‘Who’d ever go on a cruise only to never leave the vessel?’ is something I used to say, between aggressively flamboyant eye-rolls.
That was, of course, before sashaying onto Seabourn’s grand Encore vessel. Once onboard it’s inevitable your thoughts and words morph from the aforementioned self-righteous variety to that of the guzzlingly obnoxious.
Now it’s suddenly: ‘Which pool should I spend the afternoon soaking in?’, ‘What frock should I wear to formal night?,’ or ‘Is it possible to get sick of Champagne?’ (as it turns out — no, particularly not when the bubbles in question are an endless supply of Nicholas Fueillatte).
I’m onboard Seabourn Encore’s 10-day Gems of the Java Sea itinerary, setting an island-dotted course from Bali to Singapore, and astonishingly it’s the first time on a cruise that I’m actually looking forward to the sea days.
Seabourn apparently pioneered the concept of uber-deluxe, all-inclusive cruising back in the ’90s, I’m told, with other ships quickly following suit. And dammit, I can see the appeal.
There are a few things that aren’t included in the ticket price — top-shelf booze, off-ship tours, and (annoyingly) wifi — but the important inclusive boxes are all firmly ticked.
Now back to that Champagne. It’s very, very good and, like most of the lavish dining and drinking options onboard, it’s completely free of charge — included in the cost of our ticket.
As is the display of caviar, served with a halo of colourful accoutrements and crispy bread slices, available at the touch of a button, whenever you have a hankering. Not to mention the exquisite multi-course kaiseki Japanese banquets, the sundeck cocktail hours, the mixology classes, the live entertainment, the extravagant Michelin-chef-helmed chophouse dishes (The Grill by Thomas Keller is a stand-out), and the stewards and stewardesses who keep your personal fridge stocked with your favourite bevvies at all time.
I’m also stunned at how lavish our entry-level veranda suite is — it’s eons nicer than many hotels I’ve checked into, comprising one obscenely comfy bed, a knock-out bathroom featuring the most luxurious shower, bath and twin vanity, and a generous living area leading out to a balcony.
All of which, in case it’s not yet achingly obvious, makes it very tricky to leave.
I did manage to pry myself away from the ship once or twice, tempted by north Bali’s lush reef-spoiled islands, Komodo’s unearthly pink beaches, and East Java’s breathtaking volcanic terrain.
The truth is, despite having everything you could possibly dream up onboard, those fancy Seabourn folks are an intrepid lot, and they’ve invested heavily into crafting itineraries that are foremost authentic — and it certainly feels it, as we clamber aboard small, rickety blue-and-white fishing boats for a snorkel tour, or jiggle across bumpy ash-covered ditches to get a closer view of Mount Bromo and her furiously puffing crater.
Seabourn also lay claim to being the only cruise line to have a formal partnership with UNESCO, investing at least $1.5 million (US$1 million) towards sustainable tourism at World Heritage properties. And you know what that means? Yep, you’ll be seeing some spectacular sites along the journey.
If there was ever any doubt as to whether the cruise line had cornered the market in adventure luxury, they recently announced plans to launch a line of ultra-luxury expedition ships to be rolled out in June 2021 and May 2022. The stunningly designed fleet will feature such plush perks as built-in heated jacket wardrobes for drying your gear after a trek, and Swarovski binoculars (you can’t make this stuff up). Oh, and did we mention it’ll have it’s own custom-made sub, fitted with embroidered leather upholstery, Bluetooth stereo system, and Champagne chiller — you know, just the essentials.
Disembarking for a final time, I wonder if my thoughts will ever adjust back to a less decadent way of life, without caviar and wine pairings, cocktails on request, and lobster mac ‘n’ cheese.