Not just for the ‘newly wed or nearly dead’ anymore, Regent tries to prove. But you’d better come with a fat wallet.
A confession: Until recently, the only time I spent a night on water was at age 8, when my parents booked our family of three on a cruise to Finland. I remember gaping at the ice-cream selection and gazing into brightly lit boutique windows, and not much else. So when I boarded the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, the luxury cruise line’s newest ship, on its recent voyage to Mexico, it was with limited expectations: copious food and stuff to buy.
Regent is targeting travelers like me, millennials green to cruising, with promises to go above and beyond their assumptions (or vague recollections of childhood voyages). But it’s a delicate balance, appealing to a generation of thrill seekers — a 2014 Harris survey found that 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend money on experiences rather than material things — while appeasing the cruise line’s most loyal demographic (ages 60 and up). There are other big ships wooing millennials: In 2015, Carnival Cruise Line started Fathom, which has programs designed for 20- and 30-somethings’ hunger for purpose, like onboard self-improvement seminars and on-the-ground activities, like making water filters in the Dominican Republic. Then there are fist-pumping bacchanals like Groove Cruise, a four-day party that bills itself as the “world’s largest floating dance-music festival.”
Like a floating Vegas
Regent’s hook: unabashed opulence, like a floating Las Vegas. On the day I set sail, a banner at the Explorer’s embarkation dock proclaimed, “the most luxurious ship ever built”; completed in 2016, the ship cost $450 million. The first thing that greets guests: a piano-size chandelier dripping with crystals. With only 375 guest rooms, small compared to megaliners that can accommodate more than 3,000 passengers, Regent rolled out the red carpet for everyone: Champagne sat cooling in an ice bucket in my suite, which was spacious enough not to feel claustrophobic.
The pool deck echoed the over-the-top sensibility, with furnishings that are reminiscent of Miami or Mykonos (neon lights; white upholstered chairs; gauzy, curtained cabanas). By the bar, women in leather moto jackets sipped white wine, and a DJ spun Fleetwood Mac (a win on both demographic fronts). One restaurant, Pacific Rim, seemed attuned to adventurous palates, with melt-in-your-mouth prawn crackers and Korean barbecue-style lamb. With its sunken floor, Claes Oldenburg-esque light fixtures and Tibetan prayer wheel, the place felt more like a scene-y Manhattan restaurant — Tao, Hakkasan — than a cruise dining hall.
Hip-hop into the night
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In the piano bar, a cover band turned out a pitch-perfect rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” On the observation deck, the DJ led a hip-hop dance party that lasted well into the wee hours. There was a cooking class, with wine pairings, that felt like Blue Apron gone luxe (scallops and pancetta, precut by the ship’s staff, ready to be seared and consumed with a swig of Albariño). A state-of the-art fitness center held yoga and spinning sessions; Canyon Ranch-certified masseuses helmed the spa. As for shops, there were two, both replete with designer handbags and jewels more appropriate for gawking at than buying.
These amenities appealed to many people not in the millennial demographic, of course. Other offerings felt aged: the earnest Beatles retrospective in the 694-seat theater, and the white-haired comedian who took the stage the following night. Restaurants besides the Pacific Rim had the feel of an earlier era, with old-school steakhouse fare dominating the menus. Then there is the price: Cruises on the Explorer start around $5,799 per guest, based on double occupancy, for a 10-night voyage (I went on a two-night test run), perhaps a stretch for the generation that made Airbnb a thing.
“It’s for the millennial couple that works really hard,” said Randall Soy, Regent Seven Seas’ executive vice president for marketing and sales. “Millennials want someone to take care of them. It’s very easy for us to do that.”
Indeed, for the traveler — of any age — who doesn’t want to leave a stone of a multi-destination place like Scandinavia or the Mediterranean unturned, the Explorer figures out all of the logistics. Its guest-to-staff ratio is nearly 1 to 1, which means assistance can be summoned just about as easily as Siri. For Regent, the challenge is in changing expectations.
“It’s about trying to change the mindset that cruising is for the nearly dead and newly wed,” Soy said. “It’s a real struggle. But once we get people on, they buy in.”