My husband and I are experienced cruisers, and especially like small ships with open seating dining (great for meeting interesting people) and a "casually elegant" dress code. We love Wind Star cruises (having sailed with them five times) for several compelling reasons, but have branched out a bit because they weren't sailing to destinations we wanted. As a result, we sailed on the R4 to Tahiti last summer, and will be boarding RSS Mariner in three weeks for a ten day cruise to Alaska. We chose these two lines because they have features we liked that are similar to Wind Star: interesting and unique itineraries, small passenger/guest capacity, elegant and fine dining and a relaxed atmosphere for adults.
It's been our experience that in cruising, as with most other things in life, you get what you pay for. We've always had outstanding non-obsequious service on Wind Star cruises, and find that we know many of the crew from previous sailings. The crew (mostly Indonesians) appear to love their work, and are very gracious to their guests. Within a day, most know our names and our preferences, despite open-seating dining and a "no tipping required" policy. The quality of the food is uniformly outstanding: very innovative nouvelle cuisine with quality ingredients, even in their buffet breakfasts and lunches. Cabins, while small, are very comfortable and fully stocked with fluffy towels, terry robes, VCR, CD player, refrigerator, etc. I've NEVER had a less than outstanding experience on Wind Star.
The R4 was a pleasant surprise. Though there were 680 passengers aboard, the ship was a relaxing, enjoyable place to be. No smoking. No kids running around the pool area. No loud announcements. The crew, mostly college students from Europe, the US, Canada and Australia, were very well trained and quite helpful. I would have to say that the quality of the food did not meet Wind Star standards, especially at the buffet, but then, I didn't expect it to. It was, all in all, a very satisfactory cruise and I certainly would sail with Renaissance again.
This summer we will sail on Mariner, a larger ship than R4 but with a similar passenger complement. This is an all-inclusive ship, with all soft drinks, wine at lunch and dinner, and an in-cabin bar as well as all gratuities, included in the cost of the cruise. From what I've seen and read online, it is a gorgeous ship that is meant to compete in quality with the likes of Crystal, Seabourn and Silverseas, but I can attest that the cost for a similar cruise on Crystal to Alaska is considerably more. We'll see if Mariner (and Radisson) can measure up to the aforementioned giants in the luxury cruise niche.
This is an excellent post. I agree so much that the best cruise experiences are the ones on smaller, itinerary oriented, casual ships. I adore Renaissance and Windstar for these reasons.
You put the two lines in perfect perspective, the service on Windstar (and food) is exemplary, and by the same token Renaissance is also good but they offer a similar product at a lower cost. Don't overlook the alternative dining options on Renaissance however, they are a big plus.
This brings to light the concept that perhaps bigger is NOT better. All the large cruise lines are building bigger and bigger ships so the overall experience is bigger, but the personal experience aspects of cruising -- getting to know the staff, getting personalized attention, feeling uncrowded and relaxed... have all gone by the wayside.
I can draw a parallel between small cruise lines: its like visiting an old friend; and larger cruise lines: like a trip to Disneyland. The first will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, and the second will leave you feeling spent and exhausted. Both are interesting experiences, but I suspect you are more inclined to return to see old friends than you are to go to Disneyland year after year.
Thanks for the info about R4. We are going on R4 in Aug. We have only done Carnival Fascination and it doesn't seem to be much comparison between the two. One is huge and flashy and one isn't. We are looking forward to Tahiti and now I am looking forward even more. Thanks.
I wait in anticipation for your review on the Mariner. I just found their web site and fell in love with their iteneraries. I hope someday my husband and I will be able to enjoy the cruise lines you mentioned. Have a wonderful time!