CARIBBEAN AND AMAZON ADVENTURE
Seven Seas Navigator
May 23-June 17, 2017
This cruise was Miami round-trip down the Amazon River to Manaus and back. It lasted 26 days and the ship was sold out months in advance. There were ten ... Read More
CARIBBEAN AND AMAZON ADVENTURE
Seven Seas Navigator
May 23-June 17, 2017
This cruise was Miami round-trip down the Amazon River to Manaus and back. It lasted 26 days and the ship was sold out months in advance. There were ten sea days necessitated by the long distances to be covered. The cruise is often offered twice a year and we opted for the May (versus November) trip because it arrives in the Amazon at the very end of the rainy season. The passengers were primarily retired seniors. There were fewer with wheelchairs and walkers due to necessity for walking in most ports in order to see the most interesting sights.
At this time, the river is at a high water mark, extremely muddy and as much as 10 miles wide. The captain told us that the huge amounts of water coming down river slowed the ship down somewhat. The itinerary originally included a stop called Alter du Chao and we did not stop there. The ship’s announcements led us to believe it was due to the heavy current and the need for more time to reach Manaus however Michael Scott, the Smithsonian lecturer, showed photos of Alter du Chao which is essentially a set of white sand bars with restaurants and beach chairs like a resort and told us it was generally underwater and shut down at this time of year so anchoring off of it would have been useless. At all of the Amazon ports, we did see that the greenery we thought were water plants were actually the tops of the trees on the river islands just barely sticking up above the flood waters. On one shore excursion, it was pointed out that we were able to dock much closer to the attraction than would be possible during the dry season when visiting the rubber plantation would have involved a 2-3 kilometer walk through the jungle.
The cruise was smooth for the most part. There were occasional brief rain showers which is to be expected in this area of the world. The crew diligently dried the deck and recovered the lounge chairs after these showers.
Cruise preparations: You will need a Brazilian visa for this which can be obtained by filling out a form on the embassy website, obtaining a US postal money order for $160 per person and taking your passport to the embassy or using a visa service is no embassy is near. You will also need either a yellow fever inoculation or a waiver letter. Since we were both 70 or above, the local travel medicine clinic stamped the inoculation folder with a waiver stamp for us. On the advice of the travel clinic, we also purchased permethrin spray at REI and sprayed two outfits for each of us and got bug repellent as well. We never saw a mosquito during the entire trip but if everyone else did what we did, we probably traveled in a cloud of bug repellent. We also got malaria tablets with a prescription from the travel clinic and took those with absolutely no side effects. Many people covered their arms, legs, ankles, and more when they went out while we were on the Amazon which was probably a good precaution but again, bugs just seemed to be non-existent.
Ship: The Navigator is the smallest ship in the fleet with 480 passengers and a crew of 360. It is cozy but generally feels uncrowded and many of the passengers said it was their favorite ship. Many of the comparable spaces on other ships in the fleet have been combined on the Navigator. For example, Coffee Connection and the Internet room share a small lounge area. The piano bar is another small area across from that and the small library adjoins them as well. One nice difference from many cruise ships is that the showroom is in the back of the ship. The ship is well maintained. All of the crew demonstrated incredible friendliness and willingness to help. This seems to be a hallmark of Regent.
Cabins: The cabins are identical to other Regent ships in that most are 328 sq. ft. suites with a seating area, a balcony, a very spacious bathroom and a walk-in closet. The bed and linens were wonderful and we felt there was plenty of storage space. Our only complaint, and it was a common one, was that the thermostats in the cabins did make much difference in the temperature. We were told that heating/AC is done by blocks of cabins overall so that some passengers complained of hot cabins while others said they were freezing.
Dining: The Navigator has a main dining room, the Compass Rose, identical to other Regent ships. It has open seating. There is one specialty restaurant, Prime Seven, which is a steakhouse. Prime Seven adjoins La Veranda, the breakfast/lunch buffet. The double doors between the two were often opened to provide extra seating for breakfast and lunch when the buffet was always crowded. As with other ships, La Veranda became Sette Mare, an Italian restaurant, at night. I liked the fact that there were several dishes alongside the salad bar at night that were not on the Sette Mare menu and provided more choices. Breakfast and lunch items were also available at the Pool Grill which had some incredible theme lunches on sea days. The food was wonderful no matter where you ate although by the end of 26 days, we were ready for a simple home-cooked meal again. We’d had our fill of steak and lobster. There is no pizza station on the ship although the hamburgers and hot dogs at the grill were very good. We did discover that if you wanted a dish not found on the menu, a special dessert or a complete Indian dinner for example, it was possible to make arrangements for this.
Entertainment: The singers and dancers were all new on our cruise and somewhat tentative in their first production show but excellent after that when they got the butterflies out. Other entertainment included a female piano player (great talent but with a super ego that was a bit of a turn off), an impressive husband and wife classical guitar duo, a tango act and some local entertainers who came on for one night. We especially liked the group of five from Manaus who used native instruments to imitate nature sounds as part of their songs. There was only one show nightly so I would advise arriving early to get seats since the seating around the top and sides of the show room was awkward and uncomfortable bar height seating or obstructed low seating.
A Smithsonian lecturer, Michael Scott, was on board the entire cruise and he gave very informative and interesting talks often on the coming ports, the wildlife and more. Since there were many sea days, this added up to a lot of talks and they were well attended. He was also often up on deck watching for wildlife to photograph and made himself available for questions.
The ship offered, as many do, games on sea days which were played on deck or in a small carpeted corner on deck 9. These included shuffleboard and baggo, magnetic darts, plastic bowling pins, indoor croquet, etc. There were generally 20-25 people attending these games and hoping for some fun and merriment. Unfortunately, the staff assigned to put these games had no imagination or playfulness in putting them on and it was often 15 minutes or less before they were over. The singers and dancers were being trained to assist with the games during the last week of the cruise and hopefully they might bring some variety and innovation when using the game materials provided.
Liars Club was held twice during the cruise in the top lounge, Galileo’s. Team Trivia was held nearly every afternoon at 4:30 in the Star lounge. Again, I would advise arriving very early to secure seats and form teams. Both were very well attended We arrived about 15 minutes before Liar’s Club was to start and were unable to get a seat even though extra chairs had been brought in.
This cruise crosses the equator twice. Anyone who crosses becomes known as a Shellback and is supposed to be initiated by King Neptune. Some of the entertainment crew stood in for the passengers and there was a lot of laughter as they were slimed and pushed into the pool.
Ports and excursions: Note: The majority of Regent shore excursions are free and well worth taking. However, few cruise ships visit the Amazon and tourist guides and sights may not be up to the level one would normally expect.
Gustavia, St. Barts: Small French-speaking island. Restaurants and shopping are much higher priced than other parts of the Caribbean. We walked to the TI from the tender (the TI is located on the water about a block and a half from the dock and is not well marked). We got a map from the TI and walked around the small town to Shell Beach where we found a lot of the singers and dancers enjoying an hour of beach time. Most shops were closed during the middle of the day.
Castries, St. Lucia: We took the 7 hour “Land and Sea to Soufriere” tour. We took a small van over the very winding roads of the island stopping at a small fishing village for a potty break and to stretch our feet, a viewpoint, a botanical garden and an “estate” where we had a buffet lunch of local foods and then were led on a short tour to see mock-ups of worker huts and processing of coffee beans, sugar cane and coconut like they would have been done in the past. The several vans of passengers all met at a dock to go on a catamaran (more like a ferry) for a stop along the coast for a short swim (it was twilight by this time) and then continue back to the ship. Note: This was such a long tour that the long sail back to the ship was in the dark. The boat was dimly lighted. We were served rum punch and other non-alcoholic drinks and the guides did their very best to keep us entertained by dancing to the songs playing over the loudspeaker. Everyone was quite tired by the time we were back to the ship. Half of the passengers on this tour did it in reverse – catamaran first, van back to the ship.
St. George, Grenada: The ship docked on a Sunday in Grenada. We had been here before and just walked off the ship, through the car/foot traffic tunnel under the hill where the fort is, and around the small harbor. The only people we saw where several taxi drivers who stopped to ask if we would like a tour. There is very little to see around the harbor. Some passengers walked up through town to look at one of the two churches.
Port of Spain, Trinidad: We took a city tour which included a botanical garden and a steel drum performance. Our guide spoke good English, was very knowledgeable and proud of her city but gave an honest description of the pluses and minuses of the area. The botanical garden was pleasant and easy walking. The steel drum concert was given by six older gentlemen at their steel drum club’s practice facility outdoors under a roof which was very handy when a sudden heavy rainstorm came through.
Boca du Valeria, Brazil: After four sea days, we arrived at this small fishing village of perhaps 75 people. There were no shore excursions here because the ship tenders simply dropped passengers at the tiny dock where we were eagerly greeted. Children (who speak almost no English) mobbed the walk off the dock and quickly grabbed your hands to escort you to the right down the path through the jungle as far as you cared to walk until you turned around. There were many boys along the path with pet sloths, parrots, huge bugs and parakeets hoping you would take their photo and give them a dollar. There were adults next to small stalls selling wood carvings and jewelry made of feathers. Apparently the villagers from miles around come to greet the very few ships which stop here. Once we made it clear to our four kids that we wanted to see the village, they led us along the boards and pathway to the one-room school and adjoining one-room church. At that point, we gave them each a few dollars and had a photo taken with them and they immediately disappeared in search of more passengers. Suggestions: All of the kids eagerly accepted the chocolates left on your bed each night (they will melt once you are off the ship and be quite messy). Dollars are good. There was a small stuffed bear in our cabin and I gave it to the smallest child. I think all of the girls would have liked one. The school is very basic and welcomes any school supplies (pencils, etc. from the Dollar Store) as well as money. I had several emergency sewing kits which I gave to an old lady and to a woman who beckoned us to visit her house. This was one of the most interesting stops of the trip. If you go and wonder how they have very few possessions but have a satellite dish and tv, we were told the government provided these some years ago as a way of raising the literacy level and lowering the extremely high birth rate (it worked).
Manaus, Brazil: We had a two day stop in this town of 2 million. Day one we took the Highlights of Manaus city tour to the restored Opera House (amazing), the city zoo (sad), and the indigent indian museum (small and skippable). The second day our excursion was Rubber Museum and Indian Community which included a boat trip to a mock-up of a rubber plantation from the late 1800s. The plantation was built for a movie production and now is a very educational tourist attraction. Our guide was excellent and we were able to fully understand the desperate plight of the men who became rubber-harvesting slaves and what they had to do. We also visited an indigenous indian village where we were given a performance of traditional songs and dances in a tribal meeting building. Despite the loin cloths on the men and topless grass-skirted women, the modern haircuts on the men and the somewhat embarrassed postures of the women made it clear they are very much a part of the modern world just a few miles down the river. In the evening, we took the caiman hunting excursion. Everyone is boarded onto two large riverboats which then take you across the river about 45 minutes to an area where smaller 10 person boats are waiting at a dock. The boats go off into the dark lighted only by the moon (a full moon in our case) to cruise through the tops of the trees of the flooded islands while a man in the front shines a flashlight into the foliage hoping to pick up the reflection of the caiman’s eyes. The jungle sounds around you are extraordinary. Most of the boats found no caiman because the full moon made it possible for them to see us and move away before we were close enough. One boat did catch two small caiman and brought them back to the riverboat for everyone to hold for photos. I would do this again just for the experience of floating through the dark and listening to the wildlife sounds.
Santarem, Brazil: Although there were good shore excursions from Regent, we joined another couple and booked a private guide, Karim, with Big Tree Adventures. This knowledgeable, friendly and capable guide with a van and driver was worth every penny. We toured leisurely through the fish market, the fruit and vegetable market, stopped for photos of a church, had a beer at a very nice hotel with a great view of the waterfront, and then had a great fish lunch at Restaurant Piracema. Afterward, we boarded a small boat and went across the meeting of the waters (where the clear, dark water of the Rio Tapajos meets the muddy Amazon) into Maica Lake to see sloths, lizards, many birds, giant water lilies and local homes. It was one of the best days of the cruise.
Parintins, Brazil: We began booking shore excursions too late to see the city during the day but were lucky to get on the Boi Bumba Folk Show excursion in the late afternoon. Passengers are taken by tender to the dock and walk across the street past the market to an air-conditioned performance venue. Go as early as possible to get the best seat. The town is famous for having the second largest Carnival-type festival in South America. Two clubs compete only for the honor of winning and annually design flamboyant costumes, floats, and dances which are presented during the last weekend of June in an outdoor stadium constructed for that purpose. We were treated to a one-hour performance indoors by one of the clubs. Singers and dancers moved in front of us for 60 full minutes. Their energy was incredible. Don’t miss this one.
Devil’s Island, French Guiana: After exiting the Amazon, there is a one day stop with no shore excursions at this small, infamous island, site of the French prison depicted in the movie “Papillion”. The island is a tropical paradise of palms, birds, and monkeys. The buildings are in decay and visitors can walk wherever they like. There is one building now used as a hotel/hostel and serving some food. There are several ways to access the ruins in the center of the island, either by taking the slower but longer outer road or using the quicker path with steps. You can see the solitary confinement cells in a fairly well preserved building, others where only the lower rock walls remain, the childrens’ cemetery where the families of prison employees were buried, and more. There are very few signs.
Bridgetown, Barbados: We took the “Beach Break” excursion. Guests are bussed to a long, white beach where there are pairs of lounges sharing a large umbrella to choose from. Bathrooms and changing facilities are upstairs in the beach bar which owns the lounges. The water is a beautiful shade of blue and was calm the day we were there. The water temperature was a little cool but easy to stay in. For $10, a boat would take you out to view large turtles and coral.
St. John’s, Antigua: “Historical Island Drive and Beach Break” Along with our very funny local guide, we were bussed around the island hearing about the politics and culture of Antigua. We stopped at two high lookouts with ruins of English forts and then went to Nelson’s Dockyard where sailing ships were repaired and outfitted during the height of the English occupation. We were given a ticket for a rum punch or soft drink in one of the buildings which is now a bar and then taken to a beach. Despite what the Regent description said, there were bathrooms and changing facilities at the beach as well as shaded tables, a few benches and lots of sea grape trees which provided shade as well.
San Juan, Puerto Rico: We did the Rainforest Nature Walk. This is a long excursion to El Yunque National Park, the only rainforest in the US National Park system. It’s about 1 ½ hours from the port. There was a stop at the visitor’s center with a movie, a waterfall photo, a pool built by the CCC, and a tower to climb for a view. The nature walk in our tour was very short down some steps, around a picnic shelter and back again and had no “nature” to see. I understand that other tours actually did have a walk on a path so which guide you get makes a difference. The ride back to the ship was during rush hour and San Juan has very clogged streets so it took even longer than the ride to the forest. Our guide had brought along a bags of chips, water and beer which were much appreciated since we had been gone a very long time and dinner had started by the time we returned. Read Less