Which of the ultra-high end luxury cruise lines is really the best? They all promise a luxurious voyage, and in promotional materials they all look quite swanky. They all seem to go to many of the same destinations. So how can you tell which one really stands out?
Sadly, it’s fairly difficult to know until you’ve experienced a journey on board whether or not the glossy brochures and advertisements are really accurate. Because it’s not just about what the vessel looks like: it’s also about the quality of the staff and the crew; the food and wine; the definition of “inclusive,” and the vibe among your fellow passengers (because unlike a stay at a 5-star hotel, you will definitely be interacting with and influenced by the other guests). Your best bet is to ask around, and hear from people who’ve gone on multiple cruises. Recently here at Dandelion Chandelier, we had the opportunity to take a 10-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, the newest ship in the luxury line’s fleet. [Full disclosure: in April 2018 I was appointed to the board of the parent company of Regent Seven Seas]. If you’re considering a cruise, we give this one two thumbs up. We’re not alone: several trade and consumer publications rank the ship as the best in the world. Here’s our report.
Imagine a luxurious space that includes seven world-class restaurants; a sizable outdoor pool; and suites furnished with impeccable décor and every possible convenience, staffed by a personal butler. Imagine that the space also provides spectacular views of pale-pink sunrises and fiery sunsets; a full-service beauty salon and a state-of-the-art spa and gym; friendly, knowledgeable staff members with a 1:1 ratio staff to guests; a well-stocked library; a theater; a card room; a casino; a cigar lounge; two retail boutiques; 24-hour room service; free cookies all day; and a really good wine cellar.
Now imagine that all of this is onboard a vessel that can take you from one wonderful scenic destination to another, with free tours at those destinations that will help you explore, learn, shop or relax (or all of the above).
Could such a place actually exist? Yes, dear reader. It’s called the Regent Seven Seas Explorer.
We’ve seen the interiors of other luxury cruise ships, and we’ve heard lots of stories from people who have taken multiple voyages on the best cruise lines in the world. Based on our experiences, as well as those of our trusted friends and far-flung correspondents, here are 10 elements that we think put Regent Seven Seas at the top of the luxury cruise line list:
1. The restaurants (and the quality of the food and wine). On the Explorer, no detail has been overlooked in the food and beverage offerings — so if you or your travel companion are foodies, you’ve come to right place. Before we embarked, we worried that we’d become tired of eating the same thing for more than a week. 10 days felt like a long time to rely on the offerings on the ship for three meals a day. That fear was unfounded. There are a total of seven restaurants on board: La Veranda; Sette Mari, the Pool Grill; Chartreuse; Pacific Rim; Prime 7; and Compass Rose. The cuisine ranges from burgers and pizza to steak and lobster – from French, to Asian fusion, to Italian, to Continental. Each day there are featured wines, and there’s also a deep list of reserve wines for the oenophiles in the crowd. Each eatery is exquisitely decorated and distinctive – for example, at the entrance to Pacific Rim, a towering collection of bells from a Tibetan monastery greets guests (each one spins, and as you spin it, you’re to make a wish). It’s a luxurious Restaurant Row on the sea, and it’s a guarantee that you’ll never be bored. And can we just say that the cheesecake is just mad-crazy good?
2. The staterooms are well-designed and well-stocked — the color palette is serene navy blue, silver, gold and white. Each one is a suite, so there’s ample room for all. Before our trip, we had some trepidation about possibly having signed up to spend 10 days in a small dark room with only a porthole providing natural light. Instead, we were ushered into a suite with two televisions, a mini-bar, a walk-in closet, a desk, a sofa, and a small dining table. A bottle of Dom Perignon on ice awaited, along with a box of pralines and a pair binoculars. Each suite has a pair of sliding glass doors leading out to a sizable private balcony with a dining table and chairs and a comfy lounge chair. The baths are stocked with Guerlain and L’Occitane products. And – as many others do – our suite came with private butler service, as well two dedicated cabin stewards. Their level of professionalism and attentiveness was like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Think Gotsford Park, and you’ll get the idea. When we returned home, we kept wondering why no one seemed interested in anticipating our every need, and discreetly smoothing our path through the day. Dang it. We really liked that.
3. On that note, the crew and the staff are truly exceptional. We were deeply impressed with how they worked to foster a sense of ship-wide community in ways large and small. One of the distinctive elements of Regent Seven Seas is the “Block Party” – on the second night of the voyage at cocktail hour, everyone is encouraged to come out of their rooms and meet their neighbors on the same deck. The captain and the senior leadership team stop at every deck, and lively conversations and budding friendships ensue. The best line from our Block Party? The lively couple next door informed all of us “No peeking around the balcony walls – we are spending a lot of time out there in the buff!” Duly noted. Gotta prevent those tan lines. The social element proved to be one of the very best parts of our trip. We made friends with several other couples, and ended up having wonderful dinners with some of them. The tone on board is so friendly and forthcoming that over time it begins to feel like a college dormitory, where you keep randomly running into people who you know and like, and making plans to get together later that day. When was the last time that happened to you on vacation?
4. The gym. Another serious concern that we had before our cruise was weight gain – so many people had told us that its inevitable that you gain weight on a cruise, because there’s food and drink available 24/7. They were right about the constant temptation – but thanks to the fantastic gym on board, we didn’t gain a pound. We committed to working out every day – and by Day 3, we had changed that rule to “one 30-minute workout for every dessert consumed.” Suffice it say, some days we went three times (we mentioned the cheesecake, right?) The gym faces out to sea, and it’s filled with cardio machines and weights of every conceivable type. There are a handful of group exercise classes, and also personal trainers from the Canyon Ranch program on hand. For those wanting maximum fresh air and sunshine, there’s also the option of walking on the upper deck day or night. It’s a bit too slippery to run on, but the outdoor circuit makes for a great speed-walk under the endless sky.
5. The Canyon Ranch spa. What’s a luxury experience without some pampering? We’re destination spa aficionados, so we’ve seen our fair share of expensive resort spas. The Canyon Ranch spa on the Explorer is right up there with the best of them, and much better than we were expecting. It’s really spacious, with a steam room, sauna, cold room, infinity pool, and a vast menu of treatments. There’s a full-service beauty salon (where we got a great blow-dry mid-voyage). The spa space is well-designed and serene, and the Thai Massage is to die for.
6. The Constellation Theater. We admit we were skeptical when we heard that one of the great elements of a luxury cruise is “the shows.” Jaded Manhattan dwellers, we figured that there was nothing we hadn’t already experienced when it comes to live entertainment. But we underestimated the magic of a well-designed theater. The Explorer’s Constellation Theater is an Art Deco jewel, and after dinner, we fell into the habit of watching the nightly musical shows. Was it Broadway? Nah. But was it a pleasant way to wind down after dinner? Yes, dear reader, it was. Plus, on days at sea, there were movie screenings (with free popcorn!) And we watched Super Bowl LII on the theater screen – our team lost, but the epic awesomeness of the huge screen made up for it (that, and the unlimited supply of free cookies and cupcakes).
7. The two-story outdoor pool deck is the stuff that cruise dreams are made of: endless lounge chairs, icy drinks on demand, and nothing but blue sky above. Our favorite discovery was the circular “pods” on the top deck, which are like cool little outdoor sofas — people snuggle into them solo or in pairs, and at that point, life is just really good. Day or night, there’s absolutely nothing not to like about it.
8. The library may not be on everyone’s top 10 list, but it’s definitely on ours. This cozy space was a frequent stop for us: every morning there are free daily newspapers from 15 cities around the world. Plus books available for loan on the honor system in every conceivable category. It’s open 24/7 in case that thriller you brought along didn’t turn out to be what you hoped for.
9. The common areas of the Explorer all share an Art Deco design aesthetic, and the overall vibe is that of a swanky grand hotel. There’s a double-height lobby with twin staircases; a casino; three lounges for drinks, live music and dancing in the evening; a fantastic all-day coffee and pasty café, and a magnificent Culinary Kitchen where guests can take a group cooking class. Of all of these, our personal favorite was the Observatory Lounge on the 11th deck – a marvelously quiet place to look out at the sea; have tea; sip a cocktail; or dance the night away. Princess Charlene of Monaco is the Godmother of the ship, and her portrait hangs in a place of honor in the middle of grandeur.
10. The truly all-inclusive nature of the trip. When we asked our fellow passengers about what makes Regent Seven Seas different from other luxury cruise lines, the immediate answer was almost always the same: “we love that there’s no nickel-and-diming.” Some cruise lines say they’re all-inclusive, but somehow manage to charge for items that you’d assume were included. On our voyage, we took 5 different shore excursions that were included in the price of our ticket, and they were excellent. There’s no surprise up-tick for a good bottle of wine, or a snack, or an activity on board. When premium options are offered, they’re clearly noted as such. So there’s no nasty shock at the end of the trip. And that in itself is pretty luxurious.
There will come a time when you’ll decide that the vacation you need is one where you don’t have to think about anything; where you want serious relaxation, with the option of more stimulating adventures, but only if the mood strikes. Where you want to be off the grid, and focused on the here and now. And where you wouldn’t mind a little pampering and (and maybe even some spoiling). When that time comes, dear reader, remember these three words: Regent Seven Seas. We’ll see you by the pool.