Six-Star Sailing to Bermuda
Passengers aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator experience the ultimate in luxury and service
By Karen NorthridgeIf you are like me, the days counting down to a vacation are hectic. The planning. The excitement. The shopping. The excitement. My pre-trip lists grow every day until I leave home, when all those urgent preparations give way to doing, seeing and relaxing.
In the summer of 2005, my husband, son and I were eager to spend a few days in New York City to take in the blur and buzz of the city before boarding a Bermuda-bound ship. Ever-intense Manhattan is not the place to unwind. So, though I thoroughly enjoyed all there is to do in that great city, my pre-vacation frenzy was prolonged until the moment I set foot on the Seven Seas Navigator of Regent Seven Seas and heard the peaceful serenade of water lapping the hull. It is one of the world's most soothing sounds, and for me, proves that life aboard a cruise ship is better.
Just writing these words makes my eyes glaze over at the memories of those seven days in June. I can still recall the crisp linen and down duvet wrapping the king-size bed. I can smell the fragrant, fresh-cut roses atop our suite's dining table and almost taste the warm canapes presented each evening by the butler, Nor.
Nor made life on the Navigator so easy, so effortless on so many occasions. Ordinarily, I would not know how to enlist the services of a butler, but Nor made that easy, too. Our decision to host a cocktail party in our suite is a perfect example of his abilities. A single call to Nor was all it took to stage a gathering just 24 hours later, complete with full bar, bartender and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. According to a colleague back home, my only mistake was not asking Nor to pen this story for me. I imagine he would have greeted the task with his ever-ready smile and a quick, "my pleasure."
The Navigator is meticulously scrubbed and polished inside and out. One of Regent's three six-star ships, it gleamed in the afternoon sun as we boarded. The all-suite, all-oceanview accommodations are among the roomiest at sea, ranging from 301 square feet to more than 1,173 square feet. Most -- 90 percent -- of the suites include a private balcony. Our suite, at the bow of the ship, was a lovely retreat with a full bath, a powder room, king-size bed in the bedroom plus a pullout bed under a sofa. Despite mumbled complaints from my husband, the large walk-in closet reaffirmed my decision not to pack too lightly.
The amount of space per passenger in the Navigator's public areas is generous, too. You won't find lines at the buffet or a shortage of lounge chairs by the pool. At most, the Navigator carries 490 passengers in its 245 suites, which places it at the small end of the large-ship category. Like its larger counterparts, the Navigator offers a full menu of activities, amenities and amusements with the added intimacy and personal attention that only come with one of the highest crew-to-passenger ratios at sea.
The officers, commanded by Capt. Alfredo Romeo, and an international crew of 324 representing 30 nations, aim to exceed expectations -- and they do. Early in the trip, I broke one of the arms of my reading glasses and mentioned it to our cabin stewardess, who contacted her assistant, Eddie, who fixed them. The ship's officers and crew are approachable, or what we call in Texas, just plain friendly. Want a tour of the bridge or the galley? Just ask -- if it's not already planned, it will be soon.
The intimacy of a smaller ship also provides opportunities for passengers to bond. After you see the same people on the stairs, on the treadmills or in the library, conversations flow naturally. Acquaintances become friends at the Internet center, in the fitness center, around the pool, just about anywhere on the ship. It has a casual, clublike atmosphere. Sipping coffee in the Navigator lounge one afternoon, a small group gathered and we compared personal histories, past cruise experiences and plans ashore in Bermuda. My son, a teenager not thrilled about traveling with his parents as his companions, found the only other teen on board and later made friends with a group of adults at the pingpong table. As it turns out, the pingpong-playing travelers first met on a previous Navigator voyage.
Dining is yet another social activity. The elegant Compass Rose restaurant features open seating each night. Tables are not assigned, and passengers can dine when they wish. We often chose to join a large table where we could meet interesting people. By day, the indoor/outdoor Portofino Grill offers a casual breakfast and lunch buffet, but by night, it is transformed into an intimate Italian restaurant where reservations are required. Complimentary wines are poured in both dining venues.
We found plenty of planned activities, too, from instruction in golf and bridge to computer workshops. On-board lecturers complement each voyage's itinerary. On this cruise, we heard from Lt. Col. Brendan Hollis, one of Bermuda's leading historians; PGA golf pro Frank Thomas; and Dr. Fred Chernow, author of "The Sharper Mind."
Deck 12, site of the spa and fitness center, was one of our regular stops from the first day. While some cruise lines allow passengers to book salon and spa appointments online before their vacation, Regent is not one of them. So, soon after boarding, we smugly raced to the spa to schedule treatments on the ever-popular at-sea days. It was only later that we realized there was no need to rush. On this cruise, the spa was not crowded, and there seemed to be enough availability to satisfy demand.
The fitness center, though small, was well-equipped and well-used and offered a great view of the sea. It had treadmills and stationary bikes and enough weight-training equipment for most of us. On days at sea, morning was the busiest time in the fitness center, but the hours before, during and after lunch were not as popular. Many passengers also took advantage of the full schedule of trendy health classes like sunrise yoga and mat Pilates.
The Navigator's two-tiered Seven Seas show lounge hosts lectures, movies and stage productions. The first night's entertainment was a special screening of the movie "After the Sunset," featuring the Navigator in a starring role alongside Pierce Brosnan and Woody Harrelson. Other evenings offered a variety of productions by the ship's well-trained and stylish performing group, the Peter Grey Terhune Singers and Dancers. The ever-friendly Aussie Donald Cant thrilled audiences with his portrayal of the Phantom of the Opera. And comedian Eddie Capone miraculously managed to stay on the right side of that dangerously thin line between hilariously funny and so-true-it's-insulting with his unscripted dialogue with the audience.
As much as I enjoy time at sea, the chance to visit Bermuda convinced me to choose this itinerary. Three full days there fulfilled a long-held desire to get to know this subtropical archipelago. Bermuda, a nominal British possession, is self-governing. From its Bermuda shorts to the wigs worn by local barristers, Bermuda is British in style with an island twist. Its sidewalks, streets and alleys are clean. Bright white roofs top houses painted crisp shades of blue, pink or yellow. A palette of soft and brilliant colors, gentle breezes, abundant flowers, crystal waters and warm, pink-hued sand wash the island, giving it a sensuous allure. Unlike islands farther south in the Caribbean, Bermuda is tranquil but not languid.
I stood on deck for our arrival at Hamilton, snapping picture after picture and trying to capture the morning light's play across pastel houses, the wind-rippled water and the many boats. Sailboats, ski boats, tugboats, fishing vessels, tour boats and yachts bobbed at anchor in every little cove.
Our ship docked opposite Hamilton's Front Street, where galleries, knickknack shops, inviting restaurants and prestigious boutiques vie for attention. The much-photographed Bird Cage, where a police officer perches above the street to supervise the flow of traffic, marks the spot where Queen Street intersects Front Street and makes a perfect landmark for visitors finding their way around town.
We joined the ship's art director, Handre, and a handful of other passengers for a walking tour of the city's art and architecture. Our guide, the former curator of the Bermuda National Gallery, offered insights into Bermuda's history, culture, art, politics and daily life. We learned how native coral limestone, now too expensive for most construction, was used throughout Bermuda for 350 years. It gives the island's structures the unique, pink color often associated with Bermuda. About 800 historically significant buildings are still standing, a testament to the durability of the hand-hewn stone blocks. The white roof that tops every building -- mandatory today -- is not just a tradition. It is a vital element of Bermuda's water collection system. Because Bermuda has no rivers, freshwater lakes and or significant rainy season, water is scarce. The whitewashed roofs funnel rainwater to underground storage tanks. All private homes and apartments have water tanks to collect this runoff.
We saw a variety of traditional and new building styles during an afternoon bike tour of Bermuda's West End. Taking a ferry from Hamilton to the Royal Naval Dockyard, which itself is a popular destination, we pedaled over country roads to Lagoon Park and the Old Naval Cemetery, then through Somerset Village to the historic Railway Trail. Passing farms and fields, we saw a pastoral quality that I had not associated with Bermuda.
During our ride, the guide explained that the short-lived Bermuda Railway existed for only 17 years and at the time was the most expensive railway per mile in the world. Its demise came as Bermuda's public bus system was developed and private cars were finally allowed on the island's streets. Fortunately, for us, the government converted the railway to a trail that runs the length of Bermuda. Along with the views of turquoise waters and verdant, flower-specked hillsides, my favorite stop on this tour was a tiny chapel, part of the 43-acre Heydon Trust Estate. Three nuns sing a Gregorian chant here twice daily. The chapel is open to all visitors and is accessible through regularly scheduled bus stops nearby.
Seeking the unusual, we took to Bermuda's waters for a helmet dive. The helmets look like something Jules Verne would have conjured. Built of brass, with double glass panes on three sides for viewing, the helmets weigh from 25 to 45 pounds. A hose pumps air inside the helmet, which is open around the neck. As long as we held our heads straight up, the water would not rise above our chins. As a scuba diver, I found the helmet too restrictive, but others on the tour were delighted to be able to walk and breathe underwater, encountering a great variety of marine life.
The dive gave us a tempting taste of Bermuda's clear waters, but we had not yet experienced the famous pink-sand beaches. A taxi driver took us to Horseshoe Bay, part of a string of beaches along the south shore in Southampton Parish. This is the Bermuda of travelogues and "best beach" lists. The sand does have a pinkish hue, and the contrast with turquoise waters and black lava outcroppings makes it a stunning setting.
All beaches in Bermuda are public. However, some can only be accessed from the sea. Horseshoe Bay has easy public access and good facilities for visitors, including a small restaurant. Best of all, there is a series of small coves and beaches, from Horseshoe Bay to Warwick Long Bay, that invite exploring before settling on a favorite spot for your towel.
Early on the third morning of our visit, we left Hamilton and sailed to St. George on the northeast end of Bermuda. The town, now a World Heritage Site, was founded in 1612. As with many of Bermuda's first towns, settlers arrived in St. George when their ship wrecked against treacherous underwater rocks. The new settlers later used the same rocks effectively as a defense against intruders.
The best way to explore St. George is on foot. Walk through the cobbled town square and along narrow streets that pass forts and golf resorts. We stopped at several beaches, noting one where rocks form a shallow pool that permits even the littlest swimmers a safe place to splash. It was from this beach that we first spotted Fort St. Catherine, Bermuda's largest and most famous fort, looming above us. We toured the recently updated museum and then clambered through the fort's tunnels and across a drawbridge to the ramparts that look out across the sea.
From St. George we spent one last full day at sea as we cruised back, stopping first in Norfolk, VA, before pulling into New York's harbor. Amazingly, after just seven days on the Navigator, the city's hubbub had been transformed and toned down.
Or, was it just me?
Information: For information on Regent's six-star ships and itineraries, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in November 2005 . Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.