Across the Arabian Sea on the ultra-luxurious Seabourn Odyssey
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
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