My wife and I picked a very port intensive cruise (13 ports)on the Seven Seas Mariner due to its itinerary and time of the year (to avoid the crowds, heat and children). We used Regent's air deviation dept which worked out well -- being able to arrive in Athens in the morning to see the city and having a nonstop flight back from Rome to Charlotte, NC.
The flight from Charlotte to Athens on Delta (connecting at JFK) went smooth (great to be able to use Delta's Crown Lounge for the layovers) and arrived early in Athens Sunday morning.
We booked a Seven Seas Aft suite as my wife likes the separate bedroom and very large aft deck. As a result Regent upgraded our suite at the Hotel Grand Bretagne which is located right across from the Parliament Building where all the riots have been taking place (fortunately none when we were there).
Regent's personnel were waiting to meet us when we cleared customs. Transfer went very smoothly (highly recommend using Regent's services when traveling to a new place). The ride from the airport to the hotel was about 45 minutes -- no traffic being a Sunday. Unfortunately our representative did not give us any description of the sites we saw coming in.
After dropping off some of our fellow cruisers are the other 2 hotels (Grand Bretagne is used for the premium suites) were we promptly checked into our suite even though it was 10:30 am. The room was great and I would highly recommend that hotel if staying in Athens as it is right downtown where all the action is.
After spending the day seeing all the sites on our own, we had an excellent dinner on the rooftop lounge overlooking the Acropolis (quite a site at night all lite up).
The next morning had an excellent breakfast buffet on the rooftop lounge (we had to have all of suitcases outside the room by 8:00 am for pickup for the ship) and was driven to the port by motor coach in a driving rainstorm. Unfortunately that day the Greek Public Transportation Services decided to go on strike and a normal 30 minute ride to the port took over 1 1/2 hours.
The port facility is falling apart, garbage everywhere (even in Athens). We were at the head of the line for passport control and the computers went down. We were ribbed by our fellow cruisers that we must have set off an alarm as possible drug dealers!
After 15 minutes they were able to get the passport computers back up and we proceeded to a bus to transfer us to the ship. Although the Mariner was docked next to a terminal, it was closed (looked like the govt. was in the process of renovating it but ran out of money) so we had to stay in the bus while the crew walked us up the gang plank holding umbrellas over our heads. It never felt so good as to finally get on board and leave Athens.
Check-in proceeded smoothly in the Constellation Theater where we received our room cards, had photos taken, surrendered our passports and gave a credit card impression. Then up to La Veranda for lunch.
Due to the delay with the traffic and rain, by the time we finished lunch, it was announced that the suites were ready and off we went to meet our Butler - Felix and our Steward - Made. Much to our surprise none of the luggage was in the room and it did not show up until 5:00 pm, just before the mandatory emergency drill. We were told that unlike airports, in Athens the baggage is loaded in non-covered buggies and Regent did not want the luggage getting wet -- fully understandable.
Finally at 7:00 pm we sailed out of Athens. This was my first and last trip to Athens. It was the consensus of our fellow passengers that we all had "been there, done that".
Although we had made our 2 dinner reservations for Prime 7 and Signatures prior to boarding, our butler was able to snag us an extra reservation for Signatures the first night and an extra reservation for Prime 7 the second night.
Had an excellent dinner in Signatures the first night at 8:30 pm and being tired went to bed. The trip to our first port. Ephesus (Kusadasi) Turkey was fairly rough but we awoke to partly cloudy skies. Due to an early excursion we had room service which our butler served on our dining table (being in a larger suite we had an actual dining table with 4 chairs). It was a nice way to start the morning.
Taking advantage of the "excursion included" concept from Regent, we preregistered for all of our excursions online and were able to get what we asked for. However, when we came on board, we had a note from the Destination Desk saying that our wine tour excursion for Olbia (Sardinia) Italy had been canceled as the winery was closed on the weekends (don't you think Regent would have noticed that prior to listing it?).
We showed up in the Constellation Theater at the requested time and were surprised to find out that it was already full with other excursion groups. We soon realized that to expedite things, we would show up 10 minutes before, pick up our bus number and then proceed to the bus. This way you can avoid the "cattle car" concept. However, all excursion meetings went smoothly once you learned the system.
Our excursion to Ephesus was one of the best of the trip. The bus and guide were great. The ruins fantastic. The lunch they threw in at a more modern local hotel, however, was barely edible -- but heck, we had plenty of food on board. One of the hi-lights was going to a carpet factory and watch them do their stuff.
After the demonstration anyone who wanted to possibly purchase a rug were paired off with their own salesman. It was quite a production. The salesman did not ask what our budget was and started showing us $30,000 rugs (unbeknownst to us). When we settled on one rug we discovered the price to be $21,000. They said special of the day - $16,000. Then they brought in their sales manager - now $11,000. Then they asked us to name our price. When that did not work, the owner came in -- got out a calculator and said "end of season - best price - $7,400)
We said too much and left -- then we came back 1 hour later and offered $5,000. They came down to $6,500 -- but would go no longer. So we left with no rug, money in pocket but with a great story to tell!
When we came back to the ship we noticed a sewer gas smell in our half bathroom. Our suite, the Seven Seas Aft suite, is set up into 4 rooms. There is a half bath right off the entry door which I used. You walk down the hallway o a totally separate bedroom with its own outside window, the full size walk-in closet and a separate bathroom.
Our bathroom still had the tub/shower arrangement. I wanted a shower only bathroom but they were gone at the time of making our reservation. Although we functioned OK with the tub/shower arrangement, if you are more than 6 feet tall or have mobility problems, then you should go for the shower only bathroom.
The fourth room is the living room which is very large -- having 2 chairs and a pull-out sofa and coffee table, a full size dining table with 4 chairs, extra sideboard, the standard wet bar arrangement, etc. The whole aft end is windows and sliding door.
The aft deck is very large with space for a love-seat, 2 chairs and table, and 2 lounge-chairs built together. The furniture is of the all weather wicker construction. Many an afternoon we had our drinks and daily canapes out on the deck looking over the port that we were in.
Getting back to the sewer gas smell -- it was coming from the sink in the half bath. We were told it happens when the ship rolls and daily our steward put some sort of "concoction" down the sink. By the 9th day they sent in a plumber. It would come and go -- some days nothing, then other days a little and other days more.
In talking with some of the other people on the aft of the ship, they could smell it when we were in port. Do not know what it was, but if one is paying the big $'s for such a suite, that problem should be fixed.
Had dinner that night in Prime 7 and the food was just so-so. Both my wife's Dover sole and my surf and turf were overcooked. The onion rings I had heard so much about on Cruise Critic were undercooked. But everything else was very good and the service was impeccable. We chalked it up to eating again at 8:30 pm and maybe the cook was overwhelmed. At our subsequent dinner there was the food was 5 star.
The next day we arrived at Santorini, Greece, which we were highly looking forward to as my wife's daughter earlier in the summer honeymooned there after cruising there on Seabourn's Odyssey. Unfortunately it was pouring cats and dogs but we still tendered in using the port's tenders. The first hour we were in rain and fog but still visited the first town on the island in the pouring rain, climbing up the town's steps with water coming down them as a river.
By the time we got to the top (thoroughly drenched) the rain stopped and the clouds parted and we had a great day after wards. Regent took us to a nice restaurant for local specialties and it was great. We then went to the famous town on the island for shopping and picture taking. There were a total of 6 cruise ships tendering that day and the Mariner was the smallest -- so you can imagine how crowded these small towns were.
Since we had an early departure at 5:00 pm, the cable car you take down to the tender port was clogged, so my wife and I walked down 720 steps (these are the same steps you can ride donkeys up and down if so inclined). We were beat by the time we reached the bottom but had another great memory.
Obviously some of our fellow cruisers were not so lucky as were delayed in leaving. We later found out one of the passengers broke his ankle while hiking up the steps in the rain and was being treated at the next port as Santorini had no medical facilities.
We had dinner that night in Compass Rose -- which was also the Captain's Reception. Found the service to be slow and the food OK but nothing special. We chalked it up to the volume of people eating as it greatly improved during the rest of the cruise.
Whenever we ate in Compass Rose, we always asked for different areas as we wanted to try to various wait staff. We found them all to be very friendly and worked very hard to please. Whenever I wanted to add an additional item to my plate -- there was no problem.
The next day we arrived in Zakynthos, Greece. This was a "replacement" port from the original itinerary I can understand why. There were only a few tours listed and the night before we gave up our and considered this as an "at sea day". Because of a late arrival, we decided to try out Compass Rose for breakfast. It was very nice to eat breakfast in Compass Rose, but the service was very slow (we had been using La Veranda for most breakfasts now) and this was the first and only time to use Compass Rose for breakfast.
After breakfast we tendered into Zakynthos to walk around for an hour before returning to the ship (nothing to see or do -- definitely not worth going to). There was a great Greek cookout on the Pool Grill for lunch.
We also took advantage of sending out our laundry to the ship since we had a large on board ship credit. The laundry service was very good (same for pressing and dry cleaning) and we took advantage of it through out the trip.
In addition, since we are Silver members, we had free Internet service which was really nice. We found the Internet service to more like dial up in speed, but at least we were able to stay connected to the world. Although they had newspapers in the Coffee Connection, they were 1 day behind due to the time difference.
Because we were also in a higher end suite, we had our butler supply us with an iPad which was very handy. We had Mariner's techie set it up for us and he was very helpful to anyone who had Internet problems/questions.
Speaking about Coffee Connection -- that is a great place on the ship. During the day they always had cookies, pastries, sandwich meats, etc out and functioned much like a Starbucks. Although I do not drink coffee (my wife took full advantage of it) it was by the computer room which I used a lot as the service seemed faster there than in our stateroom at the rear of the ship.
When we came back from walking around town we had an invitation to have dinner with the captain which we gladly accepted (canceling a prior reservation we had for Signatures). Rather than eating at a larger table provided for the captain, we ate with just one other couple and the social hostess. It was a very relaxing dinner and the captain was picking out various wines (although he only took a sip or two due to his duties).
Needless to say our service was impeccable and from then on the staff in Compass Rose all knew our names. The captain had just come over from the Navigator -- very easy to talk to and jovial. It was a pleasant evening.
The social hostess asked us if were going to the show. We had not seen any of the shows as they were basically a piano player with the orchestra but tonight was a melody of Broadway hits. We stuck our heads in -- looked and sounded great but the wife was tired so we passed.
The only show we did see was the Le Cirque Mariner which was very good. The theater was packed so we got there early. We did not take advantage of the Stars Night Club which was basically used by smokers (attached to the Casino above) and thus hardly saw anyone in there. It was used for private cocktail parties and the art auction. It was probably the least used public space on the ship.
Speaking of art auctions, Park West is still holding auctions on the Mariner. The art is displayed on deck 6 which is nice as it is a long hallway used by everyone (Coffee Connection, Computer Room, Horizon Lounge, etc. are all located on that deck). As for the art itself -- way too modern for me and all a number of a set -- thus no "originals". They had one auction while on board and we stuck our head in for a minute -- maybe 20 people attending.
I guess Regent makes enough money on it to keep it going. When we were in Turkey, we were told that on one Regent cruise, more than $250,000 of rugs were purchased by the passengers at the carpet factory we stopped at -- so I guess that activity is very profitable for Regent.
The next day we arrived at Taorimina (Sicily) Italy, another tender port. We had a wine tour scheduled and had a great time. After the tour ended our guide announced that due to weather conditions Mariner had moved to the port of Messina where it was able to dock. That worked out well as were treated to another 45 minute drive down the coast.
When we arrived at the dock the captain and the cruise staff were outside on the dock to greet us. They also kept La Veranda and Pool Grill open later to take care of us. After having dinner with him the night before, the captain made it a point to greet and speak with my wife to make sure all was fine. Just shows how the crew wanted to make sure the passengers were happy.
This raises another point. Because we were on a Regent tour, we were notified of this change. I do not know how Regent handled this with anyone doing their own private tour. Would have been quite a shock to arrive back at port only to find that your ship had sailed! Obviously all worked out as we left port that night with a full compliment.
We had dinner that night in Compass Rose and the service was much better. We found that the food in Compass Rose had a definite French influence. When we did a galley tour later on in the cruise we met the executive chef -- a Frenchman who had just come over from the Navigator. The galley tour was informative -- 65 people work in the galley with another 15 involved in dish washing (which takes only 2 minutes for the full cycle!). Mariner's galley was MUCH bigger than Navigator's galley which we saw on our last cruise.
The chef ran through the numbers for provisions, etc. Truly amazing at how it is such a well oiled machine. Basically there is someone in the galley 24 hours a day. He said they go through more than 150 pounds of rice a day for their mainly Filipino crew but now are also adding more Indian food as more and more of the waiters and bar servers are from India.
For the officers (who have their own mess) the food is more European in nature -- but also buffet. That is one thing we noticed -- unlike other cruise lines, we did not often see the officers eat with passengers in Compass Rose. We saw the captain once with the general manager in Signatures with just one couple and the captain in Compass Rose only 3 other nights (including our night).
Our next port was Sorrento/Capri, Italy -- one of our favorite ports. Due to the weather system that diverted us to Messina, we were not able to go to Sorrento, which was another tender port. So Regent was able to get us dock space in Naples which worked out well. We were on the excursion to Capri which involved a jet ferry to Capri. We were able to walk to the ferry (rather than a bus ride from Sorrento). Had a great 7 hours in Capri with one of the best guides on the trip.
Jet ferry ride was 1 hour each way. Rough seas but did not notice it except for the spray on the windows. Capri is definitely for the rich and famous. Saw 2 towns and took a chair lift to the top of the island.
It was too bad that we could not have stayed an extra night in Naples instead of stopping at Zakynthos as other passengers went to Pompeii and found that excursion to be very good.
When we left Naples we saw our sister ship - Voyager - pass us in the night at 7:30 pm. They were likewise affected by this storm front, but only worse missing more of their ports than we did. That night we ate dinner in Prime 7 and found it to be so much better than our first visit -- everything was to perfection.
My only wish is that one would be able to visit both Signatures and Prime 7 more often. We were fortunate to eat in both places twice - 4 nights out of 14 --- so I guess that is not too bad.
In addition, one night there was a dinner cookout buffet on the pool deck which was quite a visual show. Although the food was what one would expect from such a large enterprise, the way it was put on and with the weather that we had (the night night we had gale force winds and a very rough trip) made it really nice for everyone. There was music and a band for dancing afterwards.
The next day we arrived in Olbia (Sardinia) Italy, which was another replacement port. This was on a Sunday -- so we canceled our excursion and just walked around town after breakfast. It was a Sunday and EVERYTHING was closed -- we did see a local wedding at the magistrate's office. Other than that -- nothing to write home about and would not go back.
Our next port was Provence (Marseille) France. We took a 4 hours to Aix en Provence -- great to see the countryside and all. We got back in time for lunch, then went back off the ship to walk around Marseille which I found to be much cleaner and nicer than was expecting. My wife visited her local Hermes store and we helped improve the local economy!
Our next port was Barcelona, Spain where we overnighted. We did tours both days. Barcelona is a modern city with the old city in the center. This was the first port we went to that had truly first class cruise terminals. You could tell that Regent uses Barcelona a lot as the terminal we used (all modern and up to date) was covered with Regent signs (too bad Athens was not the same way). Had covered walk ways into the cruise terminal from the ship, etc.
The tour the first day was of old Barcelona seeing the various churches and museums. It was very good.
The second day we did another wine tasting tour to the Bodegas Torres Winery. It was a tour we did not expect. Torres is the largest winery in the area and very up to date -- in fact the tour was on a "train" through the facilities. If I did not know any better I would have thought that Disney built the tour -- combining hi-tech with the wine making process. Everyone thought it was so neat that they wanted to do the ride again. My wife has been trying to find their wines here in NC after coming home as their Merlot was outstanding.
When we left Barcelona under clear and warm skies, the captain came on the speaker to tell us beginning 10:00 pm or so we would be involved in a strong storm that might impact our next port which was Monte Carlo, where we had been scheduled to tender.
When we went to dinner I noticed that the crew was lashing down all the pool deck furniture and our steward took in our cushions. Only the night before we had that wonderful cookout on the pool deck.
Almost exactly on cue at 10:00 pm we hit the storm -- it was rock and roll all night long, with the ship shuddering every so often from a rough wave. We could see the waves from our bedroom window which was on deck 8.
When we awaoke we found that we were going to Villefranche, France instead of Monte Carlo. It is a very small town requiring anchoring, about 45 minute drive from Monte Carlo. Two excursions were canceled (longer ones) due to our late arrival, but our tour of 4 hours was unchanged.
Our first tour, Eze & Monaco, probably had the hidden gem of the whole cruise -- the town of Eze. It is just like you see in the tour books -- an old mid-evil town built on the top of a mtn with very small streets and fountains, etc. They even had a small 5 star hotel there with 12 rooms ($3,000 a night for the main suite) and a Michelin rated restaurant. Totally unexpected. Of course Monte Carlo was just as expected with all of the large yachts still around (in fact several large yachts came in to anchor to Mariner while in Villefranche).
Regent's sister line -- Oceania, had one of their smaller ships tied up at the dock in the harbor. It was too bad that we could have taken her space when she left that evening as it would been nice to have dock at Monte Carlo, but I guess Regent did not want to move the ship. In hindsight, they probably should have giving us a different perspective.
Our next port was Portofino, Italy -- another tender port. When we arrived Portofino was closed up and did not look like much. We took an excursion into Genoa which was probably our worst excursion. City ws large and dirty and just looked at couple of villas turned into museums. And then way too much free time on our hands.
When we got back to Portofino the town was open and thriving. They had all of the luxury shops in a town that had only 400 residents -- Hermes, Louis Verton, Gucci, Armani, etc. All high end. Very nice place to visit.
The next day we took the excursion that went to Nice, Cannes, Grasse and St. Paul. We drove through Nice along the famous shoreline and then stopped at Cannes and did the open fresh market on our free time. Then off to Grasse to visit the perfume factory which like the Torres wine tour, very informative and great. Of course, most people walked out (including us) with several bottles of perfume. We then went to St. Paul, which is much like Eze. It was larger and had more people visiting. We preferred Eze but others preferred St. Paul. Both were fun. We had a local lunch over looking the countryside.
For the last 3-4 days the weather had turned very cold. We were told that by Oct 15th in the Med the weather goes from summer to winter. A few days before they said they were in the high 70's -- now the high 50's.
This was readily apparent to our last full day port -- Livorno, Italy. This is where all of the excursions are all day. Since my wife has been to Florence, she stayed on the ship to rest and start packing. I took the 10 1/2 excursion to Florence and Pisa. It is a 2 hour drive to Florence. Being a Sunday, most shops were closed but the restaurants were open. Did all of the touristy things -- visiting the Duomo, Pointe Vecchio bridge, Michalangolo's David, etc.
We then drove off to Pisa for an hour. The buildings are amazing, but surrounded by tacky shops and gypsies who our guide warned us to watch out for pick-pockets. It was a long day -- had to do it but I think I got my fill of "culture" by the end of the day.
Our bus was the last one to arrive. When we drove up to the ship they had the band outside with many of the staff clapping and welcoming us home with cold towels and a glass of champagne. I had read about this on Cruise Critic, but several of my fellow cruisers were totally taken aback with it and found it great.
That night my wife and I had dinner in Signatures (kind of ironic -- had dinner there our first night and last night) and then put out our suitcases by 11:00 pm for pickup.
Unlike Navigator, we were able to have room service breakfast as we were the first group to get off in the morning to catch an 11:05 am flight from Rome to Charlotte. The airport is 1 1/5 hours away depending upon traffic.
Rome's port, much like most of the ports we docked at are basically set up for commercial traffic, not cruise ships.
On the ride to the airport the Regent rep gave described the area we were passing through. We went to the terminal for the US airlines -- long security lines -- made the US airports look first class.
The flight home seemed longer than coming over -- but I guess after 14 days of almost non-stop activities, food and wine, that was to be expected.
Some overall thoughts:
1. Regent is a great cruise line and the Mariner is a great ship.
2. If not for the sewer gas smell, I would give our stateroom the highest rating. Despite that fact, our butler and steward did a great job, it was cleaned twice a day and whenever we needed something I just picked up the phone.
3. I like the idea that Regent uses large towels in the bathrooms and we had a selection of 3 different shampoos, soaps, etc. Bathrooms were more than adequate in size.
4. The public areas of the ship were the best I have seen space-wise. At our last night we kept seeing people we had not seen the previous 13 days -- and we were always around the ship. I also joked with my wife about seeing the same crewmen cleaning the same areas of the ship all the time. It looked almost brand new.
5. The boutique shops seemed reasonable and carried a decent selection of items. My wife did make a few purchases there.
6. We were not up for much of the evening entertainment. What we did see was fine, but there was much that did not interest us.
7. Food is always a subjective issue. Was the food 6 star? Overall no -- but Signatures and Prime 7 did come close a couple of times. Was it worth the dollars -- yes. The selection and variety was fine -- never went away from the table hungry!
8. Bartenders were great -- but you find out quickly the ones who can make your drink the way you want it. There was a new bartender in Horizons Lounge and you could tell.
9. Reception was always helpful, although they did forget our wake-up call the last morning. However, our butler woke us up with our breakfast so that was fine.
10. Excursions were run professionally and on time. I have read much discussion about the "herd" feeling with the buses -- but never experienced that. 90% of the guides were excellent and for me I do hope that Regent keeps the free excursion concept, especially in such far away places.
11. On such a port intensive cruise, I think that Regent could have eliminated a couple of the ports and have sea days. I do know that many of the passengers were getting worn out at the end.
12. Drop Athens as an embarkation port.
13. Embarkation and disembarkation went extremely smooth on Regent's part.
14. Definitely recommend using Regent's air deviation program to get the flights AND seats you want.
15. Service was EXCELLENT!
16. Coffee Connection is a great idea and really helps make the ship.
17. Pool Grill was great for a quick burger but sometimes the service was a bit slow.
I gave Regent a 5 star rating. Because of the minor deficiency's noted, I could not give a 5+ rating as that would require almost perfect product all around, and that is hard to get when dealing with 700 passengers in a foreign land.
Would I recommend Regent and the Mariner -- most definitely.
I have not been on Voyager -- but I find it hard to find another ship to impress me as much as Mariner did.
Can not wait for my trip on the Mariner.