Seabourn Encore: This Ship is All Your Christmases Come True

Sue Wallace
Sunday Telegraph – April 29, 2018

 

Champagne and caviar go together like salt and pepper, Bonnie and Clyde, Beavis and Butthead, gin and tonic and strawberries and cream. That’s the talk in the pool on Seabourn Encore, where uniformed staff, waist deep in water, fill champagne flutes and offer caviar canapes as if it’s just another day at sea.

“It’s a Seabourn thing,” says veteran Queensland cruiser Lucy Welford, who has clocked up 12 Seabourn trips and always indulges in this signature event often served in shallow waters on far-flung beaches.

A lively band is playing, the sun is shining and the sea is glittering – just perfect for a bubbles and caviar indulgence aboard this ultra-luxury ship on a 16-day South Pacific Isles Christmas cruise from Auckland return. There are 600 cruisers from 22 countries including 161 Australians, 144 from the US and 124 New Zealanders. This cruise is nicknamed “Great Escape” because it’s a perfect getaway if you can’t face the shops onslaught and tired jokes around the family Christmas table.

The newest in the Seabourn stable, the 12-deck ship was launched in late 2016 and still has that brand new sparkle right down to its shiny cocktail shakers. With 300 chic suites, it’s larger than its sister ships, something that’s taken some Seabourn devotees time to get used to, but it’s given the thumbs up – pool talk, again.

THE DESIGN
It’s impressive. Adam D. Tihany’s design is all about sleek curves and attention to detail, from the stunning central spiral staircase to the innovative Seabourn Square, a rethink of traditional reception areas with a “living room’’ feel. But where Tihany really excels is in The Restaurant with a massive starburst chandelier with cobalt and aqua glass balls and the chic Observation Bar with 270-degree views. The striking artwork reflects a theme of cultural exploration with paintings, photographs, traditional crafts, sculptures and video art.

THE SUITE LIFE
Flowers, fruit, champagne and canapes await passengers who then have to decide on the perfumed soap selection presented on a silver tray. Lavishly decorated suites have a walk-in robe, grey and white marble bathroom, twin basins, shower, full-size bath tub and Molton Brown for Seabourn products.

“Feel like an aromatherapy bath? It’s no trouble,” says stewardess Christina. The bedroom can be divided by drapes from the lounge area that has a wide-screen television with 400 movies on demand, complimentary bar fridge stocked with preferred tipples and comfy seating. The veranda is perfect for ocean gazing and a decadent caviar delivery – “just pick up the phone and order any time,” chimes Christina.

CELEBRATED CUISINE
Dining is an adventure with seven bars and lounges and five restaurants and cafes. Kick-start the day with in-room dining – eggs benedict tastes even better on the veranda as palm tree-fringed islands appear in the distance. Or venture to the Colonnade for a hearty buffet breakfast and lunch while themed dinners set the scene at night – book outdoors for glorious views and sea breezes. The main dining room, The Restaurant, serves formal breakfasts and lunches and turns on the glamour at night with fine dining and an impressive menu.

You’ll find the best french fries and burgers at poolside Patio – great for casual lunch, as well as a selection of tasty dishes served under the stars. There’s always a crowd at the intimate Sushi restaurant – for lunch it’s hand-rolled sushi or bento boxes with miso soup and a choice of salmon, teriyaki chicken and vegetarian, with a finale of yuzu sorbet or green tea ice-cream. Hamachi, tuna, prawns and other fresh fish from Japan feature on the dinner menu. The service is impressive and staff delightful.
Head to the takeaway cafe on Seabourn Square for seriously good coffee – the macadamia cookies and ice cream are pretty good too.

THE GRILL
Frock up for a glamorous night at the oh-so-chic The Grill by Thomas Keller, named after the US culinary genius behind the French Laundry and Per Se restaurants. There’s no surcharge but bookings are required.

Mixologists create great cocktails before dining on treats inspired by the three-star Michelin chef – think double consomme celestine with black winter truffles and julienne crepes, Elysian Fields Farm lamb medallions with herb crust and a sensational seven-layer coconut cake. Keller’s dishes also appear on The Restaurant menu.

PORTS OF CALL
The itinerary lists Tauranga in New Zealand, Fiji’s Dravuni Island, Lautoka and Suva, New Caledonia’s Tadine and Kuto, Mystery Island in Vanuatu, Norfolk Island in Australia and New Zealand’s stunning Bay of Islands with a stop at Russell, but not all goes to plan. High swells or poor weather make it impossible to use the tender boats at Dravuni Island, Norfolk Island and Russell and an extra night is spent in Auckland.

Highlights include Tauranga, home to one of New Zealand’s most scenic walks, the Mount Maunganui base track where ancient pohutukawa trees cling to the slopes. Vanuatu’s tiny Mystery Island with fine white sand, the bluest of water and swaying palm trees is another standout.

WHAT TO DO
You can set a cracking pace with yoga, pilates or a gym session followed by a dip in one of two pools. Destination lectures, card games and golf putting keep you busy on sea days or retail therapy at the jewellery boutique where you can buy a $400,000 tanzanite pendant. Deck parties are fun, the trivia competition can be robust and there’s a watersports marina when the sea and weather gods align. Affable cruise director Handre Potgieter ensures all goes smoothly and the Venture team deliver natural history lectures and active excursions. Nightly entertainment varies with shows including An Evening with Tim Rice featuring songs from Jesus Christ Superstar to Evita and The Lion King.

SPA AT SEABOURN
The Mindful Living program created by Dr Andrew Weil reflects his holistic ideas about the mind and body. Treatments such as an amethyst crystal sound bath healing are the talk of the ship while the thermal suite, a type of modern-day Turkish bath, with showers, sauna and steam room plus heated tile lounges is bliss.

POOL GOSSIP
What’s liked? Shouting drinks for new friends, it’s all inclusive so no hefty bill and nasty shock when disembarking and the corridor block party provides a chance to meet neighbours. What’s not? Grumbles are heard about hefty tour and spa costs in US currency, suite doors slamming and grey bath mats spoiling the white decor.

THE HIGH LIFE
Feel like an A-lister in the exclusive Retreat on Deck 12, where you can take a dip in the whirlpool, sip Bollinger, nibble on gourmet offerings and watch a movie in your robe and smart striped thongs, but this luxury comes at an extra cost.

However, amid the splendour, it’s blood-red sunsets, turquoise seas, blue skies and a pod of dolphins surfing the waves that take my breath away.

The author was a guest of Seabourn.

ESCAPE ROUTE

SEABOURN ENCORE
Seabourn Encore is the fourth ultra-luxury vessel to join the Seabourn fleet with a fifth ship, Seabourn Ovation being launched this month.

Seabourn Encore embarks on a similar 16-day Australia and New Zealand cruise from Sydney to Auckland on December 21, 2018, priced from $12,999 a person in a veranda suite.