“Cruising for people that don't cruise” – luxury service on an exceptional tour. Words by Jonathan Whiley.
Midnight, somewhere off the coast of Sicily.
In The Club, on our cruise ship Seabourn Encore, champagne is being served with the liberal abandon of an oligarch’s birthday.
A couple with ballroom dance experience are sweeping across the small circular dance floor as the house band plays on.
Then something strange happens.
People suddenly start to move to the deck on back of the ship. As soon as I arrive, I realise why – a volcano is erupting.
Stromboli is one of the most active on Earth. Tonight we have ringside seats to its mesmerising light show.
Burnt orange magma pours from its jaws like the pages of a Tolkien novel unfurling before our eyes.
It’s a breath-taking spectacle, but not our only encounter with lady luck during a week sailing from Athens to Rome.
On our first day, as we idly sipped champagne on the balcony of our room (a bottle is on ice for your arrival), I watched a pod of dolphins playfully following the ship.
Naturally I can’t guarantee you the same experience. But I can assure you of the exceptional setting and service to enhance your own pinch-me moments, should opportunity knock.
Billed as an ‘ultra-luxury’ line, the Seattle-based cruise company operates across the world and has quite the reputation.
“Cruising for people that don’t cruise,” one British couple, now on their fourth Seabourn expedition, told me.
“It’s like going left on a plane, you never go back.”
A woman from Hawaii, who cruises for four to five months a year, was on her 110th outing.
Cruising used to conjure up images of Saga brochures, stiff upper lips and one foot in the grave.
But the tide (ahem) is turning, the demographic changing and the starched collars loosening.
Our ship, Encore, is a recent addition to the Seabourn fleet.
With 600 passengers across 300 suites, it is one of their biggest. Not that you would know it. There is never any sense of competing for space on any of the 12 decks.
Designed by Adam D. Tihany, it flaunts an elegant yacht-inspired look throughout.
The Observation Bar (pictured) is a particularly striking spot for an aperitif.
Encore has generous classic cabins which are more spacious than many of its competitors in the luxury market.
The culinary offering is equally impressive.
Take your pick from The Colonnade, serving casual terrace dining and searing sunsets, an intimate sushi restaurant, fine dining at The Restaurant or coffee, gelato and snacks at Seabourn Square.
Californian chef Thomas Keller, who holds seven Michelin stars across three restaurants, has an exclusive culinary partnership. His chefs’ expertise really show in both The Restaurant and The Grill.
No sneaky supplements
Seabourn has an an all-inclusive offering that represents phenomenal value for money.
All drinks are included, with the exception of premium wines and spirits, and champagne and caviar are available on request at any time.
Gratuities are included too.
Some of our fellow passengers were fabulously eclectic. We befriended a millionaire cattle ranch owner from Texas, a British couple in their twenties and a pilot who used to fly Elvis Presley’s private jet and would babysit Lisa-Marie at Graceland!
By day, sun-drenched Greek islands and the lemon-scented Amalfi coast would stir the imagination.
By night, the day’s tales would be shared in an atmosphere as fizzy as the champagne.
Departing at Rome felt like drawing back the velvet curtain after a week of red carpet treatment and a large slice of la dolce vita.
You may also like to read about luxury living on the Med in Riviera Life.
Or find out how Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region has it all in La Dolce Vita.