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Mariner of the Seas

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Fresh off a massive $120 million renovation that introduced a number of new features to the ship -- the Sky Pad virtual-reality bungee trampoline, FlowRider surf simulators, Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade -- and added dining venues and 40 more cabins, 15-year-old Mariner of the Seas has a crisp, fun "new ship" feel.

It's also quite lively, with the hub of activity centred on the fabulous Royal Promenade, a bright, colourful and Instagrammable stretch of Deck 5, where something is happening -- '80s-, '90s- or disco-themed dance parties, or live music -- any time of day.

Royal Caribbean went the extra mile to ensure the ship looks great, and it does. On the Royal Promenade, The Bamboo Room -- a new Polynesian bar serving updated Tiki bar classics -- is visually striking with bright, bold, leaf-patterned wall coverings and a retro-chic sign outside. But outside is where the ship's 2018 "amplification" is most apparent. The giant yellow dome of the Sky Pad is unmistakable, and the twin corkscrews of The Perfect Storm racing water slides -- which appear to hang off the side of the ship -- are appealing as well. Everywhere onboard there's something that catches your eye.

Though Mariner of the Seas is a smaller ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet, it never felt small. By that same notion, it never felt too large. Space is used well, and it's evident Royal Caribbean spent time looking at how to keep passengers out of each other's way. We floated from place to place, ate, got drinks, played mini-golf and watched movies by the pool, and the only time we stood in line or really even saw lines was at the Sky Pad, FlowRider and water slides, and those moved quickly. Even in Windjammer Marketplace, the ship's buffet, we found there were few issues with wait times.

Overall, Mariner of the Seas was a delight. Every part of the ship delivered on its promise and our one regret was that our sailing was only two nights. We could have used more time to enjoy the "have fun, you're on vacation" energy that emanated from everyone onboard.

Daytime: The dress code on Mariner of the Seas is casual during the day, with everyone dressing for the climate of the destination they're sailing in. In warmer climates, you'll see plenty of people in shorts, T-shirts and bathing suits.

Evening: Dress was casual at all times on our sailing, even in the evening; the only exceptions were in the alternative eateries, where the dress codes are smart casual (cocktail and summer dresses for the ladies, nice shirts or even sports coats for men). Expect one formal night on short cruises, or two on longer sailings, where people dress up nicer though rarely in full suits or gowns.

Not permitted: No caps, tank tops or bathing suits are permitted in the main dining room or speciality restaurants, and footwear is always required. Shorts are not allowed during dinner, except in the buffet.

Theatre

The Royal Theatre features original and reimagined Broadway-style productions in the evenings. Inside you'll find tiers of bench seats, with lighted cocktail tables and a few groupings of cosier seats scattered throughout. Generally, they put on two shows each night: one at 8:30 p.m. and one at 10:30 p.m., but times vary by performance. "Gallery of Dreams" follows an artist who brings history to life through his sketches, jumping from Austria to the Wild West to 1940s Morocco. It's a full-blown stage production, complete with singers and dancers and a live band. During the Day, the Royal Theater shows movies in 3D.

Daily Fun

Where do you even begin? It could be hard to relax on Mariner of the Seas because of the head-spinning array of activities that run throughout the day. There's karaoke, themed and general trivia, dance classes, Wii gaming, movies, basketball tournaments, volleyball games, limbo competitions and a number of silly scavenger hunt-type activities by the pool, along with poolside belly flop competitions. There are also fitness and healthy living seminars, poker tournaments, a pamper party in the fitness centre and DJs around the ship.

Laser Tag, Battle for Planet Z took place on the first day of our sailing. For this adrenaline-fueled game, the floor of the Studio B ice rink is covered with inflatable walls and obstacles. The lights dimmed and two sides battled for the control of a planet. When the action begins, the teams hunt one another using sophisticated laser guns and targets worn on the body. It's fast-paced and thrilling, and there were nearly as many adults playing as kids. Best of all, it's an included activity.

One of the most fun things do to onboard was The Observatorium escape room experience. For those not familiar with escape rooms, the concept is simple: You're "trapped" in a room and have one hour in which you must complete a series of tasks in order to "escape" the room, save the world or do some combination of each. You win by solving physical puzzles and riddles. Challenging, fun and beautifully decorated, The Observatorium is great for groups small or large (up to 14 in one game). The additional charge to play -- $19 -- is nominal compared to the fun of it.

On Deck 12, Challengers Arcade is open 24 hours, and a number of the games (those without prizes) are free to play. We saw a steady mix of adults, teens and kids there, as well as Royal Caribbean staff keeping an eye on things.

There's also the sports deck, with its climbing wall, basketball court, Sky Pad, FlowRider and The Perfect Storm twin water slides available during the day and evening.

With all the activity, there are still enough spaces on the ship to find a moment of calm; you never feel pressured to participate.

At Night

Nightlife aboard Mariner of the Seas is as lively as the daytime. Some of the same activities -- wacky scavenger hunts, dancing lessons, dance parties, tournaments in the casino, game shows and movies on deck -- extend into the evening. Other evening activities include comedy shows, big stage productions, ice shows, meetups and get-togethers (singles, LGBTQ, etc.). Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade always had a decent crowd watching whichever sport was in season.

Also at night, the 10 bars, clubs and lounges swing into full party mode (at differing decibel levels) and each has a distinct vibe. At the British Pub, a mournful guitarist-singer performed mellow tunes and rock classics. Boleros featured Latin dance music. The Schooner Bar's pianist played pop and torch songs, kicking off plenty of sing-alongs. Ellington's is the place for jazz. Studio B turned into a late-night dance party with DJ, and every night (weather permitting) there was a DJ or band by the pool.

Casino-lovers will find everything from slots to gaming tables. Put your key card in the machines to win extra prizes as you play. You can charge your card to get cash to play, but there's a 3 percent surcharge in the casino (no charge if you've arranged to pay your onboard bill in cash). If you don't know how to play, there are a handful of "Learn to Play" sessions that cover table games and slot machines.

Mariner of the Seas Bars and Lounges

Studio B (Deck 3): Studio B is a multifunctional space, hosting various activities on different evenings. Among those activities are the "Under the Big Top" ice show; "Battle for Planet Z," a laser tag game; and a late-night dance club that opens following the "Quest" adult scavenger hunt/game show hybrid. A pair of bars on either side of Studio B serves thirsty passengers their choice of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. The atmosphere varies by activity, but the space is the same: The dance floor/ice rink/laser tag arena is in a sunken space in the middle with stadium seating wrapping three sides; to the aft of the space is a stage. Arrive early for the ice shows to grab the best seats, as the theatre is fairly small; sight lines are good throughout, however.

Schooner Bar (Deck 4): Replete with nautical decorations that are just dramatic enough to steer clear of tacky waters, the Schooner Bar features a pianist who belts out great versions of pop songs spanning the decades. Leading sing-alongs and taking requests, he keeps the crowd entertained throughout the evening. The bar menu offers a number of takes on the Old Fashioned. There's seating at the piano and at tables and benches surrounding the piano, spots at the bar and intimate seating for two and four off to the side (where you can hear the piano, but still hold a normal conversation).

Casino Royale Bar (Deck 4): The bar at Casino Royale primarily serves casino patrons. Smoking and vaping are allowed in the casino and at the casino bar.

Boleros (Deck 4): Boleros serves chic drinks in a space that features a small stage and dance floor. Bar seating and tables for two and four fill the space, but many patrons stand at the balcony overlooking the Centrum and onto Deck 3, where you can watch Studio B show-goers coming and going. The feel there is distinctly Latin, with salsa dance lessons during the day and salsa music at night. A number of guests taking to the dance floor to twirl, whirl and glide across the parquet. Boleros gets livelier as the evening goes on.

Star Lounge (Deck 5): Star Lounge, the ship's secondary theatre, has a small bar area, but passengers go there primarily for the live music and activities like game shows.

Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade (Deck 5): Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade has that neighbourhood sports bar feel, complete with nearly three dozen televisions (all tuned to sports or sports highlights), a small pool table, outdoor games like giant Jenga and oversized Connect Four, a handful of arcade games and a food menu of items like wings and sliders. During games and in the early evenings, Playmakers can get crowded, and there might be a short line at the bar. The same holds for later at night.

English Pub (Deck 5): Serving a good selection of beer and cider, the English Pub is always busy and bustling but never crowded. Dark wood panelling and furniture give it a cosy pub-like feel, and its front looks like a pub, complete with multi-paned windows and oversized doors. Musicians show up from time to time to play for drinkers, and their catalogue of tunes is usually on the slower, singer-songwriter side.

The Bamboo Room (Deck 5): Added during the 2018 refurbishment, The Bamboo Room, a Polynesian-inspired bar with updated versions of classic tiki-lounge cocktails, looks amazing with its bold, leaf-patterned wall coverings, dark wood and bamboo accents throughout. The menu was inspired by tiki bar classics, so expect lots of rum, fruit juice and bartenders who are friendly, fun and know their way around a cocktail shaker.

Solarium Bar (Deck 11): Located in the adults-only Solarium, the Solarium Bar serves a standard selection of cocktails, beer and wine. Attractive and welcoming, thanks to brightly coloured tiles and a wide-open front, the bar gets busy midday and in the early evening, though any wait is reasonable, as there are never more than a couple of people in line.

Pool Bar (Deck 11): The Pool Bar is only steps away from the pools and whirlpools, and as such, it often has quite a line. Cocktails ran the gamut from sex on the beach and martinis to Cuba Libres; the selection of liquor is better than the selection of beer or wine, though the bar serves plenty of all three. Expect a wait, especially at midday.

Plaza Bar (Deck 11): Plaza Bar sits just inside the entrance to Windjammer Marketplace, between the speciality dining venues Jamie's Italian and Chops Grille, making it a good spot to wait for your reservation or to people-watch. Often overlooked, there's never more than a quick wait, making it a good spot if you want quick service and a full bar.

Sky Bar (Deck 12): Sky Bar overlooks the pools on Deck 11 and provides a standard menu of cocktails, beer and wine, as well as a bit of shade. As with the Pool Bar, cocktails are standard, and the liquor selection is rather good, though beer and wine are limited. The wait isn't overwhelming, even at the bar's most crowded times.

Viking Crown Lounge (Deck 13): Viking Crown Lounge is part of a four-lounge complex that includes the Suite Lounge, Ellington's Jazz Club and the Diamond Club. There you'll find excellent cocktails with hardly a wait, a good beer selection and a better wine selection than other bars onboard.

Suite Lounge (Deck 13): Reserved for the exclusive use of passengers booked in suites, the Suite Lounge has great views, thanks to a bank of windows along one wall. Drinks are top shelf and complimentary.

Ellington's Jazz Club (Deck 13): Ellington's, which transforms into a jazz club or dance party at night, is almost as popular during the day as a spot for quiet reading and a bird's-eye view of the scene around the pool. The selection of liquor and wine is good, beer and cocktails slightly less so.

Diamond Club (Deck 13): The Diamond Club is a lounge dedicated to Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club Crown & Anchor Society members. Amenities include complimentary cocktails at happy hour and Continental breakfast.

Mariner of the Seas Outside Recreation

Pools

On Deck 11 you'll find the ship's pools, including a pair for adults and kids to use and a trio of whirlpools (two smaller, one larger). Surrounding the pools are the loungers, collections of couches and tables, a bar and the Boardwalk Dog House. There's also a large movie screen hanging above the pool for evening screenings.

The Solarium, also on Deck 11, features a pool and a pair of whirlpools, plus loungers, tables and large daybed-like areas to relax on. The Solarium is adults-only, so it tends to be quieter and more reserved. Due to its shape and position, sections of it are in shadow for long parts of the day, with the best sun exposure coming around noon.

Lifeguards are visible and on duty whenever the pools or hot tubs are open. Hydraulic lifts are available in pools and whirlpools, both in the main pool area and in the Solarium.

Recreation

There's no shortage of recreational offerings on Mariner of the Seas. The rock climbing wall features routes of varying difficulty and all the safety harnesses and belay equipment you need to get a taste for the sport.

The FlowRider, Royal Caribbean's signature surfing simulator, always has a line. You'll see everyone give it a try, from experienced surfers to newbies. The instructors and safety crew give tips to everyone who rides, and those who fall off early get a quick second ride before rejoining the line. Nearby seating allows a crowd to gather and watch those brave enough to try.

The Perfect Storm -- twin racing water slides that appear to hang out beyond the edge of the ship -- was another popular spot for kids and adults alike. Though the line is often considerable, it moves reasonably quickly.

You can't miss the Sky Pad, a giant yellow orb overlooking the sports court and FlowRider. A virtual-reality bungee trampoline experience with four trampolines, the Sky Pad always has a long line of cruisers ready to strap themselves into a harness and virtual-reality headset. Once bouncing around on a trampoline, they could choose one of several VR "games" to play.

We rarely saw anyone using the sports court -- where you can play soccer and basketball -- with only a few intrepid hoop-shooters stepping onto the court to shoot a dozen free throws and leave for the more exciting FlowRider or Sky Pad.

Adjacent to the Sky Pad and FlowRider, the Sky Climber gives kids a chance to play outdoors as they scramble over, under and through obstacles in an enclosed, multilevel playland; nearby swings provide further distraction.

At the front of the ship on Deck 13, Mariner Dunes is a nine-hole mini-golf course, featuring bright, cartoonish obstacles like lighthouses, pirate ships, shells and dunes.

Sun Decks

The primary sun decks aboard Mariner of the Seas surround the main and Solarium pools, and extend up onto Deck 12 above. Tiers of loungers to either side of the pool bar are reserved for suite passengers. The pool deck does get crowded, but the sun deck above usually has plenty of room to spread out. Signs advise passengers not to reserve seats, but that didn't stop people on our sailing; as a result, pool attendants were vigilant in removing any paperbacks, cover-ups, sunglasses and flip-flops being used to save seats after a reasonable time span.

Other sun decks are located on Deck 12 aft and Deck 13 aft and forward. The aft area is a mix of tables and seating overlooking the Sports Court, FlowRider and rock climbing wall. The forward area on Deck 13 -- Mariner Dunes -- is packed with loungers that are seldom used, as this is where the ship's nine-hole mini-golf course is located.

Mariner of the Seas Services

Mariner of the Seas offers a bevvy of services and shops, with many of the service desks located on Deck 5's Royal Promenade. There you'll find the guest services, as well as the next cruise desk, where you can score discounts on booking your next Royal Caribbean sailing. Also on the promenade are the shore excursions desk, where you can learn more and book your shore excursions, and the library, which is comfortable, quiet and well-appointed with books and furniture.

The Royal Promenade is also home to several shops featuring duty-free liquor, Royal Caribbean- and Mariner of the Seas-branded clothing and merchandise, and a jewellery store. On Deck 3, the Art and Photo Gallery draws visitors to look at the artwork for sale and the photos taken by the onboard photography team. The conference centre on Deck 2 offers ample meeting space.

You need more than a week -- and perhaps an all-at-sea itinerary -- to experience all of Mariner of the Seas' spaces. Thankfully, you can use the digital WayFinders to navigate your way around the ship. These touch-screen maps show your location and allow you to search by deck, by activity (dining, shows) or by what's happening now. WayFinders are located near each bank of elevators, between the elevators and stairs on each floor.

There's no self-service laundry onboard Mariner of the Seas, but you can pack a bag with dirty clothing and have it washed and folded for $34.99 per bag, as much as you can fit in.

Royal Caribbean claims its VOOM Wi-Fi is the fastest at sea; we don't know if it is indeed the fastest, but we can say it was reliable. We found only a couple of dead spots on the ship (on the lowest decks, where interference was greatest) and noticed it slowed whenever when we were in areas with heavy use. (We could see other passengers on Instagram, email and other apps.) Access is tiered, with Surf or Surf & Stream options. Each tier provides different speeds, with Surf being slowest and Surf & Stream being quick enough to stream and Skype/FaceTime. Pricing runs from $14.99 per day, per device, for a Surf package to $19.99 per day, per device, for the Surf & Stream package. Single-day passes are more expensive, and you get a discount if you purchase your package prior to cruising. We never did find the Internet Cafe -- called iCafe -- though employees pointed us in the right direction (Deck 5, near the library).

Spa

Vitality Spa, operated by Steiner Leisure Ltd., is a lovely space, open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., offering a large range of treatments that include Swedish and deep tissue massage, acupuncture and facials, as well as medi-spa treatments to fill or smooth wrinkles. Soft colours, pleasant music and essential oils scenting the air via discreet diffusers add to the atmosphere. Individual and couple's treatments are available, with private and couple's treatment rooms provided as appropriate.

Fitness

The two-level Vitality Fitness Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., giving cruisers plenty of time to get a workout in, take a class like spin (extra fee) or yoga (included). Vitality is well-outfitted, with a good amount of cardio equipment (treadmills, upright and recumbent bikes, elliptical machines) and strength training machines, as well as a free weight area.

The jogging/walking track on Deck 12 gives you a view and a breeze while you exercise; eight laps around is 1 mile.

The facility features men's and women's locker rooms with a steam room, sauna and showers.

Dining on Mariner of the Seas is one of the ship's top highlights. It seemed that everywhere we turned, there was something tasty to eat or drink. Windjammer Marketplace, the ship's buffet option, wasn't just steam-table fare; we were surprised by the freshness, flavor and variety offered at each meal. As you might expect from a cruise sailing from Miami, with an emphasis on the Miami market, the Latin food offerings at breakfast, lunch and dinner were tasty and plentiful. Will they stack up to what you can get at a true Latin restaurant? Not necessarily, but they won't disappoint. Another thing that did not disappoint were the snacks. Windjammer was open late (10 p.m. to midnight), and the Royal Promenade's Cafe Promenade had snacks available at all hours of the day.

The primo dining experiences onboard occur in Mariner of the Seas' three extra-fee alternative restaurants: Chops Grille; Jamie's Italian; and Izumi Hibachi & Sushi. Reservations are recommended for the speciality restaurants (with the exception of Johnny Rockets), especially on the short, three-night sailings. The most popular restaurants tend to book up quickly.

Royal Caribbean offers all-you-can-drink soda cards (prices determined by length of cruise with an average daily cost of $8 per day, plus gratuity), and each package comes with a souvenir cup. There are Coca-Cola Freestyle machines (self-serve drink stations with dozens of drinks and variations to choose from), but they require the souvenir cup to operate, so if you thought you'd skip the soda package and just get a drink or two on the sly, you can't.

 

Free Dining

Dining Room (Decks 3, 4 and 5): Mariner of the Seas' main restaurant spans three decks and sports a musical theme. From the moment you walk in, the space astounds. The soaring ceiling and appropriately oversized chandelier draw the eye up and into the space, while the curves of the balconies on each level direct your gaze around the room.

While it's possible to find a table for two in the dining room, those tables are coveted and hard to come by, with most set for four, six or eight.

The restaurant is open seating for breakfast and lunch every day, and it's often crowded. Breakfast is a la carte, and the menu has the usual items: eggs, omelettes, yoghurt, granola. The omelettes were served quickly, packed to overflowing with fillings, and served with some pretty good coffee.

For dinner, choose between assigned early (6:30 p.m.) or late (9 p.m.) dining, or opt for Royal Caribbean's My Time Dining, which allows you to pick a preferred mealtime between 6 and 9:30 p.m. You'll need to call ahead for reservations when opting for My Time Dining, but it's generally not difficult to get the time you want.

Cuisine in the dining room is properly prepared and tasty, though the options are standard cruise fare and therefore not overly inventive. (Those seeking something more adventurous and inventive generally seek out the speciality dining venues.) Options might include a steak with fries, a pair of fish preparations, pasta, salads, soups, appetizers like escargot and dessert. There are healthy options available, as well as vegetarian dishes.

Windjammer Marketplace (Deck 11): Windjammer Marketplace, Mariner of the Seas' buffet restaurant, is open for breakfast (6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and dinner (6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), as well as for late-night snacks from 10 p.m. to midnight. The food at Windjammer is a step above the steam-table fare you often expect from the buffet, and the speciality sections -- Latin one day, Indian or pan-Asian another -- were hits with our fellow passengers. Other options included steaks, baked potatoes and fixings, and traditional American sides (green beans, sauteed spinach). Despite being well done, they were tender and tasty; trays were constantly being replenished, which added to freshness. Other stations included meats and cheese; fruit and dessert; and chicken, pork and roast carving stations. It was always easy to find a table for two or four, even near windows, but for parties of eight or more, larger tables were harder to come by.

Boardwalk Dog House (Deck 11): The Boardwalk Dog House serves frankfurters, brats, sausages and sides like potato salads. It was a popular option with kids -- and easy, too, as this venue is adjacent to the pool -- but also with adults who wanted a light meal or heavy snack in the afternoon.

Arctic Zone (Deck 11): More of a snack station than an eatery, Arctic Zone serves soft-serve frozen yoghurt (vanilla, chocolate and swirl) in cups and cones.

Cafe Promenade (Deck 5): Cafe Promenade, located on the Royal Promenade, is set up for round-the-clock food. In the mornings, you can get croissants, Danishes and fruit; in the afternoon and evening, there are sandwiches, pizza, cookies, cakes and fruit on offer. A self-serve station features fresh-brewed coffee, tea and hot chocolate, but if you want an espresso or latte or something spiked with a little liquor, you need to visit the cafe-bar next door.

Room Service: While there's no charge for room service menu items, delivery carries a fee of $7.95 per order. The menu features kid-friendly items, as well as indulgent and healthy options (French fries to salads), plated meals like grilled salmon, and pizza and burgers.

Fee Dining

Pricing was accurate at time of review, but may have changed since.

Izumi Hibachi & Sushi (Deck 4); a la carte: This Japanese restaurant serves hibachi cuisine, as well as sushi and sashimi; sake and cocktails are also available. We couldn't get near this place during our special two-night sailing, but looking in, it was smart and chic, and the diners at the hibachi tables were having fun eating their appetizers while one cook balanced an egg on the end of his spatula and the other drummed away on the flat-top. On the sushi menu are the usual nigiri, sashimi and maki offerings like tuna, yellowtail, salmon, eel, shrimp and amberjack, but the chefs take a creative approach to these ingredients. The California roll is served in soy paper instead of rice, there's a lobster roll with Champagne sauce and dried chilli threads, and the tuna in the tuna tataki roll is seared before it's served and then topped with a garlic ponzu sauce. Dessert is decidedly Japanese, featuring mochi ice cream -- ice cream wrapped in a rice flour coat. Due to the popularity of Izumi, we recommend making reservations as soon as possible. Prices range from about $6 to $16.

Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade (Deck 5); a la carte: Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade is just that: a sports bar with a small collection of arcade games. It serves beer and cocktails and a selection of bar food favourites like wings and sliders. Nearly everyone we saw in Playmakers was eating, and several were raving over the wings. It's open from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m.

Jamie's Italian (Deck 11); $35: The fresh, house-made pasta is the centrepiece at Jamie's Italian -- a concept from British chef and personality Jamie Oliver -- but it's not the only thing to get on this well-rounded menu of updated Italian classics. Appetizers like the antipasti plank, giant green olives and garlic bread are family-style dishes, but others, like the bruschetta (a traditional tomato or a fresh crab and avocado version), are smaller portions fit for one with a healthy appetite or two looking to try a variety from the menu. There are several pastas on offer, from tagliatelle Bolognese and crab spaghetti to linguini, as well as baked lasagna. The lamb chops scottadito, fresh crab spaghetti and tagliatelle Bolognese are popular dinner options, and the simple baked lasagna and pan-roasted salmon graced many a table. Desserts are classic Italian, featuring affogato and tiramisu. Mains and pasta dishes are sizable, but not overwhelming. Still, if you have a smaller appetite, pastas are offered in smaller portions. It's open for lunch and dinner but closed from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.; reservations are recommended.

Chops Grille (Deck 11); $42: Chops Grille, the ship's steakhouse, occupies a twin space to Jamie's, and the two restaurants flank the entrance to Windjammer Marketplace. Chops serves steakhouse specialities in a room that tastefully blends classic and contemporary steakhouse styling. There are the expected dark wood panels, but it has been updated with modern shapes to the chairs, tables and plates. The menu has a half-dozen steaks to choose from (including two premium dry-aged options); a quartet of seafood dishes, including a half-lobster for the classic surf and turf; and a bevvy of salads and starters that include a Caesar salad, seafood tower, shrimp cocktail and beef carpaccio. Also on the menu are sides like baked potatoes, truffled French fries and roasted mushrooms. On the wine list, you'll find a thoughtful bottle and by-the-glass selection (including several bold reds) that fits most budgets and pairs well with the menu. (If in doubt, ask your server. They know the wine and food and will guide you.) Open for dinner only, and the $42 charge is for a prix fixe menu (with add ons, like dry-aged steaks). We and several other passengers found the filet mignon to be rubbery on our sailing, and the sides -- which we were told are designed for sharing -- are shockingly small, even for one person. However, other passengers we spoke with said the chicken is a standout dish.

Johnny Rockets (Deck 12, aft); $6.95: Not to be missed for lunch, dinner or a late-night snack is Johnny Rockets, the old-timey burger joint serving tasty burgers, onion rings, fries, shakes and a side of throwback entertainment (in the form of singing and dancing waiters and cooks). Johnny Rockets charges an inexpensive cover and lets you order off the menu as you please, though iced tea, milkshakes and draft beer cost extra. Dine inside at the soda counter or the plush red leather booths, or dine outdoors at some of those same booths, but with an ocean view. A couple of hints: If you don't like to wait in line, aim to arrive at 11:30 a.m., just after it opens, or after 3 p.m. (and anytime at night). Another tip: You can order food "to go," and there's no additional charge, beyond the cover. Open from 3 p.m. to midnight.

Ben & Jerry's (Deck 5); a la carte: Next door to the Promenade Cafe, the Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlour sells scoops, cones and milkshakes for a charge of $2.50 to $5.

Cafe Promenade Coffee Bar (Deck 5); a la carte: At this small add-on to Cafe Promenade, you'll find a barista whipping up drinks ($2 to $4 for standard drinks, $7 for spiked versions of the same).

Mariner of the Seas continues the Voyager-class tradition of offering a decent number of balcony cabins. Additionally, there are four other cabins categories -- suites, outsides, insides and the unusual atrium-view (looking onto the Royal Promenade).

Standard inside, ocean-view and balcony cabins are decorated in light, primary colours and feature light-coloured woods. All cabins come with convertible twin-to-king beds and flat-screen televisions, offering interactive services like room service ordering (though we found it easier just to pick up the phone), pay-per-view flicks and numerous channels. (Royal Caribbean TV does an outstanding job, featuring everything from news and sports channels to a promenade cam, which shows the action inside the ship.) Other features include a desk/vanity and seating areas with loveseats or full-length couches, some of which fold out.

Cabins with balconies are each equipped with two basic chairs and a small table. The balconies have glass panels.

Cabins have mini-fridges that are minimally stocked with soft drinks and juices; the charges for mini-fridge items are the same as in the bars. We found there was plenty of room to stash our own sodas, but you can ask the room steward to remove the contents if you need more space. 

Bathrooms are basic, and only suites have tubs. The showers have wonderful half-round sliding doors, a fabulous improvement over icky, clingy shower curtains. Soap and shampoo are provided. (Suites get mini-bottles of Royal Caribbean's Vitality shampoo, conditioner and lotion.) Hair dryers are located in the vanities, rather than in the bathrooms, and you'll have to hold a button in to keep them turned on while using them.

Mariner of the Seas offers 26 accessible cabins in a variety of categories and sizes (from 256 square feet to 276 square feet). Features include wider doors, closet racks that can be pulled down to lower heights, and accessible showers and toilets. These cabins are set aside for cruise travellers who can prove they need the accessible amenities; the cabins only enter the regular inventory close to the sail date if they haven't sold out by then.

Interior: Interior staterooms come in two varieties: standard (160 square feet) and promenade view (167 square feet). The standard room features a pair of twin beds that convert to a king, as well as two pull-down beds and can sleep up to four cruisers, but the Promenade View interior staterooms each sleep two people, max. Promenade View rooms have windows overlooking the Royal Promenade. They can be loud at night, and you'll want to keep your curtains closed so people can't see in.

Ocean-view: There are three types of ocean-view staterooms: standard (161 square feet), spacious (211 square feet) and ultra-spacious (328 square feet). The standard and spacious sleep up to four, thanks to two twins that convert to a king and a pair of pull-down beds. The Ultra Spacious Ocean View stateroom sleeps up to six, as it also features a double sofa bed.

Balcony: Balcony staterooms come in two types: standard (198 square feet with a 46-square-foot balcony) and spacious (203 square feet with a 42-square-foot-balcony). Both types sleep up to four each, featuring twin beds that convert to a king and either pull-down beds or a double sofa bed.

Junior Suite: Junior Suites sleep one to four passengers, depending on the room. They are 277 square feet with 46-square-foot balconies, and they're basically an expanded version of a standard balcony stateroom, featuring a sitting area with chair and couch, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a tub. It's the smallest of the suite classes. 

Suite: Suites on Mariner of the Seas come in a variety of configurations. All those in suites, except in Junior Suites, are entitled to use the Concierge Lounge (Deck 14), which features a complimentary Continental breakfast and cocktail hour. The concierge on duty handles special requests for reservations -- alternative restaurants, spa, etc. Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club members of the Crown & Anchor Society can also access the Concierge Lounge.

Grand Suite: These suites come in one- and two-bedroom layouts, each with a sitting area, bar area and bathroom with tub. Suites with one bedroom sleep up to four, and each is 381 square feet with an 88-square-foot balcony. The two-bedroom Grand Suites sleep up to eight and are each 547 square feet with a 192-square-foot balcony.

Royal Suite: The 1,260-square-foot Royal Suite is the ship's prime suite, featuring an elaborately furnished living room -- wet bar, dining table, entertainment centre and even a piano -- and a separate bedroom with king bed and its own balcony. The bathroom is spacious and includes a whirlpool tub, separate shower and bidet. The suite's 224-square-foot balcony is furnished with wicker lounge chairs and a dining table.

Owner's Suite: The 506-square-foot Owner's Suites are also luxurious, each with a king bed, living room and dining area. However, these suites are more open, with the sleeping areas separated from the rest of the living quarters by large, rotating flat-screen TVs, rather than actual walls. The balconies (131 square feet), are big enough for a lounge chair.

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