I sailed on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator with my wife and 11-yr old son August 14, 2009 for 7 days, Athens (Piraeus) to Istanbul. My previous cruise experiences have been on Seaborn, Crystal and Lindblad/Nat. Geo. (small ships in Galapagos and Baja). I am not particularly picky about things and although I give almost anyone the benefit of the doubt if their heart is in the right place, I do notice things and, if things don't go well, those things stick in my craw. Anyway, the things I noticed (but would never complain about) are towards the end of this review, after "You're OUT!!!). I had, admittedly, somewhat high expectations of Regent, as I had originally chosen a 12-day itinerary on Oceania and my wife and agent 'upsold" me to Regent, as a definitive step-up from Oceania. As the title to this review portends, I was disappointed to the core with many aspects of the cruise that, in my opinion, leave no doubt as to the answer to question where Regent Seven Seas belongs in any "rating" of cruise lines.
First, the good. We had a basic room which, on the Navigator, is stunning and huge (even without the generous balcony) relative to anything I have experienced on Seaborn or Crystal in the same general category. 24-hr room service. So, if your idea of a perfect cruise is sitting in the room, reading or watching videos and living off of room service, you've come to the right place. Room service food was reported to be good by my son, who enjoyed it several times. We only had the "fixings" delivered for some caviar we had, all good.
Now, the misery.
This was to be a designated family-oriented cruise, replete with a kids program in 3 age groups. There were between 50 and 60 kids on the cruise (representing over 10% of the passengers on board). When we inquired after boarding, we were told that the two women who ran the program were "asked to leave the ship" at a prior cruise port. No explanation, no apology, no alternatives, just mystery. Further inquiry yielded no details or explanation. I can say with 100% assurance that if this had happened on Crystal, they would have flown new staff from another location, co-opted crew from other duties or otherwise figured out how to deliver on a promise so essential to the concept of family cruise "vacation" (i.e., mom and dad can have some time together alone) and the number of affected passengers. Not with Regent. Had there not been a ping-pong table on board, the seas would have been littered with parents jumping from the rails. We had the opportunity to dine with some of the senior staff one evening and danced around the subject - but they were all tight-lipped to the end. Unbelievably, we learned a day before disembarking, that the staff asked to leave the ship were in fact rejoining the ship on the return to Athens. Arrgh.
Strike one. A zero for failing to deliver an essential part of the cruise, as marketed and promised, and a below zero minus for not figuring out how to otherwise mitigate their abject failure and come up with something, if only a believable story.
We signed up, using a not insignificant amount of shipboard credit (several hundred dollars) for a Regent "Signature" excursion in Rhodes. These are the very special, particularly-vetted couple of excursions that an exclusive group within Regent arranges. In our case, it was an "Off-Road" Adventure, renting a jeep and caravanning to many of the interesting sites on Rhodes that most folks wouldn't be able to visit because of the off-road nature of the trip and mobility of being in small vehicles. Although we may have at some point driven through some of the towns in which some of the historic/cultural sites described in the excursion brochure resided (though my GPS did not indicate so), hand over heart I can say that there was nothing, other than the act of renting a jeep that bore any resemblance to what was in the Regent brochure, the basis on which we booked this trip. We started out at "Butterfly Valley", actually a very interesting site in which a certain butterfly species (in fact, a moth), historically comes. Unfortunately, we were hustled in and out so fast, we did not have an opportunity to enjoy the place at any pace, or to take more than a snapshot or two. We were then off for a one hour drive to have a snack/drink, which ended up being at a hunting lodge. After another hour and a half in the car, we ended up in a small village in the mountains overlooking (a ways away) the coastline. Not the place we were supposed to stop, with another large party from a tour bus upstairs, but the food was fine. At this point, I was interested only in the "Ouzo". Then back in the jeeps for about 45 mins. Did I mention that the brochure said we would be off-road most of the time to visit these rare sites, but that we had yet to see anything but pavement. Not for long. For about a sum total of about 90 seconds, we hit a patch of unpaved road under repair and - you guessed it - that was the "off-road" part of the trip. Just before exiting the un-pavement, in one of the most surreal moments of this goat-rodeo, the guide pulled everyone off the road onto the dried weeds at roadside, right next to a bunch of bee hives (imagine the 95 degree heat, sun, and now swarming bees at having been invaded by 9 topless jeeps). Why? To gather everyone's cameras so that he could take a memorable picture for everyone on or in front of their own jeep on their own camera. You think I'm kidding? It was surreal. Put aside for the moment that 2 minutes further down the road was a scenic pull-out with a sweeping panorama of the coast and surrounding Greek isles, this was a scene that Quentin Tarentino would pay money to get the rights to. After the honking of irritated guests drove the guide back into his jeep, we were back in the jeeps for another hour to...the beach. Nothing in the brochure about the beach or swimming. We had not brought bathing suits. No towels provided by Regent for the trip (you would think - even if to save their stateroom towels from being used at the beach off the ship). But there we were at a small Taverna on the beach and the beautiful Med. My son and I went cowboy style and my wife had to suffer with a diet coke and view of the Med. 50 minutes later, we're hustled back in the jeeps for, yes, another 45 min drive back to the jeep rental spot, and then a bus ride back to the ship.
Strike Two. No one from Regent had ever vetted this trip. They never gave any explanation (other than the disingenuous letter mentioned below). There is no way imaginable that it could be considered anything other than a slow roast around Rhodes for 8 hrs. Most importantly, we had wasted our only opportunity to see Rhodes on this misrepresented "Signature" excursion, not to mention the several hundred in credit dropped on this. Shameful.
Our first stop back on board after chuckling about the comedy of misconception and execution that was our "Signature Rhodes Off-Road Adventure" was to visit the excursion desk to lodge our disappointment and disbelief at what had just befallen us. Lots of "so sorry", but obviously no one there with any answers or ability to do anything. They left a note for the excursion manager. We later met with him, in civil fashion, away from the excursion desk, in relative privacy. He took notes and expressed concern and shock, but clearly had no knowledge. I challenged him to find a single participant on the trip that would sign up again for that trip, rather than have their fingernails pulled one-by-one. He said that he really couldn't do anything, but would send it to "New York". This was Tuesday. We were due to disembark Friday morning 8am in Istanbul. We checked back throughout Wednesday and Thursday and no one had any answers. We had not asked for anything in particular, but clearly were PO'd that we had expended money on an entirely misrepresented trip. Finally, around 8pm on Thursday night, while packing, I went to the excursion desk and said I wouldn't leave until I had some response. I was told that the response from New York had "just come in" - and that Regent was not prepared to do anything. Nothing at all. As if we had just reported something that we had imagined. I was left so incredulous that I simply asked to have it in writing, which they delivered around 9pm that night (I'll try to post this). End of story.
Let's contrast Regent's response to the "Off-Road" goat rodeo with our experience a day later after disembarking at our small hotel (the "Blue House Hotel") overlooking the Blue Mosque. My son mentioned to someone at the front desk in passing that the Jacuzzi jet button hadn't worked in the spa tub when he tried. I hadn't even heard of it and, frankly, wouldn't have cared a bit, but when we returned from our day of touring Istanbul, a sincere letter of apology from hotel management for the malfunction and a basket of fresh fruit in our room. Enough said. By the way, we highly recommend the Blue House Hotel, otherwise known as the "Mavi-Ev".
Strike Three. Doing anything approaching taking responsibility for a bad experience and a gesture, however modest, to make a cruise customer feel like a guest. How 'bout a little replacement shipboard credit, which given the timing, we would have only been able to use, if at all, on a nice bottle of wine at our last dinner. How 'bout a basket of fruit. How 'bout 10% off a future cruise. Anything..., but nothing? Hmmn.
We all differ in how we measure our experiences, but I can say truthfully that in each of our cruises, we absolutely had to personally visit with and thank not less than a half-dozen crew members, to say farewell, exchange contact information, invite them to visit when they're in the San Francisco area and the like. There was not a single person that any of us felt even remotely compelled to hunt down, other than a Kiwi security officer that my son promised to do the Maori Haka dance for. We had a pleasant dinner with him and with a nice young woman whose title led us to believe she would be the perfect person to share our "concerns" about the cruise with, but ended up being more responsible for customs clearance at ports than customer service and, other than expressing surprise at what we had experienced, offered no hope that anything would be done. It was like sharing the story with just another guest. The Maitre D' of the main dining room deserves special mention for patience and keeping that warm smile and wit amidst demanding cruise customers all wanting window tables. No one else remotely came to mind for any of us.
Strike 1, Strike 2, Strike 3 - You're OUT!!!
My conclusion - a perfect cruise line for someone used to a cattle car mega-ship. If you have been on Seaborn, Crystal, or any cruise line out there that truly puts the guest first and has any understanding as to what that means - run the other way as you will be disappointed on Regent Seven Seas. From the top down, they have no clue what guest/customer service is. It's an institutional problem, not an aberration.
Some details -
Nice gym, open 24 hrs. But nothing in terms of programs in the dance/stretch area. No staff to run any of the programs from all appearances. I remember a daily schedule of yoga, pilates and other things on Crystal. Zilch on Regent.
Carpets and certain other common areas smell "stale". Carpet upgrade or cleaning or paint (anything to cover up the smell) would be worthwhile.
I always wonder what "included tips" means for staff. For the first couple of days, I thought the overall attitude of staff was a little harsh. This got better over time, but there has to be a better way of handling this "perk" that still incents the staff to work to their potential. Perhaps a special "tip" shipboard credit that can only be used for that purpose.
Wireless internet from the room worked pretty well, though I had to work around VPN blocking.
We attended an evening show -which was very well produced. I understand the band/orchestra (professional) had been brought back on a semi-permanent basis and that explained in part the good music quality.
Specialty restaurant food was mediocre at best and the menu, uninspired. Main dining room food and service was excellent, as was the wine list.
The "house" booze (for which one does not pay extra) was top notch. (Belvedere or the Goose - house; Bombay Sapphire - house; Maker's Mark (for those Manhattans) - house. The house wines at dinner were so interesting, varied and good we rarely ventured into the wine list.
The "photo shop" described in literature and even in on-board materials in the room....well, it must have been a sick joke. From what I could tell from visual inspection and asking for several items during the trip, it consisted of a pile of AAA batteries and a couple of memory sticks (which could not be located); literally all in a small plastic basket to the left of the cash register. I was looking for liquid lens cleaner or anything close - fat chance. Don't think that there is even a photo kiosk where you can stick in a memory card and print photos or burn a CD. There was literally nothing.
We'd been used to photographers on most cruises - a casualty of cost-cutting on Regent.
Food in general - given that we were in Greece and Turkey, I would have expected that at least in one of the restaurants we might see some "local" dishes. It was really odd to have spent 5 days in Greece before boarding the ship and 5 days in Istanbul after disembarking, cultures that are known for their fine cuisine, and not being able to enjoy any of it on the ship. How 'bout a small sampling at dinner of "local" dishes. It's what we've seen on other cruise lines.
Golf driving net - hope you're left-handed or the choice is slim. The mat looked like a bad toupee and kids routinely whacked balls off the back of the boat, occasionally off of other guests - an accident waiting to happen. I had to get off the treadmill and run outside to exercise a little adult supervision a couple of times. No crew around, but this brings me back to Strike One, and I've spent enough energy on this diatribe.
Overall impression - these folks are in cost-cutting mode and it shows.
Answer to the Question: A two-star pretender....but love the cabin.
Cabin 607 - port starboard near end of hall. Good location. Average noise. Very convenient/centrally located to getting on/off ship and getting to dining room.