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Mike Hollsten

Age: 46

Occupation:Civil Service

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Imperial Majesty

Ship: Regal Empress

Sailing Date: December 12th, 2007

Itinerary: Bahamas

After reading all the reviews on the Regal Empress I was a little apprehensive about booking this trip. I must say I was pleasantly surprised and in my opinion all the negative reviews are undeserved. For a quick two night escape this cruise is hard to beat.

I booked the cruise to celebrate my wedding anniversary, sailing on 12 Dec 08. My wife and I got engaged onboard 20 years ago when the Regal Empress was the Caribe I sailing under the Commodore Cruise Lines flag. I discovered she was still sailing by accident when web surfing for information on the old SS Norway (which sadly is being broken-up in India). When I called Imperial Majesty to book the cruise the agent was very helpful in helping us select a cabin. He had information on cabin size and layout which made the decision much easier as the ship plans from the IM web site are hard to decipher. We settled on M24, a Cat 3 cabin on the main deck. We also purchased the cruise protection plan for $19 each which allows you to reschedule your cruise for any reason if the need arises. Be prepared to pay $30 per person for a fuel surcharge which they don't mention when you book.

We flew into Ft Lauderdale the day prior and stayed the night at the Ramada Inn near the airport which had a shuttle to pick us up at the airport and drop us off at the port the next day. We arrived at the port about 1130 but couldn't board the ship until 1pm. Probably because it was between the holidays and mid-week there weren't many passengers waiting so the lines were quite short. I found out later there were only about 300 passengers that trip. We left our bags with the porters inside the terminal and the bags were already in our cabin when we boarded. Before boarding you also have the opportunity to upgrade your cabin or purchase their "gourmet dining" option, we passed on both.

We were met at the top on the gangway by a crew member and escorted directly to our cabin. As a previous reviewer pointed out this was a "classy" touch. With 12 categories of cabins you have a lot options. The lowest categories are inside cabins with upper/lower singles on B and A decks up to Admiral Suites with private verandas and hot tubs. Our cabin had a double bed as well as lower and upper singles and 2 large portholes. The bathroom was fairly large with a shower (soap and shampoo provided). Storage was more than sufficient with four large hanging cabinets with integral drawers in additional to a desk/chair and TV. While the décor and furnishings are dated and somewhat worn, we found it very clean, comfortable and everything functioned properly.

We also experienced the seemly incessant announcements but only the afternoon immediately after boarding. We attended the "mandatory" welcome aboard briefing (it's not) in the Grand Lounge to get information on shore excursions since we'd never been to Nassau.

After checking out our cabin we explored the ship and gradually made our way up to the lunch buffet being served on the aft Promenade deck by the pool. I expected to find a somewhat tired and smelly old ship. Instead what I saw was a meticulously maintained and preserved vessel that doesn't reflect 54 years of service. The wood was all smoothly varnished, the teak decks immaculate, the brass shinned and rust was virtually non-existent. I also couldn't detect any "old boat smell". I know the ship has been through many upgrades and refits over its life but I still felt like I was walking back in time and I couldn't help but reflected on the history of this fine ship.

We only ate at the buffet the first day but it was very good with a decent selection of fresh items both hot and cold. We at in the Caribbean dining room for the rest of our meals and again we concur with previously reviewers who rated the experience outstanding. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all on par or exceeded what we experienced on other cruises. The dining room staff sang happy anniversary to us in many accents and we enjoyed a complimentary cake (I must have mentioned it when I booked). With more than enough to eat we skipped the late night buffets.

The passengers varied in age from 20s to seniors but I judged the majority to middle aged and only a few children again owing to the mid-week itinerary. The usual onboard activities were there like bingo, horse racing, casino and a nightly song and dance show. I would rate the entertainment as fair. They were mostly eastern European but they I give them credit for trying hard and we still enjoyed ourselves. Dress for diner was casual (no jeans or shorts) the first night and "casual elegant" the next night for the Captain's dinner. For the men I would leave your coat and tie at home and wear some nice slacks and a collared shirt, ladies will be comfortable in a casual dress or pants.

We arrived in Nassau right on time at 9am just ahead of two other ships which made us look small in comparison at the dock. I must say though that the Regal Empress looked classy next to those generic floating boxes! We took the glass bottom boat tour which was ok but the reef and fish didn't really impress us much. If I had it to do again I would take a cab over to Paradise Island and visit Atlantis or just walk around town and take in the sights by foot. As it is, there is plenty to do and not enough time to see everything so plan ahead before you start the cruise. Be on the watch for con artists when walking around Nassau. I got taken for $10 when a women approached me and place a band of beads on my wrist before I could say anything. She then asked for a donation for the "children" who made the jewelry. You may also get asked if you want "bud" or "Cuban cigars". It's probably the same in many other cruise destinations but just keep your guard up.

The final day after an early breakfast in the dining room we went on deck to watch our arrival back to Port Everglades at 830am. Disembarking went smoothly although a man in front of me had an expired passport and therefore got a lot of grief from the customs officer. We were off by 10am and quickly got a cab to the airport to catch our 1245 flight home. The cab ride was about 10min and cost around $12.

In summary, this cruise far exceeded our expectations and we had a great time. We loved the intimacy of a smaller ship without all the bells and whistles and rock climbing walls of larger vessels. The ship is superbly maintained and the food and service are excellent all around. It's sad to think that the Regal Empress won't be around for our 40th anniversary. I guess we'll have to go again next year!


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