We have sailed on the Mariner before, but the atmosphere on this cruise ( Empires of Antiquity) seemed to be more relaxed and organized. Perhaps it was due to Captain Felice Patruno and Cruise Director, Lorraine Weimerskirch. We've been sailing on the Seven Seas ships since 1992 and this is the first cruise with Captain Patruno and Lorraine.
The crew seemed to be very happy with their jobs and to be on the Mariner.
The included wines were some of the best that we have had on a cruise ship.
Chef Kelly Osborne came around each evening to ensure that guests were happy with their meals.
Embarkation and Disembarkation were a breeze.
Tours were well planned and organized in that you were given a time to meet in the Constellation Theater where you turned in your tour ticket and were given a bus ticket and waited for your number to be called. There was never a mass push or crowd in the theater.
We had cabin 934 that was mid ship.
Ports included Athens, Santorini, Aghios Nikolaos on Crete, Haifa, Ashdod (overnight), Limassol, Cyprus, Antalya, Turkey, Rhodes, Ephesus, and Istanbul.
While some of the ports were repeats for us, there was enough new ports.
For example, Santorini was a repeat, but the archaeological site of Akrotiri has re-opened and should not be missed as it dates back to the Minoan period.
On Crete (Aghios Nikolaos (new), we visited the Palace of Knossos. While the site could have been interesting, there were just too many people (cruise ships in) that one couldn't move or the lines to see something were horribly long while standing in the hot sun. To view this site, one should go in the off season for cruise ships.
Jerusalem (Haifa) was a repeat for us, but a visit to Zippori National Park (well worth it) and the Golan Heights was new.
From (Jerusalem) Ashdod, we visited the Old City (repeat) and nothing new there, but if you haven't visited the Old City, one should do so. At the end of this tour though, we stopped at a shop that was a total rip off so no one bought anything. An example, the shop owner talked to us and showed us some of the items that he had available for sale at a discount. The Ahava products he said were 50% off. I like Ahava products and took a look. At 50% off, a serum was full retail price! Some discount!!!!!
Another tour from Ashdod took us to Caesarea National Park that has the ruins from the city that Herod designed and developed that shouldn't be missed as the site is well preserved and beautiful right on the sea where one could take a quick dip during the brief free time (extra cost for this) as there is a changing area at the site. As part of the tour, we drove through Tel Aviv that is nothing special and stopped in Jaffa for lunch at an Arabic restaurant that could have been good except for the packed in tables that had no elbow room and the rip off for a beer ($6) or glass of wine $8. The cost was not disclosed until they came around to collect.
Limasosol, Cyprus (repeat) - Pafos - New to us was a visit to the Tombs of the Kings (not really) that were very interesting in that the tombs were those of wealthy families that were underground and as large as some homes and as palatial. From Pafos we continued on to the House of Dionysis to view the mosaics that was a repeat for us. So much more has been excavated since our last visit that we were very happy that we chose this tour.
Antalya, Turkey (repeat) -Perge & Aspendos - Our tour took us to the ancient ruins of Perge (new to us). One can view the ruins of the Hippedrome and the city that has been beautifully excavated and work is continuing. At the site, one can visit the bath house and see the remains of marble, mosaics, and the plumbing and heating systems. It's really hard to imagine how construction of these old cities were completed without heavy equipment. The theater of Aspendos that we had visited on a previous trip to Antalya is even more impressive than our last visit.
Rhodes (repeat) - touristy and nothing new here. We repeated a tour of the Grand Master's Palace. One should note that on Rhodes public toilets are almost non existent and if you find one, they are Eastern style, you need your own toilet paper, and a clothes pin for your nose.
Ephesus (repeat) and the Terrace Houses (new to us) - Wow! It's definitely worth a visit to the Terrace Houses and to see the discoveries, how they are putting the pieces of the puzzle together, the sheer size of some of the homes, and the frescoes! Well done! On this visit too we were able to visit the ancient toilets and the inside of the library.
Istanbul - Prior to the cruise we spent 4 days in Istanbul at the Millennium Suites (highly recommend) in the Sultanahmet district and walking distance to the Topkapki Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque that's always a pleasure to see before flying over to Athens (King George Palace - highly recommend) for a few days before joining the ship.
Restaurants to try in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul are Magnaura Café restaurant that is across the street from the Millennium Suites and the Albura Kathisma Café (many thanks to Dremehmet, our waiter, for an enjoyable evening) that is just up the street. At Albura, be sure to ask to view the hidden Palace. If you want a food factory dining experience, rather than a quiet meal, try Develi Restaurant in the Samatya district. This restaurant can serve 700 meals at a time, service is rude, but the food is very, very good.
Restaurants to try in Athens are Strofi and Dionysos that have outside dining with magnificent views of the Acropolis. While in Athens we stayed at the King George Palace.
Check Trip Advisor for reviews of the above restaurants and hotels.
We chose the ship's tour and transfer to the Istanbul airport for $149 each that was well worth it as Regent helped us through security and with the luggage. At the Istanbul airport one goes through security first with your luggage. then you go to drop off your luggage and get your boarding pass. Then you go through security again!
We're not critical and the entertainment. On this cruise it was all, in our opinion, very good and thankfully no jugglers or magicians.