Regent rules the waves

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Allow yourself a quiet smile when boarding Seven Seas Explorer – I certainly did. Regent Seven Seas Cruises had the audacity to trademark the line “The Most Luxurious Ship Ever Built” for its new $450 million floating palace. Setting the bar so high means every guest will make their own judgement about whether Explorer lives up to the hype. So smile as you board and become a guest – like a TV talent show, you also become a judge of what constitutes unsurpassed cruise luxury.

The 51,000-tonne ship carrying 750 guests cared for by 552 crew, claims one of the highest space-to-passenger ratios in the industry. As well as elbow room, luxury means all rooms are balcony suites, spread over 10 categories.

Boarding is a little like balancing between parallel universes. There are some seriously show-stopping features suited to the lifestyles of the rich and richer, but also the warm welcoming atmosphere of a boutique New York hotel.

Show-stopping features include the magnificent crystal chandelier above the twin circular stairwells in the atrium, one of 158 chandeliers in public spaces. There are $6 million
of artworks and more marble than a Renaissance statue convention. However, to really stop a show, book into the flagship Regent Suite which comes with a car and guide at port stops.

At 360 square metres, it is bigger than the average Australian home and seems to have two of everything.

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Two massive balconies, two bedrooms, two Jacuzzis, two saunas and two heated tiled lounges in the private spa where treatments are complimentary. Two Picassos hang among the artworks.

Luxury at this level includes a US$250,000 custom-built Steinway piano, while the Savoir No 1 master bed cost US$150,000 including a US$90,000 mattress.

However, in the parallel universe of enjoying all the luxury the ship has to offer without the need for a piano in the lounge room, the other suite categories are superb.

My own mid-range Concierge Suite at 43 square metres was about as big as a city studio apartment. The marble bathroom, with bath and separate shower as well as double sinks and L’Occitane toiletries, felt big enough to park a small car. The walk-in was huge, the bed serenely comfortable, then a sitting area opened up to a balcony big enough for four chairs.

From this base the rest of the ship beckoned.

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Fortunately, they have the balance between the parallel universes about right – by day shorts and t-shirts are fine, by night it is generally ‘elegant casual’.

Even with Picassos this is a holiday pleasure dome, not a museum. The midship pool flanked by two whirlpools is a two level sun-trap with sun lounges complete with thick mattresses.

Don’t expect loads of kids splashing. Although youngsters are welcome, this is definitely a grown-ups’ ship.

A smaller rear infinity pool gives the dreamy illusion of floating into the ocean. This is reached through the Canyon Ranch SpaClub. The spa includes sauna, steam and cold rooms and treatments from massages through to more adventurous indulgences like a seaweed peat wrap.

Public spaces include the intimate Explorer Lounge, with its gold framed stage, mahogany columns, leather chairs and plush dark fabrics. An elegant place for pre-dinner cocktails while enjoying live music. The Meridian Lounge has solid armchairs to settle in for expert lectures and port previews.

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The large Observation Lounge with panoramic views and Art Deco designs in silver and black carries a Gatsby feel, a seductive place to claim a comfy chair and gaze at the ocean while taking afternoon tea. At night it comes alive with dancing, very glamorous.

The Constellation Theatre has a cabaret feel down to Murano glass lamps on the tables giving a soft glow. Take in evening production shows here such as energetic salutes to Beatlemania. It feels a little like being in an old American movie when everyone dressed up and drank champagne at clubs, except in this theatre no-one smokes. If you do smoke, the Connoisseur Club has cigars and drinks. There is also a gym, sports deck, library and casino.

A big test of luxury is dining, although I did not expect it to include cooking my own lunch.

The Culinary Arts Kitchen is a magnet for budding master chefs, where qualified chefs oversee guests testing their skills around a bank of cooking stations complete with induction hot plates.

Kitchen whizzes will love it, and even as a kitchen klutz I managed to produce an amazing poached fish among other delicacies thanks to common sense guidance.

The kitchen experience extends to gourmet land tours such as a day exploring Barcelona’s Boqueria and Santa Caterina markets then lunch at two-star Michelin restaurant ABaC with kitchen tour.

DYI-meals aside, Explorer has five restaurants as well as a cafe and poolside grill. Each is a special occasion, as you would expect on a vessel claiming the ‘most luxurious’ title. Compass Rose is the main dining room and splendour here includes Versace china table settings.

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The sultry Pacific Rim is spicy Pan-Asian, Prime 7 is the clubby steakhouse while Chartreuse offers a modern twist to classic French. La Veranda features breakfast and lunch buffets then at night transforms into Sette Mari for Italian.

While luxury at this level does not come cheaply – entry level suites are around A$1000 per person per night – the cost is softened by Regent’s all-inclusive philosophy.

Drinks are free as is dining at all restaurants. WiFi is free, there is no tipping and as a huge bonus there are unlimited free shore excursions. There is even a free pre-cruise hotel night for most suite categories.

Spa treatments and Culinary Arts Kitchen experiences aside, you could have an incredibly luxurious cruise with fine dining and shore tours and leave without a bill.

When disembarking, allow yourself another quiet smile when contemplating a future cruise.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises operates four ships and has announced plans for a fifth, setting up the intriguing scenario of whether it will carry a tag line to the effect: “An Even More Most Luxurious Ship Ever Built.”

TRAVEL FACTS

• Regent Seven Seas Cruises promotes itself under the registered trademark of “The Most Inclusive Luxury Experience.”

• The line operates four ships: Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Voyager and now Seven Seas Explorer, with a fifth to be added in 2020.

• In 2017-18 the fleet will make more than 100 voyages, calling on more than 335 ports in 98 countries.

Seven Seas Explorer’s voyages for 2017 include a 12 night ‘Glamorous White Nights’ Stockholm to London (Southampton) trip departing 13 July 2017. Destinations visited are Stockholm (Sweden); Helsinki (Finland); three nights in St Petersburg (Russia); Tallinn (Estonia); Riga (Latvia); Visby (Sweden); Copenhagen (Denmark); Amsterdam (Netherlands); Bruges/Zeebrugge (Belgium); London/Southampton. rssc.com

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