Not quite five but more than four--Great sun voyage
Regal Princess Cruise Review to Caribbean
Sail Date: January 31, 2016
Ship: Regal Princess
Cabin Type: Balcony
Traveled As: Couple
Reviewed: 2 years ago
We just got off the Regal Princess after a two weeker on the Caribbean. It was billed as the two week "Caribbean Adventurer" but only one fifth of the guests were on both segments. The cruise industry gets coy anymore with labeling their cruises, on this voyage some aspects were treated as two weeks others were by segment. You really have to pay attention to the detail here or you could get screwed up. For instance, on this cruise our cruise card was issued for both segments, but one time we noticed that the cruise card was issued per segment, so if you got off at the middle cruise port you couldn't get back on again. A nice advantage though was our free internet time which gave us more if it was calculated per segment, which it was, instead of two weeks, so our Elite status allowed more free time. All and all this was an enjoyable sun country cruise. It was a pretty nice two weeks on the Caribbean Sea, weather for the most part was sunny and warm, although the two times we were in Fort Lauderdale, beginning and ending as well as the intermediate stop there, were rather chilly. We were on the Regal for three weeks in September for a Baltic, British Isle and TA which I rated back then in a fairly comprehensive review, so I won't be going over most of that in the detail this time, as much was the same this voyage. However, there were some differences, since this cruise was much shorter. I rarely give a cruise 5 stars and I'm not going to do so here, but I do believe it to be four star plus. It was a simple cruise that I thought was going to be like one of these "booze cruises" after I learned it was basically a B to B, it was not.
We began by flying into Fort Lauderdale and using the Princess Hotel and transfer package, two nights at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort. We always do at least two nights prior in order to acclimatize so we are not dragging and tired upon embarkation.
We found some more improvement in the Princess overall cruise product during this sailing on the Regal, over that we encountered on our four previous Princess cruises during the last 15 months but there were some reductions which concerned us. We are beginning to appreciate some aspects of a cruise on the larger vessels a little more, previously we only used the smaller ships. Regal/Royal are the largest we have been on, the Regal is almost a new ship, it is delightful to enjoy a cruise on a vessel that has little wear and tear on it. We had a mini-suite again but this one was different in that it was forward facing with a huge balcony, about 200 Sq. Ft, billed as a premium mini. I had my doubts when we booked this as I thought it would be very windy. Not so, actually the flow of air up over the bow made this balcony more comfortable than those on the sides. I was out there every day. The mini-suite itself was a little larger as well. But the sea days were real nice and we enjoyed our huge balcony immensely.
OUTSTANDING---One feature about this ship that is real intriguing is the over-the-water SeaWalks (one port and one starboard about midship). They are on deck level 17, 128 feet above the sea, and extend 30 feet beyond the vessels hull. They are enclosed extended half-moon walkways with glass-floors, the crew keeps the glass impeccably clean, so much so that one looking down at the sea far below, and rushing by, gives even those used to heights pause before stepping out onto the glass.
VERY GOOD----The specialty restaurants were very good, particularly Sabatini's, wife didn't care much for the service in the Crown Grill $25.00 pp, the only time we ate there this voyage the waiter took her plate away before she was ready and their lobster wasn't as good as Sabatini's, so we booked Sabatini's five times, $25.00 pp. We also booked the "Crab Shack" almost every time we had the opportunity (Do yourself a favor and don't miss that if you love shell fish). A pleasant surprise was the high end Alfredo's on the two new larger ships, Royal and Regal, this is a sit down hand-tossed Neapolitan-style pizza, with linen table clothes etc. which is no extra charge (note, this is not to be confused with the cheap pizzas they hand out 24 hours a day on the Lido deck at no extra charge as well). On longer voyages they offer the Chef's Table, but not this time they apparently viewed this as a one week cruise, B to Bs don't count. The Chef's Table is for dinner only but you have to get on a list, it is extremely a good multi course dinner with wine selections included for each course and you get a lot of extras with it like the Princess cook book and special talks behind the scenes with the top chefs, if you get invited, expensive but worth the $230.00 for the two of us. If you are into shell fish they put on two "Crab Shacks" a week, they charge $20.00 pp, we never miss at least one a week. We also love the extra charge "Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar" it is very good, even has caviar and excellent oysters, sushi, extra charges depend upon the item. "Gelato" is a super high end ice cream style eatery, extra charges depend upon the treat, note---ice cream is available on the Lido deck free of charge on Princess. On this cruise we ate dinner at Sabatini's (5). Crown Grill (1), Seafood Terrace (2), Crab Shack (2), MDR (2). Alfredo's (3).
--Princess has the no smoking restrictions down pretty well now, to the point we wondered, on a previous Regal cruise, if a new rule had been created making this ship a totally non-smoking one. As it turned out there is a limited amount of smoking in the Casino and within a fenced off portion of the Terrace Pool, Deck 17, and in a enclosed ventilated lounge called "Churchill's" dedicated for smokers only, including cigar smokers. Plus a short section of deck on the starboard side of deck 7 which allows smoking but I never saw any smokers there. It appears smokers shun Princess ships anymore or refrain from lighting up on them. That is good.
--I use the hot tubs everyday, there are six good ones, four around the Fountain Pool and two at the Retreat Pool. Unfortunately, these are not enough for 3600 passengers on a sun country cruise. I found it very difficult to get into one, at lest one that wasn't packed, no matter what time of day or evening it was. Unlike our sad experience on the Coral Princess in January 2015 there were always towels everywhere all the time, and I mean all the time and there were a huge number of folk using them, no exceptions, good going.
--Judging from our five Princess cruises in the last 15 months, It appears to us the buffet area (Horizon Court) has improved in quality of food as well as service over that provided on the Coral in January 2015 and to some extent over that on the Royal in September 2014. Of course, like all buffets there is crowding at times but 3 out of every 4 of our visits to the buffet for brunch there has been ample seating room and waiters to take care of you. On our cruise on the Regal in September 2015 we were in pretty chilly northern climates, meaning folk couldn't use the ample buffet seating outside, so the buffet was very crowded at times. However, on this cruise, there was almost always plenty of seating inside and outside.
--Some of the musicians playing at various times throughout the ship were outstanding, for instance, in particular, violinists playing on the main floor of the grand atrium.
GOOD--As previously mentioned, we sailed on the Royal over a year ago and the Coral in January 2015. The main dining room experience on the Royal was tolerable but definitely needed some improvement. The Coral MDR however was a complete debacle, although we enjoyed the ship and cruise. The Coral experience was so bad we stayed away from the MDR on the Regal in September 2015 (by using specialty restaurants mentioned previously) until about a week into the cruise. Maybe because we expected the worst we were pleasantly surprised when we finally did go there. On the Coral the MDR was beset with a myriad of problems due to both understaffed kitchen and service personnel. Food quality was significantly better on the Regal and the waiter staff didn't appear to be so harried and disorganized. This voyage we ate only twice in the MDR due our recent experiences, the first time we had an hour wait with some friends we had met, other than that things were okay, the service very good and meal mediocre. The next time however, was the last formal night out of four, where lobster was served. Now, that last MDR visit reminded us of the old days in the MDR, very very good. Keep up the improvements Princess, I have now moved your MDR experiences out of my "poor" category, don't let me down.
--Shore excursions were all well organized and good, at least all those we took. We really haven't visited much of Mexico and what we have hasn't impressed us, however, we had never been on the Yucatan Peninsula before and now find it worth doing. It looks like the island of Cozumel is one's best bet for weather, low crime, cleanliness and visitor amenities if one wants to visit for a week or so. Beautiful beaches everywhere as well as excellent snorkeling and diving. When we were there last week, they said there were 10 ships in, I counted eight, which must have brought over 30,000 visitors for the day.
If I hadn't been enjoying the voyage so far, which we had, the Coba excursion would have made the entire trip worth while. I took an eight hour day trip out to the Mayan ruins at Coba on the mainland. We were in port on the island of Cozumel, Mexico so had to take a one hour boat shuttle over to the mainland to begin the two hour trip inland to Coba. The day before that I also had the opportunity to do Mayan ruins at Chacchoben when we were in port at Costa Maya. Coba was the best though, I got to climb to the top of Nohoch Mul which is the highest (138 ft.) pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is also the only one you can climb to the top of. That is about to change they say, our guide said that any day he expects to see it roped off. Coba is a very interesting and well kept up Mayan historic site inside a lush jungle area. It has three lagoons. It once held 50,000 Mayan's and it was the center of Mayan commercial activity for centuries.
We weren't able to port in Grand Cayman due strong winds and surf and the port had to be closed. I took a tour there last January but wife didn't feel so hot that day and missed out, so we were both going to do it again this trip, shucks. There were 7 big ships scheduled that day and all but three of them turned away since a tiny alternate port on the other side of George Town had to be used, it was a tender show using one little dock, a narrow one lane gravel road to it, resulting in a complete mess on shore, Princess decided not to participate in the melee.
--The before dinner Exclusive Elite Lounge for elite and platinum guests where hors d'oeuvres and half priced cocktails are available is much appreciated.
--One of my favorite cruise experiences is the enrichment lectures. I was very displeased on the first segment when there were none. They had sales pitches for all the stuff they sold on board all the time but no quality lectures dealing with the area of the world the ship was in. I was going to write Princess about that but then on the second segment they had an excellent enrichment lecture, John Rossi. They seemed to relegate his presentations to a small venue and didn't advertise them much although the audience, when they found out about him, really like it. Princess has always done a pretty good job in my opinion of providing for good lectures, this often makes a big impression of the voyage on me. I have a hunch that enrichment lectures on a sea day might detract too much from art auctions, the casino, wine tasting and other money raising events. Hope they are not attempting to do away with enrichment lecturers. That would be a real downer.
--Princess Stateroom large flat screen TVs on the Regal are great. I certainly appreciate receiving BBC, MSNBC and CNBC.
--The internet system on the Regal is very good and one of the fastest we have experienced on ships, additionally, we get the signal on my laptop almost anywhere on the vessel. Pricey, but we have some internet perks due to our "elite" status so that helps. But their Internet cafe is very small. Something like the library, not designed for long voyages or many people attempting to use it, like when trying to get airline boarding passes printed 24 hours before disembarkation, however I had no problem printing our boarding passes on the two voyages we took on this ship. Tip: Take your own lap top, except for printing, you won't need to use the internet cafe.
POOR---We don't attend the theatre productions very much anymore in order to see the comics, jugglers, and dance entertainment groups. Mostly because we do not care for the crowded theatre in the evenings where some of the rows have close to 30 seats in them; many people come very early and grab the isle seats compelling those coming later to squish by the knees of as many as 13 people to get to a open seat, furthermore, these people are reluctant to stand when someone walks by and there is not much more than a few inches between their knees and the seat in front. If one chooses to order a cocktail while seated like that, forget it. I miss the theatre layouts from before, although there is one advantage with the Regal's in that there are no ceiling posts to block views.
--Apparently the company now relies on passengers to glean info regarding the daily progress of the vessel from their cabin TV's. It is true that technology has allowed for this but what ever happened to the navigation charts posted throughout the ship and updated regularly? There were none to be found anywhere on the ship during this voyage and the info on the TV is not all that informative. Maybe most passengers don't care where they are or what surrounds them, position wise, channel wise, country wise, etc. Not me though, I miss the old days?
--Not certain why Princess has significantly reduced the number of hand sanitizer stations once found abundantly throughout the ship. Certainly hope it is not another cost saving ploy.
--The very tiny library on the Regal is a joke. It is quite obvious that they didn't intend to use the Regal on long world excursion style voyages, hence the lack of a decent library.
--Trying to use the elevators during disembarkation can be pretty stressful as they are not adequate. Thankfully, our stateroom was close to the forward elevator tower where they do have a public staircase, so we used that, if you don't mind walking down many deck levels that is. If we had been at the midship elevators there is no public staircase option there at all. Also, we were on the Mariner deck 15 and the Lido food buffet deck was on 16, so I used the stairs almost every time.
--Princess was having problems getting a handle on developing a functional system under which they can locate passenger wine bottles stored between meals. But on this voyage we noticed that our table mates, one time in the MDR, got their bottle right away, saved from the night before in another venue. We had so many problems with this on previous voyages though we take our wine bottle or what is left of it to your room after dinner, I think they prefer you do that and it works out well for us. Make sure they leave the cork at your table and not take it with them, they usually do but not always.
UGLY--I am not at all satisfied with the emergency procedures, facilities for such and the drills etc, or the lack thereof, needed to cope with a disaster at sea involving a vessel of this size. The complexities of such give me the chills when I contemplate the potential of a catastrophic accident at sea involving fire, collision or other seagoing eventualities, particularly if the vessel experiences a rapid list to one side or the other. It doesn't appear to me that Carnival Corp learned much from their Costa Concordia sinking.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
On this cruise we ate dinner at Sabatini's (5). Crown Grill (1), Seafood Terrace (2), Crab Shack (2), MDR (2). Alfredo's (3). We like this arrangement, if the MDR or another venue doesn't pan out, one has a lot more to choose from.