10 great days in the W Caribbean on Seven Seas Navigator: Seven Seas Navigator Cruise Review by Gordon Ewing

Seven Seas Navigator 5
Gordon Ewing

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10 great days in the W Caribbean on Seven Seas Navigator

Sail Date: February 2012
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
Prior to our Western Caribbean cruise on the Navigator we have limited experience of cruising other than two fantastic Mediterranean cruises on the iconic, elegant and very special Club Med 2. We chose Regent Seven Seas because of the small size of the ships (Navigator has a maximum capacity of 490 passengers) and its all truly inclusive approach that included excursions. The cruise visited Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Belize City, Guatemala, Roatan (Honduras) and Costa Maya.

We can honestly say that our expectations were high as a result of the fantastic standard set by Club Med 2. We were not disappointed and, in many respects, our expectations were exceeded by our excellent cruise experience on the Navigator. Having read some of the previous reviews we did have our concerns eg. over reports of surly staff, tired decor and a noisy ship. We are fussy people so we went with eyes wide open. The ship is lovely - true the decor is sometimes 'beigey' and lacking some vibrancy More but, considering the ship was built in 1999, it is luxurious, spotlessly clean and extremely well laid out. The ship was full to capacity but we never felt crowded or squeezed and the facilities are of a high quality.

Our Penthouse A suite (1109) was on the highest deck for accommodations and towards the front of the ship. It was spacious -- with an ample walk in wardrobe, large bathroom with a separate and effective separate shower compartment, a lovely lounge area, Queen size bed and balcony. It was really well equipped including your own iPad, daily-replenished mini-bar and the usual TV/DVD player/iPod docking station. It lacked a Nespresso coffee maker but, apparently, that will be corrected from June this year. Suites have their own designated butler and hostess -- Ignatious and Florence were absolutely superb. Nothing was too much trouble and we often had chats about the weather, their origins and aspirations for the future. Ignatious was an outstanding butler -- pre-cruise we indicated online what our soft drink and alcoholic preferences were and, on our arrival, everything was as requested, down to the copious supply of soft fruit. Our daily preference for champagne was never a problem and the quality of all wines and refreshments were outstanding. Premium quality spirits such as Macallan and Glenmorangie malt whiskies and Armagnac were freely available. Florence was meticulous about every detail and kept our suite in tiptop order. With constant supplies of Hermes and L'Occitane toiletries we were truly spoilt.

The choice of places to eat were the Pool side Grill/Salad Bar, the main restaurant -- Compass Rose, a buffet restaurant 'La Verandah' and the speciality restaurant cum steakhouse, 'Prime 7'. We naturally tried all but our favourite was La Verandah because the setting is bright and more colourful than the other restaurants, the food was consistently good and constantly changing and the staff were outstanding. The Maitre d', Stephano, was great -- always welcoming and truly interested in your preferences, day's activities and news. The head chef, Steve, was excellent -- always on hand to explain about the daily specials and carvery choices. The restaurant staff were really helpful, responsive and engaging -- Joy, Rod, Ronald, Titi worked tirelessly and cheerfully to serve you. We ate at the Compass Rose twice -- once independently where we found it large, a little cramped and somewhat impersonal and on the second occasion, as special table guests of the general manager, Michael Coghlan and his charming wife, Stephanie. In both restaurants the quality of food was good but not the standard we experienced on Club Med 2. One thing they seemed unable to consistently do right was to cook a steak rare -- whether as filet mignon or as a boeuf wellington. Wine choices, included in the inclusive package, were outstanding and the sommeliers went out of their way to find a wine to your taste. For example, Ronald (Prime 7 and La Verandah) listened to our preference for a robust wine to go with steak and came up with a really good Chilean Shiraz/Malbec blend. Staff remembered quickly our preference for wine, bottled water, etc. so that you were treated as individuals and with care. Prime 7, the speciality restaurant, did not really live up to expectations. The restaurant is too dark, overly stuffy in style and presentation and lacked the personal touch. We always try to engage with staff and, consequently, on most occasions get even better service -- we tried twice at Prime 7 but found it hard going. Again, it has a steakhouse speciality, but took two goes to get a rare steak cooked to order correctly.

The Pool Grill and Salad Bar was excellent. It was our place to eat for preference for breakfast and lunch. At breakfast there was a good range of cereals, fresh fruit, some cooked options, and cold meats and cheeses. At lunch you could enjoy a range of fish and meat burgers cooked to order as well as other hot food options and salads. With the fantastic pool bar close by with its superb team of bar staff including Elvis, Maclon, Arthur and Jerel no-one was left short of refreshment -- alcoholic or otherwise. Indeed, the same team ensured that all the sun loungers in the sheltered pool areas were supplied with covers and complimentary pool towels and like La Verandah staff quickly got to know your preferences and anticipated when you might need a top up. For example, through the day we drank iced water or diet coke and, in the evening, chilled chardonnay. Often, top ups would appear without us having to ask -- and always with a cheerful smile and comment. Service was always personal and personalized. One criticism we have is that the quality of coffee in most areas of the ship was very mediocre -- hence why we'd love to have had a Nespresso machine in our suite. There was one exception to this -- in the Navigator Lounge was the bar/cafe 'Coffee Connections' where they served excellent Italian coffee made fresh to order. Even the staff admitted that the coffee elsewhere was under par -- so much so that you saw staff themselves having coffee made there.

The evening entertainment was really good. Previous reports from other reviews that the evening shows were mediocre were the total opposite to our experience. The stars of the week were the acrobat/ballet/gymnastic duo of Caroline and Denys -- who single handedly brought standing ovations to their Cirque du Soleil equivalent -- La Cirque Navigator -- brilliant. They also performed alongside the season's singers and dancers who were consistently good. Special evenings with a comedian and a London West End female singer were equally good. On the penultimate evening the crew themselves produced a standing ovation for the Krew Capers -- a range of different performances from members of the crew ranging from dancing, Elvis impersonations and a range of songs. Our own suite hostess, Florence, was the lead singer in an Abba number and also in a Indonesian Traditional dance -- the quality of the performances was truly memorable.

The excursions -- the vast majority of which are included in the price, were excellent. At every port of call at least 8 different free excursions were laid on and were well organized and attended. The staff who organized these events were effective in getting each person to the right guide and/or coach so that you never felt it was chaotic or a panic in leaving the ship. When you returned from a day or a morning out you were often greeted with the phrase, 'Welcome home, Mr and Mrs ... ' -- a nice touch. One criticism we have levied is that no staff from the ship accompany you on the excursion as a matter of policy -- some did as part of their free time. On Club Med 2 we always had a member of the ship's staff with us on an excursion so that, should a problem arise, you knew to whom to turn. We would have felt safer in the knowledge that our group would have speedy contact with the ship, if necessary. Furthermore, according to the company's brochure all gratuities were included and none 'were expected'. However, with no ship's staff accompanying you some guides and drivers took advantage and, on occasions, gathered us together at the end of a trip -- eg. the ATV trip into the jungle on Cozumel -- to do a promotional bit to glean more tips from the guests. At times, we felt coerced or pressured to give a tip to all and sundry. On some excursions no tip was clearly expected and the guide and/or driver was just happy to see that we were happy. Some left a tips box near the exit but made no song and dance about it. On our excursion into the rainforest nature reserve, our Guatemalan schoolteacher guide, Ana, was outstanding and we happily tipped her well because the quality of her work was exceptional.

Other things we really liked was on the first full day a 'block party' was organized where guests from a block of suites, were invited to meet in the area outside the suite for a little party with canapes and drinks served by our butler, Ignatious and other staff. Senior crew including the ship's captain and the general manager, Michael, circulated round all the different suite blocks, to say a quick hello as we were meeting the wide range of people on our block -- it was a lovely introductory idea. Secondly, half way through the cruise we were invited to complete a questionnaire on how things were going to date. This included gleaning our views on all aspects of the cruise and any issues raised were addressed very speedily. The ship's management clearly take a keen interest in the guests' views and in responding to any suggestions or concerns.

The weather for the 10 day cruise was excellent overall but after our visit to Guatemala a storm brew up in the evening and that night and the captain took the decision to change course to skirt the storm during the night to limit the discomfort tp passengers. This was an excellent decision because the night at sea could have been very choppy. The Captain and his crew kept us fully informed at all times and the staff ensured that our safety was paramount. The knock on effect of the storm was that the sea was too rough for us to dock at our last excursion port of call -- Costa Maya, so we had an additional whole day at sea. Again, we were kept fully informed and the entertainments staff worked really hard to provide other events so that we did not lose out -- for example, wine tastings, tours of the galley, card games, two Oscar films 'The Artist" and 'The Descendants', etc. The sheltered design of the pool area enabled us to continue to chill out and top up the tan and make the most of the friendly and personalized service of the pool area staff -- already highlighted.

One gripe we had before the whole cruise was the booking procedure for non UK/USA residents. We live in France, near Toulouse, and booked our cruise via Thomas Cook in Cahors. RSSC advertises its cruises in France and have an agency in Paris. However, because our trip did not commence in the UK or USA, RSSC would only accept a booking from us for the cruise itself and we had to book or flights (from Toulouse to Heathrow to Miami all with BA), overnight hotel and airport and hotel transfers independently. Though we are at good at that kind of organization, it was an unnecessary hassle as far as we were concerned. We wrote to the MD in the UK before the cruise expressing our frustration over this. The MD did respond personally, saying that this was beyond RSSC's control and was caused by UK transport rules. It just seems bizarre that we could do it ourselves but a large organization like RSSC was not allowed to. Less

Published 03/14/12

Cabin review: A1109 Penthouse Suite

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Gordon Ewing
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