option seemed to be the boat tour to go snorkeling then a visit to the falls. We all enjoyed seeing the falls but it was so crowded with the various groups climbing up that it was hard to enjoy the natural beauty. Also, if you have any concerns with your hips or knees this is not the excursion for you. While waiting at the base of the falls we were one of many people approached to buy drugs by the natives. Overall, the poverty of Jamaica was heart wrenching and I wouldn’t return for a vacation.

In Georgetown, Grand Caymans, we didn’t plan any excursions but instead walked around the stores at the pier and did our shopping. Overall very pleasant, though I later wished that we had planned an excursion to see the turtle farm or swim with the stingrays.

Our final port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. We were very excited about viewing the Mayan Ruins and booked an excursion to Tulum. In order to visit Tulum first we had to take a ferry “Jet Boat” ride across the bay to Playa del Carmen. The ride lasts about 45 minutes and even on a sunny mild day it was pretty rough. I managed the ride over only resorting to my sea bands but on the ride back I took two tiny doses of Dramamine to counter the wild rocking and swaying of the boat. On the ferry seems to be the cheapest place to buy t-shirts, $5.

Playa del Carmen was absolutely beautiful. The small port area was surrounded by shops that reminded me of nicer shopping areas in Miami. There were fountains all over the place to combat the aridness of the weather and the beaches are gorgeous. The prices that we saw advertised were fabulous ($28 for an hour long massage?!?). We all really wanted to shop here but in order to make our excursion we were really hustled through the area with no time to look around. The buses used by this tour company were several steps up from those in Jamaica, with good air conditioning and larger seats, more like a European style of tour bus. Our guide was interesting and knowledgeable about the history of the area and of the Mayan people. This trip was also approximately 45 minutes each way but passed much more quickly than the trip in Jamaica.

Once at Tulum I highly recommend buying the $2 tram ride to and from the site. There is nothing interesting to see, just a dusty road and scrub bushes for scenery. Even though our trip took place in May it was unbelievably hot and dry on the day of our excursion. You *must* take water. There are places to buy drinks but the prices are high. We just had the server in the Windjammer Café fill our water bottles with lots of ice and a little water and were grateful for it later.

The view of the beach right under the cliffs with the ancient ruins perched on their edges was well worth the drive and walk. It was absolutely stunning. Many people were lying on the beach and enjoying swimming and if we’d had more time I would like to have done that as well. Tulum was gorgeous and I hope to return to this area in future vacations. Hopefully we will have more time to shop in Playa del Carmen and go further inland to see the ruins at Chiken Itza. The only mar to the experience was that there just wasn’t enough time to do everything that we would have liked to at this port.

 

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