Is a luxury cruise right for me?

Is a luxury cruise right for me?

I have never liked the sea. Could have been that near drowning incident I had as a child on Shanklin Beach when I fell into a pothole and had to come home wearing nothing but an anorak ……. Please don’t laugh, walking through the streets of the Isle of Wight as an eight year old, in nothing but an anorak, was enough to ruin anyone’s opinion of the sea? Could have been my back stroke fiasco in the junior school swimming finals – yup, I came last and nearly drowned as the big kids swam like killer whales in pursuit of their dreams. Then again it could have been Leonardo and Kate’s interpretation of Titanic that did it…why was there never a happy ending in any version of that film?

When the opportunity came up to cruise with Regent Seven Seas I politely declined. Everyone told me it would change my views of cruising. I bluntly told them they were wrong. Overtime the persistence of various parties and consensus of opinion that “I would love the Regent fleet” wore me down. Here is how my cruising experience, thanks to the crew onboard the elegant and rather fabulous SS Mariner, stole my heart.

After an amazing conference at the Grecotel Imperial in Corfu, Amanda and I boarded the ship with our husbands. Greeted with a chilled glass of champagne and a warm “welcome aboard” by the effervescent ship’s General Manager Nikki we began to soak up the atmosphere – warm, relaxed glamour with more than a hint of luxury. Our cases were whisked to our suites (10th deck, concierge suite) where, thanks to our butler Gretha, we were fully acquainted with all that our spacious suite had to offer. This is particularly weird on my part but seeing a bathroom that is spacious and well equipped with enough space to comfortably store that whole list of products that you will probably never need, but you packed just in case (from after sun to mosquito repellent and bite sticks – they are my travelling companions) was thrilling in its own right. The dressing table was neatly positioned to make full use of the space and a walk in (yes walk-in…. can you imagine on board a ship) wardrobe with more hangers than you could ever imagine was more excitement than I thought I could take. A beautifully appointed, super comfy king-size bed, sitting area and balcony with a chilled bottle of Lanson champagne, waiting for us to enjoy on the table lifted the spirits even further.

Our first afternoon was spent Corfu old town walking down the cobbled streets popping into various boutiques and local establishments. We were back on-board in plenty of time to organise dinner plans with pre-dinner drinks followed by our choice of restaurant that night – Compass Rose. Compass Rose is the principal restaurant on-board offering nightly fine dining with taste options to suit even the most discerning of palettes. As a fussy, non-meat eater it’s often a challenge to find something exciting to eat…. The choice of options was exceptional. Choose from three or four course with the odd muse bouche thrown in for good measure. You can either enjoy the sommelier recommended wine choices for your courses or choose your own – the Sancerre was exquisite (a free, personal tip from me!) If you pace yourself carefully the choice of desserts is eye watering. It’s not just about taste it’s all about presentation – in fairness each course was a work of art and the nightly dessert option never disappointed. I was surprised when the petit fours arrived before the dessert until I realised that a later delivery would have rendered them inedible, quite literally no one would have room for more.

There are two speciality restaurants that you can pre-book via the Regent Seven Seas app a set period before departure. French fayre is available at Chartreuse. The food, setting and service was out of this world and whilst it’s hard to have favourites our meal there might just have been my favourite (I may have been swayed by the tiny box presented to us as we left containing two macaroons that were eye-wateringly delicious). Prime 7 is a must for meat (and fish lovers). Amanda and Howard enjoyed a romantic dinner for two here and the food didn’t disappoint – as a little tip it’s worth booking a table for a slightly earlier time (by 7pm) to get the best possible table option.

After leaving Corfu we visited Cephalonia, an island steeped in history and bathed in natures finest robes – green hills, stunning beaches, beautiful towns and villages and sea, which is so blue it takes your breath away. Various excursion options are included in the cost of your cruise and you have a choice to make for every port your itinerary visits – the earlier you pre-book the more likely you are to get your first choices. We had no issue getting spaces on each of the trips we opted to take. In Cephalonia we went “large” and opted for a 5-hour coach excursion exploring underground caves (this is no where near as dramatic as I make it sound – down 40 or so steps to a small rowing boat where you then take a short ride to view the inside of the caves with its stalactites and stalagmites). Each excursion is rated so that can identify how much physical effort is associated with each trip. Depending on what time of year you are travelling in will impact on some guest’s ability to partake – in the heat even a steep hill can be a challenge for some so check the ratings carefully. Our tour guide for the trip had lived on the island for more than 30 years. Her knowledge was exceptional (in terms of the flora, fauna and the history of the island). It’s worth remembering that the excursions on offer cater for all nationalities with customers on board ship from all corners of the globe. During the longer tours expect a running, informed commentary.

Our next visit was to Chania – in the north of Crete this was a new port of call for me…and I loved it lots! The port area was bustling with colourful cafes and bars and the surrounding streets proffered lots of shops and boutiques with merchandise to catch your eye. Even when you are on a maximum luggage allowance on the way out there is always space for another little sundress right? A quick lunch and it’s back to the ship for a pick me up and revitalise choice of cocktails. I hate mixing drinks so a champagne based cocktail was the only option for me!! I forgot to mention earlier, when we arrived at the cabin my husband had the best present on holiday ever…. The offer of a full bottle of whatever spirit he wanted to enjoy in the comfort of the cabin. I should say I would have had the same option but luckily, I know when I have had too much of a good thing!!

Soaking up the sun on the sundeck by the pool on double sunbeds is the ultimate in terms of luxury. A good book in hand, decent sized pool and a number of Jacuzzi’s available to offer a variety of different relaxation options. We received a personal invite to dine with the captain that evening. Not an experience I have ever had before, wasn’t quite sure just what to expect. I needn’t have had any concerns. Captain Abhi (who hails from Rochester, Kent) and his wing woman – General Manager Nikki from Norfolk were captivating hosts as we grilled them on the more technical aspects of the ship.

Amanda’s husband was keen to know more about the engines (Amanda and I not so…..) There were adventures to be relived (on both sides, favourite places to visit – all this alongside fine dining, great companion wines and super service. This super service was experienced every day, without exception. I can honestly say I never saw a miserable face on any of the crew whilst on-board. They are either exceptionally good actors or just very happy with their lot (the latter seemed to me to be the likely option!) Our evenings were spent in one of the bars, playing roulette in the casino, browsing the shops or deciding whether chess and draughts were still within our zone of interest. There is plenty on board to keep you entertained. WE watched Mamma Mia in the theatre one night with pop corn and drinks of our choice. WE have all seen the film on multiple occasions but there is no substitute to watching a movie on the big screen as you sail the seven seas! There were shoes to be watched, magicians and comedians to see – we were spoilt for choice.

We arrived into Athens on an overcast day (even the Mycenaeans would have taken the day off from building duties with this weather) and set off for our day on the “on – off Athen’s bus network. The transfer into Athen’s centre was included as were the bus tickets. We opted to do our own thing as we had specific places we really wanted to visit. The Acropolis looked spectacular when we arrived into the city but a leisurely breakfast meant that we missed the best of the weather and had to enjoy Athens in the drizzle. We grabbed lunch in the centre of town, in a department store called Attica – rooftop garden restaurant, good choice and not overly expensive) and headed off to see the changing of the guard. The area of Plaka, which sits in the shadows of the Acropolis offered up several unique shops offering an array of different goods, several bars and lots of good restaurants. Our sight seeing tour from the top deck was a little damp but gave us a great opportunity to see some of the city’s highlights. A bus transfer back to the ship gave us time to dry out, grab a drink and plan ahead for another fantastic night in (but out!) In all of this I have forgotten to mention my special highlight of the trip.

Regent Seven Sea is like no other cruise company that I know of. They include all your washing, daily. It is picked up before 9am each morning and returned to your cabin before 9pm. The washing arrives back beautifully ironed and folded (or on hangers) in a grey box wrapped in tissue paper – for me it’s the new standard…. Since returning home everything has to be ironed in just the same way that RSSC do it. Imagine arriving home from holiday with no dirty clothes to wash….it was a holiday miracle!

We spent two days in Athens, the second day was spent reading and sunbathing on deck. We set sail for Kusadasi early evening after enjoying another brilliant meal and a night of fun and laughter (however we did lose at roulette – UK 0, USA 1 !!!) I haven’t spent much time in Turkey so visiting Kusadasi was a real treat. The ship docked close to town – this is a real benefit of cruising on one of the moderately sized ships. SS Mariner takes a maximum of 700 passengers and has nearly 500 crew. We strolled off the ship and were in the centre of the quaint little town within minutes. The shops here are unusual – they offer “real fakes”, surely a contradiction in terms? There were watches, handbags, clothing, leather goods all clearly displayed “real”. It’s not hard selling here but the shop keepers are politely persistent. All aboard following on from our shopping adventure. Quick stop for lunch and then just time for a few hours by the pool giving Amanda another chance to work through the cocktail menu – which is vast and pretty impressive in terms of the spirits and drinks used.

Our last stop on our journey was a visit to Istanbul. A place that has been on my places to visit “Wishlist” for a long time. Istanbul is a melting pot, where east meets west. The European section of the city is known as Thrace whereas the Asian section is referred to as Anatolia. The architecture is stunning and even as you view the city from the comfort of the ship you realise just how special the city is. We set off for our walking, city excursion. Visits to the Blue Mosque and the Sunken Palace unveiled something of the city’s colourful past. There were artworks, places of worship and who could forget the Grand Bazaar…. 61 covered streets offering shoppers the chance to visit a selection of over 4,000 shops. Really gives whole new meaning to “shop before you drop”. Our final night on board was spent at Chartreuse, a final flutter at the casino and then we found another sophisticated bar to enjoy our final cocktail of the trip. We took a late flight back to London the following day, which gave us a final opportunity to visit another palace on the Asian side of the city.

Back to the ultra-modern and new airport located 50 minutes from the centre of Istanbul. Worth noting that the airport is BIG and the duty-free offering airside is extensive. My tip would be, unless you are Mo Farah or of a similar ilk, always ensure you leave enough time to get to your boarding gate! I loved my Regent Seven Seas experience. I would absolutely experience the whole thing again in a heartbeat. The highlights were many, from new experiences to the fine dining and hospitality, I loved the casual and relaxed atmosphere on-board but appreciated the option to ramp up on the glamour as and when I felt like it. We tried out the table tennis, mini golf, paddle tennis and more….. we really needed another 7 days just to make sure we had experienced the ships’ full range of offerings.

I have already recommended Regent to a few friends who are particular fond of competitors brands…there is almost a 100% guarantee that if you give Regent a try you will love it. I might not be signing up anytime soon for the navy (I did see a submarine just off the coast of Cephalonia!) but I can honestly say I loved my Regent cruise. Thanks to the whole Regent family and Abhi, Nikki and the rest of the crew onboard SS Mariner – you were all truly amazing.

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Karen Pocock

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