Journeys: Ship's a Joy
A smartly attired septuagenarian short on neither diamonds nor spunk pivots on her designer pumps to face me. "You are entirely too young to be in this elevator," she says, her statement engendering giggles among her lady friends and declarations of don’t-you-mind-her from their dapper male counterparts.
She might have a point.
On this late-July evening aboard Seabourn Odyssey—the first of three ultraluxury ships the Miami-based Yachts of Seabourn is launching between mid-2009 and mid-2011—a thirtysomething is certainly noticeable, if not out of place. Such conspicuity, in point of fact, is a statistic reality: Today’s likeliest passengers on luxury cruise lines, according to a recent survey by the American Affluence Research Center, are 60 or older.
Still, while descending with my fellow guests in the elevator, I come to the realization that I feel quite at home aboard Odyssey. Of course, what passenger would feel otherwise? By cruise-ship standards, the 11-deck, 650-foot Odyssey is small, with a 450-guest capacity and a nearly 1-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio that foster an intimate, carefree experience. Her restaurants are under the auspices of Michelin-starred chef Charlie Palmer. Her 11,400-square-foot spa—the biggest on any ultraluxury liner, according to Seabourn—includes a well-equipped fitness room and two Spa Villas, each of which offers a treatment area, living room, dining room, and balcony. Her 225 accommodations—all suites (most with private verandas) ranging from 295 to 1,682 square feet—are stocked daily with guests’ wine and spirit selections. Her most popular policies, it seems, are in-suite dining 24/7 and open bar everywhere.
Such elements make for a more youthful vibe. "[Odyssey] is definitely appealing to younger people," Seabourn president and CEO Pamela Conover would tell me in November, several months after my weeklong, 1,146-nautical-mile cruise from Athens, Greece, to Venice, Italy. According to the company, guests on the new liner’s first two voyages were on average 10 percent younger than those on other Seabourn itineraries (my elevator mates notwithstanding). This new breed of passenger also diverges from cruise-ship stereotypes in attitude. "People in our 50s and 60s, we didn’t grow up with Burt Bacharach," says Conover. "We grew up with the Rolling Stones."
The elevator stops and the doors part, allowing the senior clique to lead the way to the Restaurant. The sounds of their voices and unhurried heels float off into the bustling yet ethereal fine-dining room, with its long white drapes and dramatic crystal chandeliers, as gracious attendants escort them to their table. Once seated with my party, I enjoy a glass of Saint-Émilion Bordeaux, while the waitstaff take orders for first and second courses, including sautéed escalope of foie gras and fillet of beef Wellington. Exquisitely prepared dishes come and go, and fine wines flow, in an impressively efficient choreography for an establishment that serves some 300 guests nightly in about two hours.
I spend the next morning the same way I have most mornings aboard Odyssey: rushing through breakfast at the Colonnade restaurant while taking in the view through floor-to-ceiling windows of our next port of call. On this particular morning, it was the view of Rovinj, Croatia, that prompted me to scarf down my omelet, as vistas of Greek islands, Montenegro, and the Croatian city of Dubrovnik had so motivated me in the days before.
Indeed, the compelling shore excursions on Odyssey’s itinerary continually tempted me to leave, somewhat reluctantly, the ship’s oasis of indulgence. This could become an increasingly common dilemma for Seabourn passengers: The addition of Odyssey—as well as Sojourn (June 2010) and a third vessel still to be named (2011)—is enabling the line to offer a more comprehensive schedule than ever before. "What the new ships bring us is the ability to try new and different itineraries," says Conover. "We’ll have Odyssey in the Mediterranean in 2010, and Sojourn will be running in the Baltics, so it really allows us to put the new ships in the high-demand itineraries. It’s allowing us to add some more exotic itineraries, and that really gives us a depth and breadth of places."
Among the new routes is Seabourn’s first world cruise, hosted by Odyssey, which was scheduled to embark from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in January. Those who cruise the full 108 days will presumably have time to fit in every onboard activity (mini golf and shuffleboard included) and see the rain forests of Borneo, the pyramids of Egypt, the Panama Canal, and more.
With just one day to see the resort town of Rovinj, I gulp the last of my coffee and head for Odyssey’s tender. The boat cuts a path across the Adriatic Sea and docks a short walk from a farmer’s market and the soft rainbow of centuries-old buildings in the city’s historic center. From behind Saint Euphemia Church, slick cobblestone streets wind amid the colorful structures, along charming storefronts, and down to a marina shared by yachts and trawlers. It is hot, and a table in the shade at Neptun seems an ideal spot for refueling and cooling off. The unfussy pizzeria delivers on its promise, turning out delicious pies from a brick oven, serving Karlovac?ko pivos in cold pint glasses, and affording through an alleyway a keyhole-type view of the harbor.
It is a perfect day near the end of a busy week.
The whirlwind began almost a week before Rovinj, in a warehouse-like waiting area at Athens’ port of Piraeus. Odyssey staffers walked around the space presenting Champagne flutes of fruit juice to preboarders wearied by long flights. Passports were handed over in exchange for Seabourn-issued photo IDs, and boarding began. Guests whose suites were not ready were sent to the vessel’s Grand Salon, where finger sandwiches did not necessarily satisfy, but the staff’s attentive handling of the snag did; the salmon canapés and bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut that found my suite before I did made the glitch all the more minor. A shower preceded dinner on my suite’s veranda, which afforded a private showing of the sun setting behind a speck of earth just as a moon slice surfaced on the Myrtoan Sea.
Early the next day, Odyssey anchored off Pílos, in sight of the coastal Peloponnese town’s red-tile roofs, olive groves, and seaside cafes serving moussaka and calamari. A staffer at deck seven’s Seabourn Square, the vessel’s information center and library, stopped short of recommending the day’s advertised shore excursion to Niokastro (New Castle), a 16th-century Turkish-built fortress overlooking the bay of Navarino. "It’s a small town," he said, pointing out that all of Pílos, including the medieval castle, could probably be seen on foot and that the group trip included a motor-coach ride from the pier. I appreciated his candor and headed to the fortress on my own.
The ability to do precisely as you please is one of the hallmarks of a Seabourn itinerary. "People don’t all want to do the same thing," says Conover. But what Seabourn travelers do tend to share, she adds, is the desire for a real experience. "We find a lot more demand for private arrangements—people wanting to go off with their own private guide, their own driver, to go and learn about olive groves" or whatever interests them, she explains. "I think our private arrangements can be anything."
Had I called Seabourn’s Signature Service Desk to arrange, say, a private olive-oil tasting on the estate of a Greek producer, or a Lamborghini test-drive at a circuit in Venice, chances are the event would not have disappointed. Of course, the activities I chose to undertake were far from dissatisfying: Following Odyssey’s predawn arrival at the Greek island of Corfu, I peered into the dank dungeons at the Old Fortress; studied the fragments of a 5th- or 6th-century floor mosaic—among the only surviving early-Christian art made in Corfu—at the fortress’s museum; and took an impromptu swim in the Ionian Sea near a sliver of rocky beach between the fortress and the Corfu Sailing Club. The next day I watched from Odyssey’s 270-degree-view Observation Bar as she made her early-morning approach to Kotor, Montenegro, via a fjordlike waterway flanked by sheer mountains; then took a taxi to Sveti Stefan, the ancient fishing village–cum–luxury resort on the former Yugoslav Republic’s Budva Riviera, and relaxed on a pristine beach there amid the European jet set. During Odyssey’s next stop, in the nearly 1,400-year-old city of Dubrovnik, I enjoyed ryzot of Adriatic shrimp, mussels, and Dalmatian spices at a white-tablecloth restaurant.
By the following day, I felt I had missed nothing, but I was ready for a day to do exactly that. Fortunately, it was a day at sea, so, when the ship anchored for a spell, I did little else but kayak in the Adriatic off Odyssey’s Watersports Marina, which extends onto the water from a hatch on deck two, and tour her kitchen. "Every week we do this tour," said Graeme Cockburn, Seabourn’s lead chef for new ships, while offering caviar to our group as we stood beside a shiny metal countertop. The kitchen, explained the Scotland native, is roughly three to four times the size of the 208-capacity Seabourn Spirit’s, with two lanes instead of one to optimize efficiency and provide the desired standard of quality for Odyssey’s guests.
The state-of-the-art kitchen also helps Cockburn’s staff of 62 keep up with guests’ changing eating habits. "We’ve noticed people are dining later," he said, as he guided us out of the kitchen and into the midday stillness of the Restaurant. "They’re up later, drinking. They come back [to their suites], and they want something to eat."
Despite the pizza and pivos that had sated me during my afternoon in Rovinj, I feel hungry when evening arrives. My reservation at the 48-seat Restaurant 2 is at 8 pm, two hours before Odyssey’s scheduled departure for Venice, where my journey will end.
The succession of small plates begins with a bang of complementary tastes: novel creations such as Poached Shrimp Martini Balsamic Jelly and Split Saffron Vinaigrette, paired with just the right German Riesling by the sommelier. The stylishly contemporary space—with its dark walls, black and red seating, and suffusive gold light through a crisscross pattern in the ceiling—likewise matches the meal. "[Restaurant 2] is in a specially designed space that really fits with the food it’s serving," Conover says. "Our tasting menu was a concept developed on our existing ships. On Odyssey, we’ve been able to provide a more permanent option of the menu."
Such permanence is comforting. It suggests that my next Seabourn voyage will include a taste like tonight’s perfect pairing of savory pan-seared quail breast and a racy red. This thirtysomething could really get on board with something so balanced and fresh.
The Yachts of Seabourn, 800.929.9391, www.seabourn.com; seven-night itineraries on Odyssey from $3,299 per person, double occupancy.