RSSC has a fairly good web presence, so we were able to research the details of the trip right on their website in addition to Cruise Critic. At the appointed day, we were able to select our excursions and dining reservation (1 each at Signatures and Prime 7 is allowed). I had no problems reserving the excursions or the dining, as I made them the very first day they were available.
The excursion information is relatively vague on the RSSC website, although they try to at least give the cruiser an idea of the length and physical exertion. I found Cruise Critic also to be scarce in information on the RSSC excursions, so we felt like we were going into them a little bit blind.
We chose to have the cruise arrange our flights, and we were pleased with the carrier, times, and connections. We were worried that RSSC might pinch a few pennies and make us connect 2 or 3 times; however, they chose the main carrier for our town (a Star Alliance airline), and the flight only included 1 stop (EWR) each way.
We were greeted by a Regent representative at Rome's airport right after passport control but before customs (I didn't know they were even allowed past customs). Once we collected our bags in a cart provided by Regent, we waited with some others at a cafe in the airport for about 15 minutes for other passengers to collect their bags. Not bad, really.
Our flight landed before 8am, so the bus actually took us on a brief tour of Rome, which I found delightful. I would not want to get to the ship too early only to sit somewhere with our bags, so I preferred a little brain stimulation to help keep us awake from the jetlag.
At the cruise terminal, things got a little chaotic. We arrived shortly after 12pm, and there was a crowd starting to form in the small terminal. Unfortunately, there was no order to how they were boarding. RSSC reps were asking people to take a seat anywhere, but then random rows were called to stand in line to check in. Fortunately, we picked a row that was called within 30 minutes. Other people had been waiting for much longer, but they just happened to sit a row that had not been called. Again, very random.
Check-in was fairly easy and we went on board where we were greeted with a glass of champagne. We later learned that people were being asked to stay away from their suites until 2:30pm. We were not informed of this request, so we went straight to our suite around 1pm. Everything was more or less ready for us, and the bags started to arrive shortly thereafter.
We stayed in suite 851, which is mid-ship and a short walk to the launderette. The suite was really nicely done, and we immediately could see the benefits of the dry dock earlier in the year. The walk-in closet was plenty large for all of our clothes, which is impressive given that my wife brought an outfit for every day and every evening. The drawers are relatively small in the closet and next to the beds, but there are larger drawers next to the desk. Twice during the 10-day cruise fresh flowers were placed in the suite leaving a fresh, bright feel to the room.
Each suite has a flatscreen TV and a DVD player. The TV has the ship channels where information for the day is displayed. It also included some news and other cable channels. As people who are not able to go to the movie theater nearly as much as we want, we were delighted to see a huge selection of on-demand movies and TV shows that were complete free. There was also a DVD collection down in the library, but we never exhausted the on-demand options. The minibar is stocked nearly every day with water, soda, and beer (all of which is included in the price of your fare).
As I mentioned, a launderette was nearby, each one containing 3 washers, 3 dryers, and 2 irons/ironing boards. The ironing boards were in very good condition and were rarely both in use. The washers and dryers were almost always in use. There were off times, but these periods were available for a reason: dinner time or port time for example. There seemed to be more inconsiderate people than I expected: leaving their clothes unattended for 1-2 hours. Some passengers would lose their patience and just pull wet clothes out so that the washer could be used. I don't blame them.
Gentlemen can also leave their dress shoes outside of their door in order to be shined. I found this service to be very convenient, but the actually shining and polishing for my standard black shoes was pretty poor.
The dining on board the Mariner was extremely good. The quality of the ingredients as well as their preparation and presentation were really good. In general, we found a lot of the dishes to be under-seasoned compared to what you would expect in a restaurant, but we wondered if they were trying to allow cruisers to salt and pepper to their own taste. We salted nearly everything. Another minor criticism: except for Prime 7, steaks were rarely cooked to their proper temperature.
Before I describe each restaurant, I would like to commend Ricardo and his sommelier staff. They were so helpful and kind throughout the entire cruise. I recommend that anyone who is interested in wine or who wants to learn more about wine should attend their wine tasting events. They were a lot of fun, and it helped us to get to know the wines and the sommelier staff. In general, the recommended (free) wines were quite good. If they were not to our liking, the staff would allow us to choose something else provided they had a bottle available.
Compass Rose (Main Dining)
We loved CR. Each night we found 2-3 dishes that were exceptional...especially the appetizers. Again, some of the food was under-seasoned, but that could usually be fixed with some salt and pepper. One dish that could not be helped was the Caesar salad; unfortunately, it was very bland. No reservations are allowed, and we usually were seated promptly between 6:30 and 7:00. After 7:30, it would get quite busy.
We dined at Signatures once, and it was enough for us. I could tell that the menu was carefully selected, and the dishes were painstakingly prepared. However, many of the dishes just did not suit my taste. One exception to that was the Halibut, which everyone who tried it seemed to love it. I ordered the beef medium rare, and it was served cold and rare throughout. When I asked the server to just heat it up a bit to medium rare, it came back well done. Oh well. It was a lovely piece of meat, though.
Prime 7 was a real highlight for us. The steaks here were consistently served at the right temperature, and the meat was simply divine. The NY Strip is HIGHLY recommended. The prime rib was a little tasteless, but again the cut and texture were perfect. My wife liked the crab legs as well.
We enjoyed La Veranda, but we found that the selection did not vary much throughout the cruise. I was surprised to learn that this buffet had limited hours like the dining rooms. If someone gets the munchies late in the evening, you would need to call for room service.
My only complaint with the pool grill is that it was not open very often. It was open from 11a-4pm, which was missed by anyone who goes on excursions. The one sea day, we ordered their hamburger and chicken sandwich. Both were quite good. The chicken wings were not so good...poor quality of wings and the sauce tasted like ketchup.
It took us a few days to realize that in-suite dining was such a great option. They will deliver Compass Rose courses for dinner if you like. Otherwise, they have a 24/7 menu that features comfort food (hot dogs, mac & cheese) as well as some finer fare. It was not well advertised, but you can also order pizzas 24/7. The pizzas were slightly better than frozen pizzas, but then again we were eating pizza in Naples and Tuscany. Not a fair fight for RSSC.
We started ordering breakfast in-suite every day. It usually came 10-15 minutes before our scheduled time, but you cannot always count on it. One day we had an early excursion, and we assumed the breakfast would be served early as usual. On this day, they started to deliver it in the latter part of the delivery window, which meant we had to cancel our breakfast or risk missing our tour.
The shows seemed to target an older group. Even though people in their 30s-50s outnumbered the over 60s folks on this cruise, I think this is an exception for RSSC.
The Viva la Vida show was cheesy but not in a good way. We were expecting more Latin dancing, but didn't really see any until the last couple numbers. We watched the first 20 minutes of the concert pianist, but we were expecting a more classical routine. Her Chopin piece was ok, but the rest of the songs were jazzy versions of classical pieces. Many might have enjoyed it, but it wasn't our cup of tea. The one show we enjoyed was the Cirque Mariner. It was a collection of Bollywood style routines interlaced with acrobatic acts. There was a random ballet segment in the beginning that we never quite figured out, but the entire show was quite fun.
I was pleasantly surprised with the casino. Blackjack table minimums were only $10, which made it accessible to cruisers like us. Each day the casino had a featured promotion like paying 2x for blackjack with a Queen. Unfortunately, the dealers were not very nice, but the people playing at the tables made the games enjoyable. The casino also had roulette and a variant of poker, but I did not play these games. Even when at sea, the gaming tables would not open until after dinner (9pm). All gambling is in USD, and cash advances are allowed with a 5% surcharge. Currency exchanges are at the spot rate.
We were surprised by how crowded the lounges were before and after dinner. The Olympic Duo lounge singer and pianist were a lot of fun and played a nice variety of music. I was impressed with the quality of house spirits. 12-year scotches from Glenlivet and Glenfiddich were included in the free list. The cigars for sale were all >$20 each. During one of our shore excursions, I bought some cigars which I enjoyed throughout the trip inside their cigar room.
My wife and I each had a facial and a massage while on the cruise. We scheduled the facial beforehand, although Canyon Ranch never really tells you if your time is confirmed. They say they will make every possible accommodation, but you don't find out until the first evening on the ship if you were able to get the reservation. Once on board, spa times filled up quickly for the sea day and the off-port times.
My wife and I both agreed that the facial was nothing special. I don't think we would do it again given the opportunity. The massages though were quite good. We each opted for deep-tissue and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. If you are easily made seasick, the massage might not be pleasant for you unless docked in port. We had a massage while at sea, and the rooms are quite small and without windows.
The pool is quite small and was not used by a lot of people. On the sea day, people woke up early to throw towels and personal items on deck chairs (only to actually use them well after lunch). The cruise staff ask people not to leave deck chair unattended for more than 30 minutes, but we found many "reserved" for well over 2 hours. Since we were not able to get deck chairs, we enjoyed the food from the grill at one of their outside dining tables and listened to the Olympic Duo play Mediterranean tunes.
We never tried playing games on the Sports Deck.
The disembarkation process was actually quite organized, considering there were about 8 ships docked at Athens the same morning. Other passengers might have disagreed, but I have seen a lot worse. Each person is given color-coded tags for their luggage and a time to meet in the Constellation Theater. I would suggest that you be on time and even a few minutes early. The process moves quickly, and you do not want to be late. Once your color is called, you walk off the ship and collect your luggage. We found ours straight away, as the bags were all lined up by color code. The luggage was collected again by the cruise line to help us move to the transfer bus.
Once on the bus, it was an hour and fifteen minute drive to the airport. Unlike the guide at embarkation, this guide did not give us any information about the areas we were passing. This was unfortunate, as we were passing by some really interesting buildings and churches. Once at the airport, we were dropped off and sent on our way.
Regent has definitely figured out how to run an ultra-luxury cruise line without a stuffy, pretentious feel. The vast majority of their staff went out of their way every day to provide us with an exceptional experience. We would definitely vacation with Regent again and will recommend them to family and friends.