My wife and I along with my 83 y/o mother and 8 y/o son spent a week on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator cruising from Seward (Anchorage) to Vancouver from 7/3/2013 to 7/10/2013. From the few reviews available, Regent seemed to have the best ship in Alaska. The surprising number of negative reviews of the Navigator (and the other luxury ships) concerned us.
We had a very good time (A-). The service (A-), rooms (A) and food (A) were great. I do not know why there were so many negative reviews of the Regent. There are minor issues with Regent and this itinerary, but nothing we saw or heard that would justify the poor reviews by a few passengers. The vibration issue reported by other reviewers in cabins in the rear of the ship was a concern and we were sure to book forward cabins (525 and 527). Our cabins were quite, stable and did not vibrate. We could not find a single guest who complained about vibrations in their cabin.
We are not “cruise people” and the only 2 other ships we have been on are the Disney Dream with our children and the Wind Star (148 person boat) in the Mediterranean. The Navigator is a small luxury ship with all suites. We booked a window suit (301 sq ft) which was the lowest cost cabin. Most cabins have balconies (51 sq ft), but in Alaska they are not very worthwhile. We toured the boat before all the passengers were aboard and found our cabin to be as comfortable as the vast majority of the cabins on the boat. Given the great location, stability and lower cost, I would recommend booking this class of cabin (but they sell out quickly).
Our cabin cost $10,000 for 2 people and was “all inclusive”. Although this may seem like a high price, this included round trip airfare ($1,300), hotel in Anchorage ($320 + $40 breakfast) for one night, transfers to the boat ($240) and to Vancouver airport ($30), tours ($1,600), alcohol ($100 – we don’t drink much), tips ($400), laundry machines ($10) and taxes. Only the less expensive wines are included and you pay full restaurant prices for the better quality wines. When you subtract the items not included on a mass-market ship, you are paying $2,980 per person for the cruise. With great rooms and food, only 460 guests and very good service, it is not a bad deal - especially in Alaska where cruises are more expensive than similar cruises in the Caribbean. A large ship with 2000 passengers overwhelms the small Alaskan towns and the many tours have very limited capacity.
Be aware that there are significant costs for adding or deviating from the Regent itinerary. We added one extra day in Anchorage (B) at the Captain Cook Hotel (B) that would have cost us $360 if we booked it ourselves, but we had to pay Regent $500 for the room to avoid a deviation charge. Any flight deviations cost $100/person (leave early, return late, etc.) which would allow you try to set up your own land packages. The tour operators are all independent and most of them are looking for tips. Tours costing more than about $140-150 per person (for 2014 some more expensive tours are included) were not included and you pay the full price. For example, you pay full price for a $165 tour and a very similar $149 tour is “free”. Regent requires 1.5 hours between tours which limits the number of "free" tours you can book in a day.
I had a very good time (A-), but my wife would have liked a more active vacation (B). My mother who can only walk a few blocks enjoyed the trip (B+). The Navigator has very limited services for children. There is no kids club, there are minimal activities for children and babysitting is expensive (this is not Disney). Our cruise had 47 non-adults including about 18 children less than 10 y/o. Still, my son loved the trip (A) especially after finding another boy his age to hang out with.
Up close views of glaciers, some calving huge house size chunks of ice, were the highlights of our trip. The Navigator comes within 2-3 mile of the huge Hubbard Glacier (A). The Navigator's hull was originally built to be part of a Russian ice breaker and the boat is able to get close to the glacier when many larger ships have to turn back. We took a helicopter ride to and walked on the Herbert Glacier (A+, Juneau, see below). You should be sure to book the cruise up Tracy Arm fjord to the Sawyer Glacier and nearby waterfall (A, $149).
We had great views of smaller animals including lots of otters and bald eagles. We were disappointed by the lack of larger animals (moose, bears, whales).
If we were to take the cruise again, we would have taken the Evening Whale Quest ($170, now free, Juneau). We also would have taken the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest (see below, Sitka) and maybe skipped the Ocean Raft adventure (Sitka).
If cost were no object, the $1100/room upgrade to a room with a balcony would have been marginally worthwhile. The $550/person Bear Viewing on Price of Wales (Ketchikan) would have been very nice. We might have extended the land portion of the tour to see more large animals, possibly with a visit to Denali National Park (reviews from other passengers were mixed).
The atmosphere abort ship is casual with no formal dinners or theme nights. For dinner, they request men to wear slacks and a collared shirt. Unlike Wind Star, visits to the bridge or galley are very limited with tours only available to those who know to ask for them early in the cruise. The average passenger is about 50 years old and most are married couples ranging in age from 30 to 75. I did not meet any passengers who were traveling alone.
During our trip it was 50-70 degrees most days and you needed to be prepared for the cold and rain. Most tours provided heavy duty waterproof clothing, but I strongly recommend you bring your own waterproof jacket and pants (Marmot or similar, $180) and water resistant gloves (Seirus Hyperlite All Weather gloves, $33) and water proof hiking shoes ($110).
This is an American boat serving English speaking passengers. All transactions are in US dollars, no language other than English is spoken, and the food served is typical for a 3 star (of 4) American restaurant. Most of the passengers came from the USA/Canada, a few came from Australia and Europe and even fewer came from other countries.
The towns tend to be small and do not have a lot to offer other than souvenir shops . The natural beauty of Alaska is what you are here to see. A typical day includes 1/2 to a full day in port. There are many tours provided by the boat usually taking up most of the morning or afternoon. Most tours return in time for lunch, but a few tours extend into the afternoon and include lunch. The boat leaves port between 4 and 11 pm to allow enough time to reach the next port. Dinner is served between 6:30 and 9 pm. Dinner can extend past 10 pm. Although there is a 45 minutes show at 9:30 pm (B-), there is not a lot of entertainment. Most passengers returned to their cabins by 10:30 pm with few passengers spending the evening dancing or staying up late despite the free liquor (this is not a party boat).
Room – (A) most cabins are identical. The Window and Deluxe suites are very large (301 sq ft), contain a small "king" size bed (or 2 singles), a built in dresser, a walk in closet, a nice marble bathroom with shower and tub and a sitting area with a couch, chair and TV. A small refrigerator containing water, soft drinks, beer (all included) is provided. A balcony ($1,100 upgrade) might be worthwhile for some. We could not see spending $5,000 more for a room with a butler or $10,000+ more to upgrade to a larger suite.
Food – (A) buffet breakfast is served in La Veranda (on deck 10). There was a nice variety with an omelet station and very good quality fresh baked goods including croissants that were much better than on Disney or Wind Star ships. Eggs, pancakes, etc can be ordered from the staff if you do not see what you want at the Buffet. Lunch was served buffet style in La Veranda and the quality of the food was very good. Sit down service is available in the Compass Rose Restaurant (Deck 5) for breakfast or lunch. Dinner was served in the Compass Rose and was usually very good to excellent (like a 3 star (of 4) restaurant in Chicago). The dinner cuisine was modern American with up to 4 courses. You are allowed to book dinner for one night at the steak restaurant (Prime 7, Deck 10) where the service and food were excellent. The Italian restaurant (Sette Mari at La Veranda, Deck 10) was very good and worth visiting one evening. Desserts were at times a bit weak and the appetizers served before dinners were only fair. There are always fresh baked cookies at the bar on deck 6, but these were often over baked. The meat is of good quality and from the USA with fresh salmon delivered at port each day.
Service – (A-) was almost always excellent and the crew tries hard to please you despite the fact that tips are already included. Soft drink orders and refills were sometime slow.
Tours – (A-) Many tours were offered at each port. Unlike Wind Star, there was no daily lecture to clearly describe the tour options for the next day or any expert tour guide to answer your questions. An on-board TV channel was provided, but it was not as informative as a live lecture. Many tours sell out well in advance, so book early and often (it's free). The on-board tour personnel were not always able to answer detailed questions about the tours. Regent phone support in the USA was mostly good, but they did not know much about the tour packages. The tours are all provided by local contractors.
Here is a list of the attractions we explored (A=highlight not to miss, B=very nice, C=average):
Anchorage (before cruise) – City (B). Stayed for 2 days at the Captain Cook Hotel (B) which was provided by Regent (1 day free, 1 day $500/room/night -- see above). The city is not very big and you can easily walk the downtown area. One extra day is more than enough to see the highlights. The Anchorage Museum (A-) features permanent exhibits on Alaska art, history, science and Alaska Native culture and should not be missed. The best place to shop for Native American art is ANMC Craft Shop (A) run by Auxiliary volunteers at the Alaska Native Medical Center ($20 cab ride from downtown). The Craft Shop consigns wares directly from Alaska Native artists and craftspeople and receives a 10-20% commission on each item sold. It is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday (cash only). The prices are 1/3 to 1/2 what you will pay elsewhere and you can be sure the items are genuine. One extra day in Anchorage is more than enough with few other attractions in the city worth your time. For dinner, our best meal was at Orso (B+). I would skip the Glacier Brewhouse (C).
Sitka – town (B-). The Ocean Raft adventure (B) gets you up close to smaller animals (otters, birds, etc) and the coast of offshore islands. It was a very bumpy ride with both my son and I becoming sea sick. By the time we recovered, we missed the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest (A- per other passengers) where there were a few larger animals seen. You can do both, but after the Ocean Raft stay in town and have lunch and wait for the Sea Otter Quest to pick you up in town and bring you back to the boat at the end of the tour.
Cruise Tracy Arm (B) - as the Navigator approaches Juneau, the ship will enter Tracy Arm fjord and slowly cruise to a waterfall, turn around and head to Juneau arriving at 1 pm. The Tracy Arm cruise (A, $149) is well worth the extra expense. About 150 passengers leave the Navigator and board a catamaran that pulls alongside around 7:30 AM. The catamaran then speeds you to the Sawyer Glacier where you have spectacular views of the huge glacier calving from about 1-2 mile away (the passengers on the Navigator do not see this). The catamaran then stops at the waterfall and speeds you back to Juneau arriving at about the same time as the Navigator. A box lunch is provided on-board.
Juneau - (town C). The tours from Juneau are the best on the trip and this is best port to take a helicopter ride to a glacier. We chose to book with Coastal Helicopters (907-789-5600) directly rather than use the helicopter operator chosen by Regent. As soon as we arrived in Juneau, we hopped into a cab ($25) for a ride to the airport. Coastal takes you to Herbert glacier which is less busy (we were the only ones there) than the Mendenhall glacier where the boat's operator goes. The helicopter ride and 20 minute walk on the Glacier which was surrounded by high rock cliffs was the best part of our trip (A+). Booking directly with Coastal cost $210 per person with a free ride back to the boat. It would have cost $285 each if we had booked through the ship. Regent also would not have allowed us to book a second (late) afternoon tour due to their rules (see above). I would skip the dog sled rides associated with some of the helicopter tours due to the high cost.
Late that afternoon, we went on the Mendenhall Glacier Canoe Adventure (A-) where you paddle a 16 person canoe within 1/4 mile of Mendenhall glacier. You get closer to the glacier than the ones the boat visits, but the view is not as spectacular as Sawyer or Hubbard Glaciers. Most passengers will need to paddle and you should be reasonably fit. My mother and son went for the ride and did not paddle.
The Evening Whale Quest ($170, now free) is probably the better choice and might have allowed us to see those large animals we missed. Its later departure would have given us enough time to use the boat's helicopter operator if we wanted, but Coastal is still cheaper and maybe better option.
Skagway (town B). You only have 6 hours here and we took the White Pass Scenic Railroad (B+) which you board at the boat dock. The trip provided by the boat takes you on a winding ride just over the Canadian border, then back to the town. Other longer trips (for which were not in town long enough) go further into Canada and provide a bus ride back to the dock. This is not the best port for helicopter rides and I am not sure any of the other tour choices offered at this port would have been better.
Ketchikan (town B). You only have 4.5 hours here. We took the Tongass Rainforest Expedition (B) which began with a wet 30 minute boat ride over to an island in the Tongass National Forest. On the island, you hike up and down a steep trail in the rainforest (you do not have to be very fit). Although the scenery is very nice, there are few animals. My mother (less mobile) went on the Cruise George Inlet and Crab feast (B+) and enjoyed it. If cost is no object, the Bear Viewing on Price of Wales ($550/person) sounded like the best tour. During our visit, the weather was too foggy for the Bear tour to depart. Those unlucky enough to have booked it had few substitute tours from which to choose.
Cruising the inner passage (B) - is very nice, but not a highlight of the trip. Regent tried to provide a number of activities, but the limited choices are one of the trade-offs of a smaller boat.
Vancouver (city A) - we took the bus from the dock to the airport. Vancouver is a beautiful city which we have visited before. If you have never been to Vancouver, you should explore the city for a few days.