PRE-CRUISE FLIGHTS: Flying anywhere in the middle of winter has its challenges. We decided to do an overnight flight from Seattle to Miami that was scheduled to arrive 7:00 a.m. on the day of departure. The snow in Seattle had just melted, however we did not count on fog in Miami. After spending 4 hours on the ground in Orlando, we were finally able to fly to Miami. In retrospect, it would have been wise to fly in a day earlier.
Once we arrived in Miami, we met a couple that were happy to share a cab with us. With tip, the cost of the cab was $80.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the port at 12:40 p.m. Unfortunately, a bus load of passengers was ahead of us. We sat in line for approximately a half hour, completed the check-in process and boarded. While not the fastest embarkation, it was handled calmly and efficiently.
On onboard, we proceeded to La Veranda for lunch (more in the food section).
THE SHIP: The ship is going into dry dock for one week in April, 2011. Except for the carpeting that needs some refreshing, the ship is in excellent condition. There is some talk about moving the Boutique into a section of Stars Lounge as it is currently in a position that is hard to see. Stars is such a large venue, it probably could lose some space and still be functional. A final decision had not been made by the time we disembarked.
FOOD: There has been such an improvement in this area that we were pleasantly surprised. We dined at Prime 7 the first evening. Their crab was some of the best we have had (except in Alaska). Signatures has never been our favorite venue. It was alright, but am not overly impressed with it. We did not dine in La Veranda in the evening and only stopped by there for a few quick breakfasts and lunches. When the pool area had special barbeques and lunch specials, we would take our food into La Veranda to enjoy the air conditioning. The quality of the lunch offerings was good. Enjoyed the pasta station very much (I am a bit of a pasta lover).
Compass Rose: We could have eaten every meal there (almost did) and been very happy. Wine and food choices were good. Definitely missed seeing Filet Mignon on the menu as well as Beef Wellington (think this disappeared sometime in 2010). It would be nice if the side dishes that are always available would be put on the menu (mashed potato's and fries, for instance). For the first time on a Regent ship, the Grouper was wonderful - as were all of the fish dishes we ordered. Bread was always fresh, wine glasses filled promptly (no problem asking for a different complimentary wine). Desserts were interesting, innovative and delicious.
LOUNGES: We spent most of our cocktail lounge time in the Observation Lounge. This is probably out of habit. For the first time, we sat at the bar and got to know the bartenders and other passengers. The U-shaped bar makes it easy to converse with others. The Horizon Lounge was great for Trivia and tea in the afternoon (or in my case, a chocolate martini in the afternoon to accompany the luscious desserts). The Mariner's Lounge is outside of Prime 7 and Compass Rose. This is the only Regent ship that has this lovely set-up. It is a nice place to relax before dinner. Stars Lounge is the smoking venue. Unfortunately, we found their doors open in the evening. . . allowing the smoke to waft into the hallways.
SERVICE: This is the area where everyone excelled on this trip. The following is what I put on our comment card about some of the staff: "Roy, is the best Butler we have had. If he had waited until we asked him to do something, he would have done nothing for us (which has happened on previous cruises). We are low maintenance while Roy is proactive. When he saw my husband walking down the hall with excursion tickets, Roy stopped him, took the tickets and told him that he would take care of it for us (and he did). He is a wonderful person and a perfect Butler.
Head Waiters Rommel and Gilbert took care of our every need. They even took care of things we didn't know we wanted. When I suggested that hot sauce be provided with typically spicy dishes like "Thai", he began providing chili sauce for us at lunch and dinner. When we discussed a Philippine meal early in the cruise, it was provided for us on our last day. These men are amazing - a tribute to Regent and their wonderful Dining Room Manager, Franco (I do not know enough adjectives to describe him). He is simply a wonderful man who makes every passenger feel like they are guests in his home."
There have been recent reviews that talk about the service in Compass Rose. I would like to comment on that if I may. When a planned event (such as the Captain's Reception) happen prior to dinner, when the event is over, there is a rush to Compass Rose. Obviously the service at that time is not going to be quite as fast as other nights or later in the evening.
We dine early and find the service impeccable. Also, we prefer to sit in the same area(s) each evening so we become familiar with the Head Waiter(s) and servers in that area. The servers become accustomed to your likes and dislikes and even make suggestions for you.
We had a Steward instead of a Stewardess on this cruise. At first it seemed a bit strange. After a couple of days we realized that it isn't whether they are male or female. . . it is about how they do their job. Nelson was wonderful!
PORTS: After two days at sea we docked in Willemstad, Curacao. Rather than take an excursion, we walked around the town and found it to be delightful.
We arrived in Aruba the next day. Having been there previously, we had a snorkeling excursion booked. The seas were fairly rough and there were few fish to view. Fairly disappointing.
The following day we had a city tour in Cartegena, Columbia. The excursion was okay. There were problems disembarking from the ship. We arrived in the port late, so the excursions were all leaving at the same time. Due to the tide, only one gangway could be used. This caused quite a back-up.
Many of you have transited the Panama Canal and know what a marvelous experience it is. The weather was beautiful - really a spectacular day.
Two days later we docked in Manta, Ecuador. We weren't too excited about the excursion. . . . taking a bus for a half hour to the place where Panama hats are made ("Panama" hats are apparently made in Ecuador). Manta was definitely a highlight. The open buses were decorated with balloons and had a band playing on the roof. Guests were given New Year's Eve type items (hats, whistles, masks) and off we went. It was very much like a parade. We made quite a bit of noise as we traveled on our way to Montecristi. Families came out of their homes to wave, children waved from sidewalks and windows. . . even the police and street workers stopped to move to the music and wave. All of us had a great time waving, making noise and bringing smiles to everyone's face.
The next port was new to Regent. . . Guayaquil, Ecuador crime issues for many years. When we spent the night in Guayaquil several years ago we were warned not to step outside the door of the hotel. Since then, a lot of work has been done to clean up the city.
The shuttle bus into downtown had two police escorts (a little concerning). We did not see one person who may have been a tourist during the ½ hour bus ride. There were concerns about leaving the shuttle bus. We took a leap of faith and got off the bus. The bus let us off by an amazing park with hundreds of iguanas. They were on the grass, in the trees (not a good idea to be under the tree) - just everywhere. When they fall asleep in the tree, it is quite common for them to fall to the ground.
With the exception of the lovely area by the sea (Malecon) that is great for walking, there is not much in the downtown area to see. There are police everywhere (probably necessary.) They are not set up for tourists at this point. There is nothing for visitors to purchase - not even a postcard. I hope that Regent gives them some feedback as the potential is there for it to become a nice port stop for cruise ships.
Next was Salaverry (Trujillo), Peru. We arrived on Sunday and found many places closed. The tour operators did a good job of showing us this beautiful city and the surrounding areas. This was a 7 hour tour that ended at a beautiful hacienda where a lovely lunch was served while we were being entertained by high stepping horses. This was our first opportunity to try the national drink, a "Pisco sour" (yum).
Our last port was Lima, Peru. The ship docked overnight in Lima, but we had flights booked to fly home on the first night (more on debarkation). Right next to the ship were lovely shops with Peruvian souvenirs, handmade llama wool teddy bears, etc. The prices were excellent. We had an excursion booked on our last day to dine at an upscale restaurant (for lunch). Unfortunately the excursion was changed to 7:00 p.m. and we had to cancel. We wanted to spend some time in Lima but was not aware that it takes 1 hour by bus to get downtown. So, we stayed on the bus for the round-trip and was able to see quite a bit. The area of Miraflores in Lima is beautiful, by the water with upscale shops, a J.W. Marriott Hotel, restaurants and lovely parks.
Disembarkation: For some reason, most flights from Lima (and Rio) depart in the middle of the night. Rather than disembark on the last morning and be on our own until our 1:15 a.m. flight, we opted to depart the last night. We were able to enjoy the day, have a leisurely dinner and wait for Regent's transportation to the airport at 10:00 p.m. Not too surprisingly, there about 20 passengers on our bus for our 30 minute ride to the airport. Luggage was transported to each individual airlines' check-in area.
Our LAN Business Class flight from Lima to San Francisco was comfortable (flat bed seats) and we were able to sleep. We arranged our own transportation from San Francisco to our home.
IN CONCLUSION: This was a wonderful cruise. The passengers, especially other CruiseCritic members, were fun to be with and are darn good Trivia players. There were many world cruisers on board - most of whom were friendly and very interesting to speak with.
It feels like Regent has turned the corner and is once again providing wonderful food, exemplary service and is a 6 star cruising experience. We first felt the improvement in May, 2011 on the Navigator. Franck Galzy had been promoted to General Manager (we sailed with him in 2008 when he was Food and Beverage Manager). We could feel the cohesiveness of the staff on the Navigator. He and his team set an example to the staff that enabled them to give the best possible service.
We see this now on the Mariner (with Franck Galzy as G.M.) The reviews from the Mariner have been consistently positive. I look forward to when he transfers to the Voyager later in the year as there have been less than favorable reviews on that ship. However, once the Voyager comes out of dry dock our fingers are crossed that he will be back on the Mariner when we sail in November.