28/08/2015

Just back from: Regent Seven Seas Mariner

I was onboard Seven Seas Mariner for a cruise that took us from Lisbon, Portugal, through southern Spain, southern France and northern Italy, before we disembarked in Civitavecchia (Rome). The itinerary, which Regent Seven Seas calls “Celestial Sojourn,” is a pretty typical one for the cruise line, which specializes in luxury experiences in small ports.

Check out my impressions from my first Regent Seven Seas cruise.

Regent cabin

Cabins. Talk about space! Even the smallest cabins (Regent calls all of its cabins “suites”) are large by industry standards, at 252 square feet with a 49-square-foot balcony. So you have plenty of room to spread out without getting in the way of your travelling companion. All cabins include spacious walk-in closets, with more than enough room for hanging anything you packed, and then some.

 

Cruise cabin bathtub

Bathtubs and L’Occitane. After a long day exploring ports, I love a good soak. Every one of Seven Seas Mariner’s cabins includes bathtubs — the kind of tubs that are really deep (though a little on the short side). It’s the extra touch that really got me, though: an Effervescent Revitalizing Sugar Cube, by L’Occitane. This fizzy cube smells like mint and pine, and bumps up the bathing experience. Plus, they’re replenished every day, so you could soak daily, if you were so inclined. (I might be so inclined.)

The Pool Deck. While Mariner accommodates 700 passengers, the pool deck never feels crowded. That’s because crew continually make sweeps of the deck to remove used towels and ensure open loungers are ready for the next sun seeker. All loungers are covered with thick pads, and sunbeds are available (and popular!). Crewmembers hand out cold towels, which are a refreshing relief on a hot day, and they are quick to provide drinks, which are included in the cruise fare (except some premium selections). The best part might be the genuine teak deck, which is becoming rarer in the cruise industry — it doesn’t scorch your feet the way painted steel can on a hot day. The biggest problem with the pool deck is it closes down early many nights (sometimes by 6 p.m.); that means fewer evening dips or hot-tub visits.

Regent bike tour

Excursions. Part of the draw of a line like Regent Seven Seas is the cruises include virtually everything, including a fantastic selection of port excursions. Some lean toward more casual coach tours, while others offer more active pursuits. The bike city tour in Malaga was fun and informative without being particularly strenuous; it appealed to the more active passengers on our sailing, who easily kept pace with the guide. Other common included options are wine tastings, city walks, beach days and boat tours. Excursions for an extra fee are also offered and generally are longer in duration and include meals.

The Block Party. Regent Seven Seas is legendary for its block party, essentially a way to get people out of their cabins to meet their neighbors. The captain and cruise director go from deck to deck to say hello, and share cocktails with new friends.

I’m a bit of an introvert, so the thought of forced socialization doesn’t really appeal to me. And then there’s the announcement, which was made in-cabin and followed by music; it’s impossible to turn it off — or even down. Still, it was a relatively short affair, and some passengers loved the opportunity to chat with one another. Which is actually something great about a Regent Seven Seas cruise: The ships are small, and passengers naturally become fast friends via shared meals and excursions.

–Colleen McDaniel

Read what our members have to say about Regent Seven Seas Mariner.

Read our professional review of Regent Seven Seas Mariner.

 

 

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26/08/2015

Cruise Tip of the Week: Cruising with Kids

Family cruise

Tip: Cruising with little ones? Sign them up for the youth clubs on the first day. Most ships, especially newer ones, have dedicated areas for various age groups. Kids can enjoy games, activities and more with experienced counselors — and it’s better to reserve your spot early, even though there’s no requirement to attend. Find out which cruise lines are the best for families.

Full Article: Read more dos and don’ts for your first day onboard.

Want More? Check out our related links below for more info, tips and advice.

15 Ways to Take the Stress Out of Embarkation Day

What to Expect on a Cruise: First Day Onboard

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24/08/2015

Member Review: A Cruise of Baltic Brilliance

briliiance

The member review of the week comes courtesy of matthewbaty, After several years bringing up young children, with both him and his partner working busy jobs, matthewbaty decided to take his family aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance Of The Seas for their first proper holiday — a twelve night cruise from Harwich across the Baltic sea. The family found it to be an impressive experience filled with fascinating history and excellent service, as you can read in the full review.

Read on to find out more.

21/08/2015

Hot on the forums: Family cruising … beyond the grave

Grandparents cruise

Property, jewellery, heirlooms and personal bequests are among the many legacies people leave in wills to their loved ones, but how about an inheritance where a family gets to cruise every year on a specified line?

It’s certainly a new one to me, and although I always reckon you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, it has sparked an interesting debate on the Cruise Critic forums.

The thread was started by member cruisr who spotted an article in the travel trade publication Travel Weekly where Crystal CEO Edie Rodriguez talked about a passenger who had taken four generations of her family on Crystal sailings over the last eight years.

“Edie was quoted as saying there is a very loyal guest that has put it in her will that her heirs must continue to sail on Crystal once per year on the line,” writes cruisr. “That is brand loyalty at its finest.”

This prompted some members to question if it was a step too far in imposing your will – quite literally in this case – on others.

Says Crz2Fla: “Fine to make a bequest of Crystal cruises, but if the family isn’t sold after all their past cruising, it’s control-freakish to try to force it… Not that I would mind such a problem.”

Member vireya also wonders what would happen if they didn’t want to go. Aside from ancientmariner‘s mischievous allusion to haunting, it is a slightly more tricky issue than tactfully hiding a willed ornament that might not be to your taste.

BWIVince says that travel trusts are more common than you might think. “I know people who have done this not only for cruise lines, but more commonly for hotel/resort trips,” he writes. “Many families have a traditional gathering at a particular hotel at a particular time of the year, and it’s not uncommon to set up a trust to fund that tradition. The trust can be structured to only pay out for particular conditions, but no one is making anyone do anything. They’re more than welcome to buy a Seabourn cruise on their own dime if they don’t like it.”

Conditions or not, other members, such as Keith1010, think it is a wonderful idea.

“To me it says a lot about this person taking her family on these cruises while she is around and wanting this to continue after she passes.”

Member brazilgirl adds: “I think it is a lovely idea. Family traditions should be valued and cultivated. We learn from our mutual ties and history. I think the person that made this provision is wise and wants to continue something precious that maybe the family members wouldn’t do on their own. If they don’t want to go, nobody is forcing them. I hope the family is thankful.”

What do you think about making a specific provision your will to enable your family to carry on cruising? Let us know in the comments below.

–Jeannine Williamson



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19/08/2015

CRUISE Shows to sail to!

It’s the time of year again when we look forward to a number of key events in the cruising calendar.

The Birmingham CRUISE Show is the first event coming up, followed by Manchester and Glasgow, and visitors will find expert insight from the speakers and panelists in attendance as well as exclusive show-only offers from leading cruise lines and specialist operators..

Win

We’re offering our members the chance to win free tickets to the shows, with 10 pairs to give away for each. To enter, simply select which show you’d like tickets for, and send your name and address to: tickets@cruisecritic.co.uk by 5th September, 2015 for a chance to win.

Ticket offer

For those who aren’t lucky enough to win, but would like to guarantee a ticket to the shows, The CRUISE Show is offering our members 2 free* tickets when booked in advance! Tickets can be booked by visiting: www.cruisingshow.com and quoting ‘CRUISECRITIC’ or by calling: 0871 620 4024.

(*£2.50 booking fee per pair applies and calls to ticket hotline cost 10p per minute plus network extras. Ticket offer valid for all four CRUISE Shows – Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow 2015 and London 2016)

The CRUISE Show Diary Dates:

12th – 13th September: Birmingham NEC

26th – 27th September: Manchester Central

10th – 11th October: Glasgow SECC

Don’t forget that the London Show will take place next year:

20th and 21st Feb – London Olympia

The small print: Winners will be selected at random from all entries received and notified by email. Contest open to UK residents over 18 years of age. No cash substitution or substitution of prize permitted. Prize does not include any other cost or fee associated with prize receipt.



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14/08/2015

Just back from: Windstar Cruises’ Wind Spirit in Tahiti

Is this the best cruise in the South Pacific? Wind Spirit in Tahiti is certainly a hard-to-beat combination of dazzling destination plus swoon-inducing ship.

Escaping far from the usual path of other Pacific Island itineraries, Windstar Cruises presents a more luxurious option for adventurers seeking striking scenery and serenity in style. Throw in a few adrenaline-spiking activities, a dose of Tahitian culture, great food and a beverage package, and this is one fun week on water.

Here are our hits and misses from our seven-night ‘Dreams of Tahiti’ cruise, which departs from Papeete every Friday.

HITS

Bora Bora

Tahiti is not just for honeymooners

Families, friends and solo travellers needn’t be deterred; Tahiti is not swarming with loved-up couples and newlyweds. Even on beaches and in hotels and restaurants, we rarely spotted any PDA (public displays of affection). Our 31 July departure saw many Aussie, Kiwi and American couples, mostly aged between 40 and 65, as well as a few teenagers and their parents, and a woman in her 30s who decided to treat herself while her husband was on a business trip. The previous sailing had a larger number of retirees with their extended families including several grandchildren in their 20s.

Pearl Farm

Not many tourists

Fewer than 200,000 travellers visit Tahiti annually so you feel like you’ve (almost) got the place to yourself. According to the presentation in the ship’s lounge on the first evening, more people visit Hawaii in 10 days than Tahiti in one year. Comprising 118 islands, the five archipelagos spread across the same size as Europe and yet there are more rooms in a Las Vegas hotel than in all of Tahiti. Wow.

Few other cruise ships

We didn’t see another ship all week. Aside from Windstar, the only other cruise lines operating regularly are Aranui and Paul Gauguin Cruises, but they do a good job of avoiding each other so the islands aren’t crowded with passengers.

Wind Spirit sailaway

The tall, small ship

Refurbished this year, the four-masted Wind Spirit looks amazing from any angle. Whether the sails are up or not, it’s a showstopper, but don’t miss sailaway when its elegant grandeur is in full force. The vessel’s size and décor (immaculate white surfaces and and teak wood floors) also add to the feeling that you’re on your own yacht with friends.

— Read our updated review of Wind Spirit, after its 2015 upgrade.

Onboard water sports marina

A platform unfolds from the stern, allowing passengers to dive off the back of the ship and into the ocean. This is such a treat in a sunny, scenic spot like Tahiti, whether it’s the main focus of your day or you just feel like a cool-down in the afternoon. As there is no extra charge for any activity, we tried stand-up paddle-boarding for the first time and went kayaking while admiring the mountain views. Water-skiing, wind-surfing or just swimming are also possible, and there are floating mats to rest upon –- or run along, which I found to be particularly hilarious, trying to remain upright getting from one end to the other.

Pool bar

Windstar’s beverage package

Priced at US$116 per day per cabin (for two people to share), the unlimited drinks package elevates your luxury cruise to another level. It’s an indulgent treat to order anything from the menu – all beers, wines by the glass (up to US$12), cocktails, spirits and aperitifs. At first we wondered if we would drink enough each day for the whole week to make it worthwhile – well, we did. It was freeing to not have to think about it or sign for anything, to sample liqueurs we wouldn’t normally try, to gaze at the sunset with a sparkling wine or a frozen pina colada in hand, depending on our mood, to order different whites and reds at dinner, and to finish the night with a port. Best of all, there was no ‘bill shock’ at the end of all of that indulgence.

Unlike some big ships with beverage packages, Wind Spirit is so small and efficient that we never had to wait more than a minute for a drink and there was no drunkenness disrupting the chilled vibe. Although be careful of Casey, the only bartender wearing sunglasses at the pool bar, as he’ll suggest you go ‘off menu’ with concoctions named Diabetes and the Paralyzer. We didn’t risk these recommendations, but we liked him a lot.

Tahiti sunset

Helpful, happy, wonderful crew

Our cruise had only 93 passengers and 97 crew so we were outnumbered by lovely, smiling waiters and bartenders from Indonesia and the Philippines. At the welcome talk, the team was introduced with funny songs (‘Mission Impossible’ for the chief engineer, the ‘Fawlty Towers’ theme for the hotel manager, and ‘Staying Alive’ for the doctor, who danced his way across the stage). Endro, Mike, Budi, Boon, Adhi and Aki were great fun in the restaurants, and Edwin, Raffy, Raphael and Casey took top care of our drinking needs. Our cabin steward Tenso was wonderful, and Anna, Kuba and Yuri ensured we played it safe with the water sports. Guest services manager Natasha, from South Africa, and voyage leader Ana from Croatia (her second week in the job) could not have been more helpful. It’s not often we remember so many crewmembers’ names (and of course, they always remembered ours), so they clearly made a big difference to our enjoyment.

Al fresco dining

Dining under the stars

There are plenty of opportunities to dine al fresco, which is a memorable part of any trip. All meals are included in the cruise fare, including dinner on the beach at Windstar’s Bora Bora private event, a deck party and BBQ with the crew, another BBQ lunch on a private motu (islet), and a romantic evening at the poolside pop-up, Candles Grill. Breakfast and lunch are self-service at Veranda, which has indoor and outdoor seating, but you can order freshly cooked hot dishes such as omelette, eggs benedict, waffles or pancakes at no extra charge. A la carte dinner is served inside at AmphorA restaurant, and you can wander in anytime between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m, no bookings required. Klaus, the executive chef, goes to great lengths to purchase fish direct from the local fisherman, as well as other fresh produce from the islands visited. Whole tunas and suckling pigs were highlights, as well as the local delicacy of poisson cru (raw fish pieces marinated in lime juice and coconut milk).

Stingray snorkelling

Fun activities in paradise

The most popular excursion was snorkelling, which is exceptional in Tahiti. Drift snorkelling in the ‘coral garden’ at Taha’a was stunning, with a greater variety of tropical fish than we’ve seen anywhere. However, the best day was snorkelling with stingrays and reef sharks (who are harmless, we promise) in Bora Bora. You didn’t know where to look between the spectacular views overwater and the slightly alarming views underwater, but it was a real thrill. Scenic tours by jeep were also excellent, reaching high peaks to see the best views of Bora Bora, Moorea and Huahine. The other big thing to do is buy black pearls, and almost every port had jewellery stores.

A great way to experience a bit of everything is with Windstar’s new all-inclusive package that includes three complimentary shore excursions: snorkel safari in Moorea, Bora Bora Island Discovery (in an open truck), and a visit to a pearl farm.

Special events on and off the ship

The peak of the week is Windstar’s private event, the Bora Bora Celebration Festival, held on the private Motu Tapu. We witnessed the huge whole tunas unloaded from a local fishing boat, which pulled up alongside Wind Spirit one (pre-arranged by the chef), and then feasted on them at the beach BBQ, on top of the two suckling pigs, other meats and seafood, various local delicacies, salads and desserts. After watching a glorious sunset and finishing our meal, everyone was treated to a fire-dancing show that is a big part of Polynesian culture. These acrobatic performers, throwing flames as they danced to the beat of traditional music, was an exciting spectacle. Other events included the deck party, with the crew entertaining us with a karaoke-style show, followed by passengers dancing the night away under the stars.

Most other nights were spent in the lounge with the duo, Christelle, choosing a different theme of music (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, reggae, salsa) each night and playing trivia. And on one day, a local group came aboard to play the ukulele, teach us how to make a lei and how to tie a pareo (sarong) in different ways. Aside from that, entertaining yourself (sunbathing, reading, socialising with other passengers) is the name of the game onboard.

MISSES

Tahaa

Unpredictable weather

The postcard-perfect image of Tahiti is not guaranteed, and apparently it’s all thanks to that damn El Nino weather pattern. We had grey skies for the first couple of days and temperatures in the low- to mid-20s (Celsius). So pack a jacket, just in case. The beach day at Taha’a got rained out and there wasn’t as much sunbathing on deck as we imagined. We almost cried when we woke up to a gloomy Bora Bora, but luckily Wind Spirit stays there overnight and the next day was nothing short of spectacular. Never have we been so happy to have two full days in port. Thankfully, the second half of the cruise remained warm with that beautiful blue sky and crystal-clear aqua-coloured water. Bliss!

Cancelled or full shore excursions

Some tours were canned due to the weather or lack of bookings. This can happen on any cruise but a few passengers were unhappy with the late notice provided. A couple of people told us they were not informed until the day of the excursion, leaving no time to find an alternative. Of the tours left standing, popular activities were quickly booked out, so be sure to get in early and confirm your activity is going ahead. As opposed to other South Pacific islands, independent tours by local operators are quite limited in most Tahitian ports of call, so purchasing the ship’s excursions would be wise.

Moorea

High costs on land

Tahiti is well known as an expensive destination but it’s not prohibitive. We hired a scooter for the equivalent of AU$70 (US$50) for four hours at Moorea and our lunch at a beachfront café (seafood lasagna, fish burger and two beers) cost the same. Alternatively, just go back to Wind Spirit for all your meals, as the ship is either docked at the pier or less than five minutes by tender at each port. The food is probably better, too.

Windstar’s seven-night ‘Dreams of Tahiti’ cruise, roundtrip from Papeete, is priced from US$2,799 per person including all meals, soft drinks and water.

– by Louise Goldsbury, Cruise Critic Australia Editor



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11/08/2015

Just back from AmaWaterways’ AmaSerena: Hits & Misses

AmaSerena exterior

We’re just off a Danube River cruise with AmaSerena, the latest ship from AmaWaterways.

Like Viking River Cruises with its Longships or Scenic with its ‘Space Ships’, AMA has a series of modern, sleek ships that are all but identical, (though they have not followed the fashionable trend of giving the ship series a name).

“We just call them ‘the best ships’,” says AMA founder and CEO Rudi Schreiner, who’s seen and been a part of the river passenger cruise industry since the early days. (For more on what AmaWaterways is all about, read You Might Like AmaWaterways If).

Because the line has had plenty of chances to iron out the kinks with the previously launched sister ships, there’s a lot to love about AmaSerena and very little to complain about.

Here are our hits and misses from our AmaSerena cruise.

Read on to find out more.

07/08/2015

Hot on the Forums: More packing oddities

Packing oddities

Deciding what to pack, or possibly more crucially what to leave behind, is part and parcel of cruising. The usual pattern is that most of us take far too much on our first cruise and fine tune things down the line. However, for many passengers the packing ritual goes way beyond what to wear for dinner.

Last year I wrote about the strange things people bring – or have spotted being carried – onboard. The topic just keeps on going, thanks to Cruise Critic member Victoria ’82. She writes: “Just packing for our next adventure and it made me wonder if we were the only ones to take our own pillows onto the ship. We like ours quite firm and the ones onboard don’t do it for us. We have done this for many years and the cabin steward changes the slips as normal throughout the cruise. So folks, what odd items do you take to supplement your enjoyment, apart from booze?”

(The smuggling police better ignore that last sentence!).

On a less contentious note, Victoria ’82 says she used to take a kite to fly off the stern of the ship, and did it on a number of cruises until the captain put a stop to her high-flying pastime.

Mr Blue Sky brings maps for the cruise route to decorate the cabin wall – and he isn’t the only one.

Member tartanexile81 says: “We’re map-a-holics too and always take/buy a map to put up on our cabin wall. Do you know you can use magnets to hold them up? We love to sit on our balcony with the binoculars spotting what we can see. Some people probably think we’re daft but we really find it interesting.”

Read on for more.

06/08/2015

A closer look: Why cruise lines cancel river cruises

River cruise

My bags were packed. I had my passport, cruise docs and euros ready to go. It was the day before I was supposed to hop on a plane to Amsterdam, and suddenly I got the news no cruiser wants to hear: my river cruise was cancelled.

Right now, I am supposed to be aboard Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s new Maria Theresa river ship, floating through Germany, sipping a nice Gewurztraminer while magical castles and fairytale towns drift by. But Mother Nature had other ideas. It’s been blistering hot with little rain in Europe this summer, causing river levels to drop. The Danube, in particular, got dangerously low.

Uniworld felt the best decision was to cancel the cruise rather than trying to piece together a few river segments and a lot of interminable bus rides. Judging from comments on the Cruise Critic boards, they made the right decision. Some European river cruise passengers report spending eight to 10 hours a day on buses to reach shore excursion destinations while their ship remains docked in a single port for the duration of the “cruise.” Luckier travellers are able to swap to a sister ship when the rivers get impassable – though that’s still a hassle. In addition to Uniworld, Viking, Tauck, Scenic and Avalon ships have also been affected, to varying degrees.

Here’s the latest on low water levels.

I wanted to find out all the details of my cruise’s cancellation, so I checked in with Uniworld to learn how it unfolded.

Read on for more.

05/08/2015

Cruise tip of the week: To tip or not to tip…

Toscana Restaurant on Oceania

Tip: Tipping is always a hot topic when it comes to cruising. Do you know how to tip, when to tip, how much to tip and whom to tip? Both new and experienced cruisers can show their appreciation for crewmembers without making it awkward.

And while each cruise line has its own tipping policy, we also recommend tipping your cabin steward before and after your cruise. Especially if you have special requests, a tip on the first day can help ensure you’ll be well taken care of throughout your cruise.

Full Article: Read more tips from our Insider’s Guide to Cruise Tipping.

Want More? Check out our related links below for more info, tips and advice.

– Check out our latest cruise deals

– Sign up for Cruise Critic’s Price Drop. We’ll let you know when fares are dramatically reduced so you can get the best price for your sailing.

What to Expect on a Cruise: Tipping Crewmembers

Cruise Line Tipping Policies

Do you have a cruise tip of the week? — Share it with us below!



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