A family group of 8 (including 3 young children) just returned from the June 22-29 cruise of Alaska on the SS Mariner. We boarded in Vancouver around 2:00 and had a buffet lunch in LaVeranda until our suites were ready by 2:30, with luggage waiting. We were all on Level 7 and thought this was a very convenient location - down the hall from the gym and spa, and an easy walk downstairs to the lounges and restaurants. The rooms were spacious and clean, with DVD players in every suite. The most outstanding feature of our cruise on the Mariner was the "service". That is where you see the real difference in cruise lines. The attitude of all the crew was genuinely happy, which you do not often see these days. Everyone had a smile and was constantly asking if they could help you.
Excursions/Ports -- We were very lucky with our weather, especially on port days -- blue skies and temperatures in the upper-70's. In Ketchikan, some of our group went on a privately arranged fly-out, fly-fishing trip for trout through the Hook-up Fly Shop. They caught about 20 fish and really enjoyed the setting, fishing guide, and pilot. Others took the flight-seeing trip to Misty Fjords with Carlin Air (had originally booked with Michelle at Island Wings, but she was ill that day, so hopped on two available seats with Carlin).
The following morning, we took the Tracy Arm catamaran excursion through Radisson. It was one of the week's highlights. They picked us up from the Mariner about 7:20 and we sailed all the way into Tracy Arm to within ¼ mile of the Sawyer Glacier. This was a sold-out excursion and the catamaran held about 100 people (Radisson passengers only). There were 2-3 naturalists aboard who provided interesting commentary and several Radisson crew members who served snacks and drinks onboard. The scenery was amazing - large icebergs, seals, sheep, waterfalls, and the calving glacier. In Juneau, some of us did the Nature Hike excursion through the rainforest, which was a scenic and interesting hike (fairly strenuous, too).
In Skagway, we rode the White Pass Railway and stopped on the way back for gold panning (the kids really enjoyed that).
On our last stop in Sitka, some of us explored the town on our own (Russian dancers, Raptor Center, etc.), while others took the Wildlife Quest and Beach Trek excursion. It was a small group (12 or so) and they saw lots of wildlife - humpback whales, sea otters, puffins, seals, and eagles. They also landed on a small island and explored the tidal pools on the beach, viewing and touching sea stars, anemones, etc.
Restaurants/Food -- The food onboard the Mariner was outstanding overall. We ate dinner in Compass Rose 4 nights, Signatures 2 nights, and Latitudes once. Most days we had lunch on the pool deck (special themed buffets) or in La Veranda (large buffet with salads, sandwiches, pasta, hot entrees). We tried to go to La Veranda for dinner a few times, but couldn't get a table (not sure if that means it was really good, or if we just went too late). We made our first reservations for Sig. & Lat. right after we boarded and had our choice of days/times. We were then able to get a second reservation at Signatures for the last night by stopping by the restaurant mid-way through the cruise. (Many that we talked to were able to get a second night at Signatures too). The wine served at Sig. & Lat. was definitely a step above Compass Rose, and the food was excellent. Latitudes featured an Alaskan-inspired tasting menu, which was about 6 courses and wonderful. Signatures was as good as any nice French restaurant in the lower 48. Memorable menu items at Signatures were the rack of lamb, seafood bisque, and crème brulee. At Latitudes, the halibut was fantastic. Our dinners at Compass Rose were good to excellent. The only areas that could use a little improvement were the desserts and a few of the wines. However, we were very impressed with the overall quality of the food and service in all of the restaurants.
Ship Activities/Facilities -- Among the eight people in our group, we sampled just about everything the Mariner had to offer. The salt-water swimming pool was too chilly for most, but the three hot tubs were often filled in the late afternoons. Tea was served every day at 4 p.m., followed by trivia at 4:45, and Bingo at 5 p.m. on two to three afternoons. The lectures and commentary given by Terry Breen, the onboard naturalist, were great. The computer center charged $25 for 100 minutes of internet access and offered Wi-Fi in the immediate area of the computer room. Nothing but accolades for the Fitness Program and Spa. There were various classes scheduled in the Fitness Center from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. and seemed to offer something for everyone. There was always an early morning deck walk, Yoga or Pilates, Body Pump, Aerobic, an over 55 class and Gentle Stretching. The Spa was very luxurious with all the typical offerings. Those in our group had a 50 min. massage ($110), a facial ($110), and the most incredible hot rock massage one could imagine ($140). Do visit the Spa at your first opportunity as the appointments filled up quickly.
Club Mariner Program -- Our children had a great time in the Club Mariner Program. There were about 20 children under 11 and another 20 teenagers in the two separate programs. On two evenings, they began at 7 p.m. and served the kids dinner, allowing the adults to have an adult-only dinner in one of the specialty restaurants. Activities ranged from cards, board games, treasure hunts, crafts, to talent shows and generally ran for 3-4 hours during the day and then a few hours in the evening. The three 20-something counselors were really great.
Entertainment -- The night entertainment was good considering the size of the ship - certainly not the extravagant shows found on the mega ships, but most enjoyable. Every evening there was dancing to "The Mariner Five" (not well attended), a nice background pianist and a talented guitarist all in different lounges. The first nightly show in the theatre was a Salute to Broadway which was very good and well received. Another production "Beyond Imagination" was an original score that I personally did not care for - a bit amateurish. The final day shows were a matinee "Here, There, and Everywhere," a Beatles revue that was great, and the Captain's Farewell Party featuring "Krewe Kapers" that brought the house down. What a talented crew and practice was all done on their off-time. Other entertainers we did not see included a comedian David Reid, cruise director Barry Hopkins singing the music of Frank Sinatra, and singer Steve Washington.