RSSC’s Mariner

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Call it the new Mariner. We’re not just talking curtains and carpets here.

With the deck-to-deck update of the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner and other vessels—plus the addition of a selection of complimentary shore excursions to its inclusive portfolio—Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) has effectively created a new product with heightened appeal for both agents and their clients.

On a recent first leg of the Ft. Lauderdale-Buenos Aires segment of Mariner’s 2009 Ring of Fire World Cruise, Recommend had a front-row look at the pitch-perfect vessel, fresh from a Jan. 5-15 dry dock that sent the madeover Mariner on its way with a shipload of redesigned and newly minted stunners. The refurbishment program also included the Seven Seas Voyager, which emerged similarly agleam from a December dry dock. Total tab for the two: $40 million. (Seven Seas Navigator, queued up for the program’s second phase, is slated to show off its assets in April 2010.)

The striking Mariner—a 2001 headliner when it splashed on the scene as the world’s first all-suite, all-balcony cruise ship—could easily sail off with a trophy in a seagoing beauty pageant. Already glamorous with its towering atrium, glass elevators and eye-grabbing contemporary art, it’s been buffed to a beauty-queenly polish. A luxuriously spacious product from the outset, the ship’s redo seems to have somehow pushed back the walls, carving out even more open public areas with breathing room to spare. Picture a space ratio of 71.4 per guest. Mariner’s of-the-moment decor, at once subtle and stylish, pops in fabrics and upholstery, chandeliers and artworks.

With RSSC buffs, it’s always been pretty much a toss-up as to which scores the most plaudits: the painstaking service (the staff-to-guest ratio of 1.6 is one of the best at sea) or the delectable food. Clients can count on both in the collection of dining rooms.

Spanking new for steak lovers is Prime 7, a clubby take on a traditional grill restaurant with testosterone decor that adds sizzle to the prime-aged steaks and chops. Carnivores kick back in chocolate leather armchairs in a room warmed by lighter brown walls with touches of tan and black. Seafood and poultry are optional. Reservations are required but there is no supplemental charge.

In counterpoint, Signatures has a softer feel—an elegant enclosure with a classically French menu and wine pairings. Signatures debuted with the 2001 Mariner launch as the only restaurant at sea operated under the auspices of Le Cordon Bleu and staffed by chefs trained at France’s famed culinary academy. Not overlooked in the ship’s new palette, the room sports a sophisticated new look in shades of blue with black accents, most notably the Versace-designed china. Reservations are required; no charge. Foodies will want to sample the duck fillet…the foie gras terrine…the lobster medallions…. Among familiar favorites: Compass Rose, the main, open-seating dining room now newly handsome with chablis- and merlot-colored velvet armchairs; La Veranda, an airy expanse for buffet-style breakfast and lunch with a switcheroo to dining venue for evening; and the Pool Grill for casual deck lunches, displaying new lounge and dining areas.

A newly created spot called Coffee Connection became an instant hit for a light breakfast or anytime snack…or merely hanging. Adjacent to the ship’s trove of books and DVDs, it’s perfect for ordering a cappuccino at the bar and relaxing with a book and straight-from-the-oven cookies. To find the place, cruisers need only sniff the heavenly aromas and follow their respective noses.

In fact, the daily supply of cookies (arguably, the cranberry-nut concoction takes top prize) is a ship-wide given, serving up a homey welcome as warm as the wondrous breads made fresh for every meal. The culinary rewards come courtesy of some 4,000 recipes in the ship’s database, says executive chef Mike Roemhild, a file that also tracks the preferences of frequent cruisers.

Then there are the suites—a vision of space, glorious space. Each wraps up a bedroom area with richly dressed bed, giant mirror, lighted dressing table and walk-in closet; and a curtained-off sitting area, comfortably furnished with a curving sofa and an armchair (there’s that lush velvet again). The sitting area accommodates an ample desk and cabinets; a fridge stocked daily with complimentary water, beer and soft drinks; and a coffee table that rises to the occasion for in-suite, white-cloth meal service.