We recently returned from a 12-day Caribbean cruise aboard Regent Mariner. We keenly anticipated it, after more than 30 cruises on premium lines including HAL, Oceania and Azamara. We've also been on small expedition ships in remote corners of the world, which were exciting but not luxurious! Our only luxury cruise was on Paul Gauguin earlier this year and we enjoyed it very much. So we were ready for the Regent 6-star experience. While we enjoyed our Mariner cruise overall, Regent was not vastly superior to some of our other cruises. We thought there would be a significant bump-up in the on-board experience compared to our other cruises. Not so. In fact, many things were done as well, or better, on our non-luxury cruises.
Our deluxe suite was comfortable and well appointed. The walk-in closet was great and amply stocked with wooden hangers. The bathroom was functional and well designed, although our shower drain was sluggish. L'Occitane amenities were a nice touch. For the most part, linens and towels were acceptable. Our stewardess kept our suite immaculately clean, although on many days it was not serviced before noon.
Our mini-fridge was replenished daily, except for a couple of Buds that DH drank a few days into the cruise. No biggie, but isn't this part of the promised Regent experience?
Our smoke alarm went off at 5:10 am mid-way through the cruise. We jolted out of bed, dazed and confused, but the alarm turned off about 2 minutes later. We settled back into bed but the alarm went off again at 5:44 am. Only this time it didn't turn off. A maintenance guy came to our suite and removed the sensor, thus stopping the alarm. He seemed confused as to why the alarm went off and mentioned it would be replaced later that day. It wasn't and still hadn't been by the time we disembarked a few days later. Stuff happens and we know to roll with it, but we would have appreciated an apology or explanation for the rude awakenings!
Like others have reported about Mariner, we noticed a sewer smell on several occasions. Thankfully, this was only obvious in the corridors and not in our suite.
Our expectations for dining were set fairly high and Regent met them most of the time, but not always.
We ate most breakfasts at La Veranda. The hot and cold buffet items were identical each day and featured the usual suspects, along with an egg station and a daily special. Everything was OK but nothing was exceptional. I was disappointed by the variety and quality of fresh fruit, much of it under ripe and flavorless. Waffles and pancakes were well prepared and presented. There were no fresh juices available, unless you ventured to the nearby Pool Grill, where a most unhappy guy would reluctantly make fresh-squeezed juices.
We had lunch at La Veranda most days. The cold buffet included an assortment of salads, deli, cheese, panini and seafood. Hot items included a daily carving station, a daily pasta, as well as entrees that mirrored what was available for lunch in Compass Rose. Food was nicely displayed and tasty. Pizza was excellent, especially the wonderful thin-crust Margarita.
Dinner at La Veranda was an unexpected delight. The room was transformed into a Mediterranean bistro and overseen by a very accommodating Maitre d'. There was an excellent selection of antipasti on the self-serve buffet, followed by table service for soup, pasta and entrees. We were pleased with every aspect of food and service during dinner. Gnocchi with butter and sage was exceptional, as was osso bucco with creamy polenta. Grilled mahi mahi with anchovy butter was superb and beef tournedos were expertly prepared.
Our biggest issue at La Veranda was inconsistent service at breakfast and lunch. We received prompt attention on several occasions, with staff eager to serve in any way. But we also had very inattentive service and sat with plates waiting to be cleared or coffee cups (or wine glasses) waiting to be refilled for way too long. Staff walked past us on numerous occasions, ignoring our stacked plates and oblivious that we required service. Sometimes we needed to hail for attention, which just doesn't jive with 6-star service.
Our first experience with Regent food was at the Pool Grill on embarkation day. DH loved his gorgonzola beef burger and I enjoyed an Asian salmon burger, both accompanied by crispy yam fries. We returned to the Pool Grill for several lunches, including Tex Mex BBQ, Seafood Extravaganza and Mediterranean BBQ. They were pretty ordinary, with the exception of the bountiful seafood buffet.
The Pool Grill was the go-to spot for ice cream and sherbets, which were consistently excellent in flavor and texture. There was also a menu of milkshakes and smoothies. Unfortunately, the ice cream man had little experience in making the offered concoctions and was daunted by my request for a caramel latte milkshake, which was on the menu. He asked another server for help in making it, which was met with a bored shrug. Oh well.
We had most dinners at Compass Rose and our experiences could best be described as mixed. Some meals were outstanding, others were very good and a few were just average.
Menu choices were varied and interesting. Each night, there were also featured items from both Signatures and Prime 7. Some stand-outs included Dover sole, rack of lamb, osso bucco, Beef Wellington, Monte Cristo salad and pasta in truffle oil. Caviar atop fingerling potatoes and seared foie gras were outstanding. Soups were consistently well done, while desserts were hit or miss. We learned quickly that we had to order the palate-cleansing sorbet each night, otherwise it didn't arrive. Who would have guessed?
Service depended on where we were seated. We had excellent service on many occasions, with attentive waiters and wine stewards. On those nights, dining in Compass Rose was a real delight. We had the wonderful pleasure of being served wine by the head sommelier on several nights. She is a real treasure. But we also had spotty service more than once, with rushed waiters, inexcusable delays or unobservant wine stewards. We usually dined around 7:45 pm and never had a problem getting a deuce, but we rarely had the same wait staff. Perhaps we should have requested to be seated with a good team once we discovered them. Lesson learned.
We went to Signatures twice and had completely different experiences. Our first visit, on embarkation day, was very good in all respects. We both enjoyed the scallop appetizer, followed by delicious crustacean bisque. My Magret duck was perfectly prepared and DH loved his beef tournedos with foie gras. We asked for a different red wine than the suggested daily pour and it was graciously provided. CrÃ¨me brule lived up to expectation. We received expert and attentive service throughout the meal, without a hint of pretension. We liked Signatures enough to request an additional reservation.
Perhaps we should have stopped after our first visit, since the second time was not nearly as good. We arrived on time at 8:00 pm, only to be asked to wait for the Maitre d', who was nowhere in sight. When he appeared about 5 minutes later, he seemed harried and unfriendly. He gave us several choices for a deuce and seated us. Menus in hand, we then waited and waited and waited. We seriously debated leaving after about 15 minutes, but then the sommelier arrived to offer wine. That kept us happier while we waited an additional 10 minutes for our waiter. He was full of gushy apologies for the delay, but it seemed quite insincere. Close to half an hour after being seated, we placed our orders. Our escargot appetizers came in short order and were unremarkable. We both had the wonderful crustacean bisque again, but this time it was lukewarm and a skin had formed over the top. The entrees arrived with drama but under the domed cloches was lukewarm food. My lamb loin was delicious and would have been exceptional had it been served hot. DH had veal medallions, which were flavorful but lukewarm. CrÃ¨me brule was excellent once again. Nobody asked how our meals were until the plates were cleared, so there was no opportunity to make things right. In fairness, the Maitre d' offered us an additional reservation, acknowledging that they could do better. We weren't tempted to try again.
Consistency is a hallmark of excellence and Regent failed on that score.
We enjoyed everything about our only meal in Prime 7, from a warm welcome by the most competent Maitre d' to anticipatory service from waiters and wine stewards.
The food was delicious. Amuse bouche of Wagyu beef sliders was wonderful. Oysters Rockefeller, steak tartare, crab cakes and clam chowder were all memorable starters. My filet mignon was a tad overdone from my requested medium rare, but with fabulous bÃ©arnaise sauce, was very tasty. DH thought his rib eye was sensational. We both enjoyed crab legs, which were sweet and succulent. Sides of truffle fries, asparagus and creamed spinach were served piping hot. Key lime pie was a perfect finish to a perfect meal.
We tried to get an additional reservation at Prime 7 but were unsuccessful.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
This was a port-intensive cruise, so there was limited daily programming. The usual spa sponsored seminars featured prominently, as did art lectures presented by Park West. Marketing pitches given by the on-board boutique rounded out the typical activities.
There was an enrichment lecturer on-board, who was boring in the extreme. But at least she spoke on topics relevant to the areas being visited, which is not always the case.
We attended the only culinary demo that was offered. It was entertaining, mostly in trying to figure out what the French chef was saying!
We didn't participate in any of the Regent rewards events, though they had a dedicated following. We lurked at trivia a few times and it seemed like fun. Bingo attracted a core crowd every day.
Afternoon tea was offered daily, as a prelude to trivia. There were also a few special themed teas on sea days. We attended the special crepes tea and found it to be most unimpressive. Food was self-serve with stations scattered about the room. The set-up seemed to be an after-thought and trivia was the main event.
The absolute best activity was a wine tasting class presented by the head sommelier. Her knowledge was impressive and her passion and enthusiasm were genuine. She provided a ton of great info in a user-friendly manner. It was outstanding.
Also fun was the embarkation day block party where we met our neighbours over a glass of wine. The fly-past of the Captain, General Manager and CD was a great way to meet the core team early in the cruise.
Each evening, there were production shows by the resident troupe or performances by guest entertainers. We attended a few and enjoyed them immensely, especially Le Cirque Mariner and James Bond Martini Cocktails. Liar's Club was a hoot, as was Krew Kapers.
We loved going to the various bars for pre-dinner cocktails and post-dinner nightcaps and even managed to have the legendary martini with bleu cheese stuffed olives!
We pre-booked all our shore excursions as soon as they were available on-line. We also waitlisted a few others, but didn't clear before sailing.
For the most part, shore excursions were well handled. Destinations staff seemed knowledgeable about the various tours and they maintained their enthusiasm throughout, which I'm sure was difficult at times. With few exceptions, there was minimal waiting for tour tickets or tender tickets.
In some instances, the on-line description of the included tours did not match the on-the-ground experience. Whenever this happened, the actual tour was less than described on-line.
Grand Turk: Chukka Off-Road Safari. Orientation to top spots on the island aboard 4x4 vehicles with decent commentary from an enthusiastic guide/driver. 3/5
San Juan: We cancelled El Yunque Long Hike in favor of San Juan & Bacardi Rum Distillery. Big mistake. We wasted over half the tour time at the Bacardi distillery which left precious little time to see Old San Juan and other places noted on the itinerary. So our guide decided he would just skip them! 2/5
St. Barts: We pre-booked Blue Cat on the Blue Sea and waitlisted for Semi-Submersible Exploration. We cleared the waitlist and had tickets for both tours waiting for us upon embarkation. But there was also a note from Destination Services asking us to choose between the tours, since they wanted to accommodate others. As luck would have it, we had already decided to cancel the snorkeling excursion, so no harm done. We walked around St. Barts on our own for a few hours and then hopped on the semi-submersible. Pretty lame, although the guide tried to rally enthusiasm every time a fish swam past. Saw a few turtles and reef sharks. Missed the feeding frenzy highlight promised in the on-line description. 2/5
Castries: Land and Sea to Soufriere. A long but interesting day. Nice balance of an overview of key places around St. Lucia by mini-van, followed by a relaxing catamaran cruise. Marigot Bay was stunningly beautiful! Excellent guides. Average lunch at an historic plantation. 4/5
Barbados: Luxury 4x4 Safari. A journey inland to rugged hillsides, rainforests and several parishes on the island. Outstanding vistas. Brief refreshment stop at gorgeous Bathsheba. Entertaining guides. 4/5
Roseau: Dominica's Favorites. We opted not to take this tour, turned in our tickets and wandered the streets of Roseau instead. Maybe we should have stuck with our original program, since there wasn't much to see or do in Roseau, especially since it was Sunday. Heard good reports of Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Pool.
Virgin Gorda: Best of Virgin Gorda. Drive around the island in an open-air safari bus. Uncomfortable sideways bench seating, making it difficult to sightsee. Poorly organized with upwards of 40 minutes for a restroom stop but only 5 minutes to catch a quick photo of featured highlights. Dropped off at the Baths, where there were huge crowds. Disorganized return shuttle. 3/5
Cayo Levantado: Cave and Mangrove Exploration. No contest, our best tour. A 55-minute speed boat ride to reach Los Haitises National Park, but well worth the time and effort. The area was spectacular and full of birds, mangroves and rainforests. A mini Amazon. We also explored ancient caves where our guide explained some petroglyphs by now-extinct native Indians. Highly recommended for nature buffs. 5/5
Princess Cay: Private Beach Party. Lovely setting for a final beach BBQ. All water activities were at extra charge, which was surprising given the all-included nature of Regent tours. Snorkeling was free if you had your own gear, otherwise a rental charge applied. Average BBQ lunch. 4/5
We eagerly anticipated this cruise and hoped Regent would become our preferred luxury line. We enjoyed the cruise overall and didn't let the few glitches overshadow an otherwise wonderful time. We had excellent weather, visited amazing ports, took some interesting tours, shared many fine meals and met delightful fellow travelers. What's not to like?
However, Regent didn't meet our expectations for a luxury experience, mostly because of inconsistency in customer-focused service. We've had as good, if not better, service on non-luxury lines. Since it boasts a 6-star experience in all its marketing, Regent should deliver impeccable service and unfailing attention to detail, at least most of the time. We saw too many gaps in service on Mariner. All inclusive, yes. Luxury, not so much.