There is something to be said about waking up with room service tapping on the door of your suite, ready to serve you the most delicious breakfast, pulling the curtains back to reveal an Italian city coming to life with the sunrise stretching across the sky in soft apricots and pinks. It feels a little like a Botticelli painting, just missing Venus and some Cupids hovering overhead.
I have arrived in La Spezia, a northern port city near the border of Liguria and Tuscany. It’s a perfect gateway to the well-known tourist hotspots and favourite Italian must-see cities of Pisa and Florence, which are only an hour and two hours’ drive away respectively.
It is day three of our week-long cruise discovering the ‘Flavours of the Mediterranean’. I have also discovered one of cruising’s best-kept secrets. If you haven’t already, try setting sail around the Med in November.
I cannot believe what a different experience a few months makes by not cruising during Europe’s busy summer months. There are fewer queues, easy access to museums and galleries, fewer traffic jams in trying to get around on land, and the weather is actually, well, fine, with lovely warm sunny days and nights onboard with a jacket required only if needed.
I am a first-time caller on the luxurious Seven Seas Splendor. It is the last cruise for the season before it heads off to Miami.
I embark in Rome and enjoy an afternoon whipping around The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, then a night at the Eden Hotel. A short stroll from the Spanish Steps, it has the best location in the Eternal City, offering a delectable buffet breakfast on the rooftop looking out over the city and the Villa Borghese Gardens. Cocktails pre-dinner from this stunning orbit are a must.
The all-suite, all-balcony Seven Seas Splendor has some of the largest balconies at sea and is relatively new, launching in 2020. The 14 suite categories range from the 28m2 Veranda Suite to the lavish 412m2 Regent Suite offering the most luxurious accommodation at sea.
My suite is a Concierge D. It has a wide veranda, separate study, large lounge area with stand-alone table, a giant king-sized bed and an Illy espresso maker, with soft furnishings all in muted light shades of coffee-coloured fawns and nut browns in what interior designers would call ‘luxurious’.
The walk-in robe has cashmere blankets – I guess to enjoy an espresso on your veranda early to catch the sunrise – and there is so much room for empty suitcases. The bathroom is also spacious. I really am taken aback by the scale of the suite. Beautiful freshly cut flowers and a giant red box of Leonidas Belgian chocolates, white Phalaenopsis orchids and two bottles of champagne on ice greet me: what more could a boy need for the week while onboard?
I meet my Suite Attendant Rohit Choudhary, who is all smiles and couldn’t do more for me, asking me what he could fill my mini bar with … nothing is a problem.
The service is top-notch with such an easy check-in process. I can only say that not only do I begin to feel pampered, I wonder why I have left it this long to experience Regent Seven Seas Cruises. I must now change up my cruise recommendations for those who ask.
One of the many reasons passengers keep coming back to Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the ‘Inclusions’, with tailored unlimited complimentary shore excursions available in every port, making it the only truly all-inclusive luxury cruise line. Voyage fares also include gourmet cuisine in a range of specialty restaurants and alfresco dining venues, fine wines and spirits, entertainment, unlimited internet access and valet laundry. Experiencing it first-hand, I now understand what ‘Inclusions’ really means.
The wide range of restaurants are all designed to reflect their unique offerings. Compass Rose is the largest specialty restaurant at sea. With the option of two menus at dinner – an ‘Always Available’ menu which has great classics like shrimp cocktail and many steak options; and the other showcasing a range of new daily dishes – it is a perfect spot for dinner with new friends onboard.
Pacific Rim, a dramatic Pan-Asian restaurant with a bronze-coloured mythical dragon greeting guests at the door, delivers a fusion menu with signature appetisers. You must try the Crispy Soft Shell Crab Tempura. My favourite main was the Chinese Barbecue Pork Ribs: delicious!
At the intimate, elegant steakhouse Prime 7, I enjoy a taste of home: a plate of New Zealand Lamb Chops, well cooked and well loved.
Yet Chartreuse, featuring classic French fare with a modern twist, is the restaurant where I award the dish of the cruise – to the Fillet of Halibut, Braised Fennel, Lemon-Artichoke Tapenade, and Green Olives. It was a simple, light dish hitting every flavour note and had all my favourites tastes on one plate. I would like to try and make this dish at home.
Sette Mari at La Veranda serves guests authentic Italian specialties and features stunning over-water alcove seating that juts out over the ocean for an even closer connection to the sea. Surrounded by such magnificent views, and with a wonderful mix of classic Italian dishes, you can’t go wrong.
Executive Chef and director of Culinary Enrichment Kathryn Kelly is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and has spent over 40 years exploring the world’s many cuisines and cultures. She and other Master Instructors teach the classes within the state-of-the-art Culinary Arts Kitchen onboard. “Our curriculum appeals to a broad range of tastes and caters to all experience levels, from beginner to seasoned chefs, delivered in the most advanced teaching kitchen on the seas,” she says.
The two-hour classes were designed by Kelly. “We teach the culinary techniques that chefs use every day, build a recipe and skills repertoire that can be easily transferred to guests’ home kitchens, explore cuisines, spices, recipes and ingredients from our ports of call, and most of all, have fun together sharing stories with people who enjoy cooking,” she says.
Kelly adds, “When I was younger, we used to go to friends’ homes and they would pull out their projector and tell us about their trip through pictures. Today, our guests can share their cruise experiences at home by cooking meals for their friends that represent the destinations they explored during the voyage.”
There is much to enjoy and I feel I have only just had a small taste of life onboard a Regent Seven Seas Cruise.
One thing you must do is visit the Meridian Lounge for a nightcap. After the main show onboard at the Constellation Theater, the band plays jazz all night at the Meridian Lounge where there is clapping and lots of toe-tapping fun to jazz classics. This echoes the enjoyment of meeting new friends, the great service onboard and extraordinary range of food offerings. And who knew this all happened in November in the Mediterranean.
The most exclusive address at sea
The Regent Suite is 412m2 of palatial elegance, complete with an in-suite spa retreat featuring a personal sauna, steam room and comes with unlimited spa treatments. It has unobstructed 270-degree views over Seven Seas Splendor’s bow from the 120m2 wraparound veranda, and a glass-enclosed solarium sitting area on top of the bridge for a captain’s view as you arrive at your next destination. A $US200,000 Hästens Vividus custom handmade mattress is in place for you to enjoy your best night’s sleep. You can also select your own bed linens and pillows from a prestigious Italian bedding menu that includes Bellino Fine Italian Linens and the Med1994 Aria line. Guests in the Regent Suite enjoy a dedicated personal butler to manage all the details of guests’ experiences, and a personal car with driver and guide in every port.
Explore Regent Seven Sea Cruises’ European itineraries at rssc.com.