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Trip Report: Mariner of the Seas | February 10-17, 2013

Itinerary: Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; Cozumel, Mexico

Departure Day/Parking/Boarding

Depending on how you look at it, the weather in Galveston on departure day was either terrible or it was perfect. It was one of those cool, rainy winter days on the Texas coast. So while the weather in Galveston wasn’t great, it was perfect for putting you in a good mood — knowing that when you wake up the next morning it will be nothing by warm sunshine for the next week.

We arrive to Galveston several hours before boarding. Our plan was to take our time, grab lunch, and enjoy the Strand for a while before heading to the ship.

We had lunch on the Seawall at Casey’s, which is next to the world-famous Gaido’s. While the location can’t be beat, the food certainly left something to be desired. I had a classic — fried shrimp. I wouldn’t recommend it.

After lunch, we headed down toward the cruise terminal, which is right near the Strand. Once there, we parked at our lot for the cruise — Galveston Park N Cruise. The lot is right near the terminal, although it is a little difficult to find. You turn down an alley (there were people waving us to the lot) and find your spot. We told them that we were going to go explore the Strand for a little bit and would be back to get our bags. They said it was no problem.

galveston-strand

Turns out, we should have just headed straight to the ship. Despite it being Mardi Gras time, there wasn’t much going on. And having grown up in the area, the Strand hasn’t changed much. If you’ve never been, it’s worth a trip. But it doesn’t change much year-to-year. So after walking just a few blocks and ducking into a store or two, we decided to head back to the car, grab our bags and head to the ship.

Now, if you’ve never taken a cruise Galveston, then you might be surprised. These ships are massive and tower over everything. It actually made my heart race a little bit with excitement seeing the ship. You just can’t imagine that people could make something so big that floats.

We made out way to the cruise terminal. Because we pack light (only a couple of backpacks), we didn’t’ have to check luggage. And because we waited until about an hour before the end of the boarding window, most of the passengers had already boarded. We simply went through security, which is similar to airport security before 9/11, stood in the line for about 15 minutes, and then headed to the check-in agent. I’d say the whole process took about 20 minutes.

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From there we walked to the ship, trying our best to dodge the ship’s photographers.

Once on the ship, we headed straight to our cabin to go check out our digs for the next week.

View of Mariner of the Seas cabin

We had an oceanview cabin on the sixth deck on the starboard side. Our room was at the very back of the ship. That meant we had to walk a bit to get anywhere on the ship, but we also didn’t have neighbors on both sides of our cabin nor did we have a lot of traffic outside our door.

The cabin was cozy. Some of you would call it small, but for us it was fine. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the cabin since there was usually a lot going on every day.

The bathroom was pretty small and included a stand-up shower that was about 2′ round.

The rest of the first day we spent just exploring the ship. It’s jaw-dropping how much they pack onto the ship. And while there are thousands of people on board, it was also easy to find spots where there were few, or even no people.

Here are some random photos from around the ship.

 

What To Do On Board

The cruise did a great job of keeping people entertained. There are always multiple activities going on, in addition to the pools, putt-putt, basketball court, ping-pong, game room, and more. Or you can always sit and watch the water. There are gorgeous views from nearly everywhere on the ship.

IMG_2674 (Large)One of my favorite things to do was check our progress on the cabin TV. They had a great channel that showed you where you were, the ship’s speed, and a view from the bridge.

We didn’t get pictures of some our favorite activities. There was a “Love and Marriage” gameshow on board, similar to The Newlywed Game. There was one couple up there who had been married for 64 years and the man couldn’t stop talking about how great his wife’s butt still is. The entire theater was rolling.

There was another gameshow called “The Quest” where the theater was split into teams by sections. The host then asked the teams to bring him specific items and points were awarded based on who got them there first. Among the items: a pair of false teeth, six women’s bras, and three men’s pants.

Port #1: Roatan, Honduras

After two days at sea, our first port was Roatan. Roatan is an island sitting just about 30 miles north of mainland Honduras. The island is about 30 miles in length and 3 miles wide.

Since we just had a day on the island, we hit the highlights. The first thing we did was walk into town a little bit. Since it was cruise day, everyone was out in full force to get you to buy something or use their taxi. It’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s their hustle. We see it as annoying, they see it as feeding their family.

We walked about a quarter mile into town before turning around. There are a few towns on the island, and what we saw wasn’t very pretty. The average Honduran is pretty poor. Lots of run-down buildings and trash on the ground. After realizing there wasn’t much to see, we turned back around and walked back through the “gauntlet.”

After a while, a taxi driver started walking and talking with us. We asked him to take us to West End (one of the more touristy parts). He said he would take us there and back for $30 USD. We got him down to $10 to just take us there since we didn’t know how long we wanted to stay.

West End is a bit more touristy, so it was still rustic, but much prettier. In West End is “Half Moon Beach,” a pretty nice place. It was still about 9 in the morning, so there wasn’t a lot going on.

So we decided to walk the 2-3 miles down the beach to West Bay. The walk was pretty interesting. There’ isn’t a ton of development along the way, so it was usually a few boats and a small hotel or two.

Along the way, there was a cut in the beach and they built a bridge for pedestrians. Wasn’t too bad, but certainly bounced with each step.

IMG_0926 (Medium)Along the way we were passed by this guy going to work selling cotton candy to tourists, and a beach hotel had a big cage with about eight rescued macaws.

Finally we hit West Bay. The beach and water here is gorgeous. White sand, clear water… and people… and people… and people…

Because there were a couple of ships in port, there were a lot of tourists on the beach. Because there were a lot of tourists on the beach, there were a lot of people selling everything from parasailing to bracelets. I would say for every two tourists, there was one person selling something. It made for a crowded beach.

Luckily, we were able to find a spot with only a few people and shade to hang out for a few hours.

We got the feeling that we would love to go back to Roatan if it weren’t on a cruise ship. It had a beautiful landscape and the beach was great — just really crowded.

After eating lunch, snorkeling a bit, and having a local beer, we caught a taxi back to the ship. The driver wanted $20 per person, telling us that was the official rate as he pulled out a laminated sheet with prices. We told him that we paid $10 total to get here. Eventually we got him down to $12 total. For the 10 or 15-minute ride back to the ship, it was a fair price.

 

Port #2: Belize City, Belize

The nice thing about cruising is that you hop on board, eat dinner, watch a show and go to bed. The next morning, you wake up in a new place.

From Roatan, we headed to Belize City. Because the port in Belize is too shallow, we had to tender in from about five miles out.

IMG_0962 (Large) (Small)For Belize we decided to take one of the ship’s excursions. It was a 6-hour tour that took us to the Mayan ruins of Altun-Ha, followed by a river ride to go spot wildlife. It cost $74 per person.

We thought it was a little expensive at first, but really wanted to see the ruins and do more than just walk around like we did in Roatan. By the end of the excursion, it could have cost twice as much and we think it would have still been worth it.

The tour started with an hour and a half ride to the ruins. Along the way, the Belizean guides told us about the country and answered questions. They knew everything that was asked and were very straightforward. When one lady asked how bad crime was in Belize, the guide told her plainly it was a “six out of ten.” Along the way we learned a lot about Belize we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

After our ride, they let us out and gave us each a bag of water. Bag of water you ask? Shouldn’t that be bottle? Nope. It was a bag of water. You should have seen the people on our tour trying to drink it. May as well have asked them to do calculus. 

The ruins at Altun-Ha were phenomenal. They sit around two main courtyards. The site has been largely cleared, although they keep some parts of the structures covered with grass to keep it protected.

The tour could have ended there, and we would have been satisfied. But next, they took us on a river boat ride back to Belize City. Along the way they pointed out the wildlife. It was literally one minute of shooting down the river, the guide spotting something, and the boat being thrown into reverse. The amount of wildlife along the way was spectacular. They spotted monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, osprey, and even bats.

Belize has a feel that it is up and coming. There’s no doubt that the country is poor. Very poor. But it has some amazing natural beauty and can use the success of Mexico’s Yucatan tourism and Costa Rica as a model. It 10 or 20 years, it could be a major destination for American tourists.

Port #3: Cozumel, Mexico

Our last stop was Cozumel. Frankly, I think it was our least favorite as well. Of course, a bad Caribbean island is like a bad win in the lottery. Even when it’s not great, it’s still pretty good.

IMG_1170 (Large) (Small)Cozumel is very, very touristy from the moment you step off the ship until you get back on. Lots of taxi drivers and shopkeepers trying to get your attention, lots of shops, and seemingly little culture.

Part of the problem was also our own making. Instead of researching what to do, we simply headed into town and decided to find a beach. Easy right? After all, it’s an island. Well, not so fast.

Near the main town on the island, the shore is rocky. So after taking a taxi from the ship to downtown, we decided to walk toward the northern end of the island, where there are a number of high rise hotels. We knew that if the hotels built there, then there must be some nice beach. So we walked… and walked… and walked…

When we reached the hotels, we couldn’t find beach access. So we walked more. Eventually we found a little sandy spot with access and hung out for an hour. It was overcast, so not great beach weather.

IMG_2652 (Large) (Small)We decided to head back to town and eat at this restaurant called Rolandi’s. We decided to hoof it instead of paying a taxi. After all, it was only 11 a.m. The walk would give us something to do. So we walked… and walked… and walked.

Around 12:30 we reached Rolandi’s… and it was closed. Argh. We ended up just eating at a place two doors down that had a nice view of the water. Nothing special, but at that point, any meal tasted like a five-star restaurant.

In total, we walked about six miles that day in flip flops. I don’t think we’ll be doing that again.

While we were out and about, some more ships arrived. One created a “canyon” with our ship.

The Food

There are about 10 bars and restaurants on the ship, but the majority of meals come from two places: the Windjammer and the main dining room.

Windjammer is the buffet that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The food was typical buffet quality… meaning it was edible, but nothing special. Breakfast was usually pretty good, but lunch and dinner were so-so. Desserts were typically good to great.

The main dining room was somewhat better. The dining room experience was something new to us. The service (except for one waiter) is very good. A head waiter and an assistant waiter take care of your table, and it was a level of service that we certainly weren’t used to.

Most nights in the main dining room were casual dress. You’d see folks wearing everything from t-shirt and jeans to suits. This is when we went. We both brought a pair of dress pants and a nice shirt and were usually overdressed compared to other people. But given the formal service, it seemed appropriate.

We didn’t go to the two formal nights. And they were formal. Women wore their nicest dresses. Men wore suits or tuxedos. To us it seems weird to wear a tux in the Caribbean. No thanks.

Food in the main dining room was very hit or miss. Of course, they give everything fancy names and descriptions, but the quality usually didn’t match the fancy names. We had a steak one night that was crummy. We also had shrimp and mahi-mahi tempura (basically lightly fried shrimp/fish). It just wasn’t good. As in the buffet however, dessert was good to great.

Leaving the Ship

We loved the cruise, but the worst part was definitely leaving. Royal Caribbean gives numbered luggage tags for you to put on your bag and leave outside your cabin. Then, you depart the ship based the number on your luggage tags. In theory, that should mean everyone departs in stages. That was not the case.

Royal Caribbean lets you leave the ship first thing in the morning if you are carrying all your luggage with you. This is supposed to allow those with only a couple of small bags to leave early. Instead, everyone — even those with huge suitcases — took advantage.

The result was a huge line filled with people carrying more bags than they could handle. I would estimate it took us two hours to leave the ship and make it through customs.

As we left, we snapped one more picture of the Mariner of the Seas in the beautiful Texas sunshine:

IMG_2709 (Large) (Small)