In February 2020, Regent Seven Seas Cruises' brand new ship, Seven Seas Splendor, started her inaugural voyage. From Rome to Barcelona, Amy and Rachel spent three nights onboard as one of the very first guests to sail - here's Amy's blog on how Regent managed to deliver 'Luxury Perfected' after launching the 'World's Most Luxurious Ship' in 2016.
After an early morning start, and not enough time for so much as my customary pre-flight Buck’s Fizz at the airport, it was almost painful waiting as patiently as I could as the woman in front of me in the security queue argued and quibbled with every item the security official took out of her hand luggage after it had been scanned. As he held a large vat of Vaseline, she protested it wasn’t liquid, and her mother would be so disappointed. I sighed and managed to bite my tongue. When we eventually managed to get through the joys of security at Luton Airport during their peak time, and rushed straight to the gate, as I sat on the plane waiting for take-off the phrase ‘from the ridiculous to the sublime’ popped into my head. In just a few hours’ time, we would be embarking upon the brand-new Seven Seas Splendor in Civitavecchia, and the thought of stepping aboard, seeing the iconic Atrium in the flesh, and being greeted by a white-gloved waiter proffering a glass of champagne is certainly a comforting one indeed.
Not quite four years ago, Splendor’s sister ship Seven Seas Explorer took to the seas, heralded at the time as the ‘World’s most luxurious ship.’ (Rachel was lucky enough to have sailed on Explorer during her inaugural season.) As Paul Beale, the UK Director of Sales for Regent said to me in an exclusive interview onboard Splendor, ‘Explorer was a game-changer in its own right, it set the bar in luxury; not only luxury cruise, but luxury hotels as well.’ With Splendor, Regent promised to deliver ‘Luxury Perfected’. To say I was excited to see whether or how they had managed this, is an understatement.
As soon as I stepped onboard and my eyes took in the stunning Atrium and the impressive chandelier, it was immediately apparent that Splendor is a very special ship, quite possibly the most beautiful ship I have yet seen (and I have seen a fair few). The fact that the ship was just a few days’ old from her delivery in Ancona, and I was amongst one of the very first people onboard was extraordinary, and an incredible honour.
Paul spoke of the level of attention to detail which it took to create Splendor, with the senior executive team spending days sitting in all the different categories of suites to check whether everything was in perfect order for the utmost comfort and convenience to guests, right down to the minutiae of plug points. During our tour of the suites, I noticed that there are plenty of mirrors available throughout each suite, ideal for both putting on make-up and checking your outfit in its entirety, and to make the most of different lighting (this is something of a bugbear of mine, and I have inspected a ridiculously expensive and exclusive London hotel suite of over £15,000 a night in which I couldn’t find anywhere you could sit down in front of a mirror and do your hair and make-up). There’s also a variety of USB ports right by the bed on each side, and in some suites, such as the Penthouse suite, which features a light with a green spot on it to press on for a lovely blue light to come from the bathroom to enable you to get to the bathroom easily in the middle of the night. Perhaps plug points, mirrors, and subtle bathroom lighting isn’t the sexiest or most exciting thing to talk about when talking about a luxury cruise ship, but personally, I always appreciate and love that level of detail and convenience.
However, whilst some of these tweaks from Explorer to Splendor may go largely unnoticed, the most obvious change is the more ‘feminine feel’ given to the ship than the hard wood tones of Explorer. It lightens up the ship, and gives it a more expansive feel of airiness and space. As you step onboard both ships, you are greeted by a stunning staircase and two-deck Atrium, but they’re very different. Not only is Splendor’s lighter in tone, the staircase has been flipped so that as the stairs cascade to the bottom, they face Compass Rose, the ship’s flagship restaurant. Thankfully, this makes recreating the Beast and Belle greeting each other in their finery for dinner down the stairs so much easier. On deck five, this change to the staircase has also led to the opening up, and switching round, of the Coffee Connections area, vastly improving the line of sight straight through to Pacific Rim, the Asian specialty restaurant. Unlike the restaurant onboard Explorer, which features an impressive Tibetan prayer wheel outside, an imposing bronze dragon wraps itself around from the very floor outside the restaurant, and stares directly at you from the Atrium.
The Observation Lounge has also been moved around, over the top of the Bridge, it now has an extension over the Bridge so you can sit and watch as you sail along. Likewise, with La Veranda, it’s got an extension where there are tables for two overhanging the ship. Along with the al fresco area outside Coffee Connections, this increase in the opportunities for panoramic viewing are one of the key differences learnt from Explorer, and reflects a growing trend amongst cruise lines towards more outward-looking ship-design more akin to the panoramic views afforded by river cruise ships.
Throughout, the ship boasts an abundance of spaciousness, its lighter tones and sleek lines are pleasing to the eye, and lift the soul in their beauty. The ambience onboard is so refined, so elegant. To me, I felt there were echoes of traditional cruise ship design but these were uplifted with a lighter, more contemporary palate. There is such a carefree atmosphere onboard; everything is taken care of so thoroughly, as you are never far from a member of crew who will be happy to help, with a crew-to-guest ratio of 1:1.3, and Regent famously boast one of the most all-inclusive experiences on the seas. From flights, transfers, numerous different excursions in every port of call, all the speciality restaurants onboard, beverages, and gratuities all included, cruises with Regent are all-inclusive and incredible value; ‘more than that,’ Paul explains, ‘it’s to make the cruise experience flawless, easy, so that people don’t have to think, and that I think is us thinking for the guests, and that’s probably the luxury that we guys deliver, and to surprise and delight at every possible opportunity.’
We spent three nights in a Concierge suite on deck 7. In our suite, the beds (made up in a twin configuration, although they tend to feature a King-Sized Elite Slumber Bed) faced the balcony, and offered fabulous views of the sea; perfect! From Concierge class and above, guests have a wide-range of exclusive amenities, such as an Illy espresso maker and cashmere blankets, a free one-night pre-cruise hotel package (including ground transfers, breakfast, and porterage), free unlimited Wi-Fi on up to four log-ins and four devices (as opposed to one per suite), priority online shore excursions and dining reservations, and savings on the premium wine and liquor, pre- or post-cruise hotel or land programs, as well as Regent Choice Shore Excursions. The bathroom was stocked with L’Occitane products and ridiculously soft and fluffy towels.
After the obligatory muster station practice, there was some time to get ready for the evening, and the Block Party, a tradition onboard Regent Seven Seas Cruises. With no more than 750 guests onboard any of their ships, these are intimate and convivial cruises, where everyone gets to know each other onboard, and the Block Parties facilitate that with the opportunity to pop outside and introduce yourself to your neighbours along the corridor while waiters ply you with wine and canapes. Of course, if you’ve still got your rollers in, or you don’t fancy it, these (unlike muster stations) aren’t obligatory!
During our short (but sweet) cruise, we called at Livorno, the gateway port for Florence and Pisa. There were an impressive range of shore excursions on offer, all of which were complimentary (Regent do have some chargeable shore excursions, the Regent Choice Shore Excursions, but the range and variety of complimentary excursions are one of the key features which makes Regent special). We picked the highlights of Lucca, partly as I’ve never been, but mum has and loves it, and partly because it was an afternoon departure. Our guide was excellent; informative, a fountain of interesting nuggets about his hometown, but also keeping his points brief enough to keep attention.
In the morning, I managed to get on one of the Culinary Arts Kitchen taster classes (I literally managed to get the last space!). This is one of the few chargeable activities onboard, but at only $69 and from what I experienced, they represent great value, as well as great fun! This was truly one of the highlights of my time onboard; Chef Kelly was so passionate, so knowledgeable about the history of the recipes, which reflected the regions the ship was travelling through on her maiden voyage. It was a clever concept to create a story, a narrative, through food. We were treated to some olive appetizers, a specialty from Ancona where Splendor was built and delivered, and made some of our own sea bass in ‘crazy water’ – a traditional folk dish from Italy – before finishing with a Caribbean play on French Toast, which was delicious. Usually classes are from two hours long, but there are also special gourmet tours you can do, joining the chef at a local market to pick ingredients before returning to the ship for a cookery class (and tasting).
Food is, of course, a very important part of cruising, and Splendor was no exception. As with her sister Explorer, Splendor boasts a wide range of dining venues: Compass Rose, the flagship restaurant, Pacific Rim, the Asian Fusion (although, as we have seen, the restaurant is flanked with a dragon rather than a prayer wheel outside), Chartreuse and Prime 7, the French and steakhouse speciality restaurants, both of which are identical to their counterparts on Explorer. La Veranda/Sette Mari, the informal buffet restaurant on deck 11 has been improved with enhanced al fresco dining, and the Pool Grill is famous for its lobster nachos, although I was particularly partial to the truffle beef burger (without mushrooms).
For the first two nights, we ate in Compass Rose, a classically beautiful and elegant restaurant, which was light, and bright, and expansive in space. Compass Rose boasts an expansive ‘Always Available’ with several different cuts of steak, several different fish dishes, various appetisers and soups, it’s almost too tough to choose between that and the daily specials. However, I can now offer this top tip: try the Chef’s Degustation Menu, which offers five or six smaller plates of the chef’s specials (you can choose the dessert for yourself), and may feature something that you might not have chosen for yourself, but you’ll be glad you had it (for me, it was the tuna carpaccio; delicious!).
Impressive though the dragon is outside Pacific Rim, I personally find Chartreuse to be the most attractive restaurant onboard. It’s got such chic, Parisian charms. We had a quick drink at the restaurant bar while waiting for the rest of our table, and the cocktail waitress there was very friendly.
Of course, food is not limited to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We saw Regent’s famous brunch in the Compass Rose, a veritable ‘cornucopia’ of food, both sweet and savory, which is held on a Sunday at sea. We also – purely for market research, of course – sampled the Afternoon Tea in the Meridien Lounge; waiters offer sandwiches and sweet goods on trolleys, but you do have to request scones (my guess is that possibly Americans do not tend to feature scones with their Afternoon Tea).
The photos of Splendor speak for themselves; she is a truly stunning ship. There’s a lot of headline-grabbing facts and stats about Seven Seas Splendor, from the 500 chandeliers, the 300-piece, $5 million curated art collection, 46,000 square feet of Italian marble used throughout the ship, and 25 new signature cocktails (OK, there’s no headlines about that one, but it certainly caught my interest) to the $200,000 bed in the 4,443sq ft Regent Suite. Each of these figures add up to the ultimate in opulence and extravagance, and they paint a picture of luxury all by themselves (as does the $478 million cost of building the ship).
I don’t mean to sound like Shania Twain (that don’t impress me much), because obviously, all those facts and figures are staggering, and astonishing, and they all add up to create the classy, elegant ambience and aesthetic onboard. Neither do I want to sound too much like Old Rose at the beginning of Titanic (‘I can still smell the fresh paint, the china had never been used, the sheets had never been slept in…’), but such numbers only offer a glimpse of the ship, a ‘fine forensic analysis’ and not the full experience, nor do they particularly pertain to what I would personally define as what makes Seven Seas Splendor a truly luxurious experience, what makes it Luxury Perfected. As Paul Beale himself said, ‘If you ask a guest what is important about luxury, what is luxury to them, rarely do they ever talk about gold taps or chandelier or the hardware side of things, it’s about the nuances, the subtleties, the luxuries. So we’ve got the hardware, we’ve got a beautiful ship which I genuinely think is unrivalled, is unmatched, by any that we do, but more than that it is about what we do for the individuals.’
I quite agree; that is what Regent Seven Seas Cruises have delivered with Splendor. A stunning ship, but beyond that, when every little detail has been taken care of and tweaked to offer as flawless a customer experience as possible, that’s real luxury. From the feel of the soft carpet, the sublime flavours of the food, the pleasing aesthetics of the ship itself inside and the enhanced views it offers, to the welcoming smiles of the crew and their attentive, impeccable, yet friendly, service, Splendor offers an elevated experience. It marks an evolution from Explorer, yet it is just another step in Regent’s quest for perfection. With the cruise line pursuing perfection, Splendor represents more of a continual evolution of raising the bar of what luxury is; as Paul says, ‘When you deliver something extraordinary, eventually it becomes the norm, and then you have to always go and exceed, and surprise and delight, and do more and more and more, in order to keep on making sure that we go over and above in everything we do.’
‘It’s about the smaller details, recognizing our guests, and making sure that they understand and know that they’re being looked after to the highest possible degree’ – and that, with the extensive level of attention to detail from the mundane (the plug points) to the opulent, is how Regent Seven Seas Cruises have got Luxury Perfected down to a fine art with Splendor.
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About the Author: Amy's first cruise was over 20 years ago, and since then she has experienced around 60 ships from about 40 cruise lines. She is particularly passionate about small ship and luxury cruises. Amy is primarily one of our Marketing Executives, but she is also a cruising and touring specialist advisor, and is able to help find the perfect luxury cruise for clients. Amy is also Bedfordshire's only accredited CLIA Cruise Master. She gives talks about cruising, including the Introduction to Cruising Presentations at our Cruise Shows, and has also written for Cruise Adviser. In 2019, Amy made the shortlist for Travel Agent Marketing Star and Travel Agent Rising Star (Under 35) at the Cruise Star Awards by Cruise Trade News.