This cruise was a celebration/gift for my sister’s 40th birthday. It was a girls’ trip and included my mom, two sisters and my niece (the adult daughter of the 40-year-old). This trip was bound to be good no matter what because I love these 4 ladies; they’re probably my favorite people to be with. However, our choice of a cruise with Royal Caribbean to these destinations really made it over-the-top awesome.
If you check out my Large Group Getaway Planning: Make It Work, you can learn all about how I tackle working with a number of parameters for booking a trip with lots of parties involved. For this trip, I was working with the following:
- Must be during summer (3 teachers in our bunch); ideally between July 22 – August 2 for various reasons
- 3 or 4 nights max (both of my sisters have kids, so being away for too long can be tough on the hubs who also have to work)
- Must be Royal (obvs – we’ve been Royal snobs since our first cruise in 2003)
- Must go somewhere tropical
That left us with a few choices and ultimately we landed on the Mariner of the Seas out of Miami to Cococay, Royal’s private island, and Nassau, Bahamas. As a bonus, we learned that the Mariner was undergoing refurbishment and that we’d be sailing on the upgraded boat only a few months after it was removed from dry docks. It was AWESOME. More on that later.
For this trip, we were trying to keep costs low because we all had other vacations over the summer that we had to budget for, so we pooled miles to get airline tickets. Thankfully, we were able to get all 5 at no cost. That said, our airline experience with American Airlines was absolutely horrendous and at one point, my sister and I were in different cities, hours apart, on the phone crying together because we didn’t think we were all going to be able to make the cruise. Yes, you’re probably thinking, “why didn’t you fly the night before, everyone knows that.” Suffice it to say, we couldn’t for various reasons, but we also had a 6am flight booked and had it not been cancelled for mechanical problems, we would have been fine.
That rant over, let’s get on to the fun planning. We decided to do shore excursions at both ports, in part because it was only a 3-night cruise and we wanted to make the absolute most of it. So, I did some research in My Cruise Planner and pulled all the shore excursions available at each location (all of those that we’d be interested, at least) and created an itinerary of options with pricing, descriptions and reminders of other things we’d have going on that day (one day my sister got a massage, we had a dinner reservation in the Main Dining Room each night, which I HIGHLY recommend, and there were specified times that the boat docked and departed each day). Check out what I created here.
You can also book your spa treatments, beverage or internet packages, or other onboard activities all through My Cruise Planner up to three days before sailing. Sometimes there are even sales and you can get things for a discounted price.
I took the itinerary and printed out copies for each of my traveling companions so we could review the options together, make a decision and I could book. I also found and printed a map of Cococay, which was helpful for us to see where different excursions would be in relation to other parts of the island. Finally, I printed out everyone’s pre-cruise paperwork, including the Set Sail pass and luggage tags. In order to access these, you must login on the website and enter your personal details, upload a headshot and provide credit card details for your onboard Seapass.
To keep it organized by person, and to have a little fun, I took some super cute Kate Spade folders I received as a gift, along with coordinating Kate Spade highlighters and binder clips (who knew there were such things!) and put together little planning packs for each person.
When I next saw my companions, I distributed the packs, we went through the itinerary and selected our excursions so I was able to book everything for us. We also decided to plan a few other things, like taking a shared big suitcase so we only had to check one bag, dividing up shared toiletries since we only had two rooms and how to bring the max of 4 bottles per wine (2 per stateroom). We were ready to go.
When we finally made it to the ship just in time (after a CRAZY morning), it was beautiful. Lots of pics below to give you a good idea. There were several things we liked about the Mariner of the Seas:
- Promenade – this was a three-story open area in the middle of the ship, so you could walk across it down the middle from front to back. They had lots of activities here including shows and a balloon drop. Lining the Promenade were bars, restaurants, a coffee shop, Ben & Jerry’s, a late night cafe and onboard shopping. There was also a beautiful grand staircase, which was great for pictures in our formal wear (pictured further down).
- Activities – So many cool things to do – we didn’t even have time to do them all; this ship had everything:
- Basketball court
- Racing water slides
- Flowrider Surfing or Boogie boarding
- Rock climbing wall
- Mini golf
- Adult and regular pools and hot tubs galore
- Hammock area
- Skypad Virtual Reality coolness
- Lilypad-like climbing things
- And so much more!
- Shows – in addition to the short, party-like shows in the Promenade, there were also great shows in the main theater, including comedians, singing and dancing, and there was even an ice skating rink! We didn’t see an on-ice show, but we did visit the rink for a very hilarious adult game show.
- The ship’s opulence – this was probably one of our favorite parts – the whole thing feels so extravagant and expensive and deluxe. In our normal life, we don’t enjoy a lot of luxury, so this is how we treat ourselves. Below are pics of one of the main staircases and our table in the Main Dining Room. As mentioned above, when you book your cruise, I encourage you to reserve a dining time. You can always do my time dining where you call and make a reservation on the day (not guaranteed) or eat at the Windjammer (always open) or one of the other restaurants (all of which incur an additional cost), but why not eat as much as you want of a 3-course meal with amazing servers?! It really is a no-brainer. Plus it’s fun to get all dressed up and go (but you don’t have to dress up anymore).
We also THOROUGHLY enjoyed our shore excursions. We picked the following:
- Beach Bungalows at Cococay – this was a great choice as well; since we had a group of 5, this was a perfect option as it was a flat rate up to 6 people; it included lunch, water, the covered couch, two sun loungers and two floating mats; we took a short shuttle to the secluded part of the island where these were located, but it was still close enough for us to walk/swim over to the floating bar for some drinks. Cococay is undergoing massive renovations to become A Perfect Day at Cococay, so these are probably some of the last pics where it will look like this on the way in
- Pearl Island with lunch – this excursion was great; the people who ran it was super nice and friendly (the bartender totally hooked us up), we had a delicious lunch, the scenery was gorgeous and they even had fun in-water activities like kayak, paddleboard, and a trampoline; a few of us had been to Nassau before, so we wanted to check out something away from the city and this was about a 30 minute boat ride away, which also provided a scenic tour of the area from the water; after we returned to Nassau, we still had some time to hit the famous Straw Market for souvenirs before heading back to the ship
Finally, the rooms, though small, were still pretty okay. Our room attendant was very nice and made us fun little towel animals! My sister had a great idea to bring the following items which definitely came in handy:
- Magnets – the walls are metal, so you can hang up the daily Cruise Compass that they provide with activities and times for the day
- Highlighter – there are so many activities to choose from, so use this to identify what you want to do from the Cruise Compass
- Hanging air freshener – just a simple one that you might put in your car; it helps keep the bathroom smelling fresh in such a small space after a few days onboard
We were very sad to end our vacation when we got back to Miami. We had about 5 hours to kill before our flight, so we decided to hit the Bayside Marketplace, which is about a 10-minute ride from the cruise port terminal. We shared some delicious appetizers and cold drinks at Segafredo, sat in the sun and played cards. Even though our cruise had ended, we were able to extend our vacation a little bit longer with this before we headed to MIA to go home.