“It’s like dah’monds on the water!” she whispered, respectfully lowering her South Carolina drawl as the Seven Seas Mariner glided through the broken ice towards the spectacular Hubbard Glacier of Yakutat Bay. “Dah’monds everywhere!”
Indeed, Nancy, diamonds everywhere!
Diamonds on the water, a flush of diamonds in her big casino win the night before, diamonds in the duty free shops of Ketchikan and Juneau, Skagway and Sitka, and the largest gem of all - the Seven Seas Mariner, offering a multifaceted cruise experience that sparkles in every sense of the word.
Their brand promise : Luxury Goes Exploring ® is not just a marketing slogan, it is what sums up a Regent Seven Seas experience. It is the best of everything - from deluxe accommodations, gourmet cuisine and white-glove service to intimate destinations and hand-picked excursions designed for smaller groups with added advantages such as early entrances to a museums to avoid the crowds.
Aboard Regent Seven Seas Cruises we are not just tourists - we are travellers. And the ship is a destination in its own right. This is like taking the Orient Express to Istanbul rather than a series of second class coaches through the midnight landscapes of Eastern Europe.
For many aboard the Seven Seas Mariner, with all due respect to the bears, whales, glaciers and other wonders of the frozen north, the ship is in many cases “the main attraction”.
And this is probably why, two days on in our travels, we understood exactly what Nancy meant when she said there were “Dah'monds everywhere.”
No doubt it was the memories of the thunderous calving of Hubbard Glacier that dominated her thoughts as Nancy retired to her stateroom that night, but it was the comfort of the Seven Seas Mariner that was probably her last waking memory as she snuggled beneath a feather-down duvet covered in exclusive, silky Anichini® linens.
Two staterooms down the passage, I too had intended to wind the day down with thoughts of the magnificent wilderness of Alaska. But if I am honest, it was the nightcap and the luxury of the voluminous white bathrobe (also care of Anichini®) in which I sat wrapped on the balcony that prevailed..
Yes, the still bright Alaskan sky beyond the mountains was magnificent - lines of blue and crimson and another two hours until sunset at midnight - but the robe and single malt whiskey slipping down my throat didn’t feel half-bad either.
But this is not a battle, but rather a perfect blend of all things good. Some of the best, most rugged scenery the world has to offer, and one of the most luxurious cruise liners from which to view it.
The Alaska adventure begins two days before cruising into Yakutak Bay, with the 4-hour Grand View Train Transfer from Anchorage, Alaska to meet the ship in Seward.
The single-level dome cars are excellent for viewing the Alaskan mountains, glaciers and massive ice fields, forests and emerald-glazed lakes along the way. Staff on board are quick to point out the wildlife like the goats scrambling up the steep cliffs - though not uncharacteristically, Nancy from South Carolina was the first to spot the grizzly bear peering up at our iron horse from the safety of his trees a few feet away.
Check in for the ship is on board the train: a painless experience with no line-ups. Indeed, we are invited, discreetly, table by table, to head to the dining car to collect our boarding passes.
Arriving at the ship is another smooth procedure - a leisurely stroll from the train to the gangplank, another welcoming glass of champagne as we step aboard and are greeted with an individual escort for each of us to our spacious staterooms with among the highest space ratios at sea.
And yes, more sparkling champagne waiting for us there along with a tray of caviar canapés.
Welcome aboard indeed!
But now it’s 7pm, the champagne has mulled our senses, the caviar has whetted our appetites, the luggage is unpacked and stashed away, we have played with all the lighting options and switches, the air-conditioning panel (doesn’t everyone?) and we’ve inspected the well stocked mini-bar, checked the flat screen TV channels and watched the view from the bridge which is exactly the same as the one from our balcony . . . so clearly it’s time for dinner.
There are four open-seating main restaurants aboard the Seven Seas Mariner - plus the Pool Grill - an unprecedented number of dining venues for a ship that carries only 700 guests.
Seven Seas Mariner's largest restaurant is the spacious Compass Rose Restaurant where almost every table has a picture window view - just to remind you that we are here to see Alaska.
The open seating plan means you can sit wherever, with whom ever and whenever you wish (between 6:30 and 9pm). And with only 700 guests aboard, it is only a matter of time before the waiters know your name and your wine sommelier knows your favourite wines.
Our own sommelier, Nadia (from Bulgaria as her name tag indicated) loved to tell us how she had to explain to some cruise guests that Bulgaria was not an unusual last name, but the place of her birth.
We were never quite sure whether to believe some of her stories, but her light hearted banter, always respectful and her knowledge of the wine she served always without fault, was indicative of the style of service aboard the Seven Seas Mariner. A clear indication that a tipping not required policy means that everyone gives the best of their service at all times.
Exploring the Compass Rose restaurant menu created by Executive Chef Quinn McMahon, a shy man who would rather spend his time in the heat of the kitchen than greeting the guests, you can gorge on a seven course meal if you’ve had too long a day shopping for gems in port and need refortification, or opt instead for the Light and Healthy Menu, the Vegetarian Menu or the No Added Salt menu.
To my shame, none of the healthy, low-salt options passed my lips.
Not only does the Compass Rose Restaurant offer you anything you could possible want, there is also an alternative dining venue at the less formal, buffet style La Veranda with the feel of a Mediterranean trattoria.
And then, as if that were not enough, there is also Signatures Restaurant and Latitudes Restaurant.
Signatures is a classically French a la carte restaurant operated under the auspices of Le Cordon Bleu®, undoubtedly the most famous culinary school in the world today, and these are the only restaurants at sea today operated by Le Cordon Bleu chefs.
Latitudes, my personal favourite, offers an Asian fusion menu called Indochine in which authentic Vietnamese fare is prepared using French cooking techniques, served in traditional family-style by Asian waitresses. The set menu, with portions sized to invite tasting and sharing, features everything from fresh Imperial Vietnamese Shrimp Spring Rolls to an aromatic Prawn Curry with Lemongrass and Piquant-Garlic, and Galangal-Marinated Chicken Thighs. The highlight is the Ping Pong cocktail of tropical fruits and liqueurs to set (pardon the pun) the ball rolling.
Both Signatures and Latitudes are open only for dinner by reservations. The Dress Code requires jackets for Gentlemen and informal attire for Ladies.
In general, dress code for the ship for the entire cruise is country-club casual.
Dress code ashore, of course, for Alaska - is “layers”. You are never guaranteed sunshine, and the likelihood will be for rain, but this shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of what the inside passage has to offer.
I prefer to walk around the towns myself and get a feel for the place, but there are some experiences you cannot achieve on your own, and for those, the shore excursions offered by Regent Seven Seas present their destinations in a more intimate, enlightening way.
For me, the most exiting adventure ashore was a helicopter excursion to the top of the ice fields of Juneau. Standing where very few people have stepped before, stooping to taste a mouthful of glacier water - can anything be this pure? - I am in awe of the isolation . . .
Not that that would stop me making sure there was an hour in Carita spa that afternoon for a full body massage when perhaps I should rather have been cycling up a mountain slope in search of mountain goats.
Nor did the awe-inspiring magnificence of the northern Inside Passage prevent me from a place in the second row of that night’s entertainment presented by the ship’s own, very talented company - one of whom, Matthew Conti, is also a season 5 Hollywood contestant on American Idol.
Maybe I should have been out on deck looking for the Northern lights, but there were plenty of lights on show in the Horizon Lounge that evening - and there’s always tomorrow, as Nancy was fond was saying - dancing her night away in the Stars Night Club. Diamonds in the sky there too!
A favourite for most travellers in Alaska, though, is Skagway - a real-life ghost town from the gold rush days of 1898, a taste of the rugged past of Alaska. Though main street is now lined with tourist shops offering the same of everything - a side walk way from the rush will take you through the suburbs of Skagway to an ancient cemetery at the top of the route that offers a grave marker of a young child who died of Meningitis - not the most cheerful of sights - but a reminder of how far we have come in so little time.
Ketchikan is also full of fun - from a tour of the local whore house of the famous Dolly along a whole street built on stilts over the canal - to museums of Ameridian ceremonial artifacts.
But then it’s back on board - just another few days to enjoy a favorite deck chair and the book from the well stocked library - a mug of beef bouillon served in your cozy corner away from the wind - or a cocktail as you sit in the jacuzzis...
It really doesn’t get much better than this!
“So - have you had enough ‘dah’monds’?” we tease Nancy as we sail under the Lions Gate Bridge into Vancouver harbor.
She grins and wiggles a finger at us - a brand new diamond she bought in Ketchikan. “A girl can never have enough dah’monds!’ she laughs.
Well that applies to all of us, Nancy - you wear them on your tanned fingers, we’ll just find another one like the Mariner and sail the seven seas on her. If we can.
For more information visit the Regent Seven Seas Cruises web site at http://www.rssc.com/