Radisson's Mariner: Too big for its own good?

Cruise editor Brian Major spent five days sailing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Bermuda aboard Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' newest ship, the Seven Seas Mariner. His review follows:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Is there such a thing as a too-spacious ship? That question might be impossible to answer (or not worth answering), but it's one that's undeniably posed by Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Mariner, the industry's first all-balcony, all-suite ship.

While Mariner is likely to develop into another successful Radisson ship -- with virtually everything a modern luxury vessel requires to be successful -- it gives off a strangely detached feel.

Although Mariner was nearly full during my cruise, more often than not it seemed as if there were no more than 100 people aboard.

This phenomenon might be due in part to the nature of Radisson's core passengers, sophisticated travelers who generally prefer in-port exploration to ship-focused activities.

Radisson ships aren't known for their packed dance clubs or casinos, and passengers seldom have to battle one another for deck chairs, even on the sunniest days.

Mariner's jogging track and pool deck.But Mariner's feeling of emptiness also is influenced by its interior design. While clean and fresh in appearance, the ship's public areas exhibit a surprising lack of imagination and creativity.

Moreover, the rooms are exceptionally large, in keeping with the vessel's high space ratio -- 71.4, which Radisson officials claim is the highest of any ship afloat.

The result is a ship that too often gives off a cavernous feeling.

In other respects, Mariner is simply another outstanding vessel from the highly regarded Radisson fleet.

Although the Radisson ships are quite different from one another, the line has expertly created a distinctive style of its own within cruising's luxury market.

Radisson ships consistently offer a high level of service, outstanding cuisine and superior accommodations.

Mariner fits snugly into that profile. The 708-passenger, 50,000-ton ship features all of the hallmarks of the 9-year-old line.

Additionally, this is the first cruise ship in history where every stateroom category, from deluxe (standard) to "master" suite, enjoys the sunlight, air and sea views provided by a private balcony.

Beyond the obvious benefits, the all-balcony, all-suite configuration also creates a welcome spirit of equality among passengers.

Unlike almost every other ship in cruising, every passenger has a good cabin aboard Mariner.

Also unlike many high-end fleets, Radisson covers extra costs like gratuities, wine with dinner and use of the minibar in the cruise fare.

Moreover, Mariner contains plenty of less-than-obvious features that let discriminating cruisers know they're on a luxury ship.

Staterooms are uncommonly diverse. Among the available configurations are a 359-square-foot suite with a 163-square-foot balcony; a 505-square-foot suite with a 97-square-foot balcony; a 623-square-foot suite with an 84-square-foot balcony, and a 1,204-square-foot suite with two balconies totaling 376 square feet.

Every stateroom features a king-size bed (convertible to twins), bathrobes, hair dryer, TV with VCR, personal safe and telephone.

The Seven Seas Mariner is Radisson's largest ship.The only problem with the balconies is their lack of true privacy. Walls separating the balconies do not extend to the edge of the ship's rail, meaning guests easily can lean over the rail and see exactly what their neighbors are up to. The guy next door to me did this several times, much to my annoyance.

Each cabin offers a walk-in closet and bathrooms finished in marble. Stateroom decor combines smooth, light-toned woods with rich fabrics in pale green, burnt orange and gold tones. Decorative art hangs on the walls above each bed.

The smooth elegance of the staterooms is carried into public rooms, the highlight of which is a soaring, eight-deck atrium lobby featuring steel and wood stairways that wrap around three glass-enclosed elevators.

The ship's main show lounge, the two-deck Constellation Theater, is appropriately plush with excellent sight lines (no beams or posts), and the Connoisseur Club is everything an exclusive cigar room should be, with large leather armchairs, a charming faux fireplace and nifty decorations.

Mariner also includes Club.com, an Internet center containing 12 terminals, 10 of which are set off in a separate, office-like room; the other two are positioned at workstations outside the room.

There's also a Judith Jackson spa aboard, and a small gym/aerobics facility.

Yet while almost every area aboard Mariner exudes elegance and refinement, the ship also gives off a distinctive absence of life.

Perhaps this could be somewhat cured by more fresh flower arrangements and a more thorough deployment of decorations throughout.

But several of Mariner's public rooms seem isolated from other parts of the vessel, which adds to this air of detachment.

There are other examples. Despite its well-turned decor, the Connoisseur Club is another room on the vessel that feels cold. While Club.com is a highly functional facility that offers a technical aide who teaches computer and Internet classes, it's not nearly as attractive as Internet cafes on other ships.

Even the atrium looks and feels unfinished. The eight-deck-high space is sparsely decorated with a handful of wall hangings -- which I can only assume fall into the realm of modern art -- illuminated by colored spotlights. A very different approach during an age of cruise-ship atriums that more often produce sensory overload.

Most of Mariner's public rooms are concentrated on decks five, six and seven. Strangely, one of the ship's most attractive public rooms, the deck 12 Observation Lounge, is one of its least-used.

The lounge features a smooth, contemporary design with a semicircular bar and comfortable chairs and small sofas while affording a 180-degree view of the sea from the ship's bow.

The lounge is most attractive at night, but in a phenomenon common to many ships, the space is under utilized by passengers.

Why? Perhaps it's because this area seldom has a defined role, such as a dance club or main meeting space. Also, its location high up at the very bow of the ship separates the room from other parts of the vessel.

Mariner truly shines in the dining arena, with flexibility and fine cuisine among the hallmarks.

The vessel has four restaurants, with the main dining room, Compass Rose, serving all guests breakfast, lunch and dinner in single open seatings. La Veranda restaurant offers casual breakfast, lunch and dinner in an indoor/outdoor setting.

Also, there are two reservations-only restaurants open only for dinner. Signatures features cuisine prepared in classic French style under the auspices of the famed cooking academy Le Cordon Bleu.

Latitudes offers an eclectic mix of nouvelle dishes that Radisson calls "cosmopolitan cuisine."

Grilled food is available poolside, and Mariner also offers 24-hour room service.

Guests can opt to have meals from the Compass Rose dinner menu served in their suites, course-by-course.

Mariner's deck 12 features more on-board facilities for active vacationers than any other ship in the fleet. Deck 12 includes a paddle tennis court, golf driving tees (with protective netting), shuffleboard courts and a jogging track that circles above the pool deck.

The pool area, on deck 11, is large and spacious with three whirlpools fronting the top of the atrium.

This area also is seldom used, a trait common to many Radisson ships, as sun worshipping is not a favored activity of many of the line's guests.

The true test of any ship, however, is the reaction of its target audience, and most of the passengers I talked to enjoyed Mariner's upscale facilities and outstanding food.

More than once, however, the guest I was speaking with cast a wary eye about and asked in a low voice, "Where is everyone?"

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