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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

Radisson Seven Seas Navigator

February 14 - March 19, 2001
Fjording Around Cape Horn &
Adventuring Up the Amazing Amazon

by Gail Koontz

Except for one night spent off the ship, we were on board the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator from February 14 through March 19. The first leg (Fjording Around Cape Horn) was from Callao (Lima) to Buenos Aires and the second (Adventuring up the Amazing Amazon), from Buenos Aires to Manaus. We had never sailed with Radisson before, so I have no way to compare our experience on this particular ship with one on another of their ships - or with a previous cruise on the same ship. On the theory that Crystal ships are comparable, at least in price, I can perhaps make some comparisons with the Crystal Harmony.

Let me say at the outset that we select cruises mainly for the destinations, with the exception of bridge cruises, which we choose to hear the lecturer. In spite of that, we expect good food, a decent cabin, and a helpful crew. We generally "go with the flow." We don't expect Cruise  West to provide luxury cabins or an extensive menu or Celebrity to provide highly individualized services. We've sailed with Royal Olympic, Orient Lines, Celebrity, HAL, Cruise West, and Crystal in the past with only minor complaints; certainly we'd sail with any of them again. (Our last trip with HAL on the Statendam was a disappointment, but I wouldn't conclude that was their new standard without trying at least once more.) Our favorite ship is the Marco Polo. We like almost everything about it: well maintained ship with plenty of deck space; reasonably sized cabins with good beds and adequate storage; great crew, from the ones we see every day on up through the people in charge; well selected and well run excursions; very good food; wonderful port extensions at each end of the cruise.

I'll really try to be fair and include things about the ship that other people might like even though they weren't important to us.

I prefer "classic" decor: medium to dark woods; restrained pattern; quiet colors. We like lots of walking space on deck and don't care much about the pool area, the casino, or the exercise room.  

+ The ship was tastefully decorated, well maintained, and clean. For the most part, I liked the choice of art work. Many of the pictures displayed were available for purchase, something I hadn't noticed on any other ship. There was a nice card room and an adequate library. There is no movie theater, but there is a large collection of movies on tape in the library, and movies are sometimes shown in the main theater.

- The only space for walking/jogging is one level above the pool deck. It's so short that it  takes 11 circuits to make a mile. I heard several passengers complaining about the tiny shops and limited selection of merchandise. This is the noisiest, most unstable ship we've ever sailed on. It doesn't carry many passengers (490 tops) because of the size of the cabins (suites), but it isn't all that small. We had the opportunity to see it docked next to the Norwegian Dream, and there wasn't all that much difference in size. Even in a moderate swell, objects were thrown off of surfaces. One day I picked up the fruit bowl and chased the fruit under the furniture three times before I found a way to corral it. The only time things in the cabin weren't creaking was when the ship was docked. If you have any problem with seasickness (we don't), this isn't the ship for you. 

As long as the beds are good, there is adequate storage, and we can get around the cabin and dress without running into each other we are happy. We seldom want or make use of a balcony. As is happened, there are so few cabins without balconies on this ship that we couldn't get one. Our category D suite was on the 8th floor near the stern.

+ This was the largest cabin we had ever had, and there was a balcony. The decor was boring but tasteful, and the medium wood tones were nice. We liked having curtains between the living and sleeping areas, and there was even a curtain between the beds and the hall/bath/closet area. Our stewardess and her helper kept everything immaculate.

- The cabin creaked constantly. The balcony space was almost useless. (We don't enjoy baking in the sun. We were on the starboard side, and the scenery, if any, was generally on the port side.) Space in the bathroom that I would normally have preferred somewhere else was taken up by an ordinary tub - no Jacuzzi. As it happened, the shower was pretty poor, so I ended up using the tub and flexible hose. There were cracks in the marble floor tiles. There was loose woodwork in the cabin, but nothing worth bothering about. Another passenger in one of the larger Suites said some of their woodwork actually had to be reglued. The shower door fell off. Luckily it fell outward, and my husband was still inside the shower. It was so heavy that otherwise it would have knocked him across the room. A pipe broke, causing a flood in the closet that took over a week to dry out. (And that happened the morning we left for Iguasu Falls. By the time we got back to the ship, the closet reeked. The stewardess had done what she thought was necessary to clean up but didn't realize that no air conditioning could get in with the door closed.) The tub stopped up and required a plumber. The sink leaked into the cabinet underneath and required another plumber. The TV channel that should have allowed us to get ship's announcements didn't work, which  involved a lot of leaping to open the door so we could hear the hall speaker. (Anyway, that's a really stupid way to get announcements. It isn't like flipping a switch that will allow a speaker in your cabin to work. We couldn't leave the TV on and tuned to that channel because of a really annoying music track. With the sound off, we still would have missed the first of every announcement before someone could turn up the sound.) 

We are perfectly happy with cabaret type entertainment and don't require glitzy shows. We both like classical music.

+ The showroom was comfortable, with good views of the stage. All the members of the singing/dancing troupe could actually dance and sing on key. (I mention this because when we were on the Harmony, some of them couldn't.) The orchestra was the best I've run into on any ship. (On the Harmony, they were barely passable.) Imported entertainment was varied and for the most part excellent. We especially enjoyed the classical performances. There were a couple of clunkers, but it's hard to see how that could be prevented. Besides, something I didn't like might be someone else's favorite. The entertainment in the lounges was consistently good.

- Because of the single seating policy, all evening entertainment started at either 9:45 or 10. We are used to going to bed and getting up early, so we really didn't like this schedule.

We play duplicate bridge and like good lecturers. I'm perfectly happy with a book when there is nothing else I particularly want to do.

+ The main lecturer on both legs was Terry Breen, an expert on South America. She was an excellent speaker and stuck strictly to schedule, causing no problems for people who were trying to get to another scheduled activity. There was an anecdotist that most people enjoyed. A nice couple hosted bridge on "at sea" days. Cooking contests staged in the main showroom were really amusing (at least, the first one was; something else interfered with our attendance at the second.)

- Other people enjoyed General Walters, who also gave a series of lectures. I can't comment, because I didn't attend any of them, but he refused to stick to a schedule and ran over pretty much at will. I heard several people comment that they were bored, so perhaps there weren't enough (or the right mix of) activities for some. 

We make few demands on anyone. We don't use room service and don't make a practice of asking for special items just to prove we can.

+ The "working" crew was excellent, almost without exception they were efficient, smiling, and willing to please.

- The "executive staff" appeared indifferent to problems. I had a very expensive digital camera stolen from the show lounge by someone on board. The first reaction was "Well, when the cleaners pick up something in the lounges, they bring it to the desk in the evening." Yes, of course, for a lost lipstick. But a camera someone is going to be frantic about? Finally persuaded that it was truly stolen, the concierge filled out paperwork but offered no other help. (For example, when a fellow passenger put digital pictures of the double rainbow over Cape Horn on a computer in the library and told the concierge how to access them for the benefit of other passengers, it was only by accident I found out from another passenger they were available. The ship's photographers were apparently too lazy to get up and take photographs of Cape Horn, simply offering a murky one from a previous trip.) The powers that be refused to ask fellow passengers for help in the bulletin until it was too late for anyone to remember anything. Only the "gentleman host" who was on our excursion when I discovered my husband had left the camera behind was nice enough to keep us informed about what was being done. 

With all the problems we had in our cabin, no one in charge ever offered compensation of any sort or even an apology. (And I want to assure you that whatever happened we were polite and reasonable, so they didn't avoid talking to us because we were being rude or demanding.) The captain was amusing (his "This is me from the bridge" was a standing joke) but remote. He excused our late arrival into Buenos Aires and Santarem partly by noting that we had to travel upstream against current. Well, duh. Isn't that the usual situation in rivers, especially during the rainy season?! Granted we had left the previous port a bit late because of circumstances not under his control, but another reason we were late to Buenos Aires was that the ship is so unstable it had to be slowed in a minor storm "for the comfort of the passengers." The major reason, other than current, we were late to Santarem was that clearing the ship near the Amazon delta took over 2 hours longer than it was supposed to. As disorganized as the ship's personnel appeared to be, it was probably their fault. And we were really supposed to go to Alter do Chao, not Santarem, but they discovered at the last minute that they couldn't take on water there. The chef, unlike the captain, was often to be seen around the ship in his white chef's hat. Better he should have  been in the kitchen trying to improve the food. Overall it was the worst run ship we've ever been on, a shame when they have such nice stewards and "waitpersons."

We cruise mainly for the ports and in the past have had no reason to mess around with arranging our own excursions. We didn't try that this time either.

+ We had some really great local guides, but that has little to do with the ship. The pre-cruise and mid-cruise excursions to Machu Pichu and Iguasu Falls were great with exception noted below.

- As expensive as the excursions to Machu Pichu and Iguasu Falls were, you would think we would have been provided with bottled water, as we were for other excursions, but we were forced to buy it. On the leg from Lima to Buenos Aires, most of the excursions were expensive and a poor value. On the leg from Buenos Aires to Manaus we were so late into port at Santarem that half the excursions were cancelled and the other half were run in the dark. We skipped the next port entirely. When shopping for handicrafts was indicated, we were generally given almost no time or a really excessive time to do it. The way the excursions were run was incredibly sloppy. Those taking a particular excursion were collected into a lounge generally too small for them all to be seated. From there they were released all at once to jam the stairwell and debarkation area, and often people having no excursions scheduled were allowed to add to the crush. Once we arrived at the lounge 15 minutes early (10 was requested) and found absolutely no one there. When we checked at reception, we were told that was where we were supposed to be, so we went back. Finally someone arrived to tell us that, with no announcement, people had been sent down early. Having a representative from the ship on any particular bus was random and not required. One time when excursions returned all at once and too late for a normal lunch hour, we found that only the Portofino Grill had been left open, causing an enormous line.

We eat well at home. I'm a good cook, and not just meat and potatoes. We make regular use of arugula and balsamic vinegar, and I have an herb garden. When we eat dinner out, it's generally at an ethnic or upscale restaurant. We've love all sorts of foreign food, and we're used to eating "strange" foods like sweetbreads and snails. We only insist that a dish be good of its type. We'd rather eat good barbecue than poor beef Wellington.

+ The free wine selections were good enough that I never noticed anyone ordering wine they had to pay for. We really liked the wine steward, who was both personable and knowledgeable. I had really good nasi goreng at lunch twice - love that stuff! Some salads in the Portofino Grill were very good, especially the seafood salad. (That was probably because it was pretty much solid seafood with nothing added.) I had some good soups. In general, the simpler the dish, the more likely it was to be good. Some people would like having 24-hour room service (and if you don't want to dress for dinner on formal nights, that's all there is), but we never made use of it. Besides the daily offerings at dinner, there is a selection of "classics" always available - including such things as rib eye or filet steaks and Caesar salad. There were decent hot and cold hors d'oeuvres in the lounges, and the service was excellent. For each leg of the trip, we were provided with two bottles of liquor or wine of our choice, a bottle of champagne, some beer, and various cold drinks and bottled water in the suite. The cold drinks and water were replaced as they were used. We would have had to pay for additional alcoholic drinks, but we never actually used up what we had.

- Food in general varied from ordinary to absolutely dreadful. The more complex a dish, the more likely it was to be awful, either badly prepared or accompanied by inappropriate embellishments. I thought the chef was a pretentious twit, and I talked to a number of people who would agree with that. I usually eat seafood most nights on a cruise, but on this one I pretty much gave up on it after a few disappointments. You wouldn't believe how creatively the chef could ruin good fish. For example, a delicate brook trout covered with herbs and crumbs (OK) served over something resembling pumpkin pie filling! I tried lobster twice, and it was dry both times. Switching to red meat wasn't the answer either, at least for someone who likes it medium rare, which in any good restaurant means warm in the center (as opposed to rare, which should mean a cold center.) After several overdone main courses, I finally sent lamb chops back one night and got a substitute very little better. The one time I got a properly cooked filet, it was a strange, coarse piece of meat resembling pot roast. My husband had somewhat better luck, but people in general complained about not getting meat cooked as ordered. I know properly prepared red meat can be accomplished on a ship, even though most ships have similar problems, because Crystal manages it. (In fact, the food in general on the Crystal Harmony was so much better that there was literally no comparison. I never got anything there like the Beef Wellington with a crust so soggy that everyone ate just the meat or the shrimp tempura with an equally soggy coating.) Desserts, with few exceptions, were uninspiring. Many had no flavor at all. The Caesar salad was a lifesaver, although not particularly good, since the two daily offerings often sounded unappetizing. Flaming desserts were prepared elsewhere, as on all ships I know of except for Crystal's. My husband tried the cherries jubilee and pronounced them the worst he had ever had. Someone else said the same thing about the Bananas Foster. There is an alternative (reservation required) dining room at night, but the food is only so-so. And it means that there is no evening buffet. It's room service, the main dining room, or nothing. This is the first cruise on which we've ever used the alternative buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, it was mostly a question of service, but for lunch it allowed us to take small amounts of a number of different things instead of assuming that what we ordered in the dining room would be edible. As much as we enjoy meeting new people, we didn't like open seating for dinner. We've always enjoyed getting to know our waiter and the people we sat with every night. Overall, this was the poorest dining experience we've ever had on a ship. Food on some other lines may not have been as fancy, but at least it wasn't compulsively weird.

+ Embarkation was a breeze. We were returning from Machu Pichu after an overnight stay in Lima and another in Cuzco, so I don't know how it was for the people who didn't do that. Debarkation went smoothly too, by colored tag and on time, and the bags were easy to identify.

- It was after getting off the ship that things fell apart. We had taken a river cruise in Manaus the day before, expecting a city tour the next day. Although it had a price in the brochure, my husband had been assured it was part of the package for guests who had booked the return charter through Radisson. In reality, instead of the 3 hour city tour we were taken outside of Manaus to a museum of natural science (which was at least interesting) for about an hour then dumped for several hours at a fancy hotel. After an early (11 o'clock) lunch, we had to waste time wandering around until the buses left after 3. Walking down a hotel hallway, I found that "retiring rooms" had been provided for Radisson guests who might want to change clothes or something, but no one had ever told us about it. As a final blow, the ATA charter couldn't leave because a cargo door was stuck open. Then the first attempt at takeoff was aborted. After taxiing around for a while, the captain said the light had gone out and he was going to try again. When we got to Miami, it took over half an hour to get the first installment of bags out. Maybe the cargo door was now stuck shut. Then we waited for a long time and got a few more bags. And so on. By the time we had all of ours, we had missed our connecting flight. So had several other people. Radisson's ground personnel weren't authorized to do anything about it, so we are in the process of applying for a refund on our hotel bill, etc. from our travel insurance.

This is the only ship we've sailed on that we hope never to sail on again; at least unless several things change drastically.

If our cabin was any example, the ship seems to be in pretty bad shape for one that is only a year and a half old. What will it be like in five years or ten?

I don't have a good feel for what other passengers thought about the first leg of the trip. I know some were upset by the ship's motion, but that didn't bother us at all as long as nothing got broken. I do know that many people were very upset about the trip from Buenos Aires to Manaus. I talked to some of them in Miami as we waited interminably for our luggage to be offloaded from the charter flight, and there seemed to be a lot of very angry people. After missing one port and as good as missing another, the compensation offered was: free drinks for St. Patrick's Day; free excursions for Santarem (the two that were run after dark!); free excursions for the first day in Manaus; and $250 off a future Radisson cruise. After essentially spending 4 days "at sea" between Rio and Manaus instead of 2 (the Amazon is so wide that a  lot of the time you might as well be at sea) and missing the up close look we should have had at native villages, many people thought that wasn't really adequate. There were uncomplimentary remarks about the food too. Other people seemed to think, as we do, that the ship is badly run and not a very good value for your dollar.

Gail Koontz, Retired in my home state... and loving it!

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