This weekend I'm headed back onboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas for an 8-night cruise.
This is not just another cruise for me, but the first RoyalCaribbeanBlog group cruise, which means a number of people that love Royal Caribbean just as much as me will be joining me.
I will share a daily update of everything I did onboard during this eight-night sailing from Port Canaveral, Florida.
Mariner of the Seas has been based in Port Canaveral for a number of years in a row at this point, although this is the first time in quite a while it's not a short cruise.
My cruises on Mariner since 2019 have been three- and four-night sailings, but she's transitioned to five and eight night cruises instead (Independence of the Seas does the 3- and 4-nighters now).
The last time I was on Mariner for this long was my honeymoon cruise from Port Canaveral back in 2008. Back then I had no kids, no mortgage, and not even a Royal Caribbean blog!
We will visit St. Croix, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Kitts during the sailing.
Plus, you have all the fun things to do onboard, including a number of upgrades that were added to Mariner of the Seas in 2018.
When you mix in the great community of friends that will be joining me as part of the RoyalCaribbeanBlog group cruise, it's going to be a wonderful experience to have so many friendly faces onboard.
We reserved connecting balcony staterooms for this cruise, one for my wife and I, and one for my kids.
This is one of my favorite strategies for cruising with kids, as it allows separation from them and an extra full bathroom.
Considering the price of a suite was too high on this cruise, I found the two-room strategy to not only be economical, but provide enough space.
Both cabins are located on deck seven and should provide a room with close proximity to the Royal Promenade and only a few decks walk up to the pool deck.
With all the fun with friends we'll have onboard, I don't think we'll be spending that much time in the cabin.
The fact we get to visit two Royal Caribbean private islands was a major draw to this itinerary. Add in a couple Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and you've got a great lineup.
At CocoCay, we rented an Oasis Lagoon cabana and at Labadee, I'm trying an over-the-water cabana at Barefoot Beach.
Recently the Barefoot Beach cabanas showed up as bookable by anyone in the Cruise Planner, so we'll see how that works out since I'm not in a suite.
In San Juan, we don't arrive until 3pm. No excursions booked here, because we will just walk around Old San Juan and grab dinner somewhere. When I tried this strategy earlier this year, it was tough to find a restaurant with availability and air conditioning, so perhaps we will hop in a cab to find a restaurant and make a reservation in the next couple days.
In St. Kitts, we have a private shore catamaran snorkel and swim shore excursion exclusively for everyone that booked the group cruise with MEI Travel. Every time we do a group cruise, we try to work in some fun events exclusively for us, and I think this will be a great tour.
Finally, we will visit St. Croix. Last time I was there was in 2013, and we have odd hours here (7am - 2pm), so I think we will just walk around the port area.
For dinner on this cruise, we'll do a combination of specialty dining and main dining room.
I enjoy the main dining room, but I find it nice to work in specialty restaurants as well. We bought the 3-night dining package, which will allow us to check out a few of our favorite restaurants.
As with any dining package, we have to wait until we board the ship to make a reservation. I think we'll try for Izumi Hibachi, Jamie's Italian, and probably Playmakers. Or we'll go to Chops and stop by Playmakers another day and pay cash.
Read more: Top things I ate on Mariner of the Seas
I also elected to purchase an unlimited drink package for this cruise. With so many social functions onboard with friends, it made perfect sense for me.
Our Mariner of the Seas cruise begins on Sunday, July 17. We're actually driving out to Port Canaveral the night before the cruise and staying at the Cape Crossing Resort & Marina.
After each day of the cruise, I'll share the experience with a live blog post and I encourage you to post your comments and questions so I can answer them.
I try to make these live blogs as interactive as I can, so I want everyone to feel welcome to share their thoughts.
Thanks for reading all of this and welcome aboard our next fun live blog experience!