TALK OF THE POOL

To find out what cruis­ers think of this still sparkling Se­abourn ship, just add wa­ter (and cham­pagne)

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - CRUISING SEABOURN ENCORE - SUE WAL­LACE THE AU­THOR WAS A GUEST OF SE­ABOURN

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, full­size 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 in­room 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 han­drolled 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.

DIN­ING IS AN AD­VEN­TURE WITH SEVEN BARS AND LOUNGES AND FIVE RESTAU­RANTS AND CAFES

PIC­TURES: SUP­PLIED, ERIC LAIGNEL

In­dulge in cham­pagne and caviar in the pool on Se­abourn Encore; ad­mire the in­te­rior’s sleek de­signer curves and kick back in the lav­ishly dec­o­rated suites.

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