Pre-Cruise: We flew Continental Airlines out of Seattle to Houston and on to Ft. Lauderdale. The week prior to the trip, I noticed price decreases in both hotel and air. We cancelled and rebooked both at a net savings of $800.00. We took a taxi to Embassy Suites at a cost of approx. $14.00 plus tip. The vans at the airport will gladly take you to Embassy Suites for $40.00, so, it is a good idea to take a taxi.
Arriving too late to visit Waxy O'Connor's across the street, we decided to call it a day. Embassy Suites is in a great location and includes a cocktail hour and breakfast. Our short stay was interrupted in the middle of the night by an emergency evacuation being piped through the speakers of the hotel. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. Shuttles to the port are no longer free. The shuttles are $7.00/person which is about the same as a taxi.
Embarkation: As usual, embarkation at noon was very organized and went smoothly. Within a ½ hour, we were sipping wine in Portofino.
The Ship: The Navigator is a lovely ship and remains in good physical condition. Carpets are beginning to wear in a few places, however, they are not nearly as worn as the carpeting on the Voyager or Mariner prior to dry dock. The ship is being maintained well and should continue looking great until it goes into dry dock in April, 2010 for 22 days.
There were two electrician's on board from Italy (where the ship was originally retrofitted) attempting to determine the origin of the ongoing electrical problem. They had one planned power outage that lasted 15 minutes. When the power resumed, the "brown water" appeared in our suite for a short time. Apparently, the resumption of power stirred up the sediment in the water tanks. We did not learn if the problem has been fixed, or, if it is related to the air conditioning issue. We only heard one couple mention that the air conditioning in their suite was problematic.
The vibration was quite apparent on this cruise (there was no vibration two years ago). The seas were quite choppy for a day and a half leaving and returning to Ft. Lauderdale. The movement of the ship was more noticeable on upper decks. The vibration was very noticeable anywhere aft.
The Suite: We were celebrating my DH's birthday and decided to splurge on a Navigator Suite (1125 - formerly the Beauty Salon). It is the only Navigator suite that is not under the pool on deck 9. It is unique and quite wonderful. The bathroom is double size with a larger shower and Jacuzzi tub. It has a full size sofa and side chair in the living room and a dining table with 4 chairs. The bedroom is small with a window (the sliding glass doors leading to the balcony are off of the dining room). There are over 40 drawers in the suite you could stay there indefinitely. I highly recommend it for special occasions.
Food: This is one area that we had some difficulty with. It is our opinion that the quality of the food as well as the offerings have dropped a level or two. For instance, on the last evening, the vegetarian entrEe offering was a "Vegetable Burrito".
The shrinking menu in Compass Rose includes the sandwich choices at lunch. On the Voyager 4 months ago, we heard many people ordering from the list of meats, cheeses, breads and condiments. We missed having the opportunity of having a sandwich on board. In Compass Rose, Filet mignon does not appear on the menu daily as in the past. Wine is no longer poured by your server in Compass Rose. Some of the particularly wonderful meals we had: Swordfish Sole Lamb Madras served on rice Filet Mignon Beef Wellington Chateaubriand Osso Bucco (almost anything Italian is wonderful) Rack of Veal (served at lunch in Portofino) Whole Turkey (carved at lunch in Portofino)
Some particularly bad items in Compass Rose and Portofino Scallops Crab Claws Shrimp Sugar free trifle Vegetable Curry Sea Bass (would have been great if they removed the brown bottom layer)
Note: The ship received a bad load of Crab Claws and Shrimp - they dumped their whole supply and got a new batch at one of the ports.
Potato's on the plate were underdone (and less than hot) in CR. My husband ordered a "side" of mashed potato's and/or French fries. They came up hot and extremely good. Many items on the lunch buffet in Portofino were really on the cool side (exception: mashed potato's and anything prepared by Maura on the pasta station).
Some of the items on the buffet in Portofino looked pretty shabby - no presentation whatsoever. I'm specifically talking about items that are just about always on the buffet. For instance, smoked salmon - at times a the tray was only half full - you could see what had been put out "fresh" next to the day old fish that was looking a bit dry. The blue cheese crumbles on the salad bar coagulated after a few days and was finally replaced.
In general, especially on the lunch buffet, the food has to be hot - this is a serious weak point.
Side Note: This is the first Regent cruise we have taken where the pastry chef has no clue how to make scones (we love the scones - only allow ourselves a couple a week - we had ½ of 1 on this cruise).
Portofino for dinner I really cannot find any reason to go there. I did not hear anyone mention anything positive about this dining venue. Our one experience there was our first night. The antipasto buffet was good. My husband was served raw scallops which he returned. What he got back was tasteless. A couple of us had fish that was well prepared. The biggest problem in Portofino is Gianpaulo ("Paulo"). He was on board two years ago and was rude to passengers. When we dined there, he and his staff spend 90% of their time talking and laughing with their friends (returning passengers) and very little time serving other passengers.
Service: Some of the best and worst we have experienced on Regent. First, a lot of the staff is really exceptional. Some who stand out:
Franco - Dining Room Manager
Leo - serves in CR during dinner. His section is in the middle of the room (next to the large table that the Captain dines at some nights).
Maura - pasta station in Portofino. She is simply delightful.
Lea - serves tea in the morning in Navigator lounge. Always has a smile on her face. She bartended for a short time and experimented (with my approval) with a chocolate martini. We had a lot of fun and many laughs.
The bartender in Galileo is delightful (can't find his name)
Petru Christian - I believe he is head waiter in the evening. He isn't outstanding but did assist us when service in CR was so poor.
The service, as I have mentioned was so bad and so good. I would be remiss if I didn't recount the first three evenings in Compass Rose.
The first evening we waited 30 minutes for any service (no wine - nothing) The second evening we waited 20 minutes for any service (same as above) The third evening we waited 20 minutes - then my husband got up and spoke with Petru Christian). We got immediate service
A couple of nights later we accidentally found "Leo" - there was never a problem after that. He greeted us within moments. We had the same table for four every night. He saw us having breakfast one morning in Portofino - came by, gave me a hug and said to be sure to tell him if we needed anything It was truly a "Regent" six star experience!
Unless Compass Rose is completely full, wine is poured only by Sommeliers. This was part of the reason the service is so slow. They try very hard, but, have a difficult task. Wine in Portofino (lunch) - servers no longer come around asking to refill your glass. It is more difficult and takes longer to get wine.
The first two days on board, the entire staff seemed to only be speaking Italian to each other. This changed on day three and did not revert back. "Paulo" also seemed to mellow out a bit. IMO, he needs to learn some management and customer service skills. On the other hand, if you kiss up to him, he'll give you special service (while ignoring others).
The pool area - our friends spent a lot of time by the pool where they found the service pretty close to perfect. As soon as a glass was empty, someone was there to take their order. Cold towels were offered throughout the day. This area really has its act together.
If anyone has a Butler suite, here is the new Butler Menu:
A Greek Tribute (Feta cheese, pita bread, marinated black & green olives w/mint dip)
Prawns Perfection (Jumbo prawns with American cocktail sauce: NOTE: not really jumbo!
Italian Delight (Thinly sliced parma ham with seasonal melon and grissini)
Vegetarian Temptation: Crudites with blue cheese or ranch dip.
Classic Cheese Platter (Int'l. cheese selection with grapes and crackers)
Crab Composition (Crab claws with lemon and cocktail sauce) NOTE: inedible at times
Hot Canada Selection (Chef's selection) NOTE: generally the same thing you'll get downstairs)
Also a chocolate and fruit selection.
Tenders: I added this subject as there appears to be a big change in how passengers who are not booked on Regent excursions are "allowed" to get on the tenders. This is a small ship with fairly large tenders. The number of passengers taking excursions will increase dramatically when "free excursions" kick in. Still, people will book private excursions, want to spend the day ashore, or, have a tee time booked.
Everyone has to get a tender ticket in the showroom. I personally never saw the tender ticket as it appears that no one really gets one. They board Regent excursions on the tenders first. These passengers are apparently more important than the rest of us (in our case, we had private tours booked). One tender we took back to the ship actually blocked non-Regent excursion passengers from disembarking from the tender until the excursion folks got off.
Princess Cay was pretty but fairly non-eventful. The advertised "sumptuous" barbeque wasn't!
Puerto Rico was interesting. Apparently, the officials are known to delay the approval process for allowing passengers off of the ship for up to two hours. In our case, we waited an hour and a half. Once off the ship we headed to another pier to pick up a ferry that takes you within a $3/person taxi ride to the Bacardi distillery. The cost of the ferry was $1.00 round trip for 2 people (no, that wasn't a typo). We really enjoyed the tour of the Barcardi distillery. Regent did offer a city tour that included the distillery.
St. Thomas was one stop that I was hesitant about due to some negative publicity they have received recently. We booked our own excursion on St. Thomas. I enjoy the fact that many Caribbean islands have a set taxi fee. We knew that the 20 minute drive to our excursion would be $10.00/person. Our jet ski/snorkel adventure was truly amazing. They take a maximum of six people out at a time. We were the only two that day. The taxi ride was also a nice way to view the island.
St. Maarten was also lovely and, once again, we booked our own excursion. This time, our 20 minute drive to ranch was $6.00/person. We did a 2 hour horseback ride (again, only two of us with the guide) that ended up with the horses walking into the ocean and walking back and forth with children coming up to pet them. The go in to about mid-saddle (made up that word to describe the water level).
We just did not feel up to doing much on the day we docked in St. Barth. Walking around and looking at the overly expensive shops was about all we did. I hear that this is a wonderful island.
After avoiding Regent excursions for quite a while, we decided to give Regent a try in Antigua . There were 22 Regent passengers on the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour (zip lining). The tour was handled extremely well. It was great to see people of all ages (all adults) zipping from one tree to another, 300 or so feet above the ground. By the end (9 zip lines) everyone looked like a pro! I highly recommend this excursion. Note: very strenuous, lots of walking on rocks, climbing.
Tortola BVI was only a 5 hour stop. The shops were interesting. Do not have much else to say about it. There was not enough time to visit "The Baths" which is suppose to be a highlight of this island.
Our last port was Grand Turk. While quite commercial, the water and beach was lovely. We enjoyed a nice long walk along the shore.
Conclusion: Some people feel that Regent is inconsistent, or, that management in general is poor. I disagree. I have had consistent food and service on the Voyager as recently as 4 ½ months ago and expect it to be the same on our next cruise. It is up to the management on board the Navigator to insure that passengers receive six star service. Most importantly, food has to be prepared correctly and, at the correct temperature when served.
The General Manager told a passenger last week that everyone says bad things about the Navigator and he does not understand why. I believe I have explained why.
All cruise lines are cutting back in different ways due to the economy. We may not like it, yet, this is the reality. When I look at the luxury lines and question whether we should switch to another line I realize that each line is different and unique. Each has its own set of issues, pros and cons (too large, too small, no balconies, not all-inclusive, etc.). As I said at the beginning, we had a wonderful cruise and would do it again without hesitation.