We embarked Voyager in Tianjin, China, a new cruise ship terminal which is extremely difficult to find if you are independent travellers. Check in was efficient and off we went to greet the numerous crew members we last saw in October 2012. We were also delighted to meet old friends from previous cruises, so everything was set up for another great cruise. Our suite was 1005 which proved to be in a quiet and very convenient location. Our luggage arrived promptly and once our kit was stowed and our nest prepared for the next 16 nights we could relax.
Our first indication that things would not go smoothly was delivered by Captain Gianmario, who explained that because of problems with the propulsion system we would not make Shanghai on schedule. To make matters worse, he also announced that to meet our schedule into Hong Kong we would be missing out our second port Xiamen (the only port on the whole cruise we had not been to before). The explanation given by the engineers was that the propulsion system did not like the cold water off the Chinese coast. I commented that Voyager managed its full cruising speed when we sailed up to the Arctic ice shelf and through an ice flow. No compensation was offered which was surprising as guests who had sailed from Sydney had been given compensation because of the propulsion issues which caused so much disruption with their cruise itinerary. Perhaps the waters off Australia were too warm for the propulsion system.
The technical issues continued, but this time the problem was the capability of Axel the Executive Chef who was incapable of managing his kitchens. In an effort to deal with the issues three PCH executive chefs joined the ship in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I did not meet them, as from day four of the cruise I contracted viral bronchitis and I stayed in my suite to avoid contact with other guests. However, my wife ate with either senior officers or friends whilst I was incapacitated. She reported back to me each evening, how she struggled to choose anything to eat from the Compass Rose menus and what was served was invariably cold.
When I felt well enough I ventured to La Veranda for breakfast. The ship was virtually deserted as everyone was on tour. Even though it was only 09.30hrs, the buffet was virtually depleted and no one was making any attempt to replenish it. Lunch in La Veranda was equally as bad. Why had coleslaw, potatoe salad, tuna fish and fresh seafood all been removed from the offerings. When this was brought to the attention of Abraham (maitre'd), he went away to investigate and returned with absolutely no answers.
On my way back to my suite I walked along deck 10 and noticed how many suites had the distinctive envelopes containing invoices for medical services. This really was a sick ship. In Ho Chi Minh City, Ray the cruise director, had arranged for local entertainers to come on board and present a very enjoyable music and dance show. During the show Franck, the General Manager enquired about my health. I told him I was shocked at the level of sickness there was on board. He stated that he was not aware of any substantial levels of illness aboard Voyager. As we have known Franck for ten years and have seen him come up through the ranks, we were disappointed that he insulted our intelligence. I suggested he tour the decks and see the number of medical bills attached to suite doors.
Capt. John McNeil joined Voyager in Hong Kong and invited us to his table in Compass Rose. Like me he was surprised that our main course was intercepted by Abraham who decided that he could not present the meal to us as they fell well short of the standard he would accept. Perhaps Abraham should be promoted to executive chef as he appears to be the only one who has an eye for quality control. John asked the question how could the food have left the galley in the first instance. Needless to say he was very embarrassed and disappointed.
On our day of embarkation we were having what was left in the buffet in La Veranda when Enzo the Snr. VP of F & B for PCH / Apollo, came over to say hello and enquire about our cruise. We naturally downloaded our experiences and his response was interesting. He could not understand how, with four exec. chefs on board that the food could be so bad. He suggested that in future we should sail on either of the two new Oceana cruise ships as they have reputations for culinary excellence. It was surprising that he should suggest we change our allegiance especially to ships whose senior executive chefs had been on Voyager and systematically failed to improve the quality, temperature or even the presentation of the cuisine served. We asked ourselves, are they seriously trying to down grade the Regent product and up sell the Oceana product which is perhaps delivering a higher profit ratio per guest for Apollo. We have never been so happy to leave a cruise ship, even the Seabourn Quest and that IS saying something.
It is impossible to say at this stage if we will sail with Regent again. Perhaps we will wait for the Seven Seas Explorer to come into service in 2016, assuming the Italian government agree the financial package for the construction.