This was our first ever cruise so, no doubt, that will affect our perceptions. We had chosen Regent after talking to acquaintances who had sailed many times on their ships and who told us that this was the only way to cruise.
Originally, it was just going to be my husband and I on the cruise as our fifteen year old son was meant to be away on a month long expedition with his school to Venezuela. Unfortunately, this was postponed until July of 2011, so we were suddenly faced with the dilemma of a romantic cruise for two becoming a family cruise. As the only child of older parents our son is, thank goodness, both well travelled and reasonably self sufficient when it comes to entertaining himself, qualities that helped him enjoy the cruise as the youngest person on board.
We travelled to Fort Lauderdale a day ahead of the cruise, staying at the Courtyard Marriott, Fort Lauderdale Beach. The hotel was adequate but I thought it bore very little resemblance to the obviously airbrushed and carefully staged photographs on its website. Its location was ideal, however, and it took only five minutes to reach Port Everglades on the Monday morning of the cruise.
Embarkation was extremely efficient and in less than fifteen minutes from our arrival at noon, we were onboard with a glass of sparkling wine in hand which we enjoyed while the teen had a quick lope around the ship to get his bearings before lunch in La Veranda.
We had opted for a Grand Suite (701) which was a good thing as it is one of the suites that easily sleeps three, having a separate bedroom. Teresa, our stewardess made up the sofa bed every night for our son, and he said that, as sofa beds go, it was extremely comfortable.
We enjoyed the suite and its location very much, finding it spacious and comfortable. The pre-loaded films on the two televisions are a nice touch and one our son liked as in the first few days of the cruise he did not want to go to any of the evening entertainment and preferred to retire to the suite and watch a film. This changed after we went to Galileo's lounge one evening with him, and George, the barman there, started to challenge him with various puzzles and mind games. Binoy, our butler, was most attentive and nothing was too much trouble. When the itinerary changed due to water issues, and our visit to St. Barts took place two days later than originally scheduled he took charge of altering a restaurant reservation we had made there. The only downside to 701, and it wasn't one that bothered us as we are early risers, is that it when the anchors were raised or lowered, being right by them we not only heard them but also felt the vibration.
We had few issues with the food or restaurants onboard. My husband is wheat intolerant and the brand of special crackers he prefers were found for him and kept in the restaurants and a supply was also placed in the suite for his use when the butler brought canapEs before dinner. Such attention to detail was much appreciated. We dined in Prime 7 twice, once by ourselves and once as part of a larger group. On both occasions the food was excellent. We particularly enjoyed the foie gras sliders and also the chateaubriand. Apart from the night we boarded when we had a very grumpy waiter in Compass Rose, service was exceptionally good. Stefano, the head waiter in Le Veranda at breakfast and lunchtime and also in Compass Rose in the evenings, was charming and went out of his way to ensure that not only we but all passengers had exactly what we wanted. The one disappointment for us was in the wine selections. We are wine collectors and we both felt the everday selections to be rather uninspired, relying too heavily on Californian and South American wines. We would have liked to see more French, Australian and Italian wines available as part of the daily selections. The sommeliers in all the restaurants were well informed and we had some interesting discussions with them, getting the impression that they were sometimes frustrated by the wines that had been selected.
We made use of the free shore excursions and our choices were probably changed by our son's presence as we went for more active ones than those we would have chosen if travelling alone. Some were better than others and we got the sense that the destination staff need to check more carefully that what was described in the write ups actually happens. While our catamaran snorkelling trip in Tortola was great fun, the wine and snacks that were advertised never actually happened. Instead, we were dropped off at a beach bar on Norman's Island to buy lunch if we wanted it and then given a plastic cup of rum punch while sailing back to Road Town. Equally friends of ours took what was meant to be an elegant sail around St. Barts, only to find that the skipper of the boat thought he was taking them snorkelling. They didn't mind and had come prepared with swimming gear, but some of their fellow guests were quite unhappy expecting to be on board a large, comfortable yacht where they would sit in comfort, sipping wine. The excursions we particularly enjoyed were snorkelling in Tortola and the America's Cup 12 metre challenge in St. Maarten. The cave and mangrove exploration in Cayo Levantado in the Dominican Republic was interesting, but the ten mile speed boat ride back to the ship in 4 metre waves was one of the scariest boat rides I have ever taken. We took a glass bottomed boat ride in Nassau and all agreed that it was very ho hum. Our son scathingly called it snorkelling for the faint of heart and lazy.
We enjoyed the onboard activities on the whole. I found the fitness area very small for the number of passengers on board - line ups to use exercise machines were the norm. My husband played bridge on several occasions and was full of praise for the instructors, Terri and Carla. Our son liked all the games like ping pong, putting, pool volleyball, and shuffle golf, playing them with enthusiasm, and amassing quite a haul of Regent points by the end of the cruise. The entertainment staff who ran these were very pleasant and enthusiastic. One small disappointment was that the golf driving cage on deck twelve was removed during the recent dry dock. We dined one night with Franck Galzy, the general manager, and he told us that this was because it affected the stability of the ship.
The special focus of this cruise was Theatre at Sea which meant that Ed Asner, Carol Channing and Carol Lawrence were on board giving shows and also participating in panel discussions. I am ashamed to say that I never made it to any of these, but my husband saw Ed Asner's one man show FDR and said he was incredible. We enjoyed the James Bond Martini and trivia event very much and also the Krew Kapers, but can't comment on the regular nights' entertainment as we never went to them.
Not having been on the Navigator before we also cannot comment on what changes were made during the recentdry dock. We found the ship to be very well maintained and the staff worked hard at all times to ensure this, particularly in the pool area. I do, however, think that there needs to be a more senior member of staff there to oversee this area, as this was the only place where I felt things did not run smoothly due to rather selfish behaviour on the part of some passengers. Obviously, there are not enough loungers around the pool to accommodate everyone on board (especially on at sea days) and ones in the shade are definitely at a premium, but the practice of "bagging" them at 8:00 in the morning by placing belongings on them and then not turning up until noon (something we witnessed one day) struck me as incredibly inconsiderate and selfish. The waiters/attendants at the pool were understandably reluctant to intervene as they were asked to do on this occasion by someone who had noticed the length of time in which the loungers had not been used. So, I think that someone with a little more power is needed to enforce say a 30 minute rule - if you don't use the lounger, after 30 minutes your belongings are removed, stored for you, and someone else is given the opportunity to use it.
So, did the cruise live up to our expectations? It most definitely did. Everyone enjoyed it. While it might not have been our son's first choice, he rated it very highly saying it would rank in his top ten vacations ever. We liked the level of service, thought the food was very good, with the odd flash of excellence, and enjoyed the experience of being on a ship - ideal for making a lot of stops without having to unpack and repack constantly. Would we travel with Regent again? We are already looking at Russia/Scandinavia when our son finally goes to Venezuela in the summer of 2011.
701 is airy and spacious. Only downside is that there is significant noise and vibration from anchors when docking or leaving port.