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Cruise Ship Information

MS Mariner of the Seas is one of five Voyager-class cruise ships from Royal Caribbean International.

Mariner of the Seas is in the second generation of Voyager-class vessels. It has a capacity for 4,252 passengers. The Mariner differs from similar vessels in that the rear buffet (Windjammer) extends farther aft, and also includes "Jade", an Asian fusion buffet. She has glass balconies which her first generation sisters lacked. She is identical to the Navigator of the Seas, which shares the same design upgrades. Unlike Navigator, Mariner underwent a dry dock refit in April 2012.

As of 2011, Mariner of the Seas was sailing Mediterranean cruises based out of Civitavecchia, Italy. On October 26,2011, she departed for Galveston, Texas as a winter port. From there, she sailed 7-night cruises to the Western Caribbean and Mexico. In the spring of 2013, Mariner of the Seas relocated to Asia, making cruises out of Singapore and Shanghai, China.

Atmosphere on board

Royal Caribbean's 138,279-ton, 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas, launched in 2003, is the fifth and last vessel in the company's game-changing Voyager class. Mariner is largely identical to its siblings -- Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas, but it was the first of its class to get the Royal Advantage upgrade treatment as part of a $300 million initiative designed to create uniformity across the Royal fleet and add signature elements first introduced on the 5,400-passenger Oasis-class ships. As such, travelers who have sailed on a Voyager-class vessel will experience a number of twists beyond the signature ice rink, rock-wall and Royal Promenade.

Mariner of the Seas' Royal improvements, added in April 2012, include the Royal Babies & Tots Nursery, a dedicated space for the under 3's (boosting the family-friendly appeal for a ship that's already extremely family friendly); the addition of the casual, surcharge-free eatery, Boardwalk Dog House; a new family-style Italian restaurant, Giovanni's Table (which replaced the more elegant Portofino); a giant outdoor movie screen by the pool; shipwide Wi-Fi; flat-panel TV's in every cabin; a new Diamond Club for the line's Diamond loyalty members; and an interactive digital Wayfinder system that lists onboard activities, customized directions, as well as ship factoids.

Still, after cruising on Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships, we were worried that the Voyager-class ships would be a disappointment. It's true that they were once touted as the most revolutionary vessels afloat, with their novel rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and Royal Promenades, a shopping mall-esque shopping-and-dining space. But then came the Freedom class, with even larger ships and even more outrageous amenities, such as onboard surfing and family suites that sleep 14. And then came the 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis-class ships, which added a foliage-filled Central Park, zip-lining and an outdoor AquaTheater for Cirque-style performances.

Yet we were pleasantly surprised to find that Mariner of the Seas, the last of the Voyager-class ships to make its debut, did not feel like a disappointing second to its newer siblings (and the Oasis-style updates certainly help). The ship -- really only 15 percent smaller than the Freedom-class ships -- can still keep an active cruiser engaged for hours on a sea day. You don't miss onboard surfing or zip-lining when you're busy rollerblading, playing miniature golf, relaxing in the thalassotherapy pool, catching a parade on the Royal Promenade or playing poker in the casino. Kids have an enormous warren of play rooms (including an arcade and exclusive outdoor deck space) and diners have five restaurants, a cafe and a hotdog counter from which to choose.

Ultimately, one of the best things about the ship is that, despite its size, Mariner of the Seas just didn't feel that big. The ship's design makes every effort to create a smaller-ship feel. What was fun about discovering Mariner was that you could pretty much divide the ship into neighborhoods -- the promenade and the sports and recreation area. (Hmm, perhaps this layout was one of the inspirations for Royal Caribbean's newest ships, Oasis of the Seas, which has been designed around a neighborhood premise.) Another reason: Activities, whether during sea days or in the post-dinner evening hours, were so well-scheduled and organized that passengers really were spread out on all parts of the ship. We never felt crowded.

Past Passenger Programs

What's nifty about this ship is there is no one recurrent theme. Feel like an Asian atmosphere? Head for the Imperial Lounge. In the mood for Gothic? Try Jester's nightclub. Feel the urge for a clubby, elegant salon? With or without the cigar smokers, the Connoisseur's Cigar Club is a peaceful hideaway. Most of the major indoor venues are located off or along the Royal Promenade, which tends to really come alive at night. There you'll find shops (the usual cruise-style boutiques that sell logo items, duty-free liquor, perfume and cruisewear) and bars like the Duck & Dog British style pub (though many of its draught beer choices are puzzlingly non-Brit), the Gravity Sports Bar (which seemed empty most of the time) and the somewhat-elegant-but-mostly-bland Champagne Bar. However, the highlight is the 24-hour Cafe at the Promenade, which is a great place to snack and people watch.

Off the main promenade, in various directions, are the Imperial Lounge (the ship's secondary theater with entertainment ranging from line-dancing classes to cooking workshops) and the Connoisseur Club (a very elegant, cozy cigar bar). Connected to the Promenade, via various stairways, are additional entertainment arenas, including Casino Royale, the Schooner Bar, the Aquarium Bar (with its huge fish tanks), the Lyric Theatre and the Jester's nightclub. Tucked away on Deck 2 -- easy to miss -- are the ship's intimate cinema and conference facilities. Each of the performance venues -- Lyric Theatre and Imperial Lounge, for instance -- has its own bar as does Studio B, the phenomenal ice-skating rink/show lounge on deck three.

Overlooking the Royal Promenade is the Library, with an adequate collection of books and comfy leather chairs, and an area for future cruise bookings. The ship has an Internet cafe and cabins are wired for Internet usage. The cost for Internet access, via Wi-Fi or at a work station, is 55 cents a minute, or you can buy packages of 60, 90 or 150 minutes for $28, $38 or $55, respectively.

The Photo Gallery on Deck 3 is the place to giggle over silly photos of your shipmates and buy your own for outlandish prices ($19.95 for 8x10's, often a smaller photo of you surrounded by generic ship images).

Blue Moon Jazz Club, the name on this ship for the traditionally styled Viking Crown Lounge, has the usual fabulous vistas. On the same deck you'll find Seven Hearts Card Room, 19th Hole Golf Bar and Cloud Nine. Independence Of The Seas has a nondenominational chapel called the Skylight Wedding Chapel.

Fitness And Spa

Even on sea days, everyone has plenty of room around the two pools -- an admirable feat. One interesting feature about the hot tubs is some are double-sized, which again makes room for more folks. Tiered decks surround an outdoor theater, where everything from "men's sexiest legs" contests to live dance band performances take place. There are two bars by the main pool. The Solarium pool and whirlpools are situated in a quieter, more laid-back setting; the area is adults-only.

All of the major (outdoor) athletic activities -- the nine-hole miniature golf course, rollerblading rink, full-size basketball/volleyball court, golf simulator and rock-climbing wall -- are tucked into a "sports center" that lies aft. The pocket-sized ice skating rink is tucked well below, into the bowels of the ship. Note that some of the more specialized activities -- rock climbing, rollerblading and ice skating -- are offered only at specified times so check your daily compass for available hours. The ship's jogging/power walking track winds around the main pool area.

One nice touch: Royal Caribbean does not layer on a lot of extra fees for equipment "rental" -- there is no charge for using everything from ice skates (you can choose between hockey and figure models) to rollerblades.

The 15,000-square-foot spa -- the usual Steiner, Ltd., production -- spans two levels. One houses the quite ample fitness facility (no overcrowding here) and a workout room where classes are offered. Upstairs in the spa and salon facility, a wide range of treatment programs are offered, such as facials, massages, manicures and hair-styling.

A couple of caveats: The prices for treatments have risen to breathtaking levels, with a basic 50-minute massage now costing $119 or more. (The industry average is $99.) A manicure starts from $29, a pedicure from $45. The spa did offer "discounts" on port-of-call days (and as the cruise wound down), but that just brought the prices down to industry-normal levels. In addition, treatment employees will engage, way too aggressively, in the much-loathed "Steiner Product Pitch" at the end of your appointment. The products are also over-priced. Just say no.

Food & Dining

From the meals in the dining room to the buffet choices in the Windjammer Cafe to the options available at the 24-hour Cafe Promenade, the food is consistent and well prepared, especially considering the capacity of the ship. And options are pretty plentiful.

Three main dining rooms offer Royal Caribbean's flexible My Time Dining program during dinner. Passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or opt for flexible dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis or walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those choosing My Time Dining must pre-pay gratuities -- Royal Caribbean does not automatically add gratuities to your final bill if you've elected set-seating.) Cuisine is generally well prepared, if not innovative; Royal Caribbean doesn't pretend to be a gourmet-dining cruise line. Each menu includes healthy fare options, vegetarian dishes (at least one, like vegetarian chili, but sometimes there's an Indian vegetarian dish in addition) and a standard in-case-nothing-else-appeals selection of entrees (rigatoni with marinara sauce, Atlantic cod, chicken breast and black angus top sirloin). Breakfast and lunch are open-seating, though you shouldn't take that to mean that you can always snare a quiet little table for two.

The Windjammer, Independence Of The Seas' buffet restaurant, is open for breakfast and lunch, and it features mediocre, steam-table cuisine. Kudos must be given, however, to the egg station at breakfast (where you can request a variety of prepared-to-order dishes) and the carving station at lunch. Baked goods are consistently excellent. Vegetarians will do much better in the main dining room at lunch.

The Windjammer is also open for dinner and is an option for those nights when flexibility is preferred. The buffet features the same items as are on the main dining room menu. Another complimentary option is Jade Sushi and Asian-Fusion, with self-explanatory cuisine.

Specialty eateries include Johnny Rockets, the 1950's-style burger joint; passengers can indulge in burgers, hot dogs, chili fries, apple pie and onion rings. Royal Caribbean has instituted a $4.95 per-person cover charge for both in-restaurant and take-out dining (and beverages are additionally charged).

On the Royal Promenade, the Cafe Promenade features light fare at all times (pastries in the morning, sandwiches at night); try the pizza, it's excellent.

Portofino is Independence Of The Seas' specialty restaurant. The Italian-themed restaurant, which charges a $20 per-person cover (specialty beverages, beer, wine and soda are sold separately), offers a leisurely multi-course meal. The menu did not change at all on our trip, but that didn't seem to matter to a number of folks who were back for repeat dinners. Note, however, that you need to make reservations as early as possible in your cruise or you may get locked out.

Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, Continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); orders made between midnight and 5 a.m. incur a $3.95 fee.

Entertainment

Where do you even begin? It can be very hard to relax on Independence Of The Seas -- even on sea days -- because of the head-spinning array of activities that run from dawn to dusk and beyond! The ship's entertainment staff offers an intriguing blend of options, and everyone, from the most traditional passenger to the completely contemporary traveler, will find something to do.

Highlights? During the day, you'll find plenty of traditional cruise activities, such as bingo, dance lessons (line-dancing), rock-climbing wall competitions, horse racing, art auctions, seminars (on everything from healthy eating to gemstones), Mr. Sexy Legs contests, bridge pairing, art and craft workshops and films in the tiny cinema. Poolside, throughout the day, a live band plays a blend of Caribbean and American songs. Royal Caribbean does not offer much in the way of onboard enrichment.

Throughout the day and night, there's often some type of performance along the Promenade, either a parade or jugglers and comics who wander through the giant mall-like space and perform with the crowd.

At night, there are two kinds of entertainment -- the traditional-style cruise productions -- singing and dancing shows in The Lyric, such as "Velvet Rope"-- and goofy passenger-inspired episodes like "Love and Marriage" (a tired idea, perhaps, but still, on our cruise it was screamingly funny). Bar venues, of course, offer a variety of musical performances that are aimed to please just about everybody at any time -- classical guitar, country/western, jazz.

Beyond the usual, where this ship excels is the unique. Studio B (the ice rink) hosts "Cool Art -- Hot Ice," which is phenomenal and worth the effort to get a ticket. (There is no charge but the venue is small so tickets are limited. They make announcements about when you can pick them up.)

Fellow Passengers

Passengers range in age from 35 - 55-plus with a large number of families onboard. Independence Of The Seas is a great option for couples and families -- particularly multi-generational groups. Speaking of groups, this a terrific cruise choice for them, whether it's a business group (there's a fully equipped conference center along with meeting space) or an extended family because there's lots to do for all age groups.

We offer the recommendation with one caveat: The sprawling ship and its plethora of options may be bewildering to folks who prefer more traditional styles of cruises.

Speaking of a mix of people, one of the more interesting facets of passenger demographics on this ship is international diversity (the daily Compass is printed in six languages). Independence Of The Seas, which is based in San Juan, also attracts a strong contingent from Puerto Rico and Caribbean islands beyond, which can make for a more varied blend.

Tipping

Tips on the Adventure are automatically charged to your shipboard account (Sea Pass Account) unless you make alternative arrangements with the Guest Services desk. Tipping guidance is as follows:

The total amount is $12.00 per stateroom guest, and $15.00 per suite guest. Your gratuity is for housekeeping services, your stateroom attendant, and dining services.

For beverage purchases, fifteen percent of the bill is automatically added to the onboard account. Room Service staff may be tipped at your discretion. Tipping your maître d' of your dining room is at your discretion. You should tip if you received special attention or services from the maître d'.

Our recommendation

The “Independence Of The Seas" is a huge cruise ship with great offers on board. Be it the skating rink, miniature golf or a climbing wall 50 m above sea level: Almost anything is possible on board. The food is good and plentiful. The audience is international and the main language on board is English. Overall, you can expect a professionally organized cruise experience of good quality.