Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Luxury Cruising's New Ships: Seabourn Encore versus Regent Seven Seas Explorer - Two Distinctly Different Concepts of Luxury. Which is Yours?

Regent Seven Seas Cruises came out with its bold, brash, statement that its new Seven Seas Explorer being the most luxurious cruise ship ever built.  And then...

Seabourn Cruises came out with its announcement that its new Seabourn Encore will be an improvement on an already excellent luxury cruising product with out much fanfare or hype.

Seabourn Encore

Simply put:  Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas have two diametrically opposed approaches to the question, "What is Luxury?"  And that is where Goldring Travel comes in, cutting through the marketing, and analyzing the ships, service, cuisine and philosophies so that that its new and potential clients (that would be you!) can be sure to book the right cruise for you; not the cruise lines.

Regent Seven Seas Explorer
Before I get into the specifics, the way I explain the differences between Regent Seven Seas and Seabourn is this:  If you want a huge steak or crab legs falling over the sides of your plate you will probably be a Regent Seven Seas guest.  If you prefer a perfectly prepared filet mignon or a delicate crab cake you are probably a Seabourn guest.  It is an oversimplification, but you quickly get the idea.

As is now common with cruise lines, rather than explaining all about the ship at one time, they slowly release information so as to keep your interest (and, hopefully, get your bookings) during the entire ship building process.  Regent Seven Seas has taken a more "hyped" approach while Seabourn has taken a somewhat painfully reserved one, so full comparisons are not yet available, but let's work with what we've got!

So with that, it is time to get down to the "nitty gritty"!

Seabourn's approach has been far more holistic.  It is not merely building two new ships (and it has the youngest fleet in the luxury cruise market...by a huge - not just large - market).  It is updating and innovating across its fleet.  Seabourn believes there should be a consistency of product while also evolving the product at the same time.  So there are going to be some really innovative design elements on the Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation...and retrofitting of the present fleet with iterations of those design elements.

I have always said that Seabourn is more about the software (the people) than the hardware (the ship). In a simplistic way that was, and remains, true.  But with the synergy between form and function being critical on luxury cruise ships, Seabourn has teamed upon with Adam D. Tihany, the world famous designer to create the interiors on the Seabourn Encore and Ovation.

His vision is to create a more yacht-like experience (sound familiar?) and re-imagining already hugely successful spaces like the Seabourn Square...which will retain its name, but will literally be turned inside out and made circular!  Everything is being looked at...and even though Seabourn had previously said the suites would remain pretty much the same, improvements to those are also being looked at.  Two levels of casual al fresco dining, an additional restaurant (see below) and more are all being created with Mr. Tihany's personal input and vision.



And I have had the pleasure of dining, for example, at Daniel in New York City, one of Adam D. Tihany's masterpieces. Trust me on this:  Long after the meal is over, the incredible beauty of the restaurant stays with you.

For more detail about the design of the new Seabourn Encore you can read my article:  Applause Please: Seabourn's New Ships are the Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation

But Seabourn has not stopped there.

Thomas Keller, the three star Michelin Chef and owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and other incredible restaurants, had partnered with Seabourn to revamp its entire culinary experience on the current Seabourn fleet:  Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest, but will also have a Signature Restaurant on the Seabourn Quest in Spring 2016 and, of course, will have an even more expanded roll regarding the new Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation.  And those of you that know Thomas Keller know that no chef or restaurateur is more demanding or has more vision.



I dined at Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Napa, California.  I don't know how he made a "simple" roasted chicken taste so good, but I still recall that first bite with that crispy, but not too crispy, skin and the subtle herbal flavors.

(By the way, if you want to be one of the first to enjoy Thomas Keller's signature restaurant, join Goldring Travel for its 2016 Food & Wine Cruise of the British Isles and Ireland on August 4, 2016! and if you are interested in sailing on the new Seabourn Encore, which will have a couple of pre-Inaugural sailings in December 2015 as she travels from Greece to Singapore before her Inaugural sailing on January 7, 2017 to Bali and then heading to summer in Australia and New Zealand during the northern hemisphere's winter months, give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email.

Regent Seven Seas has taken an entire different approach.  Regent, and its leader, Frank Del Rio, Sr., take a brash, over-the-top, approach for those that like that sort of thing.  (This is not unlike its dishonest pitch of "Free. Free. Free" when you are most assuredly paying for everything!) To me it is where ego defines a person's perception of luxury rather than the lack of ego.  (I mean why pay $10 for a great hamburger when you can pay $60 for pretty much the same thing but with $5 of truffles shaved on top?)  For some it is what matters:  I can afford it and I am going to let everyone know I can afford it and I don't care what it costs to do that or if it is any better than a less expensive option!

Honestly...and I mean honestly...one needs to look past the hype of "The Most Luxurious..." and see what supposedly makes it that.  I have written about the this in my article:  Regent Seven Seas Explorer - Is It The Most Luxurious Cruise Ship Ever Built...Or Are Staterooms Being Sold As Suites?  If you are going to book a suite at $5,000 per person per night, you are two people out of 750 passengers on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer.  I am not sure what that does for the 748 other guests...or the almost 700 guests that will not be staying in one of the top suites (which are quite nice).

The way I look at luxury may well be different than yours, but pitching "Deluxe Veranda Suites" that are only 253 square feet (smaller than the smallest suites on even the mass market lines) and the "Veranda Suites" which are a mere 219 square feet (very slightly larger than many mass market standard stateroom), both of which have severely stripped down amenities, I have to ponder:
What the heck is The Most Luxurious about being sold a stateroom with limited amenities while paying the premium associated with having an actual suite?
I have asked a number of people how they perceived this ploy.  One person gave me the only answer that had a positive view of it:
If you want to say you are in a suite on a luxury cruise ship, but cannot really afford an actual suite or the true luxury experience, the Veranda Suite and Deluxe Veranda Suite give you bragging rights you otherwise would not ever have.
That, of course, assumes the lower end Regent staterooms (I will not call them suites!) are actually less expensive than larger accommodations with more amenities on Seabourn, Crystal or Silversea or even Azamara Club, Windstar or Regent's sister line, Oceania.

The most recent example:  Regent announce the details of the Seven Seas Explorer pool deck. Its president and COO (at least for the moment), Jason Montegue,  stated:  “Tillberg Design created a beautiful outdoor haven where guests can enjoy an assortment of recreational activities, relax while taking in breathtaking panoramic vistas, or delight in gourmet al fresco dining, all while completely ensconced in luxury befitting the world's most luxurious ship.”  

Regent Seven Seas Explorer Pool Deck
OK, can't you do exactly that on Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara Club, Oceania...even Royal Caribbean in its adult pool area? What makes that luxurious...no less "The Most Luxurious"?  (By the way, certain lines have actually removed the wading pool areas for lack of use.)  

4,000 Passenger MSC Divina's Pool Deck
Also has a wading area, whirlpool, stage, dining and stage
with "sea-inspired ceramic tiles"...as the Regent Seven Seas Explorer
I am also a bit confused by the inspired by "high-end South East Asian and Caribbean boutique hotels." It looks like a pool and and offers nothing unique or extraordinary.  Yes, it kind of looks like a small version of a hotel pool.  Unique?  Hardly.

And, honestly I am tired of marketing phrases like "sea-inspired ceramic tiles".  It just means blue ceramic tiles like you find in every other tiled pool.  If they were really extraordinary tiles, inlaid with shells, for example, that might give me reason to pause.

Seabourn Encore Pool Deck
Stripping away the hype, what makes the Regent Explorer pool area "the most luxurious"?  Nothing so far.  I am not saying it won't be, but right now all I have is a bit of, er 'um, "sea breeze".

If you want to pay $60 for a $10 hamburger, or $15,000 for a $3,000 stateroom that is up to you. Goldring Travel will gladly book your cruise, but expect me to make sure that is what you truly desire.  Goldring Travel advises clients, encourages questions and requests for more information.

So what type of luxury do you want?

Hype versus reality.
Rubbing elbows with versus being treated as a true luxury guest.
Paying extra because expense defines luxury versus experiencing unique and rarefied amenities and cuisine because they define luxury.

Did I mention Seabourn has a new hamburger?  Admittedly it has been developed pre-Thomas Keller, so it might change in a while, but Seabourn literally had debates as to not only what garnishes  are to be included, but what order and whether they should go under the hamburger or on top.  Seabourn even did taste tests onboard one of its ships to get guest feedback before introducing it.  (No extra charge for truffles.)

If you are interested in booking a luxury cruise, please give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY in the US, in the UK:   020 8133 3450, in Australia:  (07) 3102 4685 and Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585 or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.