This small, tricky to-get-to city on Italy's Adriatic Coast is home to the Fincantieri shipyard, that has been entrusted with delivering what will undoubtedly be the new holder of the title, 'the world's most luxurious cruise ship'. Around 19 months in the construction and she is, I was reliably informed by the chief engineer, on course to set sail at the end of January 2020, with her maiden guest voyage early February. Not surprisingly, her sailings throughout 2020 and 2021 are selling fast.
She sits proudly in the water, dwarfed by busy cranes and, as we approach, it looks like an army of ants cover her starboard side. It is, of course, team-upon-team fixing, fitting, testing the railings to the generous balconies and installing the glazing to the floor-to-ceiling windows of the cabin suites. "A lighter touch is what we're going for here with Splendor" Jason Montague, the CEO, proudly tells me. And he's right. Having disembarked the forerunner, the Explorer, yesterday, it is fresh in my mind as I embark Splendor. I admire her more contemporary tones in the Concierge Suite, as well as the new chandelier in the Compass Rose restaurant. A huge sculpture of glass and light "which took 3 months to install, yes, and weighs 1.4 tonnes", the chief engineer tells me, as I move out from standing directly underneath it. Tweaks to the layout include moving the reception from port to starboard to improve passenger flow, more outside spaces including the Coffee Connection, improved seating in the theatre, and that lighter colour scheme. Half a billion dollars is a lot to spend on a paint job! But it is so much more than that, Regent have really listened to clients and refined the ultimate in maritime luxury even further. "At this level, we've set client expectations so high that we have to deliver on every single thing, no matter how big or small", says Jason. And, the fact it has a sibling familiarity to the Explorer shows how right they got it first time round: the fine dining, the entertainment; the spa with its infinity pool; the bars, the main pool area and, of course, the suites.
We head to see the new 'floating' tables in two signature restaurants, where pods jut out from the ship allowing unrivalled views whilst dining. But as we reach deck 10 and step through an innocuous door, I find myself standing on the bridge of the ship and am understandably distracted. I am suddenly 10 years old again and, in my head, I am picturing myself as Captain Kirk and Long John Silver as I turn the, surprisingly small, wheel and push the throttle. Nothing is turned on obviously, but I am watched carefully by the ship's actual Captain. She is Captain Serena Melani and will be the first female Captain in the world ever to sail a brand-new cruise ship out to sea. No pressure then, I joke. She gives me a smile and shrug that suggests it will be plain sailing. "She [RSSC Splendor] has already been out on her ocean trials and performed incredibly well", the Captain tells me. During these trials, they test the ship to its very limits including speed, turning ability, stabilisation and even an emergency stop. "These are things you never get to do when there are passengers on board, so it is really exciting" she says grinning. But this is just one part of her role. Joining the ship a year before the first voyage seemed puzzlingly early to me, but as she explained "the shipyard is building the vessel, we have to deliver everything else. And as I see the ship come together, I know every detail".
There they are again - those details. If in this shipyard in small Ancona, the Captain is already focused on them - from everything a client will never see behind-the-scenes, to the grand chandelier worth over a quarter of a million dollars - you know this ship is going to be something truly special. I leave the Captain on the dockside and she pre-empts my salutation; "don't say 'good luck'. We say, "fair wind and good sailing'". So, I do, and I mean it.