The full article can be found here
at the Times-Picayune Little ship exemplifies big service
By Susan Langenhennig
JUNEAU, ALASKA -- Parked dockside near the Norwegian Cruise Line's Pearl and the Holland America's Zaandam, our comparably smaller Regent Seven Seas Mariner seemed an exclusive bed and breakfast to their hotel megaplex.
An elegant ship with a Picasso hanging in the library, the Mariner doesn't have a rock climbing wall, a bowling alley or bright neon decor. And it's not the ship where you're likely to find, say, the hairiest chest contest out by the pool or tango lines on the lido deck.
But what it does have are balconies for every guest room, affording the ultimate luxury of curling up with a book while watching Alaska's magnificence roll by; four restaurants of varying culinary styles, all with open seating and no assigned dinner times, and a staff to guest ratio of 1 to 1.6 that has won it awards ranging from "Best Large-Ship Cruise Line" in the 2006 Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards and "Best Small Cruise Line" in Travel+Leisure's 2001 Readers' Survey.
That hyper level of service (the cruise line calls it the Tao of Regent) hit home on our final day at sea, when we literally were tripping over waiters trying to carry our glasses and dinner plates back to our table from the "international feast" luncheon buffet -- a smorgasbord of everything from Alaskan king crab legs to a spicy Filipino smothered chicken, and topped off with scads of fresh-from-the-oven pastries, four flavors of homemade ice cream (including sugar-free varieties) and all the sundae fixings. (A big hit with my 3-year-old niece.)
The Mariner, a 6-year-old, 700-passenger ship, was the first in the industry to be an all-suite, all balcony ship, said Andrew Poulton, director of strategic marketing for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
It's also one of the few cruise ships in which "all-inclusive" really means all-inclusive. All gratuities for staff members and all drinks, including wine and liquor, are included in the cruise fare.
Typically cruises charge for alcohol and some also bill passengers for bottled water and soft drinks. ($1.50 for a Diet Coke!) Add that to tips, and a seven-day end-of-cruise bill can ring up to hundreds if not thousands, and that's before any shore excursions.
On the Mariner, we were greeted in our suite on the first day with a complimentary bottle of champagne chilling in a silver bucket and a mini-fridge stocked with bottled water and soft drinks. Around the ship, wine was ubiquitous, flowing more freely than we wanted to drink it. And good wine at that.
Chateauneuf du Pape was one of the red selections on the menu at Signatures, the ship's French restaurant that's affiliated with Le Cordon Bleu of Paris. (Though the seatings are open, reservations are required at Signatures and Latitudes, an Asian fusion restaurant onboard.)
We didn't have reservations on the night Chateauneuf de Pape was being poured, so the next day, when Lucien, the sommelier, came to our table, I inquired if it was still available, mentioning that my husband and I had visited that Cotes du Rhone winery years ago.
Within minutes, a fresh bottle was uncorked and left on our table. All I had wanted was a glass.
"On my last cruise a bottle of water cost $3.50," remarked a woman standing next to me when we were waiting to disembark on an excursion one day. "This certainly is different."
While there are Broadway-style performances in the Constellation theater at night (A Beatles review won kudos from the wide age ranges of travelers in my group), new-release movies shown daily, a casino with Texas Hold 'em tournaments, wildlife talks by naturalists and an art lecture by onboard curators, pampering, it seems, is among the main attractions on this ship.
Leave your shoes outside your door, and you'll find them shined when you wake up. Now, if only that would happen at home.
IF YOU SAIL THE REGENT SEVEN SEAS MARINER TO ALASKA . . .
Where it goes: From late May to early September, the Regent Seven Seas Mariner cruises an Alaskan itinerary, departing from either Vancouver, Canada, sailing to Seward or from Seward south to Vancouver, with stops in Sitka, Skagway and Ketchikan. The ship, which carries 700 passengers and 445 crew members, also cruises through Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Glacier along the way. After the Alaska season, the Mariner begins a "Grand Asia Pacific Tour" for the fall and then heads to South America for the spring.
What it costs: Regent's Web site, www.rssc.com,
lists starting prices for its Mariner Alaskan cruises at $3,697 for a 301-square-foot suite, which includes a balcony, sitting area, walk-in closet and bathroom with marble-top vanity and tub. The fare includes all shipboard gratuities and beverages, including wine, liquor and soft drinks served throughout the ship, as well as perks, such as free shoe shines and 24-hour room service.
More information: Call a travel agent or check out the cruise line's web page.