ON BOARD the ‘Regent Seven Seas Voyager’: ‘Everything is taken care of on board, but you never really get to know the destinations you visit.’.
(photo credit: BRIAN BLUM)
Chetan (from Mumbai) and Tania (from Bangkok) were both working as massage therapists on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager cruise ship. They quickly fell for each other and will be getting married in July.
It’s exactly the sort of romantic story you’d expect if you watched enough episodes of The Love Boat as a kid. My wife, Jody, and I met the happy couple while experiencing the cruising lifestyle firsthand when my father-in-law took his adult children, his sister and their spouses on a seven-day cruise to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Regent Seven Seas is owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, established in 1966 by the late Israeli-American tycoon Ted Arison.Regent’s cruises are small by comparison – our ship had only 700 passengers, compared with the 5,000 on the gigantic Norwegian Escape cruise ship.
Jody and I had never been on a cruise before. For years we’d seen the advertisements in The Jerusalem Post for similar sea-bound vacations and had been curious. But cruising wasn’t our thing, we told ourselves. We like to explore a place in depth rather than jump from port to port with just a few hours in each location.
To our surprise, our first cruise turned out to be delightful – albeit with a few trade-offs.
On the one hand, everything is taken care of for you on board. You don’t have to pack and repack as you change destinations, porters carry your bags (no tipping allowed), the service is stellar and the food and drink abundant. Our cabin was larger than any hotel room we’ve ever stayed in, complete with a walk-in closet and a continually restocked, no-charge minibar.
The biggest downside: you never really get to know the destinations you visit. Our cruise started in Miami before stopping in Havana, Cuba; Roatan, Honduras; and the towns of Costa Maya and Cozumel in Mexico. For all but Cuba (where we had a whole day in town), we were whisked from the docking terminal directly to whatever activity we had chosen for that morning.
In Roatan, for example, Jody and I opted to go zip-lining over the rain forest. It was exhilarating... but that’s all we know about Roatan. What kind of people live there? What’s the political environment? Do business and industry thrive? Is there decent public transportation?
We saw one other part of Roatan: the shopping mall at the port, which sold tchotchkes at inflated prices.
That was true for all of the ports. In Cozumel, we found a store hawking the softest sheets I’ve ever felt, made entirely out of bamboo. I asked the store clerk if they were from a local endeavor. No, he replied. The corporate headquarters were in Salt Lake City. I checked the Internet: the same sheets were available on Amazon.com for $100 less.
Back on the ship, food was an ever-present actor during our seven days at sea. The best way to describe it is “gluttonous.” You want three entrées with dinner and four desserts? Go for it. There were no bills, no limits. During the cruise, I developed a penchant for pina coladas – delicious but not exactly calorie-free.
Near the end of our trip, I attended a lesson at the fitness center on “hacking your metabolism.” I was all fired up to tackle portion control on my last day on board, but then along came the 4 p.m. teatime special – 15 different kinds of gourmet cupcakes.
I tried valiantly to eat just one. But when Roshan, the head pastry chef, came out to schmooze, my eyes got too big.
“You know, if one of those red velvet cupcakes just happened to make it to my room, I wouldn’t object,” I said to Roshan.
When we returned to our cabin, there were not one but two cupcakes elegantly arranged on a plate in our living area.
Cruises like those from Regent Seven Seas are all about customer service, made possible by a low passenger-to-staff ratio – our ship had 450 staff, all of whom were seemingly paid to be friendly. We couldn’t walk more than 10 feet before we heard “Hello sir,” “How are you today?” or the ubiquitous “Can I get you another drink?” It’s the opposite of Israel’s stereotypically surly service industry.
Moreover, the staff is trained to anticipate your needs. One day, we went on an excursion that included snorkeling. When we got back to our room, the laundry line above the bathtub had already been drawn so we could hang our wet bathing suits.
Our cruise probably had a good number of Jews, although we didn’t have any way of knowing. Other than the dozen or so people who came to the “self-led Shabbat evening service,” no one was sporting any identifiable religious attire. As for Israelis, we met one couple from Netanya (English-speakers originally from the UK) and a group of four Sabras who had since immigrated to America.
We didn’t find new love like Chetan and Tania on our weeklong Love Boat (not that we were looking for it), but we were pampered and treated so well that I’m looking forward to our next cruise (even if that’s not until we’re 80 ourselves).
Maybe we can board a little closer to home than Miami. The Regent Seven Seas Voyager regularly sets sail in our part of the world; it docks in Haifa in April.
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