Having heard rave reviews from various friends over the past few years about Regent Seven Seas, we decided to experience this "six star" line for ourselves. To us, true luxury in cruising is lots of space in our stateroom. For that reason, we choose a Penthouse Suite, and have sailed mostly on Celebrity (both Millennium class and Solstice class) and Holland America.
On both these lines, which our travel agent refers to as "mass market", we not only enjoy enormous suites, with large balconies, powder room, etc., but first class service to match - excellent butler and steward, wonderful tables in the dining room (even "table for 4 for 2" guaranteed), priority boarding, and special events such as officers' cocktail parties and invitations to the captain's table. On our last Holland America cruise on Statendam, the executive chef even prepared some main courses personally for us - just part of the service!
Wondering how "six star Regent" could possibly improve on this, we swallowed hard at the much higher fare for a 10-day cruise on Regent Navigator.
Boarding was a little unusual - no priority line for first-class suites. However, it was early so there was no line-up. There seemed to be some problem with our passport information - it was explained that the actual passport numbers differed from what Regent had on file, so they said they would keep our passports and return them later to us on the ship! We absolutely refused to let these crucial documents out of our possession, so with a little heated discussion, an officer came over and make the changes manually - in 2 minutes! Didn't seem like a very efficient beginning.
Once on board, we were told the suites would not be ready for a couple of hours. They made no exception for Master Suites (the top category) and insisted we had to go for lunch to La Veranda or the Pool Grill. The entry to the suites was delayed a couple of times and didn't occur until 2.30 pm. On arrival in the suite, a connecting door was open to the neighbouring suite and we discovered it had been opened for a tour! In other words, while we all waited and waited over lunch, people (presumably travel agents) were being toured around the suites which were all ready!! Regent lost points here for not putting their paying guests first.
Our suite had a large living/dining room, separate bedroom, bathroom with separate toilet/bidet room, powder room, and a huge entrance hallway which was completely wasted space. The balcony was very narrow and had a small, boxy loveseat and two small chairs with low straight backs - not suitable for relaxing. (We had these replaced with a lounger from the pool area, and two regular chairs from regular balconies.)
Overall the suite appeared shabby and tired, although well cleaned. The shower stall was very small, in spite of the bathroom being large. Furniture in the living room was uncomfortable, again not suited to relaxing. Carpets and drapery were ready for replacement.
Service - our butler, John, and stewardess, JackieLou, were both excellent, similar to what we have received on Celebrity and Holland America.
Ship - we did not enjoy this small ship. The first night, we had very rough seas, which we later learned were about 35 ft. Our stateroom was in the bow, with the headboard of our bed backing on to the bow, so we had a very bad night with our heads going up and down into every wave. Fortunately the bed was comfortable with good linens, as we had to spend all of the first day there rather than risk falling!! Did not venture out to see how the other, much older passengers, many with walkers and canes, were faring. Announcements were few and far between, especially from the Captain, who ended his daily update with a very casual "See you around"!!
Dining - The food in Compass Rose, La Veranda and the Pool Grill were all very good, but just as good on Celebrity and Holland America. The temperature in Compass Rose was uncomfortably high. In La Veranda, the menu for lunch was rather repetitious. The dining rooms are also tired and in need of refurbishment - La Veranda reminds me of the dining room at my mother's retirement home. Service was excellent, but no better than we are used to.
Specialty Dining - The only venue is Prime 7, which is a smallish, very crowded and overheated room. We were offered no special table in spite of having paid for a Master Suite,and in fact were seated at one of the worst tables in the restaurant. The menu is rather ordinary steakhouse, with some seafood choices thrown in. My filet mignon was just adequate, the Dover Sole my husband ordered was abysmal - dry, and completely flavourless. Compare this to our experiences in the fabulous, formal Murano or Normandie specialty restaurants on Celebrity's ships, which their professional staff of waiters, champagne trolleys, etc. The $30 charged for these dining rooms is more than worth every penny and the Dover Sole is as good as any we have had in London. Prime 7 was uncomfortable, not luxurious, the food was not very good, and service was much below the standard of the main dining room, Compass Rose. In particular, the Maitre D', when we complained about the Dover Sole, was very rude to us. Our great butler had obtained a second reservation at Prime 7 for another night, which we cancelled.
Entertainment - The production shows were very good, although somewhat limited by lack of stage space.
Enrichment - the featured lectures on wildlife at sea didn't interest us much, and nothing much else was offered other than one cooking demo of limited value.
Bars were adequate but with no pizzazz (think Solstice's Ice Bar) and the public areas, boutiques, casino etc. in such a small ship seemed like a bit of a joke. You could walk through all of these in about 3 minutes.
Excursions - we signed on for a few excursions, but only took one in Puerto Rico, which was very good. We did not go on the "open safari bus" trip in Tortola when we saw the buses! Hard wooden seats, no seat belts, and mountain roads - not a good combination! We also did not leave the ship when anchored off the Dominican Republic - local open-topped tenders had to be used to go to the beach on a small island, and these tenders looked very unsafe, especially in the swell occurring that day, and there was no sign of lifejackets.
The gangway used for disembarking and boarding in port was narrow, and could only accommodate one-way use, which led to some delays. It was also very steep, set up on a higher deck than other ships at the same dock, and there was no assistance offered either at the top or bottom for the mostly elderly passengers. We told the security staff that old people were having lots of trouble climbing up, and they just shrugged - not their problem.
Itinerary - The ship arrived at St. Maarten on a Sunday - absolutely everything was closed, and this was the prime shopping destination for the whole cruise. There were no other ships docked there that day, they had more sense. No shuttle services were offered in ports that would have benefited from them for passengers to get into town - San Juan, Tortola, and St. Maarten.
So, our experiment over, we are going back to Celebrity and Holland America. For the extra thousands that we paid, even taking into account what we normally pay for drinks, tips and excursions, we received no advantage whatsoever, and no additional "luxury". In fact, our experience was less luxurious than we are used to. All-inclusive fares may be good value for a smaller suite, but do not make financial sense for a Penthouse class suite. We can only conclude that "six-star" is something invented by a very clever marketing company.