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Age: 38

Occupation:Army Officer

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Sailing Date: February 18th, 2007

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I decided to go on a cruise for our tenth wedding anniversary. This was to be our first cruise, so we went to the local travel agency which had a ‘cruise expert’ on staff, who has, to date, done 31 cruises. She was very helpful and after carefully assessing our needs and interests, suggested that we go with RCI and do an Eastern Caribbean cruise. I would highly recommend this approach for anyone looking to book his or her first cruise, because our understanding is each cruise line has its own ‘personality’, and an experienced agent can get you on the right track.

Following our travel agent’s advice, we flew into Orlando 24 hours in advance of our scheduled departure from Port Canaveral. Again, excellent advice, because in our case Air Canada had misplaced our luggage during our transfer in Toronto. The extra 24 hours allowed us to get control of the situation, get our bearings, and find our missing luggage in time to catch the shuttle from the airport to the ship next afternoon.

Catching the shuttle was a fairly seamless exercise, but I was distressed at the queue-jumping going on. We got to the cruise-ship terminal and got through the clearance process without any troubles. We boarded the ship at about 1300hrs and set out to explore whilst awaiting the scheduled departure set for 1630hrs. A recommendation: take a small carry-on with essentials in it to carry you until your luggage arrives in your stateroom in the evening.

Contrary to the advice of our travel agent, we took an inside stateroom. I believe that this was an excellent choice, and would recommend this to anyone, especially if it is a first cruise. My wife and I are quite simply always on the move, and really didn’t spend much time in the stateroom, so having a porthole or even a balcony would have been a waste of money.

The dining was very good, especially considering the staggering number of meals served in one day: approximately 17000. We would typically have an early breakfast and late lunch in the Windjammer/Jade and then join our tablemates in the dining room for our second seating dinner. Our breakfasts were largely made up of fresh fruit and cereal, and for lunch we typically enjoyed the pseudo-Asian at Jade. We were fortunate and had excellent tablemates in the formal dining room; two other couples our age. We also ate once in Portofino. I cannot recommend this enough. The service was incomparable, and the food was some of the best I have had the good fortune to eat. Well worth the $20 per person additional charge, plus the tip we left. The only thing which I didn’t like about the dining in general was the amount of over-consumption and wastage of food I witnessed. I found the whole situation hard to reconcile. We are not big drinkers of alcohol, but we usually had one drink per day. The Americans we were with seemed to find the alcohol a bit expensive, but as Canadians, we found it very inexpensive. We found the measurements very generous indeed!

We had originally been scheduled to make our first call at Coco Cay, but couldn’t go there due to bad weather and rough seas, so Captain Faevelen decided to go to San Juan PR instead. Although we were disappointed at missing Coco Cay, San Juan was pleasant and our walk to El Morro was very enjoyable. Our next stop was St Thomas USVI, and it was fantastic. We embarked on a tour which took us on a road trip of the island and took us to Megen’s Bay Beach for a couple of hours. It was fantastic and a lot of fun. The tour dropped us off in downtown Charlotte Amalie and we walked back to the ship.

The third and final port of call was Philipsburg, Saint Maarten. We also took a tour here, but owing to the fact that the tour didn’t start until the afternoon, upon docking we got off the ship and walked to Great Bay Beach (about 2kms) where we rented two beach chairs and a parasol for $10 USD. Again, the tour and the beach were fantastic. With all of the ports, the arrival and departure were highlights. I especially enjoyed getting up early, grabbing a grande latté at the Café Promenade and going up on deck to witness the arrival. There were rarely other people awake and outside at these times, and it was so beautiful to be outside to enjoy that aspect.

The shows in the theatre were quite good. The two stand-up comics were excellent, and the ‘revue’ shows were cheesy but fun if not taken seriously. We didn’t get to go to the ice show, as we weren’t willing to stand in a queue for an hour for tickets. If you’re into that kind of thing, it might be worth it, as the scuttlebutt was that it was a good show.

The last two days of the cruise were spent at sea, and we spent most of our time beside the pool, reading books and enjoying being outside. My wife used the onboard fitness facilities and I ran the 300m track on the 12th deck. This was especially invigorating when the ship ran through a rainstorm and the decks were abandoned. The amount of activities put on by the Cruise Director throughout the cruise was staggering, and the Cruise Compass was invaluable in keeping track of everything going on both onboard ship and in port. In the library we found excellent daily newssheets in French and in English, which allowed us to keep up with what was going on in the world outside. My wife brought her wi-fi equipped laptop with her, and this allowed us to send e-mail etc. We could have also used the computers in Royal Caribbean Online. Wireless access is expensive, but useful.

The disembarkation Sunday morning went very smoothly as well. We had opted to keep our luggage and disembark immediately upon arrival instead of having our luggage collected and taken down the night before. We would recommend this to anyone who does not have a mountain of luggage, and is at all tight for time.

In sum, my wife and I will absolutely go on another cruise with RCI; we are already planning to do a Western Caribbean cruise in 2009! It’s not conducive to someone who wants to really ‘visit’ a place, however. We were never docked for more than ten hours or so, which only allows a superficial taste of what an island is really like. It was a fantastic vacation and a wonderful way to get some sun and warmth in the midst of a cold February back home. I would not hesitate to recommend a cruise to anyone, especially if that person wants to go to a warm place in winter, but doesn’t want to stay in the same spot for a week.

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