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Article from TNU APRIL 2023

CRUISING APRIL: Seven Seas Splendor - First Impressions

Regular contributor Chris Tarry reports on the twin of Seven Seas Explorer from 2017, with the third of the trinity Seven Seas Grandeur due to make her maiden voyage from Trieste in November.  

This report was filed on Friday (31 March) on a balmy Bermuda day as the ship berthed in the famous old Royal Navy Dock. Nine more days to go before she docks in Lisbon.  He will be summarising the trip at a later date.  During the spring her embarkation ports include Rome (Civitavecchia), Athens and Barcelona, reaching Southampton late May for what is essentially a northern Europe reprise taking in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Reykjavik. The Med then beckons and on 13 November she leaves Rome for a 21-day sojourn that completes back in Miami.

And Splendour it is!

During the pandemic we, as many others, dreamed of where we might travel when restrictions were lifted; similarly we watched numerous travel "reality" programmes including the series featuring the Regent Seven Seas Explorer and Splendor and indeed "Mighty Cruise Ships" on the Discovery channel.

There was no doubt in my mind that once we were allowed to travel again that it would bounce back pretty quickly. Furthermore whilst at the height of the pandemic according to surveys taken in the US market there was a group that resolutely stated they would not cruise again.  They are missing out.

Before the pandemic we were regular cruise travellers including a significant number of transatlantic crossings and were also reasonably loyal to one line, notwithstanding a progressive erosion of quality and where the menu in their Grill is a very small shadow of what it used to be. Against this background we decided to "broaden our horizons" and book with Regent for a 12-day re-positioning cruise from Miami, via Bermuda, the Azores and Madeira to Lisbon on the all balcony Seven Seas Splendor.

Having watched the television programmes we were attracted by, amongst other things, the variety and obvious quality of food, the newness of the ship, the advertised comfort, the attention to detail and service and we have certainly not been disappointed in any respect from the first engagement with Charles in Southampton who assisted us with this booking and indeed two more into 2024.

The arrangement that we purchased included flights and a night in a hotel in Miami before the cruise itself. In the event we travelled over a couple of days earlier, paying a small itinerary variation fee, so that we could spend a couple of days with a family member who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

We departed Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300 VS117 with an excellent crew lead by Maude and where I would highly recommend the Upper Class Chicken and Mushroom pie for lunch. We arrived about 15 minutes early in Miami which was very helpful as when going through border control, the queue behind us swelling to probably 400 people; the bags came back very quickly (and here the priority labelled ones came off first) and we then met the driver that I had arranged (South Florida Limos) to take us to Fort Lauderdale where we had a couple of nights overlooking the Intracoastal waterways of Florida.

After that we transferred to the pre-cruise hotel (The Trump National Doral) which is a golf resort some 20 minutes from the port. Extremely well presented in all respects, grounds (no time for golf though), accommodation, food and service levels. There were some 100 other cruise guests staying at the hotel and Regent's shore agent (SMS) had a representative by the side of the lobby who, after you had checked in, gave you joining instructions for the next morning; telling you what to do with your luggage, i.e. label it and leave it in your room to be collected and taken to your cabin on the ship, where to go for the group breakfast and what bus you would be on to be taken to the port (we were on bus 1).

After an extremely good dinner in the Champions Bar and Grill and restful night the day of departure arrived.

We were taken to the port and the NCL terminal (Regent is owned by NCL) which is bright, light and very large. Everybody would have checked in before arrival and at the door to the terminal passports and the boarding card printout were checked before heading to the first floor and through security to the desks for the final checks and the issue of key cards.

All was going very well until there was an IT failure which seemed to be the whole building as the air conditioning appeared to stop (in March we could survive). Whilst there was no doubt what it was the port agent could have been a bit quicker in explaining and a little less optimistic about how long it might take!

Notwithstanding this, it was all very straight forward we boarded to be given a glass of champagne and head to our cabin – we had left the hotel at 11:15 and were on board by 12:45 (without the IT glitch it would have been closer to 12:15).

The Splendor is currently the newest ship in the fleet. It was built in 2020 by Fincantieri and registered in the Marshall Islands with a Gross Tonnage of 55,498.  It has 373 "staterooms" and a maximum passenger capacity of 746 with a crew of 548. There are six restaurants (seven if you include the fact that the La Veranda becomes the Sette Mari at night) including three speciality restaurants (Chatreuse, Prime 7 and Pacific Rim) but where no additional supplements are payable. Indeed other than for premium wines and spirits and personalised excursions, everything, including drinks, tips, wi-fi and, in the case of our cabin, laundry too, is included.

Port day lunch was served in La Veranda restaurant on deck 11 (aft) and we headed there; an extensive buffet catering for all tastes and an option to sit either inside of outside, given it was 82 degrees and no wind we chose inside. The afternoon was spent familiarising ourselves with the ship and meeting the team looking after us, a butler and two stewards.

Before departure you go and register at your muster station and watch the safety video.  You should have also seen this as part of the online check-in and then within 72 hours of departure in response to an email instruction.

The scheduled departure was at 18:00 and the sailaway party was in full swing on the pool deck (Deck 11); we watched from the open deck above and waiters circulated with canapes as we pushed back – as we were facing west we had to go towards Miami and turn in the basin before heading out to the Ocean.

For pre-dinner drinks the plan was to take in the Observation lounge on Deck 11 but as it was dark there was nothing to see and so headed to the Compass Rose, the main dining room on Deck 4 for dinner.

The menu is extensive and contains dishes that are always available as well as a daily menu that changes and a "degustation" option.  Given the extensive range the hardest thing was to make a choice. There is a white and red wine that is offered as well as plenty of water. The surroundings are first class, plenty of room between the tables, service excellent and so is the food.

On the first sea day we also had breakfast in the Compass Rose from a similarly extensive menu with a window table watching the ocean go by.  Morning coffee and snacks available at Coffee Connection, the Madison Lounge or the Pool Grill. So far there is also a regional theme to at least part of the buffet option at the Pool Grill – yesterday it was described as "French Barbeque" with a whole range of items ranging from celeriac salad, Bouillabaisse to Chicken Cordon Bleu, today the theme is Greek (at the time of writing it is still an hour to go before lunch).

For dinner yesterday evening we went to the Sette Mari (Deck11) which is the port side section of La Veranda which becomes a table service Italian restaurant – again an extensive menu with good food and service.

We may eat at one of the speciality restaurants tonight – you are able to make one reservation in each of them before you board to give everyone a chance and then see what might be available after that – our first currently confirmed booking is on the first sea day after Bermuda.

The first real show of the cruise was yesterday evening too where we were entertained by Shimi Goodman, a singer and musical theatre performer.  He was probably one of the best solo entertainers that I have seen on board a ship.

We are at the moment cruising along at 17 knots or so with the sun shining and in a modest Atlantic swell the ship travels very well and is exceptionally comfortable.

Looking forward to the rest of our journey and what is clear already is that even though we had high expectations, based on our television viewing, we have not been disappointed, and I will be heading to see the onboard cruise consultant to see if I can add to the two future cruises I have already booked with Regent. Conversely it will be interesting to see how our previous line of choice has come back from the pandemic when we transit the Atlantic with them in November.

Please also see Covid and the cruise ships in this month's TNU.

Chris Tarry has also reviewed Regal Princess  He is perhaps better known as head of CTAIRA, one of the world’s leading independent airline analytical consultancies and closely involved with Airline Business, sister company to Flight Global.  He is a visiting lecturer at Coventry University.

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