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Martin Raffel

Age: 56

Occupation:administrator in non-profit agency

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Sailing Date: August 14th, 2005

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

I’m sharing some brief thoughts/ assessments from our cruise in the Western Caribbean aboard the RCCL’s Mariner of Seas as a way of thanking all those other cruise passengers whose earlier reports helped to enrich my family’s experience. This will not be a comprehensive summary—just some reactions to certain things that may prove helpful to others. I’ll be happy to answer specific questions at mraffel49@yahoo.com.

This is my second RCCL cruise in the Caribbean. We did the Eastern route last November on the Explorer. Both cruises were great/ dollar for dollar one of the best vacation values in my opinion. Mariner was newer but layout basically identical. This trip, I went with my wife and our 15-year old son, our friend and his 15-year old son and 20-year old daughter, the friend’s girlfriend and parents who are in their early 80’s. Top to bottom, it was a terrific experience.

Food seemed to be better on this cruise compared to last November: more variety and nicer presentation. Ate in Chop’s for the first time, which, I think, was a good decision. For $20 you get an outstanding meal valued at maybe $50 per person. I had always hesitated to eat in one of the gourmet places thinking that we had already paid good money for dining room food. But one time during the week makes good sense. There’s really no comparison to quality of food and service, not that dining room is bad.

Obviously, there are all kinds of people on a ship. I tend to like quiet and solitude; enjoy curling up with a good book and listening to music on my newly acquired Ipod. So I stay away from the casino, the bars, and the main pool area with its hairy leg and belly flop contests. My recommended places—solarium pool and especially the helicopter landing area in front of the ship anytime, but especially late at night with the wind in your face and the stars above, and virtually nobody else around.

I’m also a snorkeling lover – with very bad vision, so I rent a prescription mask from the dive shop as soon as I get on board. $15 for the week – very good deal I think. Our ports: Labadee. I went to the beach that is supposed to have the best snorkeling. Don’t waste your time. Very little coral and a few fish here and there. Just enjoy swimming at any of the beaches. The further you go from where the tender drops you off the less crowded the beach. Ocho Rios. I took advice of many and arranged a trip with PEAT TAYLOR. He did a fine job and I join in recommending him. He and his associate Andrea take you on a little tour of the area including a drive through Fern Gulley and then drop you at Dunn’s River Falls for the climb, which is relatively challenging. If you are uncomfortable walking on slippery rocks, think twice. You are taken up by one of the guides at the falls. Afterwards he returned to the ship for lunch. At 2:30 he returned and took part of the group to a shopping area, and my wife and I were taken to Shaw Park, which has its own falls and beautiful botanical garden. We were the only tourists there – a real find. I highly recommend it. Then he came back, picked us up and dropped us at the ship. Grand Cayman Island. We booked a 3-hour excursion with Captain Marvin, again based on past reports, and it also worked out quite well for us. Three stops—two snorkeling, the first, which was mediocre, the second at the barrier reef, which was outstanding. Saw a shark and moray eel, along with much coral and tropical fish. Why don’t they just spend more time at the reef? Then on to Stingray City, which looks a little like Grand Central Station with scores of people playing with the rays, some shouting with glee, others with fear. It is an experience/ I’m ambivalent about it though. Is this changing their behaviors? Are we interfering in nature? But there’s no nice white sandy beach; so if that’s what you want go to Seven Mile beach. Last stop Cozumel; we took a taxi (be prepared to deal with a mob scene outside the terminal trying to hail taxis) to Chankaraab Park. I liked it a lot – good snorkeling. But there’s no nice white sandy beach; so if that’s what you want go to Seven Mile beach.

Shows on board: skating show, as last November, was best of the lot. Comedians ok and singers/ dancers just ok also. Their first show had weak song selection. We did Quest last time and didn’t feel it was necessary to repeat, but recommended if you haven’t done it. James Andrews was our cruise director both times—enjoyable, pleasant fellow.

Our 15-year old boys lived around the sports area taking advantage of the basketball court and miniature golf. It would be hard to go back to smaller ships that don’t have these features.

One last point: We had 8th deck cabin with balcony and I really enjoyed having it. Great just to look out at the ocean and I sat and read there on sea days. My tentative conclusion is – it’s either a balcony if we want to spend the extra money or an inexpensive inside cabin. Outside cabin with a small port hole doesn’t make sense to me. My wife disagrees. We’ll work it out.

Hope this is helpful.

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