Seven Seas Splendor at the Fincantieri Shipyard

(12:15 p.m. EDT) -- How do you top a ship billed as the "most luxurious in the world?"

You perfect it.

That's the intent expressed by Regent Seven Seas Cruises, as work begins on its newest luxury ship, Seven Seas Splendor. The 750-passenger ship, debuting in February 2020, will be a sister ship to Seven Seas Explorer, with changes focused on honing details and eradicating pain points.

"Our goal is to perfect the experience," Regent President and CEO Jason Montague said at a tour of suite mock-ups in Ancona, Italy. "Perfection for Regent Seven Seas Cruises is in the details." (Indeed, the slogan for Seven Seas Splendor is "Luxury Perfected.")

The suite tour was part of a day of festivities at the Fincantieri shipyard in Ancona that included a coin ceremony and keel laying for Splendor.

Part of the challenge for the luxury line is topping the extravagance of Seven Seas Explorer, which debuted in 2016. Filled with unique artwork, including works by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall, and loaded with more than an acre each of granite and marble and almost 500 chandeliers, Explorer raised the bar for luxury ship design and suite pricing; Frank del Rio, president and CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, noted Explorer's top suite sold for $10,000 per night.

Seven Seas Splendor Suite

The cost of the Regent suite is now up to $11,000, Montague said, "and worth every penny."

The tour of the full-size suite mock-ups included a first look at the Concierge and Penthouse staterooms, which will be the majority of cabins on Splendor. Franco Semeraro, senior vice president of hotel operations, was on hand to take reporters through the differences.

Among the biggest: Splendor has a lighter feel than Explorer with more creams and tans. This is especially visible in the 140 Concierge suites, which range between 415 to 464 square feet. Also new beyond the color palette: the beds face the balconies, not the wall (although because there's a curtain in these cabins that divides the bed from the living area, it's not as dramatic as you'd see in a smaller room). Other changes involve easier-to-use light fixtures, more American outlets closer the bed (there already are USB ports).  

The 55 Penthouse suites, which range between 561 to 642 square feet, now have walk-in closets that are accessible between the bathroom and the living area. The sink in the wet bar will be eliminated to give passengers more storage and give butlers more space to set up for meals.

The line has yet to reveal details on Splendor's Regent Suite, although Robin Lindsay, executive vice president of vessel operations, noted there will be substantial changes to make the suite more functional. The lavish suite will still have a private in-suite spa with a steam room, ceramic-heated lounge beds, a whirlpool on a private balcony and a host of perks, including a butler and a driver for excursions in every port.

But other things will change, Lindsay hinted. The shower will be put on the outer wall to give passengers the illusion that they are partially outside, he said. The dining and bar area will also be adjusted to give the passengers in the suite a better ocean view.

In terms of the other suites that make Explorer and now Splendor such design standouts, Lindsay and Semeraro said that all categories except the Grand suite would be completely redone. A new design firm, TSI, will replace Dakota Jackson, leading to a "dramatic departure" in look, Lindsay said.

Seven Seas Splendor at the Fincantieri Shipyard

Elsewhere on the ship, Splendor will not have a huge prayer wheel in front of Pacific Rim as Explorer does. But the line is looking to put a large bronze sculpture in its place, Lindsay said. The main staircase will also undergo a significant artistic change, he said.

Another area that's being improved on Splendor are the sightlines in the main theater, Montague said. Glass panels on the upper floors will allow better views, and these areas will only have two rows of seats as opposed to three, he said.

Montague noted that now is a good time for luxury cruising, with Boomers inheriting wealth and using that money to see the world rather than buying things. "We're moving from acquiring goods to acquiring experiences," he said. "That's what we're all about."

While other luxury cruise lines have branched out into river and expedition cruising, Montague said that Regent would continue to focus on luxury ocean sailing. "We're 100 percent focused on making sure that we're the best at ocean," he said.

"These businesses are not easy businesses," he said. "It's important that you execute on all aspects of the business and not spread yourself too thin."

Earlier in the day, Montague and Fincantieri Shipyard Director Giovanni Stecconi completed the traditional coin ceremony, embedding three coins onto Splendor's keel. The first two of 210 blocks that will make up the 55,000-gross-ton vessel were placed into dry dock, officially kicking off assembly.

The first sailing for Splendor will take place February 7, 2020, with a 14-day transatlantic cruise from Barcelona to Miami. After making two Panama Canal sailings, as well as some Caribbean cruises, the ship will come back to Europe for its first summer season. Bookings for summer 2020 sailings will open July 12.

--By Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor