Uncertain as to how we would react to cruising, we chose a short (7-night) cruise to places we had visited many times previously. The exceptions were Grand Turk and Princess Cay, about which more later. Not to leave anyone in suspense, while we perceive some (inevitable) paradoxes in the cruise experience, we enjoyed our voyage and look forward to more cruises in our future.
Our boarding experience was swift and pleasant. Our first sight of the cabin banished our principal anxiety: it was surprisingly large and thoroughly welcoming. The verandaha ballyhooed 50 square feet was great for standing on to observe waves and port scenes, but too small for anything else.
We both liked the smallish size of the ship, the inherent intimacy. But we also felt that on a longer cruise, the choice of only two restaurants might be too limiting. Food and service are critical to a satisfying cruise, and particularly on a self-described luxury cruise. We always ate late, never entering Compass Rose or Portofino, the optional Italian restaurant, earlier than 8:00pm. Thus we were always offered the chance to join other passengers already seated. We eagerly accepted these assignments, as we thought that meeting our fellow cruisers across a dining table would be the easiest way to make on-board friends.
There is a powerful temptation to fall back on hyperbole when writing about personal travel experiences. One's hotel was "superb." The food at a restaurant in Dubrovnik was "extraordinary." The guide in Buenos Aires was "non pareil." To be clear, we enjoyed our Navigator experience, but the following ratings are, I think, mercilessly accurate.
The food. Bountiful, always at least good, sometimes very good. You cannot prepare meals for 450 people, offering them a dozen or more choices, and rival the cuisine at any Michelin-starred restaurant. That said, a curry one night was excellent. Fish was always very good. Corned beef hash in the morning was perfect. Hot dogs (in particular) from the pool grill were excellent. A Mexican fiesta from the same source at lunch was great. (Though for my palate, Corona is the least singular of all of Mexico's cervesas.) We thought service was never less than good, with frequent rises to refreshingly concerned.
One lapse should be noted. If you plan to bring a Waterpik or other personal dental equipment have a care. In advance of the cruise, the Regent service desk assured us that outlets were available in the bathroom for 110volt (U.S.) appliances as well as shavers. Not so. On board, we asked for an extension cord to plug into the dressing table outlet which normally serves the 110volt hair dryer. After some consternation, this was furnished. The Waterpik whirred into life momentarily, and then fried. Could I be the only Regent passenger to travel with a Waterpik?
To reiterate, cabin stewardess, bartenders, waiters and dining room staff were uniformly agreeable, almost universally in a way that suggests attitude coming from the heart, as well as from training.
The ports. Our surprises were Grand Turk and Princess Cays. Our first trip to GT, though we had been to Provo a half-dozen times over the years. The cruise terminal is Disneyesque, and (thankfully) most passengers stay there. An enormous P&O vessel that dwarfed our trim little vessel was tied up across the pier, and disgorged more than 3,000 Brits at the same time as we disembarked. We rented a golf cart and puttered about the island, which is still recovering from hurricane Ike and, it appears, from the fraudulent activities of recently displaced government.
Princess Cays, which we visited as our last port of call because of weather, loomed as another re worse Grand Turk. After all, one could reasonably expect the marketing gurus at a cruise line to trade island ambiance for an American Idol image of the Bahamas. Not so. Our 400+ passengers were easily accepted among the carefully planted palms. We delighted in feeding the frenzied fish the stale bread that was provided. And the barbecue was low key and satisfying, though Corona was (alas) the only beer available. So, kudos to Regent (or whomever) for their restraint in keeping Princess Cay more or less akin to its natural character. Though note that the islet can accept as many as 3500 passengers at once, and what it feels like submerged beneath that wave of sun-burning humanity is anyone's guess.
So, where next? We would like to try a bigger ship on a longer cruise. Perhaps Regent Voyager? I think we would like a London to London cruise that touched at the Orkneys, Skye and other places a bit difficult to reach.
A question that more experienced cruisers virtually all of you might be able to answer. Why do per diem costs increase as the duration of a cruise increases? That seems counter intuitive to the way most things, travel included, tend to work.