Dining onboard Seven Seas Mariner is a little bit up and down. The highs are the cruise ship's two specialty restaurants, Signatures and Prime 7, which are exceptional and included in the cruise fares. Every passenger can eat in each restaurant once per cruise, while passengers who book in a Mariner Suite or above can eat in each as often as they'd like. Both restaurants are relatively intimate; Signatures, which serves French cuisine, seats 100, and the ship's magnificent steakhouse, Prime 7, seats 70.
Signatures, with its spectacular glass-and-marble entrance, is located on Deck 6, adjacent to the Horizon Lounge (which many passengers swing by for pre-dinner tipples). The restaurant serves dinner each night from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are required -- both specialty restaurants fill up fast quickly -- and can be made at the main dining room, Compass Rose, during breakfast and lunch hours. Dishes at the restaurant include delicious French classics like foie gras and tournedos of beef. Sauces are creamy and perfectly proportionate to the delicately cooked proteins, and each plate is a work of art, with touches like shaved micro-vegetables and cheese toiles. Save room for dessert, and consider skipping the sweets so you can dig in to the sublime cheeseboard, with an assortment of French cheeses. (Of course, you can do both sweet and cheese; no one will stop you!) Service is prompt and intuitive, with a little flare. Entrees are served to each diner at one table simultaneously, and waiters remove cloches with a hearty, "Bon appetit!"
As good as Signatures is, Prime 7, which also serves dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., is better; it's, hands down, the best restaurant on the ship. Located on Deck 5, adjacent to the Mariner Lounge, the restaurant has a familiar steakhouse feel, with oversized leather chairs, dark wood and stark white tablecloths. Seafood- and steak-lovers will be happy with their meals there. Starters include beef tartare, French onion soup, wedge salads and shrimp cocktail. But there, it's all about the entrees. Choose from items that include prime rib, filet mignon, whole Maine lobster or surf and turf, which can be ordered as a steak and lobster or steak and king crab option. Can't decide? Order a couple of entrees; we saw numerous passengers with a couple of dinners in front of them. For dessert, try the innovative popcorn caramel sundae or a more traditional cheesecake.
Compass Rose, on Deck 5, is the ship's main dining room, which serves breakfast (8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) every day. Seating is open, and passengers can eat when they like, though it's busiest for dinner around 8 p.m., and passengers seeking a table for two might be out of luck (or at least in for a wait) at peak times. Breakfast there is fairly standard, with egg dishes, hashes and a variety of bread and pastry options. Healthier dishes, as well as vegetarian and kosher fare, are available for all meals, and low-calorie/low-fat meals are identified under a Canyon Ranch SpaClub heading. Lunch is a multicourse meal, with starters (salads and soups) and entrees like wraps or salmon filets.
Dinner also is a multicourse experience, and the menu changes nightly, though everyday options like chicken breast or salmon are always available. Other options include pasta, steak, lobster and fish. The flexibility of the menu is particularly impressive. One option from each of the two specialty restaurants is on the menu each night. Those with dietary restrictions simply need to tell the maitre d' 24 hours in advance, and menus will be tailored appropriately. We dined with a woman who was a vegetarian with additional allergies, and she worked with the staff each night to make sure the next day's dining options were appropriate and appealing. She was pleased with the variety of menu options and the overall quality. Likewise, if a passenger wanted to eat a Maine lobster or his grandmother's lasagna every day, he could do so by giving the chef 24 hours' notice (and the lasagna recipe). The overall quality of food is generally quite good, as is the service, though meals take a lot of time. We also found we were waiting between courses, especially when the restaurant was busiest.
In Compass Rose, top-quality French wines are served throughout each meal by a knowledgeable sommelier who can help you with the best pairings. Those who don't drink wine can choose cocktails or beer, as well as water or soft drinks. Throughout the ship, the quality of included wine and spirits is excellent, though the variety of beer is lacking.
La Veranda, on Deck 11, with indoor and lovely outdoor seating, serves buffet-style meals for breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and lunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). This spot is where dining on Mariner is the weakest. The buffet options are relatively limited, and there isn't much variety from day to day, especially at breakfast, where diners can choose from scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, bread, smoked salmon and pickled herring. Eggs can be made to order, though we found omelets more than once were not prepared as requested. English breakfast selections, including beans and grilled tomatoes, are always available, as are British condiments like HP Sauce.
For breakfast, we routinely selected the sparsely used Pool Grill, outdoors and also on Deck 11. Open 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., the Pool Grill really is just an extension of La Veranda, with cold options like cereal, yogurt, fruit, nuts and muesli. You'll also find smoothies and made-to-order freshly pressed juices, with ingredients like cucumbers, carrots and spinach.
Lunch at La Veranda also felt fairly repetitive, with a daily salad bar, cold cuts and various hot options like grilled fish or chicken piccata. Again, a better option is the Pool Grill, which serves a variety of hamburgers, sandwiches, veggie burgers and appetizers from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., a daily themed grill takes place at the Pool Grill. One day, it might be Spanish BBQ, with paella, tapas and grilled breem. The next, it could be Italian, with a made-to-order pasta station and chicken Milano. The lunch rush hits at noon, but it dissipates quickly. Service at the Pool Grill is prompt and friendly; while passengers can order directly at the grill, waiters will take orders at tables, and if they see someone carrying a plate, they'll quickly grab it and escort the passenger to a table.
At night, La Veranda becomes Sette Mari at La Veranda, an Italian eatery that blends menu and buffet dining. Like Compass Rose, Sette Mari serves dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and offers open seating on a first-come, first-served basis. Diners are served appetizers, such as veal meatballs, fried cheese and olives. They can then visit the salad bar for options like grilled vegetables, prosciutto and melon, cuttlefish and, of course, salad. Pasta courses and entrees are ordered from a menu, which rotates somewhat each night and offers a nice variety. Try the cioppini, with fresh and perfectly cooked seafood, or the lamb chops. Dessert also is served on the buffet, and it includes options like tiramisu and panna cotta. Service there is spotty, with long waits at all turns -- before ordering, between courses and even awaiting coffee or tea. It also fills quickly from about 7:30 p.m. on. We arrived one night at 8 p.m. and discovered no tables were available. The maitre d' told us we could wait for 20 minutes at the Observation Lounge and he'd call to alert us when our table was ready, but we elected to head to Compass Rose instead.
Room service is free and available 24 hours a day. Breakfast offers eggs in addition to Continental options. Passengers also can order a multicourse dinner from Compass Rose. (Menus for all restaurants are broadcast on one of the TV channels all day.) Dinner can be delivered all at once or course by course; it just requires a phone call to the room service number to say you're ready for your next course. Healthy Canyon Ranch options are available on the everyday room service menu, which also includes things like butterflied chicken breast and buffalo chicken salad.
Still hungry? Visit Coffee Connection on Deck 6 for a cookie any time. During meal times, you can also grab a piece of fruit or a light snack (bagels and cold cuts, for example) without wading through the crowds. This is also where you can grab coffee, espresso or cappuccino, all by illy.