What Sets Regent Seven Seas Cruises Apart

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By  JASON LEPPERT 

I have now personally sailed aboard the new Seven Seas Explorer and toured the Seven Seas Navigator from Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and I can better outline what is special about the luxury line and sets it apart from the competition.

The Seven Seas Explorer

The Seven Seas Explorer itself is such an incredible ship that its mere inclusion in the fleet is a differentiator for the entire Regent brand. Its attention to detail is unparalleled at sea, and the palatial Regent Suite is unlike any other accommodations.

Its passenger space ratio ensures ample space for each guest with no crowding, and altogether the ship feels much larger than it is. The atrium soars through all the public decks, the Constellation Theater is an impressive two stories in height and private balconies are massive.

Genuinely All-Inclusive

Despite what it says, all-inclusive as a description is often not accurately applied to cruise lines. There are many cases where others are nearly all-inclusive or an all-inclusive experience can be purchased for an extra fee, but Regent is easily the most genuinely all-inclusive cruise line there is.

Understandably, things like the casino, retail shops and spa services are excluded, and likely always will be, but just about everything else is complimentary including unlimited shore excursions, premium drinks and specialty dining, 24-hour room service, pre-paid gratuities, WiFi internet access, airport transfers, a pre-cruise hotel night and even airfare.

Seamless Service

Other cruise lines may have a very friendly crew, but not all of them exhibit the best in actual service. Regent’s crew tirelessly provide guests with everything they need, and passengers are seldom in a position to ask or request. The crew does not hover but rather blends in such that the service seems effortless, which means plenty of effort is made behind the scenes to make it appear so.

L’Occitane Bath Products and Teddy Bears

Accommodations onboard are extremely comfortable and well configured, but it’s the extra touches that especially make them stand out to guests. L’Occitane has long been my favorite purveyor of fine soaps and shampoos, and it’s a delight to see that Regent exclusively features its excellent Mer & Mistral line of bath products on its ships. Similarly, as a collector of teddy bears, I was overjoyed to see that a welcoming Regent bear greets guests in top-tier suites as a lovely touch of home.

Extending elegant flourishes throughout the public areas of the ship as well as private suites is a beautiful collection of artwork. The breadth of paintings, mixed-media pieces and sculpture is very intriguing without ever being too bold or offensive. Several pieces speak to guests on different levels emotionally and literally across different decks. There are even plans in the works to showcase the collection with a detailed book.

Best Main Dining Room at Sea

Often it’s the specialty restaurants that most impress from a culinary perspective on ships, but Regent’s equivalent of a main dining room, Compass Rose, actually makes a bigger statement by offering a menu that is beyond extensive.

There are still a dozen or so options offered daily on a rotating basis, but when combining that with the dozens more of always-available choices, the combinations of courses to order are seemingly endless. Guests can pick their favorite proteins, sauces and sides to craft a customized meal as well as experiment with new flavors in a single evening.

Culinary Arts Kitchen

Regent’s Culinary Arts Kitchen is the cherry on top of the sundae for allowing guests the opportunity to learn how to cook gourmet cuisine in a hands-on setting in addition to enjoying world-class cuisine. Individual cooking stations ensure each participant can fully prepare several dishes during a single course of instruction and then be able to sample it on the spot before taking their newfound knowledge home with them.

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10 days aboard the ‘most luxurious ship in the world’

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Regent Seven Sea’s Explorer
I was not happy disembarking the new Regent Seven Seas Explorer in Rome. The fact is that I was not quite ready to leave.

I had turned down the initial preview press invitation because we were booked on the ship’s second inaugural sailing from Venice to Rome on an itinerary that included calls in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and Italy. We were traveling with 38 clients on our annual client trip; 34 of our guests had previously traveled with Regent and its several five-star all-inclusive competitors. In some ways it was like traveling with three dozen Judge Judys, ready to observe, listen and then pass judgement. Would this sparkling new vessel pass muster? Was the hype really justified?

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About the hype: Like most new builds, the superlatives began with the announcement of the new ship. This ship would have the largest cabins, the largest suite afloat, the most expensive chandelier and a Chagall and a Picasso among the 2,200 pieces of artwork. There was the usual collection of statistics: this ship would feature 52,000 square feet of balcony space, which actually breaks down to 138 square feet per cabin. On a typical two-week voyage it was predicted that just over 2,000 pounds of lobster would be consumed. Caviar would be served from time to time (there was a table display one day at lunch, and I noticed that no one was touching it.)

The consumer press was all over the story, having enjoyed their brief cruise before paying guests would board for the inaugural. So there had been a bevy of good PR for this ship, much of it totally justified.

But here is the thing about this ship’s hype: I have a bit of history with the Norwegian/Oceania/Regent group and their management. I remember when they launched the Oceania brand and they produced an introductory brochure that stated that they would have “the best cuisine at sea.” I had suggested that it might be prudent to wait until the ship was actually launched and serving meals before making such claims.

But I was wrong. The Oceania food hype was totally justified, and so were the pre-launch press releases about dining aboard the new Explorer.

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I was unhappy disembarking because I had gotten into the ship’s rhythm, and I was able to forge a series of magnificent days.

Mornings were for sightseeing, walking or driving to places I have not been to in a while, updating hotels, restaurants and meeting locals who might be useful to me in the future. A shop here, a guide there, a hidden ice cream haven in Amalfi. The goal was filling an entire little black book.

But the late afternoon was for the spa, a quick shower, cocktails with clients and then a long, leisurely dinner with friends.

I won’t talk a great deal about the shore excursions since the reality is that cruise lines have less control in that area than the public imagines. On Regent they are, for the most part, included. In Taormina, for instance, you could get transfers to explore the town on your own. I noticed that Regent has pushed back the departure times of many of its morning shore offerings so guests can have a proper breakfast before going on tour around 10 a.m. Complimentary transfers were included into town where necessary. There were some longer stays. Regent is recognizing that sophisticated travelers want some down time, not a perfectly timed series of never-ending historical sightseeing marches through Europe’s churches.

Please forgive me, but I feel compelled to generate some of my own hype for the onboard Canyon Ranch experience. It was, simply put, the finest spa experience I’ve encountered in more than 30 years of travel.

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Each of my scheduled services was preceded by a professional interview. Notes were taken and specifics were discussed that would truly personalize the experience. My massages were done by Thai therapists who began the deep tissue back massage by jumping up on the table with me. That allows for extra pressure from the knees and elbows.

One of my therapists explained that she felt she had found the core of my being, something I’ve been searching for these past several decades. It involved dripping oil and a single finger pressed down on a location near the center of my scalp. I actually saw heaven, and I had a Philly cheesesteak while I was there.

After the treatment, there are a bevy of relaxation venues, including a cold room with ice walls and a scented sauna. Afterwards, I walked out the back onto a private balcony with an incredible infinity pool hovering over the back of the ship. There, a spa butler brings you drinks while you spend as much time as you want to relax. I loved the infinity pool when the ship was in port; it provided a perfect vantage point to watch the action.

Much has already been written about the design of this new ship. Yes, there is marble on marble, stone and granite. The lighting was never glaring, always elegant, and after 10 days I was still discovering little design details like the lights in the main Compass Rose Restaurant, bursts of yellow along the side walls with shades of blue in the center of the room. You could actually hear guests discussing the lighting onboard.

There were more high ceilings than one expected, and some guests speculated that the “ship is half-empty” despite the fact that every single cabin was occupied. That is when a ship’s designers know that they got this one right.

But I prefer not to dwell on design. This ship was budgeted at $450 million, and it went over by more than a little; speculation is that it actually cost closer to $600 million. For that money, I would expect that the design would be exceptional.

It is, however, the human factors aboard a new ship that matter most. What is the ship’s lifestyle, and how does it mesh with the guest’s demographics? This is where the Regent Explorer achieves a sort of nautical nirvana. My group and I found we could live our lives on this ship, relaxing when we wished, butlers always on call, imaginative and memorable cuisine, culinary classes that were filled with great take-aways, an enveloping comfort of fine art and a spa that has no peer at sea.

It would be tempting to devote all of this space to a celebration of the cuisine aboard this ship. Lunch was satisfactory, but dinners were often spectacular, with even the most hardened critics finding lots to like about the staff and the innovative cuisine.

The toughest reservation seemed to be for the Pacific Rim. I barely made it into the restaurant, as I was totally taken by the $500,000 Tibetan Prayer Wheel at the entrance. Guests can pick any wheel, spin it and contemplate the message it contained. It was a thoughtful, distinctive piece of art made of cast bronze from Australia. It required a reinforced floor to support it. Most CEOs would never consider such an expense for something so unnecessary and challenging to install. But the entrance to this restaurant had to be memorable, and it is fully indicative of the amazing attention to deal that I found on this ship.

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The art continued on the plates. There were Versaces at every setting, and each was themed. There was a sake menu, incredible appetizers including sushi and sashimi prepared by knowledgeable hands. The main dishes included a memorable miso cod, but the most popular dish was the lobster tempura served in a lobster shell.

One night we were seated in the Prime 7 steakhouse with friends in our group, a newscaster who had just returned from covering both political conventions. I ordered a 16-ounce T-bone steak because I knew they were using Colorado prime. The waiter leaned in and quietly whispered, “Sir, I can make that a 32-ounce cut if you would prefer.”

I declined, but it is really nice to know that there is a ship out there that provides more than you want and a lifestyle geared to exploration, relaxation and truly memorable dining experiences.

Was everything perfect? Of course not. But this was only the Explorer’s second sailing, and I expect that the needed service improvements will be initiated. For the record, disembarkation was totally impersonal. No one said goodbye to departing guests. The staff got low scores on our “recognition tests,” and guests were almost never addressed by name, a hallmark of luxury service.

But these things can be fixed. The fact is that the Explorer has emerged from the yard as a serious challenger to the title “Best Ship at Sea.”

‘I choose to live’

Arnie WeissmannThe inaugural cruise of the Regent Seven Seas Explorer departed Monte Carlo, Monaco, early on the morning of Bastille Day. I was in Nice, France, two days before and, one week later, flew out of the city.

During the cruise, I found that every European port where the ship called was crowded (in the case of St. Tropez, vastly overcrowded). Flags flew at half-mast, but otherwise Europe’s sunny holiday season appeared, on the surface, to proceed undimmed by the terror attack in Nice.

And during that week, I mingled with 600-plus travel advisers, media, cruise line executives and invited guests aboard the ship. Their responses to the incident in Nice were insightful; for the most part, they’re sophisticated executives with experience in the cycles of travel disruption.

My first conversation was with Walter Revell. That name may not be familiar even to travel agents who loyally book the lines of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) — Regent, Norwegian and Oceania — but he has had a hand on the tiller of NCLH and its predecessor entities for the past 23 years. As the longest-serving director and, today, chairman, he has a unique perspective on the past, present and future of travel and cruising.

We lunched with our wives at a small restaurant off Piazza San Michele in Lucca, Italy, just hours after we learned about the Nice tragedy.

Out of 7 billion people on Earth, he said, “point zero, zero, zero, zero, zero one” is going to be deranged enough to heed a call to kill scores of innocent people.

The link between extreme mental instability and the threat of violence positions terrorism in a context that doesn’t completely remove the political and religious aspects, but puts the scope of the threat in rational perspective.

Those very few unstable individuals, Revell continued, should hardly be the ones to “govern, ruin or rule” our travel choices.

NCLH’s CEO, Frank Del Rio, cast it slightly differently but again brought a sense of scale to the issue.

“It would be easy to say that if you don’t keep traveling, the terrorists have won,” Del Rio said. “You can say that at 30,000 feet, but how do you communicate that to the individual who is sitting in front of a travel adviser, wanting to take a trip somewhere? It’s very difficult to take something that’s so emotional, so personal, and turn it into a statistic. But we need to remember: It’s never absolute. It’s not that no one is traveling. After the Paris attacks, air arrivals were down 11%. Hotel nights were down 20%. It’s not down 95%, it’s down 20%.”

His comments reminded me that even in the dark days after 9/11, air travel was still at 80% of pre-attack numbers. The problem for travel-related businesses is, of course, that depending on operating margins, a 20% drop in traffic can easily spell the difference between viability and bankruptcy.

“It’s in the margins,” Del Rio agreed, “but we’ll boost it up to where it needs to be.”

Van Anderson, co-founder of the host agency Avoya, had yet a different perspective, framed within the broader profile of life and risk.

“You have to be aware of risk, no matter what you do,” he said. “Some choose to surf, dive and bungee jump. We all make choices, and you have to do what makes you comfortable. Even having gone through Nice the day before that horrific tragedy, and after what happened in Orlando, I’m not hesitating one bit to travel this summer with my grandchildren to Orlando.”

Anderson continued, “I don’t think we live in a more dangerous world. It’s just a world that’s more aware of the dangers. So we have to choose, by ourselves, with our friends and families, what we’re comfortable with.

“I don’t travel because I’m trying to beat terrorists,” he concluded. “I travel because I enjoy it. Life is about making choices. I choose to live.”

All three perspectives are thoughtful, astute, complementary and can help in counseling clients.

I will add one more perspective.

Summer may be the high season for travel within Europe, but we’re also concurrently in the quadrennial high season of politics. The recent terror incidents, though in aggregate statistically representing only a small risk, are amplified by political agendas, and clients of travel advisers might be susceptible to politically motivated arguments that will inhibit the desire to travel.

Revell’s, Del Rio’s and Anderson’s perspectives could help blunt those arguments. I hope so.

But I’ll point out that small scale can be deceiving. History often turns on events that involve relatively few participants but whose impact is outsize:

The Boston Tea Party. The siege of the Alamo. Rosa Parks.

These incidents became pivotal because they represented the hopes and desires of great numbers of people.

I find it hard to conceive, however, that the slaughter of innocent people represents anything but a perversion of theology or a philosophy that appeals only to the sickest among humanity.

If politicians present this as an existential threat, I believe they’re acting cynically to replace rational thought with purely emotional, fear-based responses.

But there’s also an emotionally resonant appeal to keep traveling, even in the face of terror. Anderson said it succinctly: “I choose to live.”