Mariner Of The Seas
January 8th 2006
Port Canaveral

There were 12 in our group, 10 of us flying direct from Albany, NY to Orlando on Southwest. The plane we were to take was late arriving in Albany, but we didn’t have a problem with that as we had no connections to make. The plane finally arrived about 25 minutes before our scheduled 12:30 PM flight. Amazingly Southwest had all the passengers off and all of us on in time for on time departure. Very impressive. We always fly a day before our cruises. You just never know what can happen.
Our flight arrived at Orlando International Airport  way ahead of schedule. Our driver from “Just Try Us” Transportation (407-851-4111 for quote) had not yet arrived, but by the time we all had our luggage in hand, the driver guided us to his location outside by cell phone. About as easy as it gets. I highly recommend this company. A couple of us in the group researched pricing and they were the best. Only $223 roundtrip for 10 including tip. They supplied a large van that  was capable of transporting the 10 of us plus our luggage. If there are more than 10 (up to 15), the driver said he simply hooks up his trailer for the luggage.
Our destination today is the Cocoa Beach Hilton, about 45-50 minutes from the airport and about 10 minutes to the pier. We booked this hotel using Hotwire for $84 after taxes and fees. The Hilton is a gorgeous property that is almost completely renovated after devastating hurricane Francis tore the place up in 2004. The inside was done for the most part. Just some paving outside left from what I saw. The hotel is right on the ocean but because the weather was so cold, we didn’t walk the beach. We ate our dinner in the hotel and this turned out to be a great choice. In the main restaurant, ask for the sandwich menu in addition to the regular menu that they give you. There are some really good choices and at very reasonable prices compared with some other upper class hotels we’ve visited over the years in Florida. After dinner, some of our group retire to our rooms and some hung out in the bar for some drinks and to watch the football playoffs.



Day 1

We awake to a bright sunny morning, but cold in the 30’s! We went to the dining room with friends and were again pleasantly surprised at the very reasonable prices they were charging. Much lower than the Bayside Marriot and the Intercontinental for example. After breakfast I asked someone at the front desk to arrange transportation for us to the port. This was done promptly by phone as I waited. One place said no to 10:30 as they thought it would be too early to go to the port. The second place they called said they would be there and the charge would be $4pp.  We checked out right at 10:30 and our group and luggage was  loaded into the van for the short ride to the Mariner of the Seas. We arrived at 10:45 and believe it or not, there was no one still disembarking. We got into a fairly short line for security and were checked in quickly. Ship boarding began at 11:10. We all went to the windjammer for the usual lunch. On the Mariner there is an Asian food section called Jade in the windjammer. My wife really likes the food there a lot. A great addition to the plain food in the windjammer.  We also met up with my mother and a friend who had taken a bus from Clearwater to the ship to join our group.  After lunch many of us headed to the solarium where we spent lot’s of time in the hot tub. Even though the outside temps were only in the 60’s, the warm sun through the glass in the solarium made the afternoon very comfortable. Later we went back to our 7622 bump cabin and found our luggage had arrived. We unpacked and headed for the mandatory muster drill at 4:15. We changed and then headed for the Viking Crown Lounge where all 12 of us met to have a before dinner drink. Great view from here. Try it if you haven’t yet.
Our early dinner at 6PM was really good. One person in our group is a Souse Chef, so we were anxious to hear his opinion of the food in the dining room. He likes food a lot and tried everything he could. He was quite impressed to say the least during the week. No complaints at all about the food this cruise. The only complaint I have about the dining room is it’s seating. The chairs have very little padding in the seats. After 1 ½ hrs sitting, it’s not comfortable.
Tonight’s show was shared by both first and second seatings. The main headliner Max Dolcelli had a few good jokes, but overall we just thought it was ok. We were pretty tired from not doing much all day, so after a glass of wine with some of our group, we retired soon after.

Day 2 - Coco Cay

We arrived early at our first destination, Coco Cay. This is Royal Caribbean’s private Bahamas Island and it’s usually a great beach day. Because it’s still quite chilly, we decide to opt for breakfast and the Solarium hot tub for the morning. After lunch we headed over to the island. We walked and relaxed a bit, then went back to the ship. Not really warm enough for lounging on the beach.
Dinner tonight was very good again, but very slow for our large group. The reason service was slow? Caused by our groups large appetites. For example, if just 1 person in your group decides to get multiple  appetizers, a soup and a salad, this causes delay for everyone unless everyone else orders this too. Only one item is served at a time. The main course for everyone will not be served until that one person has eaten the other things ordered. If more than one entrée is ordered, this delays desert for those that ordered only 1. 
The headliner tonight, Dana Paul was very good. He sang multiple popular songs and we were impressed.
The first of 2 karaoke searches was tonight and no surprise, one of the talented people in our group decide to give it her all. Corin was great. Lots of energy and enthusiasm. The crowd loved her. She was selected to go to the finals on Saturday night. After karaoke, we went to the late night adult comedy featuring the previous nights comedy of Max Dolcelli. He was really good this time. Glad we didn’t pass it up.

Day 3 At Sea

We awake to a rockin and rollin ship. Really rough out there with 25-30 MPH head winds combined with the ships speed of 22-25 MPH. This caused a “Relative Wind Speed” of over 50 MPH on the upper deck. I heard it was very difficult jogging in it. The ship’s compass said that it was going to be 80°, but found that hard to believe.
Dinner tonight included Rack of Lamb which was delicious. Get 2 if you choose this. The servings are small.
Tonight is the first of two main production shows by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. These shows are usually very good and we never miss them. Tonight’s show was called “Front Row”, a new one for us. That’s great as we were getting tired of the same ones every cruise. This show was very well done. The singers and dancers were all excellent.
After the show we made a beeline for studio B where “The Quest” would be held at 10:30. There were 2 newlyweds in our group and we encouraged them to be in it. We told them very little about it. What a surprise they were in for. They went on the floor with the other teams and had a great time participating. We laughed so hard watching them. They didn’t win, but they gave it their best and had a great time. We retired after that looking forward to a great time at one of our favorite stops, St Thomas.

Day 4  St Thomas

We awake to a beautiful sunny day and a great view of the port from our balcony. Forecast is for 82° and we think it’s about time. This has been a really chilly vacation so far. Our plans were for our group to meet for breakfast in the dining room and then to immigration at around 9. We joined the long line that stretched from the dining room on the deck 5 promenade the entire length and about half way back. Once it got moving, it was quite fast. Were done in a little over ½ hr. About 10:15 we finally had everyone together out on the dock and ready for our ride to Megans Bay. Cost for the ride is $7pp and admission is $3pp. We would have loved to bring everyone to St John, but a couple of people in our group were still a little queasy from yesterdays rough seas. We felt the rough ferry would ruin their day. We stayed at the beach for well over 3 hours before we headed back to the ship around 3. Since it was too late for lunch, my wife and I decided to make use of our free ice cream coupons in our Diamond Crown and Anchor books. For those of you wondering what you get in these coupon books, here is the list:

1  20% Spa Credit
1  Free strip of 3 Bingo Card
1  Free Cocktail in Souvenir Glass
1  Wine Tasting Certificate
1  Free Photo  -  Any Size
3  $12 for $10 Casino Credits
3  $5 Match Play Casino Credits
1  $10 Internet Credit
1  10% Gift Shop Discount on RCL Logo
1  10% Gift Shop Discount on Any Perfume
1  20% Off 2nd Bottle of Wine
1  Ben and Jerry’s Free Ice Cream Bar Coupon
1  Seattles Best Coffee Beverage
1  Johnny Rockets Admission

After eating our ice cream, we decided not to go shopping as we always do, but to take a quick soak in the hot tub and then on deck for some more relaxing until we had to leave to get ready for dinner.  It’s just a great day overall.
After another great dinner we headed for the skating show “Ice Under The Big Top” in Studio B. The show tonight was brand new from the other 5 that we’ve seen over the years and as it turned out, it was by far the best. The talent of the skaters and the excellent choreography with a circus theme translated into an absolutely top notch production. Not to be missed!
After the ice show, we headed for the “Love And Marriage Game” in the Savoy Theater. Always a hit with us, we look forward to it. Our cruise director James Andrews made the show very funny.
After the show, we headed up to the deck party where there was a big buffet on both sides of the ship as well as dancing with the band. Tons of good food. Unfortunately after ½ hr or so there was a sudden downpour and we went in. Don’t know if the rain stopped and the deck party resumed or not.

Day 5  St Maarten

Got up early as usual and headed to the windjammer for some breakfast. We then met up with 3 others in our group and took a taxi to Orient Beach. Cost is $6 pp each way as long as you have 3 or more in the taxi van . If there are only 2 of you, the cost is $9 pp. We were hoping for another great beach day, but no luck. It was extremely windy and the sun wasn’t out a lot. By noon it started to rain and it didn‘t look like it was going to end anytime soon, so we left. Back on the Mariner, we ate lunch in the windjammer. We decided then to do some browsing in the few stores just off the ship, but  when we got to the deck one exit, we found that it was raining very heavily. My wife and I nixed the shopping idea and headed for the hot tub where we had it all to ourselves. By about 4PM the weather had cleared some so we tried to get off again. Not bad out now except for the heavy wind. We didn’t find anything much to buy as nothing jumped out at us. Got out of that cheap!
After another great dinner (I know I keep saying that, but every one has been really good) we headed to see the main headliner “Beatlemania” in the Savoy Theater. I’ve always wanted to see this show as it has toured the USA for years. I can’t tell you how good it was. Totally awesome for an  avid Beatle Fan as myself. They played 1 hr 10 minutes with an encore and with total audience participation throughout. No one wanted it to end. They were rewarded with a well deserved standing ovation when they finished. Definitely one of the best shows we’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. Not to be missed if you ever get the chance.

Day 6 - At Sea

We’re up early this morning and relaxing in the solarium by 8 am. Very surprised to see so few lounges being saved by the chair hogs. It’s bright sunny and comfortably warm. Could not have asked for a better start. We pretty much hung out in the solarium all day. We tried to get a lounge outside in the sun after lunch, but the decks were mobbed. It’s a perfect day with light winds and everyone is out. Walked the whole upper deck of the ship and counted only a handful of unoccupied lounges. No place were there 2 together. So back to the solarium we went for the rest of the day.
Dinner tonight is formal and my lobster starved wife and mother are looking forward to it. I’m not a big lobster fan so I get the prime rib.
The 2nd and final main production show “Pure Energy” is tonight and happy to say this is a new one for us as the first one was. It was excellent again. A musical tribute to the 80’s.
The 2nd and final karaoke competition is tonight. I’m informed that Corin’s husband Joe was going to sing tonight. Joe is a professional band member, so I was really looking forward to his performance. Joe had thought he picked a song that he knew very well, but when it started playing and he saw it on the screen he realized that it was not the song he thought it was. I’m sure most people would have said wait this isn’t what I want to sing, but not Joe. He went through with it and actually sang it very well. Problem is, I think not many in the audience or the judges had ever heard it before and his scores reflected that. A fun night none the less.

Day 7  At Sea
We wake to one rockin ship again. So much for everyone’s opinion  not to cruise during hurricane season. I’ve been on over a dozen cruises in September and not a single one was as rough as today. At least September is always warm too. The ships relative wind speed on the upper deck is over 75 MPH at times. The deck is closed and we can see crew tipping over the lounges and tying them to the railing. It’s also very cool even though the cruise compass says 79° today. I don’t think so. We sat in the solarium for just awhile in the morning and the wind was so loud. Sounded like a hurricane outside. The ship was really bouncing too. Not good for some in our group. Taking meds for it helps, but not if it’s really rough. My wife and I made it through the cruise with no ill effects. Always wondered how we’d do.
I was sort of volunteered to get all of us together as far as luggage tags, so I spent some time doing that during the morning. When filling out the flight times, some of us checked 11-12 and some checked 12 -1 for our noon flight. Thus we didn’t all get the same color. I also found out that there were no white tags on this ship. The first called is beige. Hmm. We had lavender and are supposed to be called at 7:30. Hope so. Our ride back to Orlando is picking us up at 8:30 in the morning. Not much else to say about our last lousy weather day at sea. Dinner was good again. After dinner we finished the dreaded packing  and then to the show. The show had a comedian and a magician who were just ok. Captain Gerry came on stage and played guitar and sang. He is really quite good.
The karaoke final is tonight and our Corin is very nervous. There are 4 women and 4 men competing for a brand new key chain and the excitement is building. Corin came out first and belted out her song. Really good job and didn‘t look nervous at all. She didn’t win in the end, but all had a great time. I visited the casino to use up my coupons and found quite a crowd. Did manage to squeeze into a $5 blackjack table and left after I was up a few dollars. Trying to sleep was really difficult. We didn’t experience the usual gentle motion of a cruise ship. This was much rougher and kept waking up because of it.

Day 8  Port Canaveral
We’re all up very early and in the dining room at 6:45 for the final time. Our tags are supposed to be called  at 7:30 so this should be about right. We ate breakfast and ran back to our cabin for our carryons. Back down to the dining room to meet up with everyone. Our color was called in the meantime so we were able to leave now. Down to deck 3 and off we go. Through customs and to the luggage. Found very fast and out the door. Were a little early and our driver wasn’t there yet. I called him and he confirmed that he’d be there at 8:30, our agreed time. We froze waiting. It’s only upper 30’s in Port Canaveral this morning, the bright sun not helping much. Our transportation arrives and we are off to the airport.  I would definitely use Just Try Us transportation again. Even though they were the least expensive transportation we could find, we did not receive less than timely and professional service.

Overall Opinion of the Cruise:

Positives:

The Mariner of the Seas is in perfect condition, few if any signs of wear
The dining room food is much better with new menus
The Asian, Jade section of the windjammer is a big plus
Drinks are very reasonable. I looked up my receipts from our Monarch cruise in 1995 and found the following:
Beer then $2.50, now $3.00
Frozen drinks then $3.75, now $4.75
Whisky Sour then $3.25, now $4.25

Negatives:
The windjammer food still needs improvement. It should be an ongoing project with Royal Caribbean to make improvements.
Bar servers should never automatically serve you with a souvenir glass. They often do and charge you for it. Just send it back.
The Crown and Anchor party should be scheduled at a better time. Not right after first seating when you are not hungry.

Overall:
Another great cruise on Royal Caribbean in spite of the so so weather!!!