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Tom Harmening

Age: 58

Occupation:Business Consultant

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Sailing Date: February 26th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

As residents of Florida, we only had a two-hour bus ride to reach Port Canaveral and board The Mariner of the Seas, but as it turned out, that ride was the most undesirable part of the trip. We used Cruise Connection and on the way to the port, we were told that the “luxury bus” was not running and we were in very uncomfortable s4eats. One the way home, we didn’t even have a bus – just a van with 18 people jammed in it and a trailer hauling our luggage. Needless to say, the next time we depart from Port Canaveral, we will drive over.

Checking in and loading were quick and within 30 minutes of arriving at the terminal, we were on the 11th deck of the Mariner, enjoying lunch.

What can you say about the Mariner of the Seas? It is a huge ship with a full-size basketball court, a miniature golf course, a rock climbing wall, an ice rink, a huge theatre, a great night club, an indoor shopping mall, conference center, spa, gym and enough restaurants and bars to keep you hopping all week.

The crew works hard (mostly at night) to keep the ship clean (and no doubt sanitary) and there are hand sanitizers throughout the ship, with signs reminding you that a great vacation means staying well.

Our room attendant, Renold, was outstanding. The room (6-314) was always clean and the towels fresh even though we hardly saw him. Errol was his assistant. I can’t recommend them more highly.

There were some pleasant surprises and disappointments on this trip. In sum, here they are:

Pleasant surprises:

• Chops Restaurant. Pay the $20 per person surcharge and enjoy this restaurant, which compares well to the finer restaurants in major cities. The service is outstanding, the view from the aft part of the ship is great and the food is the best you’ll have on the trip. The next time we’re on board we plan to eat here at least twice during the trip. FYI, our fellow travelers also raved about Portofino’s (also an extra charge), but we did not eat there.

• The Ice Show. Outstanding and hard to believe that you’re at sea when you watch this extravaganza on the ship’s ice rink. Don’t miss it.

• The shopping area. Its size alone will overwhelm you, but you are on one of the largest cruise ships in the world.

• The friendliness of the staff, overall. Remembering your name, your drink and food preferences. Seems easy on the cruise, but when you realize that they do cruise after cruise, it’s really remarkable that they can give you such a personal touch.

Disappointments:

• Food in the main dining room. Just wasn’t that good. Tasted institutional. After three nights, we opted for other places to eat.

• Guest Relations. The group behind the counter had one goal – to sell you shore excursions. If you presented them with any other problem, they were hopelessly lost. Just one example: My wife broke a temple on her glasses and when asked, they suggested we go to the jewelry shop in the main shopping area. Once there, we were told there was no jeweler on the ship, the shop was only set up for sales. (I remembered an optical shop at our next stop - Georgetown, Grand Cayman - and we were able to get her glasses repaired there). Another time, we asked Guest Relations about reservations at Chops and were told “Go up there and ask them”.

• The drink card. At $42 each for unlimited soft drinks, the card is terribly overpriced and we are sorry we bought it.

• The entertainment shows. Mostly retrospective looks back at the 60s and 70s and obviously aimed at a very elderly audience. Talent was weak and the entertainment director’s antics grew old very quickly.

Ports of call:

I should first state that my wife and I purchased no shore excursions, deciding to do our “own thing” in each port. It worked well.

• Labadee, Haiti. I guess Royal Caribbean is afraid to call this place by its proper name: Haiti (they refer to it as Hispanola, which would be like stopping in Miami and describing it not as Florida or the U.S., but as “North America”. Don’t miss this destination; it’s one of the best on the Western Caribbean itinerary. Great beaches, great facilities, nice people (a little pressure from some salesmen in the vending area, but you can ignore them). The scenic wonder of this area is unforgettable.

• Ochos Rios, Jamaica. As usual, we had friends warning us about Jamaica, but I spent the 2003 Iraq War in the Middle East, so I wasn’t about to hang on the ship when this area was waiting just a short walk from the dock. Had a great time and highly recommend visiting the Shaw Park Botanical Gardens, a short cab ride ($10 each way) from the docks. There is a $6 admission charge, but the gardens are well worth it. Besides, you’re only about three blocks from Mick Jagger’s Jamaican home. The shopping are adjacent to the docks have all the expected shops, including a tired, worn and loud Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant.

• Grand Cayman. Our fifth trip here and the shopping is great, especially if you’re looking for jewelry and watches. It’s a striking contrast to visit a very developed, first-world island after the previous two stops.

• Cozumel. How sad. After Hurricane Wilma stalled over this island for 63 hours, there’s little left. The docks are gone, so are many buildings and lots of trees. The Mexicans are rebuilding, but one wonders how long it will be before this island returns to its former beauty.


Disembarkment back at Port Canaveral was quick and efficient. It took us about 20 minutes once we left the ship until we were out in front of the terminal building.

Overall, we found the trip to be relaxing and a great way to recharge the batteries. The Mariner of the Seas is highly recommended, especially if you want to be on one of the biggest ships now plying the Caribbean.

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