Champagne and port

By Jan Shure, September 24, 2008
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On Sunday I drank Champagne; on Monday I sank Margaritas; on Tuesday I sipped more Champagne; on Wednesday I drank a Kir Royale; on Thursday I consumed a Cosmopolitan. And on Shabbat, aside from Kiddush wine in the lounge set aside for a Shabbat evening service, I allowed my liver a rest.

If there is one thing that is emphatically not missing from an up-scale, all inclusive cruise, it is Champagne and cocktails - or, indeed, any other kind of tipple that tickles your taste buds.

I would hate you to think that the reason I chose to cruise with Seabourn, one of the world's handful of super-luxury lines, is the copious quantity of Champagne with which they ply you throughout the trip. It was not. But the line (part of the Carnival Corporation, headed by the American-Israeli Arison family) definitely fosters the belief among its guests that they are attending a laid-back, private party aboard a close friend's big (okay, huge) yacht, complete with the kind of round-the-clock cocktail-and-Champagne regime that such a bash normally entails.

Indeed, the line refers to its fleet as "the Yachts of Seabourn", to emphasise the point. In fact, Seabourn Legend, which we boarded in Nice and left seven days later in Barcelona, is a small but perfectly formed cruise ship claiming one of the highest ratios of space-to-guest in the marine industry.

I would be lying if I said Legend's accommodation was the most luxurious I have sampled at sea. Legend is one of Seabourn's older ships, which means the bathrooms do not have the double sinks and separate bath and shower that are standard on newer ships, such as Odyssey, due for launch next June.
But every comfort has been built in to the 277-square feet of even the most basic Grade A suites, including dressing room, safe, dining area, sofa, armchairs, flat-screen TV, DVD and CD player, American-sized double bed with Egyptian-cotton sheets and a fridge pre-stocked - of course - with your favourite alcohol and soft drinks.

In the public areas, comfort and space are the byword. And because of the small number of guests - Legend accommodates a maximum 206 passengers - there is always a spot to sunbathe or recline in the shade without feeling like the proverbial sardine. As you would expect, your repose is regularly refreshed with an iced flannel or an iced drink - alcoholic or otherwise.

Eating aboard Legend ranges from the elegantly formal restaurant to the relaxed Veranda Café, where breakfast is served in the air-conditioned interior or on deck where you can imbibe juices, fresh-brewed coffee and infusions, and pick from a buffet that features pretty well anything you might conceivably want for breakfast, from fresh fruit and cereals, through waffles, breads, croissant, eggs (with standard non-kosher accompaniments), smoked salmon, cheeses and cakes.

Despite the vast breakfast and three lunch venues; despite proper afternoon tea; despite two (and sometimes three) dinner venues where options include the chef's gourmet dishes, classics, "healthy-eating" options (often veggie or fish) and a big selection of non-offensive dishes for kosher-observant diners (starters alone on one night included seared spice-crusted tuna, vegetable bouillon, bell pepper soup, mesclun lettuce with mimosa dressing and watermelon and rocket salad); and despite 24-hour room service, Seabourn is not a line where the raison d'etre is to eat: there are no midnight buffets, nor groaning tables with ice sculptures which are such a feature of other cruise lines.

Seabourn also seems to be aware that, for its up-scale guests, dining in a formal restaurant is not a particular novelty, and the closer the line can get to barefoot chic, the more it will appeal to less traditional cruisers. Thus they make good use of upper decks, offering al fresco pre-dinner drinks as well as the option of dinner on the Sky Deck on some nights (we pre-ordered non-offensive meals as the options were steak or lobster), plus a barbecue and dancing on deck on one night.
A similar realisation about their guests' assumed taste in entertainment seems to inform the choice of on-board evening activities. There is a bijoux casino, plus a small team of highly professional entertainers who get the ship rocking - in the best sense - with pre- and post-dinner dancing and shows in the ship's theatre, but in general Seabourn eschews Folies Bergere-style extravaganzas with their cast of thousands.
When it comes to the real raison d'etre of cruising - hanging up your clothes and letting the world come to you - Seabourn's itineraries offer plenty of ports for even the most blasé cruise enthusiast. New ports for 2009/10 include St Raphael, Bandol and Antibes on the French Riviera; Opatija and Split in Croatia plus a slew of ports in the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, and late-night stays and overnights in 30 ports, notably Mykonos, St Tropez, St Barts and Portofino.

The itinerary for my trip mixed old favourites with a revelation and an island I had to Google to learn its location.

The last was Porquerolles, a tiny island in the Gulf of Hyères. It has one hotel, hibiscus-clad houses and B&Bs, a dozen restaurants and bars, three unspoiled beaches, no cars to speak of and a handful of boutiques. It offers the kind of understated, hippie chic that St Tropez offered 30 years ago, and demonstrated one of the definitive joys of cruising: providing a chance to sample a city or resort, to determine that it is worth a longer return visit.

Cannes, our second port, with its ice-cream kiosks side by side with Gucci on the Croisette, is an odd blend of Blackpool and the Champs-Elysées. If you can afford to hide out in the Martinez or the Majestic, avoiding the Eurochavs with their tots and tattoos, it can be bliss, and the shopping is great, with branches of every French brand in a single street, but a day there is ample.

The Menorcan capital, Mahon, is unexpectedly charming; a pretty cliffside town with a labyrinth of cobbled streets lined with cafés, galleries, craft shops and smart independent boutiques, it is easy to see why David Miliband chose it as his holiday bolthole, and another one to revisit.

One day in the Majorcan capital, Palma is perfect to see the Gothic Cathedral and the historic quarter behind it - both gorgeously renovated - and to shop. But it is Valencia, just along the coast from Barcelona, which was a total surprise. Sprawling, verdant, with fabulous modern architecture, sublimely restored 18th and 19th-century buildings and a wonderfully preserved old city, it deserves the level of visitors which its neighbour now enjoys: go now before it gets them.

Then it was an overnight sail to Barcelona where, after the annoying (but virtually industry-wide) requirement to leave your suite by 8am (and the ship by 9.30), we dumped our luggage at the magnificently renovated art deco Silken Gran Havana. We spent a day strolling Las Ramblas and Montjuic, before returning for sublime sea bream in the hotel restaurant. But not before cocktails beside the rooftop pool to the sound of live jazz. Well how else would you expect the trip to end?

Travel facts

 

Jan Shure cruised with Seabourn aboard Seabourn Legend (www.seabourn.com; 0845 070 0500). Legend's 2009 programme includes seven Côte d'Azur and Spanish Isles voyages in June, July, August, September and October. Current best fares, cruise only, from £2,524 per person staying in a Grade A suite. Price includes all tips and gratuities, fine dining, open bar, fully stocked mini bar and fuel supplements. Double rooms at the Silken Gran Hotel Havana, Barcelona booked through Utell (www.Utell.com), from £76 per night with breakfast

Last updated: 12:45pm, August 17 2009