Wednesday, June 30: I should preface this review with a disclaimer: we are not veteran cruisers. In fact we have taken only two cruises before this one and they were over 30 years ago in the Caribbean. Therefore take our opinions with a large grain of salt.
Our impression of Regent Seven Seas before we took our Alaska cruise was that it was a first class, luxury cruise line. Having now returned from our seven days aboard the Navigator, I am happy to report that that impression was absolutely correct. In fact, if anything the experience was better than I had expected. From the minute we were met at the Vancouver airport by Regent staff until we completed our trip in Seward, we were treated as if we were their most important guests (and in conversation with other cruisers, it seems that the other 488 passengers felt the same way).
Our bus driver from the Vancouver airport to the dock gave us an entertaining overview of Vancouver as were in route and set the stage for the experience we were to have for the next week. After checking through U.S. customs at the port (after our one-hour stay in Canada!) we boarded the ship, were welcomed onboard with champagne and directed to the Seven Seas Lounge where we checked in and were invited to have lunch while our suites were being readied.
Before going to lunch however, we stood in a short line at Prime 7 to see if we could change our on-line booked reservation to a different night and an earlier time. It was no problem to do so. (Tip: Don't be discouraged when you see on-line that all reservations have already been booked in Prime 7 or that all excursions are sold out; the ship obviously holds back a number of dining reservations and excursion seats to be given out on board. Also people change plans and cancel reservations after they get on board. We were able to book the popular Tracy Arm excursion on board even though the Regent web site had shown it sold out for weeks. One exception was the Bear Viewing on Prince of Wales Island which was not available although you could be put on a wait list in case of a cancellation.)
After a buffet lunch in the Veranda Restaurant where we met the delightful Erkan, the Turkish assistant head waiter, we explored the ship. About 2:30 an announcement was made that we could proceed to our suites where we found our luggage waiting.
In our suite a bottle of champagne (real champagne, not sparkling white wine as some Regent cruisers have found) awaited along with a plate of fresh fruit. We found the suite to be spacious, well-appointed and comfortable. The walk-in closet had plenty of space for our clothes and luggage with a variety of hangers and closet rods of varying heights; the large bathroom included a tub and a separate shower as well as ample shelves for toiletries; the king bed was very comfortable; the living area had a sofa, table with two chairs, a desk and desk chair; there was plenty of lighting and a number of American and European style electrical outlets; the balcony had two deck chairs and a table and proved to be one of our most popular places from which to watch the passing scenery.
We were met in our suite by our delightful stewardess, Priscilla who asked if we preferred down or foam pillows, showed us how everything worked and promised to bring me a bar list so I could chose the two bottles of liquor that are provided for each suite. She also took our request for a different kind of beer, and extra Diet Coke and bottled water for our in-suite refrigerator. Priscilla made sure that our suite was always spotless and that anything that we wanted was promptly delivered. She also never failed to call us by name and ask if there was anything she could do for us every time we met in the passageway.
We set sail on time with commentary by the ship's destination specialist, Terry Breen and were on our way to "The Great Land."
Dinner tonight (and as it turned out, every night except for when we dined at Prime 7) was at Compass Rose. We found the food and the service here to be quite good as it was throughout the ship. We also found the complementary wines to be of good quality and were never tempted to pay for the premium wines that are available. (Tip: Erkan works here in the evenings and I would recommend asking to be seated in his section. If you want to thank him for something in Turkish, say "tay-shay-ku" and then tell him the bearded old guy from Atlanta who was on board June 30-July 7 gave you this tip.)
After dinner we returned to our suite and collapsed as we were still on Atlanta time.
Thursday, July 1: We spent this day at sea getting familiar with the ship, attending a destination lecture by the ship's resident Alaska expert, Terry Breen (who is excellent by the way; don't miss her talks) and making sure the bartenders knew how to make a proper Rob Roy (they did). We also attended a wine tasting that was one of the very few activities that was a bit disappointing. The wines were fine but the sound system continually malfunctioned and that seemed to rattle the head sommelier who was conducting the tasting.
In the afternoon we enjoyed teatime and then attended the Captain's Welcome Reception before dinner and a show by the Jean Ann Ryan Singers and Dancers. I know that some have complained about the quality of the entertainment on the ship but we found it quite good. We especially enjoyed the performances of lead singers Eric Weaver and Lisa Clifford and the excellent Regent Signature Orchestra.
Friday, July 2: We docked early in the morning in Ketchikan where, thanks to a clock setting snafu (Alaska is one hour earlier than Vancouver), we almost missed our first excursion, Bear Viewing on Prince of Wales Island. Thanks goodness we made it because this turned out to be one of the highlights of our cruise.
We took off in our float plane and in minutes were over scenic Prince of Wales Island. Our pilot was an excellent guide as we learned about the history of the island and its flora and fauna. We spotted deer, eagles and bear during our flight, including two bears that were mating on a mountainside! Our pilot had never before seen this and he circled around three times so everyone could get a good look. We landed on small lakes twice and were able to get very close to a bear on the shore of one of them. Our pilot landed, killed the engine and then asked one of us to steer the plane as he went out of one of the pontoons to paddle the plane closer to the bear. The rest of us were able to step out on the pontoons to take photos. (Tip: Excursions are not always exactly as described in the advance cruise materials although an updated list of descriptions is provided . In this case, the description said that we would land once and then walk to a viewing platform to see bears [if there were an]). In reality, the pilot spent a lot of time flying around the island looking for wildlife and then put the plane down twice for close-up viewing. In our estimation this was far better than just flying to one place and hoping to see bears.)
After returning to Ketchikan, we spent a few hours exploring the town visiting the Totem Heritage Center and Creek Street where a friend has a gallery. (Tip: The gallery is Alaska Eagle Arts Gallery at 5 Creek Street. Marvin Oliver, artist and gallery owner, is an internationally renowned artist whose monumental public art works can be found in Perugia, Italy, Paris, France and national and international locations. Marvin has won the coveted "Best of Division" prize at the Santa Fe Indian Market for a large glass sculpture.)
We decided to have lunch in Ketchikan before re-boarding the ship and found our way to the Burger Queen which had been highly recommended by several previous cruisers. It did not disappoint. The halibut burger was delicious and the hamburgers looked good as did the hand-made milkshakes which we managed to resist.
Back on the ship for our 3:00 p.m. sailing we relaxed awhile before the Block Party. At 5:45 everyone was invited to step into the passageway outside their suite with glass in hand to meet their neighbors. Stewards filled glasses with wine and passed hors d'oeuvres as we chatted with fellow cruisers. Captain McNeill, Cruise Director Paul Reynolds and several other senior staff dashed from deck to deck to meet everyone as well.
This evening was dinner at Compass Rose, a show in the Seven Seas Lounge and off to bed to rest up for our early morning Tracy Arm excursion the next day.
Saturday, July 3: Early this morning a catamaran pulled alongside the Navigator and we boarded at sea for our Tracy Arm excursion. This small vessel is able to take you much deeper into the fjord than can the Navigator and is an excursion that we would highly recommend. Seeing the Sawyer Glaciers close-up as well as the many ice bergs, bergy bits and growlers (your on-board guide will explain the difference between these different-sized bodies of ice) was exciting and made us feel we had truly now arrived in Alaska. A box lunch, packed for us by the ship's galley, was provided and we enjoyed it as we sailed out of the fjord and on to Juneau. (Tip: The catamaran will deliver you to Juneau at approximately the same time that the Navigator arrives so you won't miss any of your Juneau excursions.)
After exploring downtown Juneau, we returned to the ship to rest up before taking the Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Watching excursion.
This excursion was also a lot of fun. We saw several whales including one that swam under our boat! The food served on board (included in the excursion price) was very tasty and included reindeer sausage, crab cakes, smoked salmon spread, roast beef carved to order, chicken salad, cheese, fruit, several desserts and numerous other items along with beer, wine and soft drinks (two "adult beverages" per passenger). (Tip: Grab a seat with a table to make dining easier; most of the seating is on long benches where you will face other guests across a table but several benches do not have tables.)
Captain McNeill had planned to hang around off shore so we could watch the Independence Day fireworks from the ship at midnight but unfortunately the light rain that we had been having all day caused them to be canceled. So we sailed for Skagway.
Sunday, July 4: Skagway was fun stop. It's a small town and we were able to watch and take part in their 4th of July festivities. It seemed that everyone had turned out for the parade, the tug of war, the egg toss and the other activities that took place all day on Skagway's main street. We had lunch in the Red Onion Saloon which was once Skagway's most exclusive brothel. The chili and the pizza were both good, the beer was cold and the atmosphere was a hoot. There is also a brothel museum here that we didn't visit.
Monday, July 5 After taking the tender to shore, we took the Russian America excursion which included the Alaska Raptor Center where we were able to observe bald eagles and other birds that were being rehabilitated after injuries, the Sitka National Historic Park with its collection of totems and rain forest nature trail, the Sheldon Jackson Museum with an excellent collection of Native Alaskan artifacts, and St. Michael's Cathedral, the original mother church of Russian orthodoxy in North America. We had an excellent guide and enjoyed getting to learn more about the Russian influence and presence in this part of Alaska.
We took the tender back to the ship mid-afternoon and had lunch at the Pool Grill. The cod burger and the hamburger were both quite good and the hamburger was cooked medium rare as ordered.
After our late lunch, we rested in our suite before dinner and the evening show, "Le Cirque Navigator." If you have seen Cirque Du Soleil or any of its subsequent incarnations, this show will be somewhat familiar although the small stage and the limited number of performers dictated that it would be much smaller in scope. The performers were quite talented and everything was very well done which made for an entertaining evening.
Tuesday, July 6: Today, a full day at sea was our last chance to enjoy all the Navigator had to offer. We had a light breakfast of coffee and pastries in the Navigator Lounge (the chocolate cookies were excellent) so we could get on deck to hear Terry Breen's talk as we approached Hubbard Glacier.
The Hubbard Glacier experience was perhaps the highlight of the cruise. We were able to get closer to the glacier than was usually the case and we witnessed several calvings. Seeing and hearing these huge walls of ice breaking off from the glacier and plunging into the ocean was something we will never forget.
Mid-morning we had tour of the galley followed by a cooking demonstration by executive chef, Anthony Gatherall. This was followed by a light lunch at Veranda (excellent soups). In the afternoon we did some packing, visited the shops to spend the remainder of our American Express ship board credit, won a few bucks at the slots in the casino and attended a short concert by one of the Navigator's pianists, Constantine. Later in the afternoon we joined our new friends Libby and Paul from Sydney for tea and trivia in the Galileo Lounge. Back to the suite to change before dinner (Prime 7 tonight) and then back to the Galileo lounge for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Dinner at Prime 7 was an excellent dining experience. While the quality of the food was perhaps not quite up to the standards of the best fine dining restaurants on land, it was nevertheless quite good and the service couldn't have been better. Renata, our sommelier, was delightful, making excellent wine recommendations and teaching us a few words in Portuguese.
We ended the evening at the Farewell Crew Capers. Seeing some of the people on stage who had been serving us, cleaning our suites and performing other duties around the ship was a lot of fun. We particularly appreciated that they performed several dances that were indigenous to their native countries.
Wednesday, July 7: This morning we arrived early in Seward and transferred (just a short walk) from the ship to the Grandview Train to Anchorage. The train follows a very scenic route, taking about 4 1/2 hours to make the journey in observation cars which provide ample window space for taking photographs. A guide on board each car provides an informative and entertaining running commentary as the train makes its way inland. Complementary coffee is provided and other drinks (including cocktails) and snacks are available for purchase. (Tip: The seating is two passengers facing two others across a small table so make sure you inform the person handing out the boarding passes know how many are in your party so you can sit together.)
It really doesn't matter which side of the train you sit on as the views are spectacular in both directions. It is also easy to get up and move into the aisles or go outside between cars to take pictures.
As we neared the airport we were treated to a clear view of Mt. McKinley (Denali) which is often not visible due to cloud cover. In Anchorage the train goes right to the airport where cruisers with early flights check in. Those who have time are taken by motor coach to the downtown Hilton where Regent has reserved space on the top floor for you to relax (coffee and cookies are provided) and take in the views from the open deck or just check your carry-on bags and explore the downtown area.
We walked around the streets close to the hotel and had lunch at the Alaska Salmon Chowder House which is just a few blocks away. The salmon chowder was very good as were the Alaskan King Crab Legs washed down with the excellent Alaskan Summer Ale.
After lunch, we returned to the hotel for our transfer to the airport and our flight back to Atlanta. Our driver pointed out the small lake that was the float plane airport next to the regular airport and informed us that during the summer there were more takeoffs and landings at this float plane airport than at JFK airport in New York!
Our flight was delayed about an hour due to an unexpected shift in the prevailing winds which required the recalibration of our take-off. Once airborne we had excellent views of the Alaskan coast and mountain ranges for several hours as we winged our way back to the lower 48.
Back home in Atlanta we've had 10 days to reflect on our Regent Navigator cruise and can't imagine we could have had a better experience on any other cruise line. We loved everything about the ship itself, the level of service provided by the friendly crew, and the quality of food, drink and entertainment. Thanks Regent.