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Luxury cruise ship built to create wows -- for one-percenters

Miami Herald
January 28. 2017 7:42PM
Seven Seas Explorer is spaciously intimate, breathlessly elegant and perfectly staffed to offer Regent Seven Seas Cruise's special brand of all-inclusive luxury. (Steve Beaudet/Regent Seven Seas Cruise/TNS)

Its menus are laden with lobster, caviar, foie gras and escargot. The main dining room is lit by a $200,000 chandelier of hand-blown glass; its walls are decked with $7 million in art. And the entire front of Deck 14 aboard the Regent Seven Seas Explorer is taken up by a $10,000-a-night suite with its own spa and designer piano.

There's no shame in wealth, says Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Regent's parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. His new luxury cruise ship, recently arrived in Miami for the winter cruising season, flaunts it.

The wait staff refills wine glasses like a waitress in a diner fills a bottomless cup of coffee. The vast majority of suites - it's an all-suite ship - have both a shower stall and a tub, and balconies deep enough for a chaise longue. Nearly an acre of marble _ half of it quarried in Carrara, Italy - decorates bathrooms and other spaces on the 750-passenger ship. A crew of 542 serves 750 guests, for a plush ratio of one crew member for every 1.4 guests.

"This ship was built for the 1-percenters," said Del Rio, talking to reporters on a two-night cruise to Nassau last month to show off the ship to travel agents, media and VIPs. "Wealth is not something to hide, especially in the Trump era. The instructions I gave them were 'Money is no object. Bring me your best idea and let me decide what I can afford.'

"This ship is a trophy. Every detail was meant to create wows."

And there are plenty of wows on the ship, which exceeded its budgeted cost of $450 million, although Del Rio won't say by how much. A dramatic double staircase in the atrium with an inlaid marble floor topped by an enormous chandelier hung with 6,000 pieces of crystal. A $500,000, 3-ton Tibetan-style prayer wheel at the entrance to the Pacific Rim restaurant that is so heavy the deck had to be reinforced with extra steel. More than 2,400 works of art.

To indulge in those wows will cost a couple about $1,200 a night for the smallest stateroom on a Caribbean cruise in February, close to $1,800 a night for a Mediterranean cruise in May, according to the company's website. Unlike a cruise on Holland America or Royal Caribbean or other non-luxury cruise lines, though, those prices include drinks, gratuities, most shore excursions and airfare.

Seven Seas Explorer debuted in Monaco in June and spent the summer and early fall sailing in Europe. It will cruise the Caribbean and the Panama Canal out of PortMiami, then head for the Mediterranean in early spring.

The luxury cruise business, like the rest of the cruise business, is booming. Every luxury ocean cruise line - Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Crystal and Silversea - has at least one new ship on order. Regent's second Explorer-class ship is due in 2020.

While the cheaper, more family-oriented lines - Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian - add over-the-top recreational features such as exotic water slides, surf pools, ropes courses and bumper cars, the luxury lines are expanding suites, upgrading menus and spa treatments and incorporating amenities such as shore excursions and even airfare into the cruise fare.

Regent is marketing the Seven Seas Explorer as the most luxurious cruise ship ever built. A lot of that "most luxurious" is in the ship's singular Regent Suite, which is just under 3,000 square feet (4,443 square feet including the wrap-around veranda), and costs $10,000 a night.

"If you want to say this is the most luxurious ship in the world, you have to have the most luxurious suite," Del Rio said.

The two-bedroom, three-bathroom suite features two Picasso lithographs, a $250,000 custom Steinway piano designed by Dakota Jackson, a $150,000 bed ($90,000 of that is the Savoir mattress), a spa retreat - heated tile loungers, sauna, hot tub on the veranda, and unlimited in-suite treatments from the ship's Canyon Ranch spa - and a private car with driver in every port.

There's only one Regent Suite, and it's usually booked well ahead. It's so popular that Jason Montague, Regent's president and CEO, says he expects to raise the price to about $11,000 a night when the next round of sailings starting in mid-2018 goes on sale.

Is the ship luxurious? It certainly meets the definition.

A luxury liner has more staff in proportion to the number of guests, can visit ports where big ships can't dock, and includes most expenses in the base fare, said LynDee King, an agent with Cruise Specialists. "The furnishings are going to be upscale, the linens are finer, they'll have a pillow menu," she said.

"A luxury cruise is about exclusivity," said Beth Butzlaff, vice president of cruise sales for Virtuoso. "Personalized service is really the hallmark of a luxury experience," as well as "spacious suites, gourmet dining, world-class wines, fine living."

By those measures, Seven Seas Explorer clearly exemplifies the category. But is it the most luxurious ship ever built?

That's a question of individual taste. Do you find the Versace place settings in the Compass Rose dining room more luxurious than the china designed by Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa in the chef's Silk Road restaurant on Crystal Serenity? Does Seabourn Encore get more luxury points because its stateroom mini-fridges are stocked with wine and spirits, while standard Seven Seas Explorer suites have only water, soda and beer?

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