When you board a ship that is the most expensive ever built - for its size - expectations are pretty high. On a recent six-night cruise from Rome to Barcelona I had the chance to check out the sumptuous Regent Seven Seas Explorer from stem to stern – in between visiting some of the Mediterranean’s most popular ports.
An atmosphere of opulence
From the moment you are welcomed into the magnificent atrium by crew offering chilled towels and cold drinks you are enveloped in an atmosphere of palatial opulence. Hand-made chandeliers feature in restaurants, lounges and even corridors, as do fabulous artworks that are worth millions. The sense of light and space is seductive – Seven Seas Explorer accommodates a maximum of 750 guests in suites that range from generous to gigantic and every suite has a correspondingly spacious balcony.
Having enjoyed cocktails in the elegant Observation Lounge, our small party settled into the al fresco Sette Mari restaurant to enjoy the sunset sailaway from Civitavecchia.
Primo port excursions
Longer stays in port and free shore excursions are among the many highlights of RSSC’s cruises; at Livorno, our first stop, there was an excellent choice of free and for-fee full or half-day tours, to Pisa, Florence, Lucca, Siena and San Gimignano. A word of advice here: book free tours online or as soon as you board the ship as they fill up quickly.
Glamorous Monte Carlo
Our second port of call was the glamour city of Monte Carlo, where the ship had been christened just a few weeks earlier. The ship was in port until midnight, when the famous casino closes, allowing guests ample time to explore at leisure. We took a tour to the fortified medieval village of St Paul de Vence, a beautiful spot that has long attracted writers and artists; one of the most famous residents was Marc Chagall, who lived and painted there for 19 years. You can see some of his works in the nearby museum of contemporary art, La Fondation Maeght – and look out for one hanging outside Prime 7 restaurant onboard Seven Seas Explorer.
Shopping and cooking up a storm
At St Tropez, my cruise companion and I spent the morning shopping in the busy market at Place des Lices and strolling around the Old Harbour, marvelling at the sight of billions of dollars worth of superyachts lined up alongside a handful of traditional fishing boats. The afternoon was taken up with a cooking class in the ship’s gleaming new Culinary Arts Kitchen – a first for the cruise line. Under the expert eye of Chef Noelle, 18 of us had a lot of fun whipping up three Mediterranean dishes.
From Toulon, there’s a tempting choice of tours to Aix en Provence, Bormes, Marseille, Port Grimaud and more. We opted for Port Grimaud, sometimes called France’s “Little Venice”, even though it meant tracking back towards St Tropez. Grimaud itself is a historic village perched on a hillside, while Port Grimaud is a maze of marinas, colourful waterfront houses, shops and restaurants that was built on reclaimed marshes in the 1960s. This combination of ancient and modern settlements makes for an interesting outing and a leisurely lunch in Port Grimaud allowed for some entertaining people-watching.
Palamos, in Spain, was our penultimate port of call – the cruise continued to Lisbon but we had to leave the following day in Barcelona. You can take a private trip (about an hour by taxi) to Figueres to visit Salvador Dali’s fabulously over-the-top Theatre-Museum, which I did on a previous trip to Spain; this time we took a local bus tour around Palamos and spent the rest of the day fitting in a session in the ship’s stunning spa, chatting with veteran cruise director Ray Solaire and enjoying the last of several memorable dinners, this one at French bistro Chartreuse.
Were those high expectations of the ship met? The answer is a resounding yes – ultra-luxury cruising is soaring to significantly new heights.