Know before you go: Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager will spoil you silly.
It's not just the stellar service, the inspired itineraries or the outstanding celebrity lecturers, but also the fact that this is a ship with a big personality. Where else will you find a captain who reads poetry over the public address system along with the weather and navigation reports? Or fiercely social passengers -- like "a family afloat," as one repeat passenger frames it -- who return to Voyager year after year, in large part to spend time together? On our Sydney-to-Shanghai cruise, a mere 24 of almost 600 passengers were new to Voyager. That's a telling statistic.
With its sleek, Scandinavian-inspired design, Voyager has an old school sensibility. It's not showy, it's understated. No Aloha Deck or Fiesta Deck here -- simply deck number four, number five and so on. There's also sort of a clubby feel, in part because Voyager offers complimentary beverages -- from diet Coke to Chivas Regal -- at all its bars. Many suites also have butlers. All very civilized.
That's not to say Voyager isn't au courant. When it launched in 2003, it was the second all-suite, all-balcony cruise ship ever introduced (after sister ship Seven Seas Mariner.) It's also clearly committed to a gold standard when it comes to service. Today, for example, Voyager is fully wireless and a remarkably gracious Internet cafe administrator works pretty much on demand -- both in the computer center and in-suite.
We have been on bigger and smaller ships, and many of them get very high marks. But Voyager provides an experience that raises the bar further. Not surprising to us, the ship boasts the highest staff-to-guest ratio in the industry.
As one woman remarked when asked what she liked most about Voyager: "It's the lifestyle, my dear."
Seven Seas Voyager satisfies even the most critical palate with four dining venues, each with its own distinctive style. The menus are inspired, taking full advantage of the ship's ports of call. In Sydney, for example, the formal dining room featured pasta with clams fresh from the Sydney fish market. In Saipan, sherbet made from oranges grown on the island made its way onto the menu.
The afternoon pool deck buffets are also imaginative and well-produced. On our cruise, an Aussie "barbie" showcased kangaroo, emu, crocodile and shark. One day, the Filipino deck crew presented guests with some home cooking: chicken adobo, beef caldereta and fish escabeche along with garlic- and ginger-marinated stir fry and glass noodles salad. A poultry fest included an impressive selection of turkey, quail, pheasant and chicken. And so it goes, day after day.
As for the restaurants, Compass Rose is the main dining room, typically open for dinner from 6:30 until 9 p.m. It's roomy and softly lit; my husband and I were pleased to see plenty of tables for two. There's open seating and no reservations are required.
The dinner selection includes appetizers (like buckwheat blinis with smoked salmon and Russian caviar, and vegetable carpaccio with honey sesame dressing), soups (the anise-spiced corn chowder was a hit), salads, a pasta dish, and three main courses. One sampling of the main course choices: broiled white sea bass fillet with fennel foam, veal scaloppini in lemon sauce with fresh homemade linguine, and olive oil grilled Black Angus rib eye steak.
Dinner at Compass Rose also includes a six-tier gourmet tasting menu. An Asian menu, for example, featured vegetable carpaccio; clear chicken consomme flavored with lemongrass, ginger and coconut milk, garnished with tofu; crispy shrimp and vegetable spring rolls; banana passion fruit sherbet; wok of the day; and a passion fruit tart.
Additionally, selections from the main dinner and gourmet tasting menus are combined to produce specialty offerings: "light and healthy" lean alternatives prepared to minimize fat and calories and maximize taste; vegetarian dishes suitable for lacto- and ovo-vegetarians; and unsalted dishes. Finally, there's a "Simplicity" menu, featuring basics like prepared-to-order salmon fillet, boneless breast of chicken and steak.
Along with regular desserts like creme brulee and cheesecake, there are also offerings such as low-carb flourless chocolate cake and sugar-free ice cream.
Wines are complimentary; choices are determined by the ship's sommelier and vary nightly. You can also opt to buy bottles from a reserve list.
Breakfast (8 until 9:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon until 1:30 p.m.) are also served in Compass Rose. Breakfast typically includes a selection of pancakes, waffles and French toast along with all manner of eggs. There are also baby lamb chops, bacon, sausages, North Sea kippers and "cold galley" specials such as smoked Norwegian salmon, brie and prosciutto.
Like dinner, lunch in Compass Rose is something of a production with appetizers, soups, side salads, "light and healthy" offerings, sandwiches, a fresh pasta dish, three main courses and dessert. Here's a sample light lunch: an appetizer of tomato and mozzarella timbale followed by pan-fried marinated fresh baby tuna and low-carb apple crunch to top it all off.
Menus in Compass Rose have also been expanded to include select items from the Signatures and Prime 7 specialty restaurants, as well as a greater emphasis on dishes from the regions visited on each cruise.
La Veranda, on the pool deck at the stern of the ship, serves as Voyager's buffet -- but it's actually much, much more. With its low ceilings, wooden shutters and white tablecloths, it feels more like a fine restaurant than an all-you-can-eat buffet. That's partly because of a very attentive wait staff.
Breakfast, 7:30 until 10 a.m., includes made-to-order eggs and a daily special such as Eggs Florentine or Belgian waffles and banana pancakes. There's also a counter with fresh fruit, cold cuts, salmon, cheeses, breads and pork products.
Lunch, noon until 2 p.m., at La Veranda is something to celebrate. There are always several salad selections, a cold cut buffet and sandwiches along with several signature hot entrees -- as an example, braised oxtail, lemon sole and salmon and baby back ribs. Also, there's always a pool deck buffet at lunch with a completely different and abundant offering, which we found impressive.
Evenings, 6:30 until 9 p.m., La Veranda becomes somewhat more formal. There's usually a theme -- Aussie Roadhouse, for example, or a Simply Good menu featuring passenger favorites like oven-roasted lamb rack, jerk pork tenderloin and grilled halibut steak. At dinnertime, La Veranda is part-buffet (you gather your own salad and appetizers) and part-formal (a waiter brings you your dinner entree and dessert).
Voyager's specialty restaurants, Prime 7 and Signatures, require reservations and are only open for dinner, 6:30 until 9 p.m. The menu at the intimate, 70-seat Prime 7 steakhouse, features steaks and seafood. (Try the ahi tuna tartar or jumbo lump crab cake starters.) The entrees are pretty huge. All beef products served are U.S.D.A.-approved, and the menu includes Prime New York Strip, Prime Porterhouse (carved tableside, by the way), Prime Fillet Mignon (6- or 10-ounce) and surf-and-turf. There's also lobster, New Zealand lamb chops, pork, veal and a half chicken (cooked and served on an iron skillet). Sides include baked potatoes, creamed spinach, truffle fries and Lyonaise potatoes. Regent Seven Seas' famous, 14-layer cake is on the dessert menu, but how can anyone possibly still have room?
Signatures is another thing altogether. The restaurant, and the one just like it onboard Seven Seas Mariner, is the only restaurant at sea operated under the auspices of Le Cordon Bleu. Yes, that Cordon Bleu. It is, as my mother-in-law would say, "swish." It's very formal and very good. Coddled quail egg, anyone?
Last, but not least, there's room service.
We enjoyed dinner in our cabin a number of times -- enough to make us think of room service as Voyager's fifth dining venue. Room service is 24/7 and meals are served, as they are everywhere else onboard, on a table with a white tablecloth. You can order from Compass Rose or from a fairly lengthy room service menu that covers the basics and then some.
This is where Voyager truly excels. All 350 suites are oceanview, each with a private balcony. They are attractive and generously sized, measuring from 356 to 1,403 square feet, including balcony. The largest balcony, at 187 square feet, is larger than at least one cabin I've stayed in on other cruises.
Notably, 12 suites are interconnecting and 4 are wheelchair accessible; select suites can accommodate three guests. All cabins are completely wireless.
Our 320-square-foot Penthouse Suite had a European king-size bed, which could be separated into twins. For privacy, the sleeping area, which includes a vanity table and desk, can be closed off behind full-length drapes. It's a nice touch if you want to watch a movie and your partner wants to read. One amenity new to Voyager: an on-demand offering of 215 premium movies.
The sitting area has two chairs, a table, a full-size couch, a bar, and a large flat-screen TV and CD/DVD player. Penthouse and higher-category suites also include iPads. (An in-suite bar setup upon embarkation includes both wine and spirits. The refrigerator is replenished daily with soda, beer and bottled water.) The large walk-in closet, with safe, easily handled our clothing for our three-week cruise, though we did use the laundry facility a few times. As for the bathroom, I wish I had one like it at home: marble appointed with a full bathtub and separate shower, and lots of storage space. Anichini bathrobes and bed linens were recently rolled out along with Anichini organic toiletries. Also new in the butler suites: iPod docks with Bose speakers.
As much as our cabin, we enjoyed our 50-square-foot balcony, a fine perch for watching the night sky fall over the Pacific.
Upper tier cabins have a butler as well as a stewardess (the latter basically tends to cabin cleaning). Our butler, VaSant Mainker, was terrific -- taking care of our room service needs, delivering afternoon canapes, keeping the fridge stocked with our preferred wines, finding me an alarm clock, and, he told me before we disembarked, straightening my shoes. If asked, butlers are prepared to do even more, including unpacking for guests.
As on many other ships, the entertainment offerings onboard Voyager have been perfected to give passengers precisely what they want: big screen movies, a cabaret piano bar, dance parties, after-dinner sing-alongs and, notably, Broadway-style shows accompanied by a nine-piece resident orchestra. The ship also brings on celebrity entertainers; on our cruise it was comedian Mark Russell.
Daytime activities include hugely attended (and brutally competitive) rounds of trivia, organized bridge, sketch classes, art auctions, dance lessons, and deck sports. Voyager's staff also does a good job of pulling the ship's destinations into entertainment and events. For example, on our cruise the crewmembers hosted a hilarious "Crossing the Equator" party -- a pool deck event with music and games. On a quieter note, as we circled Iwo Jima, there was a quite moving ceremony, as a trumpeter played Taps to honor veterans onboard.
But what makes this ship stand out from the crowd is an absolutely compelling intellectual enrichment program. On our three-week segment of Voyager's 2008 World Cruise, Terry Waite -- the English hostage negotiator who was held captive in Lebanon for five years -- gave three talks that I shall never forget.
Voyager also hosts destination-specific lecturers. In our case, a marine historian, Capt. Richard Hayman, gave a wonderful series of lectures on the Pacific and its navigation history. Sandra Bowern, extremely popular with Voyager passengers, was onboard for the entire 115-day world cruise, providing insights into every port of call. The travel concierge desk also does a very nice job, both in live lectures and on TV programming, of telling you what to expect at every destination.
Some days, we attended as many as two to three lectures. How could we not? It made the cruise experience so much richer. Voyager Captain Dag Dvergastein probably said it best when he told us: "Cruisers move on. You move on in life. My people don't lie in the sun all day anymore. They want to see something intelligent."
Gratuities are included in the cruise fare. However, many passengers do tip additionally.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Carita Cruise Spa and fitness center aren't huge -- but they get the job done.
The fitness center, open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m., is fairly basic with four treadmills, five elliptical machines, a few bikes and free weights. The machines were replaced recently and all now have TV screens. There's a complimentary sauna and steam room next to the workout room. Tip: Early mornings, the top deck is also a good place to walk and jog. Seven laps equal a mile.
A fitness instructor offers a daily regimen that includes Pilates, upper and lower body toning exercises, low-impact aerobics, tummy tightening exercises, and yoga.
The spa features a variety of services -- among them a stone facial massage, body exfoliation, anti-cellulite treatments, anti-aging facials, and in-suite massages. There's also a salon that offers hair styling and coloring, and nail, make-up and waxing services.
Voyager doesn't attract many families with children. Those that do come frequently bring their own tutors and/or nannies. Select cruises do offer a complimentary youth program for kids 5 to 17.
On our cruise, as is typical, 90 percent of passengers were American. The rest were from Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. It's an older demographic, primarily retirees.
The dress code is almost always elegant casual after 6 p.m. Skirts or slacks paired with blouses or sweaters, pant suits or dresses are acceptable for ladies, while men should wear slacks and collared shirts. Sport jackets are optional; jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, shorts, sneakers and bathrobes are not allowed in any public area in the evening. In addition, cruises of 16 nights or longer have have two formal optional nights, when passengers can either wear elegant casual attire or opt for a more formal look (gowns, cocktail dresses, dark suits or tuxedos).
Just 670 ft. long and 94.5 ft. wide, Voyager isn't a huge ship by today's standards -- but it makes good use of its space.
Deck 5, at the atrium, is the social center of the ship with a cozily furnished "Coffee Corner," the reception desk, the travel concierge, and the Internet cafe. Club.com has 19 computer stations spilling across two rooms. There's also a printer and a refrigerator stocked with sodas and water. There are several ways to pay for Internet access: 250 minutes for $50; 100 minutes for $25; or pay as you go, at 35 cents a minute. A surprisingly poorly stocked boutique is also located on Deck 5. The promenade deck, a good place for reading, is located off of Deck 5. Horizons, a lounge active day and night, is also on Deck 5. The Observation Lounge on Deck 11 is much more intimate. With its curved window and unobstructed view from the bow, it is the interior space where the ship feels most like a ship.
A 24/7 library 8 is located on Deck 6. The two-level Constellation Theatre occupies the bow of Decks 4 and 5. Deck 4 also has a cigar lounge, a card and conference room, a small casino and Voyager Lounge, designated for smokers.
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