Top-of-the-line luxury cruise ship sales the high seas

By Mike Kelly

The Seven Seas Explorer will ply the Mediterranean until late this year, when it will begin sailing out of Miami.

MONTE CARLO, Monaco — It takes a bit of nerve to brag that something of yours is the best, the richest, the biggest, or any other superlative that might come to mind.

But that’s exactly what Frank Del Rio has done, and he’s completely unapologetic about it. Mr. Del Rio, the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, is so proud of his new ship, the Seven Seas Explorer, that he’s not only slapped it with the tagline “the most luxurious ship ever built,” but he’s actually trademarked that phrase.

The Explorer, the fourth ship in the Regent Seven Seas fleet and its first new vessel in 13 years, has just 375 cabins, but each one is a suite with its own private, teak-trimmed balcony. It’s on the small side as cruise ships go, with a capacity of just 750 guests, and with 552 crew members catering to them, that makes for one of the lowest guest-to-crew ratios in the business.

After its christening here in July by Princess Charlene of Monaco, the Explorer embarked on its first Mediterranean season, with 8- to 14-night itineraries and stops at such ports as Athens, Rome, Venice, Saint Tropez, and Jerusalem. Then in December it’s on to Miami for a series of Caribbean cruises.

Before the christening, Mr. Del Rio and other cruise line executives hosted a five-day preview cruise from Barcelona to Monte Carlo to show off their new baby to international media and travel agents. During the trip, those execs, plus the ship’s designers, were available for interviews.

The first question for Mr. Del Rio was an obvious one: what makes Explorer “the most luxurious ship” on the high seas?

“The space, the style, the materials used, the craftsmanship, the details, the artwork, the cuisine, the service,” he said before pausing for breath. “Our aim was to make this vessel as relevant to the luxury market 20 years from now as it is today.”

Greg Watson, one of the ship’s designers, pointed out that luxury means different things to different people. “Our aim was to create unique elements you won’t find anywhere else,” he said.

“With all the restrictions of a ship, especially one this size, these were significant engineering feats.”

“It has space,” Mr. Del Rio said. “That’s one of the most difficult and expensive things to provide on a ship.”

Costing more than $450 million to build, the all-suite ship is among the most expensive ever constructed on a per-passenger basis. And if anything could be described as “spaciously intimate,” Explorer would probably qualify.

An average-size cruise ship cabin is between 175 and 200 square feet. The smallest suite on Explorer is 220 square feet, and each suite’s balcony is at least 10 feet deep, the largest on any cruise ship, allowing plenty of room for a table and chairs.

From there, the suites increase in size, up to a 1,100-square-foot Master Suite that has a bar, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Oh, and then there’s Explorer’s crown jewel, the Regent Suite. This 3,875-square-foot showcase is half again as large as the average American house, and its opulence is over the top. More on that later.

We stayed in a “modest” Concierge Suite (332 square feet), which had a sizable sitting area and a European king-sized bed facing the balcony and the sea beyond. The balcony itself was roomy enough to accommodate a padded lounger as well as the aforementioned table and chairs.

The suite had a wood-paneled walk-in closet, and the spacious bathroom was equipped with double sinks, a marble walk-in shower, and a separate full-size tub. A refrigerator was equipped with a mini bar that was restocked daily with soft drinks, water, and beer. When my wife mentioned to our cabin steward that she liked a certain type of wine — voila — a bottle of it showed up that afternoon in our suite.

The ship’s common areas also are lavishly decorated. They make ample use of marble and granite — more than an acre of each was used throughout the vessel — and there are hundreds of crystal chandeliers, including in some of the pricier suites.

Throughout the ship, art lovers can also spot original works by Picasso, Chagall, and other masters, and nearly all of them were personally selected by Mr. Del Rio, an avid collector. In the main dining room, Compass Rose, passengers eat from specially designed Versace place settings.

One piece of art that’s pretty hard to miss is a dramatic three-ton, $500,000 bronze Tibetan Prayer Wheel, which stands guard at the entrance to Pacific Rim, the ship’s high-end Pan-Asian restaurant. The architects said the understructure of Deck 5 had to be reinforced to hold the weight of the massive, floor-to-ceiling installation.

Other specialty restaurants include Regent’s signature steakhouse, Prime 7, and the French-themed place called Chartreuse. Cuisine is hardly an afterthought on this ship, as evidenced by the fact that Explorer’s chefs are actually paid more than the ship’s captain — virtually unheard of in the cruise industry.

For those who like to try their own hand at own cooking, a Culinary Arts Kitchen with 18 work stations is used for lessons on such topics as healthy cooking, food and wine pairings, grilling, and cuisine inspired by each of the ship’s destinations.

Of course there’s also a spa — operated by the Tucson-based specialty company Canyon Ranch — which has eight treatment rooms and offers the usual range of seagoing spa services. A spiral staircase leads from the spa up to a fitness center with machines and free weights.

OK, time to revisit that decadent Regent Suite. It’s located at the bow of the ship up on Deck 14— the entire deck was added during construction just to accommodate the suite — and it’s billed by the cruise line as the most luxurious suite at sea. That just may be true, and at 2,900 square feet, plus another 960 square feet on a wraparound balcony, it’s certainly among the biggest cabins on any ocean liner.

The suite’s private lobby opens onto an expansively decorated living room filled with plush couches and lounge chairs, a shiny marble bar with matching stools, and a one-of-a-kind custom Steinway grand piano (price tag: $250,000). Just off the dining room is a glass-enclosed portion of the balcony that provides panoramic views off the ship’s bow.

Each of the suite’s two bedrooms has its own sitting area, and the master bedroom’s centerpiece is a $150,000 hand-made Savoir bed. (Yes, a bed can really cost that much.)

In a first for any cruise ship, the Regent Suite also has its own private spa retreat, complete with a treatment area, full sauna, steam room, a pair of heated ceramic loungers and an oversized hot tub that looks out over the ocean. Of course, unlimited complimentary spa treatments from Canyon Ranch are available.

The suite also includes its own personal butler, and a private car and driver are provided at each port of call.

All in all, Explorer is a pretty nice little ship. And it should come as no surprise that such ultra-luxury doesn’t come cheap. Entry-level suites start at $6,800 per person for an eight-night sailing, rising with the size of the suite and the length of the itinerary. But as Mr. Del Rio pointed out, that includes round-trip airfare to Europe, unlimited shore excursions, all gratuities, shipwide Wi-Fi, and unlimited alcoholic beverages.

Still, that’s not exactly a family-friendly price tag, as the cruise CEO readily admitted.

“Our intended audience are mature, well-traveled, upscale citizens of the world,” he said. “We’re not after multi-generational travel (aka families). Everybody loves their grandchildren; they just don’t love other people’s grandchildren.”

Oh, and that Godzilla-sized Regent Suite? That goes for a mere $10,000 — per day. And believe it or not, it’s sold out for the remainder of 2016 and well into next year, too.

“We’ll probably raise the price for it in the future,” Mr. Del Rio said, seemingly with a straight face.

Jason Montague, president of Regent Seven Seas, said work has already begun on a $125 million upgrade of the line’s three other ships, to bring them more in line with Explorer’s opulence.

“By the spring of 2017, we’ll not only have the most luxurious ship but the most luxurious fleet at sea,” he said.

INFO: or a local travel agent.

Mike Kelly, a former reporter at the Toledo Blade, is a travel writer and editor. Reach him at

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