It used to be Radisson Seven Seas. Now the company has changed to
Regent, but more on that later. As far as the product is concerned, by
either name it's a truly luxurious experience. On a recent 20-night
cruise from Buenos Aires around Cape Horn to Peru, I had a chance to
indulge myself, especially as there were several scenic days at sea.

The Seven Seas Mariner offers some very strong features. The
all-suite, all-balcony configuration appeals to an upscale group. The
entry-level suite is very comfortable at 252 sq. ft. plus a 49 sq. ft.
balcony. For more space, larger suites get as big as 1,204 sq. ft.,
with two balconies totaling 798 sq. ft. Second, at 48,015 gross
registered tons and only 700 guests, the space ratio with a full ship
is 69 -- one of the highest in the industry.

Open-seating dining works superbly, as it does on Mariner, when
there are enough seats in the combined venues to sit everyone at once,
when and with whom they want. Reservations are needed at two of the
four dining rooms for dinner, but on this longer trip there didn't seem
to be a problem getting one; and only at peak hours in the other two
did any guests have to wait even a couple of minutes. In addition, the
cruise fare covers all tips as well as the excellent wines served at
dinner -- nice touches to be sure.

The Long Cruise Challenge

On a long cruise such as this, consider some of the challenges Regent
faces when it is selling the trip as four segments of a 62-night
circumnavigation of South America. On this 20-night leg, there were 574
guests on board; that was about the same for each four segments of the
full trip. I learned that 168 passengers were on for the full cruise,
the rest for one or more segments. Moreover, 68 of those were on last
year's RSSC world cruise. Naturally, the largest numbers of guests were
from the U.S. -- about 80 percent. Fifty-seven were from the U.K., 14
from France, 13 from Germany and the rest from 21 various countries.

The challenge is this: How do you feed, entertain and provide shore
excursions for such a group over a long period, without repeating
things or becoming boring? It takes a lot of thinking and innovation,
and I was quite impressed by RSSC's performance.


In the dining area, the main restaurant, Compass Rose, did not repeat a
menu -- not even any of the entrées or appetizers (except traditional
things always available such as a shrimp cocktail). They always managed
to come up with variations in terms of accompanying ingredients and
presentation to keep things interesting. In Latitudes, one of the two
reservations-only alternative restaurants, the theme is now Indochine,
with lots of Southeast Asian items. But the menu was varied during the
cruise, so it never got stale. Food here is served family-style (in a
very classy way - even the dishes are beautiful) and the
taste-sensation is excellent.


Compass Rose Restaurant

Signatures, the other reservations-only alternative restaurant, is
the Cordon Bleu dining venue. For those who like top-notch French
cuisine, it's great. On two consecutive nights when I went to
Signatures and Latitudes, I had the chicken soup. One was Vietnamese
style, the other was a cappuccino style. Both were sensational, and
you would not guess they were made with a chicken base. The daytime
buffet restaurant, La Veranda, becomes a casual café at night, where
guests select their salad and dessert items from a buffet and the
wait-staff brings soup and the main course. This cruise featured a
variety of menus: Argentinean dishes, a steakhouse, Chilean flavors and
an all-encompassing buffet on a scenic sailing night.


Signature Restaurant


For entertainment, the most prolific group was the production team's
four singers and six dancers. But gone is the day when the leads could
only stand around and sing. This may have been the most talented group,
top to bottom, I have seen in the last five years. Their range was from
Broadway to rock 'n roll and more. It's amazing what raw talent, some
choreography and a bit of staging can do to enliven what is
occasionally demeaned as passé. They performed four complete production
shows, and then segments for other evenings. The Beatles review and the
rock 'n roll show were the best of that sort I have seen.

The cruise director and the assistant cruise director were also very
talented and helped create greater variety. Along the way, cabaret acts
-- three singers, a magician/comedian, a guitarist and a flutist --
appeared at least twice each. For themed entertainment, there was a
two-brother gaucho act and a late afternoon tango/folkloric show in
Buenos Aires, and a troupe of 40 Chilean folk singers/dancers that came
on board in Valparaiso. The production team helped stage a British Pub
Night, a Western Night and a mystery Sherlock Holmes musical game. In
addition, the two excellent guest lecturers were a former Managing
Director of the Falklands - boy, did he have some stories - and
Jean-Michel Cousteau, a very firm advocate of saving our seas. Regent's
resident destination expert gave several talks on the historic and
cultural aspects of the ports we visited.

The Extras

But the quality of the experience involved more than just the standard
cruise features. The officers' welcome-aboard presentation, usually
quite ho-hum, was done differently than I've ever seen, and was very
enjoyable. So were the farewell Captain's presentation and the
cruise-ending crew show. I won't go into details about what they did
(who knows what competitors may be lurking), but they seemed to reflect
a sense of innovative thinking in corporate headquarters as well as on
board. Well done!


Officers and crew aboard Radisson Seven Seas Mariner

On Shore

For shore excursions, the challenge was putting together enough options
for this very well-traveled group to keep them interested. It's not
easy when you visit these ports only once a year, and have no real
control over what's going to happen. But every tour I took was well
handled, with clean, comfortable transportation. When one of two buses
broke down on a very steep, dirt mountain road, re-arrangements were
quickly made, keeping guest dissatisfaction to a minimum. Many of the
ports on this cruise were not names that roll off the tongue of most
travelers. They weren't really much in themselves, but they served as
the gateway to so much. On a shorter cruise, many people stay away from
itineraries with no-name places; but when they are part of a
circumnavigation of a continent, you have to go with the flow. And it's
worth it. For the scenic highlights of the cruise -- including Cape
Horn and the Chilean Fjords -- the destination specialist provided
well-informed commentary from the bridge to tell us what we were seeing.

As I mentioned at the top, the corporate name of the cruise line has
been changed from Radisson to Regent, properly identifying it as part
of the parent company's luxury hotel division. The company has
announced many changes that will take place over the coming months.
Modifications to the already excellent suites -- such as new comforters
and Egyptian cotton linens, new mattresses, cashmere throws, soft
bathrobes and towels, and Regent luxury bathroom amenities -- will be
part of a multi-million dollar investment; lots more is scheduled to be
done. Now, if they would just go to double odds at the mini-craps table.

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