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Santa Barbara Travel’s Pre-Inaugural Voyage Aboard Seven Seas Explorer

Through the excellent partnership between Santa Barbara Travel Bureau and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, our CEO, Charles de L’Arbre and his wife, Barbara, were invited aboard the pre-inaugural voyage of Seven Seas Explorer, dubbed “The Most Luxurious Cruise Ship Ever Built.” Below, Charles shares his experience and passes along travel tips to make your trip perfect.

Day 1 ~ Board Seven Seas Explorer in Barcelona

Today we boarded the Seven Seas Explorer! A 10-minute taxi-ride took us from the Hotel Arts to the Barcelona Passenger Cruise Terminal.  Forty-five minutes later, we, and our fellow passengers were among the first guests to board the Regent Seven Seas Explorer. Glass of champagne in hand, we wandered around the ship—truly impressed with the artwork, the detail and, of course, the layout. Not dissimilar from other Regent ships we have sailed on, there is truly a wonderful aura about Explorer—the public rooms have a lovely scale and the staff absolutely top-notch.

Step into the Lobby of the Seven Seas Explorer

Step into the Lobby of the Seven Seas Explorer

We made our way to Le Veranda—one of three restaurants on the ship serving lunch—sat at a table for 2 and contemplated each other and our good fortune to be there. La Veranda offers a combination of an extensive buffet and cooked to order meats—steaks, chops, sausage—all delicious.

HINT—If you want something cooked to order, it is helpful to have your table number to give to one of the servers. I had forgotten mine, which resulted in a delay.

Charles de L'Arbre, CEO of Santa Barbara Travel, poses with the Chef aboard Seven Seas Explorer

Charles de L’Arbre, CEO of Santa Barbara Travel, poses with the Chef aboard Seven Seas Explorer

Concierge Suite Deck 14

Following our lunch, we went up to our suite on Deck 14—the top cabin deck on the ship.  The layout was very efficient. Upon entering is the bathroom—marble floor with inlay, double sinks, bathtub, and shower. My wife was happy about the excellent lighting and plenty of counter space.

concierge suite

Beyond the bathroom a large walk-in closet with a safe, and beyond that the sleeping and sitting area, and finally a large veranda. For television and movie addicts, there is a large flat panel television, which swings out for easy viewing from the bed. Channels included CNN and FOX from the USA as well as BBC News, Sky News and Sky Sports and a move channel to round out the English-speaking offerings.  There are also information channels on the ship with information on the extensive Canyon Ranch Spa treatments, shipboard activities and videos of guest lecturers. Finally, there is an on-demand film selection, which allows one to interrupt the film they are watching and then resume the film at that point later in the day!

Dinner at Chartreuse

Chartreuse 3Our first day on board the Explorer continued into evening with a delightful dinner at “Chartreuse,” a French-themed restaurant with a modern twist which was superb—from the fois gras starter through desert and a cheese course to the after dinner cordials. I had requested that a menu be sent to my cabin—alas that did not happen. The one shortcoming to an otherwise perfect meal.

Onboard Dining Options

There is no shortage of dining options on board. In addition to the French cuisine of Chartreuese there are three other specialty restaurants available for dinner:

Chartreuse evokes memories of a chic Parisian fine dining restaurant discovered during an evening stroll. Wherever you are seated in this regal restaurant, you will be treated to a succulent dinner while enjoying incredible ocean views.

Chartreuse evokes memories of a chic Parisian fine dining restaurant discovered during an evening stroll. Wherever you are seated in this regal restaurant, you will be treated to a succulent dinner while enjoying incredible ocean views.

Prime 7 Restaurant is a true classic in every sense, Prime 7 sets a new standard in steakhouse fare with its contemporary interpretation of an American favorite.

Prime 7 Steakhouse

pacious and comfortably casual, La Veranda offers regional specialties that often reflect the cuisines of the countries called on.

La Veranda for Dinner

Celebrating the culinary traditions of Asia and our new Pan-Asian specialty restaurant, Pacific Rim delights guests with the perfect balance of delicious flavors and Zen-like ambiance.

Pacific Rim Pan Asian Cuisine

Besides those, there is the main restaurant on the ship, The Compass Rose—open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For more casual dining, you will love La Veranda, which serves both breakfast and lunch and includes outdoor seating. You can also enjoy lunch at The Pool Grill for those seeking something very casual.  There is also The Café, which offers various coffees, pastries, and gourmet sandwiches during the day. No one traveling on the Explorer will go hungry!

Day 2 ~ Day at Sea

This was our only day at sea—and perhaps the nicest!  There is a lovely rhythm to being on the water on a great ship—particularly traveling with someone you love.  Think of it as an extended date during which you are called up to make such difficult choices as where to dine, when to workout (or take a nap) and what treatment to have at the Canyon Ranch Spa.

Luckily, my wife took the guesswork out of all of those items. In mid-afternoon, I had a blissful massage at the Spa—I confess I slept through part of it, followed by a wonderful dinner at Setti Mari where we shared a table outside with some friends as the evening sun was setting. Magical!

This may seem like an afterthought, but the Explorer offers an excellent fitness center with Lifecycles, Stairmasters, Striders, treadmills, a Nautilus machine, free weights etc. as well as Pilates, yoga and various exercise classes—whew. There is also a jogging track (but you can also walk it at a dignified saunter), bocce court, shuffleboard, or you can lie out by the pool and practice arm curls with a glass of adult refreshment.

Day 3 ~ Visit Toulon

Tour of Seven Seas Navigator

We arrived at Toulon, one of the great historical French ports and the Mediterranean home of the French Navy. After breakfast, I was invited to visit the Navigator, Regent Seven Seas Cruises smallest ship. Carrying 500 passengers, she just completed a $50 million overhaul and I was eager to see the results.  She is a cozy, intimate ship.  While the dining options are fewer than on Explorer, she has the same high culinary and service standards, and very spacious cabins. It was clear to see that the crew members I came into contact with are very proud of the Navigator and love serving aboard her.

Shore Excursion: Aix-en-Provence

Aix en Provence Shore Excursion. Photo Credit: The 10 Best Aix en Provence  Tours via www.Viator.com

Aix en Provence Shore Excursion. Photo Credit: The 10 Best Aix en Provence Tours via www.Viator.com

aixe en Provence

In the afternoon, we took a shore excursion to Aix-en-Provence, a visit I had made decades earlier. We were driven from Toulon through the Provencal countryside to Aix… Our guide, a lovely Frenchwoman from Marseilles with a gift for narrative, pointed out points of interest including the iconic Mont Saint Victoire. 90 minutes after leaving Toulon, we arrived in Aix-en-Provence where we began a two-hour walking tour. Unfortunately, we were in 100+ degree heat so the main highlight of the tour was ending it at the Café des Deux Freres, operating since 1792, whereupon my wife went shopping and I had a nice cold beer.  We returned to the air-conditioned comfort of the ship and happily called it a day.

Day 4 ~ Visit Sardinia 

Today we visit Sardinia, the second largest of the Italian islands after Sicily. It is located off of the Northwest Italian coast and the ports of Olbia and Cagliari are serviced by enormous car and passenger ferries from the Italian mainland. At 6am, I was standing out on my veranda, cup of coffee in hand(that in-room coffee maker an intense blessing at that particular moment), as I watched our ship being navigated between the rocky islands of the Madalena Archipelago. Sparsely populated the islands were starkly beautiful in the early sun—particularly one lovely old castle we sailed past.

Porto Cervo

Olbia is a bustling port. We berthed across from one of the ferries that unloaded its passenSan pantaleogers, cars and cargo with tremendous precision.  Also precise was our disembarkation for a tour to the Bay of Sardinia and the resort town of Porto Cervo. From Oblia, we were driven to the small village of San Pantaleo—renowned for its location surrounded by dramatic rocky and outcroppings and as an artist colony. There are some interesting art galleries, a pretty little church, a few restaurants—and not much else. From there we continued to Baia Sardinia which is a lovely, low key, beach resort with beautiful emerald waters off of a long beach.  As I was another very warm day, the hospitality of the Barracuda Café beckoned—along with a beer—while my wife went to check on the health of the retail industry.

Our next stop was Porto Cervo. This was developed by the Aga Khan and other investors in the 1960’s and became famous as one of the original jet-set destinations. Porto Cervo has a yacht harbor filled with some magnificent yachts, a lot of private houses with high walls and formidable gates, and a lot of high end shops—all of which were closed on the Sunday we were there—my good luck, but poor planning on their part.

The tour ultimately brought us back to Olbia via another route.

I should probably add a note about shore excursions—particularly with Regent who include free and unlimited shore excursions as a feature of all their sailings.  While we were on the first sailing and found something to like about every excursion we took, we also found ourselves wondering if it might not have been more pleasant to stay on that beautiful ship and enjoy the wonderful service, the wonderful food, and the wonderful air conditioning rather than the tour we were on….but hey, “if you don’t go, you will never know”. Once again, we were happy to be back on board.

Dinner that evening was at the Compass Rose—absolutely fabulous. While the menu had almost anything one could possibly ask for, they were also ready, willing and able to make any request that was not on the menu.

Day 5 ~ Visit St. Tropez

St tropez boat

Seven Seas Explorer anchored off St. Tropez

Today we anchored off of St. Tropez for our last full day on the ship. We chose to take a 2-hour walking tour around this little village, made famous in the 1950’s by its association with Brigitte Bardot who still lives there and is often seen by the locals in this little community of 5000 people.  The town is built around the yacht harbor, filled with vessels that, in same cases, dwarf the buildings.  We had a lovely tour that ended at the art museum.  One of my goals had been to see the Hotel de Ponche—a small, often overlooked 5 star hotel in St. Tropez. It looks out a small beach and is one I have used a number of times for clients who want some an intimate experience with reasonable prices. I had never seen it before and was not disappointed.

We decided to go to one of the beach clubs outside the village for lunch and Rose at club 55took a 12 minute cab ride to Club 55—arguably the best-known of all of the beach clubs in St. Tropez. It had not occurred to me that on a Monday we would have any difficulty in getting a table but we were informed that a table would be impossible. I am not sure if it was Barbara’s presence or my very deferential French, but we ultimately were shown to a table in front of which every guest coming to lunch had to pass!  Paparazzi – eat your hearts out!! Barbara could name every handbag paraded past us. I, however, concentrated on the excellent Rose de Provence we were drinking while reflecting on the irony of the term “cover-up.” Two hours later, we were on our way back to the port having pronounced the day a complete success.

Hint—Should you go to St. Tropez, make a lunch reservation at Club 55. The beach is available to you, and the table is yours all day long!

Club 55 in St. Tropez is an elegant lunch destination. Make a reservation beforehand for a table for the day and private beach access.

Club 55 in St. Tropez is an elegant lunch destination. Make a reservation beforehand for a table for the day and private beach access.

We came back to the ship and started our packing for a sailing that, for us, was over way too quickly. The voyage ended in Monte Carlo, where I took the beautiful photo below from the ship. We then spent a few days in Paris to end the trip.

View of Monte Carlo from Seven Seas Explorer

View of Monte Carlo from Seven Seas Explorer

Among features of the Explorer that we were unable to take advantage of due to the tight schedule was their exhibition kitchen were cooking demonstrations and cooking classes are offered. The kitchen is state of the art and a huge “must” for anyone with a strong interest in cooking.

Charles de L'Arbre in Barcelona

Charles de L’Arbre in Barcelona

 

The Seven Seas Explorer is certainly living up to its name. The first voyages are all completely sold out and for good reason. The ship is worth the hype. To discuss your itinerary on the Seven Seas Explorer, send me and email at charlesd@sbtravel.com or call 805.969.7746.

PART 1: Barcelona as Recommended by Santa Barbara Travel CEO, Charles de L’Arbre

Charles de L’Arbre, CEO of Santa Barbara Travel, shares his itinerary, reviews, and travel trips from his most recent trip to Europe with his wife, Barbara. In this first installment, find airport and travel tips, and take a tour of Barcelona.

Day 1

We departed LAX on Air France on their Airbus 380—marvelous service and food in business class. Lie flat beds and great entertainment system on board. We were at the Korean Airlines lounge which had very little to offer in terms of food apart from the ability to make ramen noodles and generous helpings of kim chee…..

The transfer at Charles de Gaulle involved 2 long walks and a short train ride to change terminals plus going through security and passport control. With an hour and a half between flights in was manageable and the signage to get from one place to another was very clear.

In Barcelona, we stayed at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Arts which was built for the Olympics down by the waterfront. The area had formerly been all warehouses and docks and was re-designed by the architect Frank Gehry to include hotels, beaches, and areas with a lot of restaurants and bars. Now a very hip and tourist friendly area.

Hotel Arts Barcelona was built for the Olympics. Mostly warehouses, the area was re-designed by the architect Frank Gehry.

Hotel Arts Barcelona was built for the Olympics. Mostly warehouses, the area was re-designed by the architect Frank Gehry.

We stayed up on the Club Level where check-in was handled and were shown to a beautiful room looking north along the beaches. Once unpacked, we went to The Club and toasted our arrival with a glass of cava, jamon de Serrano, Spanish cheeses and other delicacies and made our plans for the next two days.

Hotel Arts Barcelona Deluxe Guestroom

Hotel Arts Barcelona Deluxe Guestroom

The Club at Hotel Arts Barelona

The Club at Hotel Arts Barcelona

Dinner  that night was at a wonder tapas bar, La Pepita where we were looked after by the owner who suggested choices off of their long menu and plentiful wine list.  We left sated and amazed by a bill that was less than 65 Euros.

Photo credit: http://www.timeout.com/barcelona/restaurants/la-pepita

La Pepita in Barcelona: A hip, affordable Tapas bar open for breakfast, lunch and dinner

La Pepita food

Photo credit: Timout.com

Day 2

Breakfast at The Club followed by a cab ride up to the Passeig de Gracia—often described as Barcelona’s Fifth Avenue.  We started on the upper part of the street which is much more of a residential neighborhood and meandered our way down. As I often do, we looked in at various hotels we use in Barcelona.

Hotel Casa Fuster designed by Spanish architect Lluis Domanech

Hotel Casa Fuster designed by Spanish architect Lluis Domanech

The most unusual may be the Casa Fuster which was originally designed as a private home by the great Spanish architect Lluis Domanech I Montaner, considered a contemporary of Antoni Gaudi, done in the Modernist Style. Now a wonderful hotel with a terrific bar, it is very close to the iconic Gaudi structures.

Charles de L'Arbre standing in front of the Gaudí house

Charles de L’Arbre standing in front of the Gaudí house

We stopped in at Casa Batlló, a renowned building in the center of Barcelona remodeled  by architect Antoni Gaudí. It was a 15 minute wait for entrance tickets but well-worth the wait for a self-guided tour with audio-assist of one of the most extraordinary structures in Barcelona. Also on Passeig de Gracia is another Gaudí house: Casa Milà popularly known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry). For anyone interested in Gaudí, this is not to be missed! Casa Milà, popularly known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), and the Casa Battlo. Both are on Passeig de Gracia and open to visitors.

Old Facade of Majestic Hotel in Barcelona

Old Facade of Majestic Hotel in Barcelona

We continued on down Passeig de Gracia, stopping in at the Hotel Majestic—another deluxe and very Spanish hotel with reputation for superb service and an unmatched location—as well as the Mandarin Oriental Hotel which opened 2 years ago. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is very serene and Asian in feeling and is separated from the street by a long entrance hall with most of the public rooms on the second floor. Like its sister hotel in Paris (which we saw a week later), the entire hotel is almost like being in a spa.

New Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona Main Lobby and Entrance Cat Walk show the modern-design

New Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona Main Lobby and Entrance Cat Walk show the modern design

Lunch was at the rooftop restaurant of Hotel 1898 down on Las Ramblas. Lovely service, a bit of a breeze, good food washed down with an excellent Rioja—all a perfect end to the morning hike.  The hotel is a wonderful marriage between traditional and very hip and a good choice for anyone who wants to be down closer to the Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. From  our table we could look out on the spires of the cathedral a couple of blocks away.  Other hotel choices in that area would include the Hotel Colon, which is directly across from the Cathedral, it’s budget-friendly, sister hotel, the Regencia Colon, as well the the lovely Hotel Neri—a modern hotel inside a 15th century palacio.

La Isabella Terraza

La Isabella Terraza, the roof top restaurant of Hotel 1989 on Las Ramblas

Day 3

After breakfast in The Club, we decided to take a quick run up to La Sagrada Familia—something we do every time we are in Barcelona since my first visit in 1977. La Sagrada Familia is the yet-unfinished masterwork of Antoni Gaudi. Construction began in 1882. Gaudi was killed by a streetcar 40 years later and construction progressed slowly until about 20 years ago. Completion is estimated to be about 16 years from now.

Travel Tip: Because it is Barcelona’s most-visited attraction, it is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED to reserve your tickets for scheduled tours in advance! No first-time visit to Barcelona is complete without a visit to this amazing cathedral.

Tour complete, we went back to the hotel, finalized our packing and took a 10-minute taxi-ride to the Barcelona Passenger Cruise Terminal. Forty-five minutes later, we and our fellow passengers were among the first guests to board the Regent Seven Seas Explorer.

Regent Seven Seas Explorer Main Lobby

Regent Seven Seas Explorer Main Lobby

Glass of champagne in hand, we wandered around the ship—truly impressed with the artwork, the detail and, of course, the layout. Not dissimilar from other Regent ships we have sailed on, there is truly a wonderful aura about Explorer—the public rooms have a lovely scale and the staff absolutely top-notch.

Details of the voyage on the Seven Seas Explorer coming soon

Warm Regards,
Charles de L’Arbre

Charles de L'Arbre in Barcelona

Charles de L’Arbre in Barcelona

Talk to our CEO, Charles de L’Arbre, about his recent trip to Europe visiting Spain and traveling aboard Regent’s new Seven Seas Explorer. Contact him by emailing charlesd@sbtravel.com

Seven Seas Explorer Embarks on Christening Voyage

Through the partnership of Santa Barbara Travel and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, the CEO of Santa Barbara Travel was invited aboard the first voyage of Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer, before the invitation-only Christening Voyage. Recognized industry-wide as “The Most Luxurious Cruise Ship Ever Built,” expectations are running high, but we have no doubt they will be exceeded. The round-trip voyage out of Monte Carlo will be making port visits to Portofino, Livorno, Ibiza, Barcelona, and St. Rafael before returning to Monte Carlo.

Follow us on Facebook for live updates of the trip!

About the Seven Seas Explorer

New Regent Seven Seas Explorer

New Regent Seven Seas Explorer

Seven Seas Explorer is spaciously intimate, breathlessly elegant and perfectly staffed to offer Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ special brand of all-inclusive luxury. She will bring elegance and glamour to the world’s greatest destinations, offering exquisite dining options that rival those of the finest restaurants ashore and all-suite, all-balcony accommodations boasting the largest balconies at sea.

 

“If you are going to deliver on the promise that this is the Most Luxurious Cruise Ship ever built, there’s a myriad of variables that have to be taken into account, and one of them is the actual materials used,” says Frank del Rio, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines. How does that translate into a luxury cruise ship? To start, sleep in a $150,000 bed, play a one-of-a-kind $500,000 Steinway grand piano in your living room, and enjoy in-room spa treatments. Take a full tour of the Regent Suite in the video below.

Highlights on the ship include the state of the art Culinary Arts Kitchen, incredible entertainment, world class luxury suites, extraordinary service, culinary experiences that rival the best on-shore restaurants, top-notch shore excursions, and did we mention, all Regent Seven Seas Cruises are truly all-inclusive?

Regent Seven Seas Explorer Main Lobby

Regent Seven Seas Explorer Main Lobby. Over 1 acre of marble and 1 acre of granite used throughout the vessle

See all the Inside Details on the Seven Seas Explorer

Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco will christen the Seven Seas Explorer® on July 13, 2016. Watch the historic ceremony and grand celebration live from Monte Carlo at 2:45 PM (EST) on ExplorerChristening.com

Watch the Christening Ceremony

Talk to our CEO, Charles de L’Arbre, about his recent trip on the Seven Seas Explorer. Contact him by emailing charlesd@sbtravel.com

Advisor Trip: Holland America’s new Koningsdam Ship

Janet Morton is amongst our most experienced travel advisors. This Spring, she was invited aboard the newest addition to the Holland America fleet, Koningsdam. Below, she shares her impressions of the new ship, as well as highlights and suggestions for each city along the way. 

SHIP HIGHLIGHTS

The Koningsdam is certainly the new King of the Holland America fleet, aptly named as “Koning” means “king” in Dutch. The new ship was impressive. Modern technology upgrades make the trip comfortable; the restaurant options are expanded; the spa is the most deluxe I have seen on a cruise ship, and the music-themed ship certainly delivers on both entertainment and décor.

The onboard entertainment is good, appealing to both solo travelers and families. Favorite entertainment options of mine included a Jazz lounge, classical music area, big evening shows, a new glass roofed Lido Deck where evening movies are screened, diverse dining options, and a huge theatre. On days we were at sea, we spent our time by the pool.

Pool area aboard the

Pool area aboard the Koningsdam

 

LAND HIGHLIGHTS

Naples is always a favorite cruise stop of mine, as there is a lot to do quite easily. You can go to the ancient city of Pompeii, the charming coastal town of Sorrento, tour the Amalfi Coast, or take a boat to Capri, each in a day’s visit. I visited Pompeii, an incredible archeological site that captures this Roman city exactly as it was before Mt. Vesuvius erupted.

Elaborate Sign in Pompeii that Translates to "Beware of Dog"

Elaborate Sign in Pompeii that Translates to “Beware of Dog”

In Granada, I joined the offered shore excursion to visit The Alhambra, a castle with Moorish architecture. I typically go off on my own, given my travel experience, but I chose the offered Shore Excursion to The Alhambra. Unless you rent a car, it is quite difficult to get there yourself, and we were happy to join the group for the day. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and friendly, the weather was great, and lunch was included. It was busy, but still enjoyable.

The Courtyard of the Alhambra, the regional  "Taj Majal"

The Courtyard of the Alhambra, the regional “Taj Majal”

The itinerary was well planned, allowing for two days in the city of Barcelona. While there are plenty of shore excursions (up to 20 to 30 at each port), I chose to walk Barcelona. With the quirky art and architecture of the city, maze-like streets, fantastic restaurants, it is a city meant to be experienced up close. Already I am planning a trip with more time in this city, a passion sparked by our introduction on this cruise.

The Port of Gibraltar was an incredible day with a visit to the most interesting airport in the world and the Rock of Gibraltar. If you go anywhere, you’ll have no choice but to drive through the airport, literally. The main road goes right through the runway, and when a plane comes in, stoplights stop traffic on either side, a crew cleans the runway, and a plane lands right in front of you.

The Rock of Gibraltar (left) and Gibraltar Airport stop light (right)

The Rock of Gibraltar (left) and Gibraltar Airport stop light (right)

The Rock of Gibraltar peaks at 1398 feet, and is formed from Early Jurassic limestone and dolomites. There is a tram that takes you up, and the view over the ocean is unbelievable. The Barbary Macaques, or “monos,” are the resident monkeys and quite a scene!

Each port city is such a treat, and it can be difficult to choose from the many wonderful options. It is good to remember that cruises are an opportunity to explore many places without checking in, checking out, and navigating to each city. In fact, this trip has already inspired another to Spain!

To talk about Holland America, Spain or Italy, reach out to Janet Morton by email at jmorton@sbtravel.com