We flew to Anchorage several days before our cruise and thoroughly enjoyed our time spent in Anchorage and in Seward. The drive to Seward was one of the most beautiful drives we've ever taken. Seward is a delightful, quirky little town in a gorgeous setting.
Embarkation was extremely fast and smooth. The champagne was a nice touch, but it was awkward to deal with a glass, documents, and hand luggage in the theater for check in. Perhaps the champagne could have been served in another venue.
After lunch in La Verandah, we found our suite and settled in. We found the suite to be comfortable.We were neither offered nor did we request a room liquor set up. Katherine was our outstanding stewardess.
Our group of friends had more than one suite so we were able to prebook reservations for more than one night in each of the specialty restaurants. We ate in Signatures on our first evening. Other than an indifferent, rude waiter, the meal was first rate. It was a fabulous meal in terms of preparation, presentation, and the wines. Our assistant waiter, Aurelia, was delightful and efficient. Later in the cruise we eagerly anticipated our second visit to Signatures only to have a great disappointment. We ordered essentially the same meals, but the food was a pale comparison to the first evening. It wasn't poor. It just wasn't up to the standards of the first evening, and it wasn't even as good as food in Compass Rose. We were thoroughly confused and still can't understand what happened. Guests at the next table were so unhappy with their lamb that they returned it. Different chef???? We concluded that we had our best and worst meals at Signatures.
The food in Compass Rose was consistently well prepared in the evening. The sommelier staff was very good and attentive. Marienella and her staff are to be commended. The remainder of the wait staff was fairly efficient and ranged from very good to indifferent. The remainder of my comments will be made in the context of our previous cruises. It is extremely difficult to avoid making comparisons with previous luxury cruises. We have only sailed with Crystal in the past. We chose Regent because Crystal did not have an Alaskan cruise. Crystal is known for its great entertainment, both during the day on sea days and on all evenings. We missed the wonderful array of lectures and programs available on Crystal during the sea days. Our Regent cruise had a husband/wife team who provided commentary regarding destinations. However, the commentary was delivered over speakers on open decks and on the television. The delivery was flat and monotonous. It had very long pauses and generally was difficult to listen to. Just having them physically present would have improved the experience. They weren't even visible on the television. We just heard their voices. Other than these destination lecturers, there was one computer class, and the "art lectures" presented by the salesman onboard.
Evening entertainment was good, although not up to Crystal's high standards with mature vocalists and dancers and beautiful sets and costumes. A young energetic troupe of singers and dancers on the Mariner presented several enjoyable shows. We appreciated their youthful talent, and they were backed up by a very good group of instrumentalists. The International Ballroom Champions joined the ensemble a couple of nights. This duo was remarkable and a joy to watch.
Lounges were "dead" in the evenings. Except for crew, we were sometimes the only guests in a lounge. We enjoyed the lounge pianists several evenings while having after dinner drinks, but the service in lounges was extremely poor. A waiter or waitress usually, but not always, came to take a drink order when one arrived. However, if one wanted a second drink, there were two alternatives: 1. try to catch the eye of a waiter and wave them over or 2. walk to the bar and order it yourself. Regent may be All-Inclusive, but they make it difficult to get more than one drink!!
Tea time was just as lacking in service. Urns and stacks of cups were placed so that one was encouraged to do a self serve tea. Service was hard to get. The array of sandwiches and sweets was about half of what is offered on Crystal, and that was totally self service. The chocolate tea on Regent fared poorly when compared to the lovely chocolate tea Crystal provides, and the room in which it was held was far too small to accommodate the large crowd it attracted. It was a bit of a zoo, especially with lots of children crowding around the table. In contrast to Crystal, no live music was provided at teas.
The lunch buffets were also a far cry from the bountiful, beautifully presented buffets on Crystal. One previous reviewer compared the Regent lunch buffets to school cafeteria food. While I wouldn't go that far, it is fair to say that the quantity and quality was inferior to the Crystal buffets, and La Verandah has decent food but neither the quantity nor quality of the Crystal Lido Cafe. The service at buffets and La Verandah was far worse. It was generally lacking. The Maitre D of La Verandah was an unhappy looking man who presided over a staff that rarely stepped forward to offer anything other than a beverage upon arrival at a table. A young man named Jack was the happy exception. He always had a smile on his face and stood ready to provide service.
Service is an integral component of luxury cruising. Step aboard a Crystal ship, and the warmth of the crew abounds. They appear happy to provide service. The Crystal crews make each guest feel welcome, and they give the appearance of taking great joy in making sure each guest has everything he/she needs at all times. It is a group effort, and it is a happy ship. One is called by name, and one's preference such a fondness for mango is noted. Finish your mango, and a waiter appears asking if you'd like another. Tell him one piece, and he's likely to appear with two pieces.
Crystal service is not only exceptional, but the warmth and cheer of the crew creates a group dynamic that encourages camaraderie among crew and guests. Having a set dining time and an assigned table allows Crystal guests to form strong bonds with other passengers as well as the wait staff.
I mention the Crystal "culture" tin this review because it was absent on Regent. With few exceptions such as Jack and Lingyan, The Regent crew didn't seem happy, and there was a general lack of motivation. In addition, no one ever called us by name, and rarely did anyone serve us more than once so that we formed no bonds with the crew. Similarly, we found that Regent guests had fewer opportunities to meet and make friends. Cocktail parties were held in the theater. The configuration of the seats made mingling difficult. Sitting at a different table in the dining room each evening doesn't encourage friendship formation. The Regent dynamic on our cruise lacked the warmth and camaraderie we have always experienced on Crystal. It was the biggest factor in our evaluation of our cruise. Our family group is split on whether we would sail Regent again. Some say yes, and others say no. At mass market prices, poor and indifferent service might be expected, but we were paying luxury fares.
Finally, we were on a "Kids Sail Free" cruise. It became a "Kids Sail Free" cruise after we paid our deposit. While the children were generally well behaved, their large numbers affected the cruise experience. After I observed one teen age boy pick up, inspect, and put back four different rolls on a buffet, I avoided anything that might be handled in such a way. The chocolate tea was overrun with children who were "playing" with the food. One family had seven children with them. I had read that only one "free" child is permitted per stateroom, but some guests reported having three children in an adjoining stateroom. We fortunately had adults for neighbors, but lots of children onboard puts a strain on the wait staff.
In summary, we enjoyed the cruise and the lovely ports. We are a group that will have a good time regardless of the situation. However, our Regent experience left us feeling we didn't quite experience a luxury line.