I suspect there will always be the Regent vs. Crystal crowd so we'll join the fray. We have sailed Crystal three times but heard such good things about the Regent series that we decided to give it a try. We tried this Caribbean cruise for its themed cruse. Here are our impressions.
Crew: aboard Crystal the crew worked to get your name from the very first day, here aboard the Mariner it was barely a nod in the passageway. There were exceptions, of course, three staff members greeted us by name every time, Stefan, a sommelier, Elmer a main dining room waiter and Marie our room stewardess (who was terrific). But by and large neither the officers, nor crew, went out of their way to know who we were. It was more of a feeling of a hotel stay vs. comfortable cruise ship.
There was virtually no welcome for first timers. They do take care of multi-cruisers, with meetings, free internet and the like; first timers with Regent are apparently left on their own to fend for themselves.
Service: was spotty at best, we have numerous incidents but here are two in just the first two days: I went to the grill on the pool deck and asked for a grilled cheese sandwich. I was told "it was not on the menu" and handed a menu to choose something else. Rather than do that I went into the topside restaurant and asked the same thing and was told it would be a "special selection" and would take 45 minutes. I said OK, and waited. It was hardly what I would call a grilled cheese sandwich, but that wasn't the point, on Crystal they would have bent over backwards to prepare such a thing. By the by, the remark it is a "special selection" and would take 45 minutes must be the party line when you ask for something out of their comfort zone; we'd heard the same line at least four times during our 11 days.
The second incident on our second day was at tea in the forward lounge; I asked the server for honey and was pointed to the table with pastries and told it was there. My wife and I looked at each other rather dumbfounded, and I got up to get it.
We had numerous incidents like this for 11 days, taken individually they don't sound like much, but taken as a whole, it gave us a good impression of what the ship philosophy was. It's not the big things, it's the many little things that make for a positive experience. Everyone makes mistakes, but this behavior was so consistent throughout our cruise it had to be policy.
Feedback: interesting how they could turn a good idea into a bad one. We were asked on the third day to provide feedback on how they could improve service or any needs we may have. We dutifully filled it out with a few comments such as the ones above and dropped it off at the front desk. We never heard anything back from anyone. Note to Regent, it is better just to not do it, rather than ask, and not do it. No sense in filling out the end-of-cruise form. But we did it anyway and included my e-mail address if they needed specifics, I haven't heard a thing.
Food: generally good, a few over done entrees, but the Asian Restaurant, Latitudes, was outstanding as was the topside LaVeranda for dinner. The opening dining is a grand idea and we enjoyed the idea of selecting who we would dine with. However, in operation, this is one of the reasons I suspect we never connected with any of the servers, they changed every night. So it's a dual edge sword. Signatures, the Cordon Bleu inspired restaurant did not go well. Although the kitchen put out some good fare, the wait staff generally sabotaged the effort. I go so tired of asking for everything, I let my empty water glass sit waiting for a refill, and timed it . . . 17 minutes. This is 5-star?
Ports of Call: The first stop was a very scary premonition of what was to come, they stopped at Princess Cay, a private beach for the Princess Line and exactly what one would expect, a sea of thousands of chaise lounges, a few tacky small tourist shops and the horror, a lunch that was as covered with flies like I have never seen in any third world country. We obviously elected not to eat there and went back to the ship. Another fuel saving stop was St John's, Antigua, a pitiful place on a good day, but this was Sunday and everything was closed except the usual hawking of cab drivers. The last two stops of the cruise were each only about 4 hours, why bother? Horrible scheduling.
Themed Cruise: This was one of our biggest disappointments. This cruise was promoted as a Cordon Bleu (food and wine) themed trip. As members of the Chaine des Rotissuers and Mondiale du Vin, we were excited about the prospects of hearing trusted chefs and sommeliers discuss cooking, pairing and dining. I even called Regent headquarters to get this clarified. I asked why the mini-cooking course being offered (to only 20 out of 700 passengers) for $450 was so expensive and was told it included a hat, apron and book (oh boy . . .). We didn't need any of that, but I specifically asked if there were other talks and discussions and was told yes. There was but one wine tasting course for 45 minutes at 10:45am on the third day, and one chef demo for an hour on the 10th day, that was it. For anyone thinking about a themed cruise with Regent, you'd better get it clearer than we did.
A final note, we were used to receiving points of information at each port of call at least the evening before the stop, delivered to the room. With Regent this is not so, at least not with us. We had to go down to the travel desk and pick up poorly photocopied sheets of tips and highlights that morning. As a result we missed many interesting points of interest we would have liked to have seen. Although this may be the standard procedure at Regent, we were never given an orientation, so our expectations were of our past experiences with Crystal. Maybe partly our fault for such high expectations.
All in all, a disappointment. Regent's no tipping policy and free alcohol was truly a nice idea, but the service and overall experience was not worth it. Unfortunately, Regent will not be on our list to try again.