Before you read any further, I am sorry this is such a lengthy report. I hadn't intended that it would be, but by the time I’d finished..... well you decide.
Whilst we are not new to cruising, just new to Regent Seven Seas, and are just one of the growing number of UK residents who are now enjoying this cruise line. It was the Itinerary that first attracted us to this particular cruise. Generally speaking, Alaska cruises last just 7 nights and either go North from Vancouver/Seattle or return South from Anchorage/Seward with full on port intensive itineraries. Our Regent Seven Seas cruise on "Navigator' was 12 nights, starting in San Francisco and finishing in Vancouver and had a couple of sea days in which to truly relax and restore your energy. Whilst Regent are a Luxury cruise line, I can genuinely say that we experienced the most 'classless' cruise to date. We loved that once outside your Suite, everyone was equal. There were no Lounges on the ship we weren’t able to access, and our multi national fellow cruisers were all friendly and welcoming. The dress code for the whole voyage was Smart Casual (no Jacket required) which in this day and age of Air Travel Baggage costs, was a major plus to us. The following is more a report of our journey rather than a review of the ship, although I have gone into some detail in places !!! I hope it inspires those who have never been to Alaska to give it a try, and if you can afford to do it with Regent, then do so - you most definitely won’t be disappointed.
With only 470 passengers, embarkation in San Francisco was an organised and quick process. We were onboard and sipping our first glass of Champagne within minutes and made our way up to Deck 10 where a Buffet Lunch was being served in La Veranda. Regent are an "All Inclusive" luxury cruise line and we were soon enjoying a selection of wines to accompany our superb lunch. Service was excellent and the staff friendly and helpful.
Our cabin was ready just after 2.00 p.m. We had a Concierge suite on Deck 7 which was extremely spacious. The bathroom had loads of storage space, a full bath and large walk-in shower - toiletries were L'Occitane. The walk-in dressing room was roomy and had ample hangers & double height hanging rails. Three open shelves, six drawers and a line of coat hooks - even I hadn't packed enough to fill this room !!! Oh, and they also provided an umbrella, blankets & binoculars ! The remainder of the cabin contained a Queen size bed, extra long settee, easy chair and coffee table which could be adapted to a full size dining table for in-room dining. Along the side wall opposite the settee was a beautiful built-in unit which provided a desk with drawers, plugs, mini-bar fridge, Illy Coffee maker, interactive TV and DVD player, glass cabinets with glasses, ice bucket & anything else you might need to entertain guests in your suite. There was a separate dressing table & stool by the bed with sufficient plugs for hair dryers etc. By comparison, the teak floored Balcony was a bit bland, but perfectly functional with two chairs and a small table. You can order two bottles of your favourite 'tipple' to be placed in your cabin along with your choice of mixers, soft drinks, slices of lemon etc. Your Steward keeps everything replenished on a daily basis.
The requisite safety drill took place in the Seven Seas Lounge, and everyone appeared to take notice of what was being said - unlike some other cruises we have been on where some folk feel the need to talk and make fun of this procedure !!
We sailed out of San Francisco Bay, and under the Golden Gate bridge in the late afternoon, to the sound of Tony Bennett's "I left my heart, in San Francisco" - just magical, what a wonderful way to start our adventure.
Navigator is a small ship compared to many, and consequently there is not a wealth of choice of dining on board. Having said that, it was sufficient for our needs, and I didn't hear anyone else complain. The main dining room is Compass Rose which is silver service and has an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can choose the Buffet Restaurant (La Veranda) for Breakfast or Lunch, but in the evening this area becomes two separate 'speciality' restaurants. 'Sette Mari' which has a wonderful selection of Italian & Mediterranean dishes, and 'Prime 7' which is Regents signature restaurant with the most wonderful steak's and seafood dishes. You have to make reservations at the latter, and it is so popular that if you want a specific day and time, this is best reserved on the internet prior to your cruise. We ate once at Prime 7 and 4 times at Sette Mari, and it was nice to be able to experience these two 'speciality' restaurants without being charged an entrance fee! Unless you like to dine very early (6.30 isn), you might end up having to wait for a table in Sette Mari, but this is no hardship when you can relax and enjoy an aperitif in the Lounge Bar above. We were never kept waiting longer than 15 minutes.
I have touched on the fact that you are not charged any extra for 'speciality' dining, I probably should give my thoughts on Regent's "All Inclusive” experience. Apart from the Spa, Shops, Casino, Internet plans & ultra premium drinks - absolutely everything else on board is FREE. Well, not exactly free because you have paid a high price for your cruise up front, but the knowledge that each day your cruise line is not out to take your money at every opportunity is absolute heaven. No photo's, no gratuities, no shore excursion charges - just step on board and RELAX AND ENJOY. How many times have you sat and argued with yourself after dinner whether or not to have a Brandy or nightcap, and then thought about the extortionate price which would be added to your onboard account, and then decided not to bother? No such worries on a Regent cruise, have what you want when you want - its all included. No worries about your final onboard account. For the 12 nights we were onboard, our Final Account totalled $69 for laundry !!!!
Other points worth mentioning are:-
FOOD - Very subjective, but we found it to be extremely good, and cooked to our liking every time it was requested. The wines offered at each meal were of a good quality, but if not to you liking, there was never any problem finding one that you were happy with.
SERVICE - Absolutely the best service we have ever encountered without being over the top.
ENTERTAINMENT - The whole entertainment team were professional and provided a good level of entertainment each evening. We felt there was something for everyone. We especially enjoyed the "Broadway Tonight", "Dawning of Aquarius" & "Piano Men" which was a celebration of the music of Elton John and Billy Joel. That doesn't mean to say that the other shows weren't fabulous, just not as appealing, musically to us.
We also enjoyed the "Big Screen Popcorn Movies" - Saw four superb films either during the day or in the evening.
ENRICHMENT LECTURES - Eric Ball was our "Alaska" expert and he did a sterling job of keeping us informed throughout the cruise. His enthusiasm for his subject was clear to see.
Now for our ports of call:
ASTORIA, Oregon - We did the "Astoria Ale Trail" which was great fun. Our tour guide was very friendly and informative. Our mode of transport was a local School Bus so a bit cramped. We visited three local breweries and tasted three beers in each one. Tasty little snacks were provided throughout our journey to soak up the alcohol. The town is set in a very picturesque harbour, and is famous for being the location used in filming some of the scenes in the Goonies and Kindergaten Cop. Our guide perfectly described this town as "A lovely little drinking village with a fishing problem". This was a lovely trip, and the small amounts of alcohol helped in making new onboard friendships!
SITKA, Alaska - Our tour was the "Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest". The weather was a bit drizzly, but it didn't detract from the absolutely fantastic scenery all around us. What a beautiful place. Our tour Catamaran was waiting on the docks. Dress warmly on this tour as the wind chill when you get going can take your breath away. The Catamaran is well designed and provides ample places on different levels for the camera enthusiasts. It is a bit early in the Alaska season for there to be a glut of wildlife to see, but we weren't disappointed by the sea otters, sea lions & porpoises that came out to greet us. The Captain & crew of our boat became very excited when we spotted the first grisly bear of the season strolling along the shore, and eventually we lucked out and saw a couple of whales. I have to say though, that even if we'd not seen any wild life, the beautiful scenery all around us would have been enough for me. We decided to have a quick walk round the town before heading back to the Ship, but to be honest, there didn't seem to be much to see, and it was raining, so maybe we weren't open to seeing the best of Sitka town.
SKAGWAY, Alaska - Today's tour is "White Pass & Yukon Scenic Railroad". We didn't dock in Skagway until 11.00 a.m. and our tour wasn't due to start until 12.30 p.m. In hindsight, we should have stayed onboard for an early lunch before joining our tour, but we were eager to get off and see Skagway. In reality, Skagway town is an 8 minute walk down the dock to the shuttle bus, and then a 6 min ride into town. By the time we decided it was a bit dicey to take the shuttle before our tour, it was pretty much too late to get back on the ship and have lunch. It soon became obvious that those who had been to Alaska before, had already learned this lesson!! We'll know next time !! The train station is directly opposite where the ship docks. Navigator had reserved the whole train, and we made our way to one of the rear coaches. I had been told that the best views were had from the left hand side going up, and they were right. The train climbs almost 3,000 ft in just 20 miles of ever changing, but ruggedly beautiful scenery. There is a commentary as you pass various places of interest. At the top, the views were fantastic. Thick snow is still lying in places, and the vivid greens and blue's of the water as it slowly melts is fabulous. You don't get off at the top, the train just stops, the engine turns round, and you do the reverse journey back down the mountains.
Once back down, we took the option of being dropped off in town rather than taken straight back to the ship. The town is pretty touristy, but lovely to walk round and great photo opportunities all around. Plenty of places to eat and drink, and it goes without saying that the backdrop of the snow capped mountains made the whole day an unforgettable experience.
ICY STRAIT (Hoonah), Alaska - We did the "Whale & Marine Mammals Cruise". Once again, the scenery is jaw dropping, and the fact that we had beautiful sunshine was a bonus so early in the season. Icy Strait is known for its wealth of wildlife and it didn't disappoint. We saw hump back whales, a family of Orca's, sea lions and most exciting of all - 2 killer whales which made the whole boat erupt - the commentator kissed the Captain, the Captain hugged a crew member and everyone jumped up and down !!!!! Apparently killer whales are rare in this area, and here we had two !!! Such a beautiful and memorable experience.
After the cruise, we set off on our second tour of the day - "Forest & Nature Tram". We boarded our little tram for our journey into a small part of the Tongass National Forest. Apart from the odd sighting of the world's longest 'zip-line' above our heads, we enjoyed a wonderful journey through the peaceful forest, and along the pebble beach coastline. We were given time to beachcombe or just sit and enjoy the silence. We saw a bald eagle catch a fish out in the bay which was too heavy for it to fly with. Instead the eagle swam, flapping its wings to shore - just an amazing sight. Eventually, it flew up into the trees above our heads to its nest with two hungry mouths to feed. I just love Alaska.
HUBBARD GLACIER, Alaska - Up early this morning to see the sail up the Fjord towards Hubbard Glacier. I had thought that I'd seen some magnificent scenery already in Alaska, but this just blows your mind. It was cold and windy as we sailed slowly towards the Glacier, but the sun was out in full force which gave us a bright blue sky backdrop to the never-ending white glacier. We stood at the Bow of the ship and were in awe of what was in front of us. Suddenly the wind dropped and it went silent. The captain had managed to get us up close to the glacier despite the floating ice all around us, and - well there are actually no words to describe what we felt. Everyone on god's earth should be given the opportunity of seeing this. Every now and then, the silence was broken by the sound of thunder and a loud cracking noise which heralded the calving. Just a wonderful experience.
JUNEAU, Alaska - The ship docks right in the centre of town, and right next to the Mt Roberts Aerial Tramway station. We had an early breakfast and bought tickets for the ride up to the top. Tickets are $32 for a day's pass, so it was a bit expensive for us who only had an hour and a half to spend up there before our organised tour. It was worth it - on the way up, we saw two small bears playing on one of the trails, we passed a bald eagle sat in its nest, and were treated to fantastic views from all directions at the top, including the sight of our ship way below us looking like a 'dinky toy'. We had time to visit the Nature Centre and also see a very interesting 15 minute video in the Theatre about the Tingit's.
We also did our first every floatplane trip here - "TAKU Glacier Lodge Flight & Feast". We paid extra for this tour, but it was worth every penny. A minibus transferred us from the ship to the floatplanes. We took off over the water and flew right over our ship before heading out over the surrounding mountains. We had earphones that cut out the noise of the plane, and provided a running commentary throughout the flight. The experience was jaw dropping, and there were a few "wow's" and "ooo's" to be heard. There were 10 of us aboard our little plane, and there were 4 planes. We each landed on the lake at the foot of TAKU Glacier, and made our way to the rustic Lodge where they were preparing a Wild Alaskan Salmon BBQ - delicious. Even the local bears came out to eat the left overs from the BBQ. You have time to take a 20 minute trail through the forest behind the lodge, or you can just sit on one of the many benches or swings and just enjoy the fantastic view of the Glacier. I would vote this the best trip of the whole cruise. The smiles never left our faces.
KETCHIKAN, Alaska - We had to tender at this port as there were four other cruise ships in town. Two tours booked today:- "Misty Fjords Seaplane Adventure" - another floatplane which we paid extra for. We actually booked this one as a fallback position in case the TAKU Glacier flight had to be cancelled. We didn't want to come home from Alaska and not have experienced one of these flights. So we've ended up with two flights. This one was so different from the other - instead of snowy mountains, we flew over lush rain forests, fast flowing rivers, and dramatic valleys. Every now and then, our pilot spotted bears and he'd drop down so that we might be able to get a better sight of them - this without fail frightened them away, so no bear photo's today!!! We landed for about 15 minutes on one of the Fjords before taking off and returning to Ketchikan. The whole journey was just 2 hours and left us enough time to enjoy the town and go to the "Alaskan Lumberjack Show" in the afternoon. This latter show was ok, but I would only do it again as a 'filler'. It was fun, but very touristy.
We had enough time to walk round Creek Street which was interesting as well as being touristy. Later in the summer one of the main sights in this area is the salmon run, but we are too early in the season for that.
INSIDE PASSAGE - A full day of scenic cruising - glorious weather and fantastic scenery. Not as dramatic as the rugged mountains we had seen further North, but beautiful in their own way.
VICTORIA, BC, Canada - This is a beautiful city, and feels very 'British'. We had originally booked the "High Tea at The Empress" tour, but changed our mind whilst onboard and moved our booking over to the "City Tour and Butchart Gardens". I'm so glad we didn't miss out on the Gardens. I'm not usually that interested in such things, but I wouldn't have missed this trip for the world. Absolutely stunning design features and colours - even though its only spring and the full colour of summer has yet to be planted. We spent three hours wandering around before continuing on the coach tour round Victoria.
VANCOUVER, Canada - We disembarked here. There was a bit of a delay and we had to wait in the Seven Seas Lounge for our number to be called, but we were off by 9.30 a.m. and in the Taxi queue by 9.40 a.m. We stayed in Vancouver for 2 days before flying home to the UK. So much to see here. We'd pre-booked the HOHO Trolley 2 days pass which provided transport all round Vancouver. We also enjoyed the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain at Sunset, Vancouver Lookout, Fly Over Canada - a not to be missed 'ride'/'attraction' at Canada Place, and a lunch at ‘The Teahouse’ in Stanley Park.
As you've probably realised by now, we loved our "Regent Experience", and you may not be surprised to learn that we have already booked a further adventure with them next year. Having said that, we are unlikely to join the vast group of cruisers who sail exclusively and pretty regularly with Regent. Unfortunately, our finances won't allow for that. But every now and then, Regent produces an Itinerary that makes their "All Inclusive" a more reasonable value for money. This first of the season cruise to Alaska is one of them, and I think we have found another next year. How many more there are is something I am going to enjoy looking for.