My husband and I sailed on the Voyager from Civitavecchia, Italy to Fort Lauderdale, Florida on November 4th. This was our second cruise on this ship this year (previously to the Baltic in June). It was also somewhat of a "President's cruise" since two Executive Vice Presidents from Regent and other staff were on board, which made it rather special. Prior to sailing we stayed for two nights at the Cavalieri Hilton Hotel in Rome. This is a lovely, five star hotel, somewhat outside the city centre, with a fantastic view of Rome. We had a reasonable (for Rome) rate and a lovely room, although not facing the city. The Concierge organized a limo transfer for us to the port, which is around an hour, or an hour and a half away. (depends on traffic!) We arrived at the dock about 1pm. We noticed that there were a lot of people sitting around, waiting to board, which is rather unusual for Regent. We were immediately informed that there had been a surprise drill around 10.30 which had put boarding back an hour. There were coffee and cold drinks available for us while we waited. Promptly at 1.30 we were invited to board. Registration took place in the Constellation theatre, and we were all checked in in about 10 minutes. Meanwhile we were offered a glass of sparkling wine (note: they call it champagne, but it isn't. It is CrEmant de la Loire!). We were able to get into our suite at 2.30pm and filled in the time by having a salad at la Veranda restaurant.
When we got into our suite our four suitcases were there. Also waiting for us was a letter from Mark Conway, President of Regent, informing us that he was extending a complete liquor package to us on the cruise!! I suppose this was Regent's way of "sliding gracefully" into their new all-inclusive policy which takes effect in January, and we appreciated it very much! We had exactly the same suite as on the Baltic cruise - Penthouse B. It is very comfortable and a little bigger than the "ordinary" suites. In fact, it is only 14 square feet bigger, and we have decided that in future we will most likely just book a "normal" suite. The Penthouse suites come with a butler and in the past we have not seen any need for this extra service. I must say, however, that our butler on this cruise, Ronny, was quite simply terrific. Best butler ever, and charming as well. My husband was celebrating a birthday on the cruise and Ronny and our stewardess, Rosanna, decorated the suite as a surprise for us!! It was full of balloons on the day!!
Since we had been on board quite recently we were delighted and pleased to see several people among the crew that we had got to know before - Bryan the Cruise Director and his lovely assistant Elda. Louise the Social Hostess and several waiters, including Jess a wine steward. They also seemed to remember us and we felt really part of the "family". I must also say here that our Captain, Knut Hanssen, was also the Captain that we had had on the Baltic. I thought at that time that he was rather remote and did not mix much with the passengers. However Elda told me that the Baltic cruises demand extra attention from the Captain and therefore he was really busy. On the November cruise Knut - or as he called himself "The driver" really mixed with everyone and we grew to like him enormously. I hope he will be our Captain on our next cruise!!
For those who have never taken a Regent cruise I must say that one of the greatest things is the high quality of the cuisine and the terrific choice provided. This cruise was no exception. Even with the length of 16 nights we looked forward to every meal, and every meal was different. The choice of restaurants - Compass Rose, Latitudes, la Veranda and Signatures - and the choices they provide are terrific. We had two meals at Signatures on this cruise and they were among the best we have ever had anywhere! The new menu - Vietnamese fusion - at Latitudes is a real success. La Veranda as a mediterranean bistro provides an interesting contrast to the more "normal" offerings of the Compass Rose. The quality and range of offerings in the Compass Rose is amazing. So if you like to eat - this is the ship for you! We do, and I gained 2 kilos (which happily have now left me!)
Our first port was Monaco. We docked early on the Sunday morning, right in the Marina at the foot of the castle hill. We were part of the Circle of Interest for Architecture and History and on our first evening the night before our leader, Sandra Bowern, had hosted a welcome party for the group (around 30 people). Our first tour as part of this programme was in Monaco, and was a bus ride to St Paul de Vence with a visit to the Fondation Maecht. Unfortunately the guide assigned to our bus had problems with her English, and was not a really good guide either. I found myself translating back into French to be able to understand what she was trying to say! So once we got to St Paul - where we had been before anyway - we told Sandra that we would go directly to the Fondation Maecht and meet the bus in time for departure. I was really pleased we did because this gave us almost two hours to see a really fine exhibition called "Black is a Colour" as well as to wander around the Miro sculpture garden and generally enjoy the Fondation.
The following day we were in Sète. This is a small town at the edge of the Etang de Thau, an inland sea, and at the end of the Canal from the Rhone. We had signed up for a tour to Montpelier. We were lucky to have a wonderful guide. We had a walking tour of the centre of Montpelier, which is a very interesting city and then we were driven to a Chateau for a wine tasting. This was rather special since the Count who owned the property took us around the chateau before we tasted the wine. he was a delight! (and so were his wines!!)
Our next port was Barcelona. Our Circle of Interest tour here was "Gothic Barcelona". The guide did an excellent job of laying the groundwork for our tour by taking us to the top of a hill and pointing out the various sites that we would visit. We were then dropped in the old town and she took us to various places with beautiful ruins - Roman columns, inside courtyards etc. We then visited the cathedral and walked to the Palu de Musica - the concert hall. This is definitely not Gothic! it is in the art nouveau style and well worth a visit. We saw a film on its conception and construction before touring the building. We then returned to the ship.
As part of the "President's cruise" all Seven Seas Society members were invited to the Picasso Museum that evening for a private viewing and a champagne reception. Since almost all those on board were members, about 10 busses were needed to get us there! Very cleverly Regent planned separate entry times for us at the museum, and the absolutely wonderful guide that we had took us on a walking tour of the old town which included a visit to a church which had been specially lit for us that evening! He then took us through the Picasso Museum, lecturing on the paintings. I thought that I learnt more about Picasso on this trip than I had collectively in a life time! It was a wonderful evening which ended with champagne and canapEs.
After Barcelona Palma de Mallorca, nice though it is, was rather a let-down. We did take a tour (not included in the Circle) and had a good guide, but after a couple of hours we decided to leave and go back to the ship. Regent provided a handy shuttle service between the pier and the old town and we appreciated this.
Malaga was our next stop. There was no tour offered for the Circle but two other members that we had met suggested we go to the Picasso Museum, which we did. It was an easy walk from the port. This museum is a must-see because it houses paintings that belong to the Picasso family and these are not ones that you can usually see elsewhere. it is also a really nice, small museum.
Our last stop in Spain was Cadiz. Here the Circle of Interest took us to Sevilla - about two hours away by bus. Again we had a superb guide who just made our day! She gave a very good talk in the bus about Sevilla and what we would see, history, architecture etc. In Sevilla we started at the Alcazar Real where we visited the building and the beautiful gardens. We then had a break for 20 minutes for a coffee or a little shopping before walking through the old town to the cathedral. She was able to guide us through the cathedral (not always the case because sometimes churches don't allow guides) and did an excellent job. We then went to a lovely riverside restaurant for lunch - and since this was at 2pm (typical Spanish lunchtime!) we were all hungry. Lunch was really good! After lunch the bus took us to the site of the 1924 (I think?) exhibition to see the Spanish Pavilion, then back to Cadiz and the ship.
I should say something about the Circle of Interest, which is a new thing that Regent has added this year. You can opt to join it or not. Our Circle, on Architecture and History, was well thought out and our tours were extremely relevant. Our leader, Sandra Bowern, did a super job of providing an outline as to what we would see, and especially in tying things together. She also provided quality control - for example earlier this summer apparently everyone in the Circle was in one bus. This meant that 50 people went through all the sites together. Not ideal. Sandra got Regent to limit the busses to 15 or so people per bus. Each bus has its own guide so you visit in small groups. This is great. However we could, I suppose, have all been in one bus but with two guides... Sandra organized, as I mentioned, a welcome cocktail the very first night, and also a group dinner as well as a quiz. Consequently people in our Circle really bonded, and in fact after we had left Madeira a couple held a lovely cocktail for us all and we all got together again! I did suggest to Sandra, and on my comment form to Regent, that it would be a great idea to have a reading list so that people with a special interest could do some background work on what was to be seen. In talking to other passengers who were in other circles - Photography and Food/Wine - I got the distinct impression that while all of us really enjoyed ours and found the extra cost well worth while this was NOT the case with the others. Other leaders did little, apparently, to work with their groups and the people I talked with said they felt they did not get anything extra for the money they spent. I am sure that Regent will work on this, but all I can say is, if you have a chance to be with Sandra - take it!!
Between Cadiz and Madeira we had a sea day. I love sea days and after a week of sightseeing it was really welcome!!
Around 200 people left the ship in Madeira, and another 200 got on, so we were about 500 for the crossing. I had been to Madeira years ago and had some childhood memories of Funchal, mostly involving flowers and flowering trees which I had never seen before! I was a little shocked to see that Funchal now sprawls far across the mountain...but in 54 years it was bound to have grown! We took a tour called "Scenic Madeira". Unfortunately the guide was not great and I knew we were in trouble when she announced that we would drive to a "four star" hotel for coffee and cake. This is hardly "scenic Madeira"!! We were driven up into the mountains to a hotel with no view, where the coffee was awful and was served in dirty cups. Not great! However we then drove up to the top of a mountain (1800m) where the view was truly dramatic. The problem was that at the dock it was 25C and at the top of the mountain, 9C. I was dressed for the dock, so I froze!! Serves me right for not reading carefully about where we were going!! We then drove back to Funchal and went for a wine tasting. When I was 10 I remember going into a real wine cellar. This time it was a wine "lodge" where we were handed two glasses, one dry one sweet and left to get on with it ourselves. We then had some shopping time (not too useful since it was Sunday!) and went back to the ship.
The crossing was a terrific experience. We were lucky - good weather most of the time and really only one day when the ship rolled a little. Most of the time it was warm enough to sit by the pool. We had some wonderful lecturers on board - one man talked about his work on the Carl Sagan programme on the stars and another on the oceans of the world and their exploration. Both were very good and very interesting. I participated in the Cordon Bleu course as well. I had been looking forward to this because I had taken the course on the Mariner in 2005. Unfortunately, the chef did some very similar recipes. However I did learn quite a bit of technique, which I appreciated. The course was somewhat marred by one of the participants who talked constantly, grabbed the best seat each time and generally was disliked by all. Justice was done, however, when his souffle fell flatter than a pancake!! If you haven't taken this course, and you like to cook, I strongly recommend it. You do need to know something about cooking though!
One really great thing about the crossing was the "County Fair" that the crew put on in mid-ocean. Each department rigged up games booths around the pool and for an hour we played the crazy games they had devised and won tickets for a raffle for prizes! One of the games involved the galley crew on a raft in the middle of the pool and passengers hurling cake icing at them!! The whole thing was so crazy that everyone had a wonderful time!! What a crew!!
Another very interesting thing was that "the driver" opened the Bridge every afternoon and you could go up there and talk to the officers who worked there. Great fun and very informative.
All in all it was a wonderful cruise with the most terrific crew ... and I can't wait to get back on board again!! Anyone who hesitates about doing a trans-Atlantic crossing should be reassured that normally the souther route is quite warm and the seas kind (normally, but obviously not always), there is plenty to do on board and that if you really want to get to know the crew this is a great time to do it! All my husband and I can say is thank you Regent for the wonderful time we had!!