At the entrance to the pan-Asian fine-dining restaurant Pacific Rim stands an elaborately wrought two-tonne floor-to-ceiling bronze installation of 90 Tibetan prayer wheels inscribed with well wishes and auspicious phrases. As guests arrive for dinner, a few stop to ponder which way to spin the wheels (always clockwise, FYI) before picking up a martini glass of the house saketini as they make their way to their reserved tables.
With muted lighting and windows shaped in an abstract lotus motif, it is the perfect setting for a meal of flavourful Asian-inspired delicacies, including snow crab salad, Canadian lobster tempura with ponzu sauce and Black Angus beef bulgogi, perfectly paired with a range of fine wines from around the world or even a carafe or two of junmai daiginjo sake.
An establishment like this would certainly not be out of place in a cosmopolitan city like London or Los Angeles where restaurants like Hakkasan or Nobu continue to remain hugely popular among their upwardly mobile denizens. But what might give one cause to pause is finding out that, instead, this chic restaurant is one of three speciality restaurants on the Explorer, the newest liner belonging to boutique luxury cruise company Regent Seven Seas.
THE NEW CRUISERS
Say the word “cruise” and the images that may come to mind are retirees sipping margaritas on the ship’s deck or shrieking children running their parents ragged around elaborate water parks, rock climbing walls or carnival rides on a ship’s common area.
Well, be prepared to re-examine those preconceived notions with the Explorer, which the company touts as the “most luxurious ship ever built”. It is a boldfaced declaration that sets the bar so high that even before well-heeled globetrotting guests from the media and travel industry board the ship for a two-night preview cruise between Los Angeles and Ensenada, Mexico, they are already wondering what this definition of luxury entails.
As it turns out, luxury starts with a seamless embarkation at the port of Los Angeles. Smiling crew members bearing flutes of chilled Veuve Clicquot champagne welcome guests into a stunning atrium featuring an impressive 4m tall chandelier made with over 6,000 hand-fixed crystal pieces.
A jazz band provides a suitably uplifting soundtrack as we explore our home for the next two nights, admiring the countless paintings, sculptures and installations artfully displayed on the ship.
Built at a cost of US$450 million (S$640 million) and christened last July by Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco, the 375 all-suite Explorer was designed with special attention to features that would appeal to a younger and more discerning group of travellers.
“The luxury landscape is changing and there are today more younger luxury travellers than were traditionally,” says Jason Montague, president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas, a subsidiary of Norwegian Cruise Lines. “The cruise industry has always had a stigma of being ‘old’ but that is changing. We are looking to cater the complete luxury experience and there are certain aspects where we wish to deliver an experience that millennials would love.”
He notes that the younger generation of travellers enjoys crafting bespoke experiences on their vacations and that is exactly what he hopes the Explorer will deliver.
Its F&B offerings are a good example. Together with Pacific Rim, there are two other reservation-only venues – Chartreuse, a fine-dining French bistro and steakhouse Prime 7 – that offer restaurant-style service on board, in contrast to the free-for-all buffets on most mainstream cruises. Still, those who enjoy the variety of offerings at a buffet will be pleased to know that this option is also available on the Explorer.
Additionally, the company’s flagship restaurant Compass Rose has a fully customisable menu where everything from fresh lobster to fillet mignon can be seasoned, cooked and served, exactly the way you want it.
OF CHANDELIERS, MARBLE AND BALCONIES
Hot on the heels of the Regent Seven Seas Explorer is a slew of new ships by luxury cruise line competitors, including the Seabourne Encore which was christened in Singapore in January, and Silversea’s Silver Muse, which is due this spring, suggesting that the industry is gearing up for some stiff competition.
The Explorer is certainly a tough act to follow for other liners in its category, with its interiors oozing luxury at every turn. There are 473 crystal chandeliers illuminating the ship’s public spaces, suites and corridors. Over 45,000 sq ft of marble, including highly prized Italian Carrera marble, is used in the ship, including in the bathrooms in the suites.
There are seven categories of suites, starting with the 307 sq ft Veranda Suites all the way to the luxuriously over-the-top Regent Suite.
The latter’s 4,443 sq ft of opulence includes a private solarium, a custom Steinway grand piano in the living room and even a heated mini-pool spa on the balcony.
All suites are built with a private balcony and guests are greeted with a bottle of chilled champagne, fresh fruit and flowers when they first step into the room – with more of that available with a quick call to the concierge.
Small touches such as cashmere blankets, binoculars and personalised stationery reveal a meticulous attention to detail. It goes without saying that service is impeccable, with staff efficiently working behind the scenes to ensure a comfortable stay and always at the ready to spring to action, even for the smallest request.
What sets a Regent Seven Seas cruise apart from the crowd are its ingenious all-inclusive fares. From unlimited shore excursions to wines, premium spirits and even meals at the speciality restaurants, just about everything is covered so there is no hassle upon disembarkation.
TAKING THE EXPERIENCE OFFSHORE
When the ship docks, shore excursions at the various ports of call are curated to give travellers as authentic an experience as possible. During our stopover in Ensenada, a touristy port town in Baja California, choices include a Mexican cooking class, as well as a visit to the nearby wine region generally regarded as the Napa Valley of Mexico.
For Europe itineraries, guests can sign up for Gourmet Explorer Tours to visit local eateries and Michelin-star restaurants, as well as to pick up local produce from the markets that they will later learn to cook in the ship’s Culinary Arts Kitchen. This state-of-the-art culinary school is the fi rst of its kind in Regent’s fleet.
Executive chef and director of culinary enrichment, Kathryn Kelly, whose natural exuberance and enthusiasm for good food is undeniably infectious, manages to get a roomful of journalists of varying culinary skills to perfectly sear scallops and bake a limoncello-spiked semolina cake during her class – surely an achievement even for experienced chefs like herself. The culinary classes, together with spa sessions at the Canyon Ranch Spa Club, are the two main exceptions to the all-inclusive fare, but both are certainly worth the marginal extra expense.
By the end of a thoroughly indulgent and activity-packed two-night trip, I come to the realisation that far from slow-paced and repetitive, there are in fact many other cruise activities I simply did not have time to strike off my checklist.
The next time I go on an Explorer voyage, I tell myself, I’ll join the other passengers in a game or two of lawn bowling on the sports deck, sign up for a few private yoga sessions at the Canyon Ranch Spa Club, call for breakfast in bed, watch all the shows at the Constellation Theatre and of course, curl up with a good book by the window of the Observation Lounge to watch the world go by.
WHAT US$10,000 A NIGHT WILL GET YOU
The perks of the Regent Seven Seas Explorer’s one-of-a-kind 4,443 sq ft Regent Suite.
The chance to privately soak in the splendour of a pair of Pablo Picasso’s paintings hanging in the suite.
Endless sweet dreams on the US$150,000 Savoir No. 1 bed in the master bedroom on a mattress that costs US$90,000.
A personal butler to see to your every need, from serving up a platter of chilled caviar to mixing a bespoke cocktail from your in-suite bar.
As many spa treatments by therapists from Canyon Ranch spa as your heart desires at the gold-tiled in-suite spa, that comes with its own sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and two heated ceramic-tiled recliner.
A private car and driver to chauffeur you to your excursions at every port of call.
Your choice of designer bath amenities from Guerlain or Bottega Veneta, as well as designer fragrances and spa accessories to leave you buffed and pampered.