I booked this cruise because of a conference onboard and also wanted to see what 6 star cruise experience is like. The chance to visit the Black Sea was also an attraction.
I added the business class upgrade to Athens and from Istanbul because of the long flight from the west coast of North America. It was well worth the $999 each way. They flew us there on KLM and back on Delta. We were met at Athens airport by RSSC representative and a dozen of us were sent by bus to the Divani Caravel Hotel. They had a hospitality desk at the hotel that handled our questions. Arrangements to take us to the ship the next day was very smooth. Check-in was very efficient as their staff handled one bus at a time and the buses arrived at staggered times. We were treated to a buffet lunch with white table cloth once onboard since the suites were not ready until 2:30 p.m.
We booked a guaranteed Suite F but was "upgraded" to Concierge Suite D on Deck 10. The suite was the same size as a mini-suite on larger ships but the layout was very functional. There was a walk=in closet and the bathroom was good size. Even though there was no bathtub, the shower was quite large and the shape of the bathroom made everything very convenient. The bed was an European King size bed that had a plush pillow top. The mini-bar was stocked with water, soda and beer (no extra charge). Balcony was fair size with two bamboo chairs and an ottoman.
Cabin service was good as expected. I experienced neck and back pain for the first three nights and figured that it was because the bed was too soft. The cabin stewards managed to firm up the bed when I mentioned the problem and the pain went away.
Now about the "upgrade". According to RSSC, the cabin upgrade only included the items in the cabin, so the in-room coffee-maker and binoculars were not removed. However, items that would cost them such as 30 minutes of internet, 15 minutes of phone call, 10% off premium wines were not included. In most other cruise lines, when there was a cabin upgrade, the passenger would get all of the benefits of the upgraded cabin.
The food service was one of the selling points of the Mariner. I was impressed with the food service overall but there were minor exceptions. Each passenger was able to pre-book one night at Prime 7 (steak house) and Signatures (French restaurant). I managed to book an extra night at Signatures once I was onboard. I spent the first night at Sette Mari, the Italian restaurant on Deck 11. It was a buffet appetizer setup with pasta and main course prepared to order. We were fortunately to be served by two Italian waiters and they made the experience very authentic. I ordered a bottle of Italian wine from the premium wine list as it was good value compared to home.
Compass Rose was their main dining room with no reservation needed. It opened at 6:30 p.m. and there was always room. Food was also very well prepared and presented. I spent two nights at Signatures and tried the various dishes. All dishes were well prepared and service was excellent. The only minor glitch was the food at Prime 7. I ordered a prime rib and my wife ordered a fillet mignon. The meat was not tender at all but the preparation was fine. Wines were included and they had a good selection of each varietal of white and red each night. These would be good valued wines that was appropriate for dinner. I did ordered a few more times from the premium wine list as there were some good values.
Some excursions were included and I did not pay extra for the special ones. They were all well-organized and the local tour operators were all quite good. The ship would hand out bottled water and umbrellas before each tour. Besides those mentioned the Port Reviews, we also visited Sochi (Russia), Sevastopol (Ukraine), Constanta (Romania) and Nessebur (Bulgaria).
The entertainment was good with three production shows (six dancers, two singers, pair of ballroom dancing champions, pair of specialty dancers and a eight piece orchestra). There were also a guest comedian and a pair of guest entertainers. There was always room in the Constellation Theater.
That brings me to the atmosphere on the ship. There were 700 guests on the ship but it felt very quiet. On the sail-away party on deck, there was a band playing for less than 100 guests. I was wondering where everyone was. There was no line-up at the breakfast and lunch buffet. One could always find a table to sit. The lounges were quiet most of the time. The casino was mostly empty whenever I looked in. The boutique had limited selection of merchandize. There was no photographer onboard. I met a lot of new friends on the cruise and a lot of them were repeat clients of RSSC. In fact, half of the guests were returning clients. Fellow guests were always courteous and warm. Those who had 7 to 11 RSSC cruises under their belts gave me a lot of helpful hints. This was definitely a cruise for those who like a more serene type cruising, no crowd, no hurries and little noise.
Disembarkation was breeze. We went to the Constellation Theater at the appointed time and were sent off the boat right the way after they checked off our names. The cruise fare also included transfers to the airport and we were taken to the airline check-in counter by a RSSC representative.
The RSSC claim about all-inclusive fare was delivered. They gave each passenger a $100 shipboard credit to be applied against the cost of the Turkish visa needed to leave Istanbul by air. So I did not pay extra except for the premium wines that I ordered and the internet usage.