I’ve never stayed in a cruise ship cabin where I couldn’t touch the opposite wall from the end of the bed. But my suite on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner was so big that not only could I not reach the wall, but my suitemate and I could have safely done a yoga workout inside. And our cabin was the second smallest size onboard.
The Seven Seas Mariner lives up to its luxurious reputation without being stuffy. Approximately 650 guests sailed onboard our Alaska cruise from Vancouver to Whittier—a small number compared to the 3,000 or 4,000 people that can sail on one mega-ship. The Mariner was big enough to keep us entertained but intimate enough to allow us to meet other guests. Although my travel companion and I were among the youngest onboard, the age gap wasn’t enormous and only occasionally did we feel the lack of a younger crowd or mindset. Alaska cruises tend to skew younger, so it’s possible that you’ll find different age ranges on the ship’s Caribbean, Asia, and South America voyages.
The price tag can be intimidating, but Regent Seven Seas offers a luxury product that is accessible to almost everyone. Then again, when you add up what you’d spend on a comparable suite and drinks on a larger ship, and throw in Regent’s promotional discounts, the difference isn’t so large. Though it’s one of Regent’s largest ships, the Mariner can’t offer the onboard amenities of a mega-ship. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with service and quality. Whether this line is right for you all depends on what kind of cruise experience you seek.
All staterooms on the Mariner are suites with balconies. The smallest is 252 square feet with a 49-square-foot balcony. To put this in perspective, the smallest cabin aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas is 160 square feet with no window. You’d need to book the biggest balcony cabin (a little smaller) or a junior suite (a little bigger) to approximate the size of the cheapest room on the Mariner.
My suite was even bigger at 376 square feet and a 73-square-foot balcony. I can’t imagine wanting or needing more room for two people. I had a desk area, sitting area, and dressing table area, as well as a walk-in closet and enormous bathroom. If I had to come up with a complaint, it would be that once divided into twins, the beds were rather narrow.
The best public room on the ship is the Observation Lounge. You can have breakfast and various midday snacks in the lounge, and at night, you can sip a cocktail to the sounds of a guitarist or pianist. What sold me on this room are the floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing guests to watch the sun set, look for wildlife, or admire the beautiful Alaskan scenery. At certain times of day, the ship’s lecturer would talk about the biodiversity of the area or point out sights of interest. During those talks, you could hardly find a place to sit because everyone wanted to be up front.
The ship also has an Internet room, library, and puzzle tables on Deck Six, as well as a small casino, a nightclub, and several lounge areas throughout the ship. The spa and small-but-modern fitness center were quite popular, and the boutique sold everything from high-end jewelry to necessities. Three self-service laundromats—an overlooked but important amenity—cost nothing to use and were jampacked on our final day at sea. I almost forgot about the pool, but it’s there; several guests braved the cold to enjoy the warmth of several hot tubs.
For a small ship, the Mariner offered us plenty of activity choices during our two-and-a-half days at sea. Of course, in Alaska, the number-one activity was usually staring with open mouths at glaciers calving or snow-topped mountains sailing by. My favorite onboard activity was 4:00 p.m. teatime and trivia, an event I discovered halfway through the cruise (thank goodness!). The Horizon Lounge serves up finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts while cruisers rack their brains for the answers to trivia questions. It’s English high society meets pub quiz. Oh, and for all of you chocoholics out there, the last teatime also offers a dessert buffet, complete with chocolate sculptures.
The onboard naturalist/anthropologist gave fascinating lectures about the wildlife and native cultures of Alaska several times throughout the cruise. Unlike some ship’s lecturers, ours gave engaging lectures that didn’t make you want to fall asleep or sneak out to the bar. The cruise auctioneer gave art talks that were as fascinating for their sales pitches as they were informative (plus, attendees got free champagne and free art). Guests could attend fitness classes at no extra charge or learn bridge, computer skills, or casino games. Other daytime activities ranged from wine tastings and cooking demonstrations to afternoon movies with popcorn, ping pong and bocce tournaments, and discussion groups. Instead of feeling restless on our days at sea, I found myself with the difficult decisions of which event I was going to skip because I wanted to do too many activities at the same time.
In the evenings, the bars and lounges hosted a variety of musical acts. The nightclub was pathetically empty every night except karaoke night, when I counted maybe 20 people. The Horizon Lounge was usually abuzz after dinner, and the Observation Lounge offered a mellow atmosphere for late-night whale watching and chatting. I enjoyed the first production show and walked out of the third after five minutes, and the ventriloquist raised a few eyebrows with his funny but not-so-PC shtick. However, I admit I was relieved that the shows weren’t much better; after an exhausting day swinging from trees in Ketchikan or hiking in Juneau, I relished an excuse to skip the evening entertainment and head to bed early.
I also must mention the kids’ programming because it was a pleasant surprise. Regent offers the Club Mariner program during holidays and summer months, and kids sail free or two-for-one on almost all Alaska cruises. You’d think kids would hate a ship geared to older adults. But when I saw the younger set (and you did almost never see them), they were proudly carrying impressive art projects (I wanted to go make clay totem poles, too) or happily skipping through the ship on a scavenger hunt. I’m not sure how a lone 17-year-old would fare, but the kids and early teens I passed looked to be having a fantastic time.
Off the ship, I was pleased that a range of shore excursions provided both active and more leisurely options. My friend and I chose to hike, kayak, and zip-line, while other guests opted for bus tours and wildlife-seeking boat rides. Of course, the “strenuous” activities went at a slower pace than I’m used to, but they did provide opportunities to stretch my legs and get my heart pumping with a few thrills.
Food and wine
The food in the main dining room was by far the best on the ship, though I was quite partial to afternoon tea. My suitemate and I were both very pleased with every meal we ate there. Most nights we tried to join other guests for a more social dinner. But on one night when we sat alone and preferred a quick dinner, the dining staff happily obliged and served us several courses in under an hour.
The Mariner has two specialty restaurants that are free but require reservations. As fish-eating vegetarians, we couldn’t eat at Latitudes, which has a fixed (and meaty) Asian-style menu, but we heard it wasn’t great. We did try Signatures, the Cordon Bleu French restaurant. We hated it. For all courses but one, we ordered different menu items, and neither of us finished most of them. Perhaps the meat dishes are much better than the fish and vegetarian options, or perhaps we just don’t appreciate French food. The pool-deck buffet switches to a theme dinner at night. We went on Italian night, which had antipasti and dessert buffets, but the main course was served at your table. And the pool grill is open throughout the day—a necessity when your shore excursion ends at 2 p.m.
When I sailed, wine with dinner was free but alcohol in the lounges was not. Regent plans to implement a more inclusive alcohol policy on future sailings. In addition, each cabin gets two free bottles of wine or liquor. Between the wine at dinner and the free champagne at the art lectures, I only ordered one other alcoholic beverage on the ship. I usually drank my fill of wine at dinner, and had no need to get any tipsier afterward. My companion and I joked about making screwdrivers in our cabin and bringing them to one of the lounges, but we never had the nerve or the desire to try.
As an independent traveler, I’m not used to good service, but I’m learning to appreciate it. Our stateroom came with its very own butler, and we spent the first afternoon trying to figure out what we would do with a butler. But Saurabh was wonderful. He brought us hors d’oeuvres every night, and when we told him about our dietary restrictions, he not only dutifully remembered, but he brought us a different vegetarian dish each night. He even came to the rescue when I couldn’t get the TV to work or the toilet to flush. Sure, we didn’t need a butler, but it was nice to have a prompt response when you have a question or problem.
I also commend the waiters in the main dining room. They escorted the ladies to their seats and never let our wine glass become empty. If you asked for fast service, you got it; if you wanted a leisurely dinner, they never hurried you. And several servers checked on the vegetarian status of certain dishes upon request with no complaints. The buffet was more chaotic, but sometimes I prefer to be left alone. Though my suitemate did not appreciate being left alone before she’d had her first cup of coffee every morning.
Luxury for (almost) everyone
I tend to prefer big ships, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the smaller Seven Seas Mariner. It had the right combination of intimacy and activity; we made friends and saw them throughout the ship, but we also had a full onboard schedule if we wanted one. If not, we could curl up with a book or a puzzle in our suite or in innumerable comfy chairs throughout the ship. In part, I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of the ship because our days in Alaska were so jam-packed. I’m not sure, but if I had spent the day lying on a Caribbean beach, I might be itching for more action at night.
My experience reveals that Regent Seven Seas offers luxury for nearly everyone. The exception would be teens looking for more daily adventure or adults who prefer a hopping nightlife scene. If you want waterslides and first-run movies and dancing ’til dawn, I recommend that you trade luxury for a bigger ship. But, if your dream vacation involves gourmet food, good conversation, low-key evenings, and new experiences in new places, I’d recommend Regent. And with ongoing free airfare specials, complimentary kids’ fares, and two-for-one pricing, you can find ways to make your luxury cruise a more affordable one.