Friday, May 18, 2012

TravelCat2 Reviews Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Instructions on How a Mediocre Cruise is Rated as Six Star

I know that if you Google "Regent vs. Seabourn" or most things similar my article from September 6, 2010 "Seabourn vs. Silversea vs. Regent - Forget Loyalty; Which Provides the Best Luxury Cruise Experience?" is No. 1 on the search page; not only because is covers so much of the information and topics people are interested in, but because so many people read it.

It now being 1.5 years later I figured I would hit "refresh", but not to increase my page count but to see make sure that the information I put out there remains relevant and accurate.  Now, clearly I have not been on Regent cruise recently and, to be honest, after you read this you will know that I really have no desire to....nor should you.  Harsh?  Absolutely.  Reasoned?  Absolutely.  Why?  Read on! 

First things first:  Regent is regularly the most expensive cruise line out there.  I personally book hundreds of cruises every year and now go through this exercise in my sleep.  Take just about any Regent cruise with its deceptive "free tours", "free drinks", " free gratuities" and it will be more expensive than a similar itinerary in similar accommodation on Seabourn, Silversea or (usually) Crystal...and more double the cost of a premium cruise line such as Celebrity.  (And, remember, on Regent you are cruising with approximately 100% - 300% more guests than you would be on Seabourn or Silversea.)

Why would I mention Celebrity?  Because Regent Seven Seas has a gimmicky presentation where it compares itself to a premium line or two and magically it comes out to being less expensive.  Yes, I am sure there are a couple of cruises like that out there, but I have yet to find it.  So, you are paying for every single one of those "free" things...dearly. 

That said, I am not going to look at the comments as Regent Seven Seas being the most expensive cruise line out there, but simply being a purported luxury cruise line.

Now to the substance.  TravelCat2 just wrote a review of her May 2012 Mediterranean cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager.  TC2 is as famous as she is infamous for being a Regent Seven Seas cheerleader.  In her eyes Regent is as beloved as her cats, so everything she sees is eventually seen with fur (rose colored) glasses.  And, to be sure, she is a prolific (and exasperating) writer. Her rating was 5+ Star with the only thing getting less than a 5.0 was the spa at 4.0.

She arrived into Istanbul and found (was not greeted) by a Regent representative...who didn't have her name on the list.  So she found a second Regent representative...who also didn't have her name on the list.  So she waited in the middle of Istanbul airport "After 15 minutes or so (and asking more questions), the Regent Rep. that had our names showed up. Unfortunately, all of us had to schlep all of our luggage to the bus." Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service?

After deciding that hanging out in the executive lounge at the Ritz Carlton was better than venturing out into Istanbul that evening, she starts her pre-cruise excursion to Cappadoccia.  (Having been there I can assure you it is an outstanding place to visit, but I digress.)  After a short flight, "Once we arrived, once again it was our responsibility to manage our own luggage."  Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service and Shore Excursion?

After settling into her hotel, "The Guide told us that we could dine any time between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. When we arrived at 7:30 p.m., there was a table for 21 set up and the expectation was that everyone would show up at 8:30 p.m. We were permitted to sit down and ordered a bottle of wine and ordered (not even water was included at this hotel). As other members of the group came down, they were seated at the same table. The service was so slow that, by the time we were served dessert, guests who arrived 45 minutes after us were deserved dessert at the same time. Food was mediocre."  The next day she commented, "Lunch was the best food we had since arriving in Cappadocia. Dinner that night at the hotel was arranged properly and the food was somewhat better." Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service and Shore Excursion?

After again hauling her own luggage she arrived back in Istanbul for the standard tours of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace commenting, "We walked for a long way to get there only to learn that it would take a long time to get in and that it would be packed once we were inside. By then it was approximately noon. The group was going for lunch after Topkapi. We decided to go on our own and take the tram to the ship (after thanking and tipping our wonderful Guide).Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service and Shore Excursion?

I pause and ask, "If TC2 rates being abandoned in the Istanbul Airport, schlepping luggage, dining disasters and a tour of a major attraction that was so poorly organized it was abandoned as 5 Star, what the heck is the measure of the ship?"

Well, let's take a brief look.  She engaged in what I consider to be a troublesome tactic of seeking out a specific waiter in the main dining room requiring me to again ask, "Is the waitstaff on Regent Seven Seas so suspect that you only have good service if you use specific waiters?"  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star service and dining?

And then there is the casual dining venue, La Veranda.  She write, "Breakfast in La Veranda before an excursion is great. It is a buffet with an egg station (remember to pay attention to your table number -- they will deliver your order to the table).Toast is also prepared at that station -- it only takes a minute so I just wait."  Wait a minute!  I have to take a number on a luxury cruise?!  Seriously?!  On Seabourn, you may enjoy the buffet, but if you want eggs (any way), pancakes, etc., and toast, it is ordered and served at your table by a waiter.  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star service and dining?


Now, while TC2 is continuing on with her ambiguous (and inaccurate) raves, during her Cruise Critic thread another poster on the same cruise wrote, "We are also on the Voyager now until Rome. Must add to all of your hard work that the food descriptions are lovely, impressive, even.  The portions, quality, and taste are, for the most part, crap. The food on Regent...is just going downhill faster and faster. Cost cutting measure are evident to anyone who has sailed with them before. I would say the food is fair, edible, passing. No more WHOA!! FOOD PORN moments, LOL. Those can still be had in Sigs and Prime, though. I wish there was no need for specialty restaurants on these ships. If only the food in CR rivaled the specialties every night... sigh... the good old days.  Don't even get me going about the wine pours. Or the baked (shall I say defrosted) goods?...I am a foodie, and the offerings are disappointing at virtually every meal. We have been eating off the ship at every opportunity."  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star dining?

BTW, on Seabourn the baked goods are made fresh every day.  It is an incredible process that literally works around the clock.  If you are interested, I have photographs of all sorts of baked goods being prepared.  (This also reminds that the reported old habit at Regent of ordering croissants from Sam's Club may be gone, but not forgotten.)

And then TC2 fesses up, "Food is subjective. Many repeat Regent customers notice a big difference from a few years (months) ago to now." Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star dining?

On Seabourn caviar is served regularly and is always available on request.  In fact, Seabourn has sourced environmentally sound true Caspian Sea sturgeon caviar (farmed in the Black River region of Argentina).  On Regent, according to TC2, "Once per cruise they have an event with cocktails (like we really need more to drink:-) and caviar. The big draw for us is the caviar."  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star dining?

And then I came across this gem, "the hot entrees on the La Veranda buffet is the same as in Compass Rose."   Do you know what that means?  It means that in all probability your dining room lunch is pre-cooked and sitting in a pan in the galley waiting for your arrival.  It is not, as it is on Seabourn, cooked ala minute (as it is ordered).  That does not, in and of itself, mean the meal will be terrible, but it does mean that an elegant or delicate preparation is not happening and, as seems obvious to me, there is less staff in the galley and of those staff fewer are actually cooks or chefs. 

So now back on tour, TC2 comments on her extra cost $129 per person tour of Dubrovnik.  She comments that the first stop was a "tourist stop" followed by a winery where she was "not impressed" and then for a drive with a lunch that was "a bit of a disappointment" and the an enjoyable olive oil "place".  Not for nuthin', if that is a $129 per person extra tour, what the heck was the free tour and, of course:  Can someone tell me how this is a 5+ Star shore excursion?

And then reality hits, TC2 states as to the included tours, "I'm not a fan of included excursions. However, since they are there, we are taking advantage of some of them. I understand your point about having the energy or enthusiasm for DIY. On the oher hand, when faced with 390 passengers on the same excursion (approx. 16 buses), my eyes glaze over. We had five busloads (not full -- about 30 per bus) arrive at the restroom stop at the same time. Need I say more?Can someone tell me how this is a 5+ Star shore excursion?

How about a bit on ambiance? On TC2's second leg of her cruise she wrote, " Many people are showing up in the Observation Lounge as late as 7:30 p.m. in shorts -- or, in one case, barefoot. The Cruise Director is mentioning the dress code every day -- hope it helps as it must be embarassing when they are told to go to their cabin and change. We love the Elegant Casual dress code but do not want to see t-shirts and shorts after 6:00 p.m. It is quite easy to put on slacks and a nice top. Speaking of dress code, no one can wear hats in Compass Rose at night -- no matter how expensive or classy they are. And, there are some rules about baseball caps being worn inside."

Now, I can only consider what is written and if this is written by a well experienced Regent Seven Seas passenger who is very much an admitted cheerleader, then why, why, why would I risk my and Goldring Travel's reputation suggesting that you pay the high prices of a Regent Seven Sea's cruise when there are clearly better options with Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and even Azamara Club, Oceania (Regent's sister cruise line) and Celebrity?

But, should you think this is limited to the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, how about some recent Cruise Critic comments concerning the Regent Seven Seas Navigator.  I was recently reading a review on Cruise Critic of the refurbished Regent Navigator. The review was glowing, everything was great, and nothing could be better...AND THEN...

Another poster chimed in stating, "Perhaps because few on the ship ever ventured into the open air, the public spaces inside were generally overcrowded. There were precious few nice, quiet, comfortable places to sit and read or whatever. For us, this was such an important difference between Navigator and Voyager/Mariner, where you can always find somewhere gorgeous to relax outside your suite. La Veranda was often full at breakfast and lunch, with P7 open for the overflow. The no-self-service Navigator lounge is tiny, with all tables usually full and can't compare with the cafe corners in the other slightly larger ships. The absence of an observation lounge is a distinct disadvantage."  Then another poster stated, "I agree with everything from the above post."  Then the originating poster stated, "I agree that with the pool deck often closed or unusable, public spaces were tight."

A fourth poster jumped in stating, "we found the public spaces over crowded, and this negatively impacted our time on the Navigator. On a sunny day, we often thought longingly of the beautiful spaces on the Mariner pool deck with comfortable seating and plenty of shade. On the Navigator, it was impossible to get a lounger in the shade after 9 AM on a sea day. I also concur on the tiredness of the staff. Although there were many excellent staff members, I witnessed several uncomfortable exchanges between staff and passengers."

Let's now go back to my September 2010 article.  Nothing has changed for the better.  It sounds to me like things at Regent Seven Seas has gotten worse. Oh, there are raves about service, but then again look at what has been rated 5+ Stars.  It doesn't make you wonder.  It makes you worry!

What do you think?  Join the conversation on The Gold Standard Forum or give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY.