Louise Goldsbury falls in love with the top-end Seabourn Quest; understated elegance with a side of caviar.
The defining moment of a Seabourn cruise occurs within seconds of stepping aboard, when a tuxedoed waiter hands you a flute of champagne. As per the golden rule of five-stars-at-sea, the all-inclusive special touches – and they do mean all-inclusive – start upon arrival when crew members line up to warmly greet you and, impressively, remember your name for the rest of the trip.
As of now, you are one of the privileged few who has discovered the huge difference that a small luxury yacht with truly personalised service can make. Anything you need, Seabourn’s staff will make it happen. The days are relaxed, the nights are sociable, and the entertainment is indulgence in various forms.
Checking in on Seabourn takes place in a living room alongside a European-style coffee bar and library, rather than the conventional ‘lobby’ of most ships. Then it’s time to inspect your suite, which is more spacious than your average cabin and appointed in the style of a modern, high-end hotel.
Every room offers an ocean view (90 per cent from a private balcony) and a free mini-bar stocked daily with the drinks of your preference. Your marble bathroom has Molton Brown products, a shower and (properly-sized) separate bath with a menu of scented bath oils. Your personal suite stewardess will happily prepare a warm bath for you, should you ask – or they may surprise you one evening with rose petals scattered across your bed.
I have come on this cruise with my sister-in-law, enjoying her first holiday without the kids, and she can’t believe the decadence. After lunch in The Colonnade, we move to the open-air Sky Bar for a celebratory beverage. All drinks – including cocktails, top-shelf spirits and an extensive selection of international wines, beers and champagne – are complimentary.
A complimentary mini-massage is another poolside treat, and it’s only a matter of minutes before one of the crew offers to polish our sunglasses. On hot days, waiters bring cold towels and spritz your face with Evian to keep cool while sunbathing.
Our next stop is the two-level spa, where the elegant facilities spread across 1000 square metres. After a few rounds of water therapy treatment in the steam rooms and aroma-infused showers, we settle on heated lounges in the ocean-view relaxation room. We have the apartment-sized circular space completely to ourselves, interrupted only by staff bringing us magazines and passionfruit smoothies.
At dinner, we are one of four tables occupied in the specialty Restaurant 2 for an eight-course degustation (no extra charge). This tiny New York-style hot spot is strikingly decorated with black criss-crossed walls, black leather and red velvet chairs. It’s undeniably sexy, and unlike the rest of the ship, dimly lit. Then we’re off to the casino for a flutter on roulette, doubling our money, before going to see a show in the theatre.
As we sail between Hobart and Sydney the next day, lunch is held in the galley (kitchen). Usually off-limits, this behind-the-scenes area is set up for one afternoon with ‘action stations’, meaning chefs are cooking and serving up their dishes to guests. Everyone is delighted with the personal service at each food stall: fondue, risotto, seafood, a carvery, even a vodka bar. Such an intimate experience would not be possible on a larger ship but, despite the smaller size, the ship is not packed with passengers (or children), so it’s easy to find your own quiet space. When the weather turns Tasmanian, we warm up in the hot tubs at the stern on deck five, which nobody else seems to know exist.
The company recently sold the three oldest of its six vessels and ordered a new ship, which will make it the youngest fleet in the world. Its all-inclusive indulgence attracts couples who enjoy the finer things in life and like to travel with a mix of mainly Americans, Europeans and Australians. And 40 per cent of passengers are return visitors.
The line is increasing the amount of time it spends in Australia as its popularity grows (thanks largely to the strength of the dollar, with fares priced in USD). But for families, Seabourn is not the best choice. With no official kids’ areas onboard, there is little for children to do.
As opposed to most Australia-based ships, room service is free on Seabourn, with meals served course-by-course from the restaurant menus, so if you just can’t bear the thought of leaving your suite, you can have a private, waiter-served dinner on your balcony. You can also throw an in-suite cocktail party if you please, complete with your own waiters. Alternatively, simply attend high tea – a Seabourn tradition where white-gloved waiters attend to you each afternoon.
Shop in duty-free boutiques, visit the private diamond showroom, or attend a lecture in the theatre. But most people pass time reclining on a deck chair or cabana with a book. For more lively fun, an onboard marina is equipped with kayaks, water-skis and banana boats (when the captain decides it’s safe to anchor and let people out to play in the ocean).
Nightly entertainment is a low-key affair. ‘Movies Under the Stars’ are shown on the Sun Deck, if the weather permits. The live music is classical or opera, the comedians are classier and the casino is the busiest venue. Just as there are no high-energy pool games by day, there are no splashy song-and-dance revues by night. Seabourn passengers prefer to socialise with each other before and after dinner, perhaps ending up with a sing-along around the piano.
Luxury is far from pretentious and stuffy on Seabourn. Its 16-day Australian cruises are simply two weeks of wonderful.
Ship size guide
The large ship, 1750 passengers or more
Think: Mega-resorts at sea, with a lot going on. Large ships offer a huge variety of dining options, kids’ activities and the most lavish entertainment productions you can get (there’s even an Cirque du Soleil show on-board one international ship). Also, they almost always sail well – regardless of bad weather. The catch: their sheer size means service can lean towards one-size-fits-all.
The mid ship, 750 – 1749 passengers
Think: A happy medium between benefits of a large hotel and the intimacy of a smaller one. Mid-sized ships mightn’t have the huuuuuge entertainment and dining options of their super-sized sisters, but they generally offer a more laidback atmosphere, still with a generous amount of variety (and without the queues).
The small ship, 749 passengers or less
Think: Lavish boutique hotel. Internationally, some small ships can be rather downmarket, but in Australia small ships tend to be all about luxury: cooked-to-order cuisine, highly personalised service and a day-to-day structure free from the rigidity of larger ships. Small ships are best in calm seas.
What to expect:
“Put it this way: the service on board these ships is above anything I have ever seen on land in Australia,” says Geoff Hackett, director of Cruise Marketing Group.
He says six-star ships like these have one front-line service provider for every two guests at a minimum.
“You can order a châteaubriand in-room at 2:00am and you’ll get it.”
The other thing to take into account is that on these liners, he says, your fare is genuinely all inclusive. “It’s ultra luxury.”
Luxury cruise lines: Yachts of Seabourn, Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal Cruises