Sunday, August 6, 2017

Goldring Travel Revisits Regent Seven Seas Cruises (Seven Seas Voyager: Rome to Barcelona - August 1, 2017) - Part IV (La Spezia and Monaco: Consistent Inconsistencies and Misses)

The fourth day on our Regent Seven Seas Voyager cruise was, honestly, the one that I feared would happen.  The one where I unwittingly chose a “free” tour that 200+ guests would go on and, thus, overwhelm the venue and hence the experience; making me feel like I was on a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) tour.

And, to be honest, inconsistencies in service are starting to get to me.  One thing I am sensing is that there are two types of staff onboard the Regent Seven Seas Voyager: Those that want to do their enthusiastic best and those that simply deliver something...anything...and don't really care.  It is easy to see who is who.  The hard part is to figure out why.  Is it a lack of training, poor morale, hiring the wrong people or a combination of all three?

What matters the most is that there are just too many little, and not so little, things that just aren't up to a luxury standard...and they should be very easy to correct.  I have to ask how it is that they haven't been.

Cinque Terre
So with that...I chose the “A Cruise to Cinque Terre” tour.  It was to be a 4½ hour tour with what I thought would be a charming 1¼ boat ride there and back, with 1¼ hours in Vernazza, one of the five towns.  I knew walking between the towns would not be possible, but I figured there would be some time to appreciate the towns from the sea and to do a bit of exploring; trying to find things that would be nice father-daughter time yet would not consume entire day.

At 7:55 a.m. we gathered in the Constellation Lounge, as you do, and were given a number.  When our number was called, we walked to a bus…that merely took us to the end of the commercial port of La Spezia.  Off the bus for a nice walk down the quay to our boat. Without explanation, we were placed in a line to board.

What I wasn’t aware of (and there was no way to know) is that there were 10 groups of 20+ guests…and they were all being placed in the same line PLUS two more groups who were using the same boat, traveling to Porto Venere.  Obviously, we were not on a quaint private boat of any sort, but rather a commercial ferry service. So much for the charming boat ride!

And then we sat…and sat…and sat until 9:10 a.m.  (Bonus:  Whomever designed the seats must have designed medieval church benches.  The seats were two slats of wood spaced for maximum discomfort.) And then we sat through a 2 hour boat ride (not the 1¼ hour one promised), first stopping in Porto Venere, and then with tour guide after tour guide repeating the same information as we slooowly cruised the coast line of Cinque Terre…with the heat building.  (Not Regent Seven Seas Cruise’s fault, but the heat has been oppressive, with the condition being called throughout Europe as “Lucifer”.)

And then we heard the announcement, "The bar is open" but that water was 1Euro and a Coke was 3 Euros.  How is it that Regent Seven Seas cannot supply water on buses or this boat; only on the ship? To me it is, honestly, offensive.  (Let's face it the tour is not "free", but "included" in one's fare so spending 5 cents to supply a bottle of water on the bus or boat is not exactly a big expense.)

Anyway, we finally reached Vernazza only to have the influx of our 200+ guests plus the other tourists so overwhelm this little town that it was literally impossible to do anything of any value.  

200+ guests invaded Cinque Terre
So our time became “Survivor” as there almost nowhere to walk without being in a crowd, there was no way to grab a non-touristic bite to eat and shopping for tourist souvenirs (at inflated prices, no less) was not on our list of fun things.  So we wandered as we could, grabbed a gelato, tried to find some shade and then – just wanting our time in what used to be a beautiful and charming town to come to an end – literally hovering over a local café’s tables hoping one would vacate so we could have a beer before heading back on to the boat.

Depsite the crowds, some creative photography
resulted in a few nice photos


It was then our turn to stand in line with the other 200+ in the hot sun so that we could sit on the same boat as we cruised at almost twice the speed back to Porto Venere…so we could wait 10 extra minutes in the hot sun for that one guy.  You know the guy that showed up late because the rest of us didn’t matter.  Finally, we headed back to the port so we could patiently disembark by group, to regroup on land to walk back together to get the shuttle to get back to the ship…just as the only option for lunch became the Patio Grill.

In short, our “free” cruise cost me the day. And, worse, it was designed to waste as much time as possible by slowly cruising so that the “other” tour would have its full time when we could have, if properly delivered, been given two hours or more in Vernazza so that we could have walked part of the famous Cinque Terre trail or actually had a nice wander and a local meal.

Already in a rather testy mood, I decided to hold my Hamburger and Hot Dog Test that I do on every cruise...as I had no other lunch options.  I have found over the years that much can be learned by observing how the simplest of dishes are presented and, unfortunately, this was the case yet again. Poor training or poor attitude, or both was the result.

My hamburger was delivered with two bun bottoms.  Seriously?  A few scraps of lettuce were accompanied by one slice of tomato and a slice of onion.  The hamburger itself was a bit small and thin for a “luxury” burger, but it was cooked properly and tasted fine.  Not exceptional or even satisfying.  My daughter’s tuna burger was of similar quality, but at least she got a proper bun.  It was as if nobody cared.  

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Hamburger:  Eh at best
My hot dog was even more disappointing.  The menu stated the New York hot dog was served with sauerkraut and mustard.  A sorry looking affair was delivered on a soft, flavorless, bun with nothing that resembled sauerkraut  and no mustard with a beef hot dog that was small, soft (no crispness or “pop” when I bit into it), and not particularly flavorful.  Maybe because I am from the New York area I expected something more from the description, but I later found out it is the same hot dog for the other hot dog on the menu. 

Regent Seven Seas Cruise's "New York" Hot Dog:  Fuggedaboudit!
Seriously, Forget About It.
I cannot understand how anyone that is properly trained could believe that hot dog was delivered as it should be.  Even if not properly trained, it looked so pathetic that an enthusiastic staff member would question it.

After a well-deserved nap…a long nap…it was time for dinner in Compass Rose.  Dinner was OK.  I tried the tagliolini with lobster. I am not sure that it was tagliolini, but I am sure it was again, watery and overcooked.  I am giving up on pasta while on this cruise…other than the one night I will try Sette Mari.

I just gave up on the day and headed to bed.

Monaco
The next day we arrived in Monaco.  Having been there many times both for the Monaco Yacht Show and on cruises, I used this day anchored out to catch up on some work before heading out to St. Paul de Vence for a few hours in the afternoon, so that Devin – who had been there over a decade ago – could enjoy this very artistic village as a young, artistic, adult. 

After tendering in and walking along the quay to check out the yachts, we boarded a ridiculously hot bus for our one hour journey to our destination.  How a broken bus with no air conditioning was not addressed by Regent I have no idea.  And there was nobody from Regent to speak with driver or the guide…no less the guests.  The guide advised that we were stuck with the hot bus, but a bus with air conditioning would be provided for the ride back.  It sucked, but we sucked it up.  (A better option would have been a taxi or private car for about $200 roundtrip.)

St. Paul de Vence
As with Cinque Terre, this beautiful village was overrun with tourists, but this was not Regent’s fault as it did run the tour with only nine guests.  With many more shops and alleyways it wasn't intolerable, but merely something traveling in peak season that has to be accepted.  After a short tour orienting us, we had about 1.5 hours of free time.  Wandering the art galleries was our goal and our goal was achieved.  Some of artwork is remarkable…and so are the prices!  (I was going to have a glass of wine at the Hotel St. Paul’s terrace, but it was closed by the time we got there.)  

My daughter, Devin:
Artist with Attitude in St. Paul de Vence
Afterwards we had a very pleasant, and cool, drive back to the ship.


Needing a bit of a break, we skipped dinner but did head out on deck for a very special fireworks competition in Monaco (which was the reason we had to anchor out).  I am generally not a fan of fireworks, but it was quite a show.  

Fireworks Competition Over Monaco
The ship did have its trio out playing music before the event, with some specialty drinks being offered, followed by a bit of an on deck dance party afterwards; relying on recorded music rather than the somewhat off-key musicians.  

I chose to head to the Connoisseur Club for a whisky and cigar before heading to bed, hoping that the next day would breathe new positive life into this cruise.