Posted by: cruise2 | 28 July, 2007

Ship Review REGAL EMPRESS

Regal Empress is a ship that needs no introduction to most passenger ship lovers so I am not going to bother with a full description of her interiors or her history.
The ship herself is what is generally referred to as a market bottom-feeder – an older ship offering bare-bones budget cruises for mostly neophyte passengers who will hopefully enjoy their cruise experience enough to tempt a longer cruise on a more luxurious ship.
The little ship is the last of a breed of older cruise ships that popularized cruising in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A former tourist class transatlantic liner turned cruise ship with extremely limited facilities compared to what is offered on the mega ships of to-day,
but one that has a distinctive charm and character the modern ships can’t match, and ultimately, one that feeds her passengers well, houses them in relatively comfortable accommodation, and despite not having too many bells and whistles, still manages to give them a good time. And at the end of the day, what more can you ask for?
Unfortunately Regal Empress does get a bit of flack on internet sites, mainly from passengers who booked through a timeshare holiday scheme that perhaps promised them a lot more than what the ship is capable of delivering in terms of hardware. Imperial Majesty Cruises itself is not to blame for this – its marketing of the ship is fairly
honest, and the passengers who book directly with it are the ones who usually leave the most satisfied.
So there I was a while standing on the pier at Port Everglades terminal 4. I’d just finished having an argument with a security guard who wouldn’t let me take a photo of the ship from the terminal parking lot. He said it was illegal to take photos of the terminal areas, and didn’t react to kindly when I suggested that if that was the case, he had better go onboard the ships and arrest allthe embarked passengers who were very evidently taking photos ofthose same terminal facilities, but from a better vantage point. You can’t win an argument against the dock fascists nowadays, so before the situation became more difficult, I went into the terminal and checked in.
The warm, glowing woodwork of the Regal Empress’s embarkation foyer was a world away from the glitz and glamour of the modern cruise ship. A steward led me to my cabin, U90, a wonderful room with neoEdwardian wood panelling that was once part of the tourist class cardroom. The room had a large, very comfortable king-sized bed, and
after 34 hours flying from Singapore, I lay down briefly just to tryit out. Three hours later I was woken up by announcements for the boat drill.
That event completed, I went up on deck to watch us pull out of the port. Docked next door to Regal Empress at right angles was Princess’s giant Coral Princess. What is with those two Boeing 737 early generation engines welded onto her funnel? astern of her was SeaEscape’s diminutive gambling ship Island Adventure, while off on the other side of the port was Seven Seas Mariner. A quiet day in Port Everglades.
We set sail promptly at 5pm and headed off into a calm Caribbean Sea.
I took time to explore Regal Empress and take in her wonderful atmosphere. She oozes old-world charm for the most part. Imperial Majesty has done some refitting since taking her over from Regal Cruises in 2004, although not all has been in sympathy with the original décor.
The cinema is awful, the showroom bland, but all this is more than made up for by rooms such as the Commodore Club, the Mermaid Lounge, the dining room (which unfortunately inherited the chairs off the old Ocean Breeze), and all the wonderful foyers and staircases.
The ship’s indoor and outdoor promenade decks, and the tiered aft decks are truly delightful, my favourite spot being the small covered outdoor deck just aft of the showroom.
All in all the ship is in remarkably good condition for a 54-year old liner, and I found her maintenance to be of a much higher standard than when I last sailed in her under Regal Cruises ownership in 2000.
Knowing that jetlag would overcome me sooner rather than later in the evening, I booked the first sitting dinner. The passengers at my table were all Regal Empress veterans, one of whom has sailed in the ship over twenty times since Imperial put her on the short cruise run to the Bahamas. There were many regular passengers on board, so the
dining room had lots of happy reunions between crew and passengers.
The ship’s crew are all long-serving veterans and work together as one big happy family, led by the very charming hotel manager, Alain Chabot, who has worked on board since her Commodore days. It is this kind of personal touch that is sadly missing on the big ships.
The cuisine was superb – on par, if not better than any of the mass market lines.
Entertainment is where the budget nature of Regal Empress’s cruise shows itself. There was a troupe of excellent East-European singers and dancers for the shows, but the two-man show band backing them up lacked the necessary oomph, although the talent was there. Similarly, there is no longer a band in the Mermaid Lounge, which nowadays is used mainly for Karaoke. A Latin band and singer did perform in the evenings out by the swimming pool and were generally very well received. Unfortunately the pianist in the Commodore lounge had for the most part only the bar tender and waitress for an audience as the room was largely deserted during my cruise.
I rounded up the evening with a slice of pizza from the expansive midnight buffet and then went to catch up on lost sleep.
The next morning I was up early to watch our approach into Nassau, where we tied up in front of Carnival’s Fascination at around 9am. I spent the morning at the forward end of the promenade deck photographing the parade of arriving cruise ships, all of which
performed a nice pirouette in front of Regal Empress before backing into their berths. First to arrive was Celebrity’s Millennium, followed then by Carnival’s Elation, which made a brief half-hour call to unload a medical emergency. The giant Explorer of the Seas arrived next, followed by the very attractive-looking Radiance of the Seas. Once Elation departed, the Sovereign of the Seas arrived, completing the list of visiting cruise ships for the day. Downtown Nassau, as you can well imagine, was a very tight squeeze with all he visiting cruise passengers. I took a brief stroll around the
downtown area before spending the rest of the afternoon enjoying Regal Empress’s lido deck. So many large ships were making my mind boggle.
We sailed from Nassau at 5pm, and once again I enjoyed a splendid meal in the dining room. The night passed far too quickly.
The next morning I was up early. After a quick breakfast on deck, I went up forward to watch our 9am arrival into Port Everglades. We passed closely by outbound Discovery Sun before entering the port. Visitors for the day included Costa Magica, Costa Mediterranea, Caribbean Princess, Carnival Liberty, Millennium, Radiance of the Seas and Westerdam. I was one of the first passengers off the ship as I had to rush down to Miami in time for lunch on board Oceania’s Regatta. I have sailed many times in Regatta’s sistership Pacific Princess, and it was interesting to see how even more beautiful this class of ship can be when some money is splurged on them. Regatta is proof that it is little things that make the difference.
Summing up my Regal Empress experience, I have to say she is not a ship for cruise snobs who insist on a luxury ship. If you take her for what she is – a well-run 53-year old tourist class liner that is being used on a budget cruise service, then you will enjoy yourself immensely. I certainly did. Go sooner rather than later as this ship ould make that one way voyage to Alang for scrapping at the drop of a hat.Reproduced with kind permission of Jonathan Boonzaier

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