Early morning June 17th we packed our bags, my wife Terri and I, and my son Jacob departed Minneapolis non-stop for Vancouver to embark on an Alaska cruise adventure aboard Regent's Seven Seas Mariner. I have been on about 300 cruises over the years, I love being at sea, I love cruising, and I enjoy every chance I get to be on a cruise ship, so this opportunity to cruise on the upscale luxury Seven Seas Mariner in a penthouse suite was without question a delight and a joy. I do have some experience with the upscale luxury cruise products, having crossed the Atlantic as a passenger aboard the QE2, and then living and working aboard QE2 as Stage Manager in 1992 was a dream come true for me. My luxury experience also includes the QM2 and I've visited ships with Crystal, Seabourn, Royal Viking, the old Sea Goddess ships, and a few others. I guess you could say I've been a student of luxury ocean travel, because I have studied the history of the trans-Atlantic era for many years. Oddly enough, considering all the cruises I've been on, this was my first Alaska cruise, so what better way to experience an Alaska itinerary than on a first class luxury ship. What was truly exciting for me was the opportunity to bring my wife and my eight-year-old son on this Alaska cruise. Of course every chance I get to treat my wife to a luxury cruise experience is a huge joy for me. The one concern we had, however, was bringing our son Jacob on this luxury cruise, because normally Alaska cruises attract an older more refined demographic, and additionally, the upscale lines, like Regent Seven Seas Cruises is perceived to be an environment that would be boring and unfit for kids. Our thoughts were that other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean or Carnival may be better suited for families with children because they have the facilities onboard for kids. We decided to take a leap of faith and rely on what we had been told about Regent's Seven Seas Mariner, and that during the Alaska season there are many families with children who cruise on this ship. We also heard that the Seven Seas Mariner has some wonderful youth programs during the Alaska season. In short, we were not disappointed, because our son Jacob had an enjoyable experience, and there were indeed about 50 children in Jacob's age-group onboard our cruise.
Our Penthouse Suite
As much as I've cruised over the years, this was the first time I had the pleasure of staying in a Penthouse Suite on a ship. I was thrilled to treat my wife to the luxuries of a Penthouse Suite, and we certainly enjoyed every moment. We were in Suite number 836 on Deck Eight midship. This suite was 376 square feet, and the balcony was a huge 73 square feet, that's a total of 449 square feet of luxurious accommodations. The Seven Seas Mariner was the first ship to be constructed with all suites with balconies, so there are no interior staterooms or suites with just a window. Our suite had a walk-in closet and a fancy bathroom with a tub and marble counter. I was able to peek in the suite next to ours, which has a bathroom that was renovated during the recent 20 million refit in January of 2009. Apparently not all the bathrooms received the refit, which included a walk-in shower as opposed to a tub and shower like we had. We had nothing to complain about, however, with our spacious bathroom. I'm sure my wife felt like a queen for the week in our suite, because she had her own vanity for fixing her makeup. The king-size bed had wonderfully soft cotton sheets and we had a choice of feather or cotton-stuffed pillows. I think one of the best features of our suite was the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the sea, perfect for an Alaskan itinerary with so much to see. There was a decent television in the room connected to your online account so you always know what you're spending onboard, and they have free movies to watch. With a DVD player connected to your TV, you can also check out DVD's from the library, which is a great service. Our suite also had a nice desk for writing letters. I used the desk of course to put my laptop so I could go online and write on my blog and keep up with my emails. With YFi throughout the ship, it makes it easy to stay connected to your friends and family or business online. We also had personalized stationary that said, "From the Penthouse Suite of Mr. and Mrs. Vaudrin, aboard the Seven Seas Mariner". Our suite also had a complimentary box of fine chocolates, and a bottle of Champaign. Each day at around 4pm a waiter would deliver a tray of giant shrimp cocktail to the living room area of our suite. Our stewardess was wonderful because she was so friendly and made us feel at home in our Penthouse suite. There are much more expansive suites aboard the Seven Seas Mariner, however, what we had was just right. Category B suites and above even have butler service, which I think would be very interesting, because they unpack your luggage and pack your things the night before. The butler acts as your own personal concierge and takes care of dinner reservations and shore excursions or perhaps you want a private car to take you to a fine restaurant in one of the ports.
The Seven Seas Mariner has a length of 709 feet, a beam of 93 feet, and a draft of 21 feet carrying 700 passengers and 445 crew in a 50,000 ton hull built at Chantiers de l'Atlantique, St. Nazaire, in France and first launched in 2001. The Mariner was the first cruise ship built as an "All-Suite" vessel with only balconied staterooms for it's guests. I have a particular appreciation for ship designs, and how they look aesthetically from the inside and outside, and I can say that I was pleased with the overall design of the ship, with it's sharp bow and sculpted stern. My wife made a comment that this was the first time she didn't get turned around or lost on a ship, because of the well laid out design of the public rooms. Indeed it is easy to navigate around the ship because of her more intimate size. The atrium seems to connect all the public areas quite nicely. Deck Five has the Purser's Desk and the Tour Desk, as well as a place to purchase future cruises. As you go aft there's a bar and a very comfortable lounge for pre-dinner cocktails before you arrive at the entrance to the main restaurant called the Compass Rose, and the more intimate Prime 7, which is a steakhouse. On Deck Six you'll find the upper-level to the main show lounge forward, a perfume shop in the atrium area, then as you walk aft thru what could be considered the main boulevard through the ship, there is a disco, a cafe, computer center, library, and a conference room. Further aft is the Signatures Restaurant and the Horizon Lounge, which has windows that look out over the stern of the ship. I really like the deck area just outside of the Horizon Lounge that has some wicker chairs and sofas, where you can watch the wake of the Seven Seas Mariner and really find a connection to the sea. On Deck Seven forward are the Spa and the fitness rooms, and then as you work your way aft thru the atrium you'll find the casino and some shops. Decks Eight, Nine and Ten are suites, then on Deck Eleven is the pool deck with a decent, heated pool with three hot tubs. Further aft is the La Veranda restaurant, and then past the restaurant is a nice deck area to enjoy a meal outside. Finally, Deck 12 has the Observation Lounge, which is the perfect venue for watching the scenery, listening to some live music with a coffee or tea.
The Seven Seas Mariner seemed to handle the seas very well...I could tell that she had the characteristics of a world-class vessel, comfortable in nearly any sea conditions which is important when the ship is making those deep sea trans-oceanic voyages. We had fairly calm seas during our cruise. There was one evening, however, where we could feel the motion a bit, and I was quite happy with the way the ship handled the seas.
I've been to Alaska, but never on a cruise, so it was an adventure exploring the ports of Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Sitka. Seven Seas Mariner docked in all of the ports except in Sitka where there is no dock, and we had the opportunity to tender into town. I enjoy tendering sometimes, because it gives me a chance to see the ship away from the dock at anchor. We only participated in shore excursions in Ketchikan and in Juneau. Alaska is such a rustic, scenic place, and the ports, although quaint, parts of the towns seem to be built specifically for the tourists that arrive by cruise ships. There is a lot of history in these ports, so it's fascinating to explore their origins and heritage. Those we met who live in Alaska, love it there and say they will never leave. Why leave? Alaska can be remote and attracts those who enjoy adventure, the mountains, the sea and the great wilderness.
We enjoyed a wonderful shore excursion in Ketchikan. Our excursion departed around five in the evening and we took a motor coach to the George Inlet Lodge where we enjoyed a spectacular fresh crab feast that would put Red Lobster to shame. These were huge, fresh, boiled crabs, and we could have as much as we wanted. After we feasted on the wonderful crab legs everyone in our group was served a delightful cheesecake for dessert. The motor coach ride to the lodge took about 40 minutes, but it was the transfer back to the ship that was particularly memorable because we boarded a floatplane that flew over some very picturesque terrain. Our pilot pointed out some interesting things as we flew back to the ship.
In Juneau I wanted to choose an excursion that would be fun for my eight-year-old son Jacob, so we took the helicopter and dogsled adventure. This was an amazing excursion, one of the most exciting I have ever taken. A representative of the excursion met us at the gangway in Juneau, where we boarded a motor coach for a short ride to the helicopter port. We were given some instructions about the helicopter ride and told to put on an inflatable life vest and special boots that fit over our shoes. Then we were assigned a pilot and taken to our helicopter. It was truly an adventure to fly in this helicopter up, up, higher and higher, over the tops of the mountains and glaciers. The scenery was spectacular, and I was snapping pictures and video, hoping my camera battery and memory card would hold out till we arrived at our destination way high up on top of a glacier. We slowly descended upon a snowy area where our dogsled camp awaited us. What a thrill it was to see my son Jacob and my wife absorbing this amazing experience. Being from Minnesota, we are no strangers to snow, but what was slightly unexpected was how deep the snow was up there on the glacier. Now it was clear to me why they had us put on these boots over our shoes. We had a short orientation about the dogs and then introduced to our trainer, Jennifer, who would take us on our dog sledding adventure. There were two sleds attached to each team of dogs. The trainer rode the first sled, and my son drove the rear sled. Basically he had to stand on the sled rails, and then stomp on the break when it was time to stop. My wife rode in the front sled with the trainer, and I rode in the rear sled while my son stood on the rails as the "musher". Apparently the dogs absolutely love to pull the sleds around, so we didn't feel so bad being passengers on their sleds. We would stop a few times to let the dogs rest. The whole experience was a huge thrill for my son, and he still talks about how he ran behind the sled and got to mush the dogs. I think we sledded a couple of miles and then returned to the camp. After our ride, the trainer, Jennifer, unhooked and introduced us to her dogs. Jacob had a great time petting the dogs. Soon it was time to board the helicopter and fly back to Juneau. Again, the flight back was spectacular as our pilot skimmed the tops of mountains and glaciers. What a view! Even if you don't have children, be sure to take the helicopter and dogsled adventure.
We just walked around Skagway and panned for gold at a museum along the river. In Sitka, we didn't go on any excursions, we just walked around town, however; we did visit the Raptor Center and saw some American Bald Eagles up-close. We also went up onto the top of the hill where the papers were signed to officially make Alaska one of the United States. Sitka does offer some exciting excursions to a volcano and some wonderful fishing and wale-watching tours by boat.
It wasn't a port, but we did visit the Hubbard Glacier, and the Captain spun the Seven Seas Mariner around a few times so we could get an eyeful of this picturesque and spectacular glacier. I think we were about a mile from the glacier, which was fairly close. The larger cruise ships aren't able to get quite as close as we did.
If your cruise ends in Seward like ours, be sure to take the train into Anchorage. All I can say is WOW! The scenery, the mountains, the glaciers, and the train ride itself was incredible.
I had heard so much about the excellent dinning on Regent's ships, so I was looking forward to experiencing it first-hand. With out a doubt, I was not disappointed; the dinning experience was excellent! There were of course numerous choices, however, I ate a lot of fish during this cruise. It's a personal thing, I'm just not a big beef or steak eater. I had lots of halibut and Alaskan Rock fish, and although I've never like salmon, I even tried the Salmon and loved it. I guess there's a difference if the salmon is fresh and doesn't have any fishy taste. Speaking of fresh, I was told by the Executive Chef that the fish is extremely fresh because he hand-picks the never frozen fish from selected vendors right in the ports. My wife, on the other hand, was in her element as she indulged each evening on the finest steaks she's ever had. The level of service was excellent, and I was very pleased with how the waiters took care of our eight-year-old son. We ate in the main restaurant onboard called the Compass Rose several times and enjoyed the food and service, then two nights we made special reservations to eat in Prime Seven and Signatures which are more exclusive dining venues. There are no cover charges for Prime Seven or Signatures, however, because there is limited seating, it's important to get your reservations in when you first board the ship. I really enjoyed the selection of wines served each evening, and again there was no additional charge for this. I would say the overall best dinning experience we had was in the Signatures restaurant. The mushroom soup was spectacular, and when our main entre arrived, the waiters presented our plate in grand style by unveiling our dinner covered with a silver dome. It was like, here's your dinner....Ta Daaaa! I personally like the more French-style of dinning with the exquisite sauces. We also had breakfast a number of times in La Veranda on Deck 11 aft. The selection of fruits, meats, vegetables, breads and cheeses was excellent. They have an egg omelet station where a chef will prepare your omelet just how you like it. I even indulged in some wonderful caviar. To me one of the signs of luxury is fresh squeezed orange juice...ahhh that's the best! It's very evident that the chefs aboard the Seven Seas Mariner go to great lengths to provide the best possible dinning experience weather you eat in La Veranda on deck or in the exclusive Signatures or Prime Seven restaurants, or in the elegance of the main Compass Rose dinning room. Another wonderful signature of luxury is dining in your suite. We ordered room service on several occasions for breakfast and once for dinner, and each dinning experience was perfect. I decided to really test the room service one morning by ordering my eggs prepared a certain way that was not offered on the room service card. I happen to like eggs Benedict, so when it asked how I want my eggs on the little card placed out on our door the night before, I wrote down that I wanted eggs Benedict. Sure enough, the next morning right on time, the waiter set up a lovely breakfast table in our suite, and there it was, eggs Benedict. Having experienced some of the finest eggs Benedict around the world, I can now say that the eggs Benedict on the Seven Seas Mariner was exquisite!
Having been a Cruise Director and an entertainer on the ships in the past, I always pay close attention to the entertainment, and I was impressed with the singers and dancers and the orchestra onboard Seven Seas Mariner. The main show lounge was very comfortable, with excellent views from every vantage point in the room. The sound was excellent and the lighting was done very well. I liked the stage which stuck out into the audience a bit, allowing the singers and dancers to get closer to the audience. A huge plus, in my book, was the full orchestra providing the music for the shows as opposed to a sound track, which in my opinion cheapens the overall production quality. The only criticism I might have with the entertainment is the lack of variety of the entertainment in the show lounge. The shows were all with the singers and dancers, there was no comedian, or illusionist, the shows revolved around the talent within the singers and dancers. Not to diminish the quality of the talent, which was excellent, I just felt that there should be more variety in the type of entertainment. Of course throughout the ship on sea days, particularly, there were fun little games set up in the atrium area for passengers to participate in. Makeshift bowling, darts, and golf putting were set up in the atrium and the passengers seemed to enjoy the activities. On an Alaska cruise, however, the primary form of entertainment is the view from the decks while cruising through the Inside Passage, or Hubbard Glacier. Throughout the cruise there was a professor of Alaskan history that talked over the PA system from the bridge, explaining all the sights we were seeing. There was also a lecturer on ocean liner history in the Horizons Lounge....oh wait...that was me giving an informal lecture on the history of the trans-Atlantic liners.
Children and youth program
The children's program on the Seven Seas Mariner was particularly important for us because we have an eight-year-old and we wanted him to enjoy the cruise to Alaska too. We were concerned that he might be bored on a ship with no hardware facilities for kids, but the "software" or youth staff, made up for the lack of physical play areas designed for kids. The youth staff was awesome! They kept the kids busy with activities and projects. The kids also learned about Alaska during their cruise in a fun way. My son will be talking about riding the float plane, the helicopter and the dog sledding for years, so this cruise to Alaska with our son turned out to be a great experience for all of us. We were a bit concerned because of the upscale luxury element onboard the Seven Seas Mariner and the more refined passenger compliment, but that concern quickly faded when we saw their were about 50 kids in the same age group as my son. We did, however, have one incident when a woman scolded us as parents for not controlling our son better, but this woman, with her nose in the air, I think, was out of line. The ship was moving and my son was exaggerating the movement of the ship a bit and he purposely ran into a bulkhead...he was just being silly, and he was just being an eight-year-old boy, so this woman's comments were ridiculous, as if her excrement doesn't stink, to say it as civilized as possible.
Definition of Luxury
When I set out to go on this luxury cruise aboard the Seven Seas Mariner, I wrote out my definition of luxury to see if I could find a match while cruising on this ship. I was not disappointed. In fact, if I would have wrote out a wish list for the perfect Alaska cruise, I am pleased to say that everyone one of my expectations were not only met but exceeded. Below are my three definitions of luxury:
1. When Comfort Exceeds Expectations
2. When you are able to exclusively obtain an experience or something of high quality
3. When you discover and receive a genuine-level of exceptional care and service from someone.
It was a pleasure to cruise Alaska aboard the Seven Seas Mariner! I enjoyed my morning routine of visiting the steam room in the spa, and my wife got her nails done in the salon. I splurged and treated myself to something I had always wanted to try, a Four Hands Massage. I get a massage at least a couple times a month and one of my fantasies was to have two therapists work on me at the same time. I was able to fulfill that fantasy during this cruise, because they had that particular service on the menu, a Four Hands Massage.
You can have the fanciest ship or hardware, but what truly makes a luxury cruise a luxury experience is the people and the level of service they provide. All of the crew and staff we encountered were very friendly, and very service oriented. Whenever we would say thank you to our stewardess, she would often say, "It's my pleasure Mr. Vaudrin or Mrs. Vaudrin". The Executive Concierge, the General Manager, the Captain, the Executive Chef, our waiter genuinely treated us as special guests in their home. In essence the Seven Seas Mariner was their home. We obtained something of great value during this cruise, we also discovered a genuine-level of exceptional care and service, and the comfort of our Penthouse suite and throughout the ship exceeded our expectations. A cruise, anywhere around the World, and particularly Alaska, aboard the Seven Seas Mariner was indeed a luxury experience and I think this ship and her crew would exceed your expectations too.