Royal Caribbean International is raising the bar on short cruises from South Florida, starting this summer with the Mariner of the Seas, fresh off of a $120 million Royal Amplified refurbishment.
The upgrades mean that not only will the 3,114-passenger Mariner be the largest ship in the three- and four-day market, it will be one of the most full-featured.
Previously, Royal Caribbean devoted ships such as the Majesty of the Seas to the short-cruise product. These ships were generally among the smallest and least modern in its fleet. Although guests rated the Majesty well, it wasn't because of its hardware.
"Majesty was older, and it didn't have the chills and the thrills this one does," said Christina Pinto of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Boca Raton, Fla., after a tour and ice show on the Mariner for travel agents last month.
The package of improvements had already been in the market for several weeks by the time the launch took place.
"I've had good feedback from people who have sailed already," said Roberta Schwartz, a Cruise Planners franchisee in Plantation, Fla.
Among the new features, one of the most visible is the Skypad trampoline/bungee/virtual reality combination on the top deck that figures to be Royal's rock climbing wall for the coming decade.
Housed in a 30-foot, perforated sphere made of marine-grade aluminum, the brightly painted Skypad is an intriguing structure to anyone seeing the ship from a distance, especially lit up at night.
Within the Skypad are four bungee harnesses fastened to the sphere and suspended over one-person trampolines. Riders can bound up and down on the trampolines safely guided by the harnesses, either with or without a set of virtual reality goggles that add a fourth dimension to the already rich experience.
The Skypad is part of a makeover of the rear of the sports deck that also includes the addition of waterslides and a FlowRider surfing simulator.
Another attraction at the top of the ship is the Observatorium, an escape room game in the former chapel that gives groups a limited amount of time to decipher clues and get out of a locked room.
Farther down, the Mariner has gained two new bars. One, Playmakers Sports Bar and Arcade, is a version of a feature first added to the Symphony of the Seas, a newer, larger ship. The other, unique to the Mariner for the moment, is the Polynesian-themed Bamboo Room, a tiki bar on the Royal Promenade. It's a retro hangout with umbrella drinks to spare and certainly an upgrade over the retail space previously there.
The Mariner of the Seas features a new ice show, “Ice Under the Big Top,” in Studio B. Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst
And in the depths of the ship, in Studio B, Royal has developed Escape From Planet Z, a laser tag game. That's in addition to a terrific new ice show, "Ice Under the Big Top," excerpts of which were previewed for agents.
Before the show, Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, said the Mariner is positioned to draw more new-to-cruise guests. "We need to get people who have never thought about a cruise vacation to kind of take a test drive with us, and we thought putting this magnificent hardware in the short-cruise market would do exactly that," she said.
After three weeks in service, Royal was sourcing a higher percentage of first-time cruisers on the Mariner than on any other ship, she said.
Part of that might have to do with pricing and perceived value. "It's almost like having a brand new ship but at old prices," said Kyle DeDomenico of Cruise Planners in Boca Raton.
Beyond attracting those new to cruise, another function of the Mariner is to serve as a delivery vehicle for Royal's vastly improved CocoCay private island, which is being upgraded with a waterpark, a pier, a wave pool and several other attractions.
Freed warned that the prices won't last.
"Right now the prices are very low for all of the ships that are calling at CocoCay, but once we start to ramp up, the prices will go higher because it's such a great attraction," Freed said. "So if you have clients that are thinking about 2019, book them now because they won't find prices like you currently see."
The Mariner will be the short cruise offering from Miami through May, when the next ship to receive Royal Amplified upgrades, the Navigator of the Seas, will take its place. The Mariner will then be redeployed on short cruises from Port Canaveral.