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Linda Coffman

Radisson Seven Seas Mariner
Manaus, Brazil to San Juan, Puerto Rico

by Gary Karschnick

We booked this final segment of the round South America cruise on the Radisson Mariner. We chose this ship because of the wonderful experiences we had on two previous cruises on the Radisson Diamond, one of them a transatlantic crossing from Rome to San Juan. Perhaps our previous experiences on the Diamond spoiled us for the Mariner. Not only did it not measure up to our expectations, but also we were truly disappointed in the ship. We would never recommend this ship to anyone! We have been fortunate, having lived in Miami, to have been able to take many cruises over the past 27 years—from the old Monarch Sun and Emerald Seas to the more modern wonders of most of the cruise lines. I can say that for the money spent, this was the poorest we have ever taken. Let me go on with the cruise and you be the judge. 

To save on parking costs at the Miami Airport, ($14 per night), we rented a car one way to Miami. Since we had an early morning departure from the airport, we arrived the night before and stayed at the Airport Marriott.  I can’t give them a lot of praise. It’s a nice hotel and convenient, but $140 a night (with a AAA discount) and an additional $5 to park the car overnight is a little much. I would recommend other hotels if anyone else were contemplating a similar trip. We decided to turn the rental car in rather than pay for parking. We took the 5:00am Marriott shuttle to the airport for a 7:30am departure. Here was our first minor conflict. We checked at the American TransAir counter on the previous afternoon. (They were providing the charter flight from Miami to Manaus, Brazil.) The Radisson representative was adamant about us being at the airport at 4:30am to check in. The ATA personnel said that 5:15 to 5:30 would be plenty of time at that time of day. Since the Marriott didn’t start their shuttle service until 5:00, we decided to take the ATA representative's advice rather than take a cab to the airport. As it turned out, we were checked in through ATA in less than 5 minutes. The security check took a little longer, about 10 minutes. We had a situation at the security check in where my wife wanted to have her vitamins and supplements hand checked and not x-rayed. (Which can diminish or destroy their effectiveness.) The NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING security guard would have none of it and insisted on passing them through the x-ray machine. The Argenbright supervisor was of no help as he was busy reading his newspaper and couldn’t be disturbed. We decided against causing a “situation” and let the small plastic bag of pills go through. 

Due to the speed of our check in we found ourselves at the gate with 2 hours to wait and no food or beverage services available. We were assigned to row 2 of an all coach-configured L-1011. At 20 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, they started calling for boarding from rear rows forward. They worked their way up to row 10 and stopped calling. We were the only ones left in the gate area, so we boarded. We came upon our first experience with the 80/20 rule. The same 20% of the people cause 80% of the problems. Those who boarded first had stowed their carry-on luggage in the front overhead bins and in some cases under front seats. When we boarded, there was no room for us or for anyone in the first 10 rows to place their carry-on baggage. All that baggage then had to be taken to the jetway to be checked. The flight was smooth. We were served a cheese omelet that was tasty. The seats were narrow, but had a good amount of legroom. The “Jerks” made themselves known quickly. They would stand in front of the movie screens talking. They refused to lower the window shades for the movie. And in one case removed shoes and placed their smelly feet on the armrest of the seat in front of them. The reading light switches didn’t work in our row of seats.

Weather conditions allowed us to make up some time, so we arrived in Manaus about 20 minutes earlier than planned. Prior to our arrival, the Flight Attendants passed out Customs Forms for Brazil, one per family. After deplaning, we were informed by the local Radisson representative that we needed to claim our checked luggage and take it through customs with us. Then it would be collected and transported to the ship. Most of us stood at the baggage claim area for a long time until it became apparent that local people were taking all the baggage immediately to trucks to go to the ship. We then joined a long slow line to customs. After about an hour, we were informed that we needed to have one form per person rather than per family. The delay was that one of each couple had to stop and fill out another form to give to the one customs official meeting this flight. Then some extra forms were passed back through the crowd and we all managed to fill out the required number. The bus ride to the ship took about half an hour.  Check in was typical Radisson courtesy and efficiency. You are greeted with a glass of champagne and immediately taken to a counter where they take your passport, issue you room keys (cards), imprint your credit card and take you to get your security photo taken. Then a cabin steward gathers your hand luggage and takes you to your cabin where there are 2 bottles of chilled champagne waiting.

We took our first look around the cabin. It is larger than we have experienced in the past at 301 sq. ft. We had a category F on Deck 8. The first thing we noticed is that the balconies are not private. The dividers have a 4 inch gap all around them and if you go to the railing, you can easily see the entire balcony area of both of your next door neighbors as well as those below. Very Disappointing! The next thing we checked was the tub/shower. This area has been noted on every review of this ship. I am 6’ 1” tall, and I could not stand in the tub without bending over as my head hit the ceiling. The showerhead is set for someone about 5’ 6” tall. It is possible to accommodate the shower, but at the prices they charge, the ship should accommodate the passengers. We also noticed that there is no handle on the outside of the sliding doors to the balcony. There is a 1-inch stud protruding from a hole in the glass. (We later found out from the crew that the ship is not finished. Evidently, it wasn’t ready when promised and rather than canceling a couple of cruises to complete the ship, Radisson decided to take it as is and has a portion of the shipyard crew on board to complete the ship in increments over the next few years.)

We took a walk around the ship to orient ourselves and went to the pool grill for a snack. I had a hot dog and my wife had a tuna sandwich. By the time we returned to our cabin, our luggage had arrived so we could unpack. Radisson insists on calling them suites, but unless they have 2 bedrooms, to me they will be cabins. We had dinner in the main restaurant, the Compass Rose. The menu was very limited and quite frankly had very little that appealed to me. I settled for a salad and the fish entrée, which was very good. There are no choices for dressings for the salads, just what is presented. I asked if I could have blue cheese rather that the Raspberry Vinaigrette that was proposed. The waiter said of course, but when it came, I got the Vinaigrette. This was our first experience in the Compass Rose of not getting what we ordered. During the 9-day cruise, only once did they get our orders correct in the Compass Rose. We also noticed immediately what has been noted by other reviewers of this ship that there is an attitude of indifference among the waiters. On one occasion our waiter was carrying on a conversation with a co-worker as she dropped our soups in front of us. On another occasion, we had to get up and try to find our waiter because after dropping off soup again, we had no spoons. As bad as this was, it turned out to be the least bad of all the restaurants on board, except for the pool grill at lunch.

That night, we made a couple of other discoveries. The area around the grill on pool deck is tiled and when it gets wet (as outside decks do regularly) it is very slippery. Back in our cabin we found fine down-filled pillows. Great? No, you can stack 4 of them on top of each other and when you put your head on them, they will compress to less than an inch. No support there. It sort of sums up what we came to perceive the ship as Beauty without Functionality!

Tuesday, February 12th, the first day on the Amazon River. We had a buffet breakfast at the Veranda restaurant. Pretty good selection and fresh omelets. We discovered the next design deficiency. The “sneeze guards” over the salad area extends out so far that it is impossible to obtain food from the middle or rear of the salad area. Later, my wife went to a lecture entitled “Meeting Your Fellow Guests” and I went to the launderette to iron some wrinkles out of our clothes. We had lunch at the pool grill. The chef was grilling some local fish. We had Pirrarucu. It was delicious! At 6:00pm we got off the ship for a Folkloric show (compliments of Radisson). It was called the Boi-Bomba Show in Parintins, Brazil. It was a wonderful show with lots of beautiful boys and girls in lovely costumes. Afterward, we were bussed back to the ship. We decided to try the Veranda for dinner. Again, a limited menu and very little to my liking. I settled for just the entrée, a shish-ka-bob. My wife had tomato bisque soup, a Mediterranean olive salad, and fish.

Wednesday, February 13th, we arose early for a quick breakfast followed by a 5-hour tour. We were docked at Santarem, Brazil and had signed up for a tour of Alter Do Chao Village and Canoe Ride. We stopped at a small village for a nature walk and were shown how rubber was taken from the trees. The highlight of the tour for us was the small city of Alter Do Chao where we were besieged by a small army of children trying to sell us souvenir necklaces made from nuts and seeds. Their English was limited to “One Dollar” and our Portuguese was nil. After some transactions, we had an absolutely delightful time with the children learning their names and videotaping them and showing it back to them. We wanted to take all these beautiful children back with us. They had nothing, but were the happiest children we have ever seen. When we left, there were hugs and “High 5’s” all around. They stayed with our bus and didn’t want us to leave. This was the highlight of the whole trip! Riding back to the ship, we were seated behind one of the on-board lecturers. Someone asked her what her lecture subject was. Her answer was given in a very arrogant and snotty manner, “Well, my dear, you’ll just have to come and see for yourself.” We made a note to boycott anything she had to say.

Back on board the Mariner, we had the whirlpool to ourselves for relaxing. Dinner was in the Latitudes, our first “Reservations Only” restaurant. The Maitre D’ was very gracious and accommodating and the wait staff was very nice, but the concept bothers me in that you have to make a reservation to dine at a restaurant when you have no idea of what the menu will be. That night, the menu was fixed and was a sampler of 3 or 4 small appetizers. Soups, Entrees, and Desserts. Most of the items were not to our taste, so we left hungry. (By the way, ‘not to my taste’ is my polite way of saying ‘it tasted like crap’!) We would have gone back to our cabin and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, but there isn’t even one of those on the menu. We had some problems at times in maintaining a constant temperature in our cabin. We found out later that some guests were leaving their balcony doors open all night so as to “enjoy the night air.” There are admonitions in each cabin to not do this as it introduces moisture into the furnishings and wood in the cabin and it makes the A/C unstable for the rest of the cabins on that deck. (The A/C cannot be turned off, just regulated. Again, some “Twits” just don’t care about anyone but themselves.

Thursday, February 14th, we decided to go for a walk before breakfast. It was too windy on deck, so we went to the exercise room and got on adjoining treadmills. We decided to try breakfast in the Compass Rose. The waiter got my order wrong. The coffee is horrible. (I think that’s true on all cruise ships where they make the coffee in 50-gallon batches. It just immediately turns bitter.)  We amused ourselves watching the headwaiters and waiters bowing and generally fawning after some of the “Important People” on the ship. I will refer to them later as “IP’s” or “Twits”. We decided that there would be no more breakfasts in the Compass Rose for us. My wife went to an interesting lecture; “Tropics in danger: Issues in Amazonian Conversion.” I went back to the cabin to read a book. We had a pretty good buffet lunch at the Veranda. In the afternoon, we took in the movie “Papillon” to get ourselves ready to visit Devils Island tomorrow. After the movie, we were out of the Amazon River and into open sea. The sea appeared smooth, but the ship is really rocking and rolling. (We noticed later, that the ship is smooth at slow speeds, but at 20 knots, she really rocks regardless of the sea condition.)

I need to insert a few comments about some of our fellow passengers. (Remember the 80/20 rule). There were about 270 who made the whole 54-day voyage from Ft. Lauderdale to San Juan. Of them there were a few “IP’s” or “Twits.”  They were arrogant, snobbish boors with lots of money that they hadn’t worked for who had a vast sense of self-importance. Most didn’t have the intelligence to handle a 2-block paper route. They insisted upon being pampered and getting “special” treatment. We even nicknamed one couple “Lord and her Ladyship.” The worst part of this is that the people on the ship supported this. This morning, the Cruise Director made an announcement to everyone informing them of the death of General Vernon Wolters. Evidently, General Wolters had been on the ship during the second segment and had been a lecturer. During his stay he had made many friends among passengers and crew. Later that morning, we were near the pursers desk when a man was having a fit and screaming at the reception personnel regarding how personally offended he was that an public announcement of General Wolters death had been made. He demanded to talk to the Captain about it and wanted assurances that the Cruise Director would be fired for such an action. Now there were quite a few folks who took the whole voyage who were very nice and it was a pleasure to talk with them. More examples of the “IP’s” will show up later in this review.

Friday, February 15th we are really rocking in very light seas as we arrive at Ile Royale and drop anchor. No one is allowed on Devil’s Island (Ile du Diablo), but you can easily see it only a few hundred yards from Ile Royale. Most people lined up as requested in the theatre for the tenders going ashore. As the line went by the elevators on deck 5 a couple “IP’s” got out and butted into the line. As we got to the gangway, it started raining and the female “IP” wanted to stand there and stop the line while her husband went back to their cabin for an umbrella. Fortunately, a crewmember persuaded her to step aside before the rest of us could throw her overboard. The rain shower ashore made it even more delightful during the 45-minute stroll around this beautiful island with its’ dark history. Back on the ship, we prepared for our second “Reservations Only” restaurant, Signatures, a Cordon Bleu restaurant.

When we made our reservation for Signatures during our first evening aboard ship, we recognized the Maitre D’. He had been the Maitre D’ for the dining room aboard the Radisson Diamond during our previous 2 cruises. He was arrogant and snobby then and was the only one on that ship we didn’t like. If anything, he was worse on the Mariner. His attitude seemed to be “I will see if I can allow such lowly people as yourselves to dine with us. We are so busy.” As a matter of fact, during the rest of the cruise, the Signatures restaurant was empty most of the time that we walked by. Waiters were in the hall with nothing to do. Now as for our dining experience. The menu was mostly in French and arranged very strangely. There were 3 pages, but no headings for appetizers or salads, etc. We couldn’t find a salad on the menu. Our French waiter was an arrogant “A-Hole” and wouldn’t help one bit. We both picked out a Cream of Poultry Soup. It tasted like a bowl of warmed half-and-half that had a bouillon cube in it. Yuck! My wife thought she was ordering a tuna entrée when the waiter haughtily informed her that it was an appetizer. She ordered it as such and when it came she says it tasted so bad it was like rotten garbage. She had pike-perch for a main course, which she said was ok and I had the highly touted filet. My filet was approximately 2 oz. of very nice beef with some paté on it. The filet was good, but lasted for 2 bites. We had to order our dessert at the same time as our other courses and it was mango mousse. Ok but nothing to write home about. Our overall Cordon Bleu experience—stinks! Another dinner we went away from hungry and angry at the service. No more “Reservation Only” restaurants for us.

There was nothing going on of interest, so I thought I’d try to do a small load of laundry. I checked the machines earlier and thought they should be free at this time. I found that some guests left their clothes in the washing machines for over 3 hours without returning for them. Same for the dryers. Another lady and I removed the clothes and placed them on tables so we could use the machines. An hour later, one of the “IP’s” came in and had a fit because someone had removed her clothes from her personal washing machine. (I wish I had thrown them overboard.)

Saturday, February 16th, the ship is really rolling badly and hardly anyone is at breakfast at the Veranda. Our waiter there is very surly and almost rude. We met a nice couple, Ray and Betty who have been on since Fort Lauderdale. We discussed the shortcomings of the ship and of some of the “IP’s.” They agreed completely. Later we went to a lecture on the origin of nautical terms that was pretty interesting. I decided to ride the elevator back to our deck rather than take the stairs. (Get ready for the ultimate “IP” moment!) 

I was standing in front of the elevator door with 7 or 8 other people when the elevator arrived and the door opened. A woman, who was standing off to the side, stepped in front of all of us, stopped in the elevator doorway facing in and FARTED. (Not just a little “pop”—but a real “flutterblaster”.) She then stepped in, turned around and waited for the rest of us to board.

In the afternoon, there was a “Country Fair” on the pool deck with lots of booths. You could guess the Captains weight (in cases of beer), throw cream pies at the chefs, guess whose legs protruded from under a blanket and more. There were many more booths and ice cream cones to boot. Later, I went to a computer class and my wife went to another enrichment lecture. There was a cocktail party for repeat guests, which we did not attend. I was afraid I wouldn’t have many kind words to say. Dinner was at the Compass Rose and surprise! No mistakes in the order for the first time. As usual, the waiter was indifferent, but we’re used to that by now. I had made a special order for Gazpacho soup on the previous evening, and it was good. The main entrée was Chateubriand, very good. At night we went to the first (and only) show that we attended during the cruise. It was called Ohh La La and was very good. We have trouble staying up late for the shows, so usually skip them. This is a problem with the open seating for dinner. By the time the late eaters are ready for a show, us early eaters are ready for bed.

Sunday, February 17th, we arrived at Barbados. We have been here twice before so the only tour we opted for was the helicopter view of the island. It was very nice and our pilot gave us a good narrative of what we were seeing. Since it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed, but we managed to find a T-shirt for our granddaughter. We went to the pool deck for some sun and soaking, then to Compass Rose for a light lunch. I had a club sandwich and my wife had trout. In the afternoon, back to the cabin for naps and reading. The toilets were out of service from 9:00am until 5:00pm today. Yesterday and the day before, they were out of service all morning. I think one of the “Twits” is trying to flush her beach towel. This ship is coming apart right before our eyes. We had a nice dinner in the Compass Rose. I had Escargot and Roast Loin of Lamb. Our indifferent waiter didn’t even notice that we left without desert. We went to the library, picked up a video, and retired early.

Monday, February 18th, we ordered room service for breakfast and got about half of what we ordered and some stuff we didn’t order. The room service waiter was from Lisbon and was a delight. I’ve never met someone so happy on this ship. For once, the coffee was at least drinkable. Later we went to talk by the Cruise Director about the members of the British Royal family. Lunch was a fish and lobster grill at the pool grill. It was ok but not great. I went to another computer class in the afternoon and my wife went to another lecture on the Amazon and South America. Wouldn’t you know it, coming back to the cabin, the elevator jammed and I was trapped. I pushed all the buttons and after a few minutes, the door opened. We had to start packing today. We are looking forward to getting home.

Tuesday, February 19th, at last we finally arrived in San Juan. Couldn’t you just guess? They screwed up our final bill. They added two drinks (at $11 each) and I had to go to the purser’s desk and wait while the got out all the bar tabs and went through them. Turns out the barman entered the wrong cabin number into the computer.

The debarkation talk was televised repeatedly and was really a very simple procedure, as on most ships. Of course, the “Twits” screwed it up. Everyone had to show up for Immigration between 7:00 and 8:00am. Of course, they had to make announcement after announcement for the “IP’s” from 2 different cabins to present themselves. Also despite announcements and printed instructions to the contrary, about 200 people insisted on congregating in the reception area. (I just hope the senility that was apparent on this cruise isn’t contagious.) My wife says “Too late.” When our turn was called, we went ashore, found our luggage and quickly cleared customs. There were no trucks to take the luggage to the airport. (The debarkation talk assured us that there would be trucks.) It was a real mess in the parking lot trying to find the right bus to the airport and to assure that our entire luggage was loaded onboard. At the San Juan airport, the lines were very long. We waited about an hour just to check in at the ticket counter. Then, their computer picked us at random to have all our bags go through the bomb sniffing machine, another 20 minutes. Security was pretty quick at 10 minutes, but when we were ready to board, they singled out about a third of us for another security check with belts off, shoes off and everything in our carry-on luggage searched again. The nincompoop searching my luggage took my boarding pass and gave it to someone else. Fortunately, they caught that at the jetway. What a mess. Once aboard, it was a nice flight back to Miami. I like the extra legroom that America has in their coach section. No problem with a one-way rental car back home.

Let me finish this review with a quick summary of some of the positives and negatives of the trip.

Positive: The ease and speed of the check in at the Miami airport. The check-in on the ship is effortless. The cabins are roomy, especially the bathrooms. There is a genuine walk-in closet with more than enough hanging space and drawer space. The cabins are richly decorated with good use of wood and marble and are almost completely soundproof. The Azipod propulsion system has no vibration. We were directly above the port Azipod and felt nothing. Our cabin stewards were wonderful. They worked in teams of 2, which minimized the time required to clean each cabin. My wife said the enrichment lectures were excellent. The computer classes I attended were very good. We soon got off the posted subjects, but got the answers to many questions.

Negative: The Radisson representative at the Miami airport was out of touch with the time needed to check-in at 5:00 in the morning. The Radisson representative at Manaus, Brazil gave out the wrong information regarding checked baggage causing a delay. The ATA Flight Attendants did not distribute the required number of Brazilian Customs Forms (causing a big delay). In the cabin, the shower is too low. (This complaint has been mentioned in every review of this ship since it was launched.)  The balconies are not “Private.” Even the expensive suites with the large balconies at the aft end of the ship are “staggered” and everyone above can look down onto them. There are no door handles on the outside of the balcony doors. The down pillows are worthless for head or neck support. The “Reservations Only” restaurants were a disaster for us. The food served at the time of our meals was “not to our taste”. The Maitre D’ and the waiters at Signatures were arrogant and rude. The food was not good. It was not an enjoyable experience. The wait staff in the Compass Rose restaurant was indifferent at best. They made at least one mistake with our orders every time except one. There was not a drinkable cup of coffee on the ship. The tile around the pool grill where it gets wet after a rain is very slippery and dangerous.

The Cruise Director interrupted each morning’s tranquility at 9:00am by reading the entire daily activity summary over the P. A. system. (I guess he figured either the “Twits” can’t read or they’re too lazy to read the bulletin that was left for them in their cabins.) I expect this type of intrusion from Carnival or NCL, but not from a 6-star cruise line.

There was not a great deal of entertainment or lectures available. The most popular activity on the ship seemed to be lining up for a computer to check e-mail from home or business. What a sad commentary on our times.

This ship rocks in light or heavy seas when making 20 knots or more. The toilets were out of order for 3 days in a row. (All day the last time.) According to the crew, this is a regular occurrence.

In conclusion, if the President of Radisson Cruise Lines were to offer me a free cruise in the Mariner's Owners Suite, I would turn him down! Folks, the Emperor has no clothes, and as my wife noted, “the ship has no heart.” They will fill this ship because of their slick advertising, but believe me, this is not a good ship.

Photo: Courtesy of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises

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