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Bill Graper

Age: 60

Occupation:Consultant

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Regent Seven Seas

Ship: Seven Seas Mariner

Sailing Date: August 10th, 2005

Itinerary: UNKNOWN

In August, 2005, we sailed for a week aboard the Radisson Seven Seas Mariner from Whittier to Vancouver. Since we’ve found the Cruise Review comments to be accurate and very helpful, we thought it would be beneficial to provide our perspectives on the ship and itinerary. Rather than doing a start-to-finish summary, we’ll try to highlight key information in general categories and conclude with a few tips which may make your cruise even more pleasant.

Admittedly, our comments are colored by three factors. First, we had taken a Caribbean cruise seven years ago on an “entry-level” line. The itinerary was fine, but we were unimpressed by the nondescript food and shipboard amenities. This time we wanted to try a higher end cruise line in hopes that the time on board would be more enjoyable. Second, although our cruise experience is limited, we’ve been fortunate enough to stay at many top-of -the-line hotels and resorts throughout North America. Thus, our expectation was that the Seven Seas Mariner would meet or exceed what we had found at these superior land-based facilities.

Finally, we had amazingly good weather for our cruise, with sunny, crystal clear weather and highs in the 70s for five of the seven days. Clouds and showers only appeared on the last day. Naturally, such wonderful weather gives anyone a much more positive view of a trip, but we believe that our comments on the Seven Seas Mariner would hold true even if we had encountered the more typical clouds and rain of coastal Alaska.

ITINERARY

We particularly liked the one way Whittier to Vancouver itinerary, instead of the more typical one week loop from Vancouver or Seattle. You get to see twice the geography and a far greater variety of landscapes. For example, the sail along the Fairweather Range and visit to Hubbard Glacier was spectacular and the subsequent sail into Yakutat harbor was a special treat, since that little community is one spot in North America I’ve always wanted to visit. All of these locales are in a section of Alaska coastline not covered by the loop itineraries.

The shore visits included the “big four” cities of southeast Alaska – Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. We took excursions at each stop, except the last, where our tour was cancelled at the last moment due to lack of participants. All of the tours were worthwhile, except for the tramway up Mount Robinson in Juneau. Admittedly, it was toward the end of a hotter than normal day, but all the staff seemed tired, bored and in some instances, downright cranky. The actual views were less than spectacular, both through the scratched windows of the tram as well as through the foliage at the top. We’d suggest you skip this excursion.

Perhaps our three favorite tours were: 1) The Sea Otter Explorer tour in Sitka. Over a three hour period, we saw humpback whales, harbor seals, migrating salmon and of course, sea otters. The captain and crew all seemed focused on getting us the best views of available wildlife. 2) The White Pass and Yukon Railroad. I love this trip based on a visit 30 years ago when I took the train to Whitehorse, Yukon, but it’s still a dramatic ride to the top of the White Pass. The spectacular scenery is only outweighed by the courage and creativity of those who built the railroad over 100 years ago. 3) Also in Skagway, the “Ghosts and Goodtme Girls” walking tour highlights the workings of the world’s oldest profession during the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as some spirits which are said to remain in the old buildings even today. The tour was well narrated, enjoyable and in many instances a poignant reminder of the terrible working conditions and circumstances which plagued the women who followed the men to the gold.

Having visited all of these towns 30 years ago, it was generally disappointing to see the evolution of their waterfront with the growth of the cruise industry. The proliferation of the usual cruise-related shops and restaurants reminded us of Caribbean port towns we’ve visited. It seems that just as saloons and prostitutes followed the miners in 1898, Little Switzerland and the other retailers today are following the cruise ship gold to destinations throughout southeast Alaska.

OUR CABIN

We were on the 8th deck, port side rear in a Class G minimum size cabin. Due to the space’s clever design, we never felt cramped or in any way claustrophobic. With great weather and a comfortable balcony, we ended up spending far more time in our room than we expected, watching the scenery and enjoying drinks from our complementary bottles of scotch and vodka with mixers from the in-room fridge. As we cruised through the most scenic areas, the in-room TV also carried the excellent commentary of Ms. Terry Breen, who highlighted geographic and cultural points of interest as well as spotting marine and land-based wildlife.

The bathroom was functional, well arranged and for those of us with older eyes, had excellent lighting. Storage was equally well designed and although we did the usual overpacking, it never felt like we had to struggle to find our things.

SERVICE

Throughout the cruise, service was generally faultless. Staff in housekeeping, dining rooms and at customer service desks were all uniformly cheerful and helpful. Like many top-notch hotels, Radisson has clearly established a “zone of acknowledgement” where all staff will give you a “Good morning” or other appropriate greeting when you’re within a few feet of them.

As an example of their responsiveness, I had left my laptop power cord at the hotel in Anchorage, and asked for help at the ship’s computer center. The attendant immediately offered to borrow a crew person’s cord, and also knew that there was a Radio Shack in Sitka which would have a replacement. Incidentally, the ship’s satellite-based Internet and email connections worked well for me, although some other folks grumbled about the slow response.

Another small but significant example of top service was the reboarding procedures at port stops. The Seven Seas Mariner was frequently docked next to ships from other lines, and while we occasionally waited a few minutes to be processed through security, other ships had lines which contained hundreds of people and at least a half hour delay. Admittedly, some of the difference is because of because of the Mariner’s smaller size, but there was also a level of efficiency which allowed our ship’s passengers easier entrance. As a frequent flyer who sometimes spends hours in security lines, the difference was both dramatic and particularly appreciated.

While we’ll comment later about the food, we were very impressed by the ship’s room service. We ordered breakfast in the room every morning, and although the order card specified a half hour window (i.e. 6:30-7:00; 7:00-7:30 etc.) , the meal invariably arrived within the first five minutes of the requested period, except for one morning when the attendant arrived with ten minutes to go. He apologized profusely, saying that 160 cabins ( nearly half the ship’s capacity) had asked for breakfast during the same half hour period. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a room service attendant at any hotel apologize for being on time.

FOOD

Given other reviews on this site, we had a high level of expectation about the food on board the Seven Seas Mariner, and in general, we were not disappointed. Aside from promptness, the room service breakfasts were invariably hot and tasty. Those lunches we had on board were usually at the Poolside Grill, where the food was informal but fresh and in many cases, cooked to order. On the last day we tried the buffet in La Veranda at the ships poolside aft and were impressed with the variety of fresh chilled seafood. While there were hot entrees, we feasted on cold crab claws, shrimp, salmon, trout, and other cold items. Next, time, we’ll definitely make more use of this venue.

For dinner, we tried all three restaurants, as well as room service. Perhaps our top choice was “Latitudes”, where the food and presentation matched meals we’ve enjoyed at five-star restaurants. In the main dining room, “Compass Rose”, we found the food to be very good and the somewhat conservative portions allowed us to sample a wider variety of item. Surprisingly, the dinner at “Signatures” the Cordon Bleu restaurant, in part due to the chef’s interpretation of selected dishes, and also due to the over-the-top Escofier-style service. In all restaurants, we found the complementary wine selections to be very good to excellent and good pairings to the food served.

TIPS FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS

While these reviews are helpful in selecting a ship and itinerary, we found they were equally valuable once our cruise was chosen to maximize our enjoyment of the voyage. With the latter purpose primarily in mind, here are some tips for those who choose to sail with Radisson to Alaska:

· Given the one-way itinerary, it’s very important to choose a shore-side cabin for your trip (port southbound, starboard northbound). We had wonderful views of the Alaska coastline in our cabin, from early morning to late at night, while those on the opposite side saw only the ocean. Even as we cruised up fjords or between islands, the port side seemed to have the better vistas. Certainly, people in the starboard cabins could see the same things by going to the observation lounge or other viewing points, but we suspect there were many times when a great scene was missed because occupants were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

· Despite many self-serving comments by the captain and staff about the smoothness of the ship’s pod propulsion system, we noticed some clear vibration at times in the pod below our cabin, which was near the aft. There was also a bit of rolling motion in the room when we were at full speed. If these type of vibrations and motions concern you, as they did my wife, we’d suggest you try for a cabin near the middle of the ship.

· While we didn’t choose the Seven Seas Mariner for economy, there are many elements of the ships all-inclusive package which help offset the higher fares. First, all cabins have balconies, which is usually pretty far up the cabin charts on other lines. Second, all tips for stewards and dining room staff are included in the fare. Next, as mentioned above, the complementary wine at dinner was not only excellent but frequently refilled. In addition, there were three receptions we attended with complementary cocktails. Non-alcoholic drinks, such as soda or coffee, were available for free, as was bottled water before each shore excursion.

Speaking of alcohol, perhaps the best value was the complementary liters of spirits and mixers which were in our stateroom upon arrival. Given the outstanding scenery, weather and room, we enjoyed more cocktails than expected in our room (plus – we were on vacation and not driving for days to come). Anyway, the Absolut bottle was magically empty by the fifth day, so we ordered a replacement. Surprisingly, the charge was only $20, or less than three drinks at any of the ship’s lounges.

· We started the trip from Anchorage and took the Grandview Cruise Train, which was a wonderful way to start the trip. The Alaska Railroad has modified the cars with domed roofs, allowing far clearer views of both the mountains and Turnagain Arm than could be seen from a typical tour bus. Each car had table seating and complementary soft drinks and coffee. Best yet, the tops of the Dutch doors on each car were open throughout the trip, allowing both better photo opportunities and the chance to enjoy the sounds, smells and sights of railroading in the 49th State. Amtrak could learn a lot from the Alaska Railroad.

· Finally, a tip for those using frequent flyer miles to get to the ship, especially from the East Coast. Unlike Hawaii, you can fly to Alaska for the same miles as a domestic round trip, even though the flight from Chicago alone is 6 ½ hours. Thus, it’s a good value to burn off some extra miles for first class, which gives you more leg and elbow room plus, in the case of our United flight, a surprisingly nice meal. We arrived in Anchorage in far better shape than those who were crammed in a very full coach section.

In summary, the seven days we spent on the Radisson Seven Seas Mariner were perhaps one of the best vacations we’ve ever had. The exemplary service, excellent food, enjoyable tours and attention to detail all combined to provide the perfect break from daily activities, and we would enthusiastically recommend the ship to all who are looking for both a great Alaska experience and a five star floating resort.

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