(9:30 p.m. EDT) -- Sailing through the heart of Alaska while sipping on champagne and enjoying two different kinds of caviar is an indulgent way to start the day off. But it's part and parcel of how all-inclusive luxury line Regent Seven Seas operates.
Cruise Critic is aboard Regent's lavish, 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer on a weeklong voyage through Alaska from Seward to Vancouver. Along the way, we've stopped in Sitka, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. We've spent time cruising Hubbard Glacier, and Alaska's legendary Inside Passage is still ahead.
What's it like to wine-and-dine your way through Regent's own brand of all-in-luxury in Alaska? Read on.
For many years, Regent had relied on the 2001-built Seven Seas Mariner in Alaska, save for a few years when the smaller 1999-built Seven Seas Navigator visited The Last Frontier. They're both fine ships, but can't compare to Regent's newest class of ship, which started with the launch of Seven Seas Explorer in 2016 and has since expanded to include Seven Seas Splendor and the forthcoming -- and potentially even more opulent -- Seven Seas Grandeur.
Seven Seas Explorer made its inaugural debut in Alaskan waters this year, and even had a short stint in drydock in Victoria to refresh soft furnishings prior to the start of the season. Seven Seas Explorer simply offers passengers looking for a luxury cruise more in Alaska than aboard Seven Seas Mariner: more large suites, more dining options, more public rooms, more open deck space.
That the ship is 15 years newer than the vessel it replaces doesn't hurt, either. Public rooms are among the most lavishly decorated at sea, and the ship's hardware manages to impress at every turn, from the sweeping atrium with its grand staircase to the elegantly appointed décor in specialty restaurants Chartreuse and Pacific Rim.
Every cabin is a suite with full balcony, and all come with lavish touches like mini-bars stocked with your preferences, sumptuous beds and bedding, and marble-clad bathrooms replete with L'Occitane toiletries.
Then, there's the artwork: 2,500 individual pieces are scattered across Seven Seas Explorer's 14 decks, including works by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. Those are complemented by approximately 500 chandeliers that find their way into corridors, dining rooms, bars, lounges and -- of course -- the ship's grand atrium.
Regent isn't afraid to use colors, either: the walls of the Connoisseur Club, where cigars and cognac rule the day, are done in a gorgeous royal blue with delicate wainscotting. Pacific Rim, the line's pan-Asian-themed specialty restaurant, offers up shades of charcoal and emerald, accented by the massive, floor-to-ceiling bronze-cast prayer wheels that collectively weigh 6,000 pounds and mark the entrance to the restaurant.
In short, prepare to be impressed, wowed and even awed by Seven Seas Explorer's interior design. Indulgent and bold, it sets the tone for what a true luxury experience should be.
Regent prides itself on its all-inclusiveness, to the point where the line even includes most shore excursions in the price of the cruise itself. In Alaska, that can save you a bundle of money -- and stress. The region boasts some of the most expensive shore excursions options outside of Hawaii, and prices can quickly get out of control for a group of friends or even a couple looking to set off on explorations in port.
To be clear, not every excursion offered by Regent is included: helicopter tours of Juneau's glaciers will run you around $500 per person, while the Adventure Kart Expedition in Ketchikan will set would-be explorers back $229 per person. If it looks adventurous, it probably incurs an extra charge.
At this level, price isn't likely to be a concern: Regent guests have done well in life and have some money to spend. But luxury is all about choice, and Regent removes the hassle of having to pay extra for many wonderful excursions.
In Skagway, we booked a favorite tour -- the White Pass & Yukon Route train that winds its way high above the town. It's free for Regent passengers, compared to $150 per person on other cruise lines. You don't get anything else special for traveling with Regent on this tour, but not having to pay an additional cost for it does result in a kind of peace-of-mind as you ascend into the mountains on the Gold Rush-era railway that many said couldn't be built.
In Juneau, we opted to take part in Regent's complimentary Flavors of Juneau excursion -- an outing that includes visits to Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska Brewing Company, and some lite bites at The Flight Deck restaurant near the piers. A comparable tour would run at least $120 per person.
We were waitlisted for -- but sadly did not clear -- the Talbot Lake Hike near Ketchikan's newest terminal, Ward Cove. Sister-brand Norwegian Cruise Line offers it for about $150 per person. On Regent, it's provided free of charge.
Potential total saved, so far: $420 per person, or $840 per couple.
If time allows, you can also book multiple shore excursions per day -- free of charge. It's a great way to maximize your time in Alaska and still keep your money in your pocket.
Regent, happily, puts its own spin on Alaska cruising. It showcases movies set in Alaska in the ship's main theatre and stocks several Alaskan Brewing beers onboard (though you'll need to ask -- they aren't listed on any bar menu).
An onboard destination expert has given a handful of lectures on Alaska and the issues facing it and its native populations. And Alaskan crab and halibut have popped up on Seven Seas Explorer's dining room menus with welcomed regularity.
It's been hard to avoid a mid-afternoon nap aboard Seven Seas Explorer. The ship is so quiet and so smooth that you barely hear or feel it move in the suites. Sitting on the balcony while the ship is underway -- an indulgence that includes full-sized wicker lounges and at least one table, even in the lowest categories -- is another form of luxury. Most cruise ships have postage-sized balconies that aren't big enough for anything except two cheap chairs. Not here.
We've also found it easy to get into a fairly luxurious cadence, thanks to special events like the complimentary, indulgent wine tasting held in the ship's atrium on the first full day at sea. Even the extra-cost items provide great value: we're attending a five-course degustation lunch with wine pairings on our last day aboard, as we sail the inside passage. That one comes at a cost of $169 per person, but the experience promises to be a unique one.
It's precisely that kind of lavishness that Regent wants to cultivate by bringing the newer Seven Seas Explorer to Alaska for the first time this year. And so far, it succeeds.