Mariner of the Seas

Prologue

Billed as the largest ship permanently sailing in Asia, Royal Caribbean International’s 138,279-GRT Mariner of the Seas spearheads the line’s push in the Far East. With her Royal Advantage enhancements, there has been much excitement surrounding her arrival to the region in Spring 2013. We go onboard to find out if she lives up to the hype.

 

First Impressions

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It was a rather muted arrival process when we came onboard as the only staff contact we encountered was during the collection of passports. We felt that Royal Caribbean International could have done better in assisting guests during embarkation given the size of the ship and many guests looking for directions to get around. Heading to our accommodation deck, we were met by our stateroom attendant who advised us on details of the mandatory assembly drill prior to departure.

 

Cabins

Our Superior Oceanview Stateroom with Balcony featured a 2-bed configuration that can be converted into a King-sized bed that provided a good night’s sleep. We liked the firm support of the mattress paired with the thin duvet, although we did find that the pillows were too soft for our liking.

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Royal Caribbean has done well in the use of space in the stateroom, which never felt cramped and was more than adequate for 2 guests. There was also a private sitting area encompassing a convertible sofa bed, flatscreen television, dressing table and wardrobe, together with a bathroom unit.The layout of the latter made it feel spacious despite the physical constraints, with the vanity on one side and the toilet and shower stall on another.

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Found on decks 6 through 10, nearly half of the staterooms onboard boast a glass balcony, which are affixed outside her superstructure (as compared to earlier ships of the Voyager-class) for better views. The space is well-suited for enjoying the ocean views away from the crowds on-deck and the line can arrange for private dining through the complimentary room service.

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Cabin amenities were limited to a coffee-/tea-making facility, minibar stocked with drinks and snacks for Asian preferences, electronic safe and shower gel from a wall-mounted dispenser, which was a little disappointing given that competitor lines were including bottled water daily and terry bathrobes. However, we liked the abundance of towels (some of which were folded into animals each evening during turndown service) and storage space in the stateroom, with the wardrobe complemented by various shelves and drawers for guest-use.

 

Television entertainment comprised of satellite programming covering channels from the region, as well as a selection of pay-per-view options. We particularly liked the ship’s in-house channels, which served as a useful source of information about activities in addition to the daily Cruise Compass. An interactive feature also allowed guests to review their onboard expenses on-demand.

   

   

Mariner of the Seas offers a further 13 accommodation options (Interior, Large Interior, Superior Interior, Promenade, Oceanview, Large Oceanview, Family Oceanview, Superior Oceanview, Deluxe Oceanview with Balcony, Junior Suite, Grand Suite, Royal Family Suite, Owner’s Suite and Presidential Royal Suite).

 

Dining

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Included in the cruise fare is dining at the 2 major inclusive restaurants. The 3-deck Main Dining Room (Rhapsody in BlueSound of Music, Top Hat & Tails) offers a formal dining experience and was also where the ship’s master hosted his Welcome Reception on the second evening. Food served here was of consistent high-quality and the line has ensured plentiful choices (including Asian options) were available.

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Service was excellent and efficient, with waiters going out-of-the-way for their guests each time. A treat was in-store on the final evening’s dinner, where the serving staff led by the maitre’d honoured their guests with a song and dance performance. Mariner of the Seas is also one of the few ships offering the Dreamworks Character Breakfast, featuring appearances and performances by the animated characters at the Main Dining Room.

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Windjammer is Royal Caribbean’s casual buffet restaurant and was one of the more popular venues onboard. We had our welcome lunch there on embarkation day, enjoying a hearty meal of international and Asian dishes while settling in. Between mealtimes, guests feeling peckish have the option of snacking on sandwiches, cakes and pastries at the Cafe Promenade, another favorite amongst cruisers who would stop by for a quick sandwich or pizza. Royal Caribbean also offers complimentary room service throughout the day (except during midnight hours where a nominal charge is levied).

 

Complementing the inclusive venues are the ship’s specialty dining venues.

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Billed as the “finest steakhouse on the seven seas”, Chop’s Grille was the venue of our first dinner onboard. For a small cover charge, guests enjoy a 3-course meal of a flame-grilled steak or seafood, unlimited orders of appetizers and dessert within a highly intimate and cozy space located on deck 11 towards the stern. Food quality was generally excellent (although our steak was slightly overcooked) and portions adequate, with service unhurried and non-intrusive.

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Situated within the same area is Giovanni’s Table, Royal Caribbean’s Italian dining concept. We found dining here a pleasure with a fine selection of breads, antipasti, pastas and entrees for lunch, accompanied by tasty Italian desserts served table-side from a trolley. The ambiance was also reminiscent of a typical Italian trattoria, with the service friendly and accommodating.

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Johnny Rockets is a 1950s diner-style franchise restaurant that honours Royal Caribbean’s American heritage. Hailing from Los Angeles, the staple fare of burgers, hot dogs, fries, milkshakes, floats and sundaes provided comfort after a day ashore. Diners can order unlimited portions of the mains and sides for a small cover, although beverages were charged separately.

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Catering to sun worshippers on the pool deck, Boardwalk Dog House is the line’s hot dog stand concept first introduced on the Oasis-class ships. The Arctic Zone self-serve ice cream stand was hugely popular with adults and children alike for quick respite from the tropical heat.

 

An array of bars and lounges promise a space for everyone each evening. We spent ours at the Schooner Bar, where the piano music entertainment drew large crowds. Also popular was the Latin-themed Boleros lounge and the Ellington’s lounge on deck 14, which offered panoramic views of the pool deck from its location within the Mariner of the Seas’ distinctive Viking crown. Other nightlife venues onboard included the gothic-themed Dragon’s Lair nightclub and the oriental-decor Lotus Lounge.

 

Pools & Decks

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Deck 11 is the ship’s primary sun deck and popular amongst cruisers eager to work on their tan. The main pool area is decorated with art installations by renowned artist Romero Britto, where its 2 swimming pools and 4 whirlpools were well-utilized by the many vacationing families onboard.

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Couples and adult guests seeking more privacy and quiet enjoy exclusive use of the Solarium, with its own swimming pool and 2 whirlpools. An additional whirlpool can be found indoors within the Shipshape Spa, which was less popular due to its location away from the outdoor areas.

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Being a large ship, there were plenty of sun areas and open spaces on deck. Coupled with most guests choosing to go ashore or participate in indoor activities, these were more than adequate for our 5-day cruise. The open-air wraparound boardwalk on deck 4 was ideally-suited for casual strolls and traditional deck games, while the helipad on the bow of the ship saw many cruisers take in the ocean views away from the crowds.

 

Recreation

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Sports and fitness being a highlight on Royal Caribbean International, there were plenty of facilities onboard for active guests. The 2-deck Shipshape Center & Spa was equipped with a variety of gymnasium equipment and offered daily yoga and conditioning classes, while the outdoor sports court hosted ball games under the shadow of the signature rock climbing wall. To the stern of the ship, the in-line skating track and Mariner Links mini-golf course was well-received by adults and children alike, with many cruisers playing the greens during the voyage. Serious golfers could also utilize the onboard golf simulator for a fee.

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The Royal Promenade continues to wow cruisers today and has been a fixture on every Royal Caribbean International ship to-date. On Mariner of the Seas, the space offers specialty shopping from Coach and IWC Schaffhausen, as well as pop-up sales of electronics, fashion and jewellery. The ship also operates its own souvenir store retailing merchandise and the photo gallery showcases the many photographs throughout the voyage from her official photographers.

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Guests looking to slow things down can do so with an array of traditional recreational activities. Bingo was held at the Lotus Lounge each day and the Library saw many taking time to relax over a book, while RC Online provided internet access and connectivity, although this proved to be less popular on our cruise. We especially liked the intimate chapel on deck 13, designed for shipboard wedding ceremonies.

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With several large groups on this sailing, the conference center was largely occupied for their private meetings, while the screening room opposite aired movies throughout the day. Mariner of the Seas also boasts her own television studio and the future cruise office was available to help guests reserve their next sailing with the line.

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The Adventure Ocean kids club is a dedicated space on deck 12 for younger guests, comprising the Challenger video arcade and play areas for kids and teens, as well as the Royal Babies and Tots playgroups for children between 6 and 36 months.

 

Entertainment

Royal Caribbean certainly ups the stakes in entertainment for the industry with its repertoire of shows, performances and parades.

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Our cruise showcased high-calibre music and theatrical performances by the ship’s singers and dancers, playing to a packed Savoy Theatre and featuring elaborate choreography, stage sets and costumes.

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The performance from the multi-talented David DiMuzio, an American singer-songwriter and champion juggler, delighted guests with his renditions of popular regional songs. Also in the programme was late-night adult stand-up comedy, although this proved to be less well-received by the Asian audience.

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On the last night of the cruise, guests were treated to an enthralling acrobatic performance. Dubbed “Ballet on Shoulders”, the acts are difficult enough to execute on-land, making the the grace, coordination and strength of the artistes performing on the ship more remarkable and providing a breathtaking finale to the voyage.

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The Voyager-class ships were the first in the world to introduce an ice skating rink at-sea, a stand-out feature for Royal Caribbean that allowed the line to incorporate ice-skating production shows. Exclusive to the Mariner of the Seas is “Ice Under the Big Top”, a circus-themed show.

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Easily one of the most impressive performances onboard, the international cast kept the audience at the edge of their seats with gravity-defying twists and jumps, while remaining highly interactive. In addition to the regular cast, the show also incorporates a segment from guest performers, adding a sense of novelty throughout the season.

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Beyond the sit-down entertainment, guests could join in the numerous parades and parties held around the ship. Royal Caribbean International’s partnership with DreamWorks sees it offer the “DreamWorks Experience” on selected vessels, comprising street parades, character meet-and-greets, as well as screenings of the studio’s movies.

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The Cruise Director Staff also hosts dance parties in the evenings, with one of the most popular being the 70s Disco Party at the Royal Promenade and an outdoor party by the poolside. The final night of the cruise also saw a Rock n Roll Party at Studio B, featuring a twist competition with the very sporting audience.

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A favorite for many Asian cruisers, the table games and slots at the Casino Royale saw good crowds late into the nights and on the day-at-sea.

 

Service / Staff

Hailing from various parts of the world, we found the multi-cultural crew of the Mariner of the Seas to be highly professional. Although it took some time for the crew to warm up, once the sailing got underway the staff members we encountered (in particular the stateroom attendants and dining room waiters) were always friendly and helpful, often going out of their way in their service.

 

Verdict

Royal Caribbean International’s deployment of the Mariner of the Seas to Asia heralds change for the cruise industry in the region. Despite being a decade-old, her features continue to wow guests and will undoubtedly push competitor lines to sail new and upgraded vessels to this part of the world, which can only be good news for cruisers.

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