After two trips on the Crystal's Symphony my wife and I vowed we would go on no other cruise line. We broke that promise in 2016. I had tried to book two legs of a Crystal Cruise on the Serenity from San Francisco to Vancouver and ... Read More
After two trips on the Crystal's Symphony my wife and I vowed we would go on no other cruise line. We broke that promise in 2016. I had tried to book two legs of a Crystal Cruise on the Serenity from San Francisco to Vancouver and then Vancouver to Steward (Anchorage) Alaska for a total of 13 nights.
However, my travel agent, David Butterfield of All Cruise Travel in San Jose, California, advised that to book those two portions would be a violation of Jones Act and Crystal would not sell me a cabin even if I got off in Vancouver and then re-boarded. (The Jones Act was introduced by Sen. Wesley Jones in 1920 and deals with commerce and crew requirements from U.S. Port to U.S. Port. It forces foreign flagged ships to only use one U.S. port and not make deliveries up and down the coast. Since I was going from one U.S. port to another S.F. to Steward I would be in violation unless the ship was American flagged. Sen. John McCain tried to eliminate the Jones Act in 2008 but failed.)
David suggested we try Regent as he had some positive comments from customers. An advantage was that the Regent cruise was in May before the peak travel and cruise season had started. The 10-day cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner was out of San Francisco to Alaska and then ending in Vancouver starting on May 8. This would be our third Alaskan cruise in 12 years.
GETTING THERE: My wife and I have reached a point in our lives where we enjoy the niceties of paying a little more within reason when we travel. This would include first class on airplanes allowing us to get on early, get off first and have our luggage first on the carousal, not to mention seat belts that don't require an extender. However, we can't afford or justified standard first class rates. We can afford first class on Iceland Air to Europe or Delta in the U.S. if we fly on their smaller planes operated by contractors.
That was the way to San Francisco, through Salt Lake City without a problem.
SIDE TRIP: We flew to California early to spend a couple of days in Carmel by the Sea. Since we could never afford to live there two days is a nice alternative.
The trip taught us a valuable lesson. If we are renting a car WE WILL NEVER FLY INTO SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AGAIN. We will fly to Oakland or San Jose but not SFO.
I have some heart issues that making walking through airports a little dicey. At SFO from our luggage it was long walks, multiple elevator sides and a train ride. Then at 6:30 it was a 30-minute line at Dollar Rent a Car. We only picked Dollar because we could drop the car off at the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf Hotel where we were staying the night before the cruise.
We got to Carmel after the front desk at the Fireplace Inn had closed. However, we called ahead and the staff placed our keys in an envelope and taped it to the front door.
Once we arrived we found that somehow Mr. Peabody and Sherman had allowed us in the Wayback Machine and we were transported back 56 years in time to 1960. Other than the flat screen TV everything in our room could have been seen in the room in 1960. The toilet was so low to the floor without any grab bars for a person with bad knees it was a super challenge to get up. But we were in Carmel to see the coast, not stay in a hotel room. Plus two nights at the best hotel in Carmel (La Playa) was going to cost us $1,400 while the Fireplace Inn was only $400.
Driving on California Highway 1 in the Big Sur area or north of Sausalito are perhaps the best drives in all of America. The next day we were head to San Simeon. We had been there three times before. The weather was perfect. Clear skies and no tourist traffic yet. My wife did another tour of the Hearst Mansion/Castle while I stayed in the visitor's center reading Michael Connelly latest novel for three hours avoiding the hundreds of stairs on the tour. (I was amazed that the gift shop no longer carried "Citizen Hearst" by W.A. Swanberg, long considered the best biography on Heasrt. I bought my copy in the same gift shop 35 years earlier.)
On Saturday we drove to San Francisco along Highway 1 hitting heavy traffic about 35 miles south of S.F.
EMBARKATION: There were some passengers who complained that the embarkation was in an old warehouse without any luxury waiting areas. The thing I remember about embarkation with Crystal was that it was on board the ship and there was never a line or a wait. The old warehouse just fell into our Mr. Peabody experience in Carmel.
Waiting to sail meant lunch at the pool side grill or in the La Veranda buffet area. It was at this time we had an unusual sighting. It was a brat on the grill. We were used to brats from the Crystal pool side grill everyday! I tried one on Regent on the first day and it was the last one I got to taste.
Two days later I asked for another brat for lunch. I was told brats were only for special occasions and if I wanted one I needed to order it a day in advance at the main dining room. Suddenly I was missing the gang at Crystal, who would fix anything even if it was not on the menu.
CABIN/SUITE: We are people who enjoy luxury cruise lines, but cannot afford or justify the most luxuriate cabin. Our low end Regent suite had 70-sq. feet on our cabin with Crystal, plus a balcony. The bathroom was bigger too, but the side of the bathtub/shower was dangerous, especially if the ship was rocking. The side of the tub was so high that us formerly active people with hip operations in our past had some issues.
Just like Crystal the furniture in the room sat low and was hard to get out of. The biggest difference was the flat screen TV on Regent was bigger and there were over 150 movies you could watch in your room, including many not yet released on DVD. In 10 days we watched three movies requiring me to remove them from our Netflix list when we returned.
The bed was fine with good night sleeps every night, despite having a lower priced suite. We managed to survive without a butler.
LAUNDRY: If I am on vacation I don't believe in doing the laundry even if a launderette is a free one. I send it out every day. Just like on Crystal, with Regent my darks came back dark and not faded and my whites were whiter than they had ever been before. The difference is that despite not checking for the more expensive same day service, on Regent I got the laundry back the same day with no up charge.
ENTERTAINMENT: Regent just like Crystal had the young dancers and singers. However during our cruise the house band was not very good and at times bad. There was no bass player. The trumpet player on his first cruise was seasick for two days. This reduced the "Regent Orchestra" to merely a quintet.
One bright spot was the trombone player, who had a classical background playing in the Moldova National Symphony. He was a remarkable quick read on charts and often carried the band.
There was no piano bar entertainer which I found a disappointment. Some more memorable cruises included the piano bar guy, doing requests, playing Name that Tune and getting people involved in sing-along's. Stacy Ward McAdams on NCL and later Europe river cruises, Jimmy Maddox on HAL and Jeff Deutsch on Crystal we have not forgotten. There was karaoke on several nights that was awful and always worse than the house band on its worst night.
On Crystal often musicians from all the different bands would get together late at night and jam. This was not happening on Regent. They were having problems playing from their charts.
The cruise director Margaret Lynn was an exception to most CDs I have encountered including those on Crystal. She was very accessible to passengers and seemed to enjoy chit chatting.
FOOD: This was not the pretty part. Other than getting a shrimp cocktail when it was not on the menu, there was no special service. The Prime, the ship's steakhouse was the best of the specialty restaurants. Our one night at Prime we found everything good and so much better than the regular meal service. However, I tried to "Howdy" a couple times to staff since we were in a Steakhouse and simply got stares of confusion. Our waitress in the steakhouse was French. Our waiter in the French restaurant was from the Ukraine, go figure.
I normally skip breakfast, but did eat before leaving the ship all day three times. The food at the La Veranda was average to below average. The lunch buffets were typical of mass appeal cruise ships…the food looked better than it tasted. On Crystal the food in the buffet line was outstanding everyday often forcing seconds against my better judgment.
In the main dining room (Compass Rose) seating was on demand and you never knew where you would sit or who would serve you. Several nights we would ask to be in a favorite waiter's section and were rarely successful.
We were also listed as "table sharers" and other than one night with a dull couple, we ate with some very interesting and often funny people. However on some of our cruises with the same table mates every night we developed long lasting relationships, including being visited in the Midwest when one European couple who were driving across the U.S. and then spending a day with our friends from a cruise five years ago in Ireland when Crystal stopped all day in Dublin last year.
DRINKS: Much like Crystal, Regent's all-inclusive policy makes it a cruise line for alcoholics and even excessive cola drinkers. They did offer Diet Dr. Pepper and Coke Zero throughout the ship for those looking for a cold caffeine soda without 140 calories.
WAIT STAFF: English comprehension was a constant problem with the staff. Waiters and waitress had problems constantly understanding orders from most passengers. This was a huge difference when compared with Crystal. Plus on Crystal we got to know the staff better and interacted with them daily. Not so much on Regent.
The Regent staff tried to be professional, but rarely did anyone try and put a smile on your face. On Crystal head waiter Zoltan when asked about a special order would travel back to 1950 and speak into his Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio (really just his wrist watch). He would say, "Zoltan to kitchen! We have a special request." He would then turn back to the table and say how there was "no problem." Everyone at the table would be laughing. Paula the bartender and Ricki the server on Crystal were people my wife and I will not soon forget. Two weeks after our Regent cruise I have forgotten most of the crews' names. You could not joke with the Regent staff because they understood so little English they never got a punch line.
DRESS CODE: Regent wins this hands down. There are no formal nights. It means I don't have to drag along a suit or a tux, just a sports coat. This allowed my wife and me to cut down to just one suitcase each. For three days in California, I was able to utilize my "throw away" wardrobe. I would save socks, underwear and polo shirts with a few holes or small rips all year. They would be worn and then thrown away on our first three days of vacation. If I had known how efficient the ships laundry was I would have brought even fewer items.
TENDER SERVICE: In the past when on a mass market cruise ship I was often envious when stuck on a crowded tender while a smaller exclusive ship was tied up to the dock in port. In the beginning of this cruise we were shadowed by a large NCL ship. I was amazed that the low price NCL ship was docked, while we were stuffed onto tenders. Keep in mind Regent is owned by NCL and they save money tendering 600 passengers from a Regent ship compared to 2,500 or 3,000 from a NCL ship.
I was spoiled with Crystal. There tenders were spacious with plenty of leg room and they often left half full if another tender was waiting. With Regent it was like we were on a RCI, NCL or HAL tender. You were shoved in until no one else can fit with knees in pain for the whole ride to shore. Unlike Crystal where there were never tender lines, you did get to stand in line for Regent tenders.
CASINO: We liked how on Crystal you were not forced to walk through a casino like most mass market cruise lines do. Regent was even one better. The casino was on Deck Seven above the main entrance (Deck 5) and balcony entrance (Deck 6) to the main theater.
PHOTOS: Crystal had understated photographers who did not hassle you like the mass market cruise line photographers do. Regent was much better. They have no photographers or photo shop on board.
COMPUTERS AND LIBRARY: Regent was a year late in joining Crystal offering free internet computer service. Our trip marked the beginning of free internet. Regent was better as it was unlimited. However Crystal's was faster. Also Crystal had two people in the computer room to assist passenger s until 11 o'clock at night. Regent just had one. He was possibly a former priest because he had a lot of patience.
The library was very small on the Seven Seas Mariner. The cruise line bought multiple copies of recent best sellers. You were on the honor system as there was no one assigned the duties of librarian. You could take a book any time you wanted and did not need to check it out.
They sold full printed copies of major US newspapers delivered to your cabin for $6 a day. However, the same paper was available (one copy only) in the library.
MEDICAL: We did not use any medical services. (Luckily my heart held up for the vacation, but not 24 hours after the return as I ended up in a hospital heart unit for three days.) However, we did meet someone who did visit the medical office. Her complaint was she was given a week's worth of pills at $40 a pill. I asked why she could not get a prescription and get it filled at a port of call. It was because the doctor was a Russian and could not write scripts in the U.S.
DISEMBARKATION: We had to wait for our color to be call before leaving, which we have had to do on all other cruise lines we have been on except Crystal. But the real surprise came when we received our bill. You can check you bill via your TV on a daily basis. My wife did that. There was nothing unusual.
However as we were just an hour or so from leaving the ship our paper bill showed a $448 spa charge. Since neither my wife nor me had been to the spa and I would have a hard time knowing where it was, this created a fight. The charge was from three days earlier and did not appear when we did the daily bill check. It only appeared on the last paper bill delivered overnight.
At the front desk I explained that we had never been to the spa. This was not accepted! I was told they would need to call people from the spa and investigate. I said I was a retired police detective and suggested that they have the spa staff stroll through the main dining room where I would be having breakfast and see if they could ID the $448 customer. I also suggested they compare signatures. Finally I told them I was not getting off the ship until the $448 was removed from my bill. Thirty minutes later I got a new bill. I did not appreciate the drama.
Luckily we had an afternoon flight, because the line for taxicabs was about 45 minutes long. Getting hit with $448 at a spa you never walked into and then having to wait 45 minutes to get a cab is not a good way to end a cruise.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Some devoted Regent customers we met with over 1,000 days at sea with Regent vowed they would never go on a Crystal Cruise due to the size of the cabins. Others we met said they were going back to Crystal due to the quality of food and personality of the crew.
If you like to be by yourself and stay in your cabin/suite on sea days and are on a diet, Regent is probably the cruise line for you.
If you prefer excellent food, a large library, only use your cabin to sleep, there is little doubt that you should go on Crystal. My wife and I went back and made the promise we broke this year. Our next cruise will be on Crystal.
PORTS OF CALL: Regent offers some free tours. However the guests in the most expensive suites get to sign up first, followed by those who paid in full instead of the two installment system. That was okay by us, as we like to rent cars and go on our own adventures. We prefer renting cars and having freedom to come and leave when we want to. Also at some ports they had school buses waiting for the tours. My knees hurt just looking at them.
ASTORIA, OR After our miserable tender ride to the dock, Enterprise Rent-A-Car was waiting to pick us up. Their office location was close to the dock and the staff was very pleasant. We crossed the Columbia River into Washington. We stopped at a small Post Office and mailed a novel I had just finished by "book rate" to a person I trade books with meaning one less thing in my return luggage. I mailed two books back to my friend during the vacation.
At the Post Office, the entire staff of two had suggestions of places to go. One was a restaurant with unusual art work. (It wasn't open yet.) The other was the last remaining covered bridge in the State of Washington. We found the bridge and compared to covered bridges in the Midwest, Maryland and New England it was an ugly rectangle box. But at least we could say were crossed the last covered bridge in Washington.
We made it to Long Beach, WA where we ate lunch with the locals at a popular inexpensive fish restaurant. The food was better than what was being offered on the ship.
SITKA Our next stop was Sitka, Alaska where it was another tender ride. WE were met by Avis Rent-A-Car at the dock. Our pickup was free. But the large NCL ship was docked four miles out of town and there was a charge to pick up anyone from that ship.
Sitka was fun and I got my biggest laughs while parked in downtown as my wife went to an art museum and shopping. I stayed in the car and read a novel. In front of me on the corner was an entrance to a tourist trap shop. They had a stuffed black bear on its hind legs with its front paws out stretched standing on the sidewalk. It didn't matter age, nationally or sex. Every 30 seconds someone would stop and backup in between the bear's paws and try to put a frightened "I'm going to die" look on their face as a companion took photos. This was almost nonstop.
In Sitka they have three gas stations. They also have one McDonalds. We stopped there to use the restroom and we always believe in buying something in exchange for use of a clean restroom. They had Tillamook Ice Cream from the coastal area of Oregon. This had to be the best ice cream ever served at a McDonalds. It was also better than anything they were serving on the ship.
JUNEAU: We were lied to. When we reserved our rent a car with National we were told we would be picked up at the dock. Four months later when we exited the ship and called National we were told they no longer pick anyone us and suggested we take a cab to airport. We did for $25.
We had been to Juneau before and had been there on a Saturday before. So on this Saturday we knew the town would have garage sales all over the place. We weren't disappointed. In the neighborhoods surrounding the Mendenhall Glacier there were two or three garage sales per subdivision. There were probably 50 garage sales on the island. We stopped at about 11. The best was at the house of a guy who like on the TV show Storage Wars bids on abandoned storage lockers. We got enough Alaskan knick-knacks to hand out some fun awards to several crew members for a total of $2. Plus I got three jazz CDs of Mel Torme and one classical Mozart CD for a $1.
Across the bridge from Juneau is the old City of Douglas which merged with Juneau in 1970. The library on the main street through Douglas is very nice. It offers free internet and has older magazines for free and used books for sale.
Thank God the real tourist season had not yet started. It allowed us to take a one lane (with turn outs) gravel mountain road up a for beautiful views.
The second cab ride back from National at the airport for another $25 was the only thing to spoil my day.
WRANGELL On Sunday we were in Wrangell, a town of around 2,000 that only smaller cruise ships can stop at. The assistant manager at Practical Rent a Car, the only rent-a-car company on the island, picked us up at the dock. The city's one grocery store was closed, but two auto part stores and two hardware stores were open.
While Sitka has three gas stations, Wrangell only has two and one of them is owned by the owners of Practical Rent-a-Car.
Frankly you can see most everything in Wrangell and drive every road in four hours. This was one of the several locations where ship tours were on school buses. We felt fortunate to have a rental car.
Wrangell has a six officer police department. Normally one officer is on duty at a time. The officers also have to be at the airport twice a day when the two Alaska Air flights between Anchorage and Juneau then on to Vancouver with stops in Wrangell, Petersburg and Sitka stop for 15 minutes. The cops do passenger screening. If the one on-duty officer is tied up with an arrest or a bad auto accident, the dispatcher starts calling the five off-duty cops until she finds one to go to the airport. It makes you want to whistle the theme to the Andy Griffith Show.
KETCHIKAN: This was our last port of call. The very nice people at the Alaska Rent-a-Car picked us up and took a back. The return trip included showing us some streets we had missed. Nothing much had changed in Ketchikan compared to our two other trips there. We did several of our "end of the road" trips and once turned onto a gravel road outside of Ward Creek rec area. At first it was okay, but then the potholes filled with water slowed us down to under 5 mph until we gave up, but completely trashed the outside of the car.
Later in the summer the salmon run up creeks in downtown Ketchikan. Also there is a fishery just above downtown. While it sometimes gets little snow, Ketchikan is one of the wettest cities in the country. It was raining hard when we got off the ship. They are installing one artificial turf athletic field, but most athletic fields are crushed gravel as grass would never survive one football or soccer game. Even the softball fields are of crushed rock. Read Less