Occupation:Real Estate Broker
Number of Cruises: 19
Cruise Line: Imperial Majesty
Ship: Regal Empress
Sailing Date: August 16th, 2007
Looking for a short Bahamas break on a classic cruise ship? The Regal Empress may be just for you, offering the only 2-night cruises available year-round from south Florida. However, if you’re looking for a big, glitzy mega-ship with atriums, water parks, and rock-climbing, you WON’T be happy. Being a lover of older ships, I went specifically to experience the last opportunity to do so in North American waters.
I sailed Thursday, August 16 for a friend’s birthday. We both live in the Fort Lauderdale area, so it was only a 15 minute drive to the Port. Parking is available for $12 per day.
Built in 1953 as the Greek Line’s Olympia, and later Commodore Cruise Line’s Caribe I, the Regal Empress is the oldest ship in the North American cruise market. But that shouldn’t discourage cruisers who would like to experience cruising the way it used to be, before behemoth balconied ships became the norm. The Empress definitely doesn’t have a lot of the amenities of the newer vessels, but her remaining charming details and her hard-working crew more than make up for it, in my opinion.
Embarkation went pretty smoothly. There were no porters outside the terminal to assist with luggage; rather IMCL had personnel inside to take whatever luggage you didn’t wish to carry onboard. The Embarkation Card and Onboard Credit forms are available on the Imperial Majesty website and should be printed off and filled in prior to embarkation. We received our onboard charge card, and then proceeded to the Maitre d’s desk in the terminal to receive our dining room assignment. Although the ship was almost full, paid upgrades to higher cabin categories and suites were also advertised as available at check-in. “Imperial Gourmet Dining” was also advertised at $25 with a “5-star menu and exclusive seating area.”
Once onboard the ship, we were immediately greeted by a steward, who personally escorted us to our cabin. This was a nice touch that has all but disappeared at all but the premium cruise lines.
Cabin U-23, located on Upper Deck, is a Category 4 outside cabin. It was very adequate in size, with an oddly-placed porthole (in the very corner of the cabin wall). The cabin was very basically furnished but featured a TV and huge amounts of storage space. The décor was from the 1983 refit as Caribe I. The bathroom was small and old, but adequate. Basic soap and shampoo were offered as amenities. And we had a REAL cabin key, not a plastic card! I wouldn’t recommend the cabins on A Deck and B Deck, some of which are VERY small located in the bowels of the ship.
Probably the most annoying aspect of the trip was the incessant announcements. There was no way to turn off the speaker in the cabin. Also, the Welcome Aboard talk held in the Grand Lounge was announced as “mandatory” when clearly it is not.
The Regal Empress is a combination of her old, original self with layers of subsequent renovations. While I’m sure it would displease some, I found it fascinating. Sections of the vessel had beautiful wood and brass. The staircases were simply beautiful, although like the rest of the ship, clearly showed 50+ years of hard use.
The stunning Caribbean Dining Room is undoubtedly the showplace of the ship – with beautifully-preserved etched-glass panels, original artwork and wood. Basically it is unchanged except for the dining-room chairs.
Which brings me to the food: wow! I’ve been on 20 cruises (four this year) and the Regal Empress was by far one of the best. The cuisine offered put many higher-priced cruise lines to shame. Everything was clearly fresh and carefully-prepared. I had the catch of the day to test this…fish being a notoriously difficult thing to prepare in quantity. It was delivered piping-hot, and perfectly-cooked. The beef offered the following night was the same. While I didn’t eat breakfast either day, I had lunch while in Nassau, and it was quite adequate.
The only other option for food onboard is La Trattoria…a small buffet line on Promenade Deck. Once again, while it didn’t offer the sheer quantity of food on a larger ship, everything was of exceptional quality. On the first night, an Italian Buffet was offered around 11 p.m., on the second night, it was a Latin Fiesta theme. During the afternoon small snacks such as meatballs and cocktail wieners were also available on deck, very modest offerings on Styrofoam plates.
Other public rooms on the ship include the Grand Lounge, the pitiful Mirage Disco (which should be renovated and put to another use, in my opinion), the Art-Deco-ish Commodore Lounge (the loveliest room on the ship) and the 1980’s glitzy Mermaid Lounge. Clearly dating from the Regal Empress’ days as the Caribe I, the Mermaid features a chrome ceiling, big skylight, and glass-block fronted bar. A well-attended Karaoke was offered here each night. Also onboard are a good-sized casino and two modest shops. On deck are an aptly-named “Splash Pool” and two small whirlpools.
Being in some ways the “underdog” of the cruise industry, Imperial Majesty Cruise Line has emphasized the onboard service and cuisine, both of which were a nice reminder of the way cruising used to be. The classic atmosphere of the ship and the size of the vessel were nice as well.
The Regal Empress is in Nassau from 9 a.m. to about 5:30 the second day, offering the usual shore excursions to Cable Beach, an all-inclusive package at Breezes Resort, etc. I simply got off the ship and walked around the dock. Our fellow cruise passengers were mostly first-timers who were overwhelmed by the size of the giant ships all around us. The Regal Empress seemed positively Lillipultian docked with the Carnival Glory, Disney Wonder, Sensation, and Imagination. And our little ship got some odd and superior smirks from the masses of humanity walking back to their bigger, glitzier vessels.
If you’re looking to cruise without a major investment of time or money, and if you like a very modest ship with great food and service, you might want to consider the Regal Empress. But hurry…with new SOLAS regulations going into effect, the Regal Empress will be retired in October, 2010.
If you’re looking for more information on the Regal Empress, you might want to look at www.maritimematters.com, which has several excellent profiles of the ship with pictures.