We chose this cruise because we wanted to get away from the Alpine winter - the last two winters in Switzerland, where we live, have been brutal and we are sick of snow and ice. 10 days on a Regent ship in an area which would most likely be warm if not hot suited us to a T. In fact we had originally booked a 7 day Western Caribbean cruise on the same ship but changed to the Eastern one to have 3 more days on board. For us on this cruise, having travelled widely in the area beforehand, the destination was the ship itself not the ports.
We flew from Switzerland to London, spent the night at the Sofitel at Heathrow (very nice hotel) and flew on the following day to Miami. We were on BA Business Class and all went according to plan. Comfortable flat beds, good cabin service and a smooth flight. On arrival in Miami we stayed with an old friend who lives in Miami Beach for a few nights. We did not want to go straight from airport to ship and were delighted to have some time to get over the jetlag and fatigue from the flights.
We rented a Hertz car in Miami and drove up to Ft Lauderdale, dropping the car at the Hertz facility at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, next to the port. A free shuttle bus took over to the Navigator, berthed in one of the "nether regions" of the Port as there were many ships there that day. In fact all were huge - and when we got to ours the driver said "My - you have a baby ship" !! And that is just the way we like it!!
We arrived at the pier at about 1150. Our bags were taken from us and we were escorted to a waiting area where we received a check in number. Around noon Damien LaCroix, the GM appeared and apologised to all waiting that check in would be delayed somewhat due to "technical difficulties". We could see the agents setting up their computers at the counters and I think that the delay had more to do with the fact that we were in an area that is used for cargo during the week and cruises on the weekends and so does not have permanent equipment for cruise passenger check in than to any specific technical problem. Anyway, we were called by number around 1220 and by 1230, champagne in hand, were off to la Veranda for lunch.
This is the first time we have sailed on the Navigator since the major renovations in drydock some 13 months before. We were delighted with the changes - mostly in the public areas where the dEcor seemed much nicer than before. Of course the bulk of the work had been on infrastructure - the hull, the electrics and the plumbing and while you can see the "ducktail" you cannot really "admire" new electric cables or pipes! Anyway we liked the "new" la Veranda, and were impressed with the buffet lunch on offer. I remember remarking to my husband that it was one thing to have this during boarding when not all 490 passengers were around (the ship was full!) and another to have it repeated during the voyage. However, day after day it was repeated: good food, hot food hot, cold food cold, no queues to get served, no wait for a table for two...in short, with a full ship - terrific!!
Shortly after 1430 we were told we could go to our suites. We had a Penthouse C which is a "normal" size suite but comes with a Butler. In our case Raj. Raj was a nice chap, good butler and did all he could to make our cruise an excellent one. Our Steward, Ricky, came by and introduced himself. I asked if our bed had been made up with two single duvets and he pointed out that it was indeed the case! My request on the Butler form had been read and compiled with. Good start!
The last time we were on the Navigator we had a Navigator Suite. We liked it but found the bedroom very small - hard to get around the bed. The PH C suite was obviously smaller, but seemed more spacious in the bedroom area which we liked. The bathroom was the same with separate shower and bath. Unlike the last cruise (May 2009, Transatlantic) we only experienced "brown water" once and that was when I ran the bath for the first time. I rather think that perhaps the previous occupants of the suite had used the shower and the water had been standing in the pipes for a bit...or maybe all that money spent on the plumbing really was worth it! I would not hesitate to book the same suite - PH C - again. Nice and spacious (though not as spacious as the PH on the Mariner) and very comfortable. We had many occasions to sit outside on our balcony and found this to be more accessible and more comfortable than that of the Navigator suite.
We found that the vibration in the stern has been reduced compared to what it used to be like, but has not vanished. This is, after all, a ship!
One other improvement needs mentioning! The golf nets have been removed and a Putting Green installed on the Sports Deck. (Actually they had room to leave the Golf nets AND add the green...) Anyway for golfers (which we are) this is great. We went up there almost every day and really enjoyed it. It has an Astroturf surface, and about 7 holes, and there are little bumps and valleys... and when the ship is rolling it is really challenging!!
We sailed at about 1730, following Lifeboat drill at which we learnt that the ship was literally completely full! No seats left vacant in the Stars Theatre!! At the Drill I also learnt some very good news - our Cruise Director was Dionne Lochner. She had been Cruise Director on our April 2010 Mariner cruise in the Mediterranean, and she is a very very capable CD as well as an utterly charming person. I looked forward to meeting her again!!
Dinner that night was at Prime 7. We enjoyed the restaurant even though it is very small and perhaps the chairs are a bit over-powering for the space! We were delighted to see Stefano as maitre d'hôtel - he had been second in command at la Veranda on our previous Navigator cruise when it was called Portofino and he is a thoroughly nice man. And we were more than delighted to be able to order steamed lobsters. (Can't get these easily in Switzerland!!) It is really great at the little Navigator now has a real second choice for dinners and I wish that they would open Prime 7 for lunch on sea days as well. That would make a LOT of people very happy!!
The next day we were supposed to have a BBQ on a beach in the Bahamas. Unfortunately for those who wished to go on shore (we didn't plan to) there was too much swell to provide safe tendering so Captain Armellino cancelled the stop and we headed to San Juan, effectively giving us two sea days in a row. (Great!) Dionne and her team and the Executive Chef Klaus Reinmuller and his team did some quick re-shuffling and the BBQ planned for the beach appeared at the Pool Deck. I should say a word about the revamped Pool Deck - the Buffet area has been expanded and now has a built in grill, outdoors. The furniture - tables chairs etc - is much lighter and easier to move around AND they have added several tables for two, in the shade near the Buffet area. We really liked this area and staked a claim to a table each morning about 11am to have a Bloody Mary or Margarita, read and then have whatever was on offer for lunch.
That evening was the Captain's Welcome Reception. Captain Ubaido Armellino is a very nice person, but we felt his English was not up to the level he would like to feel comfortable in chatting to passengers...or perhaps he is very shy. Anyway we speak Italian, and talked with him at some length. But we never saw him around the ship as we have other Captains and we just got the impression that he doesn't quite "jell" with the guests. We could be totally off base, but that was out feeling. We ate dinner in the Compass Rose that night and it was not only delicious, but so beautifully presented the plates reminded us of a restaurant not far from our home that has a 19/20 rating in the Gault-Millau Guide - and that IS saying something! Maitre d'hôtel in the Compass Rose was another old friend - Delfino. Lovely to see him again, and in tribute to his oversight I can say that with a full ship we never, ever had to wait to be served, nor for wine, in the CR on this cruise!
That night was the first of the "shows" - Just Swing. I do not know what Regent has been doing behind the scenes with the entertainment but it was my impression that the quality of the shows has risen in the last two years. At any rate the singers and dancers on this cruise were excellent - with the best show being "Cirque Navigator" which is sort of like the Cirque du Soleil.
Our first port was San Juan where we docked in the middle of the Old Town. Very scenic area and the buildings made a great backdrop for our stay. We had not planned an excursion so we just picked up a map from the Tourist Rep on Deck 5 and at her suggestion went to take the free Shuttle bus that wends its way around the town. We did a complete circuit then got off and walked for a while before getting back on board. Both of us travelled reasonably often to San Juan in our working days and since we don't do "jungle walks" etc any more were quite content to limit our San Juan stop to just the bus and a walk.
Next port was Road Town, Tortola. We took an excursion here that involved a bus ride over the island, with stupendous views over the Sir Francis Drake Channel, Jost van Dyke etc and then some inevitable free time to shop before taking a boat back to the ship. The chap who drove the boat was a bit of a cowboy and gunned the engines so that we went from wave crest to wave crest. Those sitting out front got soaked but didn't seem to mind. This wasn't the world's best tour, but it was more than adequate. Back on board we were happy to have lunch at la Veranda and then read for a while before Trivia at 4pm.
The following day we were supposed to have stopped in St Bart's which I understand is quite a shopping Mecca. Sadly we couldn't as again the swell was too much for safe tendering. Captain Armellino announced that the port was cancelled but that we would go on to St Maarten, where we could dock, and that we would have much of the morning and all afternoon there. On arrival we did indeed dock, alongside 3 other ships, all carrying minimum of 3000 passengers!! Luckily for us we arrived between ship 1 and 2, and all the passengers from ship 1 were already in town. So we had no wait for the water taxi to Front Street. We walked along Front Street as far as we could, and then returned on the next street. Every second shop was selling jewellery - the others either T shirts or Electronics! Apparently St Maarten is as much a shopping Mecca as St Barts. We didn't plan to buy anything but were interested to see a small part of Holland in the Caribbean!! Back on board we ate lunch on the Pool deck (great hamburger) and then took a nap. (We aren't really the best party people in the world as one might gather!!)
Next port was Virgin Gorda. Lots of people headed off to "The Baths" - great place for swimming! But we had been there before and - once again - preferred to stay on board. Dionne by now had realised that we preferred being on the ship to being on shore and she asked us if she should tell the Captain to just drive around in circles for the rest of the cruise!! I assured her that I would be most happy if he did.
Cayo Levantado followed Virgin Gorda. We had wanted to take the "Visit Samana" excursion and when we signed up for it prior to the cruise there was no mention of spending time on a beach. However once we were on board the detailed excursion description included two hours of "beach or shopping". Neither one appealed to us so we cancelled it. We did take the tender over to Cayo Levantado which is an island off Samana, with one rather nice looking hotel. The tender operation was done by locals, not by our own tenders, which is the first time I have seen this. When we arrived at the island the tender captain told us that the next tender back to the ship would leave at 1pm. (It was then 11am). Horrified at the thought of sitting on a beach complete with "folkloric dancers" I asked if this particular tender would make another trip to the ship and was told yes. So we stayed on the tender and went back to the ship. The Tender Officer on board remarked on our quick re-appearance! So we told him what we had been told. Some fast footwork ensued, and the tender service was continued un-interrupted, all day. However friends who did go on shore said there was really nothing to do once there and that the beach was not fantastic. So much for the DR - and I was sad because I had never been there and had been looking forward to at least seeing something of it!
Our last port was Grand Turk. The dock there is a long way from the town, and it was raining quite hard when we arrived. We went on shore to do some shopping (finally!) in their Duty Free and were quite impressed with the scope of it, and the way it was organised. Also with the beautiful beaches that stretched out beside it. We would have liked to take a walk along the beach, but not in the rain! Soon after we arrived two huge ships pulled in and disgorged their passengers. The beach proved very popular with them, and the rain gradually stopped. Apparently the Turks and Caïcos were colonised by Bermudians and I could see from the beach that they must have felt right at home! Beautiful turquoise water.
Sunday, 16th January was our last day on board and, because it was Sunday, champagne and caviar appeared at breakfast - I love this Regent tradition!! It was also a sea day and there were lots of things on offer. BBQ lunch on the Pool deck, a lecture on "Pirates of the Caribbean", another on "Happy Feet" given by someone from the Spa, the (inevitable and not desired!) Art Auction, and another enrichment lecture on "Nicholas and Alexandra". Also a wine tasting, waffle teatime and a "popcorn movie". In short, no lack of things to do!
We docked around 7am the next day and had breakfast in la Veranda as usual. Then we waited in Gallileo's to be called for disembarkation around 0900. We cleared Customs and Immigration without any request to have fingerprints taken and found our bags easily. We then we took a taxi over to Hertz instead of waiting for their shuttle, rented a car and were on our way.
It was a perfect cruise. Plenty to do both on shore and on board if one wanted to. And plenty of time to relax, read and enjoy the ship. Wonderful food!! And so well presented. Superb service from everyone from the Butler and Steward to the Maitres d'hôtel, the delightful barmen (especially Elvis!) and the Pool Deck and la Veranda staff. A wonderful Cruise Director and Entertainment Staff. My only criticism is that on the Navigator there is no Observation Lounge and Gallileo's is really too small a space when the ship is totally full. I hope that in a future dry dock a "superstructure" could be built to expand what is now the Spa and Fitness area and that could be turned into a real Observation Lounge. Maybe then the Navigator Lounge area could be made into the Spa?? The lack of an Observation Lounge on a ship like the Navigator is a shame!