I sailed on the first Regatta Alaska cruise of the season (May 9-18)- Gateway to Alaska. I had previously been to Alaska four times on four different cruiselines other than Oceania, but this cruise, of course, was the best ever in terms of the ship. I had previously sailed on Nautica on an Eastern Mediterranean itinerary, so it seemed almost like coming home stepping aboard the Regatta.
Regatta was in pristine condition. Both in the public rooms and my stateroom, everything was clean and in perfect order: no worn upholstery or carpets, no stains, no scratches or gouges on any of the wood surfaces on my stateroom desk or on any of the chair arms in the dining room or other public areas.
All the crew were helpful, energetic and friendly. My room attendant appeared to always be in the vicinity when I left my room in the morning and called out, addressed me by name, and wished me a good day. Dining room staff always greeted you, whether they were serving your tables or not, and everyone, including the maitre'd, would say goodbye when you left. Even the maintenance man changing lightbulbs would acknowledge you with an hello.
Of course, the food was great. Everything made with the freshest, high quality ingredients. We learned all foodstuffs served on Oceania are containered-in to every port where the ship is resupplied, so that quality is maintained on each ship, wherever they may be in the world. They even ship in French flour for making all their breads, so that they truly taste as if you were in France.
MY RESERVATION. I sail solo most of the time, so when my travel agent e-mailed me in March with an excellent solo price, I jumped at the chance to go to Alaska again. I never tire of the majestic scenery in Alaska, and this was a chance to go on my favorite cruise line. I was immediately assigned to an "F" inside cabin.
EMBARKATION. Living in Southern California, I broke the cardinal rule of cruising, which is to fly in a day ahead of time, and flew to San Francisco on the morning of the cruise. I arrived at the Embarcadero terminal at about 10:30 a.m. The porters were right at curbside to take your luggage. Passports were checked by security at the door, and then you proceeded to the check-in area. The health check questionnaire was handed out for completion and, other than penthouse and suite guests who could check in immediately, was advised to take a seat and that check-in would begin shortly. When it did begin, the check-in process went quickly, and I had the distinction of boarding at exactly noon. In a letter we received at check-in, we were advised that the staterooms would not be available until 3:00 p.m., but that the Terrace Cafe was open for lunch, and the elevator took us directly to Deck 9. At 3:00 p.m., announcement was made that the staterooms were available and, upon arriving, the luggage outside the door. The mandatory lifeboat drill was held at 5:15 p.m., with rollcall taken. You first assembled at your station in either the Main Dining Room or the Lounge, were instructed on how to put on the life vest, and then were taken out to your assigned lifeboat on Deck 5. Silence was requested throughout the drill, and everyone complied, which is more than can be said for many of the drills I have attended.
CABIN. My stateroom was an inside on Deck 8. The room supposedly could accommodate four persons, but it would be a tight fit. The queen bed was positioned in straight line to the door, with about 2-1/2 feet on either side. Prior the bed was a desk on one side of the cabin and a loveseat on the opposite wall that could be made up into a bed and a glass-topped table. There would be no way that four adults could comfortably sleep in the cabin. The cabin had adequate storage space with a closet and many storage drawers both in a half closet and the desk. The closet had 36 actual wooden hangers! There was also a battery-operated alarm clock on one of the bedside tables. The bed was comfortably firm, and the bed linens were of the highest quality. The bed was turned down every night with chocolates on the bed, and white towel mat on the floor by your bedside. I loved the white duvet and the pillow shams with two navy blue stripes, which matched the room decor. The bathroom was somewhat of a shock. On my Nautica trip, I had been allocated an inside handicapped rooms, and the room itself, and particularly the bathroom, were sized for easy mobility of a wheelchair. This bathroom was tiny, but totally adequate. There was a medicine cabinet with shelves and four shelves located behind the towel racks for storage. I also loved that the shower could be hand-held. Same old problem with the clingy shower curtain. Television, safe and mini-refrigerator completed the furnishings. The room was very quiet: only occasional sound from surrounding cabins and no slamming doors ever.
SEADAYS. Our first day was at sea enroute to Astoria, Oregon. Here generally are the onboard activities.
--Coffee chat and needlepoint hosted by one of the social hostesses each morning. The needlepoint canvas and yarns were available for purchase.
--Bridge. Non-hosted bridge scheduled each day. We were informed that the bridge instructor did not make the ship, so no bridge lessons.
--Trivia. Team trivia held each afternoon
--Backgammon, Mah Jongg, Scrabble and other games in the 9th Floor Game Room.
Chess board was set up in the Upper Hall and usually had someone playing.
--Indoor Putting Competition. Also had putting and golf challenges scheduled outdoors, but I don't think any of these were held. Weather was rainy, windy and cold most of the time were were at sea.
--Russian Art Presentation by on-board guest artist Liliya Yunerman. Wide selection of amber jewelry, Russian lacquered boxes and matruska dolls.
--Shopping Lectures. Lectures presented by the shops on board and also the Shopping lecturer for the ports being visited.
--Cooking Demonstration by two of the chefs in the Regatta Lounge on one of the seadays. Executive Chef Ronald Marczak prepared Tabbouleh with Tuna and Citrus Butter Sauce, and Pastry Chef Rene Bleus prepared Bittersweet Chocolate Fondant Cakes. Recipes were handed out, and both dishes appeared on the Grand Dining Room menus.
-- Wine, Martini, Cognac and Malt tastings.
ON BOARD LECTURERS. Our cruise had three on board lecturers who gave presentations both on sea days and in the late afternoons after the All On Board Call on shore days.
--Dr. John Palmisano, Marine Biologist. Had spent time in Alaska studying sea otters and their ecology. Lectured on otters, killer and humpback whales, salmon ecology, and the formation and movement of glaciers.
--Dr Dan Ostler - Lectures were on Alaskan and Native history, effect of glaciers on global climate and water supply, and early ocean explorers.
--Donna Giesler, the Star Lady. Lectured on what we would see in the sky during our voyage (cloudy and rainy every evening so no telescope viewings), the Northern Lights, Milky Way, and photographs taken by the Hubble telescope and the International Space Station.
All of the lecturers were very good to the point that I told Dr. Palmisano that I felt that I should have been taking notes.
Willie Aames was our cruise director, and he was ever present around the ship. He hosted the trivia competitions and was always in the Lounge in the morning when the shore excursion groups were being assembled and would hold an informal question and answer time while we were waiting.
Entertainment Team consisted of Maeve, Jessica, Chris and Andrew, who had various entertainment duties around the ship in addition to presenting three musical productions during the course of the cruise. Did not attend any of these productions, so cannot comment on quality.
--Brandi Chapman,vocalist. Background of being opening act in Branson for many years. Sang Broadway, Motown, Nashville and Vegas. Performed two nights. I saw only her first show, which was fine.
-- Michael Minor, vocalist and ventriloquist. Excellent voice and very good ventriloquist. Dummies were not very funny however. Also performed two nights.
The Sweet Secret Band. Played for the evenings' show productions, some days at the 4:00 afternooon tea, and for dancing in Horizons and the Lounge.
Quadrivium String Quartet. Played at afternoon tea and in the Upper Hall during dinner hours.
Pavel Pluzek at the Piano. Played throughout the evening in Martinis.
Astoria, Oregon. Ship was docked in the shipping port. Day started out cloudy but cleared by late morning. Shuttlebus into Astoria was offered for $7.00 for all-day pass.
I participated in the Williamette Wine Valley excursion. Left the ship at 7:15 a.m. bus ride which took approximately two hours. Visited the Willakenzie Estate and had a wine tasting of a flight of five pinot varieties. Then proceeded to Carlton, Oregon, where we had a pasta lunch with various cheescakes for dessert, and the opportunity for more wine tasting. The tour was very good for the places visited, but was a lot of time spent on the bus.
Interesting departure from Astoria, as we were docked on the Columbia River, and needed to cross the bar back into the Pacific Ocean. Over the years over 2,000 ships have been shipwrecked in this crossing. Harbor pilot who took us over the bar was transported off the ship by helicopter. That night was the only rough really rough night on the ship. I, apparently with many others, succumbed to sea sickness and retired to bed with Bonine and ginger ale, missing dinner (horrors!).
Sitka. After another day at sea, we arrived in Sitka at noon. Temperature was 45F and raining. We docked at a new pier that Sitka has just built. Prior to this, all cruises stopping at Sitka had tendered in. The pier is located six miles from downtown Sitka and free shuttlebuses were available all day to take people into Sitka. I chose a Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest boat excursion. We boarded the boat from the opposite side of the pier and were taken on a large catamar with waterjets for power out into the Sitka Sound. The bottom portion of the boat was glass enclosed, but you could go topside to an outside open viewing deck. We saw stellar sea lions, eagles, a male group of otters, a group of female otters with the pups on their stomachs, and a breaching whale. The ship delivered us back to the dock next to downtown Sitka for those who wanted to explore the town. As I had been there before, I took the shuttle, which left from this pier, back to Regatte pierand enjoyed a wonderful afternoon tea viewing the beautiful site of the harbor, the tree-covered islands, and the low-hanging clouds. Sailaway at 8:00 p.m.
Hubbard Glacier. 38F and raining heavily. We proceeded into Yakutat Bay at approximately 11:00 a.m. Things did not look good. Besides the rain, the entire bay was fully of ice and icefloes. Willie Aames, the tour director, was providing commentary as we approached the end of the bay where we would turn towards the glacier. When we reached that point, Willie advised that the harbor pilot on board would not permit passage any farther because of the large amount of ice covering the entrance to the glacier. The captain gave us a glimpse into the approach to the glacier to get a sense of its size, and then turned the ship for the other side to get a glance, and we then proceeded out of Yakutat Bay. I would estimate we got no farther than 10 miles from the glacier. No one seemed very disappointed that this was all we saw of the glacier. As most were first-time cruisers to Alaska, did not appreciate the opportunity you have when the ship is right in front of the glacier to view the scope of the glacier and the sound and sight of the glacier calving. Bummer.
Juneau. We arrived early morning. Temperature 44F and raining. Ship was anchored offshore, and the tender ride into the dock at the front end of the cruise ship pier was maybe seven minutes. Four other large cruise ships were already in docked in port. The gangway from the tender dock up to the main street of Juneau was very steep, and those with mobility problems were having difficulty. I participated in the Whalewatching and Mendenhall Glacier tour. We were driven out to Auke Bay to board another large enclosed catamaran to
take us out into the Lynn Canal. On each of these wildlife excursions, we were presented with a very nice brochure with a large map showing where we were going, and pictures of the wildlife likely to be encountered. Tea, coffee and hot chocolate were served, and we were always given a sample of smoked salmon on a cracker. Saw one or more small humpbacks breaching, along with eagles on the shoreline. The sky brightened up towards the end of our cruise, and we were able to see the many snow-covered mountains that surround Juneau.
When we returned to the Auke pier we were bussed back toward Juneau to visit the Mendenhall Glacier. The U.S. Forest Service is in charge of the Glacier site and has built a beautiful observation center high above the glacier's ravine. Access is by elevator, stairs, or ramp. There are various exhibits and photographs regarding the glacier and personnel to interpret the exhibits. Also there is a wonderful 15-minute film taken on and above the glacier that shows its true magnitude. I had previously been to the glacier 35 years ago and the change in the landscape was amazing. At that time, the glacier was two miles closer to the bay than present and the lake now in front of the glacier was merely a creek which you could cross and stand directly at the front of the glacier. I could truly appreciate the phenomena of a moving field of ice. For those than want to go independently to the glacier, tickets are sold in Juneau for a shuttlebus to the glacier. The cost is $8.00 each way.
At departure time, the ship had to send the tender back to shore to pick up a couple that they had paged several times after the All OnBoard time. The tender had to wait while all the floatplanes which dock at the pier adjacent to the tender dock had flown in and docked for the evening, thus delaying our departure from Juneau.
Arrived at 11:00 a.m. to light rain and approximately 48F. I took the all-day boat excursion to Misty Fjords National Monument. The catamaran, the biggest one yet, was anchored directly in front of our ship for easy access. The trip consisted of a fast boat journey of what I believe the captain said was 75 miles one way. We traveled directly up to the end of the Behm Canal to witness the steep rock walls carved out by a glacier in its retreat and the many waterfalls descending off the rock wells from the snows melting on the mountains behind the fjord. The clouds hanging in among the trees in the fjord truly show where the name Misty Fjords comes from. By the time we had come back out of the fjord, the sky had cleared, and we saw whales on a wonderful ride back to Ketchikan. Regatta departed Ketchikan under mostly clear skies.
INNER PASSAGE RETURN TO VANCOUVER
Weather cloudy, all day rain and 45F degrees. After our sail out from Ketchikan among the islands, we were back in open water under late the following afternoon. This was disappointing to me, because on a previous cruise we had entered to the inside passage early in the afternoon on a wonderful sunny day and had spent the entire afternoon with land close on either sides of us. When Regatta finally reached the inside passage, it was late in the afternoon, raining steadily, and it proceeded to get dark. No chance at all to view the spectacular scenery surrounding the ship.
What is there left to say about the food other than it was all wonderful. The things I especially enjoyed were the breakfast croissants, including pain aux chocolat; the bowl of fresh berries for breakfast; the best Caesar salad I have ever had, and I had it every evening except one; the assorted breads, rolls and bread sticks; Waves Grill with the Kobe beefburgers, french fries and ice cream (all things I never have at home); and the Terrace Cafe. Enjoyed that the Terrance Cafe was not self serve and that the tables were nicely set with placemats, glasses and silverware. Never had the opportunity to enjoy dinner there, but the lunch selections I had were all very tasty, including the Mexican buffet one noon.
Afternoon Tea: Enjoyed the large selection of sandwiches and pastries offered at teatime, and the scones were even served with real clotted cream, something that is not even offered on Cunard.
Toscano: Enjoyed all the dishes I had in Toscano, and I love Italian food, but I did not think that the food was any better than served in the Main Dining Room. Had lasagne, calamari, and sole that was fileted by the waiter directly in front of you on your plate.
Polo Grill: A bit of a disaster servicewise, but the food was all delicious.
When I arrived for my reservation, I was seated at a table for four. After several minutes, the maitre'd asked if I would mind moving to a larger table, which I did not. At the larger table, it was eventually filled by four other singles and a couple. We chatted and perused the menu for 1/2 hour before our order was finally taken. Than after another long pause, the appetizer finally appeared. Another long pause and our main dishes were served. After that was cleared, a plate of jellied candies were placed on the table. Another long pause, and the dessert menu appeared. Dessert was served in due course and the waiters went back to clearing all the others tables surrounding us that had long ago been vacated. Never were we asked about coffee service. We finally gave up and left the now-vacant grill at 10:30, after having been seated at 7:30. The steaks and other main dishes were grilled to everyone's liking with the exception of one very overdone medium rare.
DISEMBARKATION We were issued the usual colored tags for disembarkation, and it proceeded in a timely fashion. The first color was called at 8:00 a.m. and I disembarked at my time of 8:15 a.m. The only problem was finding where they had placed the baggage with the different color tags. No signs were evident. I finally found mine in a corner against a wall. There were many people milling about in the area who had either gotten off before their color was called, or the baggage had been slow in coming off the ship. A little busy with three other ships also disembarking. Everyone was to be off Regatta by 9:00 a.m.
With the exception of the Polo Grill incident, everything else in this cruise was absolutely perfect. Sailing as a single, I was never made to feel out of place or extraneous. In the dining room I was always asked whether I would like to share or sit alone, and seating me was never a problem like I have encountered with other lines. Likewise, accommodation in the Lounge, in Horizons, and on excursions was never a problem. I met so many nice people from all over the world sharing tables at dinner and other events. There were 20 different countries represented in the passengers on this cruise.
I really went on the cruise more to experience the ship than to visit Alaska, because of having been there and seen so much before. I was, though, disappointed that the weather was so cool and rain, that it dampened (pun intended) the experience of being on the outside decks and viewing of the scenery up close, although I realized that this might be the case so early in the season. Anyway, booked another cruise on board and don't think I will have to worry about rain on that one. I'm going to Egypt!