By John and Sandra Nowlan
It’s hard to dislike New York City. The Big Apple, in spite of its crowds and controlled chaos, is especially appealing as the starting and ending city for a ten day cruise on one of the few ultra-luxury, all-inclusive lines. And when the cruise line is Regent Seven Seas with its “Spotlight on Public Broadcasting” theme, you know the level of service, cuisine, entertainment and information will be difficult to match.
Also hard to match was our pre-cruise hotel choice. The Four Seasons on East 57th Street was designed by IM Pei and is close to Central Park, Radio City Music Hall and Times Square. The rooms are very large by New York standards and the well-trained staff has a ‘can-do’ attitude, even extending to a wide choice of slipper sizes and complimentary additional toiletries if needed – combs, razors, toothbrushes.
Our dinner choice was also ideal. Del Frisco’s Grille at nearby Rockefeller Center has a comfortable ambience (leather chairs), an excellent wait staff and an imaginative menu. We enjoyed Cheese Steak Egg Rolls, Ahi Tacos, Prime Short Rib Stroganoff and the Catch of the Day – Fresh Halibut.
Boarding the 500 passenger Seven Seas Navigator at the Manhattan Cruise Port was, as expected, fairly quick and very well organized. Launched in 1999, the ship does show some signs of wear but has aged quite well. At noon our rooms weren’t yet ready so, after a welcoming glass of champagne, we enjoyed an excellent light lunch by the pool and explored the ship. Particularly impressive were the well stocked library, the card room (already busy with bridge keeners), several comfortable lounges with well stocked bars (all wine, beer and spirits are complimentary) and the large main theatre. The tiered seating had the best sight lines we’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. We went to a show most evenings and were dazzled by the 12 member ensemble of singers and dancers. All talented pros. The accompanying Regent orchestra was small – just five members with a piano, drums, two guitars and an overworked saxophone player. An extra brass or woodwind instrument would have been welcome.
Our recently refurbished suite, like all basic rooms, was a very generous 300 square feet plus a balcony. There’s a curtain divider between the bed and the sitting area. The king size bed (excellent reading lights) had a black cushioned headboard and there was an amazing amount of storage space including a very welcome walk in closet. The marble bathroom included both a bathtub and a separate shower. The large screen TV had a wide variety of American and British channels plus movie and information channels. But no CNN.
On a ship of this size, we didn’t expect an extensive menu in the main dining room. We were wrong. The Compass Rose on Deck 5 (anytime dining) has large, ocean view windows and, as we were told by the Food and Beverage Manager, a menu identical to Regent’s larger ships. It was impressive with an “always” menu on the left hand side (including shrimp, steak and foie gras) and daily selections on the right. Unlike many cruise ships, the Executive Chef visits fish markets in some ports and brings aboard fresh fish for the dining venues. Very impressive.
La Veranda, the buffet restaurant on Deck 10 turns into an excellent Italian restaurant in the evening and the Poolside Grill always had a wide selection of salads, burgers, hot dogs and fish burgers. The only “Reservation Required” restaurant (no extra cost) was the 70 seat Prime 7 on Deck 10. Great beef cuts, lobster and fresh fish highlighted the creative menu.
The quality cuisine matched the outstanding theme of this cruise – Spotlight on Public Broadcasting. Since 2004, an organization called Artful Travelers has partnered with Regent and PBS/NPR outlets in the US to bring top journalists, filmmakers and producers aboard Regent ships to discuss public radio and television and show examples of their craft. The Artful Travelers President, Kevin Corcoran, told us that famed broadcaster Jim Lehrer was the first PBS guest speaker 14 years ago and now, 30 cruises later, the concept is working better than ever.
On our cruise we were fortunate to meet and enjoy presentations by Sam Paul (“Live from the Met”, “Bernstein in Berlin”), Justin Weinstein (“Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey” and “An Honest Liar”, about James ‘The Amazing’ Randi), Alison Chernick (“ITZHAK”, a profile of violinist Itzhak Perlman) and Hari Sreenivasan, the host of PBS Newshour Weekend. All guests were invited to share a dinner table in Compass Rose with these broadcast personalities.
With Sam Paul’s connection to Leonard Bernstein, America’s first classical music superstar, he was able to help arrange a tour in Boston of the travelling exhibit, “Leonard Bernstein at 100”. Commemorating the 100th birthday (in August) of the famed composer, conductor and social activist, the remarkable display with many personal artifacts covers the broad spectrum of Bernstein’s remarkable career.
On the same day, we visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, overlooking Boston and Dorchester Bay. It offers a retrospective of the president’s Massachusetts heritage, spectacular rise to prominence and untimely death in Dallas.
Unlike most cruise lines, the majority of tours on Regent are complimentary and we were given many choices at each port. In Newport, Rhode Island, we joined a walking tour of this colonbial New England town. We admired its strict rules about preserving historic buildings.
Because of bad weather we couldn’t stop in Bar Harbor, Maine. It was a bit surreal the next day as Navigator visited our home port of Halifax. But, even in the rain, fellow guests loved it. We played tourist and joined a Duck Boat tour (the Harbour Hopper) since we’d always seen it around town but never experienced the fun of a land and water tour. We learned several new facts about the Nova Scotia capital.
Our final stop (before a return to New York) was Bermuda on a “Bermudaful Day” as the locals like to call it. It was a delight seeing all the white roofed houses of St. George’s Parish as well as the many beaches and historic buildings of this British colony. Most exciting was a tour of the Crystal Caves, natural limestone caverns discovered over a century ago by boys searching for their cricket ball. Excellent lighting and walkways over the underground pools made for a memorable, if spooky, attraction.
Back on board we arrived just in time for an excellent dinner and the Krew Kapers, a talent show by members of the crew. We’ve seen crew shows on other ships but this one was very special, including sophisticated technical effects. “The Incinerator Man” (his job is to feed the ship’s incinerator) was a marvelous crooner. One of the modest and polite wait staff named Ola changed her personality entirely with a scintillating belly dance. We did a double take.
Back in New York, disembarkation was smooth and effortless. It made us appreciate even more the value of an all-inclusive cruise with a staff dedicated to our comfort and pleasure.