When Regent Seven Seas Cruises opened reservations for its newest luxury ship, Seven Seas Splendor, in April, the line reported its most successful single booking day in its 26-year history. The 750-passenger ship doesn't set sail until February 2020 but demand for ultra-luxury cruising is clearly on the up and up.
"The response to Seven Seas Splendor's inaugural season has been incredible, bringing in even more bookings than the Explorer did on her launch day, proving that the demand among both past and new guests continues to grow," said Jason Montague, president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Splendor will be a near-identical sister to Explorer, which launched in 2016, and is RSSC's fifth ship. Explorer was billed as "the most luxurious ship ever built", while Splendor is described by the line as "luxury perfected". So how will Splendor achieve that?
According to Montague, it isn't just duplication. "There's nothing like it in the industry. We're taking the most luxurious ship ever built and making it even better." Like Explorer, Splendor will have 375 all-balcony suites that range in size from the 28.5-square-metre, entry-level Verandah Suite to the lavishly appointed 413-square-metre Regent Suite. Differences between the two ships are mostly about the details, although the spectacular main staircase in the atrium will be moved to face the entrance to the Compass Rose restaurant and Coffee Connection will have an alfresco area.
More subtle changes include larger wardrobes in Penthouse Suites and an extra entrance to the bathroom; lighter fabric and furnishing colours in Concierge Suites, as well as ocean-facing beds; and improved sight lines in the theatre's second storey.
After Splendor has made its maiden voyage from Barcelona to Miami it will sail three cruises between Miami and New York, before returning to Europe in May for its inaugural season. It will also sail to Havana, Cuba, nine times in its first year.
Local cruisers keen to experience this style of luxury cruising in our neighbourhood will be pleased to know that Seven Seas Explorer will cruise in Australian and New Zealand waters for the first time during its 2020-21 season. Between November 2020 and April 2021 it will sail nine Asia Pacific itineraries.
Meanwhile, the most recently refurbished ship in the fleet, Seven Seas Mariner, will make a 117-night world cruise in 2021. Sailing from Miami to Barcelona, the ship will visit six continents, 30 countries and 61 ports across South America, French Polynesia, Australia, Asia and the Mediterranean, including 11 overnight stays and 56 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
WHO GOES THERE
Aranui, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, CMV, Crystal, Fred.Olsen, HAL, Hapag-Lloyd, Oceania, Paul Gauguin, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, Windstar.
WHY WE LOVE IT
Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia and set on Tahiti, the largest of the widely scattered group of South Pacific islands. It's a busy port town about nine hours' flight from Sydney. Many cruises begin and end here with a night in a hotel.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE?
Cruise ships dock in the heart of Papeete, alongside a waterfront esplanade. Within walking distance of the cruise terminal you'll find several shops selling Tahitian black pearl jewellery, pareos (sarongs) and Tahitian oil products, plus the colourful Papeete town market. If your ship isn't calling at Moorea, take yourself there for a day's snorkelling; it's a beautiful island only a 30-minute ferry ride away and the ferry terminal is close to the cruise terminal. Organised coach tours of Tahiti generally visit: Tahara'a One Tree Hill for a spectacular view of Matavai Bay, where Captain Cook sailed on the Endeavour in 1769; Point Venus, Tahiti's northernmost spot; the famous Arahoho Blowhole; Maraa Fern Grotto Cave; Faarumai waterfalls; and the ancient sacred site of Marae Arahurahu.
The Museum of Tahiti, built on a former sacred site; the 19th-century Notre Dame cathedral and nearby Protestant Church of Paofai; the Marche de Papeete market.
Tahitian cuisine is a delicious fusion of French and Polynesian. French bread and pastries are as popular as poisson cru (raw seafood marinated in lime juice and coconut milk). Roulottes (food carts) set up on the waterfront in the evening – don't miss the crepes.
NEED TO KNOW
The local currency is the French Pacific franc (XPF) although US dollars and euros are accepted in many shops and restaurants. One of the best places to buy pearls is the Robert Wan Pearl Museum, where you can also learn about the history of pearling.
This summer, cruise ships will call at more than 40 regional ports and anchorages around the Australian coastline.
Across the Ditch
Princess Cruises is expanding its Across the Ditch program this summer, adding two overland excursions on New Zealand's North Island and more than 20 shore tours under the line's global Local Connections Program. Highlights include an overland stargazing excursion to Great Barrier Island, one of only four Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world, and a journey off the beaten track with award-winning Maori chef Eru Tutaki. Guests will join Tutaki in a forest near the port of Tauranga to harvest bush food that will then be transformed into a three-course degustation meal. Majestic Princess will be the first ship to offer these experiences when it sails to New Zealand in October. See princess.com
Green for Galapagos
Next March, Ecoventura, a leader in sustainable cruising through the Galapagos Islands, is launching the MV Theory, its newest premium-class vessel and one of the greenest yachts to sail the archipelago. Named after Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution, it is a 20-passenger, 14-crew mega-yacht that has 10 cabins with interconnecting rooms and triple cabins available for groups. Luxe facilities include a full-time concierge, fitness centre, sun deck with jacuzzi and an open-bar policy. MV Theory is a sister ship to the MV Origin and will sail two rotating seven-night itineraries that can be combined for a two-week cruise. There are daily shore tours on both routes, including snorkelling, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Two naturalist-guides accompany groups of 10 passengers, making for the highest naturalist-to-passenger ratio in the region. See ecoventura.com