A Soupcon of Class on the Mariner

Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month

The new Radisson Seven Seas Mariner carries only 700 passengers, all in suites with private balconies. The suites, with marble bathrooms, separate sitting and sleeping areas, walk-in closets and full-size tubs, measure from 301 square feet--twice the size of an average cabin--to 1,580 square feet for a master suite with two bedrooms, 21/2 baths and a three-part balcony with an enclosed glass conservatory in the center.

The Seven Seas Mariner, christened in Los Angeles, joins the Seven Seas Navigator, Radisson Diamond, Paul Gauguin and Song of Flower, all top-ranked luxury ships.

The Mariner was built in France at Chantiers d'Atlantique, the same shipyard where the Normandie, the France, the Ile de France and many of today's biggest new vessels were built. It has a smooth, quiet ride. The quiet continues inside, where the ubiquitous elevator music that fills most ships is delightfully absent.

Sophisticated, understated decor--a unified carpet pattern and color through most of the ship instead of patterns and colors that change dizzyingly room by room, for example--and comfortable furniture make the ship feel pleasantly homelike.

The ship's Signatures Restaurant is under the auspices of the Cordon Bleu, and chefs from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris conduct classes limited to 16 passengers.

We were among a dozen who volunteered to participate in a filmed demonstration class with two chef-teachers. We managed to turn out a beautifully garnished sliced scallop appetizer with vegetable julienne, and a fresh fruit spring roll with vanilla bean mascarpone quenelles. The next series of Cordon Bleu classes is set for the Sept. 5 cruise, a 12-day trip from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Los Angeles that calls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Sitka in Alaska; Seattle and San Francisco. The three two-hour workshops cost $295 on top of the cruise fare and must be booked in advance.

Fares for the sailing begin at $3,221 per person, double occupancy, for a 449-square-foot suite with private veranda. That includes tips, wines with dinner and complimentary in-suite bar.

A stylish alternative to the Signatures restaurant (reservations advised) is Latitudes (reservations required). Guests are served a tasting menu that begins with three appetizers, followed by small bowls of three soups, a salad, a main plate of two or three dishes, and a dessert sampler. As in Signatures, there is no surcharge, and wines are free.

La Veranda restaurant on Deck 11 serves a casual buffet breakfast and lunch, but turns into a charming candle-lighted Mediterranean bistro every evening, with Italian, Greek, Moroccan and French Riviera dishes.

When the weather permits, an outdoor grill serves hamburgers, grilled fish, stir-fry dishes and salads from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The ship's main dining room is the Compass Rose, where guests arrive when they wish and sit where and with whom they please.

The ship follows a "country club casual" dress code on nights in Alaska; evenings in other areas call for more traditional formal, informal and casual evening attire.

Musical productions, concerts and magicians perform in the two-deck Constellation Theater.

There's a large, well-equipped computer center called Club.Com, and a spacious library of books and videos. An unobtrusive but well-equipped casino is off to the side on Deck 7. On Decks 11 and 12 are a swimming pool and three hot tubs, jogging track, shuffleboard, paddle tennis and golf nets. For a copy of a Radisson Seven Seas brochure, call (800) 285-1835 or log on to http://www.rssc.com.

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