What Sets Regent Seven Seas Cruises Apart

Image result for regent seven seas explorer

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.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ Frank Del Rio

Image result for norwegian sky
Norwegian Sky will cruise from Cuba.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio has been seeking permission for his U.S.-based cruise ships to dock in Cuba for over a year. On Dec. 7, the Cuban-born Del Rio was called to Havana to sign agreements that finally enable all three of the company’s brands to sail there next year. He spoke with senior editor Tom Stieghorst about the process.

Q: Were you aware when you were down there that the other cruise lines had also been approved?

Frank Del Rio
Frank Del Rio

A: I was pulling into the terminal building where the signing ceremony was taking place, and as I was pulling up with my driver and my team, [Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. president and COO] Adam Goldstein was walking out with his team and we exchanged pleasantries as we always do, congratulated each other and had a good laugh about it.

Q: So you almost had a CLIA quorum?

A: Adam even mentioned that. He said, “Frank, I understand there’s a CLIA meeting today,” so that was one of the reasons we had a good laugh.

Q: What building were you in and who were your Cuban counterparts?

A: Oh, there’s too many to mention, and they may not want us to mention them, but the ceremony took place at the terminal building where the cruise ships actually tie up. It’s a very nice building. As I told the officials there, I think that terminal facility is as nice a facility as any in the world, certainly the premier one in the Caribbean basin and Central America that I’ve been to, at least.

Q: Do you plan to visit other ports besides Havana?

A: We do, but not in this first round that covered 10 sailings of the three brands through May 31.

Q: Do you have any insight as to why the Cubans acted now? 

A: I don’t. I think one could speculate. Is it because Fathom pulled out? Is it because of the rhetoric around president-elect Trump’s views on Cuba? It could hypothetically mean that after some time Cuban authorities felt comfortable with additional cruise lines. I didn’t ask. I don’t really care. I’m just happy as all can be that we’re finally in.

Q: Will this be too much at once? Is there anything that concerns you about the infrastructure arrangements?

A: No, on both counts. Because of the infrastructure limitations, the maximum number of vessels in Havana at any given point in time are two: a mid-size vessel like a Sky or a Marina, for example in our case, and one smaller ship, like an Oceania R ship or Regent Mariner. So the number of cruise guests who can be in Havana at any given time is in the 2,500 to 2,700 range. Havana’s a large city. Cuba handles over 3 million tourists a year. So I don’t see that as a burden whatsoever.

Q: Will your shore-excursion department plan the people-to-people program? Do you have someone in Cuba that can help?

A: Both. I don’t see the shore excursions that we would offer in Cuba to be significantly different than the ones we provide when we go to any major historical metropolitan area. Whether it’s Rome or Istanbul or St. Petersburg, Russia, our target customer, especially for the upscale brands, isn’t going to the beach when they go to the Greek islands; they aren’t necessarily going to the beach when they go to Hawaii. They’re looking for experiences, they’re looking for cultural exchanges, they’re looking to visit museums and things of that nature. That’s a lot of what Havana has to offer.

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

Image result for regent seven seas explorer photos

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?

Image result for regent seven seas explorer photos
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.

Image result for regent seven seas explorer photos
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.

Image result for regent seven seas explorer spa
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.

Image result for regent seven seas explorer Tibetan Prayer Wheel
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.”