Regent Seven Seas (RSSC) is one of a handful of cruise lines recognised as "true luxury" by the industry in general and by the independent Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships in particular.
The luxury line launched the 750-guest Seven Seas Explorer – billed as "the most luxurious ship ever built" – in 2016 and its first sister, Seven Seas Splendor ("the ship that perfects luxury") arrives in February next year. A third Explorer-class ship is scheduled for 2023, at a cost of some €475 million, which will bring the fleet to six all-suite, all-inclusive vessels.
What are the differences between Explorer and Splendor?
"It's a constant process of refinement," says Lisa Pile, RSSC's vice president, sales, Australia and New Zealand. "We keep a close eye on design trends, so Splendor's colour palette is lighter and brighter. There's more outdoor space – Coffee Connection extends to the deck and the pool grill will be open for dining under the stars – and the famous Regent Suite, already the biggest at sea at 412 square metres, will be even more spacious."
RSSC's presence in local waters is growing every year. The 2020-21 season marks Explorer's inaugural sailing in the region and to say that Pile is excited about the ultra-luxe ship's arrival is the understatement of the century.
"She is gorgeous! We can't wait to share her unrivalled elegance with local cruisers and give them a taste of what a truly all-inclusive luxury ship offers."
Demand for luxury cruising is booming. SeaDream recently announced it is building its first new ship since 2001, Silversea's Silver Moon and Silver Dawn are due in 2020 and 2021, Crystal has two expedition yachts and the 800-guest Crystal Diamond on order, and Hapag-Lloyd is adding three ships to its fleet, two launching this year.
"It's great news for the industry," says Pile. "We've seen massive growth in the contemporary [megaship] market and now there is strong demand from healthy, wealthy, mobile travellers who are looking for new adventures and experiences. In Australia, 120,000 baby-boomers will enter retirement every year over the next 10 years and in the US, 16,000 retire every week."
Maintaining already very high standards of both "hardware" and service is key to the sector's continuing success. NCL Holdings, RSSC's parent company, already has a crew-training academy in Miami and is building a new centre in Manila. For luxury cruisers, differentiating between the cruise lines' offerings will involve navigating a sea of superlatives to find their perfect voyage.
Piraeus (Athens), Greece
WHO GOES THERE
Azamara, Celebrity, Celestyal, Costa, CMV, Crystal, Cunard, HAL, MSC, NCL, Oceania, Ponant, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Royal Clippers, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, Voyages to Antiquity, Viking, Windstar.
WHY WE LOVE IT
Athens is packed with historic monuments – the Parthenon temple atop the Acropolis is one of the world's most recognised (and visited) archaeological sites. However, the city is much more than an open-air museum – districts such as Plaka, Thissio and Psyrii are undergoing renewal and you'll find streets and squares full of shops, galleries, restaurants and wine bars.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE?
The port of Piraeus is about 10 kilometres from central Athens, which is easily accessible by metro or taxi. Taking an early-morning guided tour of the Acropolis includes entry to several sites and allows you to skip queues and to benefit from your guide's expert knowledge – Get Your Guide offers several tours (getyourguide.com). You can explore the city on foot, using the metro to travel between districts, take an organised tour or jump on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. The essential sights to cover in a day include Plaka (don't miss picturesque Anafiotika), Monastiraki (for shopping and the Sunday flea markets) and Syntagma Square.
Acropolis Museum; changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Syntagma Square; Mikrolimano marina, for waterfront dining in Piraeus; National Archaeological Museum, considered one of the world's best museums; city and ocean views from the top of Mount Lycabettus; Hadrian's Gate; Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Local tavernas and fine-dining restaurants serve up versions of Greece's best-known dishes, such as Greek salad, moussaka (maybe not strictly Greek), spinach pie (spanakopita) and some of its less famed, too. Try saganaki (fried cheese appetiser), fava (dip made from yellow split peas), tomatokeftedes (fried tomato balls) and any sort of baked stuffed vegetable (gemista).
NEED TO KNOW
English is not as widely spoken in Athens as on the islands, so take a phrasebook and download a translator app.
The four-masted, 64-passenger windjammer Sea Cloud is the oldest cruise ship still sailing. It was built in 1931 and originally called Hussar.
CHRISTMAS IN TAHITI
Luxury company Paul Gauguin Cruises is offering two special Christmas 2019 voyages in Tahiti and the Society Islands on board its much-awarded 332-passenger ship, Paul Gauguin. The seven-night cruises, round-trip from Papeete, call at Huahine, Taha'a, Bora Bora and Moorea, and feature a day at Paul Gauguin Cruises' own islet, Motu Mahana as well as access to a private beach in Bora Bora. Fares for the December 21 and 28 departures start from $US4644 and include return air fares from travellers' closest capital city; drinks, including beer and select wines and spirits; staff gratuities; and select watersports and use of snorkel gear. As well as having a high 1:1.5 crew-to-guest ratio, the ship is home to a troupe of local Tahitians, the Gauguines and Gauguins, who serve as cruise staff, entertainers and storytellers. See wiltrans.com.au
SHORT AND SUITE
Shorter river cruises feature on Avalon Waterways' 2020 program, catering for time-poor travellers and those who are keen to try a river cruise for the first time. They include a choice of four-, five- and six-day itineraries on the line's Suite Ships – the four-day Taste of the Danube cruise from Budapest to Vienna starts from $1598 and visits Bratislava, Melk and Durnstein. A Taste of the Rhine is a five-day cruise from Mainz (Germany) to Amsterdam with fares starting from $2814 and highlights include scenic cruising along the Rhine Gorge and wine-tasting in Boppard. The six-day Heart of Germany itinerary along the Main River and Main-Danube Canal has been extended from a Christmas cruise to operating year-round in 2020, with fares starting from $3003. See avalonwaterways.com.au
THE BIG LAUGH
P&O Cruises has announced a star-studded line-up for its second annual comedy festival at sea to be held on board its 1990-passenger flagship, Pacific Explorer. Thirteen big-name comedians, including Tom Gleeson, Dave Hughes, Dave Thornton and Mel Buttle, will perform 32 shows during the jam-packed three-night Big Laugh cruise departing Sydney on June 8, 2019. "From big marquee performances to intimate gigs in our many stylish bars and lounges, the cruise will serve up different comedy genres every day and night. There will be something for everyone," says P&O Cruises president Sture Myrmell. The June departure is just one of the line's 38 dedicated comedy cruises scheduled for 2019 – a mix of two, three and four-night Short Breaks departing Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland. See pocruises.com.au