The luxe boat: cruising the Mediterranean

Our cruise novice embarks on a voyage of luxury with Regent Seven Seas Explorer


If you’re going to holiday on a ship that describes itself as “the most luxurious cruise ship ever built,” I feel it’s important to arrive in style. I am pleased, therefore, that my trip on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer begins with a helicopter transfer from Marseille airport to Monaco where it is docked.

One we’re on board — my husband and I are joining the final days of a two-week voyage from Venice to Barcelona — the distinctly non-minimalist theme continues. There are 500 chandeliers, nearly an acre of marble and over 2,000 pieces of original art, including works by Picasso and Chagall.

After a seamless check-in, I take a stroll on deck. A man wearing an immaculate white chef’s coat approaches. “Good afternoon, Mrs Reuben,” he says. “I am Stéphane Carriou, Head of Food and Beverages. I understand you wanted to interview me.”

I’m bewildered. How does he know who I am? It’s not as though I’m wearing any ID. But this turns out to be just one example of a level of service so impressive that the staff appear to be able to read your mind.

With a maximum of 750 passengers on board, very few for a medium-sized cruise ship like this which would normally carry around 1,200, there is a relaxed sense of space wherever you go, as if you’re in an exclusive, private club.

So it seems fitting that all the ship’s accommodation is made up of suites with balconies. We were in a Veranda Suite which is the most basic — and yet, not basic at all, consisting of a bedroom, sitting room, marble bathroom, walk-in wardrobe and balcony.

Then there are many different grades of suite, including the possibility of a personalised butler service, up to the very highest end, the 4,445 square-foot Regent Suite.

The size of a basketball court, it has its own spa complete with sauna and treatment area, a Steinway grand piano and the use of a large private dining room. All this for a mere £39,489 per guest for a ten night cruise.

With one crew member to every 1.36 passengers there is little trouble getting whatever you need or desire. At the most extreme level, Carriou describes how on one cruise, a passenger got into his pyjamas on the final night, packed his suitcase and sent it off to be transferred to the airport.

He then realised he hadn’t left himself any clothes for the next day. Carriou gave him one of his own shirts, taking quite literally the expression about being prepared to give someone the shirt off your back.

There is, in fact, almost nothing the staff are not prepared to do.

One night in the restaurant, the party on the next table to us were celebrating a special birthday. They had asked the chef to recreate a meal from the movie Babette’s Feast, and he duly did so, sourcing the extra ingredients from local ports.

There’s no doubt that the overwhelming focus is the food and drink. As I talk to the senior members of the crew, the conversation constantly returns to it, and there’s an evangelical zeal in the way they describe what is on offer and how they manage to provide it.

The ship’s six restaurants specialise in different cuisines, with unlimited fine wines and spirits. On our first night, we visit the flagship restaurant, the Compass Rose.

The Maître D looks puzzled when he sees us. “Have you just arrived on the ship?” he asks. “Yes,” we reply.

His brow clears. “I usually recognise all our guests,” he says, “so I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t seen you before.” Another guest arrives. “Good evening, Madam… your husband is over there,” he says.

Given that there are 750 guests on board, we are really quite impressed.

The ship is fully set up to provide kosher food as long as they have 90 days’ notice, provided by US company Sterling Kosher Catering. Each meal arrives completely sealed, along with its own plate; it is then microwaved and served using brand new cutlery and silverware.

For those who are less strict, but nevertheless want kosher meat, this is available without pre-order, although it’s prepared using the standard kitchen equipment.

We were able to choose from a range of kosher options a day or so in advance, but the catering staff have an eye on their Jewish guests even in their mainstream offering.

Our first meal was on a Friday night, and we found kosher chicken, roast potatoes and tsimmes as part of the standard evening menu.

There’s a casino, a “Culinary Arts” kitchen giving specialist cookery classes, two swimming pools and a large spa, while 40 crew members provide regular entertainment on board, along with a couple of lecturers, and two or three guest entertainers for each cruise.

You’ll find a wide choice of excursions at every port too, although once off ship we were less impressed with our trips to Aix-en-Provence (from Marseille) and Girona (from Palamos).

Both potentially fascinating places but we were underwhelmed by our local guides.

They knew their stuff but didn’t know how to deliver it engagingly which was a real shame. Instead we sloped off and enjoyed wandering round by ourselves.

So is the Seven Seas Explorer really “the most luxurious cruise ship ever built”? My husband and I are cruise novices with no means of comparison, so I ask the other guests their opinion.

Everyone I speak to agrees that this ship is unmatched for pure luxury, although several suggest that the entertainment provision is not as extensive as you will find on other, larger ships.

On the Seven Seas Explorer, what you are paying for is outstanding food and drink, exceptional comfort and unbelievable service — as much of it as you’d like.

“We had our own butler last year,” said a Scottish lady, “but we didn’t bother this time. I’m used to folding up my own clothes — I don’t need someone to do it for me.”

If you want to spend your holiday in extraordinary comfort, eating divine food, with cocktails on tap and a crew waiting to cater to your every need, then I can think of no better place to do so.


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