Its menus are laden with lobster, caviar, foie gras and escargot. The main dining room is lit by a US$200,000 chandelier of hand-blown glass; its walls are decked with US$7 million in art. And the entire front of Deck 14 aboard the Regent Seven Seas Explorer is taken up by a US$10,000-a-night suite with its own spa and designer piano.
There’s no shame in wealth, says Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Regent’s parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. His new luxury cruise ship, recently arrived in Miami for the winter cruising season, flaunts it.
The wait staff refills wine glasses like a waitress in a diner fills a bottomless cup of coffee. The vast majority of suites — it’s an all-suite ship — have both a shower stall and a tub, and balconies deep enough for a chaise longue. Nearly an acre of marble — half of it quarried in Carrara, Italy — decorates bathrooms and other spaces on the 750-passenger ship. A crew of 542 serves 750 guests, for a plush ratio of one crew member for every 1.4 guests.
“This ship was built for the 1-percenters,” said Del Rio, talking to reporters on a two-night cruise to Nassau last month to show off the ship to travel agents, media and VIPs. “Wealth is not something to hide, especially in the Trump era. The instructions I gave them were ‘Money is no object. Bring me your best idea and let me decide what I can afford.’
“This ship is a trophy. Every detail was meant to create wows.”
And there are plenty of wows on the ship, which exceeded its budgeted cost of $450 million, although Del Rio won’t say by how much. A dramatic double staircase in the atrium with an inlaid marble floor topped by an enormous chandelier hung with 6,000 pieces of crystal. A US$500,000, 3-ton Tibetan-style prayer wheel at the entrance to the Pacific Rim restaurant that is so heavy the deck had to be reinforced with extra steel. More than 2,400 works of art.
To indulge in those wows will cost a couple about US$1,200 a night for the smallest stateroom on a Caribbean cruise in February, close to US$1,800 a night for a Mediterranean cruise in May, according to the company’s website. Unlike a cruise on Holland America or Royal Caribbean or other non-luxury cruise lines, though, those prices include drinks, gratuities, most shore excursions and airfare.
Seven Seas Explorer debuted in Monaco in June and spent the summer and early fall sailing in Europe. It will cruise the Caribbean and the Panama Canal out of PortMiami, then head for the Mediterranean in early spring.
The luxury cruise business, like the rest of the cruise business, is booming. Every luxury ocean cruise line — Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Crystal and Silversea — has at least one new ship on order. Regent’s second Explorer-class ship is due in 2020.
While the cheaper, more family-oriented lines — Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian — add over-the-top recreational features such as exotic water slides, surf pools, ropes courses and bumper cars, the luxury lines are expanding suites, upgrading menus and spa treatments and incorporating amenities such as shore excursions and even airfare into the cruise fare.
Regent is marketing the Seven Seas Explorer as the most luxurious cruise ship ever built. A lot of that “most luxurious” is in the ship’s singular Regent Suite, which is just under 3,000 square feet (4,443 square feet including the wrap-around veranda), and costs US$10,000 a night.
“If you want to say this is the most luxurious ship in the world, you have to have the most luxurious suite,” Del Rio said.
The two-bedroom, three-bathroom suite features two Picasso lithographs, a US$250,000 custom Steinway piano designed by Dakota Jackson, a US$150,000 bed (US$90,000 of that is the Savoir mattress), a spa retreat — heated tile loungers, sauna, hot tub on the veranda, and unlimited in-suite treatments from the ship’s Canyon Ranch spa — and a private car with driver in every port.
There’s only one Regent Suite, and it’s usually booked well ahead. It’s so popular that Jason Montague, Regent’s president and CEO, says he expects to raise the price to about US$11,000 a night when the next round of sailings starting in mid-2018 goes on sale.
Is the ship luxurious? It certainly meets the definition.
A luxury liner has more staff in proportion to the number of guests, can visit ports where big ships can’t dock, and includes most expenses in the base fare, said LynDee King, an agent with Cruise Specialists. “The furnishings are going to be upscale, the linens are finer, they’ll have a pillow menu,” she said.
“A luxury cruise is about exclusivity,” said Beth Butzlaff, vice president of cruise sales for Virtuoso. “Personalized service is really the hallmark of a luxury experience,” as well as “spacious suites, gourmet dining, world-class wines, fine living.”
By those measures, Seven Seas Explorer clearly exemplifies the category. But is it the most luxurious ship ever built?
That’s a question of individual taste. Do you find the Versace place settings in the Compass Rose dining room more luxurious than the china designed by Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa in the chef’s Silk Road restaurant on Crystal Serenity? Does Seabourn Encore get more luxury points because its stateroom mini-fridges are stocked with wine and spirits, while standard Seven Seas Explorer suites have only water, soda and beer? What does Seven Seas Explorer’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub have to compare with the acupuncture suite on Silversea’s Silver Muse? You decide.
The Regent Suite is the largest of 10 categories of staterooms. All are suites and all have private balconies. The ship has other oversized suites, including four two-bedroom Master Suites (1,064-1,114 square feet plus 831-994-square-foot balcony) on aft corners. Its most plentiful suites — the Concierge and Superior, 228 of the ship’s 375 suites — have 332 square feet plus a balcony of 83 to 132 square feet; the bed is separated from a small sitting area by a curtain. The smallest suite, the Veranda, of which there are 12, has 219 square feet and an 88-square-foot balcony.
Beds face the balcony and the view. The staterooms are exceptionally comfortable — I’d be content to spend a morning or afternoon with a room-service meal, a book, the view and reinforcements from the room’s Illy coffee maker. All staterooms come with the coffee maker; a mini-fridge stocked with soda, beer and water; robe, slippers and umbrella; a safe; and a flat-screen TV with complimentary movies on demand. All but the smallest have a walk-in closet, and most have both a bathtub and a separate shower stall. Ship-wide Wi-Fi is included (which is not to say that I could always connect) and I appreciated the cabin’s USB ports for charging my devices.
Service by the room steward was attentive but unobtrusive. A tray I left on the balcony with the remains of my room-service breakfast disappeared quickly after I left my cabin.
The ship has a spacious feel, from the staterooms’ deep balconies to the spaces between tables in the restaurants. The backdrop for all the art, chandeliers and wow elements is coolly classic decor, with much use of granite and marble and touches such as chair rails, white columns and Murano glass sconces. Each of the restaurants has its own decor and color palette, but most other public spaces are done up in shades of blue, cream, brown and beige.
The dress code is elegant casual, which one employee described as wearing a sport jacket without a tie for dinner. Cruises longer than 15 nights have optional formal nights. Swimwear without a cover-up is a no-no indoors, and after 6 p.m., jeans, shorts, T-shirts, sneakers and baseball caps should not be worn in public spaces.
Regent caters to affluent, well-travelled North Americans over 60. Children on the ship are rare, except during school holidays, when Club Mariner, a kids programme, is organised. On a typical voyage, more than half of the guests are repeat Regent passengers, Montague said.
Compass Rose is the elegant main dining room and has open seating. In addition to daily specialties and a tasting menu, the menu offers build-your-own entrees — choose from a selection of meats and seafood, cooked the way you want it, with your choice of sauces and sides. It’s generally open for breakfast and dinner.
La Veranda is the buffet, which at night becomes Sette Mari, a casual Italian restaurant that offers a mix of buffet and table service. The Pool Grill offers a fitness breakfast, then burgers, salads and sandwiches. The Cafe has specialty coffee drinks, sandwiches and snacks.
The ship features three alternative restaurants. Pacific Rim, with a pan-Asian menu, and Chartreuse, serving classic French cuisine, debuted on Explorer. The third is Prime 7 steakhouse, which — along with Compass Rose, La Veranda and the Pool Grill — is standard on Regent ships. The alternative restaurants carry no extra fee, and all guests are guaranteed at least one dinner in each of them. Reservations are required. (Passengers may be able to land additional dinners in the alternative restaurants, but guests in the pricier suites get first crack at reservations.) Either Chartreuse or Prime 7 is open for lunch each day.
The food is truly gourmet — well prepared with quality ingredients — and the menus offer a selection that ranges from spa-inspired to decadently rich, traditional to creative contemporary. Portions tend to be very small, but unlike that chic new restaurant on shore, on the ship you can order as many dishes as you want. For the same reason, it’s a good opportunity to taste something you’ve never eaten before — try the escargot in Compass Rose, grilled octopus in Chartreuse or the pork-shrimp shui mai in Pacific Rim.
POOL AND RECREATIONAL SPACES
Deck 11 has a pool and two hot tubs and very nice wicker-and-terrycloth lounges, some of them shaded. There’s a sun deck one deck above, with a few clamshell lounges and double lounges, as well as the standard singles. Without silly games or heavy-on-the-bass music rattling the teak deck, relaxing by the pool is actually relaxing.
Deck 12 is home to the ship’s sports area, with putting greens, a bocce court, a jogging track and naturally, shuffleboard.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
The Culinary Arts Kitchen offers hands-on cooking classes (US$89) that include Italian and French cuisines, pairing wines with food and assembling a teatime party. In my class, we learned about emulsifying salad dressing, searing scallop and poaching fish, then baked little cakes of almond meal and marinated them in a limoncello syrup.
The kitchen classroom features 18 well-equipped cooking stations and big-screen TVs showing close-ups of what the teacher is demonstrating. It was added because of the popularity of the classes on Regent’s sister line, Oceania, said executive chef Kathryn Kelly, who launched the classes on Oceania and has since moved to Regent.
On the Explorer, Kelly is also in charge of Gourmet Explorer Tours, food-centered shore excursions that range from a cooking lesson and lunch at a family taverna in Greece to a market tour, tastings, cooking demonstration and lunch in Rome. The excursions cost extra.
The Constellation Theater is the stage for production shows. We saw only one, “My Revolution,” built around British Invasion rock from the ‘60s, but typically there are several that alternate during a cruise. Several of the ship’s lounges also offer music; on this two-night cruise they included karaoke, a pianist, disco and acoustic rock.
The ship has a small casino (blackjack, craps, roulette, slots), a well-stocked library with comfortable seating, a card room and, one of my favorites, a puzzle table. Every time I walked by, a few more pieces of a jigsaw puzzle had been snapped into place.
SPA, SALON, FITNESS CENTER
The spa is operated by Canyon Ranch in partnership with Red Flower, which makes beauty and treatment products. Red Flower developed signature treatments for Seven Seas Explorer, including rituals that combine scrubs, wraps, baths and massages. A thermal suite offers an infrared sauna, steam room and cold room. Outside is a private deck with a plunge pool.
Next to the spa is a full-service salon — haircuts and coloring, makeup, manicures and pedicures. One deck up is a fitness center with free weights, weight-lifting machines, cardio workout equipment and space for cycling, yoga and Pilates classes.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS EXPLORER
Passenger decks: 10
Passenger staterooms: 375
Christened: July 13, 2016, in Monaco by Princess Charlene of Monaco
Itinerary: Cruising the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico and the Panama Canal out of Miami until the end of March, when it will reposition to Europe. Seven Seas Explorer will return to Miami for its second Caribbean season in December 2017.