Float therapy: Tempus discovers how the luxury Seabourn Odyssey is rebooting the traditional cruise

Rachel Ingram

Tempus – June 4, 2019

Seabourn Odyssey combines classic glamour and silver service with the personal touch plus adventure aplenty

Luxury cruise line Seabourn doesn’t like the word ‘boat’ for a reason. Preferring the term ‘floating hotel’, each ship sleeps up to 458 guests who enjoy Michelin-star dining, luxury spa treatments and free-flowing premium champagne as they traverse the globe. Designed for those who want all the amenities and services of a five-star resort while visiting multiple locations without having to pack and unpack, Seabourn offers travellers a stress-free, convenient alternative to hotel-hopping in some of the world’s best locations – its five-strong fleet docks everywhere from tropical islands to Arctic landscapes and colourful cities, all in pursuit of luxury, culture and adventure.

When I was invited to join Seabourn Odyssey for a Caribbean expedition I was unsure of what to expect, filled with expectations of windowless cabins and lukewarm buffets. But on checking into my Veranda Suite, I’m met with my first surprise. My sizeable cabin is comparable to a mid-sized hotel suite, with walk-in wardrobe, bedroom, living and dining area, bathroom with both bath and shower, and balcony. In fact, all rooms have outside space or, at the very least, large windows, so there’s no fear of getting cabin fever.

I’m greeted with a note from the captain, a fresh fruit platter (refreshed daily) and a bottle of champagne. Champagne, it turns out, would become as constant as water, as bubbles flow at all times of the day and night. Hangovers are eased by the sight of a different panoramic view every morning – the rush of, ‘What am I going to see today?’ when you whip back your curtains is something that land-based hotels simply can’t offer – and soon become the most treasured part of my day.

Odyssey was designed by Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten, the same architectural duo who designed the original Seabourn ships. As such, it’s got a distinctive feel of classic cruise glamour, while still being contemporary. If it wasn’t for the subtlest swaying as you weave your way down the hallway on a choppy evening, you could easily think you’re in a five-star hotel. Odyssey is home to four restaurants – one of which is run by a Michelin star chef – three bars, an outdoor pool, a spa, a gym and a theatre where the entertainment team puts on daily events, from comedy nights and eye-opening talks with experts, to full- scale productions and musicals.

Touches of 1910s cruise life – including Titantic- style black-tie Captain’s dinners – cater to older guests, while modern gatherings encourage those of all ages to mingle. Solo travellers are invited to a ‘singles’ night on the first evening, with the opportunity to meet other lone travellers. Likewise, the ship hosts an LGBT event where likeminded guests can meet.

After my first wake-up call – with vistas over the island of St Kitts – it’s time for the first shore excursion, or ‘shorex’, of our trip, a ‘beach party’. Picture a steel band on the sand, free-flowing cocktails and a Seabourn-style barbecue – cue white tablecloths and silver cutlery. The highlight of the day is Seabourn’s signature ‘caviar in the surf ’ experience, where caviar is paraded out on a surfboard in the ocean break. They get through a staggering 1.5kg of the luxe hors d’oeuvre during this activity, which sees the crew preparing caviar-laden blinis and handing them out to paddlers while, naturally, topping up their champagne. I’m pleased to see cruise director Chelsea Coyce approaching my paddleboard, usually dressed to the nines in an evening dress or power suit but on this occasion in uniform, waist-high in the water with the rest of the crew.

Back on land, I ask Coyce why guests select Seabourn over other cruise lines. “I think people choose Seabourn for the experience and hospitality,” she says. “The name recognition, the attention to detail, the human experience... yes, the amenities are important, but it’s about the service. The guests feel very special here.”

I soon witness this firsthand. While relaxing and sipping on fresh coconuts, we watch two members of the crew carefully and patiently helping an elderly lady out of her wheelchair and into the waves, holding her as she paddles in the sea, grinning from ear to ear. The woman, we later find out, is 84-year-old Toby from New York who is on what she describes as a “last hurrah”. Her daughter Betty reveals that this is Toby’s first time in the sea in 20 years due to her diminishing physical health, which makes the moment all the more special.

The pair are staying in the Owner’s Suite and we are lucky enough to be invited inside for a sneak peek. This giant space includes a wraparound balcony, two walk- in closets and a sizeable living area and entertaining spaces where staff put on a spread of champagne and canapés – this service is available, free of charge, to any guest wishing to host newfound friends, of which there are many.

As the Seabourn ship is smaller than your usual liner (with 400 guests supported by over 350 crew), you get to know many people on board, whether at dinner, while relaxing by the pool or joining the many on- and off- board activities. Each day’s activities and excursions are presented in The Herald, a daily newsletter placed in everyone’s suites alongside special treats and restaurant menus for the following day.

With four restaurants to choose from, deciding where to dine is perhaps the most difficult decision to make. Put all ideas of bland buffets out of your head – dining on Seabourn Odyssey is something else. After all, the company is a member of prestigious gastronomic society Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. And it shows.

The pinnacle of the restaurant offering is The Grill by Thomas Keller, a classic American steakhouse by the Michelin-star chef behind The French Laundry in California. Designed like a train carriage from the 1950s or 60s, this establishment revives the old-school glamour feel of train travel. With an intimate ambiance and an interactive menu – start with a caesar salad that’s mixed at your table, before indulging in Keller’s signature lobster thermidor or your choice of steak with all the trimmings – it’s a must-do for all guests. Guests can enjoy one dinner every week at The Grill at no extra cost. In fact, everything onboard is included in your room cost, so there are no tacky wristbands or receipts to sign – except in the spa and shop, which sells a variety of tax-free clothing and accessories.

For a more formal affair, visit The Restaurant, where guests are invited to dine with senior members of the crew. If, after three-course meals thrice a day, you find yourself craving something lighter or more casual, visit the open-air Earth & Ocean on the poolside patio, where chefs serve fresh, internationally inspired dishes under the stars. This is, along with The Grill, my favourite spot to spend an evening, followed by a cocktail in the Observation Bar overlooking the bow of the ship.

Guests can work off the overindulgence and stretch their sea legs by selecting from a generous programme of shore excursions. These range from mountain biking through the jungle in St Lucia – where we end up having a close encounter with a boa constrictor; and rum and chocolate tasting on the colourful island of Guadeloupe; to a catamaran sailing adventure to the billionaire’s playground of Mustique – the latter a particularly special experience considering this retreat rarely welcomes visitors.

On the last evening, we sit around talking about our favourite Seabourn moments. While some, like Toby’s paddle in the sea, are grand, mine are smaller but just as impactful – swimming with turtles in Mustique, being brought coffee in bed by my butler and, of course, those morning views.

With such incredible experiences and service on offer, it’s no surprise that around 70% of guests are repeat customers. While most are from the US, Britain and Europe and in the 40-65 baby-boomer age bracket, there are also few honeymooners, single and group travellers. With Seabourn’s fleet increasing in the coming years – new purpose- built expedition ship Seabourn Venture sets sail to remote locations such as Svalbard and Iceland in 2021 – it seems a shore thing that they’re going to continue widening their client base and attract a younger and more adventurous clientele.