Regent Seven Seas unveils multimillion-dollar refurbishment of ships

Grand crystal chandeliers, marble walls and a new menu: Compass Rose, the main dining room of the Regent Seven Seas Mariner has had a dazzling makeover.

Luxury line Regent Seven Seas launched its flagship Seven Seas Explorer in 2016 and since then the company has spent US$125 million "Explorer-ising" the rest of its fleet.

General manager Anatoli Makaev says the most dramatic transformations are seen in the restaurants. These include the Compass Rose upgrades plus Prime 7, the specialty steakhouse, now features stylish structural lighting and a rich cream-and-blue colour scheme. Chartreuse, the French restaurant that made its debut on Seven Seas Explorer, replaces Signatures; and the buffet in La Veranda was stripped out and redesigned.

In Compass Rose the 460 main and side plates are by Versace, as on Explorer. Is there a budget for breakage, I wonder? Makaev laughs and says they have a "few spares". The salt and pepper pots in Chartreuse alone cost $378 a pair – the settings are the most expensive on the ship, at $1200 for a table for two. The design for the chairs in Prime 7 was developed over six months – and they are supremely comfortable – all the fabrics and designs used in the refurb are exclusive to Regent Seven Seas.

The library, Coffee Connection and internet cafe area is all new; there is a delicious new-wood smell in the library and the flickering electric log fire crackles just like a real one. The pool deck was also completely overhauled and a new mosaic-tiled pool installed along with smart new daybeds. All the suites, lounges and bars, plus the reception area and spa, were fitted with new carpets, artworks, furniture and decor.

It took a team of 1000 contractors three weeks at the Marseille shipyard to take Seven Seas Mariner "back to the steel" and rebuild it. RSSC president and chief executive Jason Montague says, "I'm constantly amazed by the attention to detail that goes into our ships, and the newly refurbished Seven Seas Mariner is no different, from the luxurious decor down to the intricate design elements."

It's a large, spacious ship for just 700 passengers. Makaev says the first voyage after the refurb was fully booked and 460 guests were Titanium or Platinum members, regulars who have been cruising with the line for 10 or more years. Their reaction was "overwhelmingly positive – they loved the new look". And as sales for the upcoming Seven Seas Splendor broke all RSSC's records, we can eagerly anticipate that ship's new look too.

Sally Macmillan was a guest of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

THE PORT

Athens (Piraeus), Greece

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WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Celebrity, Celestyal, Costa, CMV, Cunard, HAL, MSC, NCL, Oceania, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, Viking, Voyages to Antiquity, Windstar.

WHY WE LOVE IT It's Europe's oldest city, packed with ancient monuments, museums and centuries-old architecture. Narrow streets full of little bars and shops branch off spacious piazzas, and contemporary Athens boasts a thriving nightlife and rapidly developing arts scene.

TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Ships dock at Piraeus, one of the biggest ports in Europe. It is a major hub for ferries to the islands and has two cruise terminals. Piraeus is about 15 kilometres from Athens; if you're doing your own thing, take a shuttle bus, taxi, metro or public bus into town. A large part of the historic centre has been converted into a three-kilometre pedestrian zone that leads to the major archaeological sites – the Parthenon, Acropolis, Odeon and Temple of Athena. Other historic districts such as Plaka, Monastiraki, Psiri and the 19th-century "village" of Anafiotika are perfect for strolling. If you have time, take a day tour to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion or the Corinth Canal.

MUST SEE Acropolis Museum, a modern masterpiece near the Acropolis; a movie at Cine Paris, the 1920s outdoor cinema in Plaka, just below the Acropolis; changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Syntagma Square; and the views from Lycabettus Hill (there's a tram to the top).

MUST EAT Apart from well-known favourites such as Greek salad, seafood, tzatziki and moussaka, national dishes to try include saganaki (a fried cheese appetiser); fava bean dip; taramasalata (smoked fish-roe dip, infinitely superior to supermarket versions); spanakopita (spinach pie); sweet bougatsa filo pastry pies; and loukoumades, mini deep-fried doughnuts served with honey.

NEED TO KNOW Although credit and debit cards are widely accepted, it's useful to carry cash euros for some bars, cafes and taxis. Many shops and museums close between 2pm and 5.30pm.

ESSENTIALS http://www.visitgreece.gr

CRUISEFACT

In 2017, the average age of Australian cruise passengers was 49. Shorter cruises in the Pacific Islands, Caribbean and Australia attract a younger age group.

NEWS

NEW CRUISE TERMINAL FOR BRISBANE

Carnival Spirit will become Carnival Cruise Line's first ship to home-port in Brisbane when the new terminal is completed in 2020. Port of Brisbane and Carnival Australia are working together to develop the Brisbane International Cruise Terminal at Luggage Point. Sture Myrmell, president of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia, says it is the single most important investment in cruise tourism in Queensland in 12 years. "This project creates the opportunity for Queensland and its many regional ports to become the nation's powerhouse for the cruise industry's continued growth at a time when industry figures show infrastructure constraints around Australia are slowing momentum." Carnival Spirit will sail year-round from Brisbane to the Pacific Islands and on shorter cruises to North Queensland. See carnival.com.au

WHALE-WATCHING FROM SYDNEY

Captain Cook Cruises is operating daily whale-watching cruises from Sydney's Circular Quay throughout the July school holidays. July is the peak time to spot whales and according to ecological consultant and CCC's marine commentator David James, 2018 looks set to be another great whale season. "Last year was the most incredible whale-watching season on record," he says. "Whales were spotted on over 95 per cent of departures and up to 18 whales seen each time. With whale sightings increasing every year, 2018 should blow those statistics out of the water." Cruisers can expect to spot humpbacks and possibly southern rights, orcas and minkes, as well as fairy penguins, seals and albatross. If passengers don't spot a whale, they can cruise again for free. See www.captaincook.com.au

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