Regent Mariner Alaska

Cruise Trip Report, July 2006 

Tuesday-Wednesday , July 04- 05

We flew to Vancouver on July 3, red-eye flight from JFK. We flew Cathay Pacific business class and enjoyed it. This is second time we fly on Asian airlines (first time China Airlines to Hong Kong) and the service is superior to US and European airlines. They have business class lounge at British airways and it is oasis in otherwise madness and crowds of JFK.

Flight was comfortable enough and you can stretch feet full length. They served dinner, although it was real china and tablecloth, the food was just OK. Good toiletries and lotions (I always get dry skin in flight). For passengers continuing to Hong Kong from Vancouver, they do not have to leave the plane. So this is advantage stopping in Canada as opposed in USA. In USA for security clearance, you need to get up and disembark and then check in.

We arrived to Vancouver at 1am and took taxi to hotel. It cost approx $29 CAD but we were probably jetlagged or sleepy so we miscalculated and overpaid to driver $10 in USD . Big tip. Currency exchange was closed so we paid in usd. 

There was no doorman at hotel . We stayed at Renaissance Harborview. Fortunately we travel light. I mentioned to reception on lack of doorman - the hotel is supposed to operate 24 hrs. They apologized and offered get someone to help. Thanks but no thanks. One score against Renaissance.  

Room was comfortable. Good bed, heated floor in bathroom . Internet $15 per day noon-noon. We went to bed and slept until 7am. In the morning we had coffee in the room and went to explore. Vancouver harbor is beautiful. We were impressed with beauty of this city. Many colorful flowers. There were not a single ship in the port and I was wondering if this is the place. Later we found out that on Tuesdays no ships in port. We went to check out Pan Pacific hotel and it was nice. Good location. Renaissance is few blocks away but looks like not much to do in the evening however you can walk to Robson street for dinner and shopping.

We strolled the watefront and had lunch in cafe. Went to hotel and met our tour guide for 4 hr intro - private tour of Vancouver. Surprise - our guide Chuck Scott brought his "crew" - his wife Neila and son Nicolas. We enjoyed the tour as well however highlight was the personal touch and we enjoyed companionship of his family. Especially 7 year old Nicolas. Nicolas gave us overview of his favorite spots as well - trees without stumps, totem poles and he knows statistics! Impressive for 7 year old. Very well behaved. I am sure he will be a draw of guiding families with kids. As for the tour, we only had 4 hours so we did intro to Vancouver. Went to Stanley park and Linos Gate bridge. Nicolas showed us lions - that's why it bridge is called Lions gate. Interesting totem poles. We went to Granville island, with its market. Then we went to Chinatown and Gastown. Finished in observatory lookout with beautiful views. If we would have more time, we would go to Victoria and gardens. Next time we will fly to Vancouver and take a car and explore area for a week or so, going to mountains.

For more info about Scott and his tours, see http://www.wildbc.com/

Highly recommended.

Had dinner near hotel in restaurant Spotted Prawn. Good service, ate too much. Mostly shrimp (prawn) on the menu and you have guessed.

Next morning guilt from eating large dinner previous night  made me go to gym at 7am. I worked out and then went to the pool. Later breakfast at hotel's restaurant - ate oatmeal instead of buffet breakfast.  It took some time to pull George off TV - soccer and tennis championships! So after breakfast we went for a walk. In nearby port we saw 2 ships arrived already - HAL Volendam and our Regent Seven Seas Mariner. Volendam looked huge comparing to Mariner (700 passengers in Mariner).

Although for us, 700 passengers is large too. Our last cruise was on Seadream, 110 passengers. .

I will give overall description of the ship there and then will continue with our itinerary.

The ship - Regent Mariner.  You can see description of Regent Mariner here .

Our impression:

Mariner has 700 people, all suites and balconies. Comparably new ship, nicely decorated, not flashy, well furnished. Balcony was a plus, even in Alaska when it is cold, we were able to catch some sun on the balcony. The ship has an impression of spaciousness and you do not see many people. Besides some events or day at sea when many people congregated in one place (deck/pool), you sometimes wonder – where are the people?  I liked it.

Food

We are foodies and we loved the restaurants. There is only one restaurant we did not go – Le Verandah Mediterranean bistro. We do not care about buffets and when it was a la carte dining – we looked at menu and it was just OK. But people said food was well prepared.

We ate once in Le Cordon Blue French restaurant and we liked it. Excellent food, well prepared. But then Compass Rose food was good as well, but not necessarily French. Excellent service, probably too showy - I do not remember in high end restaurants in France offering waiter the arm to to lead ladies.. Asian restaurant Latitudes was good and the menu there was just for information since they serve everything – sample food. They call you by name. 

Breakfast – most days we ordered in room. Roome service was prompt.

Other days we had breakfast in Compas Rose , again from the menu and it was good.

Lunches were eaten in Compass Rose and few times by the pool and from room service. I liked that they served a lot’s of local fish and seafood. Very good services in any restaurant. I also noticed how well they treated children. Kids menu was even available at French restaurant.

In the room, they provided drinks and fresh fruit daily. 

There was afternoon tea daily with different themes – Viennese Tea, British Tea, Chocoholic tea, etc.. Tea consisted of small sandwiches, scones ( I love scones ) and deserts. There were always low carb and sugar-free desserts available. Some of them were good, but some did not make sense like for example, low carb Crème Brulee – you cannot make caramelized crust without sugar so it tasted like pudding.

There was great coffee machine in the library which can make espresso, latte, regular coffee and something else (forgot). It was very popular. Next to the machine were always cookies available.

In observation lounge they served boullion and crackers as a snack and continental breakfast for early risers.

Caviar bar was open every evening before dinner. We buy caviar often at home in Russian store so we thought it was expensive there.

I hear that next year Regent will be all-inclusive so it will be interesting if caviar would be included.

So as in any cruise, there was a lot’s of food but quality and presentation was excellent. In restaurant, you can have table for 2 or more. Or they ask if you want to join someone in case you want to meet new people. But not enforced as on large ships. Once we had dinner for 2 and there were 2 more couples at other tables,. So we started to talk and finally we moved tables together and waiters did not mind.

Alcohol was included in many cases. 2 wines are offered with dinner, but premium wines for $100+ are available for extra. On arrival we had champagne in the suite. The refrigerator was stocked with beer and soft drinks. You are also offered 2 complimentary bottle of wines on arrival from room service. Plus there were cocktail parties, art auction, etc so champagne was available. Other times after dinner they charge for drinks. We do not drink much other than wine with dinner so for us it was inclusive.. 

Tipping is included in Regent so it is a big plus. We tipped however extra our stewardess since she was very good.

Entertainment was OK. Good shows in the theater, piano player performed piano tunes, there was potpourii from Broadway shows and also show “Tribut to the Beatles”.

The music which played by the pool and by piano player and guitar players was classical, and 60-80. Just what we like.

Other.

Weather – was mixed. I read before leaving to dress in layers and it was a good advice. It ranges from 30’s (in glacier) to 75+ on the sun. So it depends on what you are going to do all day.

Also, it was close to solstice time (June 22) and unusually for us Northeasterners, it was light almost all day (18 hours). Sunset was at 11 (beautiful), and sunrise at 4am. It of course enhanced our time outside. In winter we were told, only 4 hour of light in December.

3 days on a cruise we had clear weather, especially we were lucky with Hubbard glacier. Other days it was changing from rain to clouds and sun but we still did our shore trips and excursions.

Overall we did not expect good weather, so were not disappointed.

You need to bring waterproof fleet jacket. I also brought knitted hats for glacier and expedition and I was not sorry.

Overall, Regent has grade A. I cannot honestly think about any issues. We only had one inconvenience – one suitcase was delayed when we started cruise, but the guilty party was the person in the port who did not write clear our cabin number.

I would go on Regent again, only on different itinerary.

Demographics

The demographics – ages from babies  to 80+ . There were about 25 or 30% of children on the trip. The ship was spacious so it was not crowded with kids.  There is Camp Mariner with kids activities. .  Unlike large cruise ships, club Mariner had one group, with councellors attending to different age children but kids seemed to be happy. No video arcade, no climbing wall but families seemed to be happy. This is a destination oriented cruise and most families took many excursions in ports.

Passengers were majority from USA and about 30% Europeans, South Americans and Canada

July 5. Mariner embarkation

Boarded Regent at 2pm without any lines. We had a quick lunch and went to the cabin. All cabins on Mariner are suites with balconies. We had suite 6504. There was champagne and fruit in the room. We had champagne on the balcony to toast the trip. One problem was that one out of 2 suitcases did not show up but eventually it was sorted out and it was brought to the cabin.

The suite is spacious and it has sitting area. The balcony has 2 chairs and a table. The bathroom is nice with bathtub. A lot’s of shelves for storage, we did not use it all. There is a walk-in decent size closet and also plenty of shelves and drawers for clothes and other things. We made reservations in Le Cordon Blue restaurant. The food was very good, 4 course dinner with pairing wine. Waiters are French, wine is French. This restaurant requires reservations and you can eat only once a week, at least at this sailing.  We listened after dinner to guitarist in the bar and then went for the cabaret. There was a performed from Canada, Nancy Ruth and also she had talent we thought presentation was not that terrific. We retired to bed around 11pm. We tried to make dvd player work but it did not cooperate.

July 6. Cruising inside passage.

Next morning we had breakfast delivered in the room, oatmeal, fruit and buckwheat pancakes for me. It was delivered on time, 7:30 as asked. After breakfast, we asked to fix dvd and the staff member came and fixed it. It was cold outside, in 50. The scenery was beautiful. I put on sweater and jacket and walked outside on walking deck. There are also pool and 3 jacuzzis on deck below and some people did use Jacuzzi. There was a tennis court and golf practice.

We attended a naturalist enrichment lecture about Alaska which was interesting. After that it was explanations of ports and what to do . I liked the fact that they did not push Regent tours but also explained what to do on our own and there is also possibility to get taxis and local tour operators in ports.

We had lunch - bbq fish buffet on the top deck and rested after lunch. 

Other activities on board. Not sure if we will attend them all but I thought it is worth mentioning.

Cooking demonstration with executive chef

Bocce game – did not care about this one..

Art lecture . This ship collection features some works of Picasso and Dali. Durer, Henri de Tolouse Lautrec, Renoir. Maybe not that famous works but seems to be originals – numbered and signed. Will check it later..

Amber seminar.

Afternoon tea today is Veinnese tea.

Aerobics, body toning, yoga .

Caviar bar (extra cost)

Wheel of fortune and Bingo – did not care about this one! On a cruise such quality they could’ve skip it. MHO

There was captains receiption but we skipped it. Informal nights – jackets, no tie for men. Dinner in Compas Rose was very good. After that we went to theater to listen to piano player, he was also very entrtaining, tribute to great pianists.

July 7. Ketchikan.

We woke up in Ketchikan. After breakfast, went on shore to explore town. Went to Creek street, used to be a brothel. Took a picture with "Brothel owner". There are a lot’s of stores . Unfortunately most shops are commercial jewelry. Just like in Caribbean. Few local art galleries. . 

After lunch we went for our excursion to Misty Fjords by seaplane. I booked them direct with Southeast Aviation. They took us (6 people) to the dock and then we boarded plane. The plane ride too about 40 mins, then the pilot ended on the shore and we spent about half an hour wandering in wilderness. Air is clear, clean. The views were beautiful from the plane and also from the land. The pilot was interesting to talk to and also gave us some views about politics and local life. Including that famous expensive bridge to “nowhere”. Turned out locals are fine with ferries. Most people use floatplanes and ferries and boats. Not too many roads in Ketcihkan outside of the city. 

We came back and had dinner in Lattitudes , that’s Indochina restaurant. The food was excellent, one sampling menu with pairing wines. Unfortunately one family walked in with about 20 people, and majority of them kids from 5 to 16 and it became loud. Although I admit the kids were well behaved, well dressed and adults supervised them however it still created more noise than one expects in this subdued exotic restaurant. But nothing you can do since kids allowed in all restaurants even cordon bleu. We even seen babies in the restaurant.

There was Broadway performance in the cabaret that evening.

The weather was changing all day, from cold morning to bright 60-70 on the sun in Ketchikan and then some rain on the way to our floatplane adventure. The pilot navigated between clouds successfully. In the fjords it was sunny. And later on in the evening, it became colder. The northern lights there make days longer with sunset at 10pm or so and it was incredible.

July 8. Tracy Arm/Juneau .

The cruising was followed by commentary of naturalist/storyteller onboard. We also attended a lecture about Northwest Native American people.

At 11am we arrived Juneau and we went for our excursion to glacier and dog sledding. We were driven to Heliport and given intro to the flight and safety briefing. We also were given glacier boots to wear on top of our shoes.

Helicopter ride was about 15 minutes with some commentary and it awarded beautiful views. We were 4 people and pilot in helicopter. On arrival we were met by dog camp workers and they gave us introduction on life at the camp. They live here 24/7 all summer. We met dogs and petted them. Then we went for a ride in 2 dogs sleds, each dog ride had a musher, and 3 people. I sat half of the ride and then changed with another passenger so I had to stand and “drive” the sled. It was exhilarating.

The visibility got worse and we were lucky that we had that tour since next tour after us was cancelled. We finished our ride, played with puppies and then boarded helicopter. Again we enjoyed the views and came back to Juneau around 4pm. We went to the waterfront store . Most of them were again jewelry stores however we managed find some souvenirs what we liked (Russian nesting dolls, native Alaskan clothes and smoked salmon). We came back to the ship with good memories of day well spent for well deserved rest.

July 9. Skagway.

Skagway is a gold rush town. In 1897, when the SS Portland docked in Seattle with a ton of Klondike gold, about 100,000 men went north for gold . They went through inside passage, landing in tent town of Skagway, gateway to Klondike. So Skagway become a lawless boomtown with saloons, gambling, and brothels. But when the rush to Klondike declined and stampeders headed instead to other destinations, the population of Skagway declined. Gold production in the Yukon fell and gold mines in Alaska were shut down. There was a railroad built in 1900’s and now tourists take scenic train rides to White Pass and Yukon Route following prospectors trails.

Tere are also many wilderness activities around Skagway. So the options were besides taking trains, some nature exploration.

George informed me in advance that July 9 is the day of finals - soccer championships and he will be watching it in the morning. That was a well awaited game discussed on the ship with the crew and European and South American passengers.

So I booked myself for 8am adventure – 5.5 hours Glacier Point wilderness safari. It consisted of catamaran ride with Captain Larry, then they took us to Glacier Point . 12 people live there, small community of naturalist guides. They met us on the beach and we took a walk through the temperate rainforest to the place to get outfitted for canoe trip. It was a beautiful walk with views of flowers – yarrow, fireweed, wild roses, wild strawberries and salmonberries. We had to wear rubber boots and rain gear. Our guides were knowledgeable and entertaining. We were led to canoes, 11 people in each one. We were paddling through the lake and river to Davidson glacier. It was incredible beauty. Our guide gave us a lecture about geology, flora and fauna and about glacier. It was very quiet and beautiful, the firsthand glimpse of remnants from the last ice age.

We came back to the beach, changed gear and went back to the beach and then boarded catamaran back. It was a good spend another day.

Other passenger we had diner with told us they went to Yukon White Pass on the train , following the trails of prospectors who 100 years ago went to Klondike for gold.

Meanwhile in town George had an adventure on his own. Turned out that TV did not work – bad reception in Skagway. So he had to track 1 mile to Skagway to find a bar to watch soccer. He walked around town looking for a place with TV. Finally he found a bar Bonanza Bar ad Grill and got beer and good spot. Very soon the bar was packed with locals, our crew members (Asian and European) and passengers. They watched the game.

So we exchanged our experiences with newfound friends at dinner – 2 nice couples we met from NC and CT. They went on a train ride so their experiences were somewhat sedated :-)

We left for Sitka with commentary of naturalist. There was a colony of sea lions on the shore so captain turned around and went closer to the shore and stopped so we could see the animals. Naturalist commented again on sea lions, we observed them and then ship continued to sail. This was a nice feature which probably would not be possible on larger ships.

July 10. Sitka.

Sitka is of interest to us because it has Russian heritage. So we decided forgo all tours and explore this quaint town on our own. Tlingit Indians lived in Sitka centuries before Russians set food on Sitka bay (called by Indians Shee Atika). Russians arrived in 1799 and founded Russian-American trading company under management of Alexander Baranof. Russians were after furs. There were wars between Russians and Tlingits. Finally Russians outnumbered with guns and pushed natives from the land. They renamed Sitka New Archangel. Their clergy took up residency in the houses along the shore hill, now called Castle Hill. The fur trade flourished however later on when sea otters population declined, Russians lost interest in the new world and in 1867 they sold Alaska to Americans for $7.2M with a transfer ceremony which took place in Sitka in Oct 18 , 1867.

We explored Sitka by foot. There is a Michael Archangel Orthodox church, wooden structure. We visited Bishop house museum. The park in Sitka had nice collection of totem poles and the trails with tall pine trees were delightful. The weather was perfect and we spent all day in Sitka. Again, good Russian stores including original Russian American company. But now all goods exported from Russia. 

In the evening, we attended a lecture about Hubbard glacier and what we will be viewing next day at sea. Very interesting.

July 11. Hubbard Glacier.

The Hubbard Glacier was supposed to be a highlight of the trip. The vast Hubbard icefield originated near 15,300 ft Mt. Hubbard and flows 76 miles to the sea at Yakutat and Disenchantment bays. It is a prime point for stop for cruise ships. Nobody gets off the ship since there are no roads to the glacier. We were told that glacier mountains St. Elias and Fairweather are the larges glacier mountains in the world. This glacier is moving forward quickly and in 1986 was advancing 30 meters a day towards the fjord and created a huge lake. So there is some geological activity is going on in Yukutat bay. The glaciers advice and retreat, becoming fjords and lakes and new rivers flow to the sea. 

Captain said we will come as close to glacier as we can. In the morning we woke up with a magnificent view of tall glacier mountains. There was a ship Mercury (twice as much size as our Mariner) and it went to the glacier bay close to Hubbard Glacier. However they radioed that ice conditions were changing and the ice started forming around ship and it was difficult for Mercury to get out of the Bay. Therefore our captain announced that due to the changing conditions of ice (glaciers have their own climate around them), he will not take any risks. So we watched glacier from afar..

The ship stopped in Yuakutat bay to pickup a member of Native American community of Yukutat who gave us a lecture about their life. This is a most northern point of surf. Yes surfers come there.. The community has about 600 people, 40% Native Americans and 60% anglos, with Yakutat culture respected.

We listed lecture and had opportunity to talk to the Kai (community representative). I asked if Yakutat was owned by Russians and he said yes. We took picture with Kai and then the boat came to pick him up on shore.

The weather was great, with sun and good visibility, but still cool 60’s. Nevertheless, kids were swimming in the pool and people used 3 jacuzzis on the pool deck. We sunbathed Alaska style (dressed and under blanket). But I did get suntan which I usually do not get in warmer climates since I do not sunbathe in hot weather. This sun was very pleasant.

There was a show “Tribute to the Beatles” in the theater and then we went for nap in our suite. We overslept crew show which other passengers told us was great.

For dinner, we had lovely conversation with 2 couples at nearby tables and finally we moved our tables for 2 together. 

So this was the last night of the cruise and everybody went to suites to pack. We used last internet minutes in business center and went to bed since tomorrow was disembarkation at 8am.

July 12. Anchorage

Next morning we disembarked after breakfast. It was organized very well, calling passengers by color tags. There were few choices – to go to Anchorage by scenic train or by bus. Some passengers continued their trip to Denali /Fairbanks. We chose the train. The luggage does not go with the train so it went separate by truck. The train has panoramic view and also some commentary so the ride was pleasant. All luggage was to be picked up in Anchorage Hilton and Regent also had hospitality suite in Hilton so passengers can explore city and leave luggage with Regent. There also was a shuttle which every hour took passengers to airport.

We booked Hotel Anchorage Grand which was a block from Hilton so we walked with our suitcases (again, the advantage of traveling light!) to hotel.

Grand Anchorage hotel is 3* hotel. When we walked in, it was more like it. However once we opened the door it turned out to be not a room but 1 bedroom apartment with kitchenette, hallway, living room and separate bedroom. So it was a surprise. There were not a/c however but a some kind of climate control which did not work. It was stuffy. We opened windows. It was OK. The disadvantage is that it faces railroad depot and the noise from train did not let us sleep without interruption. Otherwise, staff is friendly and they also offer included continental breakfast in nearby café. Unless the room was booked with hotels.com – then breakfast is not included. But overall we did not like hotel. I wish we would spend more for Hilton or Captain Cook.

In Anchorage we went to the stores and explored the city. It has small downtown and very friendly city with many flowers. People are very friendly. The weather was very good. We went to Alaska Experience in downtown. The quality is not that good of the movie and we also saw the movies on cruise so it was not that exciting although the video of glaciers when they flow to fjords is impressive.

We also went to 5th avenue mall but we are not much of a shoppers. We had lunch in Snow Goose brewery and it was good pub food.

For dinner we went to Marx Brothers café recommended by Fodors, Frommers and our cruise reps in Anchorage. But the restaurant has only 14 tables and it was booked. They recommended Sacks Café and we had nice dinner there. We could not eat much and took leftovers with us for next day lunch in apartment.

July 13 

We did not have much to see any more so we just walked in the park, went to Ulu factory down by the river and bought Ulu knife. http://www.ulufactory.com 

We also walked to the bridge where you can spot salmon however we did not see any. But we had nice walk, pretty flowers everywhere. The weather was still perfect. Hopefully we have it all day before we go to airport in the evening. 

Final thoughts.

Mariner is a beautiful ship. I keep comparing it with other ships – Seadream and Windsurf which we liked. It is the largest ship so far we sailed and it is very nice. More things to do without mass of people. Easy to embark/disembark and go to ports. In the center there are glass elevators which also allow beautiful views..  There is casino and 2 floor theaters. 

We had very high expectations and Mariner fulfilled it. It was just perfect. The crew was terrific, with preemptive service which you would expect from luxury cruise line.

What I liked about ship that it was spacious and you did not see many people. Sometimes you walk in the lounges, hallways, elevators and there were not many people so you wonder “where is everybody?”. The ship flies under French flag. The crew is British and service people are from Phillipines. I think Philipines are the best for service. Chefs were French.