Mariner of the Seas…Amplified!

Just returned from a quick 3 night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. I booked this ship so I could check out the new “Amplified!” options. The itinerary was one I had done many times before so this trip was all about the ship.

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We arrived at Port of Miami at about 10:30am. Earlier than our planed 11am check in time, but we had to check out of our hotel so it was either sit in the lobby of the DoubleTree or at the port so we headed over. They checked us in immediately and we spent about 30 minutes in the lounge until boarding began. We were the literal first people on board…that the first time that has happened to me!!

The ship is beautiful!

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The buffet has been completely redone – New “washy washy” stations so you don’t have to use that anti-bacterial goo that usually sits outside the entrance.

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New fancy seating areas

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And one of my favorite bars on the entire ship…never busy, great drinks, and cool bartenders!  I hesitate even telling you, because really its great…with one little tiny exception.  See those bar stools?  They are the highest bar stools I have ever had to climb on to.  And if you sit there and have, say three martinis, you may forget exactly how high they are and miss the floor on your way down.  Especially if you are just a smidge over 5 feet tall.  But since the bar is never busy no one will ever know!

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The Solarium pool area got some cool new seating too!

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And of course the Amplified! additions:

Water slides!

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A really neat mini golf course:

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And one of the main attractions…the sky pad!

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Some other new activities that we were not able to get to on this short trip include the Escape Room and the Laser Tag Arena.  However, I will be back on board in January with my 16 year old son, so I am sure I will have the opportunity to see them then!

There are also some new concept bars. There is the Bamboo Room – a rum based, tiki style bar complete with talking macaws, plastic flamingos and a LCD porthole to give you a constant view of a tropical paradise outside.

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This balloon sign will eventually be replaced with a more permanent Insta sign, but even as balloons, almost everyone that walked in took a picture here!

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The menu was certainly rum based, but the bartenders could pretty much make you anything.  The bar also offers some small bites for a fee.  We did not try any of these, but they do look good!!

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Another new bar is Playmakers, a sports bar.  Surprisingly we spent a ton of time here, but usually when the bar was closed as the TV’s were on regardless and it was opening weekend of the Premier League soccer season (soccermom travels, after all!).  This bar also has bar snacks for an additional fee but I did not get a picture of the menu there.  Basically its typical bar bites: wings, sliders, etc.  This bar was very often packed when it was open and it felt like the bartenders had a hard time keeping up…but maybe it was just me!  They also have some cool bar games, they were free when we were there but that may not always be the case.

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They also had mini games on each table, Connect Four and mini Corn Hole.  I believe that this will remain one of the more popular spots.

In my next post, I will review the three specialty restaurants on board.  We purchased the Ultimate Dining plan so we ate every night in a different restaurant.  Two of them were new for us and pretty much new to Royal so stay tuned!

 

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Two Majestic Trips…One Review!

Because I spend quite a bit of time in the casino when I cruise…and because I don’t often win…Royal Caribbean sometimes takes pity on me and gives me certificates for free cruises.  These are not big, fancy week long cruises on their big, fancy ships.  They are usually 3 or 4 day cruises on the older, smaller ships…but hey! They’re free!!

I had booked a cruise for February and wanted to take my father for his birthday (his birthday is really in October, and I made him a really cool card!) See:

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But then…In January, he found out that his work would not give him the time off so my brother got the spot instead.  (Dad gets a much better cruise later on, but you’ll have to wait for that one!)  So that is the first Majesty cruise.  A three night trip to Nassau and Cococay.  Certainly a quick trip, but Port Canaveral is not too bad a drive so easy enough for a weekend get-away

Then, I got another certificate in the mail for a free cruise so I hatched a plan to use this one for bribery!  I needed to pick up my son from college in Ft. Lauderdale and move him back home for the summer.  I drive a SUV, but my BIL drives a BIG SUV!  So I thought, “If I take him on the cruise, he will go with me the rest of the way from Port Canaveral to Ft. Lauderdale, help me move the kid out of the dorm, then we can split the drive back home!” It was a genius idea!  But that’s not how it worked out…It was even better than that!

You see, while we were on that first Majesty cruise, my brother earned a certificate for money off a future cruise so we decided to book a second cabin for the May four night cruise and bring Katie along as well!  Then I was able to get Jarod to convince a local college buddy to store some of his stuff over the summer, so now I didn’t need the big SUV.  It all worked out really well, mostly!

So since both cruises went to the same places, on the same ship I am going to combine them into one review…that may or may not work but we’ll see how it goes!

First up, a quick pit stop at Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar. Why? Because boarding doesn’t start until 11am so what else are you supposed to do?  Everyone needs a pre-boarding drink!  And a quick picture!

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The Majesty of the Seas is an older, smaller ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.  But they have made some upgrades, most notably on the pool deck where the addition of water slides was a big hit with the Under Six member of our party!

Another big hit with the Pre-K crowd was our stateroom attendant’s mastery of the famed “Towel Animal” left in the room after evening turndown service.  I am lucky that I have always had really good stateroom attendants and these two cruises were no different!  Here is one of our nightly visitors!

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As a quick side note…I left those sunglasses on the plane ride to Barcelona so if you flew American Airlines last month and found those awesome Minnie Mouse glasses in the seat pocket, can I have them back please?

But back to the Majesty.  Our itinerary was the same on both cruises but in different order.  In addition, the four day cruise also had a day at sea, while the three day cruise just had the port stops.  So first up…Cococay, Bahamas.  Royal Caribbean’s private island.  This is a tender port, which means you have to get off your big ship, onto a smaller ship in order to get to the island.  Really like a water taxi service.  Because of this, tender ports are susceptible to weather disruptions and are often missed.  We had amazing weather on both cruises so we were able to visit twice.

Here is what the Majesty looks like from the tender boat.  The water around the island is not deep enough for her to pull closer so she really does have to park a bit away.

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And that little boat by her side that looks like a barnacle is one of the tenders.  But they really are a nice little ride, provided the water is not choppy.  You can see our seas looked like glass. Nice and smooth!

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And here is a little part of the island.  This has been totally built by Royal Caribbean so everything and everyone on the island works for the cruise line.  This makes for a nice sanitized day at the beach, which is great and I really like Cococay, but sometimes I miss local flavors and stuff like that.  Still, it is beautiful.

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We had some cloud cover as you can see, but it never rained.  A newer addition to the island is the floating bar.  Basically a tiki hut that floats by the shore.  It is connected by a giant chain so if the water gets rough, they can reel it in.

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It does have a limit on how many people can be on it at one time…presumably so it doesn’t sink…so they kind of do a “one off, one on” scenario once it gets full.  I haven’t actually been out there yet, but it certainly looks cool!

Next up, we headed to Nassau.  If you have read my previous review of Nassau, you may grasp that I have not had the best of luck there! So sometimes I don’t even get off the ship anymore, but this May I had a goal…Pirate Republic Brewery.  It is right by the port and I love tasting local beers so that was my mission.  In addition, the beach soccer world cup was going on that week and while the day we were there was the rest day, so no games, I did want to see if I could find a t-shirt or something from the event…It is Soccer Mom Travels after all!

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Looks like we got the best parking spot!  And look!!! Right there!!  Pirate Republic Brewery!!  How close is that!!

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Off we headed to find soccer stuff then stop for a nice frosty local beer…ah the best laid plans.  Seems I have no luck in Nassau at all.  We tried to get a taxi over to the stadium since the vendors were telling us that the only place that would sell t-shirts like that were over at the stadium, but then the taxi driver said that the vendors wouldn’t even be open because there were no games.  Sigh.  Okay so that plan is shot…at least I still have my frosty local beer to look forward to, right??

Um. No.

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While I heartily applaud the policy of not drinking and voting, this would once again add to my luck in Nassau.  So once again I am leaving Nassau without doing any of the things I actually planned to do.  Lucky I still have two more trips scheduled with stops in Nassau.  I will get to you yet Pirate Republic!

Overall, I really do like these short cruises on the smaller ships.  I am very lucky to live within driving distance which makes it possible to do these.  Next up?  Freedom of the Seas in the Western Mediterranean.  Spoiler…Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds!

Conquest in the Caribbean…6 (and last!)

After our two new cool ports, we have a sea day on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale.  We have already discussed that I really like sea days, both for relaxing and because they always have kinda corny, but usually fun activities for people to take part in if they choose.  My activity du jour is the famed Mixology class with the AMAZING bartenders at the Alchemy Bar.

This class was run by Kat, our bartender from Belarus.  I originally had not signed up for the class because I’ve been a bartender, do I really need a mixology class?  As it turns out…maybe.

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Arriving at class, I am greeted by these three little, tiny martini glasses…DON’T BE FOOLED!!! Kat (shown here looking deceptively innocent) will fill those glasses up at least 17 times before you leave.

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First up is the Mint Martini…there was quite a bit of technical information given about gin and I am positive that Kat thoroughly discusses the intricacies of muddling and straining and all that important stuff.  But the biggest lie I tell myself is “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember that!” And then 17 martinis (small ones…don’t judge) later I need one of those stickers with my name on it so I don’t forget that!

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That was followed by the Cucumber Sunrise…As you can see, my straining skills need work! But I had already finished a full glass (the pint glass in the back, not the little martini ones) of the gin mint thing and was partway through the pint of the cucumber vodka one so my real goal was to not fall off the barstool.

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Oh!  I know what will help!! Caffeine!  So Kat graciously provided us with espresso bean infused vodka…hmmm…maybe I didn’t think this all the way through.

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Alright…real talk between friends?  I have no idea what this one was.  The only reason I know I was still there are the pictures!  But I am going to hazard a guess and say that I liked this one…I usually like pink drinks!

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And finally, the green one I don’t remember!  At some point we learned about infusing the cocktail with bubbles instead of adding a carbonated mixer…that was cool.  And  I must have survived all the way to the end because I came home with this:

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So I am clearly competent to mix you a drink…or drink what you mix…or something!  All said and done it was really a fun class, great instructor in Kat, great group of other participants, and believe it or not, I did learn new stuff too!

After this class, however, I had to go back to the cabin a take a nap before dinner!  Our last dinner on board was in the Main Dining Room and then it was time to leave.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cruise.  There were things that Carnival does better than Royal Caribbean and things that Royal does better.  At the end of the day, I have added a new cruise line to my sailing options!  In fact, I already have two more cruises booked on Carnival.  But next up is my favorite Royal Caribbean ship, Freedom of the Seas in the Mediterranean!!!!

Conquest in the Caribbean…5

As I mentioned in my previous post, I do love the relaxation of sea days.  However, we have two new port stops on this cruise and I am pretty excited about them!

First up, Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.  Amber Cove is a port built by and for Carnival Cruise Lines.  It opened in 2015 and has made this part of the DR a pretty cool stop!

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Entry to Amber Cove – beware, its a long walk!

The port area is 25 acres, with a 4 acre waterpark that is free to use.  In addition, there are shops, restaurants, a zip line, and a really cool 360 degree hill top bar that came about when Carnival found a giant piece of granite right where they wanted to build…with a twisty water slide way to get down!!

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Waterslide down from the Hilltop Bar

One major thing that I think Carnival did right was to play up the untouched, amazing landscape, so amazing in fact, it was used for scenery in the original Jurassic Park movie.  It is easy to imagine this place as a habitat for dinos!!

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And of course plenty of references to the port’s namesake, Amber.

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There is the usual shopping available, and also a nod to the Dominican culture and a little office that will stamp your passport!

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I thought this was a really neat little port, it has some room to grow, and when it does, it will probably lose some of its charm.  Until then, enjoy the charm!

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My second new port is Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos.  This port was also built to be a cruise ship destination and it is a bit more established than Amber Cove, but still similar.

Here there is a Margaritaville, well established beaches, a huge pool complex, several restaurants and bars along the beach, and a Flow Rider surf simulator!!

Grand Turk also has the most amazing clear water, and plenty of it near the dock.  Unlike Amber Cove, there is plenty of beach real estate for swimming, water sports, beach massage, and of course tanning!

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A quick (okay, not quick) walk down the beach takes you to Jack’s Shack Grand Turk.  A local institution and absolute must see!  If your not tempted by the beach fare (try the Jerk Chicken!), or the icy cold cocktails (who doesn’t need a Reef Recker at 9am?) then swing by and say hi to Topher, the most amazing beach dog you will ever meet!! Oh!  Did I mention they will give you a free shot of local rum just for showing up?? Just sign in and print the coupon before you leave!

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Jack’s Shack – Cause you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning!

Another GT legend is the Splashdown Park.  The story is that astronaut John Glenn splashed down his space capsule off Grand Turk’s shoreline in 1962.  There is a tribute to that right at the port, and its kinda fun!

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This is a great selfie spot…but I’ll spare you those!

And of course there is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.  And actually having been to several different ones, in several different ports, this on is my favorite so far.  I had lunch here and a couple of local beers…both pretty good!

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Add to that, the swim up bar and this is pretty much a great beach day!

Back on board for one more sea day…and I’ve signed up for the Alchemy Bar Mixology Class…Stay tuned!!!

Conquest in the Caribbean…4

Ah, Sea Days.  For some people, it is the best part of the cruise; some people would be happy to have none.  I like them just fine.  Sailing along in the middle of the ocean with nothing to do but relax, have some cocktails, soak up the sun.  If you love them or if you don’t, it still beats a day at work!

First up, Sea Day Brunch.  Among Carnival regulars, there are some pretty famous staples on this menu: the Funnest French Toast for one, and of course the Bloody Mary Bar!  However, I chose the Steak & Eggs…I mean, Bearnaise!  My general rule is if something comes with Bearnaise, I order it.  This rule has never let me down, and it didn’t today either!  The filet was perfectly cooked, the eggs were okay and the Bearnaise was awesome!!!  I really don’t even remember what everyone else had, mine was that good.  Thusly fortified, we were ready to begin the serious business of relaxing.

Even though it was January, we were in the Caribbean so the sun seekers were out in full force.  Chairs around the pool were at a premium…BUT!! Chairs around the bar were plentiful and it was nice and quiet in the adults only aft pool.  Extra bonus: my bartender from the Steakhouse last night works days at the aft pool bar…Yay! Javorka!!

Mom eventually found me although she popped in and out in between trivia, but for the bulk of the day, I sat and read my Kindle and really just relaxed.  As a single mom, that doesn’t happen often!

Eventually, I headed back to my cabin to get ready for dinner.  I had a very important mission this evening…discover the Alchemy Bar.

The Alchemy Bar is a specialized bar on some Carnival ships.  No beer, no wine, no frozen drinks.  But the bartenders are the best in the business and their specialty is matching a cocktail to your taste.  They are VERY good at their jobs!  It was here I met my other favorite bartender (its not weird that my favorite people are all bartenders, is it?).  Kat from Belarus.

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She won my heart when she made me this amazing Espresso Martini.  Yep, those are chocolate covered espresso beans on top!! It was love at first sip!  Needless to say, I spent a good deal of time here and in fact took the mixologist class which I will talk about later because tonight is CHEF’S TABLE!

I have loved Chef’s Table on every other ship that I’ve tried it on , so I was really excited to try it on the Conquest!  First up was a kitchen tour.  Since this a working kitchen during dinner service, the tour was quite interesting…and busy!  We finished by having champagne and small bites before making our way to the private dining room set up for us.

Once we got to our table, everyone had an assigned seat with a personalized menu.

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See those bread things at the top?  Those are blue cheese popovers…Those are amazing and if you ever get to a Carnival Chef’s Table, you should immediately sneeze on them or something so you get the whole tray!

We then worked our way down the menu.  At each course, the Chef would talk a bit about what we were eating.  The servers kept the wine glasses full, although there were only two choices, a white or a red.  On previous cruises, the Chef’s Table is also a wine tasting so there is a different wine with each course, but not on Carnival.  That’s okay, the food was pretty darn interesting on its own.

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Crab Stack
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Duck Textures
Crazy molecular gastronomy going on here!
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First time trying sweetbreads.
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As if there’s room for dessert!!

Needless to say, we barely rolled back to our cabin.  Overall, while I would have liked to have a wine pairing with each course, the food was amazing and I will certainly be doing the Chef’s Table dinner on Carnival again!

So next…I promise we did go places…really cool places I’d never been before!  I’ll tell you about them next!