This was our second cruise with Regent on the Navigator, so we were familiar with the ship, its layout, just not the destination - Alaska.
For the first time, we took advantage of the Regent air package and were very pleased with the arrangements they made for us, travelling out of Toronto, changing in Vancouver for a flight to Anchorage. On the way back, we took a deviation so that we could stay in Vancouver for three days. On arrival at Anchorage, the Regent Reps were very much in evidence and it was a mere minutes before we and our luggage were on a coach with other passengers heading for the Hilton in Anchorage.
The Hilton (never our favourite hotel chain) has definitely seen better days. It is tired looking in its furnishings. Our impressions of it were probably not helped by striking workers demonstrating outside the hotel later in the afternoon. Our room was adequate, but no more and we were both bothered by allergies while there which we suspect came from the air conditioning as they cleared up as soon as we left the next day.
Regent had a desk set up and manned until 10:00 p.m. in the lobby and when we signed in there, we were given a voucher for a buffet breakfast the next morning and told that we would then be able to pick what time we took the bus to Seward. We were also given the option of changing our booking from the bus to the train if we wanted to do so. We did not.
We very much enjoyed walking around Anchorage and explored the downtown area quite thoroughly, enjoying the beer at the Glacier Bay Brewhouse very much indeed. That night we ate at Orso, which had been recommended to us by someone on the Regent Forum on Cruise Critic and had a wonderful meal of incredibly fresh fish.
Still being on Ontario time, we were up very early the next morning and hit the buffet breakfast as it opened. We chose the second coach to Seward at 11:30 a.m. Our luggage was to be left just inside our room door for pick up after 9:00. After that everything continued to go very smoothly. We had a delightful coach driver who gave a running commentary of what we should look out for as she drove. What should have been a two and a half hour journey turned into a three and a half hour one, as there was quite a large amount of construction en route. Once at the quay in Seward, we were on the ship in a matter of minutes, steered by staff into the main theatre where we got our cards and then directed to our room which was ready with our luggage already there.
We had chosen a Grand Suite thinking that we would make good use of the wrap around balcony, having had a similar suite on the Paul Gauguin when we cruised in French Polynesia, when it came to viewing the Hubbard Glacier or wildlife and scenery in general. Our first day was beautifully sunny and we were thrilled to see a small sitting area with a table and two chairs on the balcony and then when we walked round, two very nice sun beds. Our hopes of making use of this were dashed by the appalling weather we had on this cruise. It's the luck of the draw in Alaska where the weather is so unpredictable, but it was really dire with only one afternoon of sunshine for the rest of the cruise (Skagway), which rendered this beautiful outdoor space a waste of time and money. When sailing close to the Hubbard Glacier we did use the balcony, but it was sheer doggedness to do so. We were kitted out in full waterproofs, gloves, hats and used the umbrellas provided in the suite as well. On the days when it wasn't raining, just merely grey and cold, the wind was so strong that it was not pleasant to be on the balcony at all.
Our stewardess, Nelma, and butler, John, were both very pleasant and very efficient in all they did and nothing was too much trouble, not that we are particularly demanding. We did notice, however, that there seem to be a little cost cutting going on. We are not huge drinkers and on our Caribbean cruise on the Navigator, we asked whether we could exchange the four bottles of liquor in our suite for one bottle of Knob Creek bourbon and this was not a problem. When we asked if we could do the same this time, we were told that this was not possible without an additional charge.
Food is always very subjective. We found the food to be, on the whole very good, but not really outstanding. We never had a bad meal, but looking back I can't say we ever had an exceptional one either. This was highlighted when we compared the meals on board with the ones we had in Vancouver. Soups were always very good and I noticed a huge improvement in the quality of the bread and other baked goods from our last cruise. Alaska has such plentiful fish and seafood that I hoped to see more of it used on board. There was always a destination dish of salmon available in Compass Rose and on several days Yellow Eye as well, but I would have definitely liked to see more. Interestingly in Ketchikan, when I got off to explore (yet again in driving rain) a refrigerated trunk had just pulled up from a local fish company. Service in all the restaurants was excellent. There were quite a few staff who remembered us from our last cruise and we were very happy to see Daniela, the head sommelier, as my husband really liked talking wine with her. I was ill one day and even though it was not on the room service menu, the kitchen came up trumps and provided the clear chicken broth which was the only thing I could face eating.
We took a mixture of the ship's free excursions and some with an additional charge. Two of these were run by Allen Marine and we were very impressed with this company, particularly with the quality of the guides they provided. In Sitka, after exploring on our own, we took the Sea Otter and Wildlife quest which was excellent. I was thrilled to see sea otters and was astonished by their size. We also took the Tracy Arm excursion at an additional charge and this was well worth the extra money. A catamaran picked us up from the ship which briefly stopped and then whisked us away to view the Sawyer glaciers. Our luck was in as the ice was thin enough for us to get very close to the North Sawyer and we saw it calve twice. It also stopped raining so that we were able to go out on deck to take some very good pictures. Allen Marine then took us back to rejoin the Navigator which had docked in Juneau. In Skagway we took the gold panning and dredging trip which we knew was going to be hokey. It didn't disappoint. Skagway and Sitka were probably my two favourite stops as they weren't completely inundated with gaudy, tacky jewellery stores as Juneau and Ketchikan were. I later learned that many of these jewellery stores were branches of stores in the Caribbean who come to Alaska for just the summer to follow the cruise ships. It explained why some other stores had large notices in their windows proclaiming that they were owned and run by Alaskan families.
We were meant to arrive in Ketchikan by noon and had booked to do another excursion with an additional charge, the float plane fjord viewing and crab feast. The weather was so bad with strong cross winds that the Navigator's arrival was delayed. Destination services were obviously on top of this and were in touch with the local tour operators as we struggled through the rough seas. They announced that some excursions were going to have to be cancelled, and asked passengers to come to the desk to discuss options. Ours was in the second batch to be cancelled, and rather than just do the crab feast, getting there by bus rather than float plane, we decided to take the refund which was promptly applied to our onboard account and which we used to pay for a Connoisseurs Wine Tasting that Daniela ran the next day - which was very good indeed as she brought out some rare and interesting wines for us to try.
I delayed writing this review until I had had time to mull it over a little. We had a very good time and were happy with the service on the Navigator and with the ship itself. Alaska is beautiful and we saw wildlife and scenery that we will always remember. There is no getting away from the fact, however, that weather plays a huge part in a cruise like this and we were singularly unlucky with maybe three quarters of a day of good weather in the whole cruise. Reading comments from people who took the cruise immediately after us they were lucky enough to have exactly the reverse in terms of weather, a lot of sunshine and minimal bad weather. We would certainly cruise again, probably with Regent, although we are open to other luxury lines if the itinerary is right for us, but we have learned from this cruise that we are probably better suited to one that has an itinerary based more on history than on scenery. We like museums, old buildings, churches, galleries and, although we enjoy magnificent scenery we need an alternative if the weather isn't good!