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Cruise Ship Review

Seven Seas Marinerfont color=#C81D00 - Inclusive Amenities!/font - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

It's cool to be trendy, but sometimes it's cooler to buck the trend. In an era in which cruise ships and passenger loads practically require their own zip codes, along came Regent Seven Seas Cruises with a totally retro concept: Build medium-size ships with reduced passenger loads to foster service that's attentive and gracious in an onboard environment that's open and spacious. And, though Seven Seas Mariner was built in 2001, it has been kept in impeccable condition; in January 2009, Regent Seven Seas poured another $20 million into the refurbishment of the ship.

In this most recent upgrade, Seven Seas Mariner received the new Prime 7 steakhouse, as well as new furniture in several bars, lounges and Compass Rose, the main dining room. Additionally, new deck chairs can be found on the sun deck, and a pizzeria was also added in La Veranda's casual dining area.

There is much that is retro -- in a good sense -- about Seven Seas Mariner. The ship's main dining venue, Compass Rose, which recalls classic ship architecture, is a single-deck room, set squarely mid-ship. Another inheritance from earlier generations of passenger ships is the absence of a bar in the main entry lobby, even though the lobby sits at the bottom of a very modern eight-deck atrium. Instead, Mariner has an intimate, deeply carpeted, softly lit lounge set off the foyer, between the atrium and Compass Rose. The result? The reception area remains quiet and uncrowded, and it's a comfortable place to relax or rendezvous with fellow passengers.

The style of the ship is classic, without being a self-conscious imitation of the past -- sophisticated without pretense. Service is prompt and, for the most part, gracious and warm. Passengers are well-traveled and have many experiences to share without drifting into braggadocio.

Interestingly, Seven Seas Mariner is one of the few luxury ships to genuinely welcome families, offering heartfelt warmth and, during kids' school breaks in summer, a dedicated children's program.

There are, of course, a few glitches, but these rise only as high as quibble level. For a luxury ship, there is a surprising lack of quality art displayed in public rooms and hallways. Instead, with the main exceptions of restaurant walls and a multi-deck sculpture that climbs the atrium, the walls mainly bear samples from Park West's art auction inventory. And, in a relatively new move, Regent Seven Seas has abolished its on-ship photography service. While that means there are no cheerful requests to pose for pictures at the most inconvenient times, it also means you'll be toting a camera.

Dining

Michelin may give a maximum of three stars to restaurants, but in our book, Mariner rates almost a perfect five. Meals invariably came out piping hot, deliciously prepared and beautifully presented. Mariner's cuisine shows deeply planted French roots, though only the alternative restaurant, Signatures, claims the Cordon Bleu pedigree. Emphasis is on finely tuned, delicate flavoring and larger numbers of small-portion courses.

Compass Rose, the main dining room, is an airy, comfortable space, stretching the full width of the ship and offering plenty of space between tables. Service there, with the exception of turnaround days, when waiters and weary travelers in equal measure tend to run short on patience, is superlative. Seating is open, as are the doors, typically from 7 until 9 p.m. Passengers may choose from three options: dine alone, dine with tablemates of their choosing or sit with strangers.

All three meals are served in Compass Rose, and all are ordered from a menu. Although Compass Rose offers specialties like Swedish pancakes and lamb chops, breakfast there is not very different from La Veranda's breakfast on Deck 11. But lunches, like dinners, have a wide range of choices that reflect multiple nationalities. A single lunch, for example, included dishes from Mexico, Norway, Argentina, Italy, France, Greece, Denmark and Germany. Selections from the main menu are flagged for a fixed "Light & Healthy" menu, and there are always vegetarian, salad, sandwich and pasta choices.

Dinner is where Compass Rose truly shines. Each night features both red and white selections from the ship's extensive wine list, poured gratis, though passengers may purchase bottles of other vintages, as well. Main dinner selections include an appetizer, soup, a salad, pasta and a main course. Generally, there are two or three choices for each (except for the single pasta dish), which are followed by cheeses, after-dinner drinks and desserts. Most intriguing, however, is the nightly, six-course degustation (tasting) menu. In addition to the categories on the main menu, this special menu includes dessert and palate-cleansing sherbet courses. Few, if any, choices are repeated between the two menus, but, of course, mixing and matching is allowed.

La Veranda, the breakfast and lunch buffet eatery, is a large, pleasant space that occupies nearly the entire aft half of the Pool Deck. There is room for outdoor seating for about 50 under a canopy on the fantail -- another nice retro aspect, reminding us of days aboard the classic ocean liners, where eating breakfast and drinking coffee outside with an open view of sea or port was the norm. There is additional outdoor seating forward of La Veranda, near the pool, and plenty of comfortable seating inside on both port and starboard sides of the ship. There are complimentary buffet lines in the aft area of the room and a separate counter for self-serve pizza on the portside, as well as a pair of omelet stations.

Adjacent to La Veranda's forward, outdoor-eating area are two grill areas, which (at sunrise) serve a crack-of-dawn "Fitness First" breakfast -- a combination of fruit, pastries and do-it-yourself juices (juice makers with platters of fruits and vegetables). Beyond that, there are two stations where eggs are cooked to order. The cold-cut selection is extensive, ranging from various cheeses and meats to gravlax (salmon).

During both breakfast and lunch, the ambience is gracious and elegant, featuring white linen and sterling tableware. It's barely necessary to even pick up your plate since there's always a server standing by to help you to your table. Even the omelet chef hand-carries your eggs to the table. Just remember your table number before going to make your order.

At night, La Veranda dons the mantle of Mediterranean Bistro (or the Alaskan Grill Lodge, Mariner's casual, alternative restaurant on Alaska sailings). Each night in this no-reservations-required dining area, a different Mediterranean cuisine (or a selection of Alaskan seafood and grilled meats) is featured. The appetizer course is a fairly unchanging tapas (Spanish hors d'oeuvres) bar, followed by varying regional dishes, which are ordered from the menu.

There are two other alternative dining venues aboard Mariner. The 100-seat Signatures has the distinction of being one of two Cordon Bleu restaurants at sea. (The other is, of course, Regent Seven Seas' Seven Seas Voyager.) This is, perhaps, the only restaurant afloat that always requires gentlemen to wear jackets. The menu has basically stayed the same for years. For my meal, I started with scallops in herb oil, spring onions and mashed potatoes. For my second appetizer, I ordered foie gras terrine with prune marmalade. (The famous mushroom soup here is delicious, too.) For the main course, I tried the very tender beef tournedos Rossini. You may be surprised that there was any room left for dessert, but a "why not" attitude prevailed, and I'm glad it did. The Tahitian creme brulee was, perhaps, the best dessert I had onboard.

Equally popular is the intimate, 70-seat Prime 7 steakhouse, which was recently added to the ship to replace the pan-Asian Latitudes restaurant. The menu features steaks and seafood. (Try the ahi tuna tartar or jumbo lump crab cake starters.) I actually chose a meal consisting of starters, including foie gras with rhubarb, which was nice; the entrees are pretty huge. All beef products served are U.S.D.A.-approved, and the menu includes Prime New York Strip, Prime Porterhouse (carved tableside, by the way), Prime Fillet Mignon (6- or 10-ounce) and surf-and-turf. There's also lobster, New Zealand lamb chops, pork, veal and a half chicken (cooked and served on an iron skillet). Sides include baked potatoes, creamed spinach, truffle fries and Lyonaise potatoes. Regent Seven Seas' famous, 14-layer cake is on the dessert menu, but how can anyone possibly still have room?

Not unexpectedly, Signatures and Prime 7 top everyone's dining wish list, so it makes a great deal of sense to book reservations early in the cruise. Reservations can be made directly with each specialty restaurant when open, through the Compass Rose's maitre d' or through the butler in upper-category suites. There is no additional charge for these alternative dining restaurants, but dining may be limited to one reservation per week to allow all passengers to experience them.

During breakfast and lunch times, there is also another alternative. Coffee Connection serves pastries, fruit and cold cuts, as well as cottage cheese from 6:30 until 10 a.m. and again offers snacks from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

There is a separate menu for 24-hour room service, which offers everything from sandwiches and pizza to burgers and pasta. During dinner hours, guests may also order room service from the Compass Rose dinner menu. Menus for all dining venues are broadcast daily on in-suite televisions.

Public Rooms

The location of Mariner's public rooms mirrors its classic attributes and casual elegance. While some contemporary ships have ramped up the numbers and winnowed down the sizes of their lounges, Mariner's lounges return to the basics: a main show lounge; a secondary activities and entertainment room; a top-deck, panoramic observation lounge; a disco/nightclub; and a "rendezvous" lounge, next to the main dining room, for pre-dinner drinks, hors d'oeuvres and conversation.

One of our favorite areas on the ship is the Coffee Connection coffee bar; it's adjacent to the airy and well-stocked library, which includes videos and board games, as well as books. One nice touch (though you would expect this of a luxury ship) is that nothing is locked away in the library, so it is possible to have access to any of its materials, night and day, without needing crewmember assistance. Here, you'll also find a 24-hour, self-serve coffee/espresso/cappuccino machine, which comes in handy when the coffee bar isn't manned. Also offered are trays of mini-pastries at breakfast time, finger sandwiches in the late morning and cookies at all hours. In keeping with Seven Seas Mariner's inclusive policy, Coffee Connection beverages and treats are available at no extra charge.

The Internet cafe is also located there. Internet access, offered from stem to stern, costs between 25 and 55 cents per minute, depending on the plan you purchase. Service is, of course, slower than you'd find on land, but it worked well enough on our recent trip. Make sure you log off when you're done, or you will eat up your minutes, even if you close your browser or turn off your computer. There is also roaming access for mobile phones.

Adjacent is the Garden Promenade, along whose windows passengers can gather for games, reading or -- an idea that charmed us -- participation in communal jigsaw puzzles. (The cruise staff puts out an unassembled puzzle, and passersby usually yield to the temptation to "just put in one piece." As soon as the puzzle is completed, it disappears, and a new one takes its place.)

Cabins

All of Mariner's rooms are at least 301 square ft., every one of them a suite with an extra-large teak balcony, walk-in (or -through) closet and an unobstructed view. The decor is predominantly gold and burnt orange with beautiful cherry wood cabinets. Trim in the bathrooms is marble. All accommodations include balconies (with padded chaises and small tables), bathrooms (shower-only set-ups in most suites), robes, hair dryers, flat-screen TV/DVD combos, refrigerators, safes, telephones and bath products.

The largest suites measure 2,002 square ft., and those in the top seven categories (Penthouse, Category B and above -- approximately 18 percent of the total) include butler service. Besides handling dining reservations and delivering nightly hors d'oeuvres and room service orders, butlers duplicate some of the functions of cabin stewardesses and handle shore excursion bookings and concierge services. In short, they serve as 24/7 point persons for passenger requests. In addition, the butler takes special requests, such as one of ours: setting up a private, sunset Champagne and caviar service on our balcony one evening.

For those who don't have butler service, cabin stewardesses provide exceptional service with a smile, minus some of the extra bells and whistles.

There are 13 channels on the in-suite televisions. Channel 1 features the day's menus from each of the restaurants. Channels 2 and 3 are for the bridge cam (along with public address system announcements) and GPS/Nautical/Weather information, respectively. Two additional channels offer rebroadcasts of onboard presentations (port talks, enrichment lectures, etc.), and one channel offers documentaries on ports and shore excursions. There are three channels devoted to closed-circuit movies. Four channels carry satellite or local television broadcasts (CNN and Fox, Sports, TNT movies and CNBC Financial). A caveat: Availability of networks does vary with the ship's location.

All suites have small refrigerators, but these are not set up as mini-bars in the conventional sense. They contain water, soft drinks and beer, but because the ship now provides complimentary drinks in its bars, there are no longer bars set up in the suites. In addition to tending to the suite's drink requirements, the butler or stewardess also refills the fruit basket with fresh fruit each morning (even if the fruit is untouched).

There are six staterooms designated for handicapped passengers. Several stateroom bathrooms also have shower stalls without bathtubs, which might be preferable to taller passengers or those who have difficulty climbing over high tub walls.

Self-service laundry facilities (located on Decks 8, 9 and 10) are available at no extra charge.

Entertainment

Unlike many cruise lines, where days between ports are chock full of overlapping -- and sometimes conflicting -- activities, daytime events are lightly scheduled, even on sea days. Early activities include computer classes, enrichment lectures by outside specialists and bridge lectures by onboard experts, as well as daily art auctions and film screenings in Constellation Theater, Seven Seas Mariner's main show lounge.

New in 2009 is the intriguing "Dinner and a Show." This consists of a gourmet meal in Signatures restaurant, followed by an intimate, cabaret-style performance in the Horizon Lounge. Following the meal, passengers adjourn to the redesigned Horizon Lounge for the evening show. To date, these have consisted of special performances from Broadway's Tony Award-winning show, "Forbidden Broadway," as well as "The Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein," presented by singer/pianist Bobby Nesbitt and Friends. Future "Dinner and a Show" entertainers scheduled to perform include Broadway star KT Sullivan, Australian Mo Award-winning singer Rhonda Burchmore, New York cabaret star Jeff Hamar, actress and singer Susan Anton and, direct from Buenos Aires, "Tango e Tango." As with all entertainment aboard the ships of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, there is no additional charge for "Dinner and a Show." However, reservations are required for this exclusive evening.

Teatime in the Horizon Lounge is a hugely popular afternoon diversion, brightened by expansive views from the picture windows aft and to either side and punctuated by the daily cluster of activities (including bingo and trivia quizzes, neither of which ever take place in the morning or early afternoon hours). We initially found this bottom- and top-heavy arrangement of typical onboard pastimes to be curious, especially on sea days, but once adjusted to it, we came to appreciate its low-key, non-frenetic pacing.

A small casino offers craps, roulette, slots, table poker and a small number of blackjack tables. The casino's hours are surprisingly limited, with tables open for only about four hours during the day, even on sea days. Tables reopen at 9 p.m. for evening play. It was generally not crowded.

On our sailing, musical entertainers included a harpist, a pianist and a vocal duo, which rotated through the various lounges at various times of day. The show lounge orchestra also contributed to the live music experience.

Constellation Theater, the main show lounge, is one of the best designed we've seen. On two levels, but with the balcony pushed far enough back to reduce the number of obscuring columns, it has nearly perfect sightlines; there are few, if any, bad seats. A combination of banquettes and comfortable chairs are arranged in a manner that allows ample room for audience members to easily navigate to their seats and to stretch their legs once seated. Nightly entertainment is comprised of three production shows, alternating with the usual comics, singers, instrumentalists and movie nights.

Fitness and Recreation

Seven Seas Mariner's fitness center and spa are located on Deck 7. The spa, operated by Carita of Paris, includes a salon that offers full-service hair, manicure, pedicure and waxing services. The adjacent spa offers a sauna and steam bath, facials (from $60 to $185) and a range of body treatments and massages, including reflexology, Shiatsu and Swedish massages and aromatherapy (from $60 to $195). In-suite massages can also be booked ($120 for 50 minutes). While the spa is smaller and not quite as luxurious or private as those on some other lines, we appreciated the variety of treatments and also the fact that, quite counter to spas operated on other lines' luxury ships, there's no odious sales pitch at the end.

The nearby fitness facility, open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., has an adequate number of machines, although it feels cramped, dark and crowded -- particularly during early-morning workouts, when lines are not uncommon. Complimentary headsets and water bottles are provided, and mini-televisions are available on the treadmills and cross-trainers.

There are a number of organized physical activities and classes taught on the top deck (Deck 12) or in the fitness center's aerobics room, available to passengers at no additional charge. Deck 12 is also home to the ship's jogging track (eight circuits to the mile), though it is not marked clearly as such. At the aft end of Deck 12 are a paddle tennis court and golf driving cages. The pool area has a main pool and three whirlpools. More-than-adequate seating can be found there and in the additional sunning area on Deck 12.

Family

In fall, winter and spring, Seven Seas Mariner is, without question, an adult ship; there is little to occupy children, and there are no kids' facilities. However, during the summer months, the ship's Alaska itineraries really are marketed to families. Editor's Note: While the ship, overall, garners a family-friendly rating of 3, it's important to note that the Alaska offerings bump that particular score to a 4.

Some Alaska sailings offer both a Club Mariner kids program for the follow age groups: 5 - 8, 9 - 12 and 13-17. There's also an innovative Ambassadors of the Environment (AOTE) program, run by Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society, a non-profit organization.

The program features onboard activities that teach kids about totem polls, marine mammals and glaciers and focus on cultural activities like making native, Alaskan bread and nature-watching. Each sailing features one AOTE-organized shore excursion (on our trip, a raptors' sanctuary in Sitka). The cost of the program is $165 per child, and the off-ship tour is included.

Club Mariner, the ship's more mainstream kids' program, is fee-free. Activities include board games, card games, outdoor sports, native Alaskan arts and crafts projects and theme nights that have included "Alaskan Olympics" or "Survivor." Youth dinners are offered every night in Alaska, except on the cruise's first evening and when docked in Juneau.

One challenge is that the two programs often occur simultaneously; some schedule-juggling may be necessary.

In-cabin babysitting can be arranged, but there are no structured group arrangements. Seven Seas Mariner can't accommodate infants younger than one year old and won't accept reservations from women who will be more than six months pregnant by the end of their cruise.

Fellow Passengers

Though mature by chronological standards, this is hardly a ship of old fogies. Passengers are well-traveled, sophisticated and, for the most part, tolerant and patient. Affluent retirees form a substantial percentage, especially on longer itineraries. Most passengers are repeaters. On Alaska cruises, you'll find that 10 to 20 percent are families, traveling with children of all ages.

Relatively inexpensive single supplements of 10 to 30 percent are available on selected sailings, as well.

Dress Code

There are two formal nights per cruise (except in Alaska, where the nightly dress code is country-club casual with informal dress only one night and in the alternative restaurants). Men tend to lean toward tuxes and dark suits in approximately even numbers, while their female companions often dress to the nines. There are a couple of informal nights; the remainder are country-club casual.

Gratuity

No tipping ambiguity here. Tipping, though not prohibited, is not expected and is certainly not encouraged. Most passengers seem to take the policy at face value.

--by Kathleen Tucker, Cruise Critic Publisher; updated by Teijo Niemela, publisher of Cruise Business Review

Dress Code

For the remainder of 2009, evening dress will either be formal, informal or country-club casual; check your cruise documents for the exact number of each night. Beginning with the New Year's 2009-2010 cruise, the dress code will almost always be elegant casual after 6 p.m. Skirts or slacks paired with blouses or sweaters, pant suits or dresses are acceptable for ladies, while men should wear slacks and collared shirts. Sport jackets are optional; jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts, sneakers and bathrobes are not allowed in any public area in the evening. In addition, cruises of 16 nights or longer will have two formal optional nights, when passengers can either wear elegant casual attire or opt for a more formal look (gowns, cocktail dresses, dark suits or tuxedos).

Dress Code

There are two formal nights per cruise (except in Alaska, where the nightly dress code is country-club casual with informal dress only one night and in the alternative restaurants). Men tend to lean toward tuxes and dark suits in approximately even numbers, while their female companions often dress to the nines. There are a couple of informal nights; the remainder are country-club casual.It's cool to be trendy, but sometimes it's cooler to buck the trend. In an era in which cruise ships and passenger loads practically require their own zip codes, along came Regent Seven Seas Cruises with a totally retro concept: Build medium-size ships with reduced passenger loads to foster service that's attentive and gracious in an onboard environment that's open and spacious. And, though Seven Seas Mariner was built in 2001, it has been kept in impeccable condition. (Regent regularly pours big money into its ships' upkeep; the latest refurb, in January 2009, saw the line spending over $20 million.)

RSSC's 50,000-ton Seven Seas Mariner is a perfect blend of ship -- both big enough to offer spacious, cruise-like amenities and small enough to feel cozy at the same time. With a double-occupancy capacity of 700, it sports a phenomenal passenger-to-space ratio of 71.43 (total tons divided by double-occupancy capacity) and a none-too-shabby passenger-to-crew ratio of 1.57. Is it pricey? Sure. But, take into account that even the bottommost accommodations are suites, and every cabin has a balcony; couple that with a firm no-tipping policy, and add into the mix that your fare now boasts an all-inclusive liquor policy and all-inclusive specialty restaurants. There's no doubt about it: If you can spring for the fare, you'll get a lot of bang for your buck.

There is much that is retro -- in a good sense -- about Seven Seas Mariner. The ship's main dining venue, Compass Rose, which recalls classic ship architecture, is a single-deck room, set squarely mid-ship. Another inheritance from earlier generations of passenger ships is the absence of a bar in the main entry lobby, even though the lobby sits at the bottom of a very modern eight-deck atrium. Instead, Mariner has an intimate, deeply carpeted, softly lit lounge set off the foyer, between the atrium and Compass Rose. The result? The reception area remains quiet and uncrowded, and it's a comfortable place to relax or rendezvous with fellow passengers.

The style of the ship is classic, without being a self-conscious imitation of the past -- sophisticated without pretense. Service is prompt and, for the most part, gracious and warm. Passengers are well-traveled and have many experiences to share without drifting into braggadocio.

Interestingly, Seven Seas Mariner is one of the few luxury ships to genuinely welcome families, offering heartfelt warmth and, during kids' school breaks in summer, a dedicated children's program.

There are, of course, a few glitches, but these rise only as high as quibble level. For a luxury ship, there is a surprising lack of quality art displayed in public rooms and hallways. Instead, with the main exceptions of restaurant walls and a multi-deck sculpture that climbs the atrium, the walls mainly bear samples from Park West's art auction inventory. And, in a relatively new move, Regent Seven Seas has abolished its on-ship photography service. While that means there are no cheerful requests to pose for pictures at the most inconvenient times, it also means you'll be toting a camera.

Dining

Michelin may give a maximum of three stars to restaurants, but in our book, Mariner rates almost a perfect five. Meals invariably came out piping hot, deliciously prepared and beautifully presented. Mariner's cuisine shows deeply planted French roots, though only the alternative restaurant, Signatures, claims the Cordon Bleu pedigree. Emphasis is on finely tuned, delicate flavoring and larger numbers of small-portion courses.

Compass Rose, the main dining room, is an airy, comfortable space, stretching the full width of the ship and offering plenty of space between tables. Service there, with the exception of turnaround days, when waiters and weary travelers in equal measure tend to run short on patience, is superlative. Seating is open, as are the doors, typically from 7 until 9 p.m. Passengers may choose from three options: dine alone, dine with tablemates of their choosing or sit with strangers.

All three meals are served in Compass Rose, and all are ordered from a menu. Although Compass Rose offers specialties like Swedish pancakes and lamb chops, breakfast there is not very different from La Veranda's breakfast on Deck 11. But lunches, like dinners, have a wide range of choices that reflect multiple nationalities. A single lunch, for example, included dishes from Mexico, Norway, Argentina, Italy, France, Greece, Denmark and Germany. Selections from the main menu are flagged for a fixed "Light & Healthy" menu, and there are always vegetarian, salad, sandwich and pasta choices.

Dinner is where Compass Rose truly shines. Each night features both red and white selections from the ship's extensive wine list, poured gratis, though passengers may purchase bottles of other vintages, as well. Main dinner selections include an appetizer, soup, a salad, pasta and a main course. Generally, there are two or three choices for each (except for the single pasta dish), which are followed by cheeses, after-dinner drinks and desserts. Most intriguing, however, is the nightly, six-course degustation (tasting) menu. In addition to the categories on the main menu, this special menu includes dessert and palate-cleansing sherbet courses. Few, if any, choices are repeated between the two menus, but, of course, mixing and matching is allowed.

In addition, dinner features four specialty menus: "Low Carb, Light & Healthy," "Vegetarian" (lacto- and ovo-appropriate), "No Added Salt" and "Simplicity" (pasta with tomato sauce, plain steak, chicken breast or salmon). One minor complaint is the surprising lack of quality coffee onboard. A children's menu -- which includes the typical burgers, pizza and hot dogs -- is available during the Alaska season.

La Veranda, the breakfast and lunch buffet eatery, is a large, pleasant space that occupies nearly the entire aft half of the Pool Deck. There is room for outdoor seating for about 50 under a canopy on the fantail -- another nice retro aspect, reminding us of days aboard the classic ocean liners, where eating breakfast and drinking coffee outside with an open view of sea or port was the norm. There is additional outdoor seating forward of La Veranda, near the pool, and plenty of comfortable seating inside on both port and starboard sides of the ship. There are complimentary buffet lines in the aft area of the room and a separate counter for self-serve pizza on the portside, as well as a pair of omelet stations.

Adjacent to La Veranda's forward, outdoor-eating area are two grill areas, which (at sunrise) serve a crack-of-dawn "Fitness First" breakfast -- a combination of fruit, pastries and do-it-yourself juices (juice makers with platters of fruits and vegetables). Beyond that, there are two stations where eggs are cooked to order. The cold-cut selection is extensive, ranging from various cheeses and meats to gravlax (salmon).

During both breakfast and lunch, the ambience is gracious and elegant, featuring white linen and sterling tableware. It's barely necessary to even pick up your plate since there's always a server standing by to help you to your table. Even the omelet chef hand-carries your eggs to the table. Just remember your table number before going to make your order.

At night, La Veranda dons the mantle of Mediterranean Bistro (or the Alaskan Grill Lodge, Mariner's casual, alternative restaurant on Alaska sailings). Each night in this no-reservations-required dining area, a different Mediterranean cuisine (or a selection of Alaskan seafood and grilled meats) is featured. The appetizer course is a fairly unchanging tapas (Spanish hors d'oeuvres) bar, followed by varying regional dishes, which are ordered from the menu.

There are two other alternative dining venues aboard Mariner. The 100-seat Signatures has the distinction of being one of two Cordon Bleu restaurants at sea. (The other is, of course, Regent Seven Seas' Seven Seas Voyager.) This is, perhaps, the only restaurant afloat that always requires gentlemen to wear jackets. The menu has basically stayed the same for years. For my meal, I started with scallops in herb oil, spring onions and mashed potatoes. For my second appetizer, I ordered foie gras terrine with prune marmalade. (The famous mushroom soup here is delicious, too.) For the main course, I tried the very tender beef tournedos Rossini. You may be surprised that there was any room left for dessert, but a "why not" attitude prevailed, and I'm glad it did. The Tahitian creme brulee was, perhaps, the best dessert I had onboard.

Equally popular is the intimate, 70-seat Prime 7 steakhouse. The menu features steaks and seafood. (Try the ahi tuna tartar or jumbo lump crab cake starters.) I actually chose a meal consisting of starters, including foie gras with rhubarb, which was nice; the entrees are pretty huge. All beef products served are U.S.D.A.-approved, and the menu includes Prime New York Strip, Prime Porterhouse (carved tableside, by the way), Prime Fillet Mignon (6- or 10-ounce) and surf-and-turf. There's also lobster, New Zealand lamb chops, pork, veal and a half chicken (cooked and served on an iron skillet). Sides include baked potatoes, creamed spinach, truffle fries and Lyonaise potatoes. Regent Seven Seas' famous, 14-layer cake is on the dessert menu, but how can anyone possibly still have room?

Not unexpectedly, Signatures and Prime 7 top everyone's dining wish list, so it makes a great deal of sense to book reservations early in the cruise. Reservations can be made directly with each specialty restaurant when open, through the Compass Rose's maitre d' or through the butler in upper-category suites. There is no additional charge for these alternative dining restaurants, but dining may be limited to one reservation per week to allow all passengers to experience them.

During breakfast and lunch times, there is also another alternative. Coffee Connection serves pastries, fruit and cold cuts, as well as cottage cheese from 6:30 until 10 a.m. and again offers snacks from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

There is a separate menu for 24-hour room service, which offers everything from sandwiches and pizza to burgers and pasta. During dinner hours, guests may also order room service from the Compass Rose dinner menu. Menus for all dining venues are broadcast daily on in-suite televisions.

Dress Code

For the remainder of 2009, evening dress will either be formal, informal or country-club casual; check your cruise documents for the exact number of each night. Beginning with the New Year's 2009-2010 cruise, the dress code will almost always be elegant casual after 6 p.m. Skirts or slacks paired with blouses or sweaters, pant suits or dresses are acceptable for ladies, while men should wear slacks and collared shirts. Sport jackets are optional; jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts, sneakers and bathrobes are not allowed in any public area in the evening. In addition, cruises of 16 nights or longer will have two formal optional nights, when passengers can either wear elegant casual attire or opt for a more formal look (gowns, cocktail dresses, dark suits or tuxedos).

Gratuity

No tipping ambiguity here. Tipping, though not prohibited, is not expected and is certainly not encouraged. Most passengers seem to take the policy at face value.

Entertainment

Unlike many cruise lines, where days between ports are chock full of overlapping -- and sometimes conflicting -- activities, daytime events are lightly scheduled, even on sea days. Early activities include computer classes, enrichment lectures by outside specialists and bridge lectures by onboard experts, as well as daily art auctions and film screenings in Constellation Theater, Seven Seas Mariner's main show lounge.

New in 2009 is the intriguing "Dinner and a Show." This consists of a gourmet meal in Signatures restaurant, followed by an intimate, cabaret-style performance in the Horizon Lounge. Following the meal, passengers adjourn to the redesigned Horizon Lounge for the evening show. To date, these have consisted of special performances from Broadway's Tony Award-winning show, "Forbidden Broadway," as well as "The Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein," presented by singer/pianist Bobby Nesbitt and Friends. Future "Dinner and a Show" entertainers scheduled to perform include Broadway star KT Sullivan, Australian Mo Award-winning singer Rhonda Burchmore, New York cabaret star Jeff Hamar, actress and singer Susan Anton and, direct from Buenos Aires, "Tango e Tango." As with all entertainment aboard the ships of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, there is no additional charge for "Dinner and a Show." However, reservations are required for this exclusive evening.

Teatime in the Horizon Lounge is a hugely popular afternoon diversion, brightened by expansive views from the picture windows aft and to either side and punctuated by the daily cluster of activities (including bingo and trivia quizzes, neither of which ever take place in the morning or early afternoon hours). We initially found this bottom- and top-heavy arrangement of typical onboard pastimes to be curious, especially on sea days, but once adjusted to it, we came to appreciate its low-key, non-frenetic pacing.

A small casino offers craps, roulette, slots, table poker and a small number of blackjack tables. The casino's hours are surprisingly limited, with tables open for only about four hours during the day, even on sea days. Tables reopen at 9 p.m. for evening play. It was generally not crowded.

On our sailing, musical entertainers included a harpist, a pianist and a vocal duo, which rotated through the various lounges at various times of day. The show lounge orchestra also contributed to the live music experience.

Constellation Theater, the main show lounge, is one of the best designed we've seen. On two levels, but with the balcony pushed far enough back to reduce the number of obscuring columns, it has nearly perfect sightlines; there are few, if any, bad seats. A combination of banquettes and comfortable chairs are arranged in a manner that allows ample room for audience members to easily navigate to their seats and to stretch their legs once seated. Nightly entertainment is comprised of three production shows, alternating with the usual comics, singers, instrumentalists and movie nights.

The shore excursion department gets high praise. There is very little hype or pressure to purchase the line's offerings. There is also plenty of support for independent-minded passengers to find their own way, including well-rendered maps, suggestion lists and video presentations on in-suite television. Shore excursion personnel are knowledgeable and helpful, and most excursions include one crewmember to monitor and assist.

Entertainment

Unlike many cruise lines, where days between ports are chock full of overlapping -- and sometimes conflicting -- activities, daytime events are lightly scheduled, even on sea days. Early activities include computer classes, enrichment lectures by outside specialists and bridge lectures by onboard experts, as well as daily art auctions and film screenings in Constellation Theater, Seven Seas Mariner's main show lounge.

Teatime in the Horizon Lounge is a hugely popular afternoon diversion, brightened by expansive views from the picture windows aft and to either side and punctuated by the daily cluster of activities (including bingo and trivia quizzes, neither of which ever take place in the morning or early afternoon hours). We initially found this bottom- and top-heavy arrangement of typical onboard pastimes to be curious, especially on sea days, but once adjusted to it, we came to appreciate its low-key, non-frenetic pacing.

A small casino offers craps, roulette, slots, table poker and a small number of blackjack tables. The casino's hours are surprisingly limited, with tables open for only about four hours during the day, even on sea days. Tables reopen at 9 p.m. for evening play. It was generally not crowded.

On our sailing, musical entertainers included a harpist, a pianist and a vocal duo, which rotated through the various lounges at various times of day. The show lounge orchestra also contributed to the live music experience.

Constellation Theater, the main show lounge, is one of the best designed we've seen. On two levels, but with the balcony pushed far enough back to reduce the number of obscuring columns, it has nearly perfect sightlines; there are few, if any, bad seats. A combination of banquettes and comfortable chairs are arranged in a manner that allows ample room for audience members to easily navigate to their seats and to stretch their legs once seated. Nightly entertainment is comprised of three production shows, alternating with the usual comics, singers, instrumentalists and movie nights.

The shore excursion department gets high praise. There is very little hype or pressure to purchase the line's offerings. There is also plenty of support for independent-minded passengers to find their own way, including well-rendered maps, suggestion lists and video presentations on in-suite television. Shore excursion personnel are knowledgeable and helpful, and most excursions include one crewmember to monitor and assist.

Cabins

All of Mariner's rooms are at least 301 square ft., every one of them a suite with an extra-large teak balcony, walk-in (or -through) closet and an unobstructed view. The decor is predominantly gold and burnt orange with beautiful cherry wood cabinets. Trim in the bathrooms is marble. All accommodations include balconies (with padded chaises and small tables), bathrooms (shower-only set-ups in most suites), robes, hair dryers, flat-screen TV/DVD combos, refrigerators, safes, telephones and bath products.

The largest suites measure 2,002 square ft., and those in the top seven categories (Penthouse, Category B and above -- approximately 18 percent of the total) include butler service. Besides handling dining reservations and delivering nightly hors d'oeuvres and room service orders, butlers duplicate some of the functions of cabin stewardesses and handle shore excursion bookings and concierge services. In short, they serve as 24/7 point persons for passenger requests. In addition, the butler takes special requests, such as one of ours: setting up a private, sunset Champagne and caviar service on our balcony one evening.

For those who don't have butler service, cabin stewardesses provide exceptional service with a smile, minus some of the extra bells and whistles.

As of 2015, passengers who book a Master, Grand, Seven Seas, Horizon, Mariner, Navigator or Voyager suite will receive unlimited free Internet for the duration of their cruise.

There are 13 channels on the in-suite televisions. Channel 1 features the day's menus from each of the restaurants. Channels 2 and 3 are for the bridge cam (along with public address system announcements) and GPS/Nautical/Weather information, respectively. Two additional channels offer rebroadcasts of onboard presentations (port talks, enrichment lectures, etc.), and one channel offers documentaries on ports and shore excursions. There are three channels devoted to closed-circuit movies. Four channels carry satellite or local television broadcasts (CNN and Fox, Sports, TNT movies and CNBC Financial). A caveat: Availability of networks does vary with the ship's location.

All suites have small refrigerators, but these are not set up as mini-bars in the conventional sense. They contain water, soft drinks and beer, but because the ship now provides complimentary drinks in its bars, there are no longer bars set up in the suites. In addition to tending to the suite's drink requirements, the butler or stewardess also refills the fruit basket with fresh fruit each morning (even if the fruit is untouched).

There are six staterooms designated for handicapped passengers. Several stateroom bathrooms also have shower stalls without bathtubs, which might be preferable to taller passengers or those who have difficulty climbing over high tub walls.

Self-service laundry facilities (located on Decks 8, 9 and 10) are available at no extra charge.

At a time when mass-market cruise ships are getting so big they practically need their own postcodes, luxury operator Regent Seven Seas Cruises has made a splash with a distinctly retro concept: building medium-sized ships with relatively low passenger capacity and offering gracious service in a spacious environment.

It has also maintained the quality of its ships with ongoing investment, spending upward of $25 million on a 2014 refurbishment of Seven Seas Mariner which, though 13 years old, has been kept in excellent condition.

All this work has made the 50,000-ton ship a perfect vessel for travelers who crave a cozy, stylish and intimate onboard environment but who don't want to sacrifice big-ship amenities like multiple restaurants and a good choice of bars.

With a passenger capacity of only 700 (double occupancy), this is a ship with some breathing room. Its passenger-to-space ratio (tonnage divided by passenger capacity) is an impressive 68.6, while its passenger-to-crew ratio of 1.57 creates a relaxed environment with attentive service.

Is it expensive? Yes it is, but even the lowest accommodations are suites, every stateroom has a balcony, and prices include tips, all onboard drinks, free dining in two excellent speciality restaurants, complimentary onboard Wi-Fi access and the majority of shore excursions. So, if you can stretch to the fare, you'll get terrific value for money.

There are elements of Seven Seas Mariner that are retro in the best sense of the word. The ship's main dining venue, Compass Rose, is a classic ship's restaurant in that it lies midship, is on only one level and is simply but elegantly presented (and particularly pleasant at lunchtime, when there are plenty of window tables offering sea views).

Another throwback to earlier generations of cruise ships is the absence of a bar in Mariner's main lobby, even though it lies at the bottom of an impressively modern eight-deck atrium.

Instead, the ship has the wonderfully sophisticated, intimate and softly-lit Mariner Lounge (the best onboard watering hole, in our opinion) between the atrium and the Compass Rose. This arrangement leaves the reception area quiet and uncrowded, a comfortable place to relax or meet fellow cruisers.

Lovers of classic ship design will be very much at home on board and will find the ship sophisticated but delightfully unpretentious. Onboard service is friendly, professional and prompt, and though the majority of passengers are older well-traveled couples, this is also ship that has embraced the trend toward multigenerational family travel. Children are genuinely welcomed onboard, and a dedicated children's program is offered during school summer holidays.

Any downsides? Well, the artwork onboard wasn't our favorite, and the ship is a victim of Regent's success in that -- with many itineraries sailing nearly full -- it could be hard to get a table in the ersatz but very pleasant Settee Mari Italian restaurant, created every evening in La Veranda Cafe. Since only one reservation per passenger can be made in each of in Mariner's two speciality restaurants per cruise, this left us feeling rather confined to the Compass Rose at dinnertime.

But that's a mere quibble; overall it's a delightful ship and a pleasure to sail on.

Dining

Michelin may only grant them a maximum of three stars, but in our book Seven Seas Mariner's two speciality restaurants -- 100-seat Signatures (which serves Cordon Bleu cuisine) and Prime Seven (a magnificent steakhouse that seats 70) -- rate closer to five.

Prime Seven, an elegant enclave tucked away next door to the Compass Rose on Deck 5, dished up the most meltingly delicious filet mignon we've tasted in a long time and delivered it just as requested: medium rare, butterflied and butter-soft.

And Signatures, one deck above, offers food and wine as stylish as its glass-and-marble entrance. Dishes include classic tournedos of beef with foie gras, a fabulously varied, authentically French cheese board and gorgeous puddings like poached fig with light-as-a-feather cream cheese millefeuille.

Better still, you get complimentary and generously poured lashings of top-quality wine, including Sancerre and Chateauneuf du Pape, to wash it all down.

Indeed, Mariner's two speciality restaurants are so special that when the ship is full (as, with so much included, it increasingly is), passengers can secure only one reservation per week.

But not to worry: Dine in main restaurant Compass Rose or at Sette Mari (the stylish Italian restaurant into which Mariner's La Veranda Cafe is transformed each evening), and you most certainly won't be slumming it.

Sette Mari opens every evening from 6:30 p.m. and is a good option if you enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, love Italian food and don't mind collecting your salads, dessert and cheese from a buffet. Get in early (or be prepared to eat late) if you want a window table or a table for two; know that you'll have to be patient. As our cruise progressed and word spread about the quality of the food there, the waiting list for two-top tables grew longer, though diners happy to socialize at larger tables had no problem.

Plates of tasty bruschetta, deep-fried mozzarella balls, roasted garlic cloves and freshly baked speciality bread -- along with all-important olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in -- are all served at the table and virtually constitute a meal in themselves. But we held back to make the most of an excellent minestrone soup, a slightly lemon-scented spaghetti carbonara and delicious grilled lamb chops. This barely left room to sample the broad selection of desserts, which include classic Italian tiramisu, a substantial fruit salad and various almond-laden cakes.

When Mariner is sailing full, tables for two can also be at a premium in the Compass Rose. (Again, get in early, eat late, or prepare to be sociable.) But no such restrictions apply at lunchtime, and by day this very pleasant dining room -- with its deeply comfortable, armchair-style red and gold seating -- is a delight. All restaurants are open seating.

On a sea day, we watched the glittering waves go by while tucking into a delicious lamb burger served Greek-style on pita bread with tsatsiki. And the food was equally good in the evenings. We particularly remember a piping hot and very tasty Conchiglie Vongole, crisp-skinned grilled sea bass and a simple but perfect creme brulee. Hours for Compass Rose are noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.

All restaurants also offer a good range of ice creams, and if you're craving a treat from Prime Seven or Signatures, you can have one in the main dining room. There are also low-carb, low-sodium, vegetarian and spa/healthy menu options.

During the day, Sette Mari reverts to being La Veranda, a large, pleasant indoor/outdoor space for breakfast and lunch buffets, which occupy nearly the entire aft end of Mariner's Pool Deck. There's room for about 50 people to eat breakfast alfresco under a canopy on the fantail -- another lovely retro touch, reminiscent of classic ocean liners on which open-air breakfast and coffee with great views of sea or port were the norm. Breakfast in La Veranda is offered from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., and lunch runs from noon to 2 p.m. A light "Fitness Breakfast" is served at the Pool Grill from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

There is more outdoor seating forward of La Veranda in the ship's pool area, which looks very smart, having had its teak decking resurfaced and new resort-style sofas, chairs and loungers installed.

Indeed, the Pool Grill and La Veranda areas have received eye-catching upgrades with new mosaic tiling, fresh wall coverings and new draperies, lighting and awnings. They're particularly pleasant at lunchtime and in the early afternoon, when a melodic musical group sings popular middle-of-the-road classics in foot-tapping style.

Just outside La Veranda, you'll find a well-stocked ice cream station, a salad bar and grill and an easy-to-use coffee machine which serves up fresh lattes, cappuccino, espresso and macchiato coffees and hot chocolate, all made with real milk. (The only downside is that the coffee is rather weak, so add an extra shot of espresso if you like it strong.)

On summer sea days in the Med, Seven Seas Mariner hosts a spectacular Mediterranean Buffet and barbecue out on the pool deck, featuring fresh local fish and delicious grilled meats -- a real treat.

And if all that food isn't enough for you, you can grab a coffee and a complimentary cookie, a piece of fruit or a light snack at Coffee Connection, an attractive but (on our trip) underused cafe next to the library on Deck 6.

A nice feature there is that newspapers are available to read in various languages, and they're hung on traditional cafe newspaper poles. Facsimile satellite editions of your favorite paper can also be delivered to your cabin daily for $6.50 per paper. Options include USA Today and four other U.S. papers, The Times and Financial Times (U.K.), Canada's National Post and a range of European titles like Le Monde (France) and Holland's De Telegraaf.

If, after all this food, you're feeling too full to struggle out of your suite, don't worry -- you can eat there, too. A 24-hour room service menu offers everything from sandwiches and pizza to salads, burgers and pasta.

During dinner hours, passengers may also order room service from the Compass Rose dinner menu. Menus for all dining venues are broadcast daily on in-suite televisions.

Public Rooms

Mariner's newly refurbished public rooms mirror the ship's classic style and casual elegance, and its internal layout is beautifully simple.

Right at the top of the ship on Deck 12 is a lovely Observation Lounge which, as its name suggests, offers panoramic 270-degree sea views and has a glamorous new 1930s Hollywood look, its pale ivory and gold seating accented with splashes of deep ruby on the carpet.

One deck down from there, you'll find La Veranda/Sette Mari, the Pool Grill and the decent-sized, recently re-tiled swimming pool, flanked by showers and three whirlpools with a view.

The rest of Mariner's public rooms span decks 5 to 7. Deck 7 hosts the casino and a well-stocked and fairly reasonably priced boutique, where you can pick up any forgotten essentials like sun cream, as well as luxury goods like perfume, handbags, collared shirts and other goodies. This deck also holds the Canyon Ranch Spa (see Spa & Fitness section).

One deck Down on Deck 6, you'll find the ship's main entertainment area, with the stylish two-tier Constellation Theatre at the forward end and the comfortable Horizon Lounge at the aft.

Both received major facelifts during the ship's 2014 refit. The theatre gained a new LED wall, which acts as a spectacular backdrop for productions. The theater has also been upholstered and re-carpeted to provide maximum comfort for showgoers, and it boasts new wall coverings, cocktail tables, wall sconces, banquette seats and chairs.

Meanwhile, the Horizon Lounge has gained a new stone-fronted bar and has been enhanced by chic new furnishings and lighting, deep new carpeting and lustrous wall coverings.

The Stars Lounge nightclub, set midship on Deck 6, now has a dramatic new look and is clad in sophisticated shades of plum, smoky gray, gold, black and cream. Highlights include a new stone-topped bar, wool carpets, leather seats, dark hardwood panelling and hammered-copper accents.

Deck 6 also holds the ship's well-stocked (and permanently accessible) library and Internet Center. (Incidentally, Wi-Fi and Internet access are now included in Regent's fares as part of line's multimillion-dollar investment in upgrading connectivity. From November 2014, passengers booking Concierge-level suites or higher will receive up to 500 minutes of free Wi-Fi. Exactly how much you get depends on which category of suite you book.)

Also located on Deck 6 are a card and conference room, Signatures restaurant, the ship's Art Auction displays and the Connoisseurs Club (a cozy venue for lovers of fine liqueurs), as well as the Garden Promenade, an airy, pleasant midship venue for reading, relaxing and enjoying delightfully old-fashioned pursuits like putting together jigsaw puzzles.

Our whistlestop tour of the vessel ends on Deck 5, where, at the bottom of the main atrium, you'll find the ship's reception and tours desks, as well as the lower level of the Constellation Theatre, the Compass Rose Restaurant (which spans the full width of the ship and offers sea views on both sides) and the Prime Seven steakhouse.

This deck also holds the ship's loveliest bar, the Mariner Lounge. With its soft lighting, tinkling piano and vast, feather-soft armchairs, it's THE place to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail. This has also been refurbished with a new bar, stone flooring and some pretty lamps and tables. A highlight is the vast "birdcage" set at one end of the bar, containing a dazzling candelabra.

Mariner's new look isn't confined to the indoor areas; the ship's exterior decks and alfresco lounges also got a makeover. New teak has been installed on the balconies of all 350 suites and teak decking resurfaced to "good as new" standard. Outdoor areas gained elegant new all-weather sofas, chairs and loungers, too.

Cabins

All of Seven Seas Mariner's staterooms span at least 301 square feet, and all are true suites with separate sleeping and sitting areas, queen beds, balconies (with fashionable and comfortable deep gray willow-effect seating), marble bathrooms and walk-in closets.

Color schemes are predominantly gold, deep red and burnt orange with warm cherry wood cabinets and trim. Walk-in closets have safes and plenty of hanging space, with enough room for long frocks. Balconies are big enough for gray rattan-style armchairs which are plenty comfy with thick cream cushions, even if you can't lie full-length.

The bathrooms have good storage space and are elegantly tiled in marble, with roomy walk-in showers in most suites and bathtubs in top grades, plus all the usual accoutrements you'd expect on a luxury grade ship: snuggly bathrobes and slippers, hair dryers, safes and well-stocked fridges. Toiletries are from L'Occitane, and they're generously replenished.

There's also a substantial but discreet flat-screen 18-channel TV with a DVD player. So when you're not out enjoying the view from your balcony, you can catch up with the world via the BBC, Sky or Fox News, watch sports, a documentary or a travel program, or enjoy a film from the ship's extensive DVD library. Outlets are built for American plugs, so take an adapter if you're from elsewhere. Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship.

Seven Seas Mariner's largest suites span 2,002 square feet, and in the top seven categories (Penthouse, Category B and higher, which comprises about 18 percent of the ship's accommodations), they're served by butlers who manage dining reservations, deliver pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres and room service orders, and handle shore excursion and concierge services.

In other words, with a butler you'll have a 24/7 go-to person to cater to virtually any whim, including glasses of Champagne or dinner on your balcony.

Thanks to Seven Seas Mariner's 2014 refit, you'll also get to enjoy a stylish new look. The ship's Grand, Master, Mariner, Seven Seas, Horizons and Penthouse suites received all new furniture, upholstery, lighting and wall coverings while the ship was in dry-dock. Now its top suites feature sophisticated decor designed to exude "Park Avenue elegance." It all looks very smart in soft shades of mint green, dove grey, fawn and wheat accented with a palette of more dominant espresso, chocolate, gold, burgundy and silver tones.

Lesser mortals who don't have butler-serviced suites may miss out on these extra bells and whistles, but regular suites are attractive and well maintained, and cabin stewards deliver excellent service -- including in-cabin meals -- with a smile.

As regards in-cabin drinks, you'll be welcomed with a bottle of Champagne on ice and a substantial fruit basket, which is replenished daily. A small refrigerator in each suite holds water, soft drinks and beer. Because the ship now provides complimentary drinks in all bars, it doesn't have a bar setup in the suites, but you can call room service if you want a tipple.

Seven Seas Mariner has six staterooms with facilities for disabled passengers. Several suites also feature walk-in shower stalls without bathtubs, a good option for taller travellers or those who struggle to get over the side of a high bathtub.

Self-service laundry facilities are located on decks 8, 9 and 10 and are available at no extra charge.

Entertainment

This is one area where Mariner's retro style really makes itself felt.

Passages, the ship's daily newsletter, lists some classic daytime activities like quizzes, cooking demonstrations, Bridge and board game sessions, on-deck paddle tennis, Ping-Pong and shuffleboard tournaments, ballroom dancing, scarf-tying lessons and even a daily "Bingo Bonanza."

There are also occasional enrichment lectures, daily art auctions and "Popcorn Movie" screenings of recently-released films in the ship's main show lounge, the Constellation Theatre.

Afternoon tea in the ship's Horizon Lounge is a perennially popular diversion (particularly when Mariner's pastry chef titivates the taste buds with his Chocoholic range of cakes). And proceedings are further enlivened by a bout of Teatime Trivia.

In the evening, the excellent (and never too loud) Nature Rhythm Trio entertains passengers over pre-dinner drinks and canapes in the Mariner Lounge while the ship's pianist tinkles away in the top-deck Observation Lounge. Meanwhile, passengers prepare to pay extra tuck into caviar and Champagne. (Prices vary according to quantity and quality.)

Most nights around 9:30, the smart and extensively refurbished Constellation Theatre hosts a cabaret slot by a solo performer or a production show specially designed for RSSC. "Cirque Rock 'n Roll" is a spectacular event in which acrobats perform aerial routines choreographed to music by Michael Jackson, Pink, Queen and other rock legends.

If you prefer dancing yourself to watching others do it, the Stars Lounge nightclub on Deck 6 is the place to be, as it hosts live music and a late-night Jukebox Disco. The Horizon Lounge is the place to go through your Latino dance paces or get on down to '60s tunes played by the Regent Signature Orchestra.

Elsewhere on the ship, you might find a gentle "Name that Tune" competition in which to participate or a "Karaoke Dance Party" in full swing -- and there's always plenty of action in the ship's small but elegant casino on Deck 7. It has craps, roulette, poker and blackjack tables and a small number of slot machines.

Fitness and Recreation

The Canyon Ranch Spa Club on Deck 7 now has new steam rooms and stone flooring, as well as refurbished changing rooms. And the ship's Fitness Center was equipped with brand-new state-of-the-art exercise equipment in the 2014 refit.

Spa facilities include a roomy salon for hairdressing, manicures, pedicures and waxing.

The adjacent spa offers a sauna and steam bath, speciality facials (from $177 for 50 minutes to $290 for 80 minutes) and a similarly priced range of massages and body treatments, including organic seaweed leaf body wraps, coffee-based skin scrubs and body polishing treatments that involve crushed bamboo pulp mixed with oils of ginger, fir and wild lime.

For those who feel they must work hard in order to deserve all that pampering, the fitness center is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and has a good range of equipment, including four treadmills, resistance machines and cross trainers. An exercise program is offered daily, starting at 7 a.m., with "Walk a Mile." Other options include yoga, "Legs Bums and Tums" and other classes (all free).

Some of these activities take place in the spa's aerobics room, while others are based on the top deck (12), which has a jogging track, paddle tennis court, golf nets, a putting green and areas for playing bocce and shuffleboard.

Family

Like many luxury cruise ships, Seven Seas Mariner appeals mainly to sophisticated older adults.

However, RSSC has not been slow to notice growing demand for multigenerational travel as, increasingly, those adults -- many of them well-heeled retirees -- choose to spend their holidays enjoying quality time with grandchildren and their parents.

As such, children are now welcome on any sailing, though there are age restrictions.

The ship cannot accommodate infants younger than 1 year old and won't accept reservations from women who will be more than six months pregnant by the end of their cruise. Nor does the ship offer any in-cabin baby-sitting.

Older children can travel anytime at the relevant child fare, but realistically there's not much for them to do onboard outside of the summer months.

The main school holidays, however, are another matter; at that time, extra childcare staff are employed to run Club Mariner, a youth program designed to cater to three distinct age groups: 5 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 17.

Activities -- which include dance parties, movie parties, scavenger hunts and challenges, scrapbooking, sports tournaments and arts and crafts lessons -- generally extend from June until late August and are carefully designed to appeal to each age group while keeping youngsters entertained and captivated. (That's generally good news for the adults onboard, whether or not they have youngsters in tow.)

Fellow Passengers

This line attracts mature and well-heeled Baby Boomers who are sophisticated, well-traveled and tolerant. Many are repeaters, and they make the most of Regent's included shore tours to experience as much of the cruise destinations as they can. (That means the pool area is blissfully quiet on port days.) On summer itineraries, as many as 20 percent of passengers travel with children, grandchildren or both. Single travelers are also onboard, in response to generous reductions on single supplements on some sailings.

Dress Code

Regent Seven Seas Cruises adopted a more relaxed dress code in 2010, and, frankly, it's a joy. With "elegant casual" the order of the evening, passengers can relax and not worry about lugging along formal gear if they'd rather not. The more relaxed dress code gives the ship a pleasantly "unstuffy" feel.

People still turn out looking smart and elegant; those who like to put on their fancy duds certainly won't look out of place (particularly on longer cruises, which feature two optional formal nights). Jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts, sneakers and bathrobes are not allowed in any public area in the evening.

Gratuity

These are included in the upfront price, so there's no ambiguity -- and therefore no embarrassment. Additional tipping is not prohibited but is clearly neither expected nor encouraged.

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