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An Asian Odyssey - Seabourn Style
It’s been hailed as the world’s most luxurious cruise ship, and Ben Hall discovers the launch of the Seabourn Odyssey has set a new benchmark in style and service on the high seas.
We’re sitting in chest deep warm water, with the jacuzzi jets pummeling our muscles in an impromptu hydro-massage as the ship pulls away from Wharf 8 for the “mini-cruise” from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay in Sydney.
One of the deck stewards sweeps past and freshens our two glasses of French champagne as we cruise serenely around Millers Point and under the Harbour Bridge, as the Opera House looms further ahead framed by the lights of the city.
Odyssey is being repositioned on its overnight stay in Sydney, but the minor inconvenience is turned into a deck party and the attentive bar staff make sure everyone has a cocktail or champagne in hand for a short journey that becomes one of the highlights of the ship’s inaugural world cruise. Most party-goers are frocked up for the evening, but there’s no problem with the likes of ourselves in swimwear enjoying the outdoor spas on a balmy evening.
She’s the first new ship for Seabourn in 15 years, and the first new luxury vessel in the world for six years, and we boarded her in Sydney for the 20-day segment to Hong Kong, with ports of call including Cairns, Darwin, Bali, Brunei and Kota Kinabalu in Borneo.
The word “luxury” is used too frequently when describing cruise ships, but Odyssey has taken that term to a new level with a contemporary and modern style which breaks from tradition and is coupled with the highest standard of service at sea.
First impressions on boarding is that you’re entering a new boutique hotel with quite a hip vibe although ocean glimpses give the game away that this really is a cruise ship. The decor is subtle and tasteful - no tacky swirly multi-coloured carpets or pastel furnishings - just marble, soft lighting, and understated colours which create a welcoming and sophisticated atmosphere.
With three sea days to start the cruise, it’s an ideal way to settle into life on board. Even though we’re on a segment of a world cruise, which traditionally attracts an older clientele, there’s also a younger crowd on board including some late 30-something honeymooners on their first cruise, and that’s probably down to the ship’s contemporary design.
Seabourn calls their vessels Yachts because of their intimate size and highly personalised service, and even though Odyssey is more than twice the size of others in their fleet with a capacity of 450 guests, there’s still plenty of space on board to find those quiet and intimate spots. Odyssey has one of the highest space-to-guest ratio of any ship at sea and even at the main pool on a hot and sunny sea day, there’s plenty of space on deck with no need to bag a sun lounge early in the morning.
A typical sea day on board can go something like this: You wake up in your suite and decide on which of the four breakfast venues to start the day; wander into the elegant cafe called Seabourn Square for a cappuccino and to read the international papers and check email; go for a quick dip in one of the two pools or five jacuzzis; do lunch, maybe al fresco at the Colonnade with the ship’s wake as a backdrop, or the Patio Grill; listen to one of the celebrity guest lecturers or attend a language or computer course; be pampered in a modern spa or hit the gym; watch the sunset with a cocktail; go to dinner at one of four quality restaurants with menus created by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer; chill out at a show in the Grand Salon; go for a nightcap at the Observation Bar before retiring for the night and doing it all over again.
One of the new innovations is the Spa at Seabourn which is reportedly the biggest on any luxury ship and it was especially busy on sea days. The Spa spans two decks and features seven treatment rooms and two massive private Spa Villas on Deck 9 which can be rented out (starting from US$650) which, although pricey, includes treatments and access to a private wraparound balcony, oversized bath and separate shower, and indoor and outdoor sun loungers.
In between there are ports of call, which require a little more effort, and on this itinerary, Cairns and Darwin were the first stops. Then it was on to Bali where we explored some of the island’s ancient culture on a tour booked through the ship’s travel desk which included the Tenganan Village. This is an authentic place which has retained its original architecture to reveal what life was like before modernisation. The Tirtagangga Water Palace is another place of great beauty which was a favourite weekend retreat for the ancient Balinese kings. Brunei was every bit as fascinating, especially the ancient stilt village of Kampong Ayer which is home to 40,000 people, about 10% of the country’s population, living on the Brunei River.
The final port of call, before Hong Kong, was Kota Kinabalu and we headed up to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, about 40 minutes from the city. Mari Mari is designed to provide an insight into Sabah’s tribal history with five traditional houses showing how traditional life is for local people. It’s also a very hands-on experience, and everyone takes part in cooking demonstrations, rice wine tasting, fire making and even using blow pipes as weapons.
As always, the sail-in to Hong Kong is a special event in itself with Hong Kong Island on one side and Kowloon on the other. Towering skyscrapers compete for supremacy and down below all manner of boats, including the ubiquitous Star Ferries, criss-cross the harbour while trying to dodge the Odyssey.
Fittingly, this leg of the cruise concludes with an overnight on board and we’re surrounded by the neon-lit harbour, and the maritime madness down below. The only thing to do is finish the way we started - champagne in hand with one of the most stunning cityscapes in the world as our backdrop.
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All 225 suites have an ocean view and 90% with balconies. All suites feature flat screen TV’s with an extensive range of on-demand movies and entertainment, iPod docking stations, wireless internet access, 24 hour room service, complimentary champagne on arrival, fully stocked bar and fridge, walk-in closet, personalised stationary and writing desk, granite bathroom with separate tub and shower and a separate makeup vanity. Seabourn is renowned for its fine dining and on the Odyssey, the Restaurant is the main venue, while Restaurant2 offers degustation menus, the Colonnade prepares themed dishes such as Thai, Japanese, Indian and Italian, and the Patio Grill is on deck 8 near the main pool offering al fresco dining. Dining is open seating - dine when, and with whom you choose - and complimentary beverages including soft drinks, hot beverages and selected wines and spirits are served throughout the ship. 24 hour room service dining is also available offering the Restaurant menu in the evenings. Other facilities on board include The Spa at Seabourn which spans two decks, a fitness gym with Kinesis equipment, four bars including two outdoors, a retractable water sports marina, a casino, a library, Grand Salon Theatre, a Sun Terrace and sports area on deck 11. All gratuities are included in the fare.
For more info visit www.seabourn.com or call 13 24 02.
Where to Stay:
InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon. Call 0011 852 2721 1211, or visit www.hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com.
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