When the Seven Seas Splendor embarked on her maiden voyage in February, the industry was watching with curiosity. As the sister ship to Seven Seas Explorer – which Frank Del Rio, the president of Regent’s parent company, Norwegian, (perhaps unadvisedly) described as “a trophy to the one-percenters” – Splendor was always going to be luxurious. The question was exactly how luxurious, and in what way. To give some context to Del Rio’s claim, Seven Seas Explorer is a 750-passenger, all-suite vessel that launched in 2016. It includes a $500,000 bronze sculpture, a $7 million art collection, a self-serve caviar station and a palatial suite with a $90,000 bed and a $250,000 piano.

Budget friendly it is not. But even as conspicuous consumption falls out of vogue, the ship has enjoyed sustained popularity. With its $11,000-a night Regent Suite solidly booked out, Del Rio told Bloomberg, “It’s selling too easy. I, quite frankly, believe we’ll be raising the price.” Explorer, then, was a tough act to follow. As Jason Montague, president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, explained, “no expense was spared” in making sure Splendor cleared that bar.

“Wherever you turn on Seven Seas Splendor, you will be surrounded by elegance, comfort and hospitality,” he said upon its delivery. “Luxury travellers have anticipated this stunning new ship for more than two years. The day she opened for reservations was the busiest booking day in our company’s history… Seven Seas Splendor demonstrates how Regent continues to deliver an unrivalled experience for guests across our fleet.” His words are more than mere bombast. Just like its predecessor, Splendor caters to 750 guests in 375 suites. It has five restaurants, three bars and lounges, a curated art collection, more than 500 crystal chandeliers and over an acre of Italian marble. There is also a Culinary Arts Kitchen with 18 stations for handson gourmet cooking, and a new spa brand called Serene Spa & Wellness.

According to Tillberg Design, which oversaw the interiors, this ship is even more lavish than Explorer.

Suite deal

“The areas are brighter and more contemporary overall, with more textures and patterns and attention to detail in the furniture and lighting,” says Helena Sawelin, a partner at Tillberg. “We are very proud to have been in charge of the interiors for Seven Seas Splendor, and we split the design work with a few other design companies too. We worked on most of the suites but also several public areas, including the atrium, library, shops and different restaurants and lounges.” A Swedish firm specialising in marine design, Tillberg Design has 56 years’ experience in this field. Splendor is just the latest in a long list of luxury commissions, which also includes work for P&O Australia, Tui Cruises and Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. As well as developing interior design, the firm does exterior design and partners up with certain clients to enhance its entire brand.

As Sawelin points out, there are many new players entering the cruise design business, meaning a strong and consistent guest experience is the key to standing out. “Our project team works with the vision of reaching and exceeding the client expectations and offering the best possible guest experience,” she says. “We take a holistic approach to design, and start by evaluating the space itself and how we think the guest will feel and act when inside. Then, our architects and interior designers work closely together to create the concept, including mood boards and layouts.

“After discussing these with the client, we develop detailed design. We then take an active role during the follow-up process, to ensure the final quality meets expectations.”

When the renderings for Splendor were unveiled last year, all eyes were on the new and improved Regent Suite. At a staggering 4,443ft2, this is one of the largest suites at sea. It includes two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms (the half being just a toilet and sink), spacious living and dining areas, and its own in-room sauna and steam room. The suite occupies a prime position on the bridge of the ship, with a wrap-around balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows offering 270° views of the ocean. Its standout feature, however, is the bed in the master bedroom, which was handcrafted by more than 300 artisans. With the mattress alone worth $200,000, it has been dubbed ‘the most comfortable bed at sea’. “Along with the smart use of the beautiful space, high quality of materials and furniture, and the attention to details, The Winter Garden and dining area give an extra luxurious atmosphere,” explains Sawelin. “The shower bed in marble has been moved to the exterior wall of the ship, giving direct ocean views and an extraordinary shower experience.

“The balcony with a jacuzzi is also a perfect spot to enjoy the mesmerising view.”

Inevitably, this level of extravagance prompts questions about what luxury really means for guests today. If you’re paying $11,000 a night – the reported price tag for two people in the Regent Suite – you’re going to expect something above and beyond the typical high-end cruise experience.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises aims to provide just that, promising on its website that “there is no amenity too lavish for you to experience as resident of this unparalleled escape”. Alongside their own en-suite dining room, the Regent Suite’s guests will have exclusive access to a private dining room in one of the ship’s restaurants. They will have a dedicated personal butler, a personal car and guides at every destination, and first-class domestic flights to reach the ship along with a pre-cruise hotel package. “Luxury is not necessarily having champagne for breakfast,” says Sawelin. “I would say the generous spaces and personal service is what the premium guests expect, and of course, five-star restaurants too – all this you can get on the Splendor.”

Of course, none of that is really new. Perhaps what differentiates today’s luxury guests from their predecessors is their interest in responsible tourism. After all, sustainability is no longer just a buzzword, and high-end travellers want to feel that they’re setting sail with a clear conscience. It follows that luxury is less about obvious ostentation and more about the simple things done well.

“Premium guests still look for and know high quality – they expect an attention to detail and wish to be positively surprised,” says Sawelin. “But, in combination with all of this, luxury, for many today, means travelling with a neutral or positive environmental footprint. We have built up a library of eco-friendly materials to meet this request more easily. Sustainable thinking in technology, materials, engines, heating systems and more is an increasingly natural part of all of our projects.”

The overall design, then, is tasteful rather than gaudy. The Regent Suite has a creamy, earthy colour palette, with walls clad in marble and onyx along with accents of leather, brass, oak and glass. This design sets the tone for the ship’s other 14 suite categories.

Elsewhere in the ship, the atrium is grand yet simply designed. It is decked out in airy white and neutrals, with wooden touches and bespoke artworks on the wall. The Compass Rose restaurant is decked out in chandeliers, while the Coffee Connection café has a crisp, metropolitan interior, opening on to al fresco seating. Sawelin points out that, rather than being impressed by mere trendiness, premium guests are looking for something that’s contemporary yet timeless in its design. “You can see this in the way the rooms are laid out to create private spaces, the high quality of design and material, the choice of colours, the comfortable furniture and the attention to detail,” she says.

Self-conscious wealth

Generally speaking, she thinks premium cruise guests are becoming more adventurous in their preferences and less content with the traditional trappings of luxury. Beautiful interiors, yes, but operators also need to pay attention to the experiential side.

“We see a strong trend for smaller cruises, or cruise yachts, and also a higher request for expeditions cruises,” she says. “The possibility to explore and customise trips, and to come closer to nature is something that land tourism cannot offer in the same way. Our maritime clients expect design that can compete with or surpass design on land, while still being compliant with maritime regulations.”

For the first guests on Seven Seas Splendor, expectations will run high. But as they embark on their all-inclusive itineraries, they can be sure the ship design lives up to its billing.