Caribbean Sojourn

A cruise on the Regal Empress is the perfect extension to a South Florida vacation

By: Shawn Dake

It may seem strange to recommend a cruise for clients already sailing to the Caribbean from Miami or Port Everglades, Fla., but it just might be one of the best values that you can suggest. As either a pre- or post-cruise add-on or simply an extension to a vacation in South Florida, a short two-night cruise on the Regal Empress is a memorable and affordable experience. With rates starting at $159 per person, it’s also a viable alternative to the high-priced hotel rooms of Florida’s beaches.

Imperial Majesty Cruise Line was formed in 1999 to operate short cruises to the Bahamas. Their first ship, the Ocean Breeze, was well-known to West Coast agents as the Azure Seas, the pioneer of three- and four-day cruises to Mexico from Los Angeles. In 2003, that ship was sold, with the Regal Empress taking her place. With a cruise departing every other day, Imperial Majesty Cruises is the most frequent visitor to both Port Everglades and Nassau.

One of the joys of discovering the Regal Empress, besides the price, is the opportunity to sail aboard a true classic; a trans-Atlantic ocean liner originally built as the Olympia for the Greek Line in 1953. In the case of the Regal Empress, old doesn’t equate to rundown. On the contrary, she’s immaculately maintained, with highly polished wood paneling on the interior. Outside, her half-century-old teak decks look like new. Cabin decoration does appear a bit dated, but it’s more than adequate for this short cruise and even adds to the charm for fans of mid-century decor. Entertainment is surprisingly good with full production shows of singers and dancers held both nights in the Grand Lounge. The Captain’s cocktail party on the second night serves as both a welcome aboard and farewell celebration on this brief ocean voyage.

Dining aboard the Regal Empress is another very pleasant surprise. For the price, I expected that meals might tend to be budget affairs, but the wonderful multi-course menu rivals that of premium cruise lines. The Caribbean Dining Room is nearly unchanged since the days of the ocean liner era. Intricate etched glass mirrors depict undersea scenes of mermaids and King Neptune; inlaid wood panels display scenes from Greek mythology, and a beautiful oil painting on the aft wall depicts the ship’s long ago destination of New York City. The Dining Room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Up on the Promenade Deck, La Trattoria serves food in a casual, poolside setting. Passengers can dine along the old-fashioned, glass-enclosed Promenade or enjoy the sun outdoors on the aft deck.

In this world of huge new cruise ships, the 22,000-ton, 1,190 passenger liner is small by today’s standards. Twelve stateroom categories range from diminutive inside cabins to very large oceanview cabins and suites. Ten suites feature either a private lanai or balcony, some with private hot tubs. Unlike modern ships, each cabin is unique with different types of wood trim and configurations.

Regal Empress boasts a wide array of lounges, nightclubs and bars. And the covered outdoor Pool Bar was always a popular spot during my cruise. Another major draw on the short cruise: the sizable Monte Carlo Casino. There are also facilities for children. (We didn’t have many on my winter sailing, but in summer, it is a popular option for families.) There is also an Internet cafe.

Regal Empress departs Ft. Lauderdale every other day at 5 p.m. On day two, the ship is docked at Nassau from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., with a complete program of shore excursions available. After an overnight cruise back to Florida the ship is berthed by 9 a.m. and all passengers can easily disembark before 10 a.m. to catch flights home or continue their journey to explore the rest of the Caribbean.