My trip began in Livorno, where I caught up with Regent's UK management team to discuss their growth plans as they embark on another year of increased capacity, and look ahead to a third sister ship due for delivery in late 2023. The strength of their forward sales proves that the popularity of luxury cruising shows no sign of abating.
In Livorno we visited Seven Seas Explorer. The ship was looking fabulous and it was great to rediscover the many touches that had impressed me when I was last on board. Beautiful modern glass chandeliers and the huge prayer wheels which greet you at the entrance to Asian restaurant Pacific Rim give a sense of the ship's personality.
Whilst on board I joined Chef Kelly, Executive Director of Culinary Enrichment, in the Culinary Arts Kitchen to hear a little about the introduction of more than 200 delicious plant-based dishes fleet-wide. I also tried my hand at creating a couple of dishes in the hands-on cooking centre at sea. When Seven Seas Splendor is launched she will have the same, with 16 new classes that will later be introduced on to Explorer.
Chef Kelly explained the increased focus on offering regionally-inspired dishes, and this was clear to see as I set to work preparing the pesce all'acqua pazza (fish in crazy water - for those who need a little help with their Italian). These fun and highly interactive cooking sessions, which can also include a trip to a local market to source the very freshest of ingredients, are hugely popular with people at all skill levels.
On board Splendor, I had a hard hat tour of the ship, including the restaurants, which will match those of Explorer. Pacific Rim has its own statement installation in the entrance, and other individually commissioned pieces will be unique to the vessel. We were joined by Jason Montague, President and Chief Executive Officer of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, who was thrilled with the progress that had been made. His meticulous attention to detail was clear to see, even sitting in the theatre seats to make sure the views wouldn't be affected by the height of the balcony handrail.
This consideration of the smallest details is applied to the rest of the fleet and has been demonstrated in the replacement of all the marble in the bathrooms on Explorer (also undertaken in the recent dry dock), as a tiny fault in the stone led to a slight discolouring which, although not considered an issue by guests, was not up to Regent's high standards.
To my mind, the accommodation on Splendor is far superior - fresher colours have brought a lighter feel, and beds facing the balconies are a lovely touch. Despite some areas of the ship being out of bounds as the work continued, the finishing in many areas was in place and I was highly impressed by just how close to completion the ship seemed, with the build running ahead of schedule. I've no doubt those lucky enough to be on the first sailing will be thrilled by the end result, and everyone who sails on board will be very impressed by the whole ship.