At a time when mass-market cruise ships are getting so big they practically need their own postcodes, luxury operator Regent Seven Seas Cruises has made a splash with a distinctly retro concept: building medium-sized ships with relatively low passenger capacity and offering gracious service in a spacious environment.
It has also maintained the quality of its ships with ongoing investment, spending upward of $25 million on a 2014 refurbishment of Seven Seas Mariner which, though 13 years old, has been kept in excellent condition.
All this work has made the 50,000-ton ship a perfect vessel for travelers who crave a cozy, stylish and intimate onboard environment but who don't want to sacrifice big-ship amenities like multiple restaurants and a good choice of bars.
With a passenger capacity of only 700 (double occupancy), this is a ship with some breathing room. Its passenger-to-space ratio (tonnage divided by passenger capacity) is an impressive 68.6, while its passenger-to-crew ratio of 1.57 creates a relaxed environment with attentive service.
Is it expensive? Yes it is, but even the lowest accommodations are suites, every stateroom has a balcony, and prices include tips, all onboard drinks, free dining in two excellent speciality restaurants, complimentary onboard Wi-Fi access and the majority of shore excursions. So, if you can stretch to the fare, you'll get terrific value for money.
There are elements of Seven Seas Mariner that are retro in the best sense of the word. The ship's main dining venue, Compass Rose, is a classic ship's restaurant in that it lies midship, is on only one level and is simply but elegantly presented (and particularly pleasant at lunchtime, when there are plenty of window tables offering sea views).
Another throwback to earlier generations of cruise ships is the absence of a bar in Mariner's main lobby, even though it lies at the bottom of an impressively modern eight-deck atrium.
Instead, the ship has the wonderfully sophisticated, intimate and softly-lit Mariner Lounge (the best onboard watering hole, in our opinion) between the atrium and the Compass Rose. This arrangement leaves the reception area quiet and uncrowded, a comfortable place to relax or meet fellow cruisers.
Lovers of classic ship design will be very much at home on board and will find the ship sophisticated but delightfully unpretentious. Onboard service is friendly, professional and prompt, and though the majority of passengers are older well-traveled couples, this is also ship that has embraced the trend toward multigenerational family travel. Children are genuinely welcomed onboard, and a dedicated children's program is offered during school summer holidays.
Any downsides? Well, the artwork onboard wasn't our favorite, and the ship is a victim of Regent's success in that -- with many itineraries sailing nearly full -- it could be hard to get a table in the ersatz but very pleasant Settee Mari Italian restaurant, created every evening in La Veranda Cafe. Since only one reservation per passenger can be made in each of in Mariner's two speciality restaurants per cruise, this left us feeling rather confined to the Compass Rose at dinnertime.
But that's a mere quibble; overall it's a delightful ship and a pleasure to sail on.