Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' all-suite, all-balcony ship, Seven Seas Mariner, navigated the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Yellow Sea, taking us through Japan and China. The Mariner, which entered service in 2001, is a sleek, modern vessel with style and panache. Radisson is trying hard to appeal to loyal Crystal Cruises guests, but misses the mark in that attempt. However, Radisson has created a niche all its own – a more casual, freestyle environment that is still delivered in an upscale (yet overpriced, in my opinion) package.
The ship itself is a stunning execution of Scandinavian design. With an emphasis on earth tones and blond woods, and dashes of blues, greens and reds, this is a surprisingly contemporary ship, considering that its target clientele is older (60+), more traditional cruisers. The ship's focal point is its seven-deck-high atrium and soaring glass elevators. Following in the footsteps of its older sister, Seven Seas Navigator, the ship's designers made terrific use of light and color to provide an open, airy interior. The lowest level (Deck 5) of the main atrium is where you can find Guest Reception, the Hotel Director, the Cruise Consultant and the Shore Excursion Office. In lieu of the elevators, there is a main staircase that takes guests up one level to Deck 6, where most of the entertainment venues can be found.
This is a quiet ship, as in you-can-hear-a-pin-drop quiet! Once 10 p.m. rolls around, don't count on any wild activities or rousing entertainment. In fact, you should not plan on seeing any kind of civilization at all. These cruisers go to bed early and rise early. They are into fine dining, drinking and sleeping.
There is not even much of a social vibe earlier in the day. As an individual in my 20s, I found myself wandering the corridors of Deck 6 and hanging out on the Internet at Club.com, the ship's computer room, which is packed by day and empty every night.
The main show lounge is a two-deck-high, midnight blue room (this is also, thankfully, where the first-day muster drill is held, to protect us from the elements out on deck). All of the sightlines are excellent for the variety of evening shows. Every few nights they put on a traditional production show (the first was "Thoroughly Modern Broadway", a collection of famous stage tunes from shows such as "Mamma Mia" and "Fiddler on the Roof." The second production was "Beyond Imagination," an eclectic mix of dance and music styles (Irish, ballet, etc.). The final production show was supposed to be a Beatles tribute, but it was cancelled on our cruise due to production difficulties and an unprepared new dance troupe. The shows are quite good. I was not so impressed by the filler performers on other nights -- a comedian/storyteller, a female singing/piano playing duo from Australia, an Australian male singer who caused all of our senior ladies onboard to swoon; this is just not my cup of tea.
The service on the Mariner struck me as the missing piece of the puzzle. The staff seemed tired, cranky and not in the mood to be there. The Reception staffers were stone-faced and cold. Some servers in the Compass Rose (the main dining room) and La Veranda (the casual dining venue) were appallingly rude – e.g., a South African girl who told a guest, "This is not Starbucks," when the guest asked for an espresso. Service at several dinners in the Compass Rose was slow, and the staff seemed unconcerned. There were exceptions, but too often the servers would just stand around chatting with each other while my table waited for bread.
A Radisson policy that I don't care for is open-seating in the main dining room. I prefer having the same table and same servers every night. Radisson ensures that you get different servers all the time, and are not guaranteed that special table by the window. Also, the quality of the food varied wildly all across the ship. In one instance, I would be biting into the driest, dullest pastries and cakes I ever had. Then moments later I would be served amazing lobster rolls and crab dumplings.
Portions in the Compass Rose were so tiny I felt like Radisson had me on a 14-day diet. Other dining options were by reservation only - Latitudes served an eclectic mix of Asian-fusion dishes, and Signatures was an elegant French option. Both were stunning, with incredible presentations (although Latitudes was a bit too wild for my taste). For the final week of the cruise, Latitudes was turned into a Roadside Diner with the most vile "classic American" cuisine I had ever eaten! It was a fun idea, but the food was a catastrophe.
You never feel crowded on the Seven Seas Mariner - at least not until you reach port. I was shocked by the traffic jam of guests; all three elevator banks were filled to capacity, while a line of people snaked through the Deck 5 lobby. Disembarking in port was chaos - and our cruise was barely half full. On the flip side, embarkation on Day 1 was handled with the utmost graciousness. It was truly white-glove service – simple, efficient, five-star.
The main reason to choose Radisson is the accommodations. You don't get rooms like these on just any ship. No matter which category you book, you get a suite with a balcony! The rooms are bright and roomy, done in tones of blue, red, orange and a lot of rust. With a walk-in closet, fully stocked mini-bar, lots of storage space and a large marble bathroom, what more could you ask for? Each suite is tended by a pair of room stewards - one male, one female - so turn-down is quick and practically invisible. Many thanks to Dandy from the Philippines and Maria from Sweden, who kept my suite in tip-top shape twice a day.
Asia was a spectacular destination and highly recommended. The weather was a mixture of rainstorms and sun, but each day was warm. Sailing from Tokyo, we spent the next two days docked at Osaka, right next to a great shopping mall and in the shadow of the "World's Biggest Ferris Wheel."
We took an excursion on the second day to an ancient castle and an area of temples. After leaving Osaka, we headed for Hiroshima. Despite the pouring rain, Hiroshima was amazing! After touring a beautiful Japanese-style garden in the middle of the city, we headed for the Peace Memorial, in the center of where Hiroshima was hit by the atomic bomb during World War II. The museum is a moving, life-changing experience.
Leaving Hiroshima that evening, we spent a day cruising the Yellow Sea on our way to China. Our first Chinese port was Dalian. After a lengthy delay to disembark, we boarded tour buses with guides who spoke little English. They were cute, though, and tried very hard. Dalian is just a big city, famous for its stunning parks (where some guests flew kites) and excellent beaches. Our next stop was a two-day stay in Tianjin, the port for Beijing. Since Beijing is a good three-hour drive from the port, we stayed overnight at the Shangri-La Hotel Beijing and took side trips to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. This was one of only two shore excursions provided for the port of Tianjin; the other, to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, was a 4-day excursion that met up with the ship at a later port.
After sailing from Tianjin, we spent another day at sea and then docked in the heart of Shanghai. Another two-day stay here gave us ample time to sample the nightlife, shop and tour. Shanghai is a 24-hour city of food, crowds, music and fun. The view of Shanghai from the ship was amazing - huge modern buildings all lit up brightly, with music and searchlights adding to the festivities. Two more days at sea brought us to Hong Kong, where we docked overnight before disembarking. Our tour in Hong Kong was a drawn-out bore, but the city itself is phenomenal! Sailing into Hong Kong rivals coming into New York City.
Overall, we enjoyed our time on the Mariner. Asia was incredible and the ship is beautiful and elegant. However, for the price we paid, we expected a higher level of service. The ship is in a class by itself, but cannot compete with the likes of Crystal or Seabourn. I would choose Radisson again if just for the exotic, port-intensive itineraries. But for service and sheer entertainment value, I would most likely look to another cruise line.