How could a four-day cruiser possibly fit into the last leg of an epic round-the-world cruise? With ease, as it happens, thanks to sociable passengers, extraordinary excursions and crew members who went out of their way to make guests feel welcome
When Regent Seven Seas first suggested I join their World Cruise on Voyager for a few days from Israel to Italy, I must admit, I was a little apprehensive.
Not because of the destinations – though the disturbances at the Syrian border in May did prompt me to check with them that the itinerary was still on – but because I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in.
After all, the world cruisers (96 of them) had been on this ship since December, and most were staying on till it docked in Southampton.
They’d obviously have already formed their cliques, and got to know each other well, and so why on earth would they want to meet me, a mere four-day cruiser?
Those feelings were confirmed when I first got on board at Ashdod (Tel Aviv) and found myself surrounded by doors adorned in fridge magnets, photos and plaques saying “World Cruise 2011.” It was slightly intimidating.
As it happened, I needn’t have worried. From the moment I ventured outside for a breath of fresh air, I had company. I think I got lucky in that I met possibly the most sociable person on this cruise – a lovely lady from New Jersey called Fran, who was escorting her niece and fiancé on their pre-wedding honeymoon from Dubai to Rome, and who introduced me to so many people, all of whom were friendly and welcoming, and all of whom had a story to tell.
The other misconception that I had was that the average age would be at least 70, made up of recent (or not so recent) retirees who were enjoying a oncein- a-lifetime experience.
When dining that first evening with Chief Purser Neal Sibal, I met another couple: Chick, who is 50, and his wife Sue, 43, from Newcastle. They are currently on their fifth world cruise.
There was also the young couple from Southampton, Andy and Lucy, who had got married a few days earlier and who were doing the Dubai to Rome leg of the trip. They were loving it – and they’d never set foot on a cruise ship before.In fact, some passengers love it so much they never get off, such as ex-US Navy Captain Jablin, who is now entering his fifth year on board
I think the friendliness I was so pleasantly surprised to find must have been something to do with the vibe on board after so many days at sea, which was largely down to the incredibly friendly and attentive crew.
The day before I got on, there was an auction for the crew welfare, a fund-raiser to help families back home and pay for crew excursions and the like, which raised $22,000. That’s no mean sum between 700-odd guests: as well as being a testament to the guests’ generosity, it’s a reflection of how well they regard the crew.
Another example, coming back from our day trip to Galilee and the Golan Heights (see box, page 78): we got off the bus to be greeted with a red carpet to the gangway flanked by the crew on either side, all clapping and cheering like we were movie stars, a band playing and a banner saying ‘Welcome Home’ – rather than ‘Welcome Back’ – which in itself spoke volumes about how the world cruiser must regard this ship after more than 150 days at sea. The crew also laid on a great show for us a couple of days later (see below).
Nothing was too much trouble for the crew. I mentioned in passing to General Manager Ralph de Klijn that I had no dining arrangements for my last evening, and lo and behold, that evening an invitation arrived in my suite.
I wanted a newspaper from home that was not on the list of ones available, but Reception tracked it down, printed it off and it was in my suite an hour later. It’s these little touches that make a cruise.
Wines, champagnes and gourmet food
I was in a standard (deluxe) suite, but there was nothing standard about it. It was the biggest suite I had been in on a ship – 306 sq ft with a 50 sq ft balcony, a walk-in wardrobe, huge double bed, sitting area and bathroom with bath, stuffed with toiletries including L’Occitane (superior suites get Hermès as well).
A complimentary bottle of champagne was waiting for me and, moments after my arrival, Cristina, my chambermaid, greeted me with a handshake and a big smile.
I also had numerous invitations to dine with officers in the two speciality restaurants on board, Prime 7 and Signatures.
Signatures is the Cordon Bleu restaurant, with beautifully presented and exquisitely tasty food. Call me a philistine, but my palate is more adjusted to straight-up, no-nonsense cooking, and I was drawn to the monster steaks of Prime 7. Incidentally, there is no extra charge for either of these restaurants, like almost everything else with Regent, including shore excursions.
And this to me – and indeed everyone I spoke to – is one of the big appeals of ultra-luxury cruising. It may be pricier upfront, but the fact that you never have to sign for anything at any point really makes for a relaxing experience that’s well worth the extra initial cost.
There is no extra charge for either of the speciality restaurants, like almost everything else with Regent, including shore excursions
My dining companion at Prime 7, Food and Beverage Manager Davor Josipovic, explained how USDA meat is flown in to arrive at every port to ensure consistency and quality.
I mentioned to him that I was disappointed I had missed the winery tour in Golan and so had not had the chance to try Israeli wine, and when I got back to my suite there was a bottle waiting for me from his own personal cellar, another very nice touch.
There are five main dining options: the two aforementioned; Compass Rose, the main dining room; the Verandah and the Pool Deck.
Compass Rose is where they mix up the menu depending on where in the world you are, to keep it fresh and local; and the other two are more relaxed and outdoors, ideal for the solo traveller.
Taking to the stage
I may have missed the auction, but I most certainly wasn’t going to miss the farewell party for those people who were disembarking at Rome.
The show, entitled Krew Kapers, is a chance for guests to see crew out of context – not the paid entertainers, but the people who serve you a drink or clean your suite – having a lot of fun on stage.
Captain Paolo Scala, a charming Sicilian, said a few heartfelt words about how much he enjoyed captaining the ship, and how much he had enjoyed meeting so many people, then he turned it over to the crew.
We were treated to dances from Bali and the Philippines, interspersed with Michael Jackson medleys and some hearfelt singing from various musicals.
Then the entire crew from housekeeping to engineering to restaurant staff, chefs, bar staff, the people who work in the laundrette and front of house came on stage to take a well-deserved bow, which was very touching, especially for those people who had got to know each other over the course of almost half a year.
Speaking of which, I got to chatting to a man called Jeff who runs a company called Luggage Free who was on board to help the world cruisers ship all the things they had accumulated back home. I asked him what constituted a lot of luggage and hazarded a guess at 20 or so pieces. He told me that on this cruise one woman had accumulated 48 pieces of luggage. But that’s not the record – not by a long shot: the largest number of pieces of luggage he has ever shipped back for one person is 106 suitcases. The woman in question bought the suite next to her just to store her stuff.
Great tales, and I felt privileged to share even just a tiny part of them on my short but memorable trip.
✽ Itinerary Ashdod (Tel Aviv), Haifa, Sorrento (Naples)