Just spotted this online:
"Best of the Best": Radisson Seven Seas' Paul Gauguin & Seven Seas Navigator
Ranked #1 and #2 ships in the world by Conde Nast Traveler's 2003 "World's Best" Readers' Choice Awards
Radisson Also Won "Best Small-Ship Cruise Line" Distinction
Why am I not at all surprised?
For the last few years, I've looked at the brochures, studied the deck plans, read the reviews from other cruisers and wanted to try this line, especially after Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner were launched. I kept thinking that this was the type of ship Hans and I would enjoy: smaller, great personalized and professional service and best of all, no crowds. I usually get my fill of crowds at the airports before I ever set foot on the ship.
When Hans and I discovered that we couldn't take the two week maiden voyage on the QM2 (we'll be on the April 25th eastbound crossing instead) , I immediately started looking for an alternative which was shorter in length, possibly closer to home and something different, something we really REALLY wanted to do. With a nudge from my trusty TA, who has sailed and loves Radisson, and the incentive of a two-for-one deal on this particular cruise, the Seven Seas Navigator was a shoo-in over the other contenders for this trip. We booked a penthouse balcony suite on Deck Ten, complete with butler service and a beautiful 356 total square foot stateroom.
Just some ship background: The Seven Seas Navigator entered service in 1999 and is actually one of the older, smaller ships ( beam is 81 feet, length is 560 feet, tonnage is 33,000) in Radisson's fleet. It has all-suite, all ocean view accommodations, single open seating dining in several venues, wines, soft drinks, iced tea, bottled water and the like included with lunch and dinner, as well as gratuities included in the price of our fare. The ship accommodates 490 people, certainly a very manageable number of passengers.
Our itinerary was part regular Caribbean, part smaller, different Caribbean. We flew to San Juan, boarded the ship and were off to St Kitts, "goat-and-sugar-cane-capital-of-the-world" the next day. I don't know why Radisson chose to include this island, but they did. Others onboard wondered, too. Next was the very French St Barts, then St Martin followed by Caribbean shopping mecca St Thomas. Hans and I suddenly realized we had not been to the Caribbean on a cruise in nine years when we got to St Thomas, so it was nice to get back there. I'm ready to make it a regular cruise destination once again.
Embarkation at San Juan was a breeze. After picking up our luggage after our flight, we were quickly ushered to a van to take us to the ship. No waiting, no long lines, no tired and cranky soon-to-be cruisers. Check a few docs, take a photo for ship security, surrender passports until the end of the cruise and we were onboard. A glass of the bubbly was cheerfully handed to us after the perfunctory boarding photos were taken, and we were on our way to our cabin. Our luggage followed about five minutes later. Nothing about cruising has been that easy in my recent cruise memory. No lines, no crowds. Absolutely fabulous.
There are eight decks for passengers, and our cabin was conveniently located on Deck Ten, near the pool and Portofino Grill area, perfect for lounging or getting something light to eat. Radisson makes these big, wonderful coconut macaroons (along with other kinds of cookies) and has them by the pool grill every day … a real sweet treat!
How was the food? Early on in our trip, I would have said "just okay". Every time I think of any single dinner we had, I think "okay", which, I guess, is okay. I didn't starve, but it wasn't the Princess Grill. That was the first day. Then, we had lunch at the Portofino Grill, served buffet-style. It was a delightful combo of new foods not normally seen on a ship's luncheon buffet, such as smoked trout with sun-dried tomatoes or the cold blueberry yoghurt soup, which was tasty and refreshing. The salad fixins' also had a lot of thought go into them, as the variety was certainly there. The hot luncheon entrees (on one particular day there was a pasta station, on another day, a carving station) were also good. The desserts were particularly good (such as mocha eclairs.) But throughout the cruise I found the food a bit uneven, not so much that it mattered terribly, but it was not as consistent as I would have liked to report. The service in all dining venues was extremely consistent, friendly and attentive. Every dining room staff member to the person did an outstanding and professional job.
Wine (both white and red) is always available with both lunch and dinner, soft drinks, as I said, are always gratis, plus each and every cabin is supplied with four standard or two premium full sized bottles of whatever kind of liquor you chose. Hans checked off a bottle of Myer's Dark rum, Tangueray gin, Stolichnaya vodka and a bottle of chardonnay. We could never in a million years finish this off during one cruise. That, plus, we really never drink in our cabin, but prefer to stop at a lounge onboard for pre- and post-dinner drinks. The times when the rum or the wine came in handy was on our balcony as we waited to pull away from one beautiful island and on to the next.
Besides the wine with meals, if one is to order a caviar appetizer, one would also get vodka served chilled. With your after-dinner cheese plate, a nice port is offered up, all gratis. It really is a very nice touch. There is no bar tab to sign or wine receipts to fumble with at the end of dinner. Another wonderful thing is the late afternoon hors d'eurves brought to our cabin by our butler. Some goodies he dropped off for us during our cruise were king crab legs one day, caviar pastries or a relish dish with dipping sauce another day. This was so nice after a day of beach-going or island-shopping.
We wanted to go to dinner at least one night at the Portofino Grill; however, a large group of construction industry people were onboard (cruises they had won, vendors hosting people in the trade, etc), and had taken large segments of that dining room, so much so that many passengers not sailing with that group lost out on this dining experience. I called the afternoon we came onboard, but that was already too late. Next time, we'll be sure to make arrangements just about as soon as (or maybe even before) we board. Many passengers not with the large group complained about this. In my opinion, a ship like the Seven Seas Navigator is not well suited for large corporate groups. Although the construction folks were in seminars and vendor presentations from 7 AM to noon, the ship was too small to take on this group and still accommodate the other passengers fully. It didn't take away from the onboard experience for me, but others who had previously sailed the ship or the line indicated that their presence made a difference in the cruise for them
Breakfasts in our cabin were served at precisely the time expected daily and contained everything requested, prepared just the way we asked. Every time we had in-cabin meals, they were exceptional, as was the service. Another thing we enjoyed was being able to get our room service breakfast on the morning of disembarkation. On other lines, that sometimes just doesn't happen. The ships are too big and the staff too busy. Nothing on this beautiful little ship prevented any of the staff from being too busy for the passengers.
The regular dining room, the Compass Rose, was noisy; in fact, I haven't been in a dining room at sea that noisy since the SS NORWAY's Windward dining room during the first farewell crossing in 2001. Could have been the large group sailing with us helped boost the noise level a bit.
Seven Seas Navigator's suites are the largest ever. Bathrooms were human-sized, with a tub AND shower, plus plenty of counter and storage space. Complimentary plush robes, a walk-in closet with all the hooks, hangers and drawers one could ever need, plus storage throughout the cabin that was much more than enough. The furnishings in our cabin were well-thought out and very comfortable. I mentioned to Hans that this was the first time on any cruise ship we were not tripping over each other as we got dressed for dinner. I'd like to give the designer of these spaces a great big kiss. Kudos!
Our butler, Saurabh, was wonderful and always there when we needed him. Radisson is the only cruise company with membership in the elite Guild of English butlers. On the very first day, Hans sat down with him and asked, specifically, what a butler does. That's my Hans. He gets to the point. Ours brought our in-suite breakfasts, our wine and other beverages. If we had a question or a request, we called him. One thing I did like very much was a full and constant supply of bottled water there for me at all times. I didn't have to order it, and I never ran out. Saurabh also supplied us with wonderful hors-d'oeuvres late every afternoon ranging from king crab legs to caviar and pate' cups.
As far as I'm concerned, the best sleeper cruise bargains are Radisson's 2-for-1's. Look at it this way: On other cruise lines, you are nickeled and dimed to death for the small things, like bottled water, a can of Coke or Diet Pepsi. I'm a very big water drinker, and I am always ordering up room service on other ships. Stuff like that adds up. At the pool, no need to buy soft drinks or iced tea. They are included.
Plus, there's no crowds, no lines, no staff member is too busy to help you or too overwhelmed. I don't think I've ever heard anyone report back that they like crowds, lines and confusion on a cruise ship. Radisson makes it happen. This really felt like a luxury cruise on a luxurious ship. THIS is what I've been looking for. I wonder how many other regular cruisers out there will also soon grow tired of the behemoth ships and the constant "in your face" vacation style? The Seven Seas Navigator was truly a ship that left me with no low-level cruise anxieties, even as I was having a good time ("Will the wake-up call really work tomorrow morning?" Where's my bottled water??" "The internet room's crowded, and I need to check on Sophie!") The ship is well-arranged and is small enough to go smoothly from one area to another with no Death March to Bataan-style megawalking. My favorite public spaces turned out to be the lovely, muted Gallileo's on Deck Eleven, the spacious library with full internet access (I should note here that you are not charged online while reading or writing e-mail, so the expenses stay down) and the Navigator Lounge (reminded me of HAL's Explorer's Lounges, but smaller and cozier) with the adjacent cigar lounge, frequented by Hans after dinner. One area I couldn't quite figure out during my time onboard was the bank of glass-enclosed elevators off the reception area. This space was full of gears and mechanicals, but no real design, and it is located at a focal point of the ship, where many central atria are located on other ships. Maybe this was an atrium and I didn't know it? Hmm.
Did I like this ship? Yes, very much. Would I sail with Radisson again? Yes, we're planning cruises on Radisson's ships through 2005, which includes the two week Papeete/Marquessas itinerary on the Paul Gauguin. We've done the South Pacific on the late, great Ren, and we have wanted to return. It should be interesting to compare experiences after our sailing in April on the new QM2, which is (right now, anyway) the largest cruise liner in the world. I'm truly wondering if, in the end, I'll prefer the smaller ships. We're going from the sublime to the ridiculous, size-wise, so it should be interesting.
Unless the funnel gets knocked off the QM2 on it's way into New York Harbor, that is ;-)