We chose this cruise for several reasons: 1. we hadn't been on Regent for over four years and felt it was time to give them another try; 2. we wanted to see the Panama canal; 3. it was an expensive way to get to South ... Read More
We chose this cruise for several reasons: 1. we hadn't been on Regent for over four years and felt it was time to give them another try; 2. we wanted to see the Panama canal; 3. it was an expensive way to get to South America to visit our friends in Ecuador.
We are Gold on Regent, and this was our 12th cruise with them; we go back to 2000 on the Paul Gauguin. We had sailed on that ship, plus the Diamond, Navigator and Voyager but never Mariner. This was also the longest cruise we had done, 18 days.
In case you choose a similar itinerary in this time frame, be aware that the climate is HOT. Places like Colombia particularly, Panama, and down to Lima the weather was very hot and humid. It was tough to be out on deck at times, and shade was at a premium. More about excursions later. But just a heads-up about this. Next time I'll try the more temperate part of SA or I'll go in their winter rather than their summer (although it doesn't matter for Panama and Colombia I think.)
Loved the ship. Friends had said that the public spaces on Mariner were the best, and being a lover of Voyager it was hard to understand that, but it's true. There are tons of lounges and meeting places around the ship. The Coffee Connection is very nice, the Observation Lounge too, although not sure I liked it any better than Voyager. Compass Rose was way better than any of the other ships--it's kind of broken up, i.e., it has the feel of several smaller rooms, and I believe that may be why the acoustics are way better. Just overall a comfortable place.
The tradeoff is that the cabins are smaller. See below under Cabin Review.
The cuisine was up to standard for Regent. We particularly thought that the food in CR was excellent. Also really enjoyed Signatures (goodbye Signatures!). Prime 7 was fine too, although the one meal that we ate there really didn't stand out. Sette Mare was okay, but the concept needs a complete overhaul as does the menu--the Italian classics were underwhelming, to be kind.
During the day we generally ate in La Verandah, although once or twice we went to CR. The buffet food was as expected, very nice usually. I only got to sit outside once, it was usually packed out there, despite the heat most days.
The Jean Ann Ryan song and dance troupe is on their way out on Regent, and I believe Mariner may be their last ship, destined to be replaced this spring. Despite the lovely leggy girl dancers, I say, "good riddance". The choreography and production values of the one or two shows that I saw were cringe-worthy. Very dated, much too glitzy and faux glamorous for such a small ship. Saw some good solo performances, although we didn't make many shows I admit.
We also very much enjoyed the lounge pianist, Ross. Made friends with him, even had dinner with him one night. He was in charge also of the music trivia, in which we participated, and had loads of fun. He played in the Observation Lounge evenings so that became our hang-out of choice before dinner.
We had a number of sea days spread out over the cruise, and the activities on board were excellent. Always something interesting to do. This included Terry Breen onboard for the entire circumnavigation of South America, doing enrichment lectures about the canal and the South American countries we were visiting. She is a fabulous lady and her presence certainly enhanced this cruise for us. We got into Trivia and ended up playing in the same group of 6 for the entire cruise--made friends and had a ball.
Service as always was excellent. The staff more than ever worked very hard at memorizing our names. Perhaps this was because of the length of the cruise, but we were only on for the first segment. Even the Destination Services staff were excellent, really great, helpful and friendly.
We did have a Code Red for a while. It was handled very discreetly and we weren't inconvenienced at all. Salt and pepper shakers, cream pitchers were removed from tables, etc. Hand sanitizing coming back to the ship was mandatory and encouraged everywhere. I think this kind of thing is probably endemic in certain tropical destinations.
We stopped at some nice islands. Some I didn't get to see much of because I was in the water (i.e., snorkeling.) St. Bart's was one--snorkelling was disappointing, although I was glad to just be in the water--island didn't seem very welcoming to cruisers--it's a "high end" island where celebs hang out. Martinique was nice, although I believe this is where some pax came to grief on excursions--one of our trivia buddies fell on a hiking trail and gouged a piece out of her leg--that curtailed her water plans for the rest of the trip; another group in a 4x4 rolled over and there were multiple wounds including a hospitalization (he rejoined the cruise later.) We did the botanical garden which was lovely. Grenada next, is the "spice island". I indeed bought spices there, and our tour was great, but the island itself is very, very poor, one big rainforest.
Bonaire was probably my favourite, although I spent my time on the water, in a junk out to Klein Bonaire, which is a desert island off the coast, protected, with some very good snorkelling. So I was happy, happy. I'd go back. Aruba seemed very nice too, although we did the submarine trip down to see the reefs and didn't see much of the island. But that excursion was a big highlight for us--made me wish I had learned to scuba years ago.
Then on to two stops in Colombia. Colombia is recovering from its bad years, and it shows, but Santa Marta has a ways to go--they don't seem to have the tourist infrastructure they need yet. Tour guides were ill-trained and the tour we went to the (beautiful) Tayrona National Park was disorganized and chaotic. The park itself is stunning, but our guide did not pay attention to the age of the participants, and the logistics of the trip were badly planned and executed. Our group ended up insisting to return to the ship, with our guide almost in tears. Our stop in Cartagena went better, the city is really beautiful. Lots of income disparity, however; huge luxury condos overlooking the ocean, gee I wonder where that money came from, eh? Just remember again, Colombia is very, very hot.
Then on to the Canal. With Terry preparing us with lectures about the building of the canal and the logistics of how it works. The day passing through the canal was the highlight of the cruise. It was spectacular. Also very hot. But the Observation Lounge was nice and cool. So people milled about the open decks all day, oohing and ahhing. So glad we did this. But again, it's HOT in January (probably all the time.)
So then on down the Pacific coast of SA. We stopped at the small Ecuadorean city of Manta. It's a major tuna fishing port, and we watched frozen bonita being emptied out of one trawler into trucks, all day long. Huge amount of fish. The weather was really bad in Manta, it poured rain all morning. People mostly went on excursions that included the town of Montecristi, where one can buy the genuine, original Panama Hat (Montecristi hat really.) Long story, but they were never made in Panama. We stayed on the ship and entertained our friends who live in Manta, a terrific thing to do if you plan it well in advance. Since we spent a week in this area later on our trip, I'll say, go to Montecristi and spend the day just wandering the shops there. It's definitely third-world, but delightful really. David brought home a hat, which he bought from a little shop, a wholesaler, not a big place, so he got a great price on a fine, fine one (so-called "superfino" quality). I bought a beautiful alpaca shawl for $10--I could have brought home beautiful blankets and hammocks as well, and jewellery. Manta itself is a gritty, dusty place, lots of construction going on recovering from the major earthquake they had last year. We really enjoyed our week there, but spent most of it on a beach south of the city.
Then on to Guayaquil, where the ship docks south of the city, in the industrial port. This city is very large. It's the gateway to the Galapagos. We went on a long excursion to a cocoa plantation, a tropical flower plantation, and an orchid greenhouse/store. The tropical flower stop was the best, because we had the owner doing a great narrative and sales pitch--our guide was useless on this trip. He didn't pay attention to the group as a whole, concentrating on the few closest to him. So we didn't see Guayaquil on this stop, although we did stay downtown later on our trip and it was interesting, and definitely different.
Trujillo was our next visit (port of Salaverry). Went to several fascinating ancient ruins. Started our education onboard with Terry doing lectures about pre-columbian civilizations. Up in the north it was all pre-Inca, and all made of adobe. Amazing stuff really. We had lunch at a hacienda where they raise and show the famous Paso horses. We had a nice outdoor meal while watching the horses and human dancers perform. A very good day, although we did not climb to the top of the Temple of the Moon because by then it was afternoon and, again, very, very HOT. Trujillo also seemed fairly poor, and the roads were covered with litter. This was noteworthy because when we got to Lima, there was NONE.
So, on to Lima for our last day on the ship. Another excursion to two ancient ruins, right in the middle of the Miraflores district where we stayed after disembarking. This is the area of the city where most tourists stay, and I highly recommend it. It's safe, there's lots of nice restaurants and people-watching. Just make sure you pick a hotel with air conditioning, if you're there in their summer--it's HOT. Getting around Lima is a pain--it's one of those giant cities with many districts, quite distinct from each other. But no subway system, nor commuter trains, with one big highway along the coast, usually absolutely snarled with traffic. Not an easy place to get around--I recommend private guides if you stay. We had a memorable time, loved it. I'd go back to Lima, but probably in the spring or fall.
We were warned by our guides that the huge port of Callao (pronounced "kai-yow") would be chaotic, and it was. But it went quite smoothly. We were independent so we were shuttled through the industrial port to the main gate where all of the taxis and pre-organized drives were waiting. Within minutes we were on our way to Miraflores for the beginning of our stay in fabulous Lima. Loved Lima, can you tell?
I'm hooked on Regent again, I can tell you. And in love with Mariner. Would love to do the remaining segments of SA that we haven't done--Lima to Rio or part of it, like Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. This was our second trip to South America and it is incredibly fascinating, but I want to try to temperature portion of the climate next time! Read Less