WHO WE ARE First time cruisers. I am in mid-30's, husband is pushing 50. DIWSK. We live in the San Francisco Peninsula, on the North End. My husband is a 4th Generation San Josean, I am Guatemalan and have spent most of my life in the San Francisco Peninsula area. We both love to travel; each of us has visited Europe, South America, North America, Central America, and the Far East. Our travel style is one where we like to spend time in a particular locale or city; we each do not like to 'city hop'. We tend to stay in 4 to 5 star properties and travel business class, but only if we can use existing points or mileage points to achieve. If need be, we can travel on a budget. We like luxury at a deal, and as many of you know, there are a lot of resources available to this end.
Other lines we considered for our first cruise were Celebrity and Silversea. We liked RSSC's value proposition: not having to pay gratuities, open seating at the restaurants, a smaller, all-suite, all-balcony ship, and fine dining in multiple venues with free wine.
Our expectations of the cruise were to provide us with quality couple time in an environment that was luxurious at the right price. We weren't necessarily going because we wanted to party or to see Broadway-level shows. Mexico wasn't even a big "must see" destination for us; if the Mariner had left Los Angeles and been out at sea all the time, that would have been just fine for us
EMBARKATION AND DEBARKATION Very efficient, pain free. No crowds, no rushing. People greeting you as you come on, people saying goodbye as you come off. So civilized it makes you appreciate it even more.
INITIAL SHIP IMPRESSION This ship is still 3 years new, and does not show any wear or have any smells. They keep her as immaculate as you can keep a ship at sea. Few indications of rust were seen; any spots seemed to be taken care of immediately or when possible (we noticed this in public areas or unused suites).
EXTERIOR The Mariner is a lovely ship to look at, and is gleaming white with discreet blue trim and nicely proportioned with wonderful lines; she looks swift and sleek. I read somewhere about some purists grousing on how 'ugly' the all-suite ships seem to them, but quite frankly, they can keep the portholes to themselves. Even the way they have tucked the lifeboats/tenders away on the Mariner's deck is clever.
INTERIOR The interior of the Mariner has been well thought out and has been tastefully done. Nothing garish, clashing, cheap, or overdone. The color scheme (mainly neutrals and dark blues) and the minimality of dEcor provides a soothing, harmonious ambiance. A lot of woods and natural fabrics. The ship is also very bright, with a lot of natural lighting, and airy, giving the impression of open space. The Atrium is a wonderful focal point for the ship and again, the use of natural light pervades.
The artwork, in our opinion was good to very good for a public space.
THE SUITE Our suite, a category H on the port side, was ready a little before 2:30 p.m. and it was every bit as superb as we imagined it. It is well designed and every available space used ingeniously. Again, a neutral palette pervades, and a lot of natural wood cabinetry and crown molding. Everything was spotless. The fabrics used on the main drapes were rich and heavy, providing absolute darkness when pulled. The balcony also has a set of privacy drapes (the gauze like ones). Again, we noticed that RSSC did not skimp on materials: the main drapes overlapped generously. You can pull the drapes between the sleeping and the sitting area, and it provides absolute privacy between the two spaces.
There is a vanity area with good lighting, a covered box of tissue and a drawer where the hairdryer lives. An round ottoman which provides seating and the wastebasket are tucked underneath.
The balcony was a very nice size and the plastic chairs and table did not bother me as much as I thought it would. Neither did the visible spaces around the partition (about 2.5 inches by my guess). We liked how 'far down' we were on the ship because we could really see details in the ocean that perhaps people further up would not (schools of fish, for example). The desk, AV and cabinet area opposite the couch and coffee table are well designed, and I liked the backlights provided. Speaking of lighting, you could go as bright or as dark as you wanted anywhere in the suite, controls are located everywhere.
Our requested in-bar set up of Grey Goose Vodka was waiting for us, although we thought the 1 liter bottle was a bit generous. There was a bottle of Seven Seas Champagne being chilled in a bucket, waiting for us to pop the cork. There was a green orchid stem in a tall square bud vase, and a bowl of fresh fruit, with a setup of a plate, knife and napkin ready. The desk area had a green leather inlay. There was a leather binder with ship information, writing paper and postcards and room service forms. A notepad and pen were near the phone, as were an ashtray (never seemed to be used...and by the way, if it ever was, there was never a hint of smoke in our suite) and a card with our room attendants names (Maria and Jun Jun). There was also a copy of the RSSC Magazine, as well as a copy of the daily paper, Passages.
The TV has several channels, Channel 01 pertaining to the menus, ship crew, service hours, etc. Channel 02 is the Bow Cam with a Date and Time runner at the bottom, it plays classical music. Channel 03 is a GPS of sorts, it shows where the ship is on a map and gives knot/wind speeds. Channel 04 has upcoming Port Information and Radisson Itinerary information, including the other ships. At least 3 channels are dedicated to current movie releases (on this particular cruise, they included "School of Rock" "Something has got to Give" "Master and Commander"), a schedule which is given to you in your desk area, there is one 'PBS' type of channel which also changes programming daily. CNN and ESPN were also available. There is no CD/DVD capability in the suite, we brought our own CD player and tunes. It would have been nice to have at least one music video type channel (VH1 classic?).
The closet space is generous and the wood hangers were a nice detail. The safe is pretty much like ones you see at first rate hotels, easy to use. There is a large sized umbrella, a shoe horn, two thick towel robes, a set of laundry bags/slips, two life vests, a shoe mitt, a pair of pool towels, a "Privacy Please" and a"Service Please" door hangers. We loved all the wood drawer space in the closet. Our 7 pieces of luggage were quickly disgorged of their contents (resting on a RSSC logo tarp on our bed) and everything fit into the closet/drawer space (there is also a set of drawers underneath the TV). Once done, we found out that all our luggage fit underneath our bed, no need to have to put in storage! The only item that I flunked in our suite was the shoe rack; hopelessly useless, even for shoes with heels. The few shoes we put in there kept sliding off. Most of my shoes are in dust bags, so I just piled them up in a corner.
The bathroom is a nice size, with all the wonderful white marble and light tan marble trim. A set of up towels, a cotton/q-tip jar and sanitary bags (these were in the cabinet) were provided. The towels were thick and had nice napping. The bath towels were generously sized. The Mariner is still using the Judith Jackson Spa "Citresse" amenities: 2 hand soaps, 1 large bar soap, 1 shampoo, 1 conditioner, 1 shower gel, 1 body lotion (plus 2 shower caps and a mending kit). These are a wonderful citrus aroma (then again, I'm partial to all things citrus), however if citrus is not your thing, you should BYOS (bring your own stuff).
The room gets turned down each night; everything is fluffed up, cleaned, replaced and a turndown chocolate placed on your beside table.
The suite's small foyer has a cap rack and the temperature controls (we found the room temperature perfect at all times), the external doorway has a doorbell. The door itself has a clip which is very practical and nicely coordinated with the ship logo on it.
EATING VENUES One of the Mariner's main delights is having so many dining options, with varying cuisine styles. All feature top notch services and distinct ambiances:
POOL GRILL As it names indicates, this is at the pool area. This is the most casual of the eating venues, and its color scheme is green. You eat in the pool area, at teak tables. It is only open for lunch hours. Here is where you can get a burger or hot dog, fries (always crisp!), basic salad, pre-made sandwiches and cookies. In addition to this, there is a themed lunch buffet everyday.
For seating/service, you pick a table and if you are ordering from the grill, you give your order to a waiter standing at the grill area and your table number. Your grill order is brought out to you. Drink orders are taken by the roving staff. Everything else is pretty much self serve.
LA VERANDA This restaurant is on deck 11 aft, spanning both sides and the rear balcony. The room is done in neutrals and greens, with art deco style posters. This is the Mariner's version of the full service buffet, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The servers sport dark green shirts with ship plans on them. We did not have any dinner here, so I can't comment on it. The only thing I can vouch for is that in your daily Passages paper, it tells you what the theme of the night is (e.g. one night was billed as "Italian Steakhouse"). We did about half of our lunches here.
There is always a lot of wait staff around ready to take your plate and walk with you to your table (eating alfresco on the aft balcony is the way to go, if the weather permits) and the bar staff quickly delivers drinks or coffee to you.
Even though my husband does not like buffets (I'm a little less squirrelly on this subject), we ate lunch at La Veranda a lot. We found the quality to be consistently very good to exceptional. Their buffet could pass for a good restaurant's served platters, anytime!
COMPASS ROSE Compass Rose is the largest of the Mariner's restaurants and the most all around wonderful (Signatures is close, but they are reservation and dinner only so you can't really compare). It is on deck 5 and spans both sides of the ship. But don't let the size fool you...it is an elegant space with an equally elegant set up. You can have breakfast (see my comment for La Veranda), lunch and dinner here.
The most marvellous feature of Compass Rose (and Latitudes, although they are tasting menu style so perhaps it does not count, and Signatures, but then again the French are not into super-sizing) are the portion sizes. They give you just the right amount. If you feel you are not getting enough, you are free to order as many appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts as you want. You can order from the a la carte menu or from the menu degustation, or from both. Dishes were always prepared right: vegetables crisp when they should be crisp, medium rare is medium rare, food accented (not drowned) in sauces and the right level of seasonings. However, like some other fine restaurants I've dined at, sometimes things are a bit on the salty side, most notably with the soups. Not inedible, just a pinch salty. I think the current mode of using a little Fleur de Sel permeates a lot of cooking these days.
Everything is beautifully presented with attention to detail. Nothing that I had felt like it was not freshly prepared. Dishes arrived at perfect temperatures and it was a joy to cup the aromas and inhale. A variety of breads get offered, and the butter is lightly iced and shaped like little flowers. The wines, a mix of French and Californian (with Chilean and Australian ones rounding out) change every day, and nothing cheap tasting was ever poured. The daily wines were so good, we never felt the need to refer to the Reserve List. We did note that among the reserve were Silver Oak Cabernet (both Alexander Valley and Napa Valley), Tiganello (an Italian Red) and Santa Margaherita Pinot Grigio. RSSC isn't skimpy with the pouring either, the wine glasses are constantly being refilled.
I won't go into much detail as to what sort of things get served up, because they are as varied as variety themselves.
It was tough to decide which was our favorite, Compass Rose, or the next restaurant...
SIGNATURES Signatures, the Cordon Bleu Restaurant, is worthy of its fame. We had 3 dinners here, two from the same menu, one from the new menu (menu apparently is changed every week). Signatures feels like a fine restaurant one would dine in New York, San Francisco or even Paris. There is a lot of silver coloring used in the dining room; on table there is candlelight and a single red rose in a silver bud vase. The staff are dressed in white Cordon Bleu style garb, and the menu is shaped like a Cordon Bleu shirt. This is a decidedly French restaurant and it is always jacket only (formal of course for formal nights).
Let's not digress too much from the food. It approximates sublimity. For starters, you always get an amouse bouche, like a large marinated shrimp. Then your choice of appetizer, soup, salad, palate cleaner sorbet and main course (or, you can always get whatever you want from the menu...there is no fixed order if that's what you want). On our first night I had the pistachio and date crusted lamb chops and they were absolutely delicious. My husband's choice that night was a veal chop with bleu cheese, a combination we had never heard of before, it was great. The warmed chocolate tart is a chocoholic's dream come true (and of course, they use dark chocolate for this one). Other memorable delicacies included foie gras terrines, huge scallops, caviar set up in a cucumber tower, lobster salad, seared duck breast (with the skin done to a perfect crisp) and tournedos Rossini (a filet mignon with a slice of seared foie gras on top).
The soups are usually French style, meaning that they are cream of something. These very generally very good; albeit the salt issue I found with the Compass Rose came up here as well. The main course is always presented with a silver dome and which is removed with a voila! The voila creates a little vortex for aromas, no need for hand cupping here! The bread is sliced French. At the end of the meal, before your dessert arrives, you can order a cheese course from the cheese cart and a dish of white and dark chocolate truffles is presented just in time to savor with your coffee.
The staff is a tad more serious than in Compass Rose, but by no means they are stuffy. There is always a smile greeting from the servers and details like a proffered arm for the ladies by the maitre d', Sebastian. The sommelier gladly pours your choice of wine for you and is happy to answer any questions. Mostly French wines get poured here, of course. On all three nights Renata was either our primary or assistant server and she is very pleasant. The room is small enough to create the mood for romance and intimacy.
We loved eating at Signatures. With the variety on the menu, it is easy to go back very frequently without falling into a food rut. Obviously, the reservation only system makes it difficult to satisfy spur of the moment peckishness.
LATITUDES Latitudes is the smallest of the dining venues and the second dinner only, reservations required restaurant. Of all the dining room styles, it is the one I liked best in terms of interior design. The palette is earth tones and the art work featured here are Brazilian head dresses and Balinese Masks. Even the table is set up with exotic shaped plates and utensils in dark earth colors. The servers (save for Rico, the maitre d'...he always wears a dinner jacket) wear Asian inspired coats in the same color palette. Being the most exotic renders it the most strange on the Mariner, given the general demographics of the ship, especially this particular cruise. Allow me to explain. To appreciate Latitudes, it does require that first, you have appreciation and enjoyment for cuisines other than American and Continental European. Second, you must be comfortable with the Tasting Menu concept of dining, something most associated with what is sometimes called 'destination dining'. Some example of these places include the French Laundry in Yountville, Gary Danko in San Francisco, Fleur de Lys in San Francisco (the new, post kitchen fire Fleur de Lys, that is), Manresa in Los Gatos. Most people can get past the first item, many people, my husband included (his worldliness notwithstanding), can't get past the second. I do like the tasting menu concept and do not find it peculiar; but I did wonder and marvel at RSSC's ambition and foresight in putting a restaurant of this type on the Mariner.
We only ate at Latitudes once, partly because my reservation date coincided with the day they changed menus and partly because the meal was good but not good enough to be worthy of a repeat. On our particular dinner, mostly Asian themed, the set of 4 appetizers were pretty good (a bite of avocado and crustacean meat was wonderful), the 3 soups had one outstanding one (a tamarind and chile infused clear broth). The salad course was pretty pedestrian (mixed greens with 3 marinated prawns...tasty but nothing special). The main course had a very good to a not so good entrEe (the very good being a slice of meat with some pico de gallo sauce on it, the bad being a breast of chicken that was on the dry side and not enough sauce on it to moisten it). The desserts were mediocre at best and a let down given what all the other Mariner dining venues offer. I can't even remember a single one to describe here, save that I found a couple of them on the dry side!
Overall, the meal at Latitudes was good. On a cruise such as ours, had I known how often the menus changed, I would have made my reservations so that we could try the menu at least once. As I mentioned earlier, I think Latitudes is the venue where RSSC should highlight cuisine of the area being traveled, it offers the perfect approach to doing so.
YOUR ROOM (via room service) Room service in the Mariner is a dream come true. Wonderful food gets delivered with pleasure and cheer any time of the day. Any request that is food related gets fulfilled promptly. While all the dining rooms on the Mariner are beautiful, there is something about nibbling on your meal while watching the ocean go by. The evening's Compass Rose menu can be delivered to your door during the dining room's hours.
FITNESS CENTER Located on deck 7, this is a gym and studio, and is under the helm of the pert and perky Jacquie, the resident fitness instructor. She gives a little tour of the facilities the afternoon of embarkation. The gym has a handful of treadmills, a selection of dumbbells, a couple of Stairmasters and elliptical runners. Ceiling mounted TV's are located strategically for distraction. There is activity here at several times of the day. We generally visited in the mornings and while busy, we never had to wait for any piece of equipment.
Jacquie provides several fitness classes during the day, mostly geared towards stretching and isotonic movements that are mid-section focused. I participated in a few and found them very effective. At the beginning of the cruise, a schedule of classes is available as a handout for planning. These classes are also mentioned on a daily basis in Passages.
JOGGING TRACK On deck 12, there is a jogging track for running, walking or for use as yet another vantage point. Eleven laps equals one mile; and in keeping with the ship's environment, it's never crowded.
POOL AND JACUZZIS Situated at deck 11, there is a good size, salt water pool and 3 Jacuzzis (freshwater). There are also two showers and plenty of deck chairs. Never crowded, although it is a popular spot during nice sunny days. I can't really be out in the sun, so we tended to be there later in the afternoon and many times we were the only ones in the area. Plenty fresh pool towels are available and they wrap around generously. There is a pool bar, generally manned by Allen, who has a ready smile and always prepares your libations right.
SPA The Spa, on deck 7, is under the auspices of Carita of Paris. It has a nice vestibule and a water tranquility fountain. It would be oh-so-comfortable just to wander into the Spa in your robe, but this a no-no on the Mariner. Services include facials, manicures/pedicures, massages and beauty salon services (shampoo, cuts, updos). The menu is not very deep, but services are well performed by friendly and skilled staff. Pricing is comparable to San Francisco, and I felt like I got good value. We had terrific service from Robert, the manager, Pamela the therapist, Marie from Brittany for nails and Delphine from Paris for updos.
LE CASINO Le Casino is on deck seven with an assortment of one arm bandits (slot machines), a small crap table, roulette and about 4 blackjack tables. We didn't play but knew people who were going in for blackjack and some crap (tables, that is!). It seemed generally quiet, although some nights it was very lively, and livelier when the blackjack tournament was going on.
ENTERTAINMENT AT THE CONSTELLATION THEATRE The Constellation Theatre is a magnificent, magical locale and ingeniously designed...there isn't a bad seat in the house. It is not only used for shows, it is used for holding the mustering drill, I noticed that it was used for the SSS party and in our cruise for immigration with US Customs. We caught the "dangerously clean" comedy of Brian the first night (he was funny but didn't put me into stitches) and we saw the presentation of Fiesta Latina (they included songs from The Mask, Evita, Marc Anthony, Miami Sound Machine) with the Peter Terhune Grey dancers and singers...very good, with a lot of costume changes! Other shows included a magician, Marshall Magoon (we heard he wasn't very good) and Helen Jayne (we heard she was really good).
SERVICES, SHOPPING AND INFORMATION/SERVICE Since the Mariner is a floating hotel of sorts, one finds the sort of amenities and services one would expect from a land based outfit. All are conveniently located manned with helpful staff. Especially note that the laundry service and detergent is free.
DAY TO DAY ACTIVITIES For some of us, cruising on the Mariner was meant for R and R, and this was achieved. Not to worry, the ship has all sorts of activities, both planned and spontaneous, all day up until 10:30 pm (then you are left to your own devices!) The planned ones are in Passages, and range from meeting other passengers, to the scheduled fitness classes, bridge, daily quizzes, needlepoint and morning coffee, games (both indoor and outdoor) classes, lectures, bingo, presentations, game show type activities, poker tournaments, etc. One would be hard pressed not to like or participate in any of these offerings.
CREW AND SERVICE LEVELS Enough cannot be said about the outstanding crew and staff aboard the Mariner. RSSC has certainly done its homework in attracting, recruiting and retaining the best of the best. They are not only qualified in what they do, they also display a genuine love of their work and of their passengers. While the ship is elegant, her staff and crew are not aloof. It is not uncommon to see the ship's officers strolling around, and saying hello to you. Staff members remember you and greet you. They will stop and chat with you, if you start a conversation. They will listen and do their best to honor your requests promptly. I remember hearing "We help you make your wishes come true" early on in the ship and this was no by line on some glossy advert. I was witness to some of the staff getting talked to by some ungracious people (you know, those people who DEMAND service and wouldn't know good service if it ran over them) and they were handled very professionally. We hear stories in the news of how other cruise lines hire, pay and treat their employees, I have to believe RSSC values their employees and treats them well, because it translates into how they treat the cruisers AND the longevity of some of these people with the company.
GENERAL DEMOGRAPHICS OF THIS PARTICULAR CRUISE This cruise sailed with 540 passengers, and it would be safe to say 70% of them were at least 70. Making up almost half of the passengers was a group with Jazzdagen Tours, a tour company that caters to jazz enthusiasts by promoting jazz tours and cruises. They even bring their own jazz musicians along; and were happy to share them with the rest of the ship (they were excellent).
The average age was not a problem for us, because our motives for being on this cruise did not include endless partying. We don't mind mixing with older folks, either. But we could see if someone went on this cruise looking for a 'fun ship' and not fully aware of the general demographics, they would be quite surprised and turned off. I actually enjoyed the quiet elegance I found on the Mariner, it helped me relax.
We understand from the Mariner's staff the demographics tend to change depending on where the ship is going and the length of days of the cruise. For example, 7 day cruises will attract younger people; 7 day cruises to Alaska will have more families.
We did see and were able to meet a lot of interesting people of all ages, those in our immediate group (meaning, we dined/socialized with) included Tanya Moss the Mexican jewelry designer and her husband Eduardo, who were of my age group (under 40), The Torok's (magicmat), celebrating their 20th anniversary, they were closer to Peter's age group (close to or just over 50), Norm and Gerri in their 70's, and Aaron and Jo (80 and 50's). We also informally chatted up and talked a lot more people, so meeting people isn't a problem if you are socially outgoing and friendly.
The cruise was predominately American, with some Britons and some Austrian couples. There were a few African Americans, Latin Americans and Asians.
SUMMARY This cruise has now made us converts not only to this style of travel, but loyal RSSCers...to a greater extent, extremely loyal to the Mariner. Our expectations were met and exceeded on all levels. People thought we came back glowing and relaxed (it showed in a lot of pictures, as well as in person). We thought it was excellent value and worth every cent.
RSSC MARINER'S PROS • Ultimate in luxury and pampering. • Relaxing environment, discretion is the modus operandi . • Great value for price. • All inclusive, includes all shipboard gratuities and includes wine/liquor at dinner. •The entire staff and crew is genuinely friendly and professional. • Attention to detail and quality.
RSSC MARINER'S CONS
• Ship does attract a much older crowd; younger people looking to meet other young people or who are looking for a high energy vacation will be disappointed. • Should consider more San Francisco departures for Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico.
CONSIDERATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR THE M/S MARINER
• Compass Rose staff needs to be a little less obvious during certain situations and requests that may conflict with their routine/schedule (see my example under "Compass Rose"). • Hold the art auctions in one of the card rooms...setting up shop in the Garden Promenade can actually create a hazard. • Consider more San Francisco departures for Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico. • Don't hold the premiere of a new show the last night at sea (we are all busy packing), and at 6:30 pm (way too early!). Read Less