A few days ago, I came back from a 4-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. Overall, we had a great time, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. So, I wanted to write a post for those of you who are considering taking the same cruise.
Since Mariner of the Seas sails from Port Canaveral, it makes for a logical extension to your Disney vacation. Royal Caribbean is also considered to be a family-friendly (and budget friendly) alternative to Disney cruise line. Let me share what I loved, liked and hated about my experience.
Price and itinerary
When reviewing any cruise or trip for that matter, it’s very important to take the price into account. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. If you booked a relatively cheap cruise, it’s ridiculous to expect a luxury experience. That’s what private yachts are for.
You can read my detailed post on booking this cruise, but let me give you a quick summary here. In short, I got two balcony cabins, and my sister-in-law stayed with the kids while my husband and I enjoyed alone time. We paid a little over $1k for our stateroom, and $1720 for the second one. The latter was a bit of a splurge, but my sister-in-law requested to be in the back of the ship. They did get to enjoy a bigger balcony and the views of the ship’s wake.
I used Citi Thank You points for their cabin (plus $200 co-pay), and paid cash for ours. We also got a $100 in shipboard credit. So, in total, I paid $2620 for our 4-night cruise, factoring in the incentive, with $1200 being out-of-pocket. Obviously, there were other costs. My cabin’s total bill at the end of the cruise was $200. My father- and mother-in-law also joined us and they paid for their own cabin.
We bought some photos, mixed drinks, coke, and the rest was tips for the crew. I also bought an excursion for my kids in Nassau, Bahamas (my husband and I stayed on the ship). We did spend most of the day in CocoCay, RCCL private island in the Bahamas. I will review it in a separate post, per Nancy’s request.
We drove to the port with in-laws, and split the cost of parking and gas. So, our total for this trip was a little over $3k. That’s definitely not pocket change. But! Considering the fact that we sailed during Thanksgiving and got two balcony rooms for five people, I feel like I got a pretty good deal. By comparison, a Disney cruise of the same length would run us more than $7k for the exact same date.
Originally, we were only supposed to stop in Nassau and CocoCay and spend the last day at sea on the way back to Port Canaveral. However, due to medical emergency, we were diverted to Miami in order to drop off a passenger. So, we got a bonus stop, though it only lasted an hour or so. The views of Miami Beach were quite beautiful.
Before I get into the review of the ship itself, let me say that sailing from Port Canaveral is a breeze. Much easier than Miami and even Fort Lauderdale!
So, if you hate crowds and long waits, I totally recommend this port. We were on the ship in less than 30 minutes after parking the van, an all-time record. If you have young kids, this is huge. RCCL lets you check in online, so you only have to take a quick photo and that’s it. If you are flying into Orlando, I recommend skipping a rental car and paying for shared bus shuttle. Some start at $13 per person one-way.
We’ve cruised on a similar Royal Caribbean ship when I was pregnant with my daughter. We enjoyed it then, but felt it was too big. Since our kids are 9 and 11, we decided to once again give RCCL a try. What really sold me on it is all the upgrades the ship has recently received. I felt like my kids would really appreciate the huge water slide, the FlowRider surf simulator and the SkyPad. I will review them in a separate section towards the end of the post.
My husband and I normally prefer Holland America cruises, but they unfortunately don’t sail from Port Canaveral. Plus, most of their itineraries are 7 nights, and I wanted to stick to a shorter/cheaper cruise this time around.
So, how was it? To quote my husband, “too loud and too many people.” The ship fits up to 3,300 passengers, and it was absolutely packed during our Thanksgiving cruise. At times, you had to wait for elevators for 10 minutes or longer, so we just gave up and walked upstairs. Believe it or not, Mariner of the Seas is one of the smaller RCCL ships. The newest behemoths push closer to 5,000 passengers. That is just too much IMO, but different strokes to different folks.
The pool area was almost always full of people, and it was hard to find an empty chair. The pools and hot tubs were filled (more like overstuffed) with kids and adults at all times.
Loud music was playing almost non-stop from morning until night, and various contests like bellyflop competition would take place in one of two tiny pools, rendering it useless for passengers. There are lifeguards, so you can use a bathroom for few minutes if your kids are older.
There was also a “sexy man” contest by the pool, which my husband and I watched on TV in our stateroom the following day. Super lame and ridiculous, but kinda fun to see guys showing off their “stud” side. In short, I absolutely hated everything about the main pool area, but all this stuff is typical of most cruise ships that cater to younger set of travelers.
Fortunately, the adults section was much more serene. I never saw anyone use the pool, but the two hot tubs were always packed. My husband and I don’t like to sit in a hot tub with 10 strangers, so we never used it.
I loved the fact that there were relaxing lounges available at no extra charge. But good luck getting one of them on a sea day!
I did find several empty ones in the evenings, so it’s indeed possible to snag one of them. The adult pool area of the ship to me is the star attraction, but you won’t be able to go here with your kids.
The ship has a mall-like promenade in the center of the ship. It’s full of shops and various bars. I don’t really care for it for one simple reason: loud parties at night.
We were staying on the seventh deck, so there was a deck between us and the atrium. And yet, we could hear YMCA song in our cabin at midnight. Thank goodness for the noise machine. My in-laws were staying on the 9th deck and couldn’t hear anything, so I recommend going a bit higher if you go to sleep early.
While I may sound negative, I totally don’t mean to. It was about what I expected the cruise to be, though noise at midnight was an unwelcome surprise. If you sail on this type of ship, you should expect crowds and mass-market experience. That’s the tradeoff for paying $1k all-in for 4 nights in a balcony cabin during Thanksgiving cruise.
If you want a more refined experience, pay more and sail on one of the luxury cruise lines. I will say that the atmosphere on this ship was a bit more family-friendly compared to our last Carnival cruise. I never saw any drunk or highly obnoxious people, a welcome thing indeed. Smoking also wasn’t a huge issue, as most folks stayed in the designated areas. We saw a lot of large families, little kids to old folks, all having a good time. That’s RCCL’s target market, not party animals looking to get wasted.
That’s not to say that all Carnival cruises are full of this type of behavior. It will depend on a sailing, of course. But if you are looking to go on your first short cruise, I would say Royal Caribbean may be a better fit. If you prefer a smaller ship like we do, I recommend researching Norwegian Sun of NCL line, which also sails to Bahamas from Port Canaveral. It fits less than 2,000 passengers. The ship won’t have all the fancy amenities of Mariner fo the Seas, but it should be a little less overwhelming. It also has remodeled staterooms. Speaking of…
Review of our stateroom
When I read that Mariner of the Seas would undergo a huge refurbishment before our sailing, I assumed it would include the rooms. I was wrong. They probably changed a few things, but apparently drapes and new carpet weren’t on the agenda. If Motel 6 and Japanese capsule hotel had an ugly baby, it would probably look something along these lines:
All joking aside, most room decor we have encountered on cruise ships is usually ugly. Once again, we didn’t pay for luxury. However, in this case, the room wasn’t just ugly, it was worn out. The carpet was old and nasty, and had a mysterious stain by the bed:
I don’t want to know where it came from
Bring slippers. Everything was scratched up, and looked frumpy and dumpy.
The mattress was super firm, and made sleeping downright painful. Fortunately, after one night I had the sense to ask for a topper, and it was provided. Much better! But how many people would do that?
It was very small, as expected. However, the shower was something else.
Not only was it tiny, but it had solid plastic doors. With a shower curtain, at least there is some wiggle room. Not here. I tolerated it, but my very tall/large husband absolutely hated it. It was similar to showering in a coffin. Basically, think of it as a glorified camper.
There was at least enough storage for our junk:
The balcony was nice, though the sliding door would make a loud screeching noise each time I went outside. Once again, this is an old room that got very little love during recent makeover. Set your expectations accordingly.
My sister-in-law had a room on the back of the ship located on the same deck. It had a larger balcony, but the view was obstructed. She loved it, though, which is all that matters.
The condition of the stateroom was the biggest disappointment of the cruise, but we made do. It was clean, and our room steward really tried to make us happy. As my husband said, being on a cruise sure beats being at work. He said he would sail in the same stateroom if that’s what I wanted to do (not happening). He is a laid-back dude who can put up with just about anything. That’s why we are still happily married.
Note to self: do more research next time and don’t assume anything.
One of the main reasons I love cruising is not having to cook. Fortunately, the food on this ship was great. I would rate it a bit higher than Carnival and NCL, but I’ve never been on a cruise where I didn’t enjoy the food.
Of course, it will once again depend on your expectations. We are a regular family who stops by Wendy’s and McDonalds a few times per week. So no complaints here. If you read reviews ranting about the quality of food, these folks must have a personal chef at home. Ignore.
Here are photos of food in the buffet:
There were burgers and several types of ethnic food, so I believe most people could find something to their liking. I didn’t pay extra for alternative dining on this cruise and I never will.
We ate at the Windjammer buffet for breakfast and lunch, and had all of our dinners in the main dining room. We selected “my time dining” option, so we could have more flexibility in the evenings. Despite the fact that the ship was full, we never had to wait more than 10 minutes to get a table. The main dining room is extremely crowded, the theme of this ship. Service was very good.
The kids came with us the first two nights, but got really bored of sitting around for two hours. At one point, my son has torn off a rubber sole off his shoe to entertain himself. So, my SIL took the kids to the buffet after that. I did see that they have “family dining” option which sounds brilliant.
Breakfast was really good as well, and there was an omelet station in the buffet area. They give you a beeper after you put in your order, which reduces congestion. So, all in all, thumbs up for all the dining. I really have no complaints. Well, I did miss the brick oven pizza they make on Carnival ships, but it’s not a big deal.
I truly believe that if you are a normal family, a cruise will be a treat when it comes to food.
Amenities for kids
I did not get a chance to check out Kids Club because my SIL took care of our children the whole time. That was her choice. I’m sure it’s like most Kids Clubs on major cruise lines. See more details on this website.
Some kids love them, others don’t. You won’t know unless you take them there. If you and your husband want alone time, don’t hesitate to take advantage of a Kids Club. You’ve paid for it. Nancy has highlighted significant differences between DCL Kids programs compared to RCCL. In short, don’t expect Disney-like excellence at non-Disney prices.
Basically, with RCCL, Carnival and NCL, you will have a person who will (hopefully) prevent your kids from killing themselves, with occasional game thrown in. Good enough for me. Parents, don’t feel guilty for enjoying some quiet alone time with a spouse. Your kids will survive in the Kids Club for few hours, I promise.
There is a movie theater, but we didn’t get a chance to check it out. I also wanted to watch an ice skating show with the kids, same thing. That’s the problem with large ships and short itineraries. Too much to do in too little time.
I did make sure to take advantage of FlowRider simulator and the slide. That’s literally the main reason I picked this ship. So, on our sea day, the kids and I headed to the back of the ship where all the cool stuff is located.
My son loved this contraption
We did have to wait about 40 minutes for FlowRider, but it didn’t disappoint:
Both of my kids loved it. In fact, it looked so fun, I went on it myself. We then checked out the fancy slide:
It was quite thrilling, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, when I asked the kids if they wanted to go again on the surf simulator or the slide, they said No. They didn’t feel like standing in line. They both wanted to go to the tiny/crowded pool where they spent the next two hours. What?!
So, I grossly overestimated the coolness factor because apparently, what my kids mostly wanted was a pool. My son absolutely loved SkyPad with virtual reality headset, though again, he only went once.
All in all, this particular area of the ship is a winner for families, and some kids will probably go gaga for it. I really thought mine would, but nope. They enjoyed it, just not as much as I thought they would.
If you feel that my post was super negative, this really wasn’t my intention. I can honestly say despite some drawbacks, we all had a fantastic time. Travel is what you make of it. If you focus on the negatives, then you will be miserable and cranky. Simple as that. My kids loved the cruise, and my son said it’s a 10 while Hyatt is a 9. That’s the highest form of compliment from him.
None of the things I’ve mentioned (except maybe the tiny shower “coffin”) were dealbreakers. In fact, if I ever see a fantastic deal on this ship, I may go for it. But it would have to be one heck of a deal. Still, I was curious about the fancy RCCL amenities, and I’m glad my kids got to experience them. But I think it’s “once and done ” for our family.
My biggest piece of advice is to pick a ship that will be the right fit for you and your spouse. I truly believe that most kids will be happy as long as there is a pool. Fortunately, all ships have pools. Should you try Disney cruise line? That’s up to you, but I’m not going to.
The difference in price for our cruise was over $4k, so no way Jose. Parents, please don’t feel like you are shortchanging your kids if you don’t go on DCL. That’s crazy! I don’t know about you, but cruises during my childhood in Soviet Union consisted of going on rusty ferry down the river.
Check out Norwegian Sun if you want to avoid all the issues I’ve described in the post. That said, if you really want to splurge on a Disney cruise and have the wiggle room in your budget, go for it. I have no doubt that your family will enjoy it.
For my money, Holland America is the solid winner, and it’s probably what I will book next time. It’s marketed as “old folks” cruise line and there is some truth to that. But so what? Old people are quiet and go to sleep at 9 PM.
No YMCA parties at midnight or bellyflop contests by the pool, yay! The food is top-notch, cabins are relatively nice, there are fresh flowers around the ship and you can enjoy live violin music. The best part? Holland America cruises (at least in Caribbean region) usually cost just a little more than Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
My reasons for going on a cruise have nothing to do with amenities. My favorite moment on this particular ship was finding a quiet corner to watch this amazing sunset:
Or sitting on a balcony and watching a sunrise early in the morning with my husband by my side. And there is nothing like seeing a starry sky and listening to waves at night. That’s what I love most about cruising and why I will keep doing it.
Readers, which cruise line is your favorite and why?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.