Like beauty, luxury is in the eyes of the beholder.
So, it is accurate to call a week’s voyage on a budget-friendly cruise ship a luxury. Few vacation experiences are as affordable for a family whose luxury is measured by having a steward clean their cabin daily, eating as much restaurant food as they want, sunbathing on the water and at foreign port stops, and choosing from a wide range of entertainments that will keep everyone in a family happy.
But that’s not the definition of luxury that Frank Del Rio had in mind when he set out to design and build what he calls the most luxurious cruise ship in the world. That ship, the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, is sailing in Europe now, then arrives in Miami on Dec. 2 for a series of voyages into the Caribbean.
Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which owns upscale Regent Seven Seas, has developed a concept of luxury that is aimed at the wealthy, the well-traveled, the art and gourmet food lovers who want not just comfort and ease, but luxury in the classic sense, a unique and expensive indulgence.
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$450 million Cost of Seven Seas Explorer
At the July naming ceremony for the 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer in Monte Carlo, Del Rio said that the ship’s kind of luxury is the result of great attention to materials, design and detail. Some are over-the-top. There are others that passengers may not see at first glance but will discover as they cruise on Explorer, a 55,254-ton vessel that cost $450 million.
Explorer is a wonder of opulence, with an abundance of finery, art and upscale dining. It is a ship to explore, to note the amazing amount of inlaid Carrara marble and stone; to inspect the chandeliers, each developed individually, with handmade crystal; to touch the top-shelf French and Italian fabrics; and to cruise the hallways for art, all of which — including two Picasso lithographs — was chosen specifically for the Explorer by Del Rio and his wife, Marcia.
Designers said Del Rio gave them great freedom to spend money in the quest to make Explorer different from other ships, especially in pursuit of one-of-a-kind art. You can’t miss, for example, the $500,000 Tibetan-style prayer wheel, made in Australia of moving, cast iron parts. It sits at the middle of the entrance to the ship’s new Pan-Asian restaurant, Pacific Rim.
When Del Rio was informed of the cost and the design change needed to reinforce the deck with extra steel to secure the 6,000-pound prayer wheel, “All he said was ‘Yes,’ ” explained Greg Walton of CallisonRTKL, one of the ship’s three design firms. The others were Tillberg Design AB and ICRAVE.
The big eye-catcher and social media focus is Explorer’s Regent Suite, which costs $10,000 a night. The suite is a 4,443-square-foot, two-bedroom, three-bathroom affair at the bow, on Deck 14. That deck was added to the ship’s original design to accommodate the suite and oversized balcony.
The Regent Suite includes a private spa with sauna and steam, and unlimited treatments from the ship’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub; a one-of-a-kind Dakota Jackson-designed Steinway piano; and a master bedroom Savoir 1 bed reported to have cost $90,000 for materials and another $60,000 for installation and top luxury linens.
Del Rio said that the suite is fully booked for this year and into 2017. He said he is thinking about raising the $10,000 daily rate, which includes a car and driver at each port of call. How much will the new rate be? “Whatever the market will bear,” he said.
Advertised rates for the ship’s 375 suites, all with private balconies, start at about $550 a night, per person, on some cruises, and include most cruise expenses, including alcoholic beverages, gratuities, shore excursions and airfare.
Luxury lines Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal also have new cruise ships on order.
Explorer, like other ships in the Regent fleet, is a leader among cruise ships for its high number of staff as compared to the number of passengers. The current crew/passenger ratio is one crew member for every 1.48 passengers, a Regent spokesperson said.
Explorer was designed for older cruising couples, said Del Rio, adding that most passengers on Regent ships do not wear their wealth on their sleeves (nearly all nights are elegant casual dress). Folks on Regent primarily are North Americans who have cruised before, either with Regent or on other lines.
This winter, Explorer will sail out of Miami on a series of 10-15 night voyages into the Caribbean and as far as Los Angeles (through the Panama Canal), before heading back to Europe on March 26.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com.