When Regent Seven Seas Explorer set sail on its maiden voyage in July, it was hailed as ‘the most luxurious cruise ship in the world’. With its supersized suites, seven open-seating gourmet restaurants, nine-deck atrium, two-storey theatre and $90,000 horsehair mattress it is undeniably high-end, but can it truly justify this claim? Abi Millar takes a look at this bold celebration of all things opulent.
The luxury cruise sector is thriving. With the likes of Crystal, Scenic, Silversea, Ponant and Seabourn all building new ships, the market is expected to see a 53% spike in passenger capacity between 2015 and 2018.
With that in mind, calling your vessel ‘the most luxurious cruise ship ever built’ is bound to raise a few eyebrows. In an industry already replete with exotic itineraries, Art Deco opulence, and white glove service, what would it mean for a ship to set a new benchmark? And is Regent Seven Seas’ new ship, Seven Seas Explorer, truly a contender to the title, or is this just a particularly audacious piece of marketing?
According to Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the claim goes beyond mere hyperbole.
“If you walk throughout the vessel you can see that luxury and timeless elegance abounds everywhere,” he told a sceptical Bloomberg reporter, before discussing the quality of sleep you can muster in a $150,000 Savoir No. 1 bed.
True enough, the ship is an outlier by most metrics. Its space ratio is one of the best in the cruise industry: weighing in at over 55,000 tonnes, it carries only 750 guests. (A typical ship of this size might be expected to host around 1,250.)
Its guest-to-crew ratio is impressive too, at a staggeringly low 1.36. Even before you factor in the 2,000lb of lobster and the 2,148 bottles of champagne ordered for the ship’s maiden voyage, it is clear that Regent Seven Seas has some clout behind its claim.
Perhaps the more edifying question, then, is not so much ‘is this ship truly the most luxurious ever’ – a statement too subjective to properly verify – as ‘what does the highest of high-end luxury look like in 2016?’
The ship, which set sail on its maiden voyage on July 20th, is the first new cruise ship for Regent since 2003, and the largest in its fleet, having cost a steep $450 million to build. According to del Rio, the intention was to “shine a light on the brand”. He personally oversaw much of the design, which, despite having been undertaken by three firms, flows almost seamlessly. It has been reported that he didn’t reject many design elements on monetary grounds.
Demand for a spot on the ship has been high since the outset, with many of the suites now sold out well into 2017. At a time of economic instability, fares might seem prohibitively high – they start at around $6,000 for a ten-night cruise – but this is unabashedly a ship for the very wealthy.
“The kind of customer we attract is very resilient to economic ups and downs, they’re resilient to the kind of geopolitical events we’ve seen this year,” del Rio told Bloomberg. “It’s a great time to launch this vessel and I’m very glad we did.”
These are the sort of passengers who, accustomed to the trappings of luxury in their day-to-day lives, are going to be even more exacting when on vacation. Before the design process got underway, Regent Seven Seas conducted focus group after focus group, trying to get to the bottom of what this rarefied demographic most desire.
Part of it was having all needs taken care of. Regent Seven Seas bills itself as the most inclusive luxury cruise line in the world, with every fare including round-trip business class air travel (from 2017), cuisine, fine wines, sightseeing excursions and gratuities. For passengers in concierge and higher suites, there’s a pre-cruise luxury hotel package. If they’ve picked the $5,000 a night Regent Suite, they’ll also get a butler for the room, and a limousine and private driver at every port.
In effect, this means a mind free of worry; for the duration of the trip, they won’t need to concern themselves with tabulating their spend.
The service is offering is suitably broad too. Guests can enjoy a Broadway-style production in the two-tiered Constellation Theatre, hear some jazz in the Explorer Lounge, play golf on Deck 12 or unknot their shoulders in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Culinary offerings are diverse and well thought through, matched only by the carefully curated spread of entertainment.
Sleep and eat in style
However, the aspect that most clearly communicates ‘for elite seafarers only’ is surely the ship’s design, with the Regent Suite commanding the most attention.
“The opulence and elegance of the Regent Suite is unmatched in the luxury vacation segment, and it truly epitomises the standard of the entire vessel,” said Jason Montague, president and chief operating officer of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “With Seven Seas Explorer, we built a ship that far surpasses the current standard for luxury.”
Measuring 4,443 square feet, the size of a townhouse, the two-bedroom suite would not be out of place on Park Avenue. Styled in shades of brown, cream and black, it makes judicious use of exotic woods and marble. Once you move into the dining room, your eye is drawn to the golden chandelier – perhaps the one obvious touch of ‘bling’ in a suite that doesn’t need to try too hard.
Of course, the Manhattan comparison can only go so far. It falls flat, for instance, when you consider the in-room sauna and steam room (a world first at sea), and completely capsizes when you move out to the glass-enclosed Vista Garden, which has floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean. Then there is the custom grand piano designed by Dakota Jackson, and the aforementioned $150,000 bed, complete with its $90,000 horse-hair mattress.
The other suites, which fall across 10 different category levels, are similarly plush, without needing to broadcast that plushness too literally. Spaciousness is key across the board (each one averages 138 square feet of balcony space alone), while colour schemes are elegant, decoration is intricate, and material tactility is crucial. If the Regent Suite resembles Park Avenue, many of the other suites are pure Hamptons, taking their cues from the beachfront estate where the prototypal guest might spend their summers.
These designs are by no means subtle. The ship as a whole contains almost an acre of marble and 158 crystal chandeliers, and twin glass staircases winding up through a nine-deck atrium. There are also 2200 pieces of art on board, including a Picasso, and a three-ton, $500,000 bronze sculpture.
However, its overall aesthetic is far from brash – to draw an analogy with ultra-luxury hotels, it is more European grand hotel than Burj Al-Arab.
Much like the suites, the public areas are luxurious through dint of chicness, rather than ostentation. The Meridian Lounge, for instance, is all taupe leather furnishings and dark wood accents, while the Explorer Lounge has the feel of a country club and the Observation Lounge harks back to the 1920s.
Each of the seven restaurants is based around a single, cohesive concept. Its main dining room, Compass Rose, features an airy design motif, with cascading blue chandeliers resembling waterfalls. Pacific Rim takes its cues from various Asian cultures, and Prime 7 was inspired by London’s private dining clubs.
Meanwhile the Parisian restaurant Chartreuse, designed by the NYC-based design studio ICRAVE, contains Art Noveau flourishes, metal latticework screens, and a wall of gold-leaf patterning. For a Telegraph journalist aboard the first cruise, the experience was ‘like dining in a sunset’.
The world awaits
Having sailed from Monte Carlo to Venice, the ship will now remain in Europe for its inaugural season. After that, it will sail to Miami for a season of Caribbean voyages. Regent Seven Sea Cruises is notorious for eclectic itineraries, with its fleet visiting more than 375 ports around the world.
After all, for the wealthy clientele who will climb aboard this ship, luxury is as much experiential as aesthetic. This means all the Murano glass bowls and Versace place settings in the world would amount to nothing without the added thrill of destination travel.
So has Frank del Rio succeeding in creating the most luxurious ship ever built? Whatever you make of the results, you can’t deny the boldness of his intention.
“This idea that one-percenters are the evil empire of the world is over,” he told reporters while aboard the vessel. “It’s time to celebrate success. It’s time to celebrate wealth. This ship is a trophy to the one-percenters.”
This article appears in the 2016 vol 2 edition of World Cruise Industry Review