Review of Cruise aboard MS Seven Seas Voyager November 2003
My wife and I have previously cruised with Holland America (Maasdam & Veendam), Celebrity ( Mercury) and Cunard (QE2). In March of 2003 we were invited on a pre-inaugural cruise on the brand new Radisson Seven Seas Voyager. We were so impressed that we booked for a one week Western Caribbean cruise in November 2003. We flew to Florida with Virgin, using their premium economy service, 5 days before our cruise and spent a blissful few days at the Hilton Beach resort on Marco Island.
EMBARKATION On Sunday the 23rd we drove from Naples to Fort Lauderdale arriving at check-in to find long queues. The link between the laptop check-in computers and the ship was faulty and the signal repeatedly failed, preventing staff from checking passengers in. Although there appeared to be large numbers of RSSC people behind the check-in desks staring at the computers, nobody actually appeared to be able to resolve the problem. Arriving passengers, including ourselves, soon became annoyed at the lack of information, lack of seating, and most of all the lack of anybody willing to explain what was happening! There seemed to be no manual back-up in place in case of just such a crisis. Not what you expect from a 6 star ship! After about an hour of waiting, the link was re-established and we were checked in.
THE CABIN We were able to board at around 3.30 and were greeted in the lobby with smiles and a glass of Champagne. We were shown to our cabin on deck 7, where we found our steward and stewardess waiting to greet us. The cabin (suite 743) was beautiful, decorated in muted shades of taupe, beige, mushroom and cream. The sitting area was furnished with a large settee and 2 armchairs, a table that converted into a dining table and sliding doors led to a balcony. This was furnished with 2 chairs and a table. The sitting area was also furnished with a television and DVD player, a writing desk, bookshelves and a fridge, which, at our choice, was stocked with 2 bottles of premium liquor and soft drinks which were replaced daily. Complimentary Champagne, fruit and flowers awaited our arrival. On the in-board side of the room, there was very comfortable queen sized bed, with bedside tables and a built in dressing table. Adjoining this was a good sized walk-in closet, and an excellent marble bathroom with a separate shower and tub and wash basins. The whole cabin had a very spacious feel. The fitments were high quality and there were quite sophisticated lighting options. The wide range of bathroom requisites were from the very excellent Judith Jackson range. We were so impressed with the soaps that we bought quite a large supply from the spa! Towels and towelling robes were plentiful and replaced frequently. The total size of the suite was about 300 sq ft. If one had a criticism, and it’s a minor one, more light was needed in the bathroom.
Seven Seas Voyager, whilst not the prettiest ship from the exterior is beautiful inside. Understated and elegant, there are no jarring colours and the ambiance is restful and sophisticated. The public rooms are intimate and inviting and the restaurants never feel crowded. The overwhelming impression is one of space! With a passenger load of about 650 for this cruise (the ship only takes 700 when full), the ship never seemed crowded, and one doesn’t queue for anything. A good example of this was the lido area. This and the sun deck around the pool seemed to cope with the passenger load easily. For most of our cruise the weather was good so we spent quite a lot of our time by the pool. The smiling stewards were always so willing to move sunbeds where you wanted them, provide limitless supplies of towels and even brought round chilled flannels and complimentary soft drinks unbidden, as well as providing a full bar service. We tended to prefer our chairs on the upper promenade deck overlooking the pool area where we could enjoy the breezes, as well as watch what was going on. The two-deck theatre was very comfortable and well laid out with excellent sight lines and acoustics. There was an assortment of bars and lounges which, again, never seemed to be crowded, but were welcoming and comfortable. The shop served most needs but this was the only area in which we thought the service questionable and a little supercilious. Maybe they are run by concessionaries? Not being smokers, we are sensitive to cigarette smoke, but apart from the cigar room, we were not bothered in any way. All the restaurants are non-smoking.
THE FOOD When we were aboard in March during the pre-inaugural voyage we were fairly impressed by the food, but over the first season things had improved enormously. There was a choice of four restaurants, two of which, Signatures and Latitudes, required reservations. Luncheon was served in La Verandah and there was a daily grill on deck by the pool. Teak tables and chairs and parasols were available in the sun for those who wished to dine alfresco. Each morning, breakfast was served in the main Compass Rose restaurant and La Verandah, however we always breakfasted in our cabin. Obviously, the room service choice is more limited than the main restaurants, nevertheless, we found that our breakfasts were beautifully and accurately presented and always piping hot. The table was set up with white linen and the contents of the tray were properly laid out, as opposed to other lines where the tray is just left on the table.
Compass Rose The main dining room, the Compass Rose, was first class. We were always able to obtain a table for two, without ever being as asked if we wished to join other people, even when the restaurant was at its busiest. (We heartily dislike sharing, and would not book a ship unless we could be guaranteed a table for two). The dinner menu in the Compass Rose consisted of a choice of hors d'oeuvres, soup, fish, pasta, salad, entrée and dessert. Alternatively there was a chef’s degustation menu. If you found it impossible to choose…which we often did…the waiters could not have been more accommodating. It was possible to change between the menu options and the choice was wide enough for most palates. The quality of the food and service was world class. We did not have one course, which was anything other than top notch. Portions were nouvelle cuisine size, which, given the complexity and richness of some of some of the dishes, was more than enough for our palates. There was a choice of complementary house wines to accompany the meal, and these were most liberally poured. Being European we find some Californian wines too scented for our taste, and upon request, a good quality French or Italian wine was always available. It seemed that on some evenings, the wine waiters went out of their way to tempt us with ever better wines! Service was punctilious while remaining friendly and polite, you really felt that the dining room personnel cared personally whether you were enjoying your meal. The dress code was published in the daily information sheet but generally and somewhat unusually, we noticed that people dressed up rather than down.
Signatures: This was the French restaurant run by the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Paris. Having lived in France, I have been lucky enough to have eaten at quite a number of the top-rated restaurants in France and Europe. The meal we had in Signatures ranks up there with the best of them. It is top class French cuisine. We did notice, however, that not all the American guests appreciated either the European flavours and presentation or the portion sizes! We do hope that Radisson does not bow to any pressure to ‘Americanize’ this restaurant. It is quite simply the best food that we have ever had at sea and it beats the much-vaunted Queens Grill on the QE2 into a poor second. It is always busy and it is worth making a reservation as soon as you have boarded the ship as it books up fast. In order to be fair, each couple is allowed one reservation per 7 days to ensure that everybody gets an opportunity to eat there. The Maitre D’ and the waiting staff were particularly charming and helpful and more importantly, informed, and with a degree of warmth not found in France! This was an outstanding culinary experience.
Latitudes: This was the other reservation-required restaurant, which served American cuisine. There was one sitting in which diners were invited to table at 7.30pm. The style of the restaurant was such that the kitchen is open and one can watch the chefs prepare the food. We did not eat here, but will undoubtedly try it on a future voyage.
La Verandah This was a high quality buffet-style restaurant at breakfast and lunch which became a Mediterranean bistro in the evening. We tended to lunch there on most days and were delighted with the selection, which always included various hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and seafood, with a fish dish, a hot dish of the day and pasta dish – freshly cooked to order. Again waiters carried your tray if required and would go out to the deck barbecue for you if that was your preference. At night, the atmosphere was much more sophisticated, with subdued lighting, full waiter service (you could choose you own hors d'oeuvres if required) and a menu with a wide range of Mediterranean dishes. We ate there on one evening and were delighted. The dress code for this venue was country club casual. From this restaurant double doors opened to an open air after deck, which was set out with high quality teak furniture. One can hardly imagine a more romantic setting for dinner. All the tables both in and outdoors were properly laid with linen napery and good quality glass and silverware. As in every facet of this ship the staff was exemplary. If one had had a long day ashore or could not be bothered to dress, the full Compass Rose menu was also available served course by course in one’s suite. We didn’t try this as we were only on a short cruise, however on a longer cruise, this may well be a tempting alternative.
THE ENTERTAINMENT My wife is a professional Theatre Director and we have often been critical of the entertainment aboard previous cruises. The Voyager was like the curate’s egg – good in parts. Two full scale ‘production shows’ were staged during our cruise by the Peter Terhune Company. One, a brave attempt at a more classical programme, opera for the masses, and the second a standard song and dance show. Unfortunately both used pre-recorded ‘clic’ tracks for the orchestral backing. The singers sing live but somehow the relationship between the band and the singer is lost and the show suffers as a result. Come on Radisson, think of all the excellent unemployed musicians there are simply gasping for a job. There is no substitute for ‘live’ music. It raises the quality of performance from mundane to sublime! Provide something different, something classy…to match the classiness elsewhere on board. The shows were attended by only about 200 on each evening so maybe there is a lesson for RSSC to learn here. Other ships in the deluxe class have done away with this type of show and introduced high quality cabaret acts. We did not attend the entertainment on the evenings other than the formal show but anecdotal evidence was that many of our fellow passengers were disappointed, so if this suggestion were to be followed, quality would have to improve.
THE PORTS We have been on the Western Caribbean circuit on two previous occasions so we regarded the ship as more of a destination than the ports. We did not go ashore in Progresso as we have visited the stunning ruins at Chichen Itza on a previous cruise. It was quite noticeable that many passengers stayed aboard and enjoyed the facilities of the ship. We spent a morning in Cozumel and we found that the ‘hassling’ by locals has increased here. There were 5 large cruise ships in port that day so I suppose that it is inevitable that the Mexican charm of the town will be diluted by 5000 or so passengers wandering about. Georgetown Grand Cayman was a charming as ever, but our real favourite was Key West were the ship docked at sunset next to Mallory Square and spent all night and next day in port. Whilst parts of the town are tacky, we like Key West and love wandering about this most un-American town. The weather here, whilst sunny was very windy and chilly. However that did not stop us, and many of our fellow Voyagers from having a great time.
DISEMBARKATION We breakfasted in our suite and were ashore by 9am with no hassles. Our luggage was waiting and there were plenty of porters and taxis. Gratuities were included in the cruise fare, so there was none of the last night friendliness from staff who have ignored you during the whole of the cruise only to become your best buddy on the last night of the voyage! With only 650 passengers to process the whole process could not have been easier.
CONCLUSION Seven Seas Voyager exceeded our expectations on many levels. The ship is elegant, understated and delivers a cruise that meets even the most demanding passengers’ requirements. It is not a ‘fun’ ship where the ‘party animal’ reigns supreme and is organized from morning till night. Neither is it ‘God’s waiting room’ where all the passengers are in bed by 9.30! It delivers a highly personalized, top-notch product, which thoroughly deserves the accolades it has received. Sort out the entertainment, and it might just be perfection!