Pass the port please, I'm cruising in style
When a ship has so much to offer, it was no surprise we spent so much time on board.
Moored off a Greek island, Seabourn Odyssey opens its marina for sea-bathing and water sports
Sibling rivalry can be a painful business. One moment you are the focus of family attention: pretty, petite, gorgeously turned out and perpetually seen in all the most chi-chi spots. Then along comes a younger sister, more beautiful, better attired and with other enviable assets.
Thus it was for the three older Seabourn yachts - Pride, Legend and Spirit: beautiful, award-winning ships, suddenly surpassed in every respect by their new, younger but slightly more generously proportioned siblings; Sojourn (launched this June), Quest, currently being fitted in Italy ready for launch next June, and the 650-foot Odyssey, launched last year and my floating home for a week last month.
If you want ice rinks, rock walls, Olympic-size pools, avenues of shops, pizza parlours and 3,000 fellow passengers, Seabourn Odyssey is not for you. (Nor indeed, are Sojourn, Quest, Pride, Legend or Spirit). But what Odyssey lacks in "amenities", she more than compensates for in comfort and service. Even the smallest of her 225 suites offers 295 square feet of space. Every suite has full-length windows and an ocean view - except when you are in port, of course, when you might have a Venice or Vancouver view - and most have a veranda.
And, regardless of size, every suite has a separate bedroom and living area, the latter equipped with table, chairs and sofa, and a walk-in closet or dressing room. There are two flat-screen TVs, with hundreds of new and classic movies at the touch of a remote, daily bowls of fresh fruit, and a stock of soft drinks, wine and spirits which seems to be magically restocked by the wine fairy.
Bathrooms are state-of-the art for a ship: granite surfaces, gleaming porcelain double sinks, walk-in shower and bath tub, separate loo, robes, slippers and Molton Brown toiletries.
Seabourne Odyssey (0845 070 0500) has seven-night itineraries taking in the Dalmatian coast and Greek Islands from April 11 onwards, from £2,149 per person, based on two sharing. Odyssey has a 16-day round-trip Fort Lauderdale Caribbean cruise from December 19, from £5,099 per person, including Virgin Islands, St Barth’s, St Kitts and Guadeloupe. Prices fully inclusive except flights.
Public areas are no less lavish. The decor of the ship is more chic boutique hotel, all sweeping spiral staircases with polished steel and spiky chandeliers, rather than the "Jewish baroque" style - all peach and aqua decor and shiny brass - of many older six-star ships. The vast, tranquil Elemis spa is one of the largest and lushest on the high seas, incorporating a huge hydro pool, extensive, sumptuous treatment and relaxation zones, changing areas, hair salon and a huge gym crammed with all the latest and most hi-tech equipment.
The Israeli-owned line - Seabourn is part of the Carnival Group, headed by Micky Arison, which owns 11 cruise lines, from eponymous Carnival, through Costa, Cunard and P&O to Holland America - has also done some creative thinking in designing the new ships: clever innovations include Seabourn Square, a spacious area at the heart of the ship, which is a perfect spot when the weather is too hot/cold/wet, combining a library, coffee-and-snack bar and cosy clusters of seating.
In addition to myriad bars (indoors and out), and a small theatre offering mostly cabaret-style performers (John Courtenay, a clever comedian-pianist and Elektra, a girlie duo on electric violins, on our cruise) there is a nicely atmospheric nightclub, which is vastly better than the traditional on-board piano bar where no-one wants to be the first to get up and dance.
The ship has endless decks for uncrowded sun-lounging, two small pools, more for a dip than a swim, and four on-deck Jacuzzis that are perfect for a late afternoon soak clutching a glass of Champagne. When the ship is at anchor in some calm little bay, it breaks out a marina, creating an instant and vast sea-water pool and offering a slew of watersports.
If I have left food until last, it is because food - while of the very finest quality and immaculately served in all of Odyssey's four restaurants - is not the raison d'etre of Seabourn. This line is for people who eat to live, not for those who live to eat; there are no midnight buffets, ice-sculptures or teams of chefs piling your plate to the skies.
Breakfasts, served in the informal Colonnade has lots of outdoor tables, allowing al fresco eating. And whatever "breakfast" means in your home, Odyssey offers it: steaks and chops for Aussies; fresh-baked croissant and pain-au chocolat for the French; hash browns, bacon and "over easy" eggs for Americans; cold cuts and cheese for Germans; fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt for healthy eaters, plus smoked salmon, eggs, assorted breads, cereals, juices, coffee, tea and infusions.
Lunch is also served in the Colonnade or on deck at the grill, while the main venue for dinner is the sublime Restaurant which, with its black-and-white décor and rows of interior-lit, art deco columns, evokes the glamour of a 1920s liner. Each menu has at least one permitted fish or vegetarian dish, while a "light" menu offers healthier versions of main menu dishes, and a "classic" menu which offers, well, classics.
On balmy nights, the Grill shrugs off its casual lunch-time ambience to serve dinner under the stars. And if you are a serious foodie (and not troubled by kashrut), Restaurant 2 serves a 10-course tasting menu.
One raison d'etre of cruising is that it allows multi-city, multi-country holidays that require unpacking just once. While for some people, and some itineraries, that may remain true, the more I chat to cruise devotees the more I am convinced that the ship is the destination, with the islands/ports a charming diversion from the sheer bliss of floating along the blue Med/Pacific/Atlantic, lapping up all the pleasures and amenities of a top-class hotel, while never risking boredom or over-exposure to local "colour".
The fact that I am only now reaching the ports I cruised may be the clearest demonstration of the truth of that contention - or maybe I'm a closet sybarite.
Whichever, we boarded Odyssey in Venice, settled on our veranda with a glass of Champagne to sail through the lagoon, the magically beautiful main artery of that sublime city, heading out to the Adriatic for an overnight sail to Split with its charming Old Town.
Our next stop, Bari, on the heels of Italy was being pummelled by such torrential rain we stayed aboard for spa treatments and Kindle catch-up time. Choppy seas and rain followed us to Kefalonia, one of four Greek islands we were visiting, but the sun shone for Katakolon, Gythion and Mykonos, where we explored, respectively, the site of the first Olympics, a main drag lined with jewellers, souvenir shops and cafés, and the pretty winding streets and windmills. Then it was an overnight sail to a seriously polished up Athens for disembarkation.
Am I hooked on cruising for its own sake? You bet, if it's with this line...