By Robyn Bushong
How do we define the word DESTINATION? One definition is “the place to which a person travels.” Another definition is “an attraction or event that people are willing to travel a long distance to get to – either because it is very good or distinctive or located in a popular and interesting place.” Another definition – as provided by the travel industry – is “a hotel or resort that guests seek out for its features and amenities.”
Having returned recently from one of the best cruises – ever… I can honestly say that the new 750-guest Regent Seven Seas Explorer is truly a “destination” unto itself!
Ed Hill and I booked this cruise over a year and a half ago. We chose the ship – because it’s brand new (launched in July 2016.) We chose the itinerary – round trip Miami – because it was an easy 2 1/2 hour, non-stop flight – Houston/Miami, and we were also eager to experience and enjoy a new ship all “decked out” for the holidays. Many of the guests were multi-generational families traveling together for the holidays – such as grandparents, parents, children, aunts/uncles, cousins and family friends – with children ranging in age from toddlers through teens. Many of the guests were from Europe (Spain, France and Great Britain), as well as from other countries throughout the world. Needless to say, the ship sailed at 100% capacity.
It’s important to note that all Regent Sevens Seas’ ships (and there are four: Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Voyager and now the new Seven Seas Explorer) are all-inclusive. “All-inclusive” aboard a Regent Seven Seas’ vessel means that beverages (to include wines and spirits, specialty coffees, beer, soft drinks), in-suite mini-bar stocked with your favorite beverages, all specialty dining venues, shore excursions, gratuities, port charges/taxes, round trip economy air, ground transportation to/from airport and the ship for air-sea guests, and more…are ALL INCLUSIVE in your fare. And depending on stateroom category, a pre-cruise, one-night hotel accommodation in your city of embarkation and complimentary on board WiFi – may also be inclusive.)
Our 10-day itinerary showcased such historic and popular ports as Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Gustavia,St. Barts; Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Cayo Leventado, Dominican Republic; and Nassau, Bahamas, plus two sea days.
After the mandatory/compulsory Life Boat Drill, Ed and I returned to our stateroom for a glass of champagne and a toast to the wonderful opportunity to enjoy the next ten days together on this beautiful ship.
We very quickly got our bearings and set our priorities as to what we wanted/hoped to accomplish on this 10-day holiday cruise getaway. Ed’s goal: read and rest and walk around in each port. My goal: work out in the gym every day, get a minimum 3 miles in every day on Deck 12 (weather permitting); eat healthy (well… with maybe just a little “extra” champagne to celebrate the season!), read and rest. We both needed “down” time and to have the opportunity for some much-needed R&R. Not a doubt in my mind: This ship was to be my “destination” for the next 10 days! Let the cruise begin!
We enjoyed a lovely and spacious accommodation, with an equally spacious balcony. We chose a stateroom in the center of Deck 9 – all the way forward. There were just three staterooms on Deck 9 far forward, and our balcony was totally private, as the balconies for the accommodations on either side of ours opened either to the port side or starboard side. It was a perfect location.
Prior to the cruise cruise, we made dinner reservations in each of the specialty dining rooms (Asian – Pacific Rim, Surf/Turf – Prime 7, French – Chartreuse, and Italian –Sette Mari.) Note: Sette Mari does not require reservations.) By far, our favorite specialty dining restaurant for dinner was Pacific Rim; Prime 7 – our favorite for lunch. Our first evening’s reservation was in Chartreuse. Described as a venue featuring a “classic French menu with a modern twist,” the food and ambiance were very nice.
And as we walked through the ship after dinner, you could feel the excitement building for Christmas and Hanukkah! The decorations were stunning – from a beautifully-decorated giant Christmas tree -prominently positioned at the base of the dramatic circular staircase between deck 4 and 5 – to fresh poinsettias gracing each public area throughout the ship.
As many of us know, cruising has become one of THE most popular ways to vacation – and it’s a vacation that can appeal to – and appease – every member of your family/travel group. When the ship promotes “there’s something for everyone at every age to enjoy on board”, or “there’s so many programs, activities, classes and entertainment options on board, you can’t possibly do it all in one day” – it’s true. And that doesn’t count the diverse and fun shore excursion options from which you can choose to sign up for in each port! On our ship, daily activities ranged from Ballroom Basics, a Blackjack Tournament and Boot Camp, to informative Smithsonian Lectures highlighting each upcoming port of call, “Top Toss for Youngsters” and Bingo! (played when at sea.)
For us – in keeping with “our ship is our destination” theme – we chose no shore excursions and we opted to watch movies in our stateroom as versus go to the evening’s live entertainment in the Constellation Theatre. (However, after hearing so many positive and enthusiastic comments from our “neighbors” next door and from “new” friends we met when we first came on board about the excellent and fun shows each evening, we realized we missed some great entertainment.)
Even though we didn’t take advantage of the evening’s shows, we did take full advantage of the beautiful Canyon Ranch Spa – and their exceptional services and treatments. Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed working out in the very large gym on Deck 6-Aft – complete with three fully-equipped rooms (including a special area for yoga/pilates and/or spin classes) that all overlooked the sparkling blue ocean water below.
For cultural enrichment – specifically “culinary” enrichment – we signed up in advance for two of their awesome culinary classes: Gone Fishing and At Home Italian. First, we need to share with you the exceptional Culinary Arts Kitchen – which truly provides its 24 participants with “all the ingredients to expand your culinary skills in a welcoming environment reminiscent of the most prestigious cooking schools in the world in both layout and design.” In addition, the “culinary workstations are fully equipped with top-of-the-line induction cooktops, stainless steel sinks and a comprehensive collection of cooking essentials.” And, indeed “the curriculum will appeal to a wide range of tastes and cater to all levels of aptitude – from beginner to experienced chef instructors.” Our instructor, Annie Copps, was not only a highly-trained chef and excellent instructor, but she had considerable experience as a chef preparing dishes in front of a television camera, as a radio talk show host, as an author, and as a food columnist for various newspapers and magazines. Ed and I both like to cook, grill and bake and we thoroughly enjoyed each of the almost 2-hour classes that we took.
Our first class was “Gone Fishing.” We learned how to saute, shallow poach, deep poach, and pan fry fish and shrimp; make ceviche, and pan-fry scallops to a “golden brown.” Having a glass of white wine during our class only enhanced the fun and conversation all of us were enjoying.
A couple of days later, we took the “At Home Italian” class. We learned how to make pasta – from scratch! And for someone who was overwhelmed with just the thought of making pasta – it really was easy! We learned how to buy, store and cook with extra virgin olive oil and we also learned that you should not add olive oil to your cooked pasta if you plan to add a sauce – as the sauce will not stick to the pasta if olive oil has been added. Other class options ranged from “Everything French” and “Light My Fire” to “Brunch Favorites”and “Healthy Greek.” These culinary classes are highly recommended.
As mentioned before, we had a port every day, with the exception of two sea days – one on each end of the cruise. In each port, with the exception of San Juan, Ed and I debarked and just strolled around the town for an hour or so – just to say we’d “been there.” Gustavia, St. Barts was by far the classiest, prettiest and most upscale Caribbean port we visited. The variety of activities and local vendors on the beach in Cayo Levantado (Dominican Republic) were the most interesting; while the port of Nassau, Bahamas was the most fun. We had lunch/drinks at a packed open-air bar/restaurant near the cruise terminal. It was great fun sitting at the bar people-watching and listening to live music for a couple of hours.
Of course, the onboard highlight for us was the Christmas celebration. Beginning Christmas Eve afternoon, activities included the “popcorn” movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” followed by Christmas Caroling in the Atrium/Deck 4 before dinner. A Hanukkah service, a special late-evening Christmas Carol concert and a Midnight non-denominational Christmas service rounded out the activities and programs for Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day began with a delightful “Christmas Caviar & Champagne Breakfast.” Another “popcorn” Christmas movie (“Elf”) was followed with afternoon tea featuring Christmas caroling and Christmas Teatime Trivia. Next, a late-afternoon non-denominational Christmas Day service and Lighting of the Menorah concluded the afternoon’s program. At 6pm, Santa’s “extra special visit” that included bringing gifts for all youngsters (under 12) was especially fun and festive. And for those who still wanted to celebrate, a late-evening “Christmas Karaoke” capped the ship’s holiday entertainment options in the Explorer Lounge.
Monday, December 26th was a much-needed day at sea and a chance for everyone to wind-down from a festive and busy weekend.
Tuesday was our last port of call – Nassau, Bahamas – and the realization that Wednesday morning we would say our farewells to everyone we’d met on board. As we stood on our balcony for the last time Tuesday evening, we reminded each other of the stunning sunrises and sunsets and the beautiful “views” we experienced as we sailed into and out of a port almost everyday. Each view was comprised of luxurious yachts and sail boats anchored in calm, sparkling, clear aquamarine waters – all with a backdrop of white sand beaches dotted with brightly-painted homes and buildings along the shore line. Each morning we experienced a picture-perfect, postcard vista as we sailed into a new port and watched the sun sparkle off the clear blue ocean waters.
Wednesday morning, following an early breakfast, we debarked and took a short 20-minute motor coach ride to the airport followed by an easy 2 1/2 hour United flight from Miami to IAH. We were met at the airport and enjoyed a quick one-hour and 10-minute -drive to Galveston. We are happy to be back on Galveston Island and home – rested and relaxed.
This truly was an incredibly pleasant 10-day cruise. With the theme Cruising… When Your Ship Is Your “Destination”…. this was – for us – the perfect ship and the perfect itinerary!
For more information about the new Seven Seas Explorer (or for specific information about Regent Seven Seas’ other fine ships, call your travel professional or visit www.rssc.com.
Again, we booked with Fox Travel American Express in The Woodlands (Houston),Texas. Debbie Parker, our Travel Counselor, is highly-professional and knowledgeable and does an excellent job with the arrangements. Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 281.363.0808.
Our ground transportation was again provided by Perry Corbo – a very professional gentleman and excellent driver who offers a superb staff and a variety of transportation services to meet – and exceed – your expectations. His company is Parkway Transportation in Houston. Email:email@example.com; contact – 832.659.8365.
Another recommendation… if you and your family are considering a multi-generational family vacation and are considering a Holiday Cruise – now is the time to start thinking about your holiday plans for 2017. It’s not too early! As you plan, be sure that the ship you choose does offer something for EVERY member of your family – so that ALL of you will come home with “memories to last a lifetime.”
If some of your family with whom you’ll be traveling on this special holiday vacation are new to cruising – consider an itinerary that calls on a port every day (or at least most every day.) That way everyone should feel comfortable about the itinerary, shore excursions options, as well as on-board activity options.