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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


Mariner of the Seas Cruise ReviewMARINER OF THE SEAS
February 22-29, 2004
Western Caribbean

by Mary & Vincent Finelli

This cruise completed our wish to cruise on all five of Royal Caribbean International's (RCI) Voyager Class ships. Once labeled the "Eagle" class, Mariner of the Seas Captain Tor Isak Olsen informed us that they are now referred to as the Voyager ships. These innovative ships, include the Voyager, Explorer, Adventure, Navigator and the newest, the Mariner of the Seas, launched in November 2003. They are both the ultimate in technology and interior design: These two features combine to give cruisers "a vacation like no other on earth!" Where else at sea can a cruiser rock climb, ice skate, golf, in line skate, play basket ball or volley ball, swim, go to a Las Vegas style show, and then stroll down a Euro style promenade, enjoying a coffee or a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe--all in one day, without leaving the ship? All of this is possible on the Voyager class ships.

The many balconied staterooms on board provide views of the seas and the skies that are incredible. This trip we saw a delicate crescent moon accompanied by the brightest object in the dark sky: Jupiter. Sunrise on Day 3 was a spectacular combination of  pink stratus clouds interspersed with an intense baby blue sky. The rising red sun changed into a golden ball and then into a blinding white sun all in a matter of minutes. Just an ordinary beginning to another day at sea!

Leading up to this trip we were a bit apprehensive since the first port of call was in Haiti and rebels had been rampaging in the north of this island and were heading toward Port au Prince. The first notice we received on board was that Labadee, Haiti had been replaced with Nassau Bahamas. RCI, true to its reputation, places the health and safety of its passengers above all. Another instance of this attitude was when high seas prompted Captain Olsen to skip Georgetown, Grand Caymans since tendering was unsafe.

EMBARKATION
Port Canaveral, FL has grown over the past three years and now includes a covered parking garage (not like the open field parking we used in 2000, with a warning at that time to remove all food from the vehicle in order to avoid sugar or fire ant infestation). Baggage drop off was slow, since the luggage was separated by deck with the expectation that this speeds delivery to staterooms. With over 4,000 people on board the logistics are tremendous. We arrived on the pier at noon and boarded by 12:30 pm.  There was assistance with the wheelchair, and we saw friendly faces all around. After leaving our carry on luggage in our stateroom, we proceeded to the Windjammer Café for the buffet lunch. There was a gigantic fresh fruit display that was so beautifully arranged that no one would disturb it, but a crew member repeatedly asked the passengers to help themselves, which we did.

SHIP
Captain Olsen states that, "When we build several ships that look alike, the decor contributes to the vessel's identity. All the ships are beautiful; they each have their own theme and personality (page 106 Vision of Art, 2000). This is instantly apparent to passengers: the colors, art work and names of the various theaters, lounges and Casinos lend atmosphere which expresses the "soul" of each individual ship. And, so it is with the Mariner of the Seas. Sigurd Skaugen was the owner of the Norwegian shipping company that joined with the Anders Wilhelmsen Company, along with the US based Larsen Shipping Company to form RCI in 1968. Mr. Skaugen believed that the soul of new ships is created through the use of "innovative fantasy" (page 19). RCI built its first ship, the Song of Norway, specifically for cruising and she was an instant success. 

Now having cruised on all of the Voyager class ships, for us it was easy to find our way around the Mariner, but it was not as complete a de ja vu as could be expected. These sister ships, even though they all look the same on the outside and have been constructed with the same deck plans, they are so interestingly different in interior decoration and art work that the fun comes with discerning the various  differences among them.

The ship's vital statistics are a gross tonnage of 138,000; her length is 1,020 ft.; beam of 157.5 ft.; draft of only 29 ft., and a top speed of 22 knots. Passenger capacity is 3,114 and a crew of 1,180. This cruise, the Mariner sailed fully booked.

Deck 2 forward has the Screening Room and the Conference Center and Category I outside staterooms.

Deck 3 forward has the Savoy Theatre, a classically simple decor of  teal blue, maroon, black and gold with a striking curtain displaying a line of eight dancing couples in formal attire. Very dramatic. With only six columns, virtually all seats have an excellent view of the stage.

Toward midship is the entrance to the Dragon's Lair Disco guarded by two stone dragons and fiery wall sconces. Leaded stained glass windows depicting maidens defeating dragons, gothic arches and a vaulted ceiling held up by gargoyles and the many accouterments of knighthood like shields, crossed swords and halberds all contribute to a chivalric atmosphere and days of  yore. Two Larger than life size paintings by Simon and Sally Dray (England) depict "The Amorous Maid" and "The Lovelorn Knight."

Midship is Studio B Entertainment Complex where fantastic live ice shows take place. Next is the Photo Gallery with great pictures of  Hollywood icons: Douglas Kirkland's photos include Jack Nicholson with a lighted match (1975); Ann Margret on a Harley motorcycle (1969); and Orson Welles (1983). Some other intriguing photos were Drew Barrymore in boxing gloves and wearing Everlast shorts, by Seliger (1993) and Julia Roberts by Sante D'Orazio (1997).

Aft is the main floor of the "Rhapsody in Blue" Dining Room. The entrance way dramatically faces the triple tier staircase: There is a bronze statue of a dancing couple from "The Sound of Music" Maria (Julie Andrews) and Von Trapp. The three deck dining room is opulent (more later).

Deck 4 forward is the balcony of the Savoy Theatre. Next is the Schooner Bar with its by now familiar pungent odor of creosote on the ropes. Here are also found the familiar Ebbings's collages (textiles, ceramics and ropes), shaped like huge portholes. There is a model of the schooner Boston and seven naval paintings portraying the Schooner Era by Harald E. Nissen (Norway, 1950). We particularly enjoyed the large haunting portrait of what seemed like a prow figurehead of a beautiful blond lady in a sea blue billowing gown. 

There is also much wonderful art to be seen in the stair wells. This stairwell had some whimsical work like Hanne Tyrmi's (Norway) aluminum kitchen objects, and Studio Sem, Silvina Spravkin's (Italy) "A Hard Night's Sleep" pillows of marble, and "Almost Clean" marble sheets and washboard.

Midship is the Casino Royale with a State Fair theme mural by Zsiba & Smolver and flanking the entrance are posters featuring a Carnival Strongman, a Prize Bull, a Dancing Girl, and a Cowboy and a Cowgirl. This is a large casino with many venues and games of chance. Walk aft and you will find the bottom of the Centrum and Boleros Bar with its many fantastic, enormous blown glass flowers. The staircase here leads to decks 4 and 5. It is all glass and birch wood balustrades (light and airy).  The chairs and sofas are colorful prints recalling Picasso and the 1960s. 

All the way aft is the middle tier of the dining room, "Top Hat & Tails."  The entrance to this lovely room has two displays of formal wear reminiscent of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire: a white waltz gown and a black formal tails. The chairs are extremely comfortable with arms. There is a central crystal chandelier of monumental proportions, and it is complemented by many semicircular ones on every level. The mahogany wood on the balconies adds beauty to this area.

Deck 5 forward has the low ceiling, intimate "Lotus Lounge" decorated with statues of Chinese Ladies with folded arms and red lacquered columns with gilded ginkgo leaves. This room was used for the Crown & Anchor Society and the Captain's Receptions. Next to the exit is the Connoisseur Club (fine cigars and liquors). It is filled with beautiful dark leather couches and chairs and the scent of fine cigars. Here we met with Environmental Officer Peter Roy, who spoke about RCI's Ocean Fund and Compliance & Audit Programs. This is right up Vincent's alley as retired Professor, Director of Environmental Safety & Health at Florida Atlantic University. Mr. Roy spoke of their weekly environmental meetings and he impressed us with his knowledge and enthusiasm.

Next to the elevators is located the sculpture titled "The Mariner Story" this gift from the workers at Kvaerner Masa Shipyard in Finland depicts the "Team Work" necessary to construct the Mariner of the Seas. Look up at the forward Centrum and see a World War I dog fight between five planes including Snoopy's Sopwith Camel and The Red Baron. Take the elevators to Deck 10 and view them up close.
 
Back on Deck 5 walk toward aft through the entire Royal Promenade which is four decks high and the most innovative feature afloat. Imagine a city street with boutiques, cafes and refreshment areas and parades daily; this week was Mardi Gras, so it was especially busy! This concept allows for strolling and inside cabins which now have windows overlooking the Promenade: This is unique to the Voyager class ships and not to be seen on any other line. The Aft Centrum areas of these ships have original suspended mobiles of huge proportions, which are visually awesome, many of which designed by Larry Kirkland.

Toward aft is the Guest Relations Desk, Shore Excursions and the Champagne Bar with its shoe art (a clever reference to drinking champagne from a lady's slipper). All the way aft is the top balcony of the Dining Room "The Sound of Music."

Decks 6, 7, 8 & 9 are mainly staterooms. Adjacent to the aft elevators on Deck 6 is located the Business services and on Deck 7 is the Library (well stocked, open stacks, honor system), which is user friendly. Every day pick up a trivia sheet, but alas trivia games have been discontinued. Deck 8 has the Computer Room "RC On Line." Deck 9 has the Concierge Club for Crown & Anchor Diamond members and Suite occupants. This was wonderfully managed by German Inostroza (Chile). He was extremely competent and helpful in many ways.

Deck 10 has the navigation bridge, staterooms and suites.

Deck 11 forward has the Peek-A-Boo Bridge, from which passengers can see the inside of the navigation bridge, and the Solarium with its two huge hot tubs and a lap pool. Here are terra cotta urns filled with laurel, boxwood, podocarpus and ivy trimmed neatly into topiaries. Very nice! On top of the colonnade are a lion and a lioness. There is modern art by Romero Britto, and murals of mosaic by Barsanti of Petrasanta, Italy. The centerpiece is a larger than life bronze statue by Luigi Galligani (Italy) "Portatrice d'Acqua" (a full figured female water carrier), she is flanked by two huge bowls of fruit by Sinclair (Britain). Galligani also sculpted the two terra cotta busts of "Circe" and "Calypso."

Midship toward aft are the two specialty restaurants, the Chops Grille and the Portofino. The Chops Grille serves superb meats (beef, veal) and fish (Filet of Dover sole, salmon). We suggest skipping lunch if you plan to dine here, the portions are huge: Boston clam chowder served in a tureen size bowl, sautéed mushrooms, a family size tomato salad and, above all, a very big veal chop. Don't forget dessert, the Mississippi Mud Pie is the best. Hotel Director Richard Nentwich invited us to the Portofino Restaurant, a lovely dining room with dark Mahogany paneled walls, decorated with Magnolia flowers. We had a long leisurely dinner and Richard pointed out many interesting facts about the Mariner and its operation. Try the Carpaccio for appetizer; Mary had the excellent shrimp. The grand finale to a superb meal can be the Tiramisu. These two restaurants have a nominal fee of $20 per person. Aft is the Jade (Asian Cuisine) and the Windjammer Café, buffet style dining with many stations including the following: Salad, Pizza, Pasta, Meat Carving, Desserts, and Fresh Fruit displays (peaches, strawberries, pears, oranges, grapes, melons, etc.), all excellent.

Deck 12 forward has the Ship Shape Fitness Center and the Mariner Day Spa, with a beautiful view of the ocean for those using the treadmills and cycles. Aft is the Adventure Ocean youth facilities with the "Teen Only" area. Located near here is Johnny Rockets a 50's style burger joint with red naugahyde and chrome everywhere. They serve great chili, French fries, onion rings, sodas and floats. The mood is set by the juke boxes playing Rock and Roll. It's lots of fun and a nice trip down memory lane for those of us who came of age at that time!

Deck 13 aft has the sports court, full basket ball court, golf simulator, 9 hole mini golf and even an in line skating track and the Rock Climbing Wall.

Deck 14 has the 19th Hole Sports Bar with barstools with handles, so fans won't fall off. There are three monitors with games simulcast from around the world. Go out on the deck and stand next to Daddona's (USA) fiber glass and steel sculpture titled "For the love of the game." It is an amply endowed female spectator wearing yellow flowered, bulging shorts. Ellington's night club, also on 14, is a nice place for relaxing with a great surround view. There are also two game and card rooms located near the elevators.

Deck 15 has the Skylight Chapel, perfect for on board weddings.

This ship has many fascinating things to see and do. This simple outline cannot do justice to the beauty and artwork which abound in its many public areas and lounges.

CABIN
Stateroom #7604 is a wheelchair accessible room, when entering on the right is the large bathroom with a 4'x4' shower, a corner medicine cabinet with several shelves, and tile accents and safety rails well positioned. There is a hide-a-bed sofa and a comfortable upholstered chair and a large glass top coffee table. There is also a console holding the TV, refrigerator and personal safe. Next there is a mirrored vanity desk and chair.

When entering, on the left there is a triple armoire, a king size bed with two night stands, and the far wall to the balcony is all glassed. There are both sheers and blackout drapes, good for the hot Caribbean sun. Hung on the walls are two signed prints by P. Birchall. The colors are teal and blue and the wood is light birch. The overall impression is one of freshness and comfort. The balcony has two chairs, a little table and sufficient space for a chaise lounge that our steward Stephen set up for Vincent's convenience. Thanks, Stephen for a week of excellent service!

FOOD & SERVICE 
The food and service is always a product of the top personnel's vision. Hotel Director Richard Nentwich's Austrian background in restaurant and hotel management makes him set the bar high. Undoubtedly, his cordiality and gentlemanly attitude reflect well on the performance of the personnel. He is also very observant and shares his ideas. 

Executive Chef Bartol Cabrera has served in famous positions such as New York's Waldorf Astoria and on the QE 2. His training with Master Chef Rudi Sodamin is evident; he oversees the preparation of over 12,000 meals served per day, not including snacks; yet everything is fresh and beautifully plated. Maitre D' Dominique Claudel (France) is both elegant and very accommodating. At table #449A, we were served ably and pleasantly by Osman Olmez (Turkey) and the lovely Neringa Laurinaviciute (Lithuania). The food temperature was just right and the pace of each meal was perfect!

We dined well at both Chops Grille and Portofino. However, the best dining aboard is always at the Captain's table, and this time the Master of the ship, Captain Tor Olsen out did himself. He takes personal interest in the menu: an entree of shrimp and lobster served over spaghetti (al dente), in the shape of a lobster, was from a recipe that the Captain had forwarded to the Mariner's Chef from another RCI Chef. Vincent was very impressed, and he is a tough critic. Of course the high point of dinner is always dessert, and once again it came specially for us from the Portofino: Frutti di Bosco in zabione (wild berries in a foamy custard). All that could enhance this feast would be lively conversation and that was amply provided by Captain Olsen and his interesting guests.

There is something memorable about sitting in the middle of a huge gorgeous room with balconies of polished mahogany wood under a crystal chandelier weighing tons and being serenaded by the crew singing "O Sole Mio." It was a perfect formal evening; we will never forget!

Whenever you need something on board, look for Chief Purser Francois Chevalier (what a marvelous name!). This pleasant and helpful gentleman assisted us with information for this review, while making us feel welcome. He along with Concierge German went the extra effort to answer all our questions.

RCI's Crown & Anchor Society makes sure that repeaters know that they are special--this is the best reason to return to RCI. Loyalty Ambassador Dean Hay knows all repeaters by name and even our dream destinations: the Galapagos for us. Suffice it to say service and food are excellent on board the Mariner of the Seas.

ENTERTAINMENT
Cruise Director Kirk Detweiler is both young and energetic. There are so many activities on board the RCI Voyager class ships that are not available on any other line. The Ice Skating Rink is the setting for a spectacular show (Olympic quality skating) "Under the Big Top" with stunning costumes. The opening number was all silver and white, then the "Cossack Song" was performed in bright red and gold with flying skirts and Russian hats. We saw many triples and graceful spins performed by the international cast including the following: Matt Kessinger, Ice Captain, Sean Rice, Danny Clausen, Jeff LaBrake, Carl Des-Rosiers; and the Russian girls: Marina and Tatiana and three North American girls: Jodeyne, Molly and Azumi. They were superb and got a standing ovation.

Athletes will love this ship: rock climbing, in line skating, golfing, gym exercising, swimming, dancing lessons, dance parties and don't forget the upper arm workout at the Casino. The Savoy is the setting of several very good shows. Of course, the Piano Melodies in the Schooner Bar and the Classical Guitar music by Pedro Espedido were especially wonderful.  If all this makes you want to rest, for that there are plenty of quiet peaceful areas too.

PORTS OF CALL
There were two changes in the itinerary, first Labadee, Haiti was deleted due to political unrest and replaced by Nassau, Bahamas; then   Georgetown, Grand Caymans was dropped due to unsafe tendering conditions.

Day 1.  Port Canaveral, Florida   Departure: 5:00 pm.

Day 2.  Nassau, Bahamas  Arrival: 9:00 am  Departure:  5:00 pm
Some interesting shore excursions offered here are as follows: The Historic Harbor Cruise and Discover Atlantis (2.5 hrs., $42), which includes a narrated history of the harbor and a visit to the famous resort; The Pirates and Dungeons City Tour (2 hrs., $29), includes a visit to the Pirates Museum and Castle.

Day 3.  At sea.

Day 4.  Ochos Rios, Jamaica  Arrival: 8:00 am  Departure:  5:00 pm
These are two of the interesting excursions: The Enchanted Gardens and Dunn's River Falls (4 hrs., $43), visit lush gardens and then climb the famous falls; The Beach Horseback Riding (4 hrs., $86), a horseback ride through bamboo trails and on the beach with a stop for swimming.

Day 5.  At sea, we skipped Grand Cayman due to high seas and dangerous tendering.

Day 6.  Cozumel, Mexico  Arrival: 9:00 am  Departure:  7:00 pm
Some interesting excursions: The Tulum Mayan Ruins (6.5 hrs., $75), this is the official guided tour of the archeological site; The Cozumel Reef Snorkeling (3 Hrs., $44) takes you to one of the best reef areas in the world, and includes complimentary Rum Punch and Margaritas after snorkeling.

Day 7.  At Sea.

Day 8.  Port Canaveral  Arrival:  6:30 am  Debarkation:  8:00 am

CONCLUSIONS
This was our 17th cruise on a RCI ship and at the party for repeaters (frequent floaters, as we have been called by some RCI captains), we were honored by Captain Olsen as the couple with the most RCI cruises aboard this ship and given a bottle champagne. This and other courtesies, including the invitation to the Captain's dinner, make us feel very welcome on this and other RCI ships. The repeaters' program that RCI has instituted with the Crown & Anchor Society is among the best in the cruising industry, offering, at various level of membership, benefits including special services, cruise discounts, value coupon booklets, embarkation and debarkation preferences, etc. This is a major incentive for us to cruise frequently on RCI ships. We have already booked three other cruises: the Transatlantic Eastbound Crossing on the Brilliance of the Seas, April 30th, the Mediterranean Cruise on the same ship, May 14th, and finally the Transatlantic Westbound Crossing on the new Jewel of the Seas, Sept. 1st. 

We do cruise on ships of other lines (this was our 43rd cruise), and we intend to continue our cruising activity very intensely in the foreseeable future. We are addicted to cruising! We have had good and great cruises, but not yet a bad one (we hope it never comes). However, we are looking for a perfect cruise (we keep moving the bar higher and higher) and we'll be cruising until we'll find it. Happy Cruising!
 

Photo courtesy of Kvaerner Masa-Yards


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