Regent Seven Seas Explorer exudes old world charm in sea of luxury

The golden leaf of the Regent Suite bathroom.
The golden leaf of the Regent Suite bathroom. TNS

If you are willing to spend $10,000 a night, it better be a bargain! The Regent Suite on Regent Seven Seas Explorer is exactly that, according to its ardent promoter, Frank Del Rio, CEO and president of the Norwegian Cruise Holdings.

The suite is 4,443 square feet of pure luxury with unparalleled perks: a sumptuous bathroom embellished with gold leaf, a private spa and daily in-suite spa treatments, $250,000 custom-made Steinway piano, two Picassos bracketing the front door, 958 square foot wraparound balcony, a $90,000 Savoir bed (all dressed, $150,000) in the master bedroom, a glass enclosed Vista Garden, a private car available at every port for exclusive land excursions. That’s just for starters. I was willing at least to view it (a jaw-dropping experience with a bit of salivating on the side) but didn’t actually sleep there. But I think Frank Del Rio might have.

Instead, each of my five nights onboard this Mediterranean cruise was spent in my more modest but supremely comfortable suite further down on the luxury scale and deck level (Suite 826, to be specific). Luxury means different things to different people, but the luxury of space, of relative quiet, of thoughtful design, exquisite fabrics of richest silk and velvet and caressable leathers go a long way towards the L word. The one less than luxurious aspect of my suite was the lighting setup. I would have expected a more state-of-the-art system for the light switches instead of so many ons and offs – to the point that I kept forgetting which ones did what. I was a bit in the dark, so to speak.

Explorer, the first new ship in the Regent fleet in more than a decade, has a total of 375 all-private balcony suites varying in size, decor and price categories. They are stunning. Among the suites I visited were famed interior designer Dakota Jackson’s Seven Seas Suites with their golden hued ceilings and all-white marble bathrooms; the Penthouse suites inspired in part by sapphire jewels, and my personal favorites, the Grand and Explorer suites. Quite frankly, I could have just moved in for life. They are sophisticated and chic, employing unusual color combinations and fabrics: crisp white bed coverings nuzzling the curved emerald green leather headboards. The pure white bathrooms countered in midnight blue with embedded crushed glass sparkling like the stars on clear nights at sea. I would have stolen the drapes, also in emerald green, but my suitcase was, alas, too small.

Overall, the Explorer exudes gracious, old world charm. Christened by Princess Charlene of Monaco with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, it is without question the jewel in the Regent Crown. Costing close to $450 million, no expense was spared. She is adorned with an entire acre of granite and marble (over half of it being Carrera marble).

The grand staircase sets the visual standard with its cascading crystal chandelier taking center stage. You can’t help feeling elegant walking up or down even if you’re wearing flip flops, T-shirt and jeans, although a glamourous gown seems more appropriate. I could picture Ginger Rogers tripping the light fantastic and it’s not such a far-fetched vision. She once danced the night away with Ray Solaire, who happens to be the cruise director of the Explorer and a 47-year veteran showman of the seas.

He told me, over a cup of tea in the tony Observation Lounge, that the aforementioned Ms. Rogers and he danced on a trans-Atlantic crossing of the Queen E 11 in 1969. Dressed in his personal style of colorful ties and suspenders, he curates the stylish shows in the two-tiered, 694-seat Constellation Theater channeling the Golden Age of Hollywood with its massive fluted columns and hand-blown Murano glass lamps. Solaire seems to pop up everywhere on the ship like a happy jack-in-the-box spreading good cheer and rallying the guests to partake in a variety of activities he oversees.

For entertainment of a different kind, there’s the 18-hole putting green on the sports deck, the pampering to be found in the Canyon Ranch Spa, multiple libations in intimate bars, winning or losing in the casino, and fiction and fact found in the well-stocked library where ultimate relaxation acquires new meaning.

Explorer’s pool area on the 11th deck is by far the most outstanding I’ve ever encountered at sea. Not only because of its size, but also due to the quality of the materials. Aqua coloured mosaic tiles from Sicis, a company in Italy, created a shimmering quality around the pool that mimics and reflects the movement of the sea salt water. Two hot tubs bracket one end of the pool, each shaded by its white filigree patterned sun canopy. Bravo to Tillberg Design of Sweden, the same company that created the Regent Suite and Library. As the sun-drenched day began, I watched the staff meticulously dress the lounge chairs with white, monogramed terry towel covers. Then I plunged into the pool for a quiet early-morning swim. Later in the day, all those lounge chairs were filled with sleeping, chatting, reading and drinking guests. The staff moved effortlessly among them bearing cold drinks and warm smiles.

Let’s not forget the food. “The most luxurious ship at sea,” as the Regent slogan goes, has to have the highest standard of food, presentation and ambiance as well. How does it all measure up? Specialty restaurants proved to be top drawer: Asian-inspired Pacific Rim, the continental fare of Compass Rose, the classic steakhouse of Prime 7, and Italian offerings of Sette Mari at La Veranda all were stand outs. In my view, however, the piece de resistance is Chartreuse.

The dictionary definition of chartreuse as “a pale green or yellow liqueur made from brandy and aromatic herbs” already had me hooked. The New York-based design firm, ICRAVE, seemingly translated this description into the seamlessly elegant ambiance conjuring chic Parisian dining. Before you are even ushered to your table, the entrance bar area, replete with a solid zinc bar top and decorative iron sculpting, a riff on the Eiffel Tower, invites you to sip the eponymous drink or vintage wines from the finest French vineyards.

Chartreuse-colored glass panels adorn the dining room walls of the art nouveau decor. The entire visual effect reminded me of the gold embellished Klimt painting at the Neue Gallery in New York – beautiful, sensual and seductive. Even the innumerable configurations of gold leaf china, exclusive to Chartreuse, added a touch of luxuriance that doubled to enhance the food it framed. Executive chef Jerome Toumelin was pleased with my choice of the Mont Blanc dessert, which he claimed as his favorite. It is now mine too. As wordy as I am, I am at a loss as how to describe this ambrosia of a feathery light, surprisingly non-sweet, sweet. You’ll just have to order it yourself. You might also choose from such main courses as the poached Brittany lobster medallions with Hake mousseline in a haze of almond milk broth or cream of artichoke, foie gras, and thyme emulsion with a brush of toasted hazelnuts. Voila.

Speaking of emulsions, at the Culinary Arts Kitchen, I made my very first olive oil and vinegar emulsion, as opposed to the usual and somewhat lazy approach of pouring in both without a good whisking a little at a time. Kitchens, generally, are not my strength, but after spending a mere hour and a half with Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly, along with 17 other aproned guests, I fancied myself deserving of a Michelin star, at the very least. Each of us had our own work station replete with stainless steel sink, top-of-the-line induction cooktop, and essential cooking utensils. What we made and ate: Scallops with bacon and chestnuts in a tamari sauce, French mustard vinaigrette with greens, fish in crazy water (Pesce all’acqua pazza), and drunken Limoncello tea cakes. (I do believe the “drunken” refers to the after effect).To cap off the lesson each of us was given not only the recipes, but a chef’s black apron and hat.

The 750 guests enjoyed perfect weather and a near perfect experience throughout the journey. There were, however, a few kinks to be ironed out: breakfasts on my balcony weren’t up to scratch – rubbery omelets and unimaginative presentation; confusion over who ordered what in some of the restaurants also needed to be addressed, but considering it was their first week at sea, I have fewer worries that those initial missteps will soon be redressed.

On this all-inclusive cruise, dozens of excursions from the various ports were offered. Each of the ones I chose was truly marvelous except for one aspect – time. If time is part of the luxury package, then more time should be allotted to each excursion. A case in point: The hilltop village of Le Castellet near Toulon. It was so charming with its variety of enchanting art galleries and shops as well as little bistros, but one hour doesn’t do it justice. If you do go, you must try the lavender-infused gelato at the little stand in the main square and buy only lavandre products, not those marked as lavandin. (The advantage of having a knowledgeable guide, which Explorer provides).

I will end where I started, with Frank Del Rio. For 2 1 / 2 years, he and his wife traveled the world choosing the art for Explorer – 90 percent of all the ship’s artwork, in fact. The designers worked closely with him to showcase his choices and the artistic melding of both adds to the sophistication of the whole.

As the story goes, Del Rio, when first envisioning Explorer, showed the designers a rendering of some photo from a magazine. No one is revealing what this photo was or where it came from.

Ironically, after I left the ship, I spent the day in Nice and went to the famous hotel, the Negresco. Walking around inside, in awe of its design, decor and art, I saw perhaps the provenance of that photo. Whether or not the Negresco was in any way an inspiration, the Explorer has captured something of its timeless elegance and may just be a standard bearer for luxury ships to come.