August 23, 2009
Los Angeles, California – disembarkation day
Well, the time has come for us to end our vacation. I’m going to use this post to summarize some of the observations I have made earlier as well as some new information. We can’t wait to enjoy another Royal Caribbean Cruise vacation in the near future.
My Time Dining
The My Time Dining option sounded great to me when we boarded. We had heard about it on our sailing on Grandeur in March but didn’t try it until this cruise.
The concept of having a table for 2 instead of one with strangers is the biggest selling point for me, with the option to change dinner times a close 2nd (sometimes I don’t want to eat at 6pm or 8:30pm as assigned).
Still, the personal relationship was the missing piece with the My Time Dining and I missed that more than I enjoyed the conveniences mentioned above. Normally by the end of the cruise (actually much earlier) we have gotten to know our waiter and assistant waiter and they have gotten to know us. They know that we don’t eat seafood and that Heather loves chocolate, for example, and they will offer us suggestions with that information in mind.
I would love it if Royal Caribbean could simply offer more 2-person tables for guest that desire that choice, but I understand it must be easier to deal with fewer larger tables than several smaller ones.
Windjammer/Jade Breakfast and Lunch
Plenty of food options, especially at breakfast. I really love breakfast food, though, so I’m probably biased in that regard. The French Toast and Oatmeal are very good and often made it unnecessary to eat lunch.
Finding space to eat is sometimes hard even though the staff is doing their best to clear tables as quickly as possible. There is simply a lot of demand in a short amount of time during the breakfast hours especially.
The practice of setting a bunch of empty glasses on a tray and then pouring juice/water/tea into all of them in one pour (with liquid that misses the glasses being contained by the edges of the tray) still floors me. I have been bugged by this on all of my Royal Caribbean sailings because it results in glasses with sticky bottoms that drip on clothing and cause for a messy table. They need to find a way to fill glasses one at a time or offer drink machines (water/juice/tea) and everyone can fill their own glass instead. This might be my biggest gripe about the Windjammer on this and all ships.
Staff is slow to clear tables. This doesn’t cause any issues for people looking for seats as there are plenty of open tables, but the dirty dishes and trash at tables is unsightly.
Staff at dinner really pushes the Alice White single-serve bottles of wine. We were asked more than once each night we ate dinner there if we would like to buy them and in our three nights eating at the Windjammer for dinner I only observed one person actually buy them. It would be nice to not be interrupted so often by this suggestive selling.
The ice cream cart is a nice touch, even though we preferred to select other desserts from the buffet instead.
I don’t really understand the Jade concept. I know it is supposed to be an Asian themed buffet but it does seem that the same food is offered each breakfast/lunch/dinner in this area. The Windjammer (which shares a common area with Jade) is where I found most of the food I liked, although there was some great rice pudding one night at Jade and sushi fans would likely love the Jade concept as that was offered every night.
Several buttons are missing from elevators (floor numbers) and from elevator lobbies (up/down buttons). This is common on every Royal Caribbean ship we have been on so I would like to believe that spare buttons could be carried aboard and replaced as needed (do people steal these as souvenirs I wonder?).
The espresso machine at Seattle’s Best Coffee was broken on Friday when we visited. This effectively shut down Seattle’s Best since the drinks they make nearly all contain espresso. I am happy to report that on Saturday they had either repaired or replaced the machine and Seattle’s Best Coffee was back in business.
The mini-golf area was in much better shape than when we were on Mariner at this time last year. Back then, the artificial turf was peeling up in many places and holes had been worn through in others. We experienced none of that this time around.
Our stateroom was in great condition and always kept very clean. The balcony floors appear to have been recently refinished.
No more chocolates on the pillows at night! My wife, Heather, used to save these up every night (I always ate mine right away) and then she would taunt me with them in the weeks following our cruise. I suppose they are trying to cut costs where they can, but it seems to be that chocolates on the pillows at night can’t be that expensive when compared to so many other things on-board.
The library is not peaceful at any time of the day (despite being described in the daily Cruise Compass as a “Quite Zone”). The opening in the ceiling (about half the library ceiling is open to the internet café above) is a terrible idea as is the open walkway connecting starboard and port elevator lobbies mid-ship. To top it off, there is a staff corridor at the rear of the library that people are constantly emerging from, often with large bags of trash/laundry or other items causing further disturbance.
The pool deck and walking track that overlook the pool (deck 12) are spacious and of ample size for a ship this size. We never experienced a shortage of chairs in either area.
The balconies have dividers between them offering the illusion of privacy. All it takes, however, to destroy this is some chatty neighbors that insist on talking to their friend in the next cabin. The dividers have doors that can presumably be opened. I’m not sure if the ladies in the next stateroom ever asked the cabin steward to open the door between their balcony and their friends’ balcony next door, but perhaps that would have made for some more peaceful times on our balcony. Or maybe they did ask and were turned down for some reason (wind?).
There are no clocks in the staterooms. On Grandeur when we asked about this we were told that there was a TV station that featured a clock (an analog clock even) but leaving the TV on for a clock seemed like a dumb idea as it our inside cabin quite bright. I would love it if there were small alarm clocks in each stateroom, but I guess we know what we are in for and need to prepare better by packing one instead.
The Spa is great and offers wonderful (according to my wife) massages that are incomparable to those on land. And the prices they charge are not out of line for the level of service received.
The artwork on Mariner is amazing. It is present in so many places that after a while you forget that it is there, but whether it is a statue in the library, a painting in a hallway, or a sculpture in a stairwell, this attention to detail is a nice touch on a cruise ship. Even the elevators have paintings in them. The Mariner has more works than some art museums that I have visited.
Elevators often seem to require long waits. This is most noticeable in the early evening as dinner approaches and people leave the pool area. Having a cabin on a higher floor would make this less noticeable I’m sure. We took the stairs most of the time except when traveling more than 4 floors.
A nice touch in the elevators is that they swap a sign in the carpet each day so that you can keep track of what day it is. It would be next to impossible to keep track otherwise. I was asked by other passengers several times “what is the date” and I never had any idea…my BlackBerry and/or the Cruise Compass came in handy for these times.
Connections to the outside world
Internet onboard the Mariner of the Seas is pretty expensive. Like our first cruise a couple years ago (and every cruise since) it is 55 cents a minute if you don’t purchase a “bulk plan” consisting of a set amount of prepaid minutes for a reduced price per minute. I would think that this pricing model will be pressured to change in the future as more folks with iPhones, laptops, etc. desire constant connectivity. An unlimited usage plan would be nice to have in these situations, though many people love the fact that they “can’t afford” to connect with the real world while on vacation.
Internet is still available only in certain areas (such as the library, Café Promenade, etc.), though we were fortunate to have a strong enough wireless signal leaking from the library into our stateroom that we could connect from there if we chose to do so. There is an Ethernet jack in the stateroom so I’m a bit surprised that it apparently isn’t active.
I believe text messaging is still quite expensive as well and the price per message obviously varies by wireless carrier, but I saw many teens still texting as if they were on shore and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that they were texting other teens that were on the ship. I imagine quite a few people are surprised by large phone bills when they get home!
The television line-up is the same as it has been on our other cruises. ESPN International, CNN, and Fox News make up the bulk of English-language programming. There are some pay-per-view choices available and there are features to check the balance of your SeaPass account on the TV, though that seemed to be not working about 50% of the time we tried to use it. There are several foreign language channels for non-English-speaking guests. Speaking of that, there seemed to be more non-English speakers on this cruise than any others that we have been on. My wife speculates that the Los Angeles area influences this. During our trip we heard people speaking German, Spanish, French, Greek, and several other languages that we were unable to classify. And that is just among the guests…the crew is also very diverse and we ran across staff members from countries such as Brazil, Mexico, The Philippines, New Zealand, Canada, The United Kingdom, and South Africa to name a few.
Royal Caribbean has apparently stopped producing daily “news summaries.” I used to find these quite nice to peruse each day to remain somewhat updated on the goings on of the outside world, but perhaps they have found them not to be value-added items. They were missing from our trip on the Grandeur in March and again this time on the Mariner so I suspect that internet connectivity and two news channels on the TV have made these somewhat obsolete. Still, I will miss them.
In light of the fact that the daily news publications are no longer produced, it would be nice if there were a free online “news summary” page that could be accessed via wifi and the ship’s internet café that would contain stories formerly published on paper. If readers wanted more detail than the summaries offered, they would be invited to click through to more information that would be offered for the standard price for online services. I think this would be a great product offering and it likely would generate more internet revenue that is collected now (of course I’d like to see those prices drop too as mentioned above).
Tipping will eat you alive on a cruise. Drink purchases, for example, already have an 18% gratuity included in the standard SeaPass charge but there is always a line to add an additional tip as well. And I nearly always feel obligated to add an additional tip because the service typically is top-notch (the only place I ignored the “additional tip” line on this cruise was at Seattle’s Best Coffee).
Requiring prepayment of gratuities to participate in the My Time Dining option is likely the only way that they can easily allocate the tips out amongst the service staff since you could be seated in different areas each night, but that turns out to be quite expensive on a per night basis if you eat elsewhere for dinner at any time. For example, we ate at dining room only 4 nights out of 7 but paid the same “prepaid gratuities” as if we had eaten there all 7 nights. Of course part of the reason we eat there at all is to maintain marital harmony, so perhaps this is the price I pay for peace in that regard!
I would like to see a way where tips can be manually computed and still charged to the SeaPass card. As I understand it, the only way to charge tips to the SeaPass card is to sign up for “prepaid gratuities” leaving the only other option being to bring aboard carefully denominated cash (or visit the Guest Relations desk for change) instead.
In preparation for leaving the ship, everyone receives a certain colored/numbered tag that they must attach to their checked bags and those bags must be left in the hallway on the last night of the cruise. People then leave the ship in groups according to their bag color because there is only so much room in the cruise terminal to have a small amount of bags available at one time. Saturday we didn’t receive luggage tags in our stateroom and I happened to stumble across a table of them near the guest services counter. I’m not sure if this is the normal process now or if our stateroom attendant just forgot to deliver tags, but if I were a first-time cruiser I would be quite confused by this procedure. The one-page sheet distributed to us on Friday indicated that the stateroom attendant would deliver luggage tags so I’m not sure what to think. As it so happens, I was able to grab tags for the earliest time available so maybe they’ve given up having people exchange tags for earlier or later times and just made it a free-for-all. Once all the tags of a certain color are gone they are not replaced, perhaps? I’m not sure.
On the Grandeur of the Seas in March, guests were not assigned specific areas of the ship where they had to sit during the disembarkation process. I believe the process was being tested on the Grandeur (and perhaps some other ships) but the practice has not spread to the Mariner as of yet. We were still assigned to sit in the Savoy Theatre until our tag color was called and announcements were only made in the designated areas. I have to say that I liked the more relaxed process on the Grandeur better and I hope that the more leisurely practice spreads to the rest of the fleet.
The process of leaving the ship went fairly smoothly. We awaited the calling of our color/number in Savoy Theatre and left via the gangway on Deck 4 when it was time. We were delayed about 10 minutes past the ending time estimated in the literature, leaving the ship around 9:15am instead of between 8:55 and 9:05am. I should note that the SeaPass was required to leave the ship as I’m sure it is used to make sure that everyone has made it off the vessel before new passengers are allowed aboard. I had already packed my SeaPass so I had to dig it out hastily at the exit from the ship.
Our luggage was easy to find but the lines to leave through customs were fairly disorderly and slow-moving as many people joined the lines at various places along the way. I feel that there could have been better organization of the exit area to maintain people within lines and moving in an orderly fashion. Additionally, people that hired porters for their luggage seemed to move ahead of everyone else during this process. Customs personnel only randomly screened passengers with most of us passing through the process by simply handing the agent the card each family had completed aboard the ship.
The organization outside was no better than inside. There were no marked areas lines for taxis, shuttles, etc. and one had to listen to cruise and port personnel holler instructions while everyone jostled for position. It was quite chaotic and not the ideal way to end a vacation. I feel like there could have been a lot more organization outside like inside to contain lines and better signage (any signage, in fact) would have gone a long ways toward lowering the stress level for everyone. As it was, we managed to get in a taxi after waiting about 15 minutes and we arrived at LAX shortly after 10am.