Crossings are my favorite cruise and I do at least two yearly, but this was my first on the Regent Navigator. I made a conscious decision to accept her without comparing to the delightful Diamond or the classy Voyager. She is definitely a unique experience, with some outstanding aspects and some real flaws. This cruise boarded in Fort Lauderdale and ended in Monte Carlo. The first week was truly laid-back with no ports; the second was port intensive. The westbound crossing is easier with an active start, time to recover, and best of all you gain hours instead of losing them almost every night on the second leg. But the lazy first week gave us ample chance to adjust.
Off to the Ship:
Fort Lauderdale is an easy embarkation port, and I easily booked my own hotel and transfer. After a quick hotel shuttle pickup, I settled into the airport Wyndham (soon to be a Hilton). In spite of a few minor problems I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this comfortable hotel for a pre-or-post stop. The hotel bell captain booked a shuttle to the port for me. I thought the price quoted was too low, and it was. I was solo, and they had quoted a multi-passenger pp/rate. The driver did not try to raise the price, but I offered to split the difference. Life's too short to take a bargain at somebody else's expense. When a flight attendant came rushing out and could not fit in the crew shuttle, I quickly agreed to share with her and drop her at the airport. It was still a bargain and we were all happy.
The embarkation area at FLL is huge, and pretty vacant when accommodating the small RSSC ships. All went relatively quickly and efficiently. The agent saw my cane and offered to help me up the escalator (and all the way to the ship) with my carry-on so I didn't have to make the long trek back to the elevator. Bonus points from me!
The ship was typical RSSC, with a glass of champagne and a cheerful welcome awaiting me. I was directed to the Portofino/grill area where I enjoyed a casual lunch until the "cabins are ready" announcement was made. My first impression was a bit claustrophobic, which I quickly attributed to the low ceilings. Many recognized faces greeted me, which made me quickly feel at home.
I was in "magic cabin" 601, a larger than usual cabin at the far front of the ship with an oversized veranda. The entry was wide and opened into a separate seating area. The walk-in closet, abundance of drawers, and bath with separate shower and tub are real cruise pleasers. I asked my stewardess to bring a cushion for the lounger on the veranda, and it shortly arrived. I travel solo on crossings, so am priced out of upper-level suites. This cabin was a real luxury! However, there is always a downside. It is also vulnerable to strong vibration, as well as both up/down and side-to-side movement in rough weather. The first night, the vibration kept me awake (and I have good sea legs). We had one rough night that really kept me rocking. However, I popped on my sea bands and fell fast asleep. In addition, the clanging is pretty loud when coming into port. Unless you are an early riser, buyer beware! Standard cabins, while smaller, are still roomy enough for two to share comfortably.
On week two, the bedspreads were replaced with white duvets with red trim in the "hotel" style. The duvets are changed every couple of days, which is a lot of work for the cabin stewardesses. But personally, I liked the look.
All I can say is "wow". I couldn't help but compare to her sister ships, and she was far and above the best of the lot. The current chef is a superstar! Not only an accomplished chef, but personable and approachable as well. She was often seen around the dining rooms and other areas mixing with passengers. Remember the days when women were not hired for the kitchens, she and her pastry chef proved that was mistake. Her star accomplishment: by far, the soups. I don't normally care for soup, but after trying the seafood bisque I found myself looking forward to the day's offerings. Plus she took full advantage of local markets, bringing on local sausages and fish in Barcelona, and fresh oysters in Sete. Variety and presentation were equal to the food! No complaints in this area, and I'm a tough critic.
Portofino was wonderful...one tasty dish after another. Even better than Don Vito's (there I go again, comparing). More about the concept later. The pre-dinner wine tasting offered a good opportunity to try different grapes and growing areas.
Room service was just so-so, often lukewarm and not particularly good. But with the fantastic lunches and dinners, who had room for breakfast? Most mornings I just slipped down the hall to the Navigator lounge and picked up fruit, juice and a muffin.
Afternoon tea was also so-so. Regent should do better than using tea bags and commonplace teas. This is an area where the Diamond shone...oh, how I missed it. And after a few days, you'd think the same waiter would know that I like green tea.
Downside, coffee on the ship was truly horrid. Too bitter to drink. Hey, guys, clean the pot! Thank goodness I brought my own coffee press and coffee. After dinner espresso was acceptable, but not wonderful.
Service in the dining rooms was inconsistent at best. Although I sat in the same general areas and had the same waiters night after night, nobody remembered that I drink Pellegrino (in fact, I saw one waiter roll his eyes when I requested it)and espresso and port after dinner. In past cruises, these were offered automatically by the 3rd night. Wine service varied widely. Most nights one glass was poured and the wine waiter disappeared. One night the initial bottle was bad, and after a long, long delay the second was no better. (I'm sure the vibration on this ship is hard on the wines and there is no way to overcome that flaw.) A different wine was offered, but we were almost finished with the meal by the time it arrived. There was a general lack of attention to detail. Training, training, training, is needed.
The two shops were small, but relatively well-stocked. Some Radisson items were being phased out, but there was an adequate selection and a wide range of prices. Something for everybody.
Only tacky, tacky...art lining the halls and walls. People must buy it or it wouldn't be there...but I can't imagine why.
We were certainly kept busy, even on long port days. Of course, team trivia and other games quickly became very competitive. However, a number of us avoided activities handled by the CD who managed to take the fun out of enjoyable activities. I'm on vacation...don't try to boss me around.
This was a Theater at Sea cruise so the level of entertainment was a step above the normal crossing. I did miss a couple of shows because I didn't realize that they were late afternoon, not pre-or-post dinner. But I take full blame for taking a nap instead of reading the schedule more closely. It's just that the rocking of the ship is so relaxing.
The speakers were definitely high caliber and widely attended. I enjoyed watching the reruns in the cabin (a definite advantage when satellite-related stations are lost during the crossing and you've watched all the movies). And the "Distinguished Gentlemen" were the best I've ever encountered. Not only were they available to dance and host dance lessons, they made themselves available for dinner every night and participated in other activities to encourage socialization among the single cruisers.
Unfortunately, the vibration and noise is most noticeable in the theater. However, even with a full ship, seating was not a problem. The balcony offers the best sightline and acoustics.
Portofino has adopted the Don Vito style of cabaret, and staff has blossomed as entertainers in the larger venue. However, what works in a checkered tablecloth group-table concept doesn't necessarily convert to a white tablecloth restaurant. Unfortunately, without the large shared-table concept something is lost. Even when "full" there are always a number of empty place settings. And a single has to hunt for table partners or end up sitting alone. Plus many people expecting a fine Italian concept restaurant find it "too loud". It would make a big difference if they offered at least a few large, shared tables.
Downside: To say the least, the cruise director was the weak link. I've sailed with her before and have to admit that I was really disappointed when I saw that she was on the ship. Mimi, the Assistant CD was a charmer as usual. Overall, the small staff appeared constantly stressed out and distracted.
The ship has a small, but nice computer room. They were busy wiring for WiFi during the first leg, so it will soon be in all the cabins. Even now, there is WiFi in all the lounges. Plus most return passengers have free access! Loved it!
BUT...RSSC has determined that an adequate dish system for this ship is not a priority. Big mistake! While you always lose satellite for a few days on the crossing, it is usually available again before you reach Funchal. We did not have satellite stations even from Funchal to Monte Carlo. Since they simply repeated the movies the second week, we were left stranded in this area. The only news coverage was FOX, to the displeasure of many passengers. I found myself avoiding the lounges where FOX blared around the clock.
Ports and Excursions:
No ports the first week, but the second was busy indeed. It's nice to be able to pull into port without the hassle of tendering. Plus RSSC provided complimentary shuttles into town at each port. I only took one tour, to Rabat. There really wasn't much to it, mostly driving to and from Rabat with only two stops. Not even time for shopping (such that it would have been at the government supported store). But the outstanding Moroccan lunch at a luxury hotel made up for all the other lapses.
Regent is touting "concierge" level service, but I found the tour desk to be mediocre at best. Answers to questions were perfunctory (and often wrong) and the staff had little practical information about ports. Maybe I expected too much. But don't call it "personalized" if it's not.
Unfortunately, this area appears to be slipping, not improving. The change from a 2-person team, to a single stewardess is not a positive move. Although my stewardess was friendly, she had to rate as the worst I've had in over 40 cruises. There was a large hand-print on the dressing area mirror when I arrived, and it was still there when I disembarked. She swept the center of the room, but the floor was definitely not clean. She didn't bring the cushions in from the verandah or even sweep it. On the morning after we went through a bad storm, the cushions were soaked, laying in sandy water, and the soggy lounge cushion was hanging off the rails. But she didn't even notice. I finally complained, and she did improve somewhat...but still lacked professionalism.
The first night I heard my first name being called in the hallway. I turned thinking it was someone I knew from previous crossings, but it was my stewardess yelling down the hall. I'm not a snob, but I am not accustomed to being called by my first name. I was too surprised to correct her, and later learned that this is the new "policy". I don't think this is in keeping with the new image, and hope that feedback will cause a rethinking of this training. Let the passenger decide the most comfortable form of address.
Discussion has been held on boards about the laundry carts in the hallways. I have to say, this is another service lapse. We're not talking about the neat carts we're all accustomed to. Rather, these are canvas laundry carts with dirty linens sloppily hanging over the edge. Combined with cleaning supplies hung on one side and cleaning rags sloppily hung on the other, they're an unsightly obstacle in the hallways until about 2:00 pm. Plus, the carpet sweeper was perched outside my door 24/7.
On the bright side, ship personnel responded quickly to feedback. I do hope this area can be addressed...it must, if Regent is to be considered a luxury cruise.
As on most crossings, the passengers tend to be "mature" as in "retired". But the smattering of younger couples (and singles) fit right in and appeared to have a great time. The Block Party on sailaway was a huge success and helped strangers mix and become quick friends!
As on all cruises, unusual circumstances arise. During the crossing a water heater burst on deck six flooding several cabins. Staff quickly stepped into action. For several days mattresses and furniture lined the hallways and huge fans were called into service to dry the rooms. It made for quite an obstacle course, but by Funchal the cabins were ready for the embarking passengers.
But the real plus was the mid-Atlantic meeting of the Voyager and the Navigator. The captains met mid-way between the ships in Kodiacs and exchanged "gifts" while the Voyager's CD took an unscheduled opportunity to go water skiing. Passengers watched while toasting with champagne, and crew yelled and waved banners across the water. It was a truly special experience.
What can I say...quick and efficient. How long is it until my next cruise? Let me get my calendar!