First Visit To Radisson's Mariner


Click for High-Resolution Pic of Mariner - All Pics by Mark Flager

Click-4-Pic: SHIPYARD
I wouldn't normally recommend a December visit to the Chantiers de L'Atlantique shipyard, located in St. Nazaire, France, as a brief winter escape for most people, but as a ship lover coming here to see the yet-to-be-launched Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Mariner I feel like I've ascended to heaven. In this small town on the rugged Brittany coast, the ships of many cruise lines are in various states of construction. And it's thrilling to tour a vessel a few months before its launch: even though the interior is little more than steel girders, hanging bare bulbs, hanging steel cables and wires.

With the recent proliferation of new luxury ships, it's sometimes difficult to tell them apart. But I found the new Seven Seas Mariner distinctive even under construction, a short three months away from her March 19, 2001 scheduled arrival in Ft. Lauderdale.

Top Deck 12 - click!
The biggest distinction? Mariner is the first all-suite, all-balcony ship. At a spacious 50,000 tons, she will carry 700 well-heeled passengers in search of the top levels of food, service and creature comforts. She will be the roomiest ship yet, with a passenger/space ratio of 71. (That's a measure of tonnage, or interior space, divided by passenger capacity. By comparison, Crystal's Harmony and Symphony are the same tonnage, but carry 200 more guests.)

Additional statistics: Mariner is 709 feet long, with a draft of 21 feet, beam of 93 feet and cruising speed of 20 knots. The French-flagged ship will carry a crew of 445 (for a crew-to-guest ratio of 1:1.6). She will have a French captain and French and European senior officers.

But Radisson Seven Seas needs a vessel this large to include some of its other unique features. There will be four restaurants, including Signatures, the first restaurant at sea with Le Cordon Bleu chefs trained just for this dining venue. The spa, operated by Judith Jackson of Connecticut, will offer a high level of sybaritic beauty and massage experiences.

Captains Shows Bridge - Click!
While the $550 per person, per diem puts Mariner in the luxury category, the fare is comparable to Crystal's, and roughly 35% below Silverseas Cruises'. Most of the same perks are there as well: gratuities and wine with dinner are included in the fare.

Since Radisson Seven Seas has never built a vessel this large, the company's biggest challenge will be finding and training a staff that can deliver the high levels of service found on the line's other vessels. There is always a learning curve when a new ship sets sail, and you have a crew new to each other and to the ship.

Based on my tour of the ship, here's a preview of Seven Seas Mariner.

PUBLIC AREAS

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Donning a hard hat and climbing a steep external stairway, I boarded Mariner on Deck 5, where the purser's and shore excursion desks are located. In the large atrium is a circular staircase rising seven decks, plus three glass elevators. Adjacent is the two-tier Constellation Theater, with seating for all passengers; the mahogany-paneled Mariner Lounge for pre- and post-show cocktails; and Latitudes, one of the alternative restaurants. The ship's main restaurant, the Compass Rose, completes this deck. The other public rooms are on Deck 6, including the intimate Connoisseur Club for evening cigars, Stars Nightclub, and a casino with blackjack, roulette, craps, video poker and slot machines. The Horizon Lounge is a circular room with dance floor. Other Deck 6 facilities include boutiques, a library (books & videos), and a cyber cafe/computer classroom with 18 work stations. The ship's Observation Lounge, perched on Deck 12, will offer afternoon tea, cocktails and drop-dead gorgeous views of the sea.

DINING

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By constructing a larger vessel, Radisson Seven Seas can offer more alternative dining options than other luxury ships. The four restaurants will each feature a distinctive cuisine, as well as single open seating. The Compass Rose is the main dining room, with wood and marble floors and 45 tables for two (plus dining for four, six and eight people). Seating 920 people, the restaurant is divided into three areas to give a more intimate atmosphere. France's famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, has teamed up with the cruise line in the restaurant Signatures, where renowned chefs will prepare cuisine specially designed for the ship. Latitudes, the smallest restaurant, will offer continental cuisine with Asian specialties. La Veranda, adjacent to the pool, serves casual luncheon fare and dinners featuring pasta and fish. There is 24-hour room service, and courses from the main restaurant can be ordered during evening hours.

ACTIVITIES & FITNESS

When I got to the ship's pool area, I stopped in my tracks and said "wow." The teak- decked area is one of the largest I've ever seen on a ship this size. But you can park me in the Judith Jackson Spa, where a staff of 13 performs sybaritic massage and beauty treatments. Fitness buffs will find a gym with all the stretching and pulling equipment, plus a full jogging track and sports deck with golf cages and paddle tennis.

CABINS

With 350 all-suite staterooms, each with a private balcony, it will be tough for passengers to find a bad cabin on this ship. I saw a mock-up of the minimum Deluxe Suite, measuring 252 sq. ft., with a 49 sq. ft. teak balcony and two lounge chairs. Expect a colorful decor, with orange sofa (in several cabins they are sleeper beds) and chairs. All the luxury perks are here: a marble bath with tub/shower and plenty of space for toiletries; color TV/VCR; a Minibar; walk-in closet; and make-up vanity.

Mariner boasts six additional categories of suites. The largest are the two Master Suites, located forward on Deck 9, measuring 1,580 sq. ft. (The balconies facing the ship's bow have a floor-to-ceiling "greenhouse," plus an adjacent traditional veranda.) Six Mariner suites, located midships on decks 8, 9 and 10, are 739 sq. ft. Mariner has also positioned suites in the ship's stern. Two 707-sq.ft. Grand Suites are located mid-ship on deck 11, with balcony views of the ship's wake. My favorite suites are the eight Seven Seas Suites on the aft of decks 7-10. Measuring 561 sq. ft. with 136 sq. ft. balconies, they are situated on corners, affording 180-degree views of the sea. Sixty Penthouse suites, measuring 449 sq. ft. (including balcony), are located forward and midships on Decks 9-11.

ITINERARIES

Beginning with the March 31, 2001 inaugural sailing, a nine-day Panama Canal voyage between Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica and Ft. Lauderdale, the Seven Seas Mariner's cruises will be close to home. April 9 and 18 round-trip cruises to Bermuda from Ft. Lauderdale are followed by a positioning cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles. From June 4 through September 5, 2001 the ship summers in Alaska, sailing between Vancouver and Seward (port of Anchorage) on cruises ranging from seven to 11 days in duration. A 26-day South Pacific cruise sails round-trip from San Francisco on September 15. During the fall, Mariner cruises in Mexico and the Caribbean and returns to the Panama Canal.

FARES

The average starting per person, per diem is $540, which includes gratuities and wine with dinner. You'll find a number of programs offering steep savings at Radisson Seven Seas' web site (www.rssc.com), including two-for-one fares and regional discounts in Alaska, Bermuda and the Panama Canal.

For a brochure on the new Seven Seas Mariner, contact your travel agent or Radisson Seven Seas Cruises at 800-477-7500.

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