Many praise the Regent Seven Seas Cruises line, including friends of ours whose views we trust. I doubt, however, that their reaction would be positive today. The Voyager is no longer what it was.
Perhaps a change in ownership in 2008 is a factor. The wilting economy might have something to do with it; there were 434 passengers on the cruise we took, while the ship is intended for 700. What we did not know while on the trip was that the company had just sustained a loss of nearly $20 million—all because the Voyager ran over a fishing line as it pulled out of Singapore harbor on March 18, embarking on what was intended to be a world cruise. That caused mechanical problems, reducing the ship's speed, resulting in canceling some of the scheduled dockingsthen being in drydock for a spell, with refunds being made to those who booked two cruises.
Whatever the cause, my wife, Jo-Ann, and I felt the effect on our 2009 Norwegian cruise.
Right from the first day, we realized that our on the Regent Voyager would not be of the quality commonly ascribed to the cruise line.
When we arrived on board, the rooms weren't ready yet, but a buffet lunch was available on Deck 11.
Danish sausage was being served, fresh off a grill at the poolside. I picked up a plate to hand to Jo-Ann. The plate was filthy. Well, OK, soot was probably being emitted from the grill; it was understandable. I put that plate to the side, and handed Jo-Ann the next one in the stack, which was clean. I picked up the next plate for myself. Filthy. The next one. Filthy. The next one was clean.
We took our sausage inside and sat down. The sausage was good—but, of course, anyone, with no schooling in culinary arts, should be able to heat a sausage on a grill. What we were to soon learn is that the food is just fine on this cruise line if you have something that is taken from a package, tin, or jar, requiring no involvement of anyone purporting to be a chef.
As we were finishing our sausage, a waiter asked if we wanted coffee. Jo-Ann said yes. I asked for hot chocolate. The waiter put down two cups. I looked inside mine. There was a dirty rim around the inside, about a third of the way down. I took a napkin, poured water on it, cleaned out the inside of the cup, the dark-brown sediment now transferred to the napkin. We drank our beverages and left.
When we finally entered the cabin, we encountered sweltering heat. That was, we found out, not a matter of an oversight. Information in printed material in the cabin indicated that guests would need to adjust the thermostat upon entry and that it would take about 30 minutes for temperature to be altered. In the course of the housekeeping staff preparing the rooms, the preparation could have included rendering the rooms habitable by turning on the air conditioning. Apparently, Regent didn't want to waste the kilowatts on empty rooms, opting to economize even though guests would start their journeys, once they got to the cabins, in discomfort.
Each guest gets to make a reservation on two nights during the cruise in the "Prime 7" restaurant, featuring what is supposedly prime meat. We made a reservation there for the first night. Lucky us.
"With the chef's compliments," there was triumphantly presented a mini-hamburger with a brown sauce. It had the flavor—what flavor there was—of boiled beef. It was in the nature of a patty of chopped pot roast. If you come to the lunchroom at our office in downtown Los Angeles and insert a $1 bill in our food machine, you can often procure a patty on a bun with a brown sauce which, after being heated in the microwave, is adequate to qualify as a meal, though barely so. That packaged, quick-food dish is gourmet fare compared with the mini-hamburger which Regent mistakes for a treat,
The waiter was taken aback that we hadn't devoured the offering. "Why?," he presumptuously inquired. Jo-Ann told him it was a weak imitation of a hamburger.
Then came the salad Jo-Ann ordered. No problem. There also came the intriguing appetizer that caught my attention: three kinds of steak tartare: "classical," oriental, and veal. None was particularly good. There were three small blobs of raw ground meat, with differing seasonings. The "classical" rendition wasn't. That globule was missing anchovies, capers, onions, egg yolk—that is, the essentials. Also, no toast points were served; not even unpointed toast. Just the three small blobs.
Next: the entrees. Jo-Ann had ordered an end cut of prime rib. What she got what a slab of meat that struck me from its appearance as quite unappetizing. Jo-Ann confirms that the taste was not that of prime rib. Perhaps it was a piece of inartfully prepared bull's rump. She thinks it might well have been baked in a pot.
I had lamb chops. Yes, the meat was lamb. But was it prime meat? Either the meat was other than prime—meaning that the name of the restaurant, Prime Seven, was a sham and the cruise line's express representation of serving prime meats there a lie—or the cooks posing as chefs were so grossly inept that they turned good meat into cafeteria fare.
We left. A young woman from the restaurant, discerning our disgruntlement, followed us out and evinced concern. She displayed graciousness and a desire to set things right. What was irresolvable was the woeful lack of talent on the part of the food-preparers.
The second night, we ate at the French restaurant. It was much better, but not excellent.
The food in the main dining room was, we found, adequate. Jo-Ann had some cod one night which, she remarked, was not as good as that we had on the SAS flight between London and Copenhagen.
When cruise food does not match that an airline serves, something is wrong.
One night a menu item which I chose was sea scallops with oyster sauce and oriental seasonings. What came was a small bowl of spaghetti with a few tiny bay scallops tossed in.
However, it is possible to get really food onboard. There was, at buffets, herring in mustard sauce and herring marinated in vinegar at buffets. It's just like that we get in the U.S. in jars, imported from Sweden. (On the next-to-last day, they apparently had excess mustard sauce at the bottom of a jar and added vinegar-marinated herring to the sauce, thus devising an innovative and unpalatable dish.)
Some of the cheeses, both in the French restaurant and the buffets, were superb. In other words, they do have the competence to serve packaged foods.
It's just that cooking is not their forte. At one lunch buffet, I made the mistake of having some suckling pig carved. It was so overcooked that, if served to prison inmates, the ACLU would bring a lawsuit based on cruel treatment. But the graved lachs at that buffet was quite good...which shows, again, they need to stick to packaged foods.
On the Fourth of July, Jo-Ann and I wanted a traditional hot dog for lunch. At a lavish buffet, they did, indeed, have hot dogs. When we sat down, we realized they were cold. An accommodating waiter offered to heat them. The problem is that when you microwave hot dogs, the frankfurter gets dried out and the bun becomes hard.
One day they offered "Scandinavian delicacies" at a lunch buffet. They had "Swedish potato dumplings." The authentic ones are like Norwegian potato balls ("raspeballer" or "kumle") except that the Swedes sometimes stick a piece of ham inside. My grandfather made kumle, my mother did, and Jo-Ann and I have eaten it in Seattle and in Bergen. This was not raspeballer; this was a wad of glue.
On our last night on the ship, we had a superb meal of Norwegian smoked salmon, smoked whale, peppered mackerel, and a Norwegian brown goat cheese called gjetost. It was all food we had brought on board from ports. When we paid the charge for the cruise, we didn't know we would be brown-bagging.
And then there's the matter of "Lars." That's the moniker Jo-Ann ascribed to a crumb...a large one that resembled a corn flake. Lars was there on the floor of the bathroom when we boarded in Copenhagen and Lars was still there when we left the ship 14 days later in Copenhagen.
It must be said that the Regent staff is, in general, well-trained and attentive. We brought two seagull eggs on board with us from Tromsø, and they were kind enough to scramble them for us.
There are some language difficulties, however. I wanted to get a peanut butter malt for Jo-Ann. They had peanut butter ice cream. They had a malted milk machine. But the attendant didn't know what a "malt" is. I substituted the term "malted milk." I was told: "We have two kinds of milk: regular and no-fat." Jo-Ann did not get a malt.
There is no separate charge for drinks, and tips are built into the price.
Overall, the quality is far beneath what we had expected based on the cruise line's reputation. Aside from the cuisine here being second-rate, the dEcor lacks elegance, the stage productions are unimpressive, and if you ask for a gin fizz, you get sparkling lemonade with a bit of froth on top.
This was our fourth trip to Norway, and we intend to go there again. But not on a Regent cruise.