By Colleen McDaniel
Cruise Critic Senior Executive Editor
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Dining onboard Seven Seas Mariner is a little bit up and down. The highs are the cruise ship's two specialty restaurants, Chartreuse 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, and they fill quickly, so reservations are recommended.

On our 10-night sailing, Prime 7 was booked solid before we even boarded the ship. We enjoyed our time at Sette Mari at La Veranda, where we had the best service of any of the restaurants onboard. The one low -- and it's not a grievous low -- is Compass Rose, the ship's main dining room, where we found service slow, especially in the beginning while waiting for a waiter to visit our table.

Compass Rose (Deck 5): Compass Rose, on Deck 5, is the ship's main dining room, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Passengers can eat when they like when the restaurant is open, and choose to sit alone or with other diners. The dining room is 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.

Healthier dishes, as well as vegetarian and pre-ordered kosher fare, are available for all meals, and low-calorie/low-fat meals are identified under a Canyon Ranch SpaClub heading. 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.

Breakfast at Compass Rose is fairly standard, with egg dishes, hashes and a variety of bread and pastry options. 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 choices like chicken breast or salmon are available every day. Other items include pasta, steak, lobster and fish.

The flexibility of the menu is particularly impressive. Many proteins are served with your choice of sauce, and you can mix and match or select the chef's suggestion. You can additionally add any of a wide variety of side dishes, from French fries to grilled asparagus and jasmine rice. There's also a freshly made pasta of the day, with your choice of sauce.

Additionally, you can pick from the list of daily specials, which lean toward traditional, beautifully prepared dishes such as lobster thermidor or veal Oscar served on a deliciously creamy mascarpone polenta. One dish from each of the two specialty restaurants is on the menu each night. Diners aren't restricted to one portion of the menu and can select favorites from each area, such as an appetizer from the Canyon Ranch section, a pasta from the daily specials and an entree from one of the specialty restaurants.

The overall quality of food is generally quite good, as is the service, though meals take a lot of time. Most nights we dined there, we were waiting for excessively long periods to order our meals and between courses, especially when the restaurant was busiest and wait staff was stretched thin.

In Compass Rose, top-quality wines are served throughout each meal by a knowledgeable sommelier who can help you with the best pairings. There's a daily, rotating selection or reds and whites, but you may also order off an additional wine menu if those don't tickle your fancy. 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 lags behind.

Prime 7 (Deck 5): Prime 7, which serves dinner only, is the best restaurant on the ship. Located on Deck 5, adjacent to the Mariner Lounge, the restaurant has an upscale steakhouse feel, with dark wood and white leather chairs, bright tilework 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 at Prime 7, 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, many sharing giant plates of king crab. For dessert, try the innovative popcorn caramel sundae or a more traditional steakhouse selection: cheesecake.

If possible, make reservations for Prime 7 ahead of your sailing to ensure you get a table for the time and date you would like. If it's full, don't despair: Check in daily with the dining concierge to see if any tables have opened up.

Chartreuse (Deck 6): Chartreuse, the ship's French restaurant, is located on Deck 6, adjacent to the Horizon Lounge. The restaurant serves dinner each night, and reservations are required as passengers are quick to book, especially on shorter itineraries. Meals here are excellent, with an emphasis on classic French cuisine with a twist.

Starters include escargot in a red wine sauce or beef tartare, topped with heavenly caviar. Soups are savory and opulent; try the cream of artichoke. For mains, consider the Coquilles St.-Jacques, a savory dish that blends briny sea scallops with spicy chorizo. Other options include beef tenderloin served with truffle sauce and seared foie gras or veal with apple confit. Sauces are creamy and perfectly proportionate to the delicately cooked proteins. 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!) One touch we adored: You get a takeaway box of delicate macarons.

Coffee Connection (Deck 6): Visit Coffee Connection on Deck 6 for a cookie any time. During the morning and in the afternoon, you can also grab a piece of fruit or a light snack (bagels and cold cuts, for example) without wading through the crowds. It's a light menu without huge selection, but it's a nice way to escape the busier breakfast spots onboard.

Pool Grill (Deck 11): For breakfast, we routinely selected the sparsely used Pool Grill, located outdoors and also on Deck 11. In truth, the Pool Grill 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.

The Pool Grill is better known for its hamburgers, sandwiches, veggie burgers and appetizers that it serves from late morning until late into the afternoon. Over lunchtime, a daily themed grill is available, as well. One day, it might be Spanish barbecue, with paella, tapas and grilled bream. 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.

La Veranda/Sette Mari (Deck 11): La Veranda, on Deck 11, with indoor and lovely outdoor seating, serves buffet-style meals for breakfast and lunch. The 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. English breakfast selections, including beans and grilled tomatoes, are always available, as are British condiments like HP Sauce.

This spot is where dining on Mariner is the weakest for lunch, in large part because the buffet offerings were repetitive. The daily salad bar changed very little, and small changes to cold cuts and the various hot options like grilled fish or chicken piccata were not sufficient to keep us coming back for more. We found the salad topping options to be limited, though we loved the dressing choices. Cold salads, such as lentil or potato salads, along with cold veggie mixes (broccoli and smoked salmon, for example) are a good option. Cold seafood, such as crab legs or peel-and-eat shrimp, are served every day. There's also a pizza window here, offering several pie options, that's open only for lunch. It's easy to miss, but the pizza is good, so swing by for a slice at least once on your trip.

For dessert, passengers can grab ice cream, cheese, fruit or any of a large variety of pastries. Options change every day.

At night, La Veranda becomes Sette Mari at La Veranda, an Italian eatery that blends menu and buffet dining. Sette Mari 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. You can order half-servings of pasta if you'd like to have a taste without overloading ahead of an entree. Try the cioppini, with fresh and perfectly cooked seafood in a sublime tomato soup, or the veal, served in several styles, including Marsala and with lemon. Dessert also is served on the buffet, and it includes options like tiramisu and panna cotta.

We enjoyed terrific service at Sette Mari, with waiters and waitresses who confidently made menu suggestions and even moved quickly through a meal so we could make it to the evening's show on time. We watched as they deftly helped passengers who had mobility issues navigate the buffet, in some cases just loading plates for them and bringing them to the table. The restaurant fills quickly from about 7:30 p.m. on, so if you don't want to wait, plan to dine early. We arrived later on several occasions and discovered no tables were available. The maitre d' took our suite number and we waited at the Observation Lounge, where he called the bartender to alert us our table was ready. We waited anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. Diners can eat in Sette Mari as often as they'd like.

Horizon Lounge (Deck 6): Mariner offers an afternoon tea at 4 p.m. each day in the Horizon Lounge on Deck 6, no matter the port schedule. It's a traditional option, where servers wearing white gloves bring you tea and wheel around a cart full of dessert options. Those who partake also can eat finger sandwiches, scones (with clotted cream) and fruit. You'll also find a theme most days, so one service might be themed around cheesecake, with multiple varieties to tempt, while another might be chocolate themed, with everything from cookies to cakes to pastries. Passengers can choose from a variety of Twinings tea selections.

Room Service: Room service is free and available 24 hours a day. Breakfast offers eggs in addition to continental options. You order by checking boxes and indicating servings on a card that you hang on your doorknob the night before. We did add a few write-ins for orders -- additions such as Greek yogurt or avocado -- with mixed results. Sometimes we got what we asked for, sometimes not. 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.

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