Cruise Line Managing Director, Jos Dewing spent a few days aboard the 6-star all-inclusive Regent Seven Seas’ Mariner in May 2014 – This was his experience
Since I returned to the wonderful world of luxury cruising last year, there has been a particular product that I have been very keen to experience, again! In my mid-twenties when I abandoned working for a finance company in London and embarked on a completely new career path in travel, the first cruise ship I ever stepped foot on, was a Regent Seven Seas ship (then known as Radisson Seven Seas). This was a surreal experience for sure. A twenty something who was used to travelling the world with a backpack suddenly wearing chinos, loafers (without socks) and a linen jacket! This was what you needed to wear on cruise ships I was told, this was a new phase in my travelling life and what an amazing experience it was.
I recall the ship struck me as being vast, even though it was introduced to me as being small within the industry, but it was the concept of inclusive luxury travel at sea that really grabbed me. It was magical. To board a beautiful ship in some picturesque port was one thing, but to wake up in a completely different place the following morning and to have travelled there without a care in the world or needing to lift a finger was something entirely different. The notion of a hotel that travelled with you had long been a thing of marketing rhetoric and hyperbole to me, suddenly it was very much real, something that people simply had to experience, something you would never be able to forget.
10 years on and I find myself once again heading off to experience a Regent cruise, condensed into a few days on-board the newly refurbished Seven Seas Mariner. So what to expect? Well both Regent Seven Seas and the Mariner herself have some ‘firsts’ to their names. Regent being the only cruise line to go fully inclusive and Mariner being the world’s first all-suite, all-balcony ship. Add to that a multi-million dollar refurbishment and a collection of wonderful memories, my expectations are very high.
My first sight of Mariner was from our transfer car as we drove down the portside at Taormina. Taormina is a gorgeous hillside town and port on the east coast of Sicily. Mariner was anchored a short distance from the harbour and took on a fittingly regal presence, framed to perfection in the serene turquoise bay. The tender to board the ship was straightforward and before long we had embarked and checked in, suites were ready and the experience had begun. At this point, a rush of excitement hits you at the prospect of what the next few days at sea and on land (if you wish) will hold.
I dislike the cliché on one level but on another, I don’t think there is any better description of a ship like Mariner when combined with a product offering like Regent other than the perfect luxury hotel. But it is far from the luxury hotel people would be accustomed to. All-inclusive with Regent is not the all-inclusive many travellers now see advertised. On-board a Regent ship you will want for nothing. The bars are stocked with the best label spirits and the food is on par with the best restaurants in London, serving the finest ingredients and with incredible choice.
In the evening I dined in Prime 7, which on the face of it, is a contemporary American steakhouse at sea. It would however be wrong to complete the description there as the menu was special. I had the jumbo lump crab cake, followed by a clam chowder and the signature surf and turf. This comprised a perfectly cooked and presented 6 ounce lobster tail with warm drawn butter and 6 ounce prime filet mignon, dry-aged for 28 days. The food was of course delicious with an excellent wine selection to accompany but it was the atmosphere and service that made it work so well. There was a real flair and liveliness about the place, the lobster was shelled in front of you, the menus were oversized and fun, the service was omnipresent, energetic and fast but not in a frenetic way, the place had an elegance and efficiency that was effortless. During the meal you completely forget that you are in the middle of the ocean, the ship is so steady and stable, although I can honestly say you would struggle to match the experience on land, it is hard to put your finger on why that is, but the best cruise lines seem to generate another level in their approach to dining that is inspired and unparalleled. Only the sea it seems is capable of delivering the 6-Star badge.
The meal was followed by drinks in the Observation Lounge and the feel of being on the open ocean hits you once again, the warm breeze rolling off the Mediterranean Sea, the almost hypnotic stream of the ships wake as it powers away from Sicily and a perfectly prepared cocktail in hand to bid this stunning volcanic island farewell.
Just before heading for dinner I had visited the destinations desk on the ship to review the complimentary excursion programme that was available for the following day in Amalfi. I was really impressed with the choice and one immediately caught my eye, ‘The Emerald Grotto’ tour. This is another area that stands Regent out in its inclusive offering as it is the only luxury cruise line that includes shore excursions. But as with anything deemed ‘inclusive’, you naturally question the quality and availability. The latter was not an issue, the booking process could not have been easier, within seconds my place was secured, ticket printed, day planned! The primary question was yet to be tested.
Morning on a luxury cruise ship is something to be treasured. Opening the curtains of the veranda to see a completely new sight from that which the sun has set upon. This was like a painting, the whitewashed town of Amalfi trickled down through the valley of a deep ravine like water, meeting the ocean with a quintessentially Italian port flanked by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery, a place to be explored and a view to be savoured. Another wonderful benefit of cruise ships at anchor is the opportunity of viewing your destination from the Ocean. What better way to see the full picture of the place you are visiting, a view impossible by land. We left the ship by tender and were taken to board a cruiser in the port. A short cruise along the Amalfi coast followed until we entered the bay of Conca dei Marini, home of the Grotta dello Smeraldo, the ‘Emerald Grotto’.
This is doubtlessly an iconic local experience, the Grotto was in fact well-known in the 19th century, lost and then rediscovered the 1930’s. Extraordinary emerald colours filter from underwater openings, filling the cave with the eponymous illumination. The cave is eerily quiet, filled with stalagmites, stalactites and even some submerged religious statues of the nativity, ghostly apparitions only visible when the water becomes still. The visit to the Grotto is by rowboat and the guide was very charming and amusing too, making an engaging experience even better. The cruiser then took us further down the Amalfi coast before returning us to the port where a short tour of Amalfi itself continued on foot.
During this tour we were fortunate to see a wedding party climbing the many steps of Amalfi Cathedral, an imposing and striking Baroque/Gothic 9th-century building in the Piazza del Duomo. Alleged resting place of St Andrew and possibly the most exquisite location for a wedding I’ve ever seen. The scene was perfect and the tour had been everything you would want, breath-taking scenery for photos, interesting history, memorable experiences and it was all included of course.
Returning to the ship it felt right to take advantage of the pool deck and the warm Mediterranean sun, so with book in hand I found a suitable seat and sat down to relax. I was quickly approached for a drink order, water was provided, and a stronger drink was offered. The pool bar was open and provides an exhaustive range of drinks, there is also a self-service option for a variety of cold beers and soft drinks, alongside the pool buffet area. Orders are taken anywhere on the deck for specific cooked meals and snacks. Just as the sun starts to become quite apparent, a Regent Steward approaches me with an ice cold flannel and I’m definitely feeling the inclusive luxury flowing through every element of this ship. Everything I could want is here, ready for me, anticipating my needs, satisfying my wants. It really is all included, but that includes more than I had imagined.
On reflection having experienced a night and a full day on board Mariner the proposition of an all-inclusive 6-star cruise made sense in every respect. I’ve paid for my cruise, the only reason I want to use a key card is to access my suite, not to keep spending more money on board. Shore excursions don’t need to be a chore! I want to pick something that suits, book it and enjoy it and I don’t want that to be a hassle or an additional expense, I don’t want to be herded around like cattle, they are not chore excursions after all (sorry!) I don’t want to feel that I need to ask for things because it’s all-inclusive and I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for asking, Regent staff make sure it is offered, even champagne at breakfast (which I declined but the offer was there).
When you look at it this way you can see the true value of truly inclusive cruising, not just for how much easier it is and how much better you feel about the experience, but how much you can save too. I think the whole attitude and ambiance of a ship changes when its staff are not trying to further sell or upsell you at each level and if that sounds good, this is the product you simply have to experience for yourself. And on the question of luxury or even ultra-luxury as many would define Regent. Yes luxury is champagne on tap, L’Occitane® toiletries, slumber beds and lobster tails, these are all the material expression of a luxury experience, the obvious face of it all. However, feeling you really do matter, feeling the staff are there to look after you and underpin your enjoyment rather than sell to you, not needing to carry a payment card and being encouraged to take advantage of the glorious position you find yourself in, that is surely ultra-luxury and that is Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
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CRUISE: Palaces & Playgrounds on Seven Seas Voyager
DATE: 8th September 2014 for 10 nights
ITINERARY: Stockholm | Tallinn | St Petersburg (overnight port stay x2) | Helsinki | Riga | Klaipeda | At sea | Berlin (Warnemunde) | Copenhagen
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