Kirsty Johnston boards the world's newest luxury cruise ship, the Seven Seas Splendor
First impression and check-in experience: The Splendor, at just over 4000m square and carrying up to 700 passengers, is apparently a "small" cruise ship, but docked at the Port of Civitavecchia in Rome, seemed huge to me. She is pristine white with duck-yellow lifeboats, and brand spanking new.
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Regent, the ship's owners, provided transport to the port, which was smooth and on time. My boarding and check-in were not smooth at all, but that's nothing to do with the brilliantly professional staff - it turns out you need a passport to board a cruise ship. Mine had already gone on-board with my luggage, so I spent a sweaty hour in the terminal awaiting it. Pro tip: Don't do this.
Once inside, I could immediately see why the ship's tagline is "luxury perfected". Everywhere I looked was cream and glass. A huge, delicate chandelier hung in the atrium, and another in the signature dining room Compass Rose on the 4th floor. My suite, a Concierge room at 43m square, was almost the same size as my Auckland apartment, but with much more expensive finishings. The colour palette was silver and cream, with dark marble benchtops and a huge walk-in wardrobe. My steward met me in my room and showed me around - and most importantly taught me how to use the lights.
My next move was to see the Picasso, Le Taureau Noir, on level 10. It is the most expensive art piece on board, the jewel in the ship's $5 million collection, spread throughout the rooms and public spaces.
Owners and flag: Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Marshall Islands.
Our trip: We sailed from Rome to Barcelona, with a stopover in Livorno. This is not the ship's usual route, but was instead a preview sailing, for media and travel agents to be introduced to the ship before her inaugural season in 2020/2021.
How big? The Splendor is 224 metres long, with 10 guest decks. It has 542 staff, weighs 56,000 tonnes and cruises at a speed of 19.5 knots.
How old? Completely new. Regent revealed in March 2016 that it was launching a new ship, naming her in late 2017, and holding a keel-laying ceremony (where three coins are placed in the keel for luck) in 2018. In January 2019 it released the details of what it says is the most luxurious suite at sea - The Regent Suite. The Splendor was finished and delivered in January this year at a cost of US$422 million, and will begin sailing in April.
How many passengers and who are they? Our sailing only had around 450 guests, but the ship takes up to 750. In the evenings, it feels busy, but during the day it is extremely peaceful. Regent's customers are the 60-plus demographic, mainly from the United States, UK and Australasia. The ship can accommodate children, but is not designed with them in mind.
Destinations: Seven Seas Splendor will sail mainly through the Mediterranean in its inaugural season - Italy, Spain, Croatia, Greece and France. It also has routes that stop in Portugal, Turkey, Morocco, and the United Kingdom and Ireland. Sailings run from seven nights to 15 nights, with the first available bookings in April.
Cabins: Start with the Deluxe Veranda, at 33sq m, and move through Concierge, Penthouse, and Distinctive suites, each with its own balcony (and anything above Penthouse has a butler).
I stayed in the Concierge suite, and it was roomy without being over-the-top. Regent says it wants the suites to feel "like home" - and more specifically like a high-end apartment. The Concierge certainly felt like that - with its generous lounge area and pull-out television, and a balcony big enough for two deck chairs and a sun lounger. It also had an adequate walk-in wardrobe and a bathroom with a bath and a shower (including a rain shower). We toured the other suites, and if you were a single person or a couple who didn't plan to spend much time in the room, the Veranda suite (the cheapest option) is still well-apportioned, but certainly not as comfortable.
The two-bedroom suites can accommodate up to six guests, and many of the rooms have convertible sofa beds. Connecting suites and wheelchair-accessible suites are also available.
The most expensive suite is the magnificent pearl of opulence known as the Regent Suite, a 400-plus sq m set of rooms which the company boasts is the "most exclusive address at sea" and the "ultimate retreat". Designed to be a step above the already luxurious lodgings found in sister vessel the Seven Seas Explorer, the Regent Suite includes custom furnishings, exotic stones, and polished woods. There is an in-suite solarium, a palatial bath and a huge walk in wardrobe. The bed - a Vividus with a television which rises out of the bed-end at the push of a button - is worth US$200,000. Not to mention the fully-stocked bar, the grand piano, the enormous balcony, the jacuzzi, and the private car (and driver) at every port that also comes with the package. At $10,000 a night, it's an extremely exclusive experience and it would pay to book well in advance.
Food and drink: The signature restaurant, Compass Rose, is where guests eat most of the time. There are also a range of signature restaurants with a variety of cuisine options, from French to Asian to a Steak House, all included in the fare. The Pool Bar and Grill runs all day and is a more casual dining area, and room service is available at any point. There's also a coffee lounge with barista-made coffee, a whisky bar and a nightclub. The ship provides a reusable water bottle for each guest, and there are water stations throughout the ship.
The food is exquisite, each dish expertly matched with delicious wine, and the only real issue is trying not to eat too much.
Service: Regent boasts "impeccably tailored service". There's minimal fuss - if you want something, you can have it. Bookings are easy, just ring reception and they will book a spa treatment or a dinner reservation for you. Each room has a steward or butler, who ensure your every whim is catered to.
Entertainment and exercise: The ship has a full theatre across two floors, with a show each night. There are more performers throughout the lounges and bars, and a nightclub with a dance floor.
In the daytime, there's the pool, jacuzzis, mini-golf, paddle-tennis, shuffleboard and bocce. The sports deck features a jogging track; and there is a full gym with fitness classes every day. Puzzles and cards are also available.
Regent has added 16 new cooking classes to its Culinary Arts Kitchen programme, in a beautiful facility with sea views and expert chefs to guide you.
Facilities: Serene Spa & Wellness has a vast array of treatments, with ingredients and techniques from the ship's destinations. It has a relaxation lounge (if you aren't relaxed enough already) an infinity pool and hydrothermal suite. There's also boutique shopping on board.
Shore tours: The Splendor has free unlimited shore excursions at every port of call, including gourmet culinary tours, wellness tours and heritage site visits. On its longest voyage - 15 days from Monte Carlo to Southampton - there are 118 experiences to choose from. More exclusive tours, or a private driver can be arranged at extra cost.
Contact: View all sailings at rssc.com. Call 0800 625 692 or contact your travel agent.
What's great about this ship? It is extraordinarily comfortable. Everything you want, you can have. Nothing is a problem. The staff are experienced and kind. The fit-out is beautiful, with a wide array of spaces to suit every mood - the pool deck on a sunny day, the dark-panelled library for time out, the serene observation deck to watch the world go by. The Regent Suite aside, it is elegant without necessarily being showy - the muted colour palette adding a level of sophistication above what you'd expect. The ship's smaller size means it feels more intimate, and the range of restaurants makes every day feel truly luxurious.
What's not? Let's be realistic - it's expensive. Deluxe Veranda suites start at $9660pp for seven days and escalate from there. The penthouse for seven days from Barcelona to Rome, for example, is $15,200pp. This isn't for the mere mortals among us, but the travel agents aboard felt it wasn't overpriced if that was the kind of holiday you wanted - a personalised, comfortable, passive exploration of multiple beautiful destinations.
It's also still a cruise - and cruises have their quirks. There's something very old-fashioned about cocktail hour and games night and, in particular, the evening show. Taking a guided excursion isn't for everyone.
Some of the decor is also very American - heavy wood panelling, lots of suede armchairs and light-coloured carpet. Much of the time you forgot you were on a boat at all - which is the intent - but it could at times feel incongruous with your surroundings - the ocean.
Ideal for: Travellers who want to put everything in someone else's hands and to be absolutely looked after by an expert team in true luxury, with no fuss. It is the perfect cruise if you want to really treat yourself and utterly relax into your holiday without worrying about logistics or even daily decision-making. The Splendor is opulent and meticulous and beautiful.