Where do I even begin to describe the best cruise we have been on? I guess, like everyone else, I need to start at the beginning.
GETTING THERE Getting from Washington State to Cape Town, South Africa is a daunting task. We used Regent Air (with a deviation so we could arrive a day early and select our own hotel). We flew British Airways Business Class from Vancouver to Heathrow. . .had a 5 hour layover and then on to Cape Town. Total air time (excludes layover) - 20 hours. We left on Wednesday and arrived on Friday. We enjoy the seats and service on British Air. The lounge in Heathrow is lovely - had enough time to shower, eat, drink and do emails.
PRE-CRUISE We contacted a company that picked us up at the airport and transported us to the Peninsula Hotel. This is not your typical "Peninsula Hotel" - it is a 3 star, lovely hotel - not fancy or modern. The staff could not have been better. In the afternoon they set out wine and juice in the lobby. We took a shuttle bus into the main part of town where we noticed that the Voyager was already docked. Unfortunately, we had to wait until the next day to embark. We had a delicious fish dinner with a pint of local beer for a very reasonable price.
The breakfast in the morning was local cuisine with wonderful fruit, omelet bar and the makings for a typical English breakfast (English bacon, beans, cooked tomato half and mushrooms). After breakfast, we were picked up for a 3-hour tour by the same driver we had the previous day. It would take a professional writer to describe this area - we were in awe of the beauty we encountered around every curve on this very scenic drive. We stopped to see the penguins. It was quite a sight to see penguins on a sandy beach in South Africa. Also saw baboons on the side of the road. Quick side story: In the outskirts of Cape Town, if you do not shut your house up completely, you will find that your home has been invaded by baboons. If a window is left open just a small amount, they send their babies in to retrieve the goods and pass them through the window.
EMBARKATION Embarkation is almost always easy on Regent. We were on segment 4 of the Discovery Collection, so, there were not many people embarking. They used a small room for registration rather than the theater. After spending three minutes or so checking in, we headed up to La Veranda for a delicious lunch.
Side note: There were quite a few crew members leaving on vacation at different ports on the Discovery Collection. Although we had been on the Voyager only 2 months earlier, a lot of the staff had changed. We saw some of the "old crew" departing as we were embarking.
THE FOOD Dining in Compass Rose was always a wonderful experience. Upon recommendation of the Maitre 'D in La Veranda, we asked to be seated by Joey (a Head Waiter) and were seated in the section where Steven was server. I will write more about these people in the "Service" section. The soups were always hot, the food prepared as ordered and everything was delicious. No long story - just 6 star food on a 6 star ship.
In the past, La Veranda had been hit and miss. One reason for this could simply be that the food is not prepared at the time you order it, but, rather is prepared in batches. Everyone has different tastes and I cannot say that you will love everything that is offered each day. I tended to take tiny portions of dishes I was unsure about (local dishes that I am not familiar with, for example). Inevitably I returned to get more (and more and more - but, that's another story).
On this cruise, every time we had Signatures booked, we were unable to make it and had to cancel. So, there is no report on Signatures.
Prime 7 had the only "hiccup" of the cruise. We booked Prime 7 for the first night we were on board. The staff had just changed, the Restaurant Manager had not arrived and things were not as they should be (with the exception of service). I relayed the story to someone with no expectation that she would follow-up with the Restaurant Manager, Luis Texeira Luis stopped by our table the next day in La Veranda and convinced us to give Prime 7 another try. The second time around, everything was total perfection.
SERVICE The crew on board the Voyager during our cruise was perfect. The staff in the restaurants, the butler, the stewardess, bartenders. . .I could go on and on. Although the staff moves around through a rotation process which takes them on each of Regent's ships, you may be lucky enough to meet these exceptional people on one of your future cruises (and I apologize in advance for those whose names I cannot recall).
Englebert Lanier Wartenberg, Hotel Manager. This is a man that cares deeply about both Regent and the guests on the ship. He is accessible and will do his best to insure that you have a wonderful cruise.
Anthony Miller, Food and Beverage Manager. We had a lovely chat with Anthony and learned that he accompanied Captain Dag when he dove into the water to check out the fishing net that was entangled in Voyager's pod earlier this year. They spent an hour cutting the net off of the pod - unfortunately, water had seeped into the electronics. It was a very interesting story and he is a very lovely man.
Luis Texeira, as mention above, Luis took immediate action when he learned of our experience in Prime 7. He seemed to be everywhere on the ship - one minute I would see him in La Veranda - then in Compass Rose and in Prime 7. He is aware of everything that is going on in all the dining venues. Luis will be on the Navigator this month to work with the team that will be opening Prime 7. I have no doubt that, under his guidance, it will be a success.
Abigail, Maitre 'D of La Veranda. Abigail was on our cruise two months ago. In addition to being efficient and professional, she is one of the nicest people you could meet (and was the person who let Luis know about our experience in Prime 7)
Joey, Head Waiter in Compass Rose and La Veranda in the morning (lunch too, as I recall). He makes certain that your dining experience is what you expect it to be. He is charming!
Craig, Sommelier (formerly on the Paul Gauguin). We dine early and had the chance to speak with Craig on a few occasions. He is a "Master Sommelier" - there are very few Sommelier's with that designation. He knows his wine (and beer too:-)
Steven, Waiter (want to call him Waiter Supreme). He always serves in Compass Rose in the evening. You may see him in La Veranda in the morning or at lunch. He goes where he is needed. We received impeccable service from Steven. He and my DH are from Britain and they had a nice time sharing stories. We are looking forward to seeing him again on the Navigator this spring.
Francisco, Assistant Head Waiter, Compass Rose. I just had to add Francisco to the list. He has been with Regent (Radisson) since the beginning and recently received a much deserved promotion!
Adriana (very misspelled - there is a "j" in her name somewhere) who serves wine in La Veranda. She is simply delightful.
PORTS This was a South Atlantic crossing - not many ports which was a perfect opportunity to spend time on the ship.
Cape Town - We signed up for a tour to an Ostrich Farm and wine tasting. This was an excellent tour (not one of the free ones, but, worth considerably more than what we paid). We had 6 tastings of lovely South African wine. At the farm we were able to sit on an ostrich and stroke his/her long neck. Note: We are animal lovers and do not feel the ostrich was hurt in any way.
Namibia - We fell in love with both Namibia and Cape Town. The people in South Africa that we met are open, warm and giving of themselves. Our first tour was "Seal & Dolphins". In addition to seeing the seals, dolphins and flamingo's, a "snack" of oysters on the half shell and a tray of little canapE type dishes. They poured some sparkling wine and gave tastes of a local liquor. Outstanding!
The "Township" tour touched our lives forever. It included seeing how hard these people have been working to better their lives. We saw the old "concentration camp" type facilities where they were housed and the new little homes with plumbing, water and electricity where they now live. They are so proud of what they have. The tour guide took us inside of his home which was quite a treat. A small buffet of local food was also prepared for us (quite good). Unfortunately, some people on the tour felt the excursion was "too realistic". Some would not get off the bus - most would not touch the food. I found this very sad. We visited a school and were touched by the children as well as the principal. If anyone is going to do this tour in the future, please bring an old laptop with you that is no longer needed -- the school has only one broken down computer. You can't ship them as it would never get to them. Just wish I knew in advance.
St. Helena - The ship only stops for approximately 6 hours. The excursion on St. Helena was very good (and was one of the free ones). There are so few people on the island that it was a challenge to find enough vehicles to take us around the island. They used vans, a vintage car (well, not vintage - just very old), a school bus - just about anything with wheels. This was a wonderful port - glad that Regent stopped there (could have spent more time in the town).
Rio - We took the tour that includes a train up to the "Christ the Redeemer" monument. It was lovely - the views spectacular. However, it was extremely sad to see the condition of the city. Graffiti in places that you would not think people could get to. . . . incredible traffic. . . . crime in this city would make anyone feel unsafe (cannot wear a watch as it is almost guaranteed to be taken. . . . women wearing necklaces or chains can have them pulled off of their necks). Some people will disagree with me about this city and they are free to do so. If you are with a tour group you will be safe. We will not be returning to Rio de Janeiro and hope they somehow get their city together in the next 6 years when they host the Olympics.
ON THE SHIP This was a Spotlight on Food and Wine and Dance. There were many things to keep us occupied on the sea days (7 out of 14 days were sea days). We took Samba lessons, attended wine tastings, food demonstrations, attended "trivia" daily. . . . there was no way a person could have been bored on this cruise. With the perfect weather every day (except the last day in Rio), there were many people simply lying in the sun on the pool deck.
DISEMBARKATION AND FLYING HOME Unfortunately, almost all flights out of Rio are at night and, as you know, you disembark in the morning. For guests with Regent Air, they set up a room in the Sofitel Hotel where we could leave our luggage. While not the most comfortable place (and they really should have provided bottled water), it was better than going to the airport. The rain was heavy - we ventured out to a small mall down the street and had lunch at a local restaurant next to the hotel (incredibly good Portuguese chicken and rice soup). The typically 1 hour drive to the airport took 3 hours as it was a Friday and a special weekend in Rio. The local Regent representative was in contact with the airport - they kept the doors to the plane open until we arrived - checked in - cleared passport control and got onto to the flight.
The one thing I was not looking forward to on this trip was flying United Airlines (three flights to get home). United's service ratings have been amongst the lowest of all U.S. carriers. We found the service to be very good, some of the food excellent and were very pleased and surprised. The Business Class seats were the old type (not even semi-flat) and have not been upgraded on the 777 aircrafts as yet. We would fly United again (on the planes that have been upgraded).
CONCLUSION We obviously have nothing but positive things to say about this cruise. Our only question is what to book next (in addition to our Alaska cruise in May 2010). The prices for 2010/2011 are quite high, perhaps due to the included excursions. This was our first taste of included excursions. While they are well organized and enjoyable, it appears that this "benefit" is raising the prices a bit too much. Between "free" airfare and "free" excursions, Regent is pricing itself above it's competition and out of the reach of many passengers. We continue to look at itineraries on Silversea and Seabourn. . . . however, at the end of the day, there is no place like home -- on the Voyager.