Millennials, Mom and Me: Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas From Miami to the Bahamas
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Just in time for summer, Royal Caribbean rolled out a $120 million revamp one of its older ships, the Mariner of the Seas, to reach a market that wasn't originally interested in cruises: millennials. The (sorta) new ship is now photogenic from bow to stern, and it's complete with an escape room, a virtual-reality trampoline experience, Italian dining by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, an ice-skating rink and so much more.
Royal Caribbean found that millennials prefer to travel more frequently for shorter lengths at a time, which is why this particular ship is only bookable for short trips — three or four days — to the Bahamas. In fact, while I was on the cruise, I overheard someone reiterating this exact sentiment while explaining why they picked the Mariner of the Seas.
Personally, I love cruises and all that's involved in sailing on one, like making short-term friends, eating unlimited swirl froyo, and having the feeling that everything is at your fingertips. So I was excited to try out this newly refurbished one with my mom.
Cruise vacations are typically simple and stress-free, but when TPG wrote about the new millennial-geared cruise, millennials weren't quite sold. Even though Royal Caribbean (to me) had broken barriers of onboard excursions with the new ship, millennials were wary of cruise illnesses and being surrounded by children.
Since I was able to get a good idea of what millennials look for in a cruise, I kept in mind both my Gen Z perspective as a 19-year-old while still looking out for the concerns of the target generation while cruising through the Atlantic.
Ports of Call
Day 1: Miami
The cruise sailed out from my hometown, Miami, which I highly recommend exploring before the all aboard. Once on the ship, cruisers acquainted themselves with the onboard amenities, hopping in the pool and grabbing a bite to eat before the obligatory muster drill. All aboard was at 3:30pm in order for us to sail off by 4:30pm and arrive at CocoCay, Bahamas, in the morning.
Day 2: CocoCay, Bahamas
We anchored at CocoCay, a private island owned by Royal Caribbean, early in the morning. The island was small and quaint but not too small to accommodate the ship. The water was crystal-clear, too. My mom and I bought a two lounge chairs with a cover for the day, which came out to $45 for the two of us. Each land amenity, such as the chairs, was separated into different areas on the island, ideal for crowd control. It made for a quiet beach day, though it did seem slightly more chaotic near the entrance. Also, the buffet-style food on the island was some of the best of the trip.
Day 3: Nassau, Bahamas
Nassau was underwhelming unless you had bought some type of land amenity. Although the water was as pretty as it was at CocoCay, it seemed to be more of a drinking destination, and I noticed that more people stayed on the ship at Nassau than at CocoCay. The upside was that I was able to order my first legal drink at Nassau!
We first scanned prices on CruiseCompete.com, but when prices weren't significantly better than purchasing directly through Royal Caribbean, we opted for the latter.
We hit a roadblock while booking, though. Right as we were about to pay on Royal Caribbean's site, a notice popped up that I couldn't cruise alone because I was under 21. The restriction wasn't clear until at that very point of booking. This meant that I needed someone over 21 to accompany me.
Thankfully, my family is from Miami, where the ship set sail from, and my mom was able to take a couple days off for a last-minute vacation. She wasn't too upset about it, either.
For the two of us, an ocean-view stateroom came out to $1,300. This was definitely on the pricey side, but we had a very limited window in which we could sail and we booked at the last minute. We used the Chase Sapphire Reserve for the booking and earned a total of 3,900 Ultimate Rewards points, which are worth about $82 according to TPG's latest valuations.
After booking, my mom and I also purchased a couple amenities through Royal Caribbean's online cruise-planning feature. We both got a fountain-drink package to save money on beverages, which came out to about $10 per day per person, and I got Wi-Fi for my two devices, which came out to about $25 per day.
If you know you definitely don't want to miss something you need a reservation for, I'd do it online through Royal Caribbean in advance, though the company sometimes offers deals while you're on the ship.
The boarding process started at around 11:30am and went until 4:30pm, when the ship set sail. We made it to the terminal our ship was docked at, unloaded our bags from the car and went inside. Boarding was fairly easy, and we never had to wait for more than a couple minutes.
When we walked inside the terminal, there were three lanes of attendants quickly checking our boarding passes and passports.
Once we were cleared to go, we made our way up an escalator and hit a room dedicated to security. The line for security went quickly. There were several checkpoints that dispersed travelers and made the experience a breeze — no need for a cruising version of TSA PreCheck.
After passing through security, we made it to the last step before crossing from the terminal to the ship: actually checking in. Before handing over our room key (and everything else), the check-in agent asked if we had been sick recently, which was only the first indication of an emphasis on health and cleanliness aboard the Mariner of the Seas. Since we were healthy, this was not a problem.
We confirmed the card that our purchases would be charged to, and then we were on our way from the terminal to the ship.
The ocean-view room was what I expected it to be. We were on the third deck, which had decent-sized portholes. Our room also had a lot of mirrors, which seemed to make the small room larger and reflected the ocean views throughout the room.
The focal point of the cabin was the bed, which sat at the center of the back wall. On the left wall was a desk/vanity with cabinets and drawers as well as a closet. The right wall had a chair, a connecting door and the bathroom.
The simplicity of the white bedding was a safe choice, but I will say that it looked nice against our window view.
The view was gorgeous the entire trip, despite it being comparatively small to what you'd get from a stateroom with a balcony.
There was a connecting door to the room beside ours, which let in unwanted noise when our neighbors decided to pack at 2:00am on our last morning — and let's just say they weren't too delicate. Situations like this can be expected, considering the thin walls on the ship.
The vanity had eight small drawers, a mini-fridge and a couple of cabinets. There were also two panel lights on the vanity mirror. The TV was on a mount that allowed it to turn toward the bed.
The closet had quite a bit of hanging space considering the size of the room at large.
The bathroom was comparable to the shared bathroom in my college dorm. It wasn't an ounce more than it needed to be, but it did the job. And it could only really accommodate one person at a time, which is another reason why it was helpful for the bedroom to have the vanity and full-length mirrors.
The shower had a handheld shower head, a soap holder, a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner pump and a grab bar. The water pressure and temperature were good throughout the trip.
One annoying but excusable part about our room was the location. On the third deck, cruisers couldn't cross from the back to the front of the ship, meaning if we came down from the aft elevators or stairs, we would have to get off at the fourth deck, cross through the smoky casino to the forward of the ship and then take the stairs or elevator down to the third deck. We quickly got used to it, but it was a bit of an inconvenience.
The amenities seemed to be meticulously placed on the Mariner of the Seas. Throughout our three-day trip, my mom and I were surprised at how infrequently we saw children on board. I also noticed quite a few millennials on board.
We thought that either Royal Caribbean was so successful in marketing to its target audience that people felt compelled to not take their kids, that the layout of the ship was able to keep the different age groups in different sectors of the ship, or a lovely combination of both.
The main pool area was the largest section of the ship dedicated to swimming, making it pretty crowded, but it never seemed to get significantly worse than pictured below.
There were two big pools in the area. The one on the left was a bit bigger, with two small hot tubs to the left of it. The pool on the right was smaller and had two large hot tubs right behind it with shades. Up front was a venue for live music, where steel drums welcomed cruisers on day one.
The view from the opposite side shows a bit more of the seating in the pool area. You also may notice that the pools had ledges around the perimeter, which was perfect for those who wanted to cool off but weren't ready to commit to swimming.
Tons of seating faced the pool. There were also two bars facing the pool, which were popular throughout the cruise.
The main pool area also had seating besides the typical pool loungers. On the deck facing the pool sat trendy couches and chairs set with comfy cushions and pillows.
On the upper deck were tons more inviting loungers. I noticed that the chairs that were directly exposed to the sun weren't used as often during the day, since it was so hot outside. Shade or proximity to the pool seemed to guide people's lounging preferences.
One of Royal Caribbean's schemes to bring millennials on board included a pool for adults only in an area they called the solarium. It lay toward the front of the ship, only steps from the main pool area, which sat toward the middle of the deck. It had its own bar, too.
The cruise line's website said that only passengers over 21 were allowed in the solarium, but it didn't take any sneaking at all for me to get in as a 19-year-old. (That said, I didn't see one child in the area for the entirety of the cruise.) Plus, it never got significantly crowded.
This pool also had the relaxing ledges that I (and other cruisers) enjoyed.
The solarium had two large hot tubs on either side of the pool.
The solarium also had by far the coolest seating arrangements on the ship. Cushioned beds with eight pillows would, at a beach, cost tons to rent for a day, but they were at the disposal of passengers throughout the whole cruise. They were used a lot, but there was always at least one available. Definitely Instagram-worthy.
At the back of the ship — opposite the solarium — lay the area for kids. It's where the waterslides, Flowrider and Sky Pad were. Sounds like the location was no coincidence, right?
The Mariner of the Seas had two waterslides, which both had portions of transparent tubing, so you could see out as you slid down. They both hovered over the ship's edge, above the water. I was able to try one of them out and had a blast.
The Mariner of the Seas had an addition that I was excited to try: the Sky Pad. Behind the slides and Flowrider, a yellow-orange orb-like structure held four trampolines and bungee cords. Ages 5 and up were allowed to jump, and ages 7 and up were allowed to experience the bungeeing via a virtual-reality headset. Naturally, I had to test it out.
There were three games to choose from on the VR, and I chose the candy-themed one where (you guessed it!) I jumped on various candies. The game was only about three minutes long, which wasn't a lot considering the 30-minute wait time.
Overall, the Sky Pad was exhilarating and innovative, albeit short. I think it would've been just as fun without the headset, though, since it was propped high up on the boat. I'd love to see the views without the VR headset.
My mom and I booked our reservations for the astrology-themed escape room, the Observatorium, as soon as we were able to get into Royal Caribbean's online cruise planner days before we boarded the ship. It was $20 per person, but totally worth it. In fact, it was probably my favorite activity on the ship.
Our group was able to crack the code with three minutes to spare, which was pretty impressive because the game only had a 35% pass rate. According to the attendant watching us, we had a slow start. We must've pulled it together well, though, considering our win.
Without spoiling the game, I can say the effects, set and plot were all high-quality. My mom and I decoded, collaborated and solved equations algebraically. Yes, you heard that correctly: I accessed my middle-school math knowledge to pull our team together. I must give a shout out to my former algebra teacher, Mrs. Earle, for that one.
Overall, I felt like the escape room was a perfect fit for the cruise. It allowed us to meet people in an unlikely, fun way without it being awkward. My only tiny complaint is that the astrology theme was never connected to the ship, which seemed like an obvious opportunity. It was about another planet when it could've been about using the stars to navigate the ship. (Hire me, Royal Caribbean!)
My mom and I attended a pampering session on day two at the spa and fitness center. It was a free DIY minifacial featuring the spa's products. I personally enjoyed the hourlong skincare conversation and the products. That's all I intended to get from the experience, but, as you probably already guessed, they got me with a good deal for an actual spa service.
Both my mom and I ended up booking a 50-minute minifacial and massage for the following day, which came out to around $120 including taxes and tips. Even though the massage wasn't described as full-body (it only mentioned neck, shoulders, hands, etc.), it essentially was a full-body massage. Also, the minifacial turned out to be more of a full facial.
The service was great. They went well over 50 minutes for both my mom and me, so the price was justified. Plus, the masseuses were well-trained and left me feeling rejuvenated. I do wish they'd been less pushy selling the skincare products, though.
Food and Beverage
Preceding each dining area, the ship had checkpoints to wash your hands, from simple hand-sanitizer dispensers to an entire hand-wash area before entering the Windjammer. The emphasis on cleanliness was presented as anything but an afterthought.
You couldn't enter the Windjammer without passing through an entire room of sinks like the one below. Oftentimes, an attendant was there to make sure that everyone partook in the hand washing.
Even at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island, there were places to sanitize around the buffet stations.
The Windjammer was just like any cruise's typical buffet. The food was comparable to my university's dining hall, which I would rate highly, considering the volume of people it feeds. There were many options, lots of seating, and it was nice for a quick bite to eat. The food wasn't spectacular, but I enjoyed what I ate there. I also appreciated that there was no shortage of fresh fruit while I was on board.
You could either choose to eat dinner at the same time every evening or you could opt into a flexible schedule. My mom and I opted for the latter, which we took advantage of the first and last evenings on the cruise.
The dining room on the ship was huge, and eating there meant a three-course meal: appetizer, main course and dessert. Both nights, the food was pretty solid. We picked from seafood to steak to salads and tried cheesecakes and creme brûlées for dessert.
I enjoyed having a more fancy sit-down dinner in the evenings, but my mom and I noticed that the food took a lot of time. The entire experience was spaced out over two hours, and our reservations reflected that. The last evening we showed up a little early for dinner and kindly asked for a more sped-up experience so that we could catch the ice-skating show. Our waiter made it happen without a problem, but we found it strange that the default dining time was so long.
One of the restaurants that the Mariner of the Seas showcased was Jamie's Italian, right beside the Windjammer. I was excited to try it out as a lover of Italian food, and I was especially psyched that all of the pasta was made fresh. The meal was prix fixe at $35 and included an appetizer, entree, side and dessert.
As an appetizer, I picked out a charcuterie board, which was presented atop two cans of tomato sauce. My mom opted for a tomato bruschetta, which was absolutely phenomenal. Seriously, it was some of the best bruschetta I've had.
For the main course, the waiter offered to give me small portions of two pastas when I had a hard time picking between the two. One was a classic carbonara, the other was a full-flavored mushroom pasta. Both were delicious, and it showed that the pasta was made in-house on board. The meal also came with a side, so I chose a caprese salad, which hit the spot.
For dessert, I got a brownie for my chocolate fix.
Overall, the dinner was more than up to par, and the service was great.
Despite a couple minor issues, I truly enjoyed my time on the Mariner of the Seas. It was the perfect short escape for me, and even though it was quick, there was so much to do on board that I never felt like time was being wasted. I also appreciated how thoughtful Royal Caribbean was in taking into account what millennials look for in a cruise. Adults and kids rarely crossed paths, and there was an obvious emphasis on cleanliness throughout the cruise.
All images by the author.