Regent Seven Seas Explorer: The cruise redefining cruising

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I don’t know quite what I expected from a cruise. Dubious ‘entertainment’ from an ageing tribute band? Buffet food sweating in a Perspex prison? A median guest age to rival the Terracotta Army’s? Then I actually went on a cruise – a luxury cruise. And my perception changed.

Explorer, which is one of five ships from provider Regent Seven Seas Cruises, is like no quiz-night-and-karaoke liner you’ve ever been on. It calls itself ‘the most luxurious ship ever built’, and might actually have the goods to back up that claim. The interior is Art Deco-inspired; all fluted pillars, lacquered surfaces and massive chandeliers. There are Picassos on the walls and old-timey lifts zoom between ten decks. With a capacity of 732, it’s pretty small for a cruise ship, while also being one of the most spacious.

I start my trip in the port of Piraeus – it’s functional and unbeautiful, which only heightens the anticipation around reaching our first destination: Mykonos. But before then, I have my first-ever evening on a cruise to look forward to. The ship’s passengers (not quite the early bird special, I discover, but averaging, perhaps, a young-at-heart 65) decamp from suites in their gladrags, and disperse into the ship’s eight eateries.

I’m at Compass Rose, a robustly air-conditioned restaurant adorned with a blue glass ceiling installation and Versace tableware. The menu is customisable, with guests able to mix and match their fish or meat mains (featuring usual suspects like sea scallops and New York strip), sauce and sides. Precede with an appetiser and/or pasta course (the conchiglie was perfectly creamy with champagne sauce).

During my three-night foray, I will also dine at Chartreuse – a French bistro with white tablecloths and silk-backed chairs. The lobster bisque is fantastic, as is the pearlescent, lemony Dover sole and glossy opera cake – syrup-soaked layers of almond sponge. Prime 7 was my destination on night three: an American steakhouse with minimalistic decor. I’d recommend the surf and turf route, which entails a filet mignon and six-ounce lobster tail.

Anyway, we’re back in the Aegean Sea. After dinner, I peel off to my cabin to try and get something akin to eight hours before an early excursion the next day. Although, ‘cabin’ is a bit of a misnomer. Far from the claustrophobic, poky-portholed box of my expectations, my Superior Suite, despite being one of the smaller layouts (the top-tier Regent Suite comes with a £400,000 grand piano), isn’t small at all. It’s over 400 square feet, with a king-size bed and walk-in closet. After a sleep lulled by distant engines, I wake up in the Greek islands.

Mykonos is known for being a party island, but I’ll give you a hot tip: visits first thing in the morning, while the revellers are still sleeping (if any proof was needed that this is a town of night owls, many of the designer boutiques close at 2am). At breakfast, however, it’s just wizened locals sweeping their stoops and men delivering palettes of Coca-Cola on mopeds. It’s a small glimmer of what Mykonos was like before the importation of the ‘jet set’ in the ’60s. This feeling of old-meets-new vibe becomes something of a theme: our excursion takes in both the Billionaire nightclub and a 500-year-old bakery.

We finish the morning with ouzo and stuffed vine leaves at a taverna – by this time, the masses have descended and the coffee shops are blaring house music. My cue to get back on the boat, which is – to be fair – a destination in its own right. Aboard Regent Seven Seas Explorer, you can take a cooking class, get a seaweed wrap, and play blackjack. Perhaps you fancy a spa treatment, or a run around the jogging track (in which case you’re a better person than I). There’s a pool with a bar and grill, a golf net, shuffleboard and bocce courts, a theatre, a casino, and more.

The next morning, the rocky archipelago is gone, replaced by the cubiform apartment blocks of Kavala. Now au fait with cruising I know that in-suite dining is a good option for a pre-excursion breakfast – especially if you stayed up in the Explorer Lounge for cocktails and live jazz the night before. Scrambled eggs and a flat white on my private balcony later, I’m jumping on a coach to the archaeological site of Philippi, about 20 minutes away.

The sprawling ruins are the remains of a once-great city conquered by King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) in 356 BC. Our tiny, elderly guide shows us around what was once a forum, market, theatre, baths and basilica, and explains that, in the early Christian period, the apostle Paul preached for the first time on European soil in Philippi.

regetn seven seas explorer cruise ship

By the time I disembark, I’m a born-again cruiser. Any notions of all-inclusive-calibre wine and over-zealous cruise directors have been firmly dispelled: Regent Seven Seas Explorer is a five-star hotel on water – transit, accommodation, entertainment, and food and drink all rolled into one super-premium package.

But the main appeal has to be the fact that I’ve just enjoyed two memorable destinations in the space of two days. Luxury aside, cruising is a super-efficient way to travel – especially if you’re looking to maximise on long-haul destinations. Explorer will be journeying from Singapore, via Indonesia and around Australia this December, before setting off to Bali, Tokyo and Bangkok in early 2023. This is no retirement-age ramble; it’s a dynamic expedition for those looking to experience the world – with a glass of champagne in hand, admittedly.

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