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Backed by a passionately loyal clientele, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is entering another incarnation this year as it launches Seven Seas Explorer. Introduced as the world’s most luxurious cruise ship, the new vessel is the latest in Regent’s history of unusual and varied ship designs and is creating a ripple effect as it elevates the entire fleet.
Following a company history of experimentation in ship design, the 750-passenger Explorer will make its debut in July as Regent’s first newbuild in 13 years. The new ship is a leap rather than a step, since so much change in luxury-ship design has taken place during that time. Now, Regent will finally have the opportunity to introduce its dream ship to the market.
Explorer’s design is intended to satisfy increasingly demanding affluent vacationers, offering extraordinary features such as the lavish Regent Suite, which, at 3,875 square feet, is larger than the average private home. The two-bedroom residence at sea comes with its own private spa and unlimited spa treatments, a private vista garden, business and first-class air, a personal butler, a private car and driver in port and between home and airport, as well as the Regent privileges provided to all guests, which include complimentary shore excursions.
The price tag for the suite: $5,000 per person, per night.
Even for passengers not occupying the top stateroom, the smallest of the 369 suites is still 300 square feet. Plus, Explorer has an abundance of elbow room for its guests, boasting the highest space ratio of any current ship (except the ultra-luxury Hapag-Lloyd Europa 2, which wins by a small margin). Explorer’s guests will not have to worry about finding space to relax in their lounge of choice or waiting in lines.
The interior ambience is exceptional, with exotic stone, polished wood, rich colors and wonderful texture contrasts. Lighting is almost theatrical in concept, from crystal chandeliers to Murano glass table lamps. Onboard art — chosen by Frank Del Rio, chairman of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and curator of art on Oceania Cruises — is beautiful and adventurous and, in some cases, even quite amusing.
Public rooms are impressive. The atrium soars up nine decks, and Canyon Ranch Spa Club includes an adjacent teak terrace with an infinity-edge plunge pool. The shower room offers treatments with therapeutic lighting and audio effects. The six open-seating dining venues, described by president and chief operating officer Jason Montague as “an unrivaled collection of specialty restaurants,” run the gamut, including Asian fare at Pacific Rim, French cuisine at Chartreuse and the Italian Riviera-themed Sette Mari at La Veranda.
Explorer’s exceptional design elements are right at home in the company’s long tradition of innovation. Randall Soy, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Regent, has been there since 1990. Back then, Stein Kruse was president of Japanese-owned Seven Seas Cruises, which had one 180-passenger ship: Song of Flower.
“We went through a number of changes and operated some very different ships,” Soy said.
These included Paul Gauguin in the South Pacific and the double-hulled Radisson Diamond.
In 1992, Seven Seas Cruises merged with Radisson Cruises. Under the ownership of Minneapolis-based Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, Diamond entered the fleet as the first ship in a plan to build twin-hulled vessels, but the projected Ruby and Emerald were never built. Diamond remained a unique ship with beautiful interior spaces and incredible stability. (I once sailed on it through a hurricane and none of us realized it until we got to shore.) However, its top speed was extremely slow, which limited itinerary options. As the cruise line began to brand itself with its three all-suite vessels — Seven Seas Navigator, Mariner and Voyager — the plan for more double-hulled ships was dropped. The company’s one-of-a-kind vessels, including Diamond, Song of Flower and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti, all left the line in the past decade or so.
The Carlson period was Regent’s first experience of being just one segment in a multifaceted portfolio of hospitality and travel interests. Soy says the line learned a lot from the other Radisson products, but cruising wasn’t the company’s primary focus, and the line didn’t get nearly the level of investment it is seeing now.
“We were not the core product, but they enabled us to grow, and the whole Midwestern work ethic helped shape the company,” Soy said.
In 2006, the line’s name was changed to Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and shortly afterward, the company launched Circles of Interest enrichment programs on its ships. These let travelers choose among several themes in line with their personal interests and join others with similar mindsets for the entire cruise, both on the ship and onshore, in pursuing art, archaeology, cuisine, history, environmental conservation, photography and wellness.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises will soon launch Explorer, its first ship in 13 years. // © 2016 Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The Regent Suite on Explorer will be one of the largest suites at sea. // © 2016 Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Among other choices, Explorer will feature French cuisine at Chartreuse restaurant. // © 2016 Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The Regent Suite features its own spa. // © 2016 Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent was in the news during this time even without a new vessel. The biggest development was its announcement of an extensive all-inclusive policy that was instantly embraced by guests and travel agents, whose commission was now based on all elements of the cruise. The policy makes it crucial for agents to explain the inclusions to their clients, so consumers can make valid pricing comparisons. Passengers need to take into consideration that their cruise fare includes a rich menu of shore excursions; roundtrip air; pre- and post-cruise tours and hotel stays; all gratuities; and beverages, including high-quality wines and premium spirits. In addition, the fare includes free Wi-Fi access, a fully stocked minibar and transfers to and from the airport.
The new policy brought Regent’s passenger participation in shore excursions from around 15 percent to 90 percent. As they took advantage of land explorations, guests provided feedback reflecting a stronger appreciation of the cruise line’s choice of ports of call.
Then, in 2008, New York-based Apollo Global Management, L.P. acquired both Regent and Oceania Cruises. Apollo also held a minority stake in Norwegian Cruise Line, and its cruise interests were placed under the umbrella of Prestige Cruise Holdings. In 2014, Regent announced that it had entered into a contract with Italian shipyard Fincantieri to build Explorer. At $450 million, Explorer is one of the most expensive luxury liner ever built. In late 2014, Norwegian acquired Prestige, which became a part of Norwegian Cruise Holdings.
As the features of the new ship were made public, a gap emerged between Explorer and the existing vessels, and Regent moved to integrate its fleet. In January, Montague announced that the company was investing $125 million to bring Navigator, Voyager and Mariner in line with Explorer.
“Every single suite and public space will be touched,” he said.
Navigator will be the first ship to receive the extensive refurbishment, slated to be completed by April 13, 2016. It’s clear that guests have great faith in the company’s plans for renewal; according to Montague, 70 percent of Regent’s 2017 world cruise sold on the first day bookings opened.
“The investment we are making in the rest of the fleet is dramatic,” Soy said. “And it’s wonderful to have a cadre of loyal customers.”
The personal commitment passengers felt grew in the years leading up to the final concept for the new ships, when former president Mark Conroy repeatedly consulted with guests about the features they wanted to see. Many of these customers continue to regard themselves as stakeholders, and the company’s culture of participation has been a key factor in its success.
Likewise, there is an unusually familial environment among the passengers on Regent’s ships, partly because of the inclusive nature of the product. Guests spend time together on the included pre or post explorations, they take an exceptionally large number of shore excursions, and they meet for dinner, drinks and conversation freely, without any concern over who will pick up the check.
Soy believes that putting people first — whether that be the staff, passengers or travel agents — has been the single most important aspect of retaining Regent’s identity and its loyal customers throughout the line’s changes in owners and ship architecture.
“The connection with the guests and the spirit of the staff on the three ships is amazing,” Soy said. “And it’s only going to get better.”