Sailing away from the PortMiami as the sun began to set behind the skyline brought back memories of my last Caribbean cruise. It was four years ago -- and on the same ship -- Seven Seas Explorer.
Billed as the most luxurious cruise ship in the world (by Regent Seven Seas) when it launched on July 13, 2016, Seven Seas Explorer is every bit as elegant as it was when we sailed on the ship in 2018. It's been great to see it back at sea, sailing again in the Caribbean on the 12th voyage since its restart in Trieste, Italy, on October 15, 2021.
Everyone sailing aboard Regent Seven Seas' ships must be fully vaccinated (a booster is not required at this time) and present their vaccination card at their COVID-19 testing site (a tent outside the terminal) before boarding. The crew is also fully vaccinated. In addition, guests are required to have a negative rapid antigen test prior to boarding, which was accomplished in a quick (10- to 15-minute wait) and in a well-organized manner. For this sailing, everyone tested negative and was able to board the ship.
Regent Seven Seas follows cleaning, masking and distancing protocols on the ship. When we sailed on Explorer in 2018, we noticed how meticulous the crew was with constant cleaning and maintenance, so many of these protocols seem much as they did back then.
Honestly, I feel safer on board this ship with vaccinated (and many boosted), COVID-negative passengers and crew than I do going out to dinner at our tourist destination home of Amelia Island.
(Note: Regent is lifting mask mandates for fully vaccinated passengers, starting on March 1. In addition, Regent passengers will no longer have to take a pierside COVID-19 test before boarding, but must show proof of a negative test verified by a third party taken within 48 hours of boarding at a port in the United States or within three days of boarding at a non-U.S. port.)
As my husband and I embarked on Deck 5 by the atrium, we were welcomed with a glass of champagne and the familiar cascading chandelier boasting thousands of crystals designed by a U.K.-based lighting company, Chelsom. The photo from that January day in 2018 looks pretty much the same, except for the mask on the crew member offering the champagne and the heart-shaped balloons along the staircase. After all, 2022's embarkation day was Valentine's Day. The ship's interior (that's impeccably maintained and looks as it did four years ago) features beautiful artwork -- including many pieces by Picasso. There's an elegance and grandeur about the ship -- yet it's not stuffy.
Life on board also seems much as it did in 2018. However, there are fewer passengers with the ship at approximately 60% capacity from the usual 732 guests -- and everyone dons a mask when they're not eating or drinking or in their stateroom. Guests on this 7-night Central American Delights voyage benefit from an even higher crew to passenger ratio with an entire staff of 567 crew members. The staff appears (and has remarked) that they are happy to be back sailing again, and the service is as I remembered it before the pandemic -- attentive and gracious though not pretentious. They even have more time to chat now with fewer guests on the ship.
We've talked to several couples, crew members and passengers onboard the ship, and their stories are all very similar. Everyone is ready to travel and get on with their lives again. They are tired of living in fear, especially when it comes to cruising. Some passengers have been sailing since the restart and have taken 11 cruises or more. For others, this is their first time sailing since the pandemic, but they have cruises booked back-to-back on this sailing and beyond.
We also see several types of cruisers right now. An older demographic (and some with compromising health situations) realizes life is short (and getting shorter). They want to return to traveling, especially after the past two pandemic years, and cruising makes travel more accessible.
There are also families sailing together and groups of friends that see a cruise as the perfect way to reconnect. There's even a younger demographic on the ship -- which I noticed when I cruised on Azamara's Quest during their restart in Greece in August 2021. Special discounts and last-minute deals have made cruising attractive and affordable to many that may be first-time cruisers, especially on these shorter 7-night voyages. And there are many couples like us -- just ready to travel and see the world again.
The food has been excellent – especially at the specialty venues – French inspired Chartreuse and their classic American steakhouse, Prime 7. We're headed to Pacific Rim tonight, which features Pan-Asian cuisine. It was our favorite venue last time on the ship. We wanted to love Sette Mari, as the evening started with a lovely DOCG Prosecco Superiore from Valdobbiadene in Veneto, Italy and a nice selection of antipasto, but we didn't care for the dinner selections we ordered, so we wish we had more evenings to try different items on the menu.
Morning lattes, cappuccinos and light breakfast selections at Coffee Connections on Deck 5, the breakfast buffet at the Veranda (Deck 11) and the juice bar on the pool deck (Deck 11) have been our go-to spots for breakfast and lunch. Afternoon drinks, a glass of Rose and long-overdue conversations with fellow cruisers and crew have been fun and entertaining at the pool bar.
We've also enjoyed creative pre-dinner craft cocktails and canapes at the Meridian Lounge on Deck 5. And while we left the Constellation Theater somewhat entertained by The Comedy and Magic of Levant, last evening's performance of Paradis was impressive. The Parisian-inspired show was conceived, directed and choreographed by Patricia Wilcox, the Broadway choreographer of "Motown-The Musical." Performed by the Explorer Production Cast, the costuming and vignettes of the Parisian lifestyle were entertaining and well done, rivaling an Off-Broadway performance.
As an avid cruiser, I believe that Regent Seven Seas is committed to making everyone's journey a safe and memorable experience. The ports of call we visited -- including the company's private island in Belize, Harvest Caye (pictured) and the local tour operators - are also working to keep everyone safe and healthy as ships return to their ports. After all, these small Caribbean and Central American ports have been without tourists -- some for almost two years. It was encouraging to see our ship and two others docked in Costa Maya, Mexico.
As I headed into the tourist area of Costa Maya, I chatted with guests that were on board the Celebrity Apex and NCL's Norwegian Joy. They also said their ships were at partial capacity but that they were enjoying having fewer passengers on board and that they, too, were just happy to be cruising again.
In some ways, cruising today is even better than 2018, or the last time you sailed before the pandemic, with fewer passengers and more extensive crew coverage. With some special offers available, now may be the best time to book and go on a cruise.