I am a huge fan of cruising; it is one of those holidays where you can truly do absolutely nothing. Royal Caribbean (RCCL) was holding a double upgrade sale, meaning a balcony room for the price of an interior, so I jumped at the opportunity!
The Mariner of the Seas currently sails from Singapore around ports in Malaysia and Thailand. The itinerary that I took was a 7 night trip including Port Klang, Penang, Langkawi, and a two day stop in Phuket.
The ship itself is a voyager class ship and of standard Royal Caribbean style and can cater for 3114 passengers across its 15 decks. This class of ship features a large Promenade area down the center of the ship on deck 5, featuring bars, cafes and shops as well as the information desks. Modifications had been made to the ship when it was based in China to cater for the change in the demand of its guests. Many of the bars, especially in the Promenade, had been closed to make way for designer shops, or just closed all together as there was a reduced demand. Since the ship has been moved to Singapore, many of the bars have been reopened, however on my sailing they had yet to provide beer on tap.
Embarking/Disembarking: I would be lying if I said that the embarking process for this ship was the best I have experienced. The port itself is easy to find and check in was quite quick and no fuss, however from then on it was delay after delay. We were assigned a coloured card and asked to wait until it was called to embark. 3 hours of waiting and we were finally called, only to have another long wait in line for immigration. We had arrived at the port at 12 noon and did not board until 4pm. At this stage we had to attend the safety drill and as we had not eaten since breakfast, were very hungry! Unfortunately there were limited dining options until 5pm and we had to line up at the café for a long time to get some pizza.
Disembarking was relatively easy. Usual procedure of set times to disembark. There was a short line at immigration, however this moved smoothly. Taxis were very easy to catch once we exited.
Room: We had bought our cruise under a double upgrade sale, which is an upgrade from an interior room to a balcony. The room was spacious in comparison to my previous experience in an interior room! The bathroom was a standard (small) size, with a shower and toilet. The storage options were small, however bags can be kept underneath the beds. We had 2 Single beds which were very comfortable. The room also had a 3 seater couch, a desk and a large coffee table. The balcony was a nice feature; however we did not use it every day as it was very hot outside. Personally I would not opt for a balcony on such a short cruise again unless it was a similar deal, otherwise I would stick to an ocean view room. The extra room was nice, however not really necessary. Our room steward was attentive and brought us buckets of ice daily.
Service: The customer service on this ship was wonderful! Besides a couple of issues, where my friends room card refused to open the cabin door for the whole trip and I was mistakenly charged for a cocktail (this was refunded), the staff were outstanding. I have cruised on other RCCL ships before, however I found the staff on The Mariner of the Seas to be even better. Everyone was attentive and polite and the bar and waitstaff would often remember your names and orders. The staff were welcoming and easy to joke with, and honestly the staff we had contact with on a regular basis made our cruise much more enjoyable!
Destinations: I was quite surprised by our itinerary. I didn’t know much about Malaysia, so I went with a bit of an open mind. The first stop, Port Klang, allows guests to visit Kuala Lumpur. We opted out of disembarking here as it is over an hour drive to the city from the port and it was incredibly hazy and very hot! Instead we spent the day enjoying the ship (and its Air conditioning!)
The next port of call was Penang. My main knowledge of the area was that it was a British colony and that they had been occupied by the Japanese in WWII. We set off by ourselves and explored George Town on foot. The terrain was quite flat and easy, however the heat and humidity was very oppressive. We managed a couple hours of exploration, including a stop in an Indian restaurant for a cold beer, before caving and taking a taxi back to the ship. What I did see of Penang fascinated me, the left over colonial architecture was mixed with a wide range of other styles including modern buildings and whole streets of buildings with distinct Chinese and Indian influence. Rickshaws were everywhere and each distinctly decorated by their operators, market stalls lined the streets along with local stores and international franchises like 7/11 and Subway. I would like to go back one day and visit again.
The third stop was the resort island of Langkawi. The day was slightly less humid and easier to handle. Our first stop was a local mall for a little shopping, however many of the shops were closed as it was still early. Instead we took the opportunity for a McDonalds stop to use the wifi. For those who are curious, as Lankawi is a Muslim community, no bacon or pork products are available, however a Big Mac tastes the same and a large meal costs about $4AUD. Then along with another lady we had met on the ship, we hired a Taxi for 120 Ringgit (about $40AUD) to take us to a selection of attractions around the island. The driver was very helpful, informative and a wonderful guide. He took us the iconic eagle statue, to a wonderful hot springs spa where we could soak our tired feet in a natural spring (3 Ringgit), to some of the beautiful beaches and to see monkeys. Lastly we stopped at the Oriental Village, a tourist area with shops, eateries and a variety of attractions including a huge koi pond that you can Zorb ball on and the base station for the one of the steepest and longest freespan cable car in the world. We didn’t have much time for much else, so we went straight for the cable car. Rides are about 30 Ringgit and take about 20-30 minutes depending on if you stop at middle station. The ride was terrifying. The cables sway and the drop is huge! However the views were like nothing I have ever seen before. We didn’t disembark to walk the Langkawi Sky bridge, the large, curved pedestrian bridge built between the 2 peaks for the best view as we had run out of time. The experience was scary and I don’t know if I would do it again, but I am glad I did it once!
The final stop was a 2 day stop over in Phuket, Thailand. This essential destination for partying Aussie tourists did not disappoint. Some of the cruise guests opted to stay in a hotel for the night as to make the most of the nightlife, however we were a little tamer. Our experience of Phuket was filled with massages and spa treatments, regular cocktails and wonderful Thai food. We enjoyed the time to relax and rejuvenate before the end of the cruise, however there were many other options and activities available if you so wished.
Entertainment: This is another area where I feel that the Mariner of the seas needs a little more work. There were nightly production shows which were wonderful; a favourite of mine was a medley of John Williams’ famous scores performed by the ships orchestra. There was also a special ice skating show on the ice rink that was stunning and I was amazed at what could be accomplished on a small rink. However, some of the other options fell a little flat. Bad weather did mean that some of the deck parties had to be cancelled, that cannot be helped, however alternatives were few and far between. Our favourite bar tender worked in the lotus lounge bar, which was not effectively utilized except for karaoke; the bingo offerings here were sparsely attended. People were often left wandering the ship after dinner as there was not much to do. There was one main band on ship and they played in one of the smallest bars, packing the place out with no space to dance. There was the usual 4 times a day trivia offerings and a spattering of workshops and games as well as a couple of pools and hot tubs, a climbing wall, mini golf, basketball court and an arcade for unorganised activities, as well as a few movie showings. The nightclub did not open til after 11pm, and with nothing to fill the time between dinner and then, we never made it as we gave up and went to sleep. A favourite highlight of the RCCL ships is “the Quest” an adult scavenger hunt hosted in the covered ice rink auditorium. On other ships, this is usually packed out and takes a couple hours of crazy fun. On the Mariner of the Seas it was still amusing, but with minimal attendance and participation, it barely took 45 mins to complete. I think the lack of participation and attendance was a big factor of many of the activities not quite hitting the mark. A majority of our time seemed to be chatting to our favourite bar tender or hanging out it the packed casino.
Overall: Overall I enjoyed this cruise. There are some elements that need work, however the deals on offer, the destinations and the brilliant staff eclipsed the issues I found. I would recommend this cruise, however I would warn about the long embarking times and the lack of usual cruise activities.
Next Week: Dining on the High Seas: Food Review for the Mariner of the Seas.