Pas­sen­ger­sto In­dia

Across the Ara­bian Sea on the ul­tra-lux­u­ri­ous Se­abourn Odyssey

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

WE are sail­ing along In­dia’s west coast, about half­way be­tween Mum­bai and Man­ga­lore. Cap­tain Mark Dex­ter, typ­i­cally full of good cheer, is do­ing his noon an­nounce­ment from the bridge of Se­abourn Odyssey and all seems right with the world. He sug­gests we sit back, re­lax and en­joy. ‘‘Just cruise and snooze,’’ he laughs. And so we do.

In com­pany with about 400 pas­sen­gers (the max­i­mu­mis 450), my­part­ner and I are on a 15-night In­dian & Ara­bian Odyssey from Dubai to Sin­ga­pore. The itin­er­ary en­com­passes eight days at sea, which is most agree­able. This voy­age is not really about ports, or at least not the mar­itime kind. Port wine, yes, and cham­pagne and cruisy-boozy cock­tails ga­lore, but those who have cho­sen this itin­er­ary are proper ship buffs and see ports as (per­haps) silly but in­evitable in­ter­rup­tions.

Se­abourn is an all-in­clu­sive prod­uct, which means no gra­tu­ities and an open-bar pol­icy, which could lead to an alarming num­ber of over-re­freshed pas­sen­gers, but we are no ship of fools. Ours is a con­vivial and grown-up mix of na­tion­al­i­ties and age groups — in fact, younger than I had ex­pected, with many, many Aus­tralians talk­ing knowl­edge­ably about their cruise ex­pe­ri­ences. Se­abourn devo­tees all, they are ef­fi­ciently dressed in nau­ti­cal stripes and cruise-logo shirts, and say they are equal fans of main com­peti­tor Sil­versea. Such canny cruis­ers be­lieve it’s worth the ex­tra for an in­clu­sive fare and no clumsy shout­ing of rounds of drinks, sign­ing chits and wor­ry­ing about tips.

The ship has a fresh, con­tem­po­rary decor of sky­lights and sunny colours, shiny tiles and pol­ished chrome. On a liner of this com­par­a­tive small­ness, you get to recog­nise faces and al­most ev­ery­one greets each other. It feels as if we are on a lux­ury mo­torised cruiser full of mostly like-minded souls. We­could be guests of, say, Onas­sis in the Aegean, and I like the idea of hid­ing be­hind trade­mark Jackie O shades.

Suite 805 is cosy and im­mac­u­late, all in pale tim­ber tones and soft fur­nish­ings, with the lux­u­ries of bath­tub, bal­cony, stocked (and re­plen­ished) mini-fridge and walk-in wardrobe. The tele­vi­sion is oddly small, but this is a picky com­plaint be­cause we have bonus en­ter­tain­ment in the form of stew­ardess Lu­cre­tia from South Africa, whose gai­ety and kind at­ten­tive­ness are typ­i­cal of the ser­vice.

Our favourite crew mem­bers are the South Africans and the Ir­ish, who en­sure there is a lot of laugh­ter and en­gage­ment with pas­sen­gers. When wait­ress Can­dace from Dur­ban grabs the mi­cro­phone at the Rock the Boat pool party and belts out a ballsy blues num­ber, she, well, al­most brings the ship down.

Back in Suite 805, when Lu­cre­tia is not turn­ing our hand-tow­els into fluffy origami crea­tures and plac­ing roses or pat­terns of petals on our pil­lows, she has the atlas out, show­ing us where she lives near the Cape Winelands re­gion and pen­cilling our course across the Ara­bian Sea.

From Abu Dhabi, we al­most visit Khasab in Omanon the prom­ise of a dhow cruise, but there is a tremen­dous wind­storm and dis­em­bark­ing pas­sen­gers find them­selves bounced back up the gang­plank, jack­ets bil­low­ing like spin­nakers.

We call briefly into Khor al Fakkan in the United Arab Emi­rates to view the ru­ins of once-ma­jes­tic Por­tuguese forts and, af­ter two full days at sea, we pitch up in Mum­bai, where my favourite taxi driver Har­ish has dou­ble-booked. Af­ter half an hour of fret­ful calls and just a bit of wail­ing, Har­ish sends his ‘ ‘ No 1’’ friend Kishore, who whisks us around ‘‘mumbo-jumbo max­i­mum city’’ in his blue and white van, fiercely tack­ling the traf­fic and

above

be­low de­posit­ing us at the mar­bled Taj Ma­hal Palace ho­tel for lunch and lava­tory.

Se­abourn Odyssey calls in, too, at Man­ga­lore, where we take a bus into the co­conut palm-cov­ered hills and guide Ver­non d’Sousa walks us around Soans Farm, a re­mark­able plan­ta­tion that started in the 1920s and cul­ti­vates about 30 fruit crops and more than 100 medic­i­nal plants. We all but dis­ap­pear amid green al­leys of trees and bushes bear­ing man­goes, bread­fruit, sapote, jack­fruit and plump hands of sugar bananas.

In Kochi, it’s a cruise on the back­wa­ters of Ker­ala in a con­verted cargo boat, or ket­tuval­lam, as lime-green para­keets swirl over

head like wind-tossed

The pool deck on Se­abourn Odyssey

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