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Kurt Gronua

Age: 54


Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Sailing Date: July 23rd, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

The Mariner of the Seas is a three-year-old ship that is in the 138,000 ton class. To get there, we suffered through a 14 passenger van ride on the Beeline from Orlando to Cape Canaveral, during which I was stuffed in the very back, with poor functioning air-conditioning. The driver made us wait for the pickup of other passengers, wanting to argue finer points of transportation in each of two stops, thereby delaying our departure for at least a half an hour. Needless to say, we were very annoyed. My son-in-law even jumped out and tried the hurry up offense, all to no avail. Beware of vans that are towing U-haul trailers, as they will pack everyone in like sardines.

We also came to the ship at a peak time, 1 p.m., and encountered very long lines leading to the air – conditioned terminal. Waiting outside was probably twenty minutes and then another twenty minutes inside the Cruise terminal. No one offered us any refreshments whatsoever until we were actually in the partition lines in front of the counters and only then it was self-service. Filling out the set sail pass found on the internet does save time once you check in.

We had cruised the Mariner of the Sea's sister ship, Voyager of the Seas in the past and thus were prepared for the amenities offered on this class of ship. Nonetheless, your first walk-through of the ship is nothing less than stupefying. It appears as though no expense was spared in the use of tiles, marble, blond woods, glass and all kinds of fixtures and lighting to create a truly modern, luxurious ship. We headed for the Windjammer, the cafeteria style restaurant that offers food pretty much all of the time. The food was uniformly good, but nothing to brag about. You can always get desserts, all manner of salads, hamburgers and main entrées.

Our cabin was a superior State room with a balcony. The room was quiet and comfortable, despite the inevitable small bathroom, but the shower stall was quite adequate due to its circular design. The closet space was very generous. The king bed was more than adequate, as was the couch. The room service was nothing short of excellent. Our room steward took very, very good care of us with service twice a day that was meticulous. I would recommend a balcony as allowing a couple (or more) a little more privacy and the enjoyment of sitting outside, particularly when the ship is cruising during the day.

The first night was casual, a blessing for many who experienced delays in delivery of their luggage. However, when you consider that the ship has well over 3000 passengers, it is impressive than that of they are able to get 90% of the luggage up into the rooms within four hours. Royal Caribbean and most cruise companies make their money in selling alcohol, excursions and whatever other services that they can provide such as photographs, Internet access and specialty coffee and ice cream. Almost everyone spends more than they think they will as your room key is also your credit card for the ship and thus you never leave home without it.

It took me a few days to unwind, and I suspect there were a few others like me. I experienced profound relaxation, for which I am grateful. On the days we were at sea, as reported elsewhere in these pages, it is very hard to find a deck chair suitable to your liking. One can always find places to sit outside, but those chaise lounges by the pool are in high demand. I preferred the Solarium as an oasis away from activities of the main deck that were, of course, geared to the large amount of teenagers and young people on the ship and thus were very noisy. Nonetheless, the Jacuzzis always had room and except for not finding the chair that I wanted on the deck, I had no real complaints. The separate “gym” area is well-appointed with machines, has an extraordinary Jacuzzi and a great view with sauna and comfortable changing/bathroom area.

I had a long conversation with a gentleman and his wife who have had the good fortune to be able to cruise on many, many cruise ships, including those much more luxurious and expensive. He liked this particular ship, because of the variety of activities, which included a large theater that offered very good entertainment at night, ice-skating, a rock 'n roll lounge act, piano bars and a Latin band. In addition, there were art auctions, bingo, water sport lessons, high stakes poker at night in the cigar bar, and of course the Casino. What I particularly liked is that I could always find a quiet place by myself in a public area.

I will refrain from detailed commentary about our ports of call as I did very little exploration, other than shop with my wife. St. Thomas and St. Maarten are extremely well-known for their shopping, deservedly so. We were able to obtain some real deals by haggling as no one but the very naïve pays “retail". If it appears as though the business is slow, you can drive a hard bargain as my son-in-law did. We had a very memorable French lunch at L’Oizeau Rare, a restaurant adjacent to the shopping mall on the French side of St. Maarten, in Marigot. Be advised you will pay in Euros while in Marigot.

The dining room is a three-story affair that serves well over a thousand meals during two seatings. We took the later seating and glad we did, as we like to linger over dessert. Our waiter and assistant waiter worked very, very hard, and we were not wanting for any service during the course of our meals. Our waiter made an effort to advise us as to his recommendations and we learned early on to accept them. My wife enjoys a chocolate dessert each and every night, and despite that it was not offered each evening, the headwaiter got to know us and made a special effort to find one on the ship, probably from one of the specialty restaurants that I shall mention here later on. I tried the prime rib on two different nights and was disappointed each night but was brought an alternate entrée very quickly. There were “staples” on the menu that included a New York strip steak. The cruise had two formal nights and the food appeared to be a little bit better on those evenings. We had many meals that were good, very few that were OK and many that were excellent. We can be considered picky and had no qualms about sending anything back. Our ship had two specialty restaurants, Chops and Portofino. We had some argument as to which restaurant was better, but we chose Portofino. It is worth the $20 and $15 that you pay per person at each restaurant, respectively. Chops is similar to a Morton's type experience, with entrées brought to your table as a menu and a large variety of side dishes. The appetizers and entrées at Portofino's were very, very good and truly Italian. If you want a romantic dinner for two, I would choose Portofino’s.

Our cruise had a minor outbreak of Norwalk virus that was reported on CNN and other national news outlets. We were able to find out that 75 passengers went down, but that according to later news reports the number was 100 passengers and six crew members. When we went to Windjammer's on Wednesday they insisted on serving our food. We were not advised of this development and were annoyed in not knowing why they were serving us. We could only guess. However, that night, we received a letter in the stateroom as did all the passengers from the Captain minimizing the problem and advising us to utilize the manned hand-sanitizer stations as often as possible. The stations had been there since the start of the cruise at the entrance to each restaurant. We all felt that the ship's crew did a very good job in working hard to contain the virus and to try their best to see that everybody used the hand sanitizers and to wash their hands. Their job was not made any easier by the reportedly 1,000 kids on the ship.

Inevitably, our time appeared to go very, very quickly. The preparation for departure was extremely good. On Saturday night, prior to departure, you are given colored baggage tags, depending upon your plans for air travel on Sunday. We were among the first passengers to depart, and got up early for a breakfast in the dining room, which we appreciated later on in the day. We had no complaints and only praise for the manner of departure and the speed by which we were able to claim our bags and meet our van driver, again. The ride back had less people and was less painful. We were off the ship by 8:30 a.m.

I’m plotting my next Royal Caribbean cruise. I’m looking forward to unplugging and getting out there.

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