Review - Regent Seven Seas "Navigator" Anchorage to Vancouver 2-13 July 2012
I think it's often wiser to write a review with the benefit of objective hindsight so I have spent a few days thinking this through before risking the ire of the Regent loyalists of whom I consider myself one believe it or not! I will also keep it as brief as possible and apologise now if I omit any important details. If so, feel free to ask. No food pics either. We all know what food looks like! Overall we enjoyed our cruise but can't help feeling disappointed that it didn't meet our expectations. It is also perhaps unfair to compare one Regent cruise against another with such different ships and itineraries. Or maybe our Sydney to Beijing Voyager cruise last year was exceptional compared to this Navigator experience.
Getting to Anchorage on the trans-Pacific haul is always a challenge for those of us who live Down Under but this one was made much easier by the excellent Air New Zealand service from Melbourne (via Auckland) to Vancouver. If you want to avoid the added stress of transiting through LAX or San Francisco then I can highly recommend it. Unfortunately we had to go via San Fran to make it to Anchorage/Seward on time so we had the customary surly and rude "welcome" to the US from the border/customs officials so many visitors are now subjected to. A truly terrible "first class" 5 hour United flight in an ancient 737 from San Fran to Anchorage with broken seats and inedible food - an outrageous waste of money - soured the mood even further. A major attitude adjustment is required from their cranky and impatient flight attendants too.
Hotel was the Captain Cook. It was clean and comfortable but we were so jetlagged and exhausted after almost 24 hours of airports/travel we really didn't care. There were a number of Regent and Princess pax staying there so there was a long queue for breakfast. Hint: Ask for a later bus to Seward to avoid the early brekky queue and a very quick and easy embarkation. A 2 hour bus ride at midday to Seward was uneventful and we were about the last group of passengers to embark so the process was entirely painless and smooth . 10 minutes max.
Penthouse Suite on deck 11 was classic Regent and exactly as you'd expect, ie clean, spacious, comfortable and smart with all the usual attention to detail. I can't comment on the recent refit as I didn't see what it was like beforehand but everything was fine apart from paint spattered verandah furniture and a bit of minor 'finishing off' required here and there. That being said, the ship is obviously getting old and tired which no amount of cosmetic surgery is going to fix. A bit like me really. We did notice the infamous "vibration problem", especially when sailing at higher speeds but it didn't bother us. More intrusive was the early morning thump, thump, thump of the gym treadmills which were directly over our cabin. Our butler Irshad was a delight and very efficient and attentive , as was our steward Raz who always had a cheerful smile and time for a quick chat no matter how busy he was.
Dining was very hit and miss with regards to the actual food and the service during both breakfast and dinner. I think there were a lot of new recruits among the waiters as dining room service in both the Compass Rose and Sette Mari (we couldn't get a table in Prime 7 except at 9pm one night which is way too late for us) seemed chaotic and lacking direction. I won't bore you with the several minor incidents which added up to one major problem but it wasn't as good as it could and should be and as I know it can be. On one night we had inexplicably poor service in CR and so I wrote a fairly stern mid-cruise report which seemed to have the desired effect as the crew were all over us after that but it didn't always translate into improved service. I think our names and photos were on the crew briefing room as These Two Are Trouble! One very obvious example of Regent's cost cutting was the very limited wine choices which were average quality and uninspiring. OK to drink with a meal but nothing you'd want to enjoy on its own. The sommeliers were also slow or invisible with wine often served well into the main course.
Sette Mari is already a divisive topic but for us it was nothing more than a gimmick in a restaurant that's already very small (made smaller by the expanded Prime 7). OK if you like semi-formal Italian dining every night but it means that if you want a less structured or flexible evening meal then room service is your only option. I'm possibly in the minority on this one but I really don't think Regent can afford to severely restrict our dining choices like this. I know it's a matter of limited space but that makes the Sette Mari "experiment" even less practical. Bring back the La Veranda model for informal evening buffet dining please!
Entertainment is limited to the very competant Jean Ann Ryan Dancers doing various themed shows and the inimitable and quirky (!) Cruise Director Ray Solaire. I don't doubt his talent as an entertainer (and he's an excellent singer) but we were hoping for something a bit different some nights. I guess the logistics of the Alaska itinerary limit the opportunities for other entertainers to join/leave the ship? The band was professional and versatile and did a great job.
Demographics can be an emotive topic but on this cruise I think they played a major factor in our overall enjoyment or lack thereof. The moribund CC Roll Call for this voyage should have been a clue about what to expect perhaps. The vast majority of passengers were American seniors as you would expect on an Alaskan voyage but I'm afraid it wasn't easy to engage with most of them. Maybe it was our "weird" Aussie accents but many people made it perfectly clear they weren't interested in any kind of conversation, with some being downright rude, almost hostile. Even a friendly "G'day!" while passing in a corridor was often met with suspicious or alarmed stares or they stonewalled us altogether. We are usually happy to dine at a large table in CR in order to meet our fellow passengers but on this cruise we were sufficiently intimidated not to risk an awkward evening. The overall ambiance just wasn't the usual relaxed and happy Regent experience I'm afraid. Perhaps it had something to do with the......
Weather which was dull and damp most days which meant we were unable to see much, if any, of the magnificent Alaskan scenary except on the last two days (Prince Rupert and Inner Passage) when the sun finally came out and gave everyone a long awaited treat of warmth and those stunning views and a few welcome hours soaking up the rays relaxing on the pool deck. Our first stop at the Hubbard Glacier was a complete wash-out with very poor visibility and too much ice making it impossible to see anything at all. Seeing Terry Breen's spectacular photos of what we were missing in all that murk made it even more disappointing. The upside of all the damp and cloud was very calm seas apart from one lumpy evening (nothing serious) so we were lucky in that respect as we could tell that Navigator wouldn't handle rough seas very well. Alaskan weather is always the luck of the draw and we knew that before we booked so there's no point complaining about something that can't be predicted or fixed anyway!
Excursions (or at least the ones we did) were well organized and enjoyable but they all offer basically the same thing - whales, wildlife and glaciers. Alaska does those things superbly well of course but after a week it does make all the ports tend to blend into each other. I admit we did skip a couple of "free" excursions because we were all whaled out by then. The Destinations staff was helpful and very (very) patient as there always seemed to be people asking questions and changing their minds about excursions.
Disembarkation was quick and seamless and we were at Vancouver airport within an hour of leaving our suite for the last time. This was no doubt due in part to the fact that there was only one other ship docked at Canada Place that morning.
In conclusion this was a good cruise overall but not a great one. The poor weather was no doubt a significant factor but we feel there was a more fundamental underlying problem which I still can't quite put my finger on. Navigator just didn't seem like a 'happy ship' for some reason either for the passengers or the crew who appeared to be lacking training, leadership and supervision. The general malaise was highlighted one morning when two dining room staff almost came to blows during breakfast in La Veranda. While there were a few families with young children on board this cruise doesn't really cater for them and while they behaved very well they didn't have much to entertain them. But Regent has always geared its product towards adults so it's something to take into consideration if you are planning a family cruise. Would we cruise with Regent again? Of course, in fact we are already booked on the Voyager in 2013. Will we choose Navigator again? Probably not.