Our first Regent cruise. Had sailed to Alaska on the Silversea Silver Shadow in 2011 and were very impressed with the incredible, seamless service there , but opted to try Regent this year for our anniversary Adriatic/Meditteranean cruise for 2 reasons: 1) the itinerary and length of the cruise matched our interests more than what Silversea offered, and 2) we liked the idea of an "elegant casual" dress code on all nights on Regent, instead of the greater formality of Silversea dress codes. We were not disappointed on the dress code, as passengers made efforts to look nice for dinner without having to fuss with tuxedos and gowns.
Overall the cruise was good to very good, but not as flawless as our Silversea experience (as our cruising experience is limited, perhaps we had been lucky, and perhaps Silversea also has more problems in 2012 than they did in 2011). Food in the main restaurants was abundant and visually nicely presented, but overall was not gourmet (except in Prime 7) . Service in the main restaurants included intermittent episodes of lines, confused waiters, waiters who incessantly interrupted conversations, and/or snatched plates away when we were not finished, and not uncommonly there were communication problems. The sommeliers were outstanding and very helpful, a delight (we used our concierge level 25% discount on wine list wines several times as the daily free wines were not up to our standards much of the time; last year on Silversea, they were).
When we were on Silversea each suite had its own butler, which at the time we thought was unnecessary and over the top for us (we are professionals in our 50's and are used to doing a lot of things ourselves). So this trip we had booked a butler-free E suite on Regent Voyager but with an upgrade to "concierge" level, thinking we did not really need our own butler but could enjoy early reservations for preferred tours. But in hindsight getting the concierge level was not worth it. Except for one tour (Corfu 4x4 -- see below) we would have gotten all the tours we wanted to do anyway without paying extra in advance. The "special gift" that came with concierge level was a joke plastic tote bag with a Regent logo, and the pre-departure "upgraded" hotel was the Hilton Molino Stuckey with a standard room without any view, looking out to the back of the building with nothing to see, it was just a basic clean place to sleep, not centrally located as you still had to water-taxi into the main part of Venice).
It would have been better to either go all out and get a penthouse suite with a butler, or alternatively just get the cheapest suite available. We really noticed the difference between having a butler who knows our unique needs and just having a "steward" button to press for whatever random person would answer the phone.
Also be aware that the in room "coffeemaker" is not a normal coffeemaker but a big clunky espresso machine with no instructions, though we eventually figured it out. If you want real coffee and not espresso in the morning right when you wake up and do not want to leave your room (or drink the awful coffee they will deliver to you with room service), you should bring along your own portable coffeemaker and supplies. Or, perhaps if you have a willing butler (or a husband :), you could talk him into going to the coffee corner for you right when you wake up to get you decent coffee, but there are typically long AM lines there for obvious reasons.
We did have a couple unpleasant major incidents that soured our experience:
1) an encounter with a rude, arrogant ship's doctor (details omitted here and I have complained to Regent about her unprofessionalism), and
2) an episode in La Veranda half-way through the cruise where we got seated at a nice-looking aft table that for some reason then started shaking so badly (calm seas around) that we became nauseated (other tables were not shaking like that); the place was so busy and understaffed that it took well over 20 minutes to get anyone to pay attention to our hand waving and also articulated requests to change tables. The water girl had said she would all her "manager" but no one appeared; the wine guy ran off and did not bring anyone to help; the waiter did not seem to understand what the issue was and was busy doing other things; finally , by the time we got anyone to listen (by physically getting up and starting over as if we were new arrivals at the front of the restaurant), all other tables were taken. We landed up having our already ordered entrees sent to our suite, where subsequent service was non-existent and we were too tired to hastle to try and get additional service.
Pre-departure arrangements by Regent went well, no complaints -- we used the airfare deviations to get business class routes we wanted, and we got our organized departure documents without problems. Regent had declined to provide us with any suggestions on pre-cruise touring of Venice, so in addition to walking around on our own (and getting lost), we found a pre-departure "Hidden Venice" inexpensive walking tour for a couple hours the morning of departure run by viator.com ( a delightful, educational guide named Maria). Transport from the airport in Venice to the hotel by water taxi was pleasant, we were met at he airport as we expected to be. Embarkation at the port of Venice was smooth and uncrowded, no hastles.
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS --
1) the area and ports on the cruise are almost all interesting and beautiful (which is what we came for), but the quality of the local guides was variable (e.g., one told off-color sexist jokes and could not have cared less about whether or not guests needed a toilet; others told interesting and inciteful stories and were sensitive to customer needs, such as directing toilet location)
2) Some of the excursions had so many people on them that we not uncommonly felt like herded cattle on Holland America in the 1980's (e.g., trying to get 38 people through a small winery tour, e.g., on the Lucca wine tasting our, was not conducive to asking questions or feeling special and unhurried). The difference between a ship with 380 passengers on Silversea vs almost twice as many passengers on the Voyager was apparent. Likely the "free" excursions also led to increased attendance of excursions and crowding by casual guests who would not have gone if they had had to pay extra
-- ANCONA -- the first port, and a loser port. We drove quite a way to a church we were not allowed to tour once we got there due to unexpected services, and the only toilets were dirty "squat" toilets. Glad I was not wearing sandals. Instead of walking down the scenic hill into the village as described in the excursion brochure, we were simply re- bussed. The second stop was a village with one view spot of water belowand not much else, one open cafe that had some basic packaged snacks and a welcome though hidden toilet. In hindsight we should have slept in, skipped this port, and gotten more settled in on the ship to get over our jet lag.
--DIVINE DALMATION COASTLINE AND WINE TASTING -- pretty views, cute though hoaky olive oil production tour (the old horse driving the mill was just for the tourists), then an ok but not great lunch of raw oysters and so-so risotto and a tour of a winery that had a big build-up but not very good wine.
We then walked Dubrovnik on our own, wished we had allocated more time. Do not miss walking the town and its fortress!
-- TOWN OF KOTOR AND BAY OF KOTOR HERITAGE, including a tour of an island church and the town of Perast with time for a break. Learned some Montenegran history and about the bombardment of Dubrovnik by Serbs and Montonegrans. Had an excellent young lady guide (forgot her name). We also walked Kotor afterwards, ship was parked right in town. A very satisfying excursion.
-- EXPLORE CORFU BY 4X4 -- much tamer than it sounded, no off-roading, just driving up twisty roads with beautiful views following the guide, lead driver. No really dangerous turns or bumpy roads but must drive manual transmission and be comfortable having another potentially rowdy guest party in the car doing half the driving. Tasty snack in the village of Sokraki (bad wine, good meze). Excellent guide who had lived in Whales and spoke English with a Whales accent, gave us insights on Greek politics. Pleasant stop with clean toilets at the top at the friendly cafe "The Golden Fox" in Lakones
--HIDDEN SICILIY -- IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE GODFATHER. Should have remained hidden, unless you are a big Godfather fan and must see the church where the wedding was filmed. Not enough time to get something to eat for lunch in the pizzeria the guide sent us to after the walking tour, which was what appeared to be the only open cafe (only 25 minutes to order, eat and pay, and the cafe was overwhelmed by the crush of too many people in the group all coming in at the same time). By the time people got their food they had to wolf it down in just a couple minutes. There's an osteria around the corner that turned out also to be open and seemed to have a quick-cafe option , but we were not told about it, found it too late.
--POSITANO AND LUNCH AT RISTORANTE QUATTRO PASSI. Positano is a colorful scenic crowded tourist town which has beautiful drives to get to it. Had a couple amazingly flavorful creamy desserts and pastry in an outdoor garden sitting area at La Zagara on the main drag (better than any dessert on the ship the whole cruise). Then it was off to a Michelin 2-star restaurant which has a beautiful view and cool, comfortable dining room with stunning architecture and even clean toilets. We were first given a hurried five-minute tour of the wine cellar and tackily shown a $20,000 bottle of wine for people to pose next to and take pictures of (!!) and then the group was ushered into the beautiful dining room and served mediocre food with mediocre bread in several small courses . There was only one wine accompanying all of the bland but ceremoniously presented Stouffers-like food courses (it was a 7 Euro retail bottle of white wine that tasted like jug wine). We were not given an opportunity to upgrade or order anything better, as the time required for that would not have fit into the hurried and pre-organized feeding of the crowd. I doubt the restaurant got its 2-start Michelin rating by serving the food and wine we were given for the tour (for our $169 supplementary fee) and was very disappointed in the meal, though people near us from the south and midwest who live in areas where they are not surrounded by gourmet restaurants and wonderful wineries oohed and aahed at the food a lot and seemed impressed, so we were definitely in the minority (seemed like an "emperor has no clothes" phenomenon to us). At the end of the meal the waiter showed us a cookbook from the restaurant that he was trying to sell.
SCENIC RAVELLO -- delightful, uncrowded, relaxing, great guide, toured Villa Rufolo (until the free time at the end, toilet access and time issues were as usual, unfortunately)
LIVORNO/HILLS OF LUCCA AND WINE TASTING -- Livorno is a big, busy industrial port, the ship docked right in the middle of a view of cranes, containers, and real work being done, which we actually enjoyed watching. The excursion was a long drive on a bus without a toilet (none of the excursion buses had toilets) to a pleasant winery in the Montecarlo region (Buonamico) with decent affordable wines (we ordered a couple cases shipped to us in California). Only problem is there were 38 people on this excursion (which was free), not counting the guide on the bus and at the winery, so it was a challenge to get everyone together to hear the winery tour guide speak while on the cellars tour with its narrow corridors. It also resulted in a big crowd bunching up like hungry dogs at the luncheon buffet, where excellent prosciutto and cheese and olive oil was served with the good wine.
PORTOFINO AND SANTA MARGHERITA -- last but not least, gorgeous. We also had enough free time at the end in Santa Margherita (returned to tenders on your own) to eat an unhurried full lunch in port , at Ristorante Da Michele, look for the pink tablecloths set up in an outside cafe down the main drag away from the sea (Largo Amendola 17), with exquisitely prepared regional cuisine, service-oriented waiters (there are reviews on tripadvisor). I wished I could take their chef with us onto the ship. Earlier in the day a problem was that between congregation in the constellation lounge, tendering, and hiking up the hill to the church and lighthouse, there was no toilet time (no toilets at the church or lighthouse after the big hike uphill, and the luxury bar half-way up was not yet open to go buy a 10 Euro cup of coffee in and use the facilities).
After the cruise, we had a rental car previously lined up on the internet with Eurocar instead of going with the big groups to the hotels in Rome. It was quite the challenge to get to the Eurocar office in Civitavecchia and the ship's reception area was not at all helpful in properly directing us on how to get there ( we would have called and paid for a taxi, but as we were told taxis are not allowed to come right up to the ship and they are officially in "short supply", and no one at the front of the port terminal from Regent seemed to know or care what we should do, we asked a local standing around and found out we had to take the port shuttle . The shuttle was not equipped to properly hold luggage and the driver did not help with your luggage from the ship to the end of the port, not his job. Then we had to figure out how to get the additional 300-500 meter distance to the rental office with our awkward luggage on a bumpy surface. Had to be off the ship at 9 and Eurocar was only scheduled to be opened for a half hour starting 10:30 on a Sunday . So we waited around in this seedy part of town for someone to show up. After filling out paperwork for our care, the personnel locked up and disappeared before we had all our equipment in the car set up, such as a the prebooked "navigation system" which was just a TomTom in a box set up for Italian which we then had to figure out). Turned out there were 3 other parties from the ship trying to do the same thing, e.g.,go to Eurocar, surely there could have been a way of having Regent to assist with coordinating the parties in a van or taxi! One man said Eurocar had assured him of a 9AM pickup, but no one appeared at the office until 10AM, so beware if you disembark on a Sunday. Another party convinced the port shuttle driver to take them the extra 300 meters with their luggage. After we got off the port shuttle we were sweaty from hauling luggage on and off and uncertain how to procede so we paid a likely illegal moonlighter in an unmarked car the 20 Euro he asked to take us the "3 km" (it was less) to Eurocar.
IN SUM, we had a good but not perfect cruise.
Service on the ship was good but not perfect, it was very clean, and personnel were generally eventually responsive to our needs, but each day seemed to have one issue or another that was disconcerting, some more so than others.We are unsure if we will sail with Regent again (at this time we would be inclined to go back to Silversea, so as to avoid the crowds and the subtle and not so subtle service issues described above -- though perhaps they have also changed in the last year!). We sent our comments to Regent and are posting them here to share with others so Regent can consider improving where possible, and so others can enjoy and plan accordingly. We wish you all pleasant future journeys, and regardless of our relatively minor complains, we feel privileged to have been able to enjoy this beautiful part of the world in luxury. Best wishes and bon voyage!