Our Sales Director, Gareth Harding, gives the low-down on the Regent experience with his Seven Seas Mariner review
Every time I travel, I vow never again to take an early morning flight out of Gatwick. I reminded myself of this as the alarm clock began its unrelenting beeping at 3am on a very cold and dark Sunday morning!
To ease the inconvenience of having to park in the long stay car park at Gatwick, struggle across the car park and onto a transfer bus with two cases and then begin to nod off again on the 10min journey to the terminal, I sourced a fantastic meet and greet service called Sure Parking who’s drivers take your keys from you at the terminal door, whisk your car away and valet it for you and then drop it back at the door on your return. Seamless, efficient, professional and starting from just £55 for 7 days, it was the perfect start to a stress-free, six star journey.
The flight was pretty uneventful (Thomsonfly charter flight) and I resisted the urge to buy a soggy bacon sandwich, a cup of tea which looked like it had been brewing since Majorca on the previous flight and a scratch card!
On arrival in Crete, the luxury treatment started again – we booked in for a night at the Amirandes Hotel on the outskirts of a charming, traditional Greek village called Gouves, approximately 25mins from the airport. A gleaming Mercedes S Class swept us off and on arrival at the hotel, the only word that I could summon was “Wow”! We were met by the General Manager and given freshly squeezed orange juices, cold towels and an orientation tour of the hotel.
The layout is based around the elements of water, stone, wood and glass. From the waterfall flowing from the front driveway, through reception and culminating in an infinity pool overlooking the sea to the cleverly sunken bar and floor to ceiling windows of the speciality restaurants, the hotel exudes a feeling of tranquillity, space and light. This theme continued into our suite which, located on the first floor, again featured a panoramic sea view, wooden floor boards, bare stone walls and an open-plan design with a huge bathtub and Japanese massage shower highlighted as a major focal point.
Service was impeccable, attentive yet unobtrusive; always someone there with whatever you needed before you actual knew you needed it!
Following a hearty meal in a local taverna, a few glasses of Cretan wine and raki (the local vodka-esque digestif) and a very restful sleep, we awoke on the second day full of excitement and eagerness to board the Regent Mariner in Aghios Nikolaos (an hours car journey from the hotel).
As we embarked midway through a longer cruise, many of the guests were off ship on shore excursions and our luggage disappeared off to the suite whilst we were welcomed into the quiet, understated lobby/atrium, checked-in by a very friendly & courteous member of the reception staff (Aimee) and offered a glass of chilled Champagne. At this point, I will stress that I use the word ‘atrium’ very loosely – unlike some other ships at sea, this area onboard the Mariner is not a huge towering cavern of bling; no Liberace-style piano, no ostentatious ‘Champagne Bar’ charging extortionate costs per glass and no faux-diamond Chandelier – just a contemporary, peaceful space providing the reception and shore excursion desk services, three glass elevators and sporting some interesting modern sculptures. My only constructive observation would be that as all of the windows are on the higher decks and the lighting is subdued, it could be quite dark on the lower floors when the sun isn’t shining.
On arrival in our suite, the comfort and personal service continued. Our steward, Sigit, introduced himself and gave us a tour of the suite (a category D Concierge Level Veranda Suite located mid-ship on Deck Ten). He also asked if we would like any particular premium brand spirits to accompany our mini-bar of beer and soft drinks (all included in the fare).
The suite was very comparable to other six star lines I have travelled with; veranda with two chairs and a table, sitting room with settee and table (the additional chair did get in the way a little), good storage, flat screen TV, DVD player and king size bed (this was different in that it had a memory foam style topper and high thread count linen which were very comfortable). The bathroom whilst reasonably spacious, immaculately clean and elegant in muted tones of marble and featuring a large selection of L’Occitaine toiletries and amenities, was rather dated. The silver fittings were starting to look tarnished and the mixer tap in the bath still had the embossed logo of Radisson Cruises from days gone by. I believe Regent are in the process of upgrading these and installing new massage showers in some suites.
Following an afternoon spent exploring the ship, studying the Passages daily schedule and a few drinks by the pool, we donned our evening attire and proceeded to the onboard speciality grill restaurant, Prime 7, where we had a reservation for 9pm.
The meal was exceptional! My gastronomic experience started with an amuse-bouche of steak tartare, followed by a flavoursome and innovatively presented ‘Foie Gras Slider’ (two adequate sized servings, cooked to perfection and served on minute burger buns suspended on a slick of chilli jus). For entrée, I opted to sample the venue’s signature Surf ‘n’ Turf – 9oz of 28 day hung fillet steak dressed with half a lobster tail in its shell (removed by the waiter before commencing of course), your preferred sauce and a choice of sides (I can thoroughly recommend the glazed asparagus, deep fried onion rings and Dauphinoise potatoes). My dessert was the indulgent 14 layer chocolate cake with pistachio dipping sauce – a definite must for sweet lovers everywhere – a definite no-no for anyone wanting to avoid the “pound a day” weight increase tradition of cruising!
We headed to the Horizon Bar after dinner to take in the evening’s entertainment; a female performer from the onboard team singing classic show tunes. The bar itself was spacious and relaxed and the refined atmosphere was complimented by the resident swing band and intimate seating arrangements. The Horizon Bar also features one of the few outdoor areas for smokers (becoming rarer on ships nowadays).
A word of warning though; if you enjoy energetic performances by busty blondes clad in feathers, acrobats and West End revues, Regent Seven Seas is not the shipping line for you. Entertainment is very low-key and included singers, a magician, a movie screening and one evening, an outdoor Beatles show (not really to my taste, but there were a few people on the makeshift dancefloor). It may be worth mentioning too that daytime activities are very much of a ‘traditional’ cruise ilk. Shuffleboard, bridge, needlepoint, team trivia, call my bluff, name that tune, bingo and other popular past times help to while away lazy days spent onboard.
On our second day, we enjoyed a leisurely in-suite breakfast followed by a trip up the cable car to explore the town of Thira on the picture postcard island of Santorini. A few pointers here would be a) do not ride the cable car if you suffer from vertigo, b) get off early if there are other ships at tender to avoid lengthy queues and hussle in the town and c) if you prefer a slightly less touristy view of the island, take a local boat/bus to the village of Oia in the North and enjoy a stroll around the local shops & churches and maybe a carafe of Retsina overlooking the Aegean Sea.
After such an exhausting day (!), we decided to take advantage of the ability to dine in-suite. Again, this meal was very difficult to fault – all courses arrived hot, cooked as requested and were delicious (we opted for a relatively simple dinner of jumbo prawn cocktail, beef tenderloins cooked medium rare and pecan tart). We then selected an on demand movie from the choice of 150+ and settled down for another restful night’s sleep.
Arriving on a sunny morning into the cosmopolitan Turkish port of Kusadasi, we had our first taste of the complimentary shore excursions offered by Regent and opted for a trip to the Museum of Ephesus and the House of the Virgin Mary. The tour was good with the local guide being very enthusiastic (especially about his home life, career and experiences) and any entrance fees, etc. also being included. We had inadvertently booked onto the excursion for the less mobile and so I think more emphasis was put on the comfort of the guests, e.g. location of the bathrooms, coffee shops, etc. rather than the historical significance of the sites visited but this did not detract from an enjoyable day.
This evening’s dinner, we sampled the cuisine of the main dining room, Compass Rose. I did note that although we arrived quite late (9pm), at no point did we feel rushed or pressured, suitable rest times between each course and adequate time given to peruse the menu and take coffee and petit fours. Our meal consisted of a generous serving of Carpaccio of beef followed by rich, steaming Minestrone soup and a main of tender lamb cutlets on a bed of wilted spinach and a steaming side of fluffy polenta. Believe it or not, we skipped dessert tonight in a feeble attempt at making ourselves feel healthy!
On our first real venture into the Stars Nightclub & Casino, we quickly made acquaintances with a rather large party of American & Canadian guests who were travelling with a special interest group with the New York based, Park West Gallery – the onboard art providers for Regent Seven Seas. They were a lot of fun and we danced into the early hours, sharing stories of past travels and experiences of the cruise so far. My only minor disappointment was the absence of a live DJ, replaced instead by a computerised juke-box (just personal opinion of course).
The Thursday of our trip was probably one of my favourites; a small group tour to the deserted Kambos Beach on the quaint island of Patmos. Whilst many of the guests opted for the tour to St Pauls Basilica perched high in the hills (the sight to which he was banished by the Roman emperor Domitian and where he wrote a chapter of the Revelations), we took a short transfer to this picturesque beach with sunbeds, towels, vouchers for the friendly George’s Taverna and a good book!
After a few hours of soaking up the sunshine and 28 degree heat-wave that the island was experiencing, we headed back to the small capital of Skala to take a tender back to the ship. Lunch was a superb seafood buffet up on deck and a wide selection of sushi, freshly poached and friend fish, Alaskan crab, king prawns, Calamari and a huge paella was exquisitely presented with the head chef on hand to discuss the origins and preparation process of all dishes, sommelier to recommend suitable wines to accompany the feast and the holiday sounds of a steel band.
As if that was not enough, we continue our hunger for fine food in the evening. Following pre-dinner drinks again in the Horizons Bar, we joined a group of eight colleagues for the Italian epicurean adventure that is Sette Mari.
During the day, this restaurant is The Veranda and allows guests to dine al fresco with a view from the aft of the ship whist enjoying interesting and creative themed buffets. At night, the tables are laid up elegantly and waiters serve an array of hot & cold antipasti, mouth-watering soups, pasta & risotto dishes and good, hearty, family-style main courses. My veal escalope alla Masala was tender inside, crisp outside and hot. I really enjoyed the informality and unhurried feel of the venue (several hours of the good company and conversation of new found friend also helps!)
Our penultimate day onboard the Mariner saw our midday arrival into the bustling maritime hub of Istanbul. This fascinating city, where Europe meets Asia, is an assault on all senses – particularly the lively hubbub of The Grand Bazaar. We took another complimentary Regent shore excursion taking in a visit to a private museum and an hour long cruise on the Bosphorous (we later found out that one of the Choice Excursions which guests are asked to pay a supplement for was very similar, so bear this in mind when making your selections). Again the tour guide was interesting and informative and the chance to view the city from the water gave us a much needed rest from the constant approaches by shop owners.
We had saved the second speciality dining venue onboard Mariner, Signatures, for our last night and thoroughly enjoyed. The menu is French a la carte and the service, presentation and quality of the dishes served were almost to the high standards I have been lucky enough to experience in several Michelin star restaurants. Our waitress for the evening, Sandra, described each course wonderfully and the sommelier paired a crisp Sancerre and a full bodied Chateux-Neuf-Du-Pape to accompany our choices. My starter of scallops served in two espresso cups & suspended in a truffle foam was beautiful and just the right balance of quantity and flavour to tickle the palette in preparation for yet another perfectly cooked and presented fillet steak – Tournedos Rossini – accompanied by foie gras, truffle shavings and sides. One of the richest chocolate tortes I have ever tasted rounded off the gastronomic experience (and the obligatory Macchiato and handmade petit fours of course!).
A final nightcap in the Horizons Bar before bed was disappointing and commented on by several other guests. Service was not forthcoming and there was a general feeling that the attitude was “let’s get you off to bed as you are disembarking tomorrow”. I will mention this to Regent as I am sure it is easily rectifiable.
Disembarking was smooth and effortless with our car was waiting at 9am to take us to the 5* Celel Aga Konagi Hotel for an extended stay in Istanbul, exploring the sights by CitySightseeing hop-on hop-off bus (very good value at just 20 Euro per person).
The hotel is more of geared towards business travellers and spa-breakers but it is in a reasonably central location approximately 10mins walk from the Blue Mosque and Aghia Sophia (all be it quite a complex route, so check your map!) and boasts very comfortable rooms, French balconies and bathroom with Jacuzzi tubs. Unfortunately, the service let this hotel down with reception and porter staff being quite abrupt and quick to dismiss you. From experience, I would recommend another boutique hotel in the area called the Sirkeci Konak which I walked past and have sent many satisfied clients to in the past.
Our flight home was very comfortable on Turkish Airlines – one of very few short haul carriers still offering a hot meal and a movie and arrived ahead of schedule into a misty Gatwick for our short trip home.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed my Regent Seven Seas experience and would recommend them to any client who enjoys a mid-size, boutique-style ship with high standards of accommodation, food and service. Carrying 700 guests, the ship is small enough to retain an intimate and sociable feel, yet large enough to remain anonymous for a while if you so wish.
Gareth has been working in the cruise industry for 15 years and has cruised with Regent, Silversea, Seabourn, Oceania, P&O, Princess, Cunard, NCL, Fred Olsen and AMA Waterways . He likes dining out with friends, cooking at home, reading and of course, travelling the world and counts South America as the one place he’d love to visit. To speak to him about his Regent cruise and to ask him any questions you might have, please call 0800 008 6677.
Read Debbie’s Seven Seas Mariner Review here