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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.

Travel Advisor Trip Review– 7 Nights Aboard the AmaBella with AmaWaterways

Santa Barbara Travel Bureau Advisor, Nancy Herrmann, recently visited the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Hungary through a 7-Night voyage aboard the AmaBella. Beginning with three days in Prague, ending with three days in Budapest, with 7 days of stops along the Danube River on a river cruise by AmaWaterways. Below, Nancy shares her highlights of the trip, favorite cities, and tips to get the most out of cruise trips.

Three Days in Prague, the “City of Spires”

Prague

The AmaWaterways cruise started on the Danube River in Germany, but we chose to fly into Prague, Czech Republic to spend a few days in “The City of 100 Spires.” Any time you travel for a cruise, I highly recommend choosing a few destinations to explore at the beginning and/or end. If you are making the trip, make it a journey!

The historic center of Prague, a UNESCO World Heritage site, dates back well over 1000 years. In the 14th century it was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and since has seen many upswings and falls of power throughout history. The most recent notable rise was in 1989 with the end of forty-one years of communist rule, yet the beauty and charm of the Old Town remains.

Nancy room

Accommodation: We stayed at the Pachtuv Palace for our three nights in Prague. Although our room showed definite signs of wear and tear, this hotel offers impeccable service, very large rooms and is walking distance to the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square.

 

Regensburg, Germany

From Prague, we boarded a bus for the transfer to our awaiting longship. After about two hours on the road, we stopped in Regensburg, Germany for a quick tour of the city and a lunch break. Beautiful, quiet town with an incredible waterway.

regensberg collage

 

The Cruise with AmaWaterways

Did You Know?  The word ‘Ama’ stems from the Latin “Amare,” meaning “to love.” In other words, AmaWaterways means “to love waterways” (not A.M.A. which could be confused..). That is what this river cruise line is all about: ensuring their customers love to travel on water as much as they do.

Cruise Theme: This particular cruise was a Wine Themed sailing with Aver Vineyards from Gilroy, CA on board and it required attendance at a special one hour Seminar on the River.

Service: The level of hospitality and attention to detail was remarkable. The crew was professional, attentive and charming, with a perpetual sense of good humor! Each day began with a genuine smile and cheery “good morning” from the housekeeper. Each stateroom was neat and clean, all day, every day. The bartenders and wait staff did everything they could to make us feel comfortable and well fed. We even struck up a rapport with a waiter on the first day who, much to his dismay I’m sure, ended up with us at his dinner table the entire cruise! Our table guests changed, but clearly, Aleksander enjoyed us as much as we did him.

Accommodations: For the next seven nights, we were housed in a Twin Balcony Stateroom that features both a French Balcony and a separate outside balcony, allowing incredible views right from our room throughout the journey. Talk about being on the water!

On Board Travel Tips: All inclusive pricing really helps you relax on vacation, and quite a few of your usual necessities are provided. All staterooms are equipped with a hairdryer, bathrobes, slippers and a safe. Your bathroom offers a magnifying mirror and spa-quality toiletries including soaps, body wash, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion that are replenished as needed. On European ships, a computer is provided in each stateroom that has high-speed Internet access and complimentary WiFi is available throughout the ship, albeit somewhat slow most of the time due to the fact that everyone uses it at the same time.

Meal Time: Meals are served in the main dining room three times a day, and as in usual cruising fashion, there are snacks available in the lounge throughout the day and late into the evenings. All drinks, including premium wines, beer and spirits are included with your meals. Coffees and hot chocolate from a dispenser, teas and water are available all day. Additional drinks can be bought in the lounge at very affordable prices; about $6 for a glass of wine and from $4-$15 for premium drinks.

Map of the 7-Night Cruise along the Danube River

Map of the 7-Night Cruise along the Danube River

First Highlight: Passau, Germany A typically quaint city on the Danube with some dubious history that includes tales about Hitler and Napoleon. The city floods often, most recently in 2013, where the water was so high, the town had to shut down!

Second Highlight: Salzburg, Austria Music fans ourselves, we chose to visit Salzburg, home of Mozart, ‘The Sound of Music’ and visited our first Christmas Market. The city has changed a bit since my last visit almost 30 years ago, but it is still charming.  If you aren’t as enthralled with Mozart as we were, we recommend the day trip to the picturesque Cesky Kymlov in the Czech Republic.

abby

Third Stop: Melk, Hungary Melk was one of our favorite stops, with its historic Abbey and fairytale town and began our favorite day.

wachau valley

Sailing the Wachau Valley: After a morning in Melk, the afternoon was spent sailing through the beautiful Wachau Valley, with incredible views past rolling hills, beautiful baroque churches, vineyards and ancient castles. Ruins of the 12th Century Durnstein Castle, atop the highest hill, was a great photo-op before floating into the striking town of Durnstein. History has it that King Richard the Lion-Hearted was imprisoned in the castle by Leopold V, the Duke of Austria, in 1192. That same evening, we did a special wine tasting at Castle Gobelsburg, then we set sail overnight to Vienna.

castle bodelsburg

The Journey Continued in Budapest

The last day and night of the cruise was spent in Budapest. This beautiful city was indeed at the top of our list! Thankfully, we planned to spend an extra few nights here after the cruise, so we didn’t have to extend the trip– We loved it so much we would have!

Highlights of Budapest

  1. Cruising the river at night
  2. Hungarian goulash soup making at the Sofitel (we have the aprons and hats to prove it!)
  3. Strolling through the Christmas markets
  4. Best dinner of our entire vacation (during our own 2 night extension)!
  5. Lights, sights, bridges and so much more!

budapest

All in all, this was a fantastic trip! In my opinion, AmaWaterways is great for travelers who want to take it easy, have some good food and sit back and relax, with the average age for a European river cruise at 55+. Although there are some things for the younger set to do while off the ship, because these longships have limited public space, there is not much to do while on board. If that is not a concern, it’s a great way to discover some great places in Europe!

If you have any questions about the trip, please call Nancy Herrmann at 805.966.3116 or email her at nherrmann@sbtravel.com or see her trip details on her Facebook page