Friday, 2 October 2009

The Luxury Gap

Despite the continued onslaught of the megaships, the luxury end of the cruise business continues to develop very nicely, with many of the main players bringing in new vessels, new services and a variety of upgrades and enhancements for their six-star style.

Seabourn set new standards with the launch of their Seabourn Odyssey in the summer and the debut of Silversea's Silver Spirit is eagerly anticipating in December. Add in more details of the Oceania Cruises new-build Marina - due in late 2010 - and a second ship in the Odyssey-class, also in 2010, and the deluxe choice continues to get better and better (love the new-look Oceania website by the way - extremely eye-catching).

Regent Seven Seas have been one of the few upscale lines not to have a new ship on the horizon. Instead, they have gone for an extensive fleet refurbishment, and the latest details of what is planned for their Seven Seas Navigator only goes to underline how luxury cruising continues to raise the bar, especially when it comes to dining.

Just consider some of these headline improvements and additions being planned for the 490-passenger Navigator's dry-dock period in the next two months:

"A glamorous and contemporary grill, Prime 7 will feature a stylish décor and an innovative menu of the finest prime-aged steaks and fresh seafood. Rivaling elegant restaurants ashore, a rich palette of green and golden hues will create an ambiance of glamour and intimacy. Supple leather, polished granite and burnished woods will set an impressive stage accented by custom-designed china, flatware and crystal."

This adds to a dining line-up that is already considered by many to be the finest at sea. Then there is this:

"Compass Rose – the ship’s main dining room – will appear dramatically different. New and sumptuous armchairs in rich jewel tones of cranberry and opal atop plush carpets of russet and cocoa will create a regal setting for gourmet dining. New draperies, china, silver and glassware will complete the redesign."

Sound good? There's more:

"La Veranda, offering indoor and outdoor seating, will replace the current Portofino’s restaurant. New furniture, carpeting and window treatments will be complemented by signature table settings. The new restaurant will serve breakfast and lunch in a casually elegant atmosphere and, in the evening, feature regionally themed specialty dinners."

As if all that updating isn't enough, Regent will also be adding yet another new option:

"High atop the ship on Deck 10, a new Pool Grill featuring a barbeque grill, hot and cold buffet, panini sandwich station and coffee and dessert area creates a casual, al fresco dining option that is open throughout the day. The ship’s bars and lounges will also receive masterful transformations. A mix of traditional and contemporary furnishings with complementary upholstery, carpeting and curtains will give Stars Lounge an eclectic ambiance reminiscent of a chic designer estate home."

The refurb doesn't stop there, however. Oh no, there is still more in store:

"Galileo’s will sport bold new interiors of burgundy and gold offset with accents of soft lavender, sky and moss while a sleek new bar area is awash with rich, tufted textiles and polished stone flooring. A new al fresco lounge has been created on the terrace and features comfortable seating areas with plump sofas and chaises overlooking the sea. The Navigator Lounge will also feature a new décor with rich hues of cappuccino, camel and navy accented by bold apple-green and lemon to create a vibrant, urbane feel. The ship’s card room and library will be redecorated as well and all public spaces throughout the ship are being refreshed."

Finally, almost as an afterthought, Regent announce that Canyon Ranch will be creating a whole new area aboard the ship, in keeping with their luxury tie-up on the other two vessels:

"The Canyon Ranch SpaClub will feature a state-of-the-art spa, wellness and fitness facility, plus a luxurious full-service beauty salon. SpaClub will offer the most desirable spa amenities available: massage, body and skin-care treatment rooms, a gym and weight room with cardio and weight training equipment, a juice bar, men's and women's locker rooms, thalassotherapy, sauna and steam rooms. The facility will offer array of rejuvenating spa treatments, some created specifically for RSSC guests, include massages and therapeutic bodywork, mud, aromatherapy, ayuvedic and seaweed treatments, facials and masks featuring Canyon Ranch’s award winning Your Transformation skincare products, conditioning body scrubs and therapeutic body cocoons."

And they also add that the ship will feature a range of new itineraries as well, making her appeal absolutely full of possibilities:

"Seven Seas Navigator will operate 7 to 11 night cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America this winter, followed by a summer season of seven-night Alaska cruises between Vancouver and Anchorage. Following her Alaska season, Seven Seas Navigator embarks on her lengthiest and most exotic voyage to date with a 96-night Grand Asia Pacific cruise sailing from Anchorage, Alaska to San Francisco, California."

All in all, it is the stuff of luxury dreams, but it comes at an ever-more-affordable price in 2010. The big watchword of the luxury end of the cruise market is 'Book Early' (OK, that's more than one word, but you get my drift!), and you will find this mantra repeated at every opportunity as the six-star lines look to make themselves more attractive, especially for those who can book well in advance.

OK, now what's stopping you........?!