My husband and I did this cruise partly because we love trans-Atlantic cruises with their wonderful sea days and partly to celebrate my 70th birthday. For the latter reason we had a Seven Seas Aft suite on Deck 9. We flew from Switzerland to Florida via Dublin on Aer Lingus as they provide an adequate Business Class service and a one way fare which was very attractive.
Boarding: Regent is still sailing from Ft Lauderdale and the traffic getting into the port was very intense! Over 11 large ships were sailing on the same Sunday. When we arrived at our pier the doors were closed even though it was noon. A short queue formed and by about 1215 we were allowed inside to sit and wait for the boarding (a good thing since by this time it was raining!) Things inside were very orderly. We were called in the order in which we were seated, having gone through security. The check-in was halted for a little while when the computers went down but by 1250 we were on board, having a light lunch at la Veranda.
Our suite was ready by about 1420 and we went down there (Deck 9). My first impression was not good. The furniture in the sitting room was basically lined up around the walls, looking for all the world like a "Negotiation Room" in a Chinese University! However with my husband's help I re-positioned it so it was more conventionally placed with coffee table in front of the couch and the two easy chairs facing the coffee table! The dining table also needed re-positioning but once we finished all this it looked very nice. The balcony -- terrace really -- is huge and nicely furnished with two chaises-longues, a small couch and two easy chairs and two footrests (only one of which had a cushion! Don't know where the other was!!) I did notice that the upholstery on the sitting room furniture was worn and hope that new furniture will arrive when the Mariner has its next drydock -- it needs it!
The bedroom was a good size (bigger than that in the Navigator suite on the Navigator) and one could move around the bed easily. I did not like the fact that the access to the bathroom was through the clothes closet. This meant that every time we went through our clothes got pushed around on the railings! My impression was that the closet was smaller than that of the Penthouse suite we normally have. Having two bathrooms -- well, one and a half -- was very nice. We had opted for a bath rather than the new shower set up and I would say that I think the plumbing fixtures could stand replacing! They were worn and scratched...
Our Butler and Stewardess were excellent. I have never been so well looked after before -- Felix the Butler was charming and very attentive. He brought us our favourite hors d'oeuvres (guacamole and nachos) every evening and arranged two drinks parties for us with great aplomb. Ana-Lyn kept the place as clean as a whistle and had a delightful personality as well!! Our suite was normally cleaned before we returned from breakfast. I really did not want to leave these two behind when we got off the ship!! Here is a small illustration of how they worked as a team -- I had put two rather large empty suitcases into the closet. They were not in my way and I have done this quite often before. They vanished on the second day and miraculously re-appeared on the day I needed to pack! Ana-Lyn had noticed them, she told Felix, and he spirited them out of my way.
We ate at all the restaurants -- Prime 7 once, Signatures twice and for the rest mostly the Pool Grill at lunch and Compass Rose or "at home" in the evenings. We did have dinner at la Veranda once as people have said they really like this but we found no basic change from the way things were done there before and there was nothing about it that we really enjoy, so once was enough! We had no problems at all with speed and efficiency of service in any of the restaurants. Courses came at a normal speed and for us that means eating a three or four course meal in about two hours, give or take some. The Cellar Master -- a wonderful Turk with whom we had sailed twice before -- made sure our glasses were topped up and in general we found the wines excellent. More than drinkable!! We did buy some "special bottles" as well and they were great!
Prime 7 was OK -- no more. I had the prime rib of beef and forgot to ask for thinner slices so got a mound of quivering beef on my plate! The sauce had clearly been put on a while earlier and the plate had been sitting under the heat of the "Passe" so that the sauce had just about dried out. Signatures, on the other hand, was excellent. No complaints except that on the second evening there was no crouton for the Tournedos Rossini and the foie gras had fallen off the tournedos somewhere between the kitchen and the table and was served upside down on the plate with the garnish buried under it! The Chef came around at the end of the meal -- very nice touch! -- and I told him that it should have been re-plated. He agreed and asked who our waiter was... I did also notice that they only French-speaking person in the restaurant was the Ma'tre d'h'tel. In the past almost all the waiters there were French. The Compass Rose was good (not wonderful) and we liked the variety of dishes but had the general impression that the presentation of each dish was not as good as it had been on previous cruises and that the general level of the offerings had gone down a notch.
The general level of service from all the waiters in all the restaurants and on the Pool Deck was terrific. Even when the Compass Rose was very, very busy waiters took time to see what was needed and to anticipate... and to ask with a smile how things were. And this ship was 100% full as well!
The main -- only! -- complaint we had was the coffee -- everywhere except at the Coffee Connection and the espresso machine on the Pool Deck. It was weak and tasteless. Like dishwater. Regent's coffee used to be like this when we first started cruising with them, but since around 2005 it has been lots better. I think they have changed brands and need to change back! I took to making myself triple espressos at the Pool deck before going in to la Veranda to eat in the mornings. One day I encountered someone else who was doing the same thing! She explained that she had a Nespresso machine at home and hated Regent's coffee. I laughed because I, too, have a Nespresso machine!! And to my taste even the espresso at la Veranda tasted burnt...
The lecture series are usually amongst the things we like best about a crossing. Not this time! The offerings were meagre. One lecturer -- Prof. Aguillar from Harvard -- was outstanding. His topic was Astronomy and he was utterly fascinating. The fellow who spoke on the various ports we visited and their history -- Roger Lamm -- was terrible. He provided inaccurate information and had a very boring delivery. And that was about it! Very disappointing!!
The Cruise Director and his staff were great. Ray Solaire is a most interesting man and very good not only at his immediate job as Cruise Director but also was the best entertainer on board! We loved his shows and were delighted that he gave us three of them. Associate Cruise Director Elda is terrific. We have sailed with her twice before (and I am not quite sure why she isn't a CD herself!!) Social Hostess Nicola was very good too. No complaints in this department!
Our fellow passengers were a bit of a mixed bag. There were a lot -- really a lot -- of first timers on board and while this is good for Regent it did mean that the general feeling one usually has about one's companions was not there. I thought many of them must have either been first time cruisers as well or had migrated from one of the mass market lines. This may sound snobby but is not meant that way. We have really enjoyed the usual group we find on Regent and have made many good friends while on board. For the most part that feeling was absent on this cruise.
The ports we visited and the guides were generally very interesting. In fact with one exception (Picasso Museum in Malaga) the guides were all outstanding. We had been to all the ports before with the exception of Cartagena and discovering this gem of a historic small town was a huge pleasure! We took the Hamilton walking tour in Bermuda. We toured the Botanic Garden in Madeira with a guide who knew all the botanical names of the plants. Our guide to Rabat was terrific and brought us up to date on the "Moroccan spring" as well as filling in gaps in our knowledge of the country's history. The guide for our tour of Roman Cartagena was equally competent. And the woman who took us to Valdemosa in Majorca was too. Well done Regent on this score!!
My only criticism of the tour organisation is that passengers should be more carefully screened for their choice of tour. We twice had people on tours (listed as having a reasonable amount of walking and steps) who clearly were handicapped and could not manage to keep up. This isn't fair to the other participants on the tour and the Destinations Services staff should have told them when they boarded the busses that they would not be allowed to slow the group down. Going around Rabat with a "walker" is definitely not a good idea. In fact I thought at the time that it was in fact actually dangerous given the uneven pavements and steps. And having to wait while someone huffed and puffed up the small hill in Hamilton is really not fair to the rest of the group. Regent makes it very clear in all its materials that certain tours require a certain level of physical activity. Having done so I think the staff should be free to advise people not to take a particular tour.
All in all I thought that the administration of the tours -- getting us together in the theatre, sending us off the ship when the busses were ready etc -- were very well done by the Destination Services staff. Katia, the director, was on shore supervising the loading of departure of busses at each port.
In general I would say that while the cruise was good it was not wonderful. And this is the first time I have come away from Regent with this feeling! Certainly better on board lecturers speaking on at least two or three more topics would have made the sea days nicer. An upgrade in the Compass Rose food to bring it back to the standards we experienced on our last three cruises would be great. And the coffee needs attention!!