Sunday, August 13, 2017

Goldring Travel Revisits Regent Seven Seas Cruises (Seven Seas Voyager: August 1, 2017) - Caveat Emptor! Consistently Inconsistent: Not a "Six Star Luxury" Cruise Experience

I boarded the Regent Seven Seas Voyager for a ten day cruise from Rome to Barcelona with an open mind and a desire for my existing negative opinion of the cruise line to be proved wrong.  Heck, I passionately didn’t want to be right. This is a cruise line I experienced all the way back when it was Radisson Seven Seas and have previously sailed on the Diamond, Paul Gauguin, Navigator and Mariner…in that order and observing declines pretty much with each cruise.

Regent Seven Seas Voyager
Regent Seven Seas Cruises touts itself as “Six Star Luxury”. which offers “free air”, “free hotel”, “free tours”, “free gratuities”, etc.  That is a very high bar…and Regent set that bar and my expectations.

Adding to Regent’s hype, it now claims it has “The Most Luxurious Cruise Ship at Sea” in the Seven Seas Explorer and the rest of its fleet having had millions of dollars in renovations just completed.  Plus Regent also claims that with its new menu in the Compass Rose (the main restaurant) there are over 1,000 culinary possibilities.  (I would note that only days ago NCLH – Regent’s parent company – issued a statement that it has reduced it’s food costs, in part by “redefin(ing) our menus”.)

The Short Answer

So with that introduction and elevated expectations, I embarked the Seven Seas Voyager (which was Regent’s flagship until the Explorer launched last year) with my daughter, presented with a cheap glass of champagne…and we, unfortunately, disembarked relieved that the experience was over. Both my daughter and I agreed that the premium Celebrity Cruises provides a higher quality experience.

And, most certainly, Regent Seven Seas Cruises cannot hold a candle to, say, a Seabourn or Crystal Cruise experience when it comes to the staff, cuisine and hardware.  But I will say that I did meet at least one Regent loyalist (all cruise lines have them) that said he had been on Seabourn, but preferred Regent by far.  However, when I politely pressed him on why, he could not give me a single reason other than the packaging of tours, hotel and air.  There is a market for everyone.

Why Was I Sailing on Regent Seven Seas Cruises?

So why did I take this cruise? 

First, I was hosting a group for Ensemble Travel and, therefore, an Ensemble Experience in Les Baux de Provence, France.  Second, I was using the cruise as father-daughter time.  Third, the more luxury cruise products I can sell the better.  And, contrary to the concept thought of by some, while I sell a lot of Seabourn cruises (vanilla ice cream), I want to have other flavors/styles I can also sell with a solid recommendation (Regent being, say, chocolate ice cream).  And, let’s face it:  If the ship doesn’t go where you want when you want, you aren’t going to go on it, so I need viable options for my clients.

So with that…these are My Reflections of my experience.  You can read my six previous articles, upon which this article is based, if you want all the detail via these links:



The “Free” (Included) Stuff

Before I talk about the suites, restaurants, etc., there are a few items which Regent focuses on as being Six Star Luxury, value and convenience propositions that need to be discussed so that you can fully appreciate the product and the marketing associated with it:

-       Included (“free”)
* Tours
* Internet
* Airfare
                  * Hotels
                  * Gratuities

These are all things you pay for, as nothing is “free”, but they are “packaged” based upon the category of your suite, so let me clarify them…and how they affect, or don’t affect, the cruise experience: 

-       Airfare – If you don’t take Regent Seven Seas air, you get a credit, so it is not “free”, but packaged.  If you purchase a more expensive suite you may get “free” or supposedly highly discounted business class air.  (Remember you are paying more, so you need to do the math.) But you do not get to choose your airlines or flights…generally unless you want to pay extra.  If you don’t want to think about arranging air, and some people don’t, it is an option. But if you have a good travel agent, it simply is not worth it.  (It’s not like Regent runs the airlines so the inflight experience is the same.)

-       Hotels – You only get a single hotel night if you book in one of the upper categories, so you are actually paying for that hotel in your fare.  Again, if you don’t take the hotel, you get a credit so, again, it is simply “packaged”.  If you want extra nights it may cost you more than if you booked outside of Regent as it is charged on a per person, not per room, rate.

-       Internet – Here Regent does it right.  You get “always on” (in theory…it is a ship) internet at no additional cost.  If you don’t use it you do not get a credit.  I found that, overall, it performed well.  On, say Seabourn, unlimited internet for the length of your cruise is $399.  On Silversea you get an hour a day included in your fare.

-       Tours – Regent offers a number of “free” tours in each port.  If you don't take a tour you do not get a credit.  The quality of these bus tours vary from excellent (for a ship’s tour) to painful.  You may have 10 people or, in one case for me, over 200 people in 10 groups converging on one small venue.  None of the “free” tours include meals and if you want a bottle of water it will cost you one Euro (1€ ).  One thing I found shocking was that Regent did not have a person on the tours (except the last day…which might be because I wrote about it during the cruise).  I added up the estimated cost of the bus tours, three of which were merely long transfers, and estimate that high quality private shared small group– not bus – tours could have been provided for about $1,000 per person...if you want to take tours every day..  So for group tours it would be substantially less…

-       Gratuities – All of the luxury lines have included gratuities.

So with that I made a concentrated effort to try a variety of “free” tours (and they are noted as “free” on the order form placed in your suite).  I made a similar effort to dine in every venue and to visit the various public areas.  I wanted to see and experience as much as I could. 

The Staff

One of the most frustrating things during my cruise was the inconsistency of the staff and crew quality.  There were a few crew that were excellent, but they were far and few between.  So many of the crew were “delivery services” and nothing more; not interacting with the guests.  Some had looks of total disinterest and/or exhaustion.  

Others clearly were not trained, but simply had moved up the ranks.  I have seen this before:  A busboy becomes an assistant bartender because the assistant bartender left or moved up.  That busboy eventually becomes the bartender…and all he knows is what he learned “on the job”…whether right or wrong.

Yet others simply do not have the mastery of the English language, so you either don’t understand what you ask for or your request is met with an acknowledging smile and then goes off somewhere in outer space.  At times, it made simply ordering a food item or a drink frustrating.

As an example, my stewardess was very nice and did a decent job, but I told her every night at 6:30 pm for the first five nights to please turn our beds down after 8:30 pm because we go to dinner late…and every night she still came by at 6:30 pm to turn down our beds…because she thought I only meant that night.  I had to remember to put the privacy tag on the door to fend off this relaxation-ending knock on the door over the last days of the cruise.

There are also staffing issues as it is very clear there are not enough staff resulting in poor service, stressed out staff or the good ones running like crazy.  Some of them are simple:  Have an attendant in the Connoisseurs Club cigar lounge so people don’t have to walk across the ship to get a drink or cigar…because the able staff also has to take care of the Voyager Lounge.  Or waiting extended periods for service at the Patio Grill or even the restaurants...with dishes served with a rush or wine glasses sitting empty.

In the end, if you want to have an interactive experience with the staff, Regent is not the cruise line for you.  Yes, you can find a few that you can, but overall it isn’t going to happen. 

The Tours

As I mentioned, there was significant inconsistency in the tours. 

One “On Your Own” tour (to Florence) had a guide that gave a lot of good background information and what to see/do (along with a pitch to buy in certain shops) and a safe bus driver, while another (to Barcelona) had an assistant rather than a guide who said nothing substantive to the guests, but talked to the bus driver who had her phone mounted to the windshield so she could read her texts while talking…oh, yeah, and driving. 

Regent Seven Seas Cruises should assure
this NEVER happens on one of its tours!
The worst, however, was the tour to Cinque Terre was a disaster with many unhappy guests with literally hours wasted.  An assumed charming boat ride with a few other guests, was in reality, a very hot, very slow, ferry ride with 200+ guests with each of the 10 tour guides essentially repeating the same information over the speaker system. And when the village was finally reached, the "boat load" of people overwhelmed the venue so badly that it became “survivor” rather than a luxury immersive experience.

A "boat load" of Regent Seven Seas guests overwhelming
an otherwise quaint village in Cinque Terre
Meanwhile my small group Valencia at a Glance and Wine Tasting tour was wonderful, as was my early morning wine tasting in Ajaccio, Corsica, as well as my wine tasting in Nice (which was an interesting and unusual affair worth doing); though hours were spent wandering the towns, which I would have much preferred to do in my own time and without guides.

An interesting wine tasting/cultural lesson in Nice, France.

Valencia's City of Arts & Sciences
Especially on a "Six Star Luxury" cruise line:

-       Consistency is required. 
-       Small groups are required. 
-       Accurate descriptions are required.
-       High quality, relevant, content is required.

Alas, if something is “free” but it cheats you out of the travel experience you are pining for it can be extremely expensive.

The "Cuisine"

Another area of significant disappointment was the cuisine.  Some of the food was just inedible and others were sloppily made, while in limited instances it was quite good.  Now I will tell you that I did hear people rave about it…which I, honestly, was baffled by.  But there are people that either don’t know or don’t care about or don’t want “cuisine”.   Again:  Inconsistency.

I am expanding my comments here because dining is, for most luxury guests, extremely important.  It is, in fact, for many a daily highlight.  Remember these examples are all from a single ten day cruise...and there are more cuisine faux paus.

Example One: The Compass Rose menu has a concept of about ten proteins (fish, beef, chicken, etc.) and a dozen or so sauces.  One would think that the meats or fish would then be cooked with the sauces, but instead you are given a bowl with the sauce to pour over it.  For my “flavor” to be spooned over my food by me renders it not “cuisine”, but – like some of the staff – a lazy delivery system of food; nothing more.  There is absolutely no integration of flavors.  This is not “luxury” unless you being empowered to pick a sauce gives you the feeling of being a culinary master is “your luxury”.

I admit that I was skeptical of this concept from the start because I want the chef to create a culinary experience for me; not me figure out what goes with what.  But for me to quickly figure out that this concept resulted in the proteins being precooked and waiting to be delivered bare naked…which is why they were consistently dry…so that Regent Seven Seas Cruises could eliminate chefs and use cooks...was insulting. 

Example Two:  I ordered asparagus in Compass Rose.  A gloppy overcooked mess was delivered in a round bowl.  Seriously:  If you can put asparagus in a round bowl you know it is overcooked.  So I tried in Prime 7 and it was served on a rectangular plate but was again soft overcooked and wilted.  So I tried yet again in another restaurant and got the same result.  To me this is one of the “Little Things” that discloses many deficiencies…and the lack of Luxurious cuisine.

Example Three:  In Prime 7, the steakhouse, I ordered the Alaskan Crab Legs.  They came pre-cracked, but were basically piled on a plate with no effort to make them look like “cuisine”.  I have dined in many steakhouses, including some of the world’s best, and dumping cracked crab on a plate is not even an option, but crab salads or stone crab claws are.  (Check out Smith & Wollensky or Capital Grille menus if you don’t believe me.) And then I was not offered a finger bowl or wet towel.  Shocking!

Crab served properly in Prime 7:   A Crab Cake...small but good.
Crab not properly served: Prime 7.
Hey, at least give me a finger bowl!
Example Four:  On every cruise I order a hot dog and hamburger.  I do this because I can always tell a lot from how the simplest of dishes are prepared.  (See my asparagus observations above.) I was served two bottom buns on my smallish hamburger accompanied by scraps of lettuce along with a single slice of tomato and onion.  And my pretty tasteless hot dog was served on a soft, soggy, bun accompanied by a dusting of something that was supposed to be sauerkraut.  

Regent Seven Seas Patio Grill served my hamburger
with two bottom buns.
Looks like a burger from a late night diner, doesn't it?  Not luxury!
Compare what Crystal Cruises serves here and Seabourn here.

Example Four and a Half:  Also at the Patio Grill, the sorrowful fish scrapes I was served in this venue being blackened snapper actually topped my list for “Are you seriously serving me this?!”  Besides being served scrapes, you need to look at the size of the scrapes by comparing it to the French fries.

Regent Seven Sea Voyager's Patio Grill Blackened Snapper:
Tiny overcooked scraps of fish.
Use the French fries to appreciate the size of the fish scraps. Seriously?
Example Five:  My daughter ordered spaghetti with pesto when we boarded the ship.  It was clearly pre-cooked and kept in warm water and then drained just before it was sauced and served, resulting in an overcooked, watery, tasteless mess.  A few nights later I ordered pasta in the Compass Rose and encountered the same thing but with a flavorless, last minute, tomato sauce.  Actually the “best” spaghetti was served by room service.  (I did have one perfect order of pasta served my first time dining in Sette Mari…once.)

Example Six:  The breakfast buffet is identical literally every morning.  The only variance was the "special" egg dish of the day; not even a variety of sausages. There is a very limited offering of fresh fruits, yogurts, cereals, etc.  and, pretty much, nothing that would be considered European was offered (ex. smoked salmon was pretty much the only fish offered).

Example Seven:  I ordered room service the last night. I asked for the chicken breast without gravy and spaghetti.  I was told it would take 30-35 minutes, which is fine because it should take that long to prepare the food. It came in 15 minutes…and I also was given a breaded chicken thigh and leg.  Clearly it was precooked and there was no quality control.

I am assuming you need no more examples, but I have given as many as I have so that there is no question I am not making an issue out of a single bad meal.  It was, frankly, exhausting…and if you read my articles you can read about even more!  

We actually skipped dinner three times because we just didn’t want to eat bad food for no reason after having some great off the ship cuisine.  

Apparently bring local food back to the ship is
prohibited on Regent Seven Seas Cruises,  but we were
able to do it once.  With cuisine like this available off the ship,
we skipped frustrating dinners three times.
In fact, as I started to write this article at 38,000 feet sitting in First Class on Lufthansa I can unequivocally state that the fish and veal served here is far superior to those served on the Six Star Luxury Regent Seven Seas cruise…Airplane food!

The Suite

Now, let’s talk about the suite itself.  Short answer:  The suite is fine, but most certainly not Six Star Luxury.  I would not chose, or not choose, a cruise based upon the suite. It is most certainly no better, and worse in some important ways, from the suites found on Seabourn, Crystal and Silversea.  

I was in a standard Veranda Suite on Deck 6.  It is an older, but well maintained, affair. The sofa has been renewed and is comfy.  There are no occasional chairs so the only chair in the suite serves the long desk (and it doesn’t have anything on its feet to assist moving it across the carpet; a pain).  There is a large television on the wall, but the cables are bundled and falling down below the unit.  It sits above a single long desk that also holds glassware and a refrigerator, but there are no upper cabinets in the suite.  

Regent Seven Seas Voyager Suite
Flat Screen Television with a long deck housing
glassware and a refrigerator, but no storage
There is one large ugly painting at the foot of the bed and a mirror above the sofa.  The veranda has two excellent and super comfortable all weather chairs and an occasional table (which is too small to have meal on). 

The suite is stocked with sodas and water, but no beer, wine or liquor; which I find strange for a luxury line. Even Azamara Club Cruises, a near luxury line, provides suites with bottles of spirits.

The beds were comfortable and there are plenty of light controls bedside.  Unfortunately, as an older ship there is no place to charge your phone bedside.  The drapes and curtains are quite old-fashioned, dark grey and of a coarse material. The walk-in closet is a good size, but there is limited drawer space; especially for a couple on a longer cruise.  There is a vanity next to the bed with good, but somewhat harsh, lighting and a stool. 

The bathroom has one sink, but plenty of counter space and storage with very ordinary, painted, cabinetry.  The lighting is quite dim. The separate shower is fine, but the shower head did not deliver enough water or pressure.  L’Occitane amenities are provided, but they are low quality; not the products you may be familiar with.  The hair conditioner is watered down and dried out both my daughter’s hair and my beard (and the few hairs I have on my head).  The bath gel hardly lathered.  The towels, however, were excellent and plenty were supplied. 

Regent Seven Seas Voyager Bathroom
The Restaurants

The public spaces on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager have been renovated and an especially fine job has been done with Compass Rose, the main restaurant.  Some very creative millwork and lighting has done some magic to give the illusion of higher ceilings in this space.  The Versace chargers and flower vases are a true touch of elegance. 

In La Veranda, the casual dining (breakfast and lunch) venue, which converts to Sette Mari, an Italian restaurant at night, the seating area was quite nice, but the buffet itself needs to be torn out and redone…along with its menu and food.  It is an old fashion affair with a narrow corridor in between two buffet lines (hot on one side and cold on the other).  But the buffet goes half way and then is repeated, so you have people starting on the end or in the middle and without anyway to easily transition from the hot side to the cold side without running into someone.  I witnessed a number of plates fall due to collisions.

Prime 7, the steakhouse, is an attractive space, but Chartreuse – the elegant dining venue – has some nice touches, but is rather ordinary.  Both have cuisine that is far superior to that of the other dining venues, but Chartreuse is the only venue that elevates the service experience to a cruise "luxury" level.

The Public Spaces

For the most part the d├ęcor around the ship leans to the old fashion cruise ship styles with peach leather chairs here and smaller velour covered chairs barrel chairs lined up there.  The Library is one exception that has a bit of more modern, open, feel with large comfortable neutral colored chairs.

One thing that stood out, and not in a good way, is the artwork. Frank Del Rio, Regent’s parent NCLH’s CEO may have personally selected the artwork on the Seven Seas Explorer, but this artwork, it would seem, was curated (if it was) by others.  It is painful in its consistently large format, ugly and dark, style...pretty much everywhere.  That is except the hallways, which tended to either have bare walls or low quality pieces with only a few that could be considered better than hotel art.  

Even if you like the artwork I doubt anyone would feel the desire to do a tour of the ship’s art.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I was terribly disappointed by my experience.  I was so looking forward to finding that things at Regent Seven Seas Cruises had changed for the better; that my negativity was no longer valid; that I was, actually, being kind of a jerk.  However, I walked off the Seven Seas Voyager feeling relieved the cruise was over.  I cannot remember the last time that happened.

And, to be sure, it is not like I did not have a good time on this cruise.  I had fantastic experiences in Florence, Barcelona, Valencia, Palma de Mallorca and more.  (Read my articles!)  So it is not a matter of my having a bad attitude.  It was simply a matter of the promised Six Star Luxury cruise experience not be delivered time and time and time again....interspersed with a few luxury experiences that gave me enough hope to later again be disappointed.

For all those Cruise Critic and other Regent fanatics that are going to rant that I am prejudiced against Regent because I sell a lot of Seabourn cruises, I have given example after example after example to support my opinions. There is a reason I don't sell much Regent Seven Seas cruises to my clients...and it is documented here and in my companion articles.

So, if you just want to have everything included and the quality of the cuisine, service and tours is not as important, the Regent Seven Seas Cruises may be fine for you.  But if you want to do just a bit of work or, better, have your travel agent do it, there are better options. 

The one thing I can say, and will repeat is, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is “Consistently Inconsistent”…and that is not in any way a “Six Star Luxury” cruise experience.


Caveat Emptor!