I was not certain as to whether or not I should do a review of our 21 night cruise from Barcelona to Dubai on the Voyager. The sailing was excellent -- it is just a matter of too much information to fit into a review properly. Obviously, I've decided to give it a try.
Vancouver to Barcelona: We deviated the flights to insure that we were booked on the exact flights we wanted. The pre-cruise hotel choices were not to our liking in terms of area so we took the credit and booked our own hotel (Duquesa de Cardona -- a delightful boutique hotel near the waterfront for 140 Euros including breakfast).
Flying Lufthansa is great on one hand and not so great on the other. The food and service are excellent. The Business Class seats move into many configurations -- none of them comfortable or flat. The cabin was also kept too warm. Frankfurt airport presented typical challenges. You arrive at one terminal and must go through Passport Control and x-ray in order to take the long walk to the terminal you will depart from. The Business Class lounge is adequate but always crowded.
Upon arrival in Barcelona, we took a taxi to the hotel (31 Euros -- you pay extra for each piece of luggage). Many restaurants are closed on Sunday nights. Tourist restaurants remain open. We have been to Barcelona before and decided to go to an Irish Pub (Dunne's) for some bangers and mash (aka sausages and mashed potatoes) and beer. It was a lovely restaurant -- walking distance to the hotel. The included breakfast the next morning was fresh and delicious. After breakfast, we took a stroll down Las Rambla and visited the Boqueria Market (such an interesting place to visit). We were quite pleased with our short visit to Barcelona and headed to the ship close to noon.
Embarkation: Embarkation was quick and easy and began promptly at noon. Being served "real" champagne was nice after years of sparkling wine. Within a few minutes we were up in La Veranda ordering wine with our lunch. Suites were ready on time and soon we were drinking more champagne in the suite and unpacking.
Condition of the Ship: The Voyager was refurbished in September, 2011 and looked like new. All carpeting and wallpaper was removed and replaced -- wood floors redone, etc. There is a video of the refurbishment on television. My only comment concerns the carpeting. I am guessing that extra carpeting was purchased when the three ships were refurbished 2-3 years ago. Either that or they purchased the same carpet. IMO, the selected carpets work in all areas except hallways and the atrium. The carpet was already looking stained in these areas -- in only two months. It is particularly noticeable prior to entering the Observation Lounge on deck 11. Hopefully, the powers that be will select a carpet for these areas that does not show spilled drinks/stains quite as much.
The highly touted beds are not that great. My DH asked our Steward (lovely man) to set up twin beds because he could not sleep on the double padded memory foam. His comment was that the only memory it had was from the last people that slept on it. He had his mattress turned upside down which worked better.
Service: The service we received for the three weeks we were on the Voyager was nothing short of extraordinary. Starting with the wonderful Captain and General Manager, everyone on board did a wonderful job. Our Cruise Director, Paul Reynolds, endears himself to everyone he meets. Chris Martin, Asst. Cruise Director, is constantly at hand with a smile on his face and endless energy. We hope that he will have gained the title of Cruise Director when we see him again.
I do not believe I have ever commented on a Cruise Consultant. Michael Coleman is by far the best Cruise Consultant we have met. The last week there was a booking frenzy on board due to generous onboard incentives. Michael handled the enormous amount of bookings -- met with the passengers and kept his smile and sense of humor the entire time. We saw him at his computer working at 11:00 p.m. On top of all that, he loves his job!
Our Butler, Raju is amazing. He sought us out to make certain that everything we needed was being taken care of. He made suggestions for special orders (like the fabulous mushroom soup) and insured that we had them at dinner. He is a top notch Butler and a great human being. Our Steward, Putu was also quite amazing. Our suite was kept perfectly all of the time. We never had to wait for our suite to be cleaned. He knew when we went to breakfast and insured it was done before we returned.
La Veranda was the biggest surprise for us. The food was improved (especially loved the salmon in a puffed pastry with butter sauce . . . . no calories of course?) The service was usually slow or absent on our prior cruises. On this cruise the service was consistent and excellent. Abigail, one of the managers in La Veranda has been in La Veranda for quite some time and insures that everything is handled promptly and efficiently. An up and coming "star" in La Veranda is "Mi Made". She remembered our names from the beginning and always greeted us with a smile. Some of the servers and wine stewards work both LV and CR. We received amazing service from Laksman and Andy (our drinks appeared at our table almost before we did), Wilson and Jackson as well as many more. Each and every person working in La Veranda was a pleasure to be around. Bravo La Veranda!
We generally receive good service and food in Compass Rose. One reason for is that we intentionally dine early -- before the crowds (plus, it leaves more time for after dinner drinks in the lounge). The first time we entered Compass Rose we were pleasantly surprised to see Head Waiters Francisco and Joey. We have cruised with them both before and they are delightful. Next we discovered "Zaldy" -- the perfect waiter (he also gives good hugs). Emmanuel and Andrew made sure we had our favorite wine at our table each night. I need to make a special note at this point because there have been discussions on CruiseCritic as to whether or not you need to find a server and sit mostly in their section. You absolutely can find excellent service anywhere in Compass Rose. However, for us, when we get to know the crew working in a certain area of the restaurant, it enriches our experience. I asked Zaldy about this and he also enjoys seeing the same people as it gives him a chance to anticipate their needs since he served them previously.
While nothing can ever be perfect, the food in Compass Rose was right on target most of the time. We enjoyed many excellent meals there.
Signatures is a restaurant we want to like. I have come to the conclusion that we do not like French food. We dined at Signatures on the first night of the "new" menu. The foie gras was undercooked (for me) and the accompanying chutney did not compliment the foie gras. Half of the halibut was tasty-- the other half undercooked. This was due to the way it was cut (much thicker on one side than the other). We did enjoy one item very much -- the tomato soup!
Prime 7, IMO, needs consistency. We have had the best and worst crab legs at Prime 7. This time I wonder if the crab was held over from the last cruise. For the first time we asked for the crab to be taken out of the shell. Both of our plates had small bits and pieces of crab -- not very flavorful.
Overall we find the food on Regent to be good to excellent. The Dining Room Manager Chimmy was everywhere at the same time (or so it seemed). He wants perfection and I believe it is being achieved most of the time.
We spend our evening time in the Observation Lounge. The Head Bartender, Joe (Jose?) has been with Regent from the beginning and can make just about any drink you can think of. He must be one of the top bartenders in the world. He knows the science of alcohol -- not just how to pour a drink. He teaches others in his area with patience and caring. He was a joy to talk with -- learning about his background with Regent as well as his very well rounded life.
Excursions -- this is a huge topic and heavily debated on the boards. I have been quite outspoken about not wanting included excursions and have been unhappy with the "cattle call" atmosphere we had on a previous cruise with hallways filled with guests trying to get off of the ship.
On this cruise, I would say that there is a 90% improvement. It was organized with shorter lines (or no line) to get off of the ship. We did not tender at any port so this should be considered. There is still a little confusion when people try to leave the theater -- they walk out of the entrance and exit -- even though they are clearly marked. Still -- much improved.
Due to confusion at the head office, the Destination Services desk was overwhelmed with guests immediately upon embarkation. We understood that changing the port of Ashdod was a big deal. In my opinion, it would have been far better to give no information than to consistently give incorrect information on the telephone. This clearly was not the fault of the Customer Service Representatives as many times they checked with their supervisors. After questioning the conflicting answers on the telephone, they began telling everyone to go to Destination Services when they get on board. This caused very long lines for the first two or three days.
Valletta, Malta -- is a gorgeous port to sail into -- especially on a beautiful, sunny day. We took the "Scenic Sights of Malta" excursion -- a 4 hour tour. The excursion was well done and quite enjoyable.
Rhodes, Greece -- also a beautiful port to sail into. In Rhodes we did the "Culinary Delights" excursion as we had been to this port previously. It included a city tour and a cooking demonstration with lunch (included excursion). The food was to die for -- definitely would rate this a "10"!
Limassol, Cyprus -- We decided to stay local and not do an excursion at this port. We may have taken a shuttle into town.
Haifa, Israel -- We docked in Haifa for three days due to the cancellation of the port of Ashdod. Docking in Haifa added a minimum of two hours each way to our excursion driving time. We did the following included excursions:
Day One -- We took an excursion to a Kibbutz that resides in an area that was formerly Syria (Syria is now 2 miles away -- visible from where we were). Bunkers remain from when Syria occupied the area. The kibbutz is lovely -- we learned about life on a Kibbutz (which is non-denominational) -- much too detailed to go into. There are air-raid shelters throughout the Kibbutz -- not an easy way to live.
Day Two -- We took an 8 hour Jerusalem tour that ended at the David Citadel Hotel where Regent provided an overnight stay. Dinner was on our own and we found a delightful cafÃ© across the street where we dined with three CC members.
Day Three -- The return bus back to the ship left at 10:30 a.m. We had a good buffet breakfast at the hotel. There were so many Regent guests staying at this hotel (I believe they had 200 rooms) that a large ballroom type facility was set up for breakfast.
After transiting the Suez Canal we continued on to Safaga, Egypt where the majority of guests took the 3 Â½ hour bus ride to Luxor where there was another included night at a hotel. Having visited Luxor previously, we decided to take the Jeep Safari to a Bedouin camp for tea and unleavened bread. The Â½ hour ride into the desert (quite bumpy) was lovely. We were glad that the jeeps were enclosed so the sand stayed outside. On the second day we took the shuttle into town and returned to the ship immediately as there is nothing to see or do in town. We enjoyed a nice restful day and were aware that we had a big day ahead of us in Petra, Jordan the next day.
Aqaba, Jordan -- Much has been written about Petra -- a stunning area to see and worth the time to go there (note: this tour was $139/person). There is a tremendous amount of walking unless you wish to take the carriage ride ($35) which goes so quickly that you cannot really enjoy the scenery. There are also horses. . . . and, for the last portion of the journey, camels are available. My "walking partner" and I -- both suffering from knee injuries that are in the process of healing, took it slowly and managed to walk all but the last section. At that point, knowing that we had to do the same walk back -- only uphill -- decided against going down the steep hill that takes you to the amphitheater. My DH took pictures for me.
We shopped in Aqaba during the second day in port as we cancelled our 2nd excursion -- to Wadi Rum. Although probably more scenic than our similar excursion in Egypt, Wadi Rum goes into the desert in an open jeep to a Bedouin camp. People did get cold and sand was blowing.
Finally we had our anticipated four sea days. There were wonderful (even though we spent half of it transiting the Gulf of Aden.) There were plenty of events onboard and there also had a Country Fair in the atrium of decks 4 and 5 (probably because having this event on an open deck in the area we were traveling in was not a good idea).
Our next port was Salalah, Oman -- a lovely port with beautiful white sand beaches. We did the "Scenic Salalah" excursion that took us around the city. We could only view the beautiful mosque from the outside as it was Friday.
Fortunately, it was not Friday when we reached Muscat, Oman as they have the most incredible mosque we have seen in our travels. Women had to dress in a way that their arms were covered (beyond their wrist), and they legs were covered below the ankle. We were checked prior to entering the mosque. In anticipation of this day, I purchased an abaya (traditional "dress" worn by Muslim women) and had a scarf around my head covering my hair. IMO, the beauty of this mosque exceeds that of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Oman is very different than the other countries in the Middle East as it has water and therefore, rather than all desert, there were palm trees, gardens, lawns -- a lot of natural beauty. I found Jordan to be the most surprising country -- very advanced -- growing -- progressive (they education female children before males if money is an issue) and the people feel kindly towards "Westerners". Egypt was sad -- it was no longer the thriving country we visited in 1989 as it is torn by unrest. Passengers that went to Luxor shared stories of very aggressive beggars and dirty conditions around the ruins. Israel opened my eyes to many things. I will be pondering what I learned there for a long time.
I leave Dubai for last. It is glitz and glamour amongst "secrets". Dubai is not as it appears. . . . I'll leave it at that. Regent provided different accommodations for their passengers -- depending upon their departure time. We were on our own and stayed at the Airport Millenium Hotel which was very nice and a good price. We dined at the "Blue Elephant" which I highly recommend. It isn't in a high rise hotel with beautiful views (actually, the visibility in Dubai isn't very good), but is a beautiful restaurant with rich woods and a koi pond.
Conclusion (finally) -- This was a magnificent cruise! From the service to the food and even the excursions (which I must admit were quite good) -- everything was at or near perfection. We cannot wait to be back on the Voyager in four months and have also booked 3 new cruises through May, 2013!