Michelin may only grant them a maximum of three stars, but in our book Seven Seas Mariner's two speciality restaurants -- 100-seat Signatures (which serves Cordon Bleu cuisine) and Prime Seven (a magnificent steakhouse that seats 70) -- rate closer to five.
Prime Seven, an elegant enclave tucked away next door to the Compass Rose on Deck 5, dished up the most meltingly delicious filet mignon we've tasted in a long time and delivered it just as requested: medium rare, butterflied and butter-soft.
And Signatures, one deck above, offers food and wine as stylish as its glass-and-marble entrance. Dishes include classic tournedos of beef with foie gras, a fabulously varied, authentically French cheese board and gorgeous puddings like poached fig with light-as-a-feather cream cheese millefeuille.
Better still, you get complimentary and generously poured lashings of top-quality wine, including Sancerre and Chateauneuf du Pape, to wash it all down.
Indeed, Mariner's two speciality restaurants are so special that when the ship is full (as, with so much included, it increasingly is), passengers can secure only one reservation per week.
But not to worry: Dine in main restaurant Compass Rose or at Sette Mari (the stylish Italian restaurant into which Mariner's La Veranda Cafe is transformed each evening), and you most certainly won't be slumming it.
Sette Mari opens every evening from 6:30 p.m. and is a good option if you enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, love Italian food and don't mind collecting your salads, dessert and cheese from a buffet. Get in early (or be prepared to eat late) if you want a window table or a table for two; know that you'll have to be patient. As our cruise progressed and word spread about the quality of the food there, the waiting list for two-top tables grew longer, though diners happy to socialize at larger tables had no problem.
Plates of tasty bruschetta, deep-fried mozzarella balls, roasted garlic cloves and freshly baked speciality bread -- along with all-important olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in -- are all served at the table and virtually constitute a meal in themselves. But we held back to make the most of an excellent minestrone soup, a slightly lemon-scented spaghetti carbonara and delicious grilled lamb chops. This barely left room to sample the broad selection of desserts, which include classic Italian tiramisu, a substantial fruit salad and various almond-laden cakes.
When Mariner is sailing full, tables for two can also be at a premium in the Compass Rose. (Again, get in early, eat late, or prepare to be sociable.) But no such restrictions apply at lunchtime, and by day this very pleasant dining room -- with its deeply comfortable, armchair-style red and gold seating -- is a delight. All restaurants are open seating.
On a sea day, we watched the glittering waves go by while tucking into a delicious lamb burger served Greek-style on pita bread with tsatsiki. And the food was equally good in the evenings. We particularly remember a piping hot and very tasty Conchiglie Vongole, crisp-skinned grilled sea bass and a simple but perfect creme brulee. Hours for Compass Rose are noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.
All restaurants also offer a good range of ice creams, and if you're craving a treat from Prime Seven or Signatures, you can have one in the main dining room. There are also low-carb, low-sodium, vegetarian and spa/healthy menu options.
During the day, Sette Mari reverts to being La Veranda, a large, pleasant indoor/outdoor space for breakfast and lunch buffets, which occupy nearly the entire aft end of Mariner's Pool Deck. There's room for about 50 people to eat breakfast alfresco under a canopy on the fantail -- another lovely retro touch, reminiscent of classic ocean liners on which open-air breakfast and coffee with great views of sea or port were the norm. Breakfast in La Veranda is offered from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., and lunch runs from noon to 2 p.m. A light "Fitness Breakfast" is served at the Pool Grill from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
There is more outdoor seating forward of La Veranda in the ship's pool area, which looks very smart, having had its teak decking resurfaced and new resort-style sofas, chairs and loungers installed.
Indeed, the Pool Grill and La Veranda areas have received eye-catching upgrades with new mosaic tiling, fresh wall coverings and new draperies, lighting and awnings. They're particularly pleasant at lunchtime and in the early afternoon, when a melodic musical group sings popular middle-of-the-road classics in foot-tapping style.
Just outside La Veranda, you'll find a well-stocked ice cream station, a salad bar and grill and an easy-to-use coffee machine which serves up fresh lattes, cappuccino, espresso and macchiato coffees and hot chocolate, all made with real milk. (The only downside is that the coffee is rather weak, so add an extra shot of espresso if you like it strong.)
On summer sea days in the Med, Seven Seas Mariner hosts a spectacular Mediterranean Buffet and barbecue out on the pool deck, featuring fresh local fish and delicious grilled meats -- a real treat.
And if all that food isn't enough for you, you can grab a coffee and a complimentary cookie, a piece of fruit or a light snack at Coffee Connection, an attractive but (on our trip) underused cafe next to the library on Deck 6.
A nice feature there is that newspapers are available to read in various languages, and they're hung on traditional cafe newspaper poles. Facsimile satellite editions of your favorite paper can also be delivered to your cabin daily for $6.50 per paper. Options include USA Today and four other U.S. papers, The Times and Financial Times (U.K.), Canada's National Post and a range of European titles like Le Monde (France) and Holland's De Telegraaf.
If, after all this food, you're feeling too full to struggle out of your suite, don't worry -- you can eat there, too. A 24-hour room service menu offers everything from sandwiches and pizza to salads, burgers and pasta.
During dinner hours, passengers may also order room service from the Compass Rose dinner menu. Menus for all dining venues are broadcast daily on in-suite televisions.