Inside Royal Caribbean’s $120 Million Mariner of the Seas Overhaul

One of the cruise line’s oldest ships is packed with new thrills for the ultimate weekend getaways.

Mariner of the Seas
As the result of $120 million in renovations, Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas is packed with new restaurants and staterooms, as well as a bevy of entertainment options.Royal Caribbean

If you’ve ever watched Overhaulin’ (the reality TV series that transforms cars past their prime into modern masterpieces), then you get the makeover concept. The best part? The Big Reveal, which gives viewers an up-close look at the revamped ride.

That’s how I felt when I boarded Royal Caribbean’s 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas recently. I took my first cruise on the same ship about 15 years ago with my mom for a four-day jaunt to the Bahamas with a stopover at its private island called CocoCay. I had such a great time and was so impressed with the ship, that I wanted to replicate the experience with my husband and two sons—complete with a stop at the recently revamped CocoCay.

While Mariner of the Seas, a Voyager class cruise ship, impressed me the first time around, it blew me away on my recent trip, thanks to $120 million in renovations completed last year. (In fact, Royal Caribbean is reimagining its fleet with a $1 billion investment as part of its Royal Amplified program, which spans 10 ships in four years.) For its Big Reveal, Mariner of the Seas amped up its offerings from top to bottom, including new experiences, additional bars and restaurants, new and upgraded staterooms, and top-notch entertainment.

Taking its maiden voyage in 2003, the 15-deck Mariner of the Seas is one of the cruise line’s older ships. After spending about a month in Spain for refurbishments, Mariner of the Seas emerged as the largest ship offering three- and four-night cruises and bursting with more amenities.

“At Royal Caribbean, we believe in the constant pursuit of adventure and that every weekend is an opportunity to experience something new and live life to its fullest,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International, prior to the Big Reveal last summer. “With the new Mariner of the Seas, we invite travelers to weekend like they really mean it and make the most of a short getaway than they even thought was possible.”

If you haven’t sailed on Mariner of the Seas in a while, let me share what I discovered on my “welcome back” cruise.

Sports-Deck Thrills

FlowRider
Guests can hang ten on the FlowRider surfing simulator, or take on the Perfect Storm, a pair of racer waterslides measuring three stories high.Royal Caribbean

On the ship’s top deck, a sports area beckons you to get off your lounge chair and get active.

Sky Pad: At end of the sports area, you’ll find the colorful Sky Pad, which pairs virtual reality with a trampoline and bungee experience. This gigantic, 30-foot, aluminum sphere holds up to four guests, each harnessed into a bungee suspended over a mini-trampoline. Either enjoy the stunning view from your perch atop the ship or pop on a set of virtual reality goggles, which transports you to an out-of-this-world experience bouncing over moon craters.

FlowRider: Get in line to hang ten on the cruise line’s signature 40-foot-long surf simulator. If you’re not brave enough to hop on a mini-surfboard yourself, it’s just as much fun watching others attempt to crush those waves—or wipe out trying.

The Perfect Storm: See who can zip down fastest on a duo of three-story-high spiraling waterslides (with see-through tubes in some parts) dubbed Cyclone and Typhoon.

Active Indoor Fun

Observatorium escape room
The Observatorium escape room challenges guests to work together to complete the mystery experience in an hour or less.Royal Caribbean

If you need a break from the sun, head indoors for some fun group activities.

Escape Room: Work together with friends and family in The Observatorium, Royal Caribbean’s newest escape room challenge. Search for hidden clues to solve a series of high-tech puzzles as you work against the clock (just 60 minutes!) to unravel the mystery.

Laser Tag: Wear your brightly colored clothes for this epic glow-in-the-dark Battle for Planet Z, a fast-paced game where you’re surrounded by inflatable obstacles as you hunt down your opponents with high-tech laser guns.

Dining & Libations

Playmakers
Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade offers a hometown sports bar experience on the high seas.Royal Caribbean

With three dozen restaurants, bars, and lounges to choose from, you’ll find plenty to please your palate. While the complimentary main dining rooms offer stellar culinary delights at every meal, your taste buds might want to explore something new while onboard.

Jamie’s Italian. If you’re craving fresh, handmade, and rustic Italian fare, head to this specialty restaurant inspired by Britain’s famed Chef Jamie Oliver.

Izumi Hibachi and Sushi. For an upscale Asian-inspired dining experience, you’ll enjoy the authentic flavors of hibachi, sushi, and sashimi.

Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade. No need to miss your favorite game! Since our cruise fell during college football season, we were thrilled to discover we didn’t have to miss cheering for our home team—University of Central Florida. The sports bar was ablaze with more than two dozen TV screens, making it easy to grab a table, order some munchies, and watch the game. (Go Knights!)

The Bamboo Room. Not a sports fan? Head to this retro restaurant with a laidback Polynesian vibe, serving up hand-crafted cocktails.

Fortunately, some things remained the same. For instance, we could still score a deliciously tropical Bahama Mama from the poolside bar—the perfect drink to kick off our launch from Port Canaveral, Florida. And the always-bustling Royal Promenade, day or night, provides plenty of options for live music, shopping, special events, bars, and restaurants.

Outdoor movie theater
Nothing beats movie night under the stars.Royal Caribbean

Plus, we couldn’t get enough of the activities and entertainment, from the nine-hole mini-golf course and 40-foot rock-climbing wall to the dive-in nighttime movies and fitness center. (Truly, hopping on a treadmill never appealed to me more than when I had an ocean-front view!) We loved the multiple pools and hot tubs (yay, for the adults-only options!) and a full-sized basketball court (perfect for the pick-up soccer games my son enjoyed). And the variety of entertainment rounded out the fun, including a circus-around-the-world themed ice-skating show, the hilarious stand-up comedy show, and a risqué marriage-focused audience participation show à la The Newlywed Game.

Royal Caribbean regularly garners “Best Cruise Line Overall” in the Travel Weekly Readers’ Choice Awards. It’s easy to see why—they’ve raised the bar on short getaway cruises.

Lisa Beach is a seasoned freelance writer. Her work has been published in The New York Times, USA Today Go Escape, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, and dozens more. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.