In an era when mass-market cruise ships are getting bigger and bigger, Seven Seas Mariner is a refreshing option that carries only 700 passengers, making for a beautifully intimate sailing with personally tailored service and gorgeous public spaces. Mariner underwent a major refurbishment in 2014 that updated the lounges and restaurants, as well as the high-end cruise suites. The result is a sleek, modern look throughout the ship -- heavy on polish and marble, yet still warm and comfortable.
The all-suite ship offers a true luxury experience, where your cruise fare covers virtually everything, including roundtrip airfare, gratuities, drinks and excursions. This takes almost all the hassle out of sailing; passengers don't have to worry about the cost of a cocktail or how much they should tip cabin stewards.
Because of the small size of the ship, it's able to sail into ports its larger brethren can't access, so itineraries offer exotic and unusual ports of call. Regent Seven Seas has made a significant investment in its excursions, and passengers can choose from a wide variety of included options in each port. Excursions are well executed; it's clear they've been vetted well, and they run like clockwork. Most take place in the morning so passengers can enjoy the ship in the afternoon. The ship visits a new port every day -- you won't find sea days on most Mariner sailings -- so onboard activities during the day are pretty light, and many passengers head back to their cabins early at night so they are bright-eyed for the next day's morning excursions.
Service and dining on Mariner are key to the experience, and both are generally superior, though uneven in spots. The ship's two specialty restaurants, Prime 7 and Signatures, are outstanding when it comes to food, service and overall experience; dining at both is a highlight for any passenger. Yet most passengers are limited to one meal in each, which means diners are rather confined to either the main dining room, called Compass Rose, or Italian venue Sette Mari at La Veranda (where service is slow) for dinner.
What sets apart a sailing on Mariner is the flexibility afforded to each passenger. Kitchen staff will go above and beyond to accommodate dietary needs and preferences, excursions can be individually crafted (for a fee), and room service is as much about culinary experience as it is about convenience. If a passenger has a request for something, the staff will bend over backward to make it happen. This, as much as the ship itself, makes Mariner a joy to sail.