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by Shirley Linde

One of the new trends in cruising is ‘Drive and Cruise’ with cruise ships having itineraries that start not just from a few major US ports but from coastal cities all over the US, allowing people to cruise from a location near them. It’s easier, less time-consuming and makes for simple planning. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, for example, which cruises Alaska, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, now has cruises originating from Tampa and Palm Beach, as well as their departures from Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Los Angeles.  

We took the cruise from Tampa on the Seven Seas Navigator, a seven-day roundtrip cruise going to Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Key West. It began with a v.i.p. lunch in which Mark Conroy, president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas, presented a plaque to the Tampa Port Authority, and the Port presented a plaque to Seven Seas and the captain of the Navigator Fausto Chegia. 

Seven Seas Navigator is a 490-passenger vessel built in 1999.  Staterooms range from 300 sq. ft. to a 1,100 sq. ft. suite. Each has a walk-in closet, individual temperature control, and marble bathroom with separate shower and tub, and 90 percent have a balcony for private enjoyment of sea views and easy access to balmy sea air. Each has bathrobes and a hairdryer and a tv with news, movies, and shore excursion information. There are four wheelchair-accessible staterooms, several adjoining staterooms, and some can have a third passenger. There are self-serve washers and dryers on several decks for passengers to use when needed. 

There is excellent artwork throughout the ship and interior design is high quality. The show lounge entrance was dramatic with pinlight stars stretching forever in infinity mirrors.  Walls in public areas were covered in a warm suede-like material that Hotel Director Jan Novak said was a product called alcantara from Italy. 

Some staterooms came with butler service. It was very nice to have him, in dark suit and vest, arrive every afternoon with fresh mini-bar supplies and snacks to keep us from starving before the next sumptuous meal.  

There are several dining options. The Compass Rose Restaurant was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with open seating … eat when you want, with whomever you want … and with many choices including vegetarian. We usually had breakfast and lunch in the Portofino Grill that had a many-choices buffet, friendly service, and a great aft deck for eating outside when the ship was in port. There was a lighter lunch at the pool. The Portofino also offered Italian specialties for dinner. Or you could have any meal day or night served in your cabin. Tea was served every afternoon. Midnight buffets are no longer offered, which was fine because we were overeating already. A high favorite dining experience was the barbecue Sunday night on the pool deck, a huge selection of various foods that included everything from a roast pig to steaks, sushi, vegetable carvings, cakes, pies and ice cream, all topped off with flags and banners stretched across the deck, a gentle breeze, and the band playing from sunset into the night.  

The library has 10 computers with internet access at reasonable rates (my bill was about $20 for the week). 

There is one formal night, one semi-formal, and the rest of the nights are casual. The second night was the formal Captain’s Welcoming Reception and Dinner.  

Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket for the dining room and show lounge. The ship was kept very cool; in fact, one night I wore a green beach towel as a shawl to keep warm in my green silk outfit.

Ours was the first of a series of Regent Seven Seas calls from Tampa. The series includes a cruise from Palm Beach to Tampa, two seven-day roundtrip Tampa voyages, and a 10-day Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale itinerary. The 10-day cruises also go to Port Antonio, Jamaica; San Andres, Colombia; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; and Colon, Panama.

All of the new close-to-home cruises offered two-for-one fares to celebrate the new itineraries, and the Thanksgiving cruise focused on family groups with two programs: one for ages 6-11 and the other for ages 12-17.

Guests on our cruise ranged in age from a 9-month old baby to several pre-teens and teenagers and two veteran cruisers in their 90s. There was a group of 23 from Canada who were members of garden clubs.

Almost everyone used the services of the fitness room (free instruction sessions) and the Judith Jackson Sea Spa and Salon (expensive) where you could have various massages, reflexology, facials, aromatherapy, thalassotherapy, sauna and steam baths. I chose the deep tissue anti-cellulite massage with cajput, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, juniper, parsley, and fennel followed by rosemary, lemon, and thyme oil. (You usually leave the oils on for the rest of the day, so I smelled as good as dinner that night.) Fitness classes were held for several hours every day and ranged from stretching and aerobics to upper and lower body toning. There are five elevators if you are too tired to use the stairs to get back to your cabin.

Days at sea offered archeology lectures, computer classes, bridge, bingo; nighttime entertainment included high-quality lounge shows, a comedian and a violinist. There was a pianist in one bar, a band in the show lounge, and a duo in a smaller lounge. Two dance hosts were available for dancing. A medium-sized casino had slots and tables and was open afternoons and evenings when the ship was not in port.

Not many of the Navigator guests were snorkelers or divers, but those who were had some excellent opportunities. All of our ports had excellent opportunities with clear waters and good viewing. Grand Cayman, for example, has more than 400 species of fish and more than 100 species of coral. Snorkeling is great along the shore with close-in reefs both at Seven Mile Beach and East End. Dive boats are available for farther-out reefs, and there is also a submarine bubble that takes just two passengers that allows a new viewing experience. Please, folks, don’t touch the coral.

Most passengers just enjoyed the beaches or wandered through the towns, sampling local food or beer, and shopping. They ate rum cake, conch (pronounced konk, if you don’t want to sound like a tourist) and jerk chicken, and sipped rum and coconut drinks. They bought shell crafts or Caymanite jewelry in Grand Cayman (a dolomite semi-precious stone formed many millions of years ago and made into jewelry of many colors), silver in Cozumel, and tropical clothes and decorative stuff in Key West.

Unfortunately because of high winds we were not able to go into the port of Majahual, a less developed area in the Costa Maya region.

In Key West first-timers took the conch train or trolley for an overall tour. But even if you have been there several times, there are still some places you may not have seen and are worth checking out. The Audubon House is a restful stop where you can tour the 19th Century house and gardens where Audubon lived and worked for a short time (plants in the gardens were used in many of his bird paintings), and the historic old Custom House which just opened two years ago as a museum has excellent paintings as well as historical exhibits on pirates that roamed nearby waters and the wreckers who lived here, as well as Ernest Hemingway original manuscripts. There are walking tours and maps available if you want to take a tour of the diverse architecture or want to focus on art galleries, or you can just walk the city and see Hemingway’s house, the house where Truman lived for a while, and other interesting old wooden homes. The most popular shops are along Duval Street and the side streets along it. Shopping opportunities ran from high-end art galleries to Mel Fisher’s museum of wreck treasure to pink flamingos and other bargains. If you become overwhelmed, you can always just buy something in the ship boutiques.

The ship overnighted in port at both Cozumel and Key West which gave passengers an opportunity to stroll the streets and see the night life in both places. Many also stayed overnight or several days to enjoy the beaches and attractions in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area or to check out Orlando theme parks after the cruise.

Cruise fare included all shipboard gratuities, wine with dinner, soft drinks throughout, and a mini-bar supply. The ship can be chartered for film crews or corporate meetings-at-sea.

The Tampa-departure cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean are usually in November and December.  

Other ships in the fleet are the 700-guest all-balcony Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner, and the 320-guest Paul Gauguin in the South Pacific.

 Book a Regent Seven Seas cruise click here.

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