American-built in 1998, Grande Mariner carries American officers and crew and up to 83 passengers. The shallow draft of 6'6" allows safe navigation in bodies of water and access to smaller ports, and the retractable pilothouse permits passage under low railroad bridges. The flat bottom may result in an uncomfortable motion when the seas are rough, though the majority of the itineraries are in well-protected waters. Other features include a bow ramp for beach landings, an underwater exploration camera and a swimming platform in the stern.
Grande Mariner has an informal, low-key atmosphere, where cruisers get to know each other and make new friends. The single observation lounge seats all passengers, and a one-seating dining room serves all meals. The food is tasty all-American fare, often reflecting the cruising region, and passengers may sit with whom they wish. Alcohol is not sold, but wine is offered on special occasions, and passengers are encouraged to bring aboard their own supply of alcoholic beverages. Soft drinks are complimentary.
An open top deck has deck chair seating for sightseeing. The stairwell that connects the lounge and dining room decks is outfitted with a stair lift to assist passengers with mobility issues.
The tiny cabins, which may take a bit of getting used to for first-timers, range from 72 to 96 square feet, with both inside and outside rooms in several different configurations. The least expensive cabins have no windows and double beds with single bunks above. Outside cabins -- with portholes or windows that open -- may lead out to a central corridor or the open side promenade (for quick access to the scene outside). These cabins come in a variety of sleeping configurations: single double beds, twin beds arranged side-by-side or at right angles to one another, or one upper and one lower berth each. The ship is fully air-conditioned.
Closet space is sufficient for what is an always-informal dress code. Some bathrooms have small single compartments for showers, sinks and toilets with accordion-type doors, while others have separate shower stalls and spaces with sinks and toilets.
Organized activities and usual shipboard pastimes -- such as bingo, spas, shopping and major stage shows -- often found on big ships are absent. The emphasis is more on socializing, sightseeing and, depending on the itinerary, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing and glass-bottom boat riding. Evening entertainment is usually a lecture, followed by cards, reading and videos. Local bands and entertainers come aboard in some ports. Shore excursions are extra and may be bought as an advance-purchase package or individually onboard.
Grande Mariner was last refurbished in 2010.