Review: Seabourn Encore

By Lucy Jones

There are few sounds more appealing than the popping of a champagne cork, which made my week on board Seabourn Encore a particularly delightful experience. I lost count of the popping corks early, but barely 20 minutes would go by without the celebratory sound. This is indicative of the ship; one on which you’d feel practically naked walking the decks without a glass of chilled Nicolas Feuillatte in hand.

I’ve joined Seabourn’s brand new vessel in Sydney, where she launched her maiden voyage in March of 2016. It’s quite a coup for Australia to be the first port of call for a luxury launch, which tend to head straight for the more traditional markets of the Mediterranean or Caribbean. Right now, Encore is arguably the most luxurious ship in the world and she looks suitably striking parked right by the Sydney Opera House.

The ship is largely flawless. Bright, airy and spacious; famed hotel and restaurant designer Adam D Tihany is behind the aesthetic and he’s worked hard to make it feel more like a private yacht than a commercial cruise ship. It’s sleek and sexy with sculptural staircases and chandeliers plus a remarkable on-board art collection.

There are just 300 Verandah Suites, starting at a very roomy 34 square metres and ranging up to the huge Wintergarden Suites that, at more than 100 square metres, are about the same size as my two-bedroom apartment (though considerably more stylish). TVs are loaded with a great selection of movies and series (perfect for binge watching). The bathroom is enormous with a separate shower and tub, double vanity and plenty of storage space.

Encore’s hub is Seabourn Square, a hybrid lobby/living room/library as well as the ship’s one really good coffee bar. It takes the place of the traditional customer service desk and is a much more user-friendly space to ask questions or book shore excursions. The main swimming pool is pleasantly deep and there are rarely more than a handful of swimmers. I’m assured there are many more deckchairs than passengers, so it’s always easy to find a place to recline. I come to favour the comfy double day beds, well-stocked with cushions, for my daily catnap.

Tihany has gone a bit wild in the spa, a gleaming futuristic space that looks like the flight deck of a spaceship. Seabourn has partnered with wellness guru Dr Andrew Weil to create a holistic program overseen by a Wellness Guide, the first of its kind at sea. There are daily yoga and meditation classes and, while I have good intentions, somehow I don’t make it for any of the 7am starts. There’s the usual menu of treatments plus a few interesting extras, such as a sound bath with humming Tibetan crystal bowls.

Then there’s the food. Seabourn has partnered with American celebrity chef Thomas Keller to launch The Grill, its new signature restaurant. The dining room is dark and clubby, the menu a modern twist on classic 1970s steakhouse fare. In keeping with the theme, I order crab cakes, lobster thermidor and an enormous ice cream sundae prepared right at the table.

Encore is also home to the line’s first standalone sushi restaurant (called, simply, Sushi) that’s so good I eat there two nights in a row. There’s a different themed dinner held each night in The Colonnade (which operates as the buffet during the day) and it’s excellent the night I attend. As with all Seabourn ships, all dining and drinks (excluding some top shelf stuff) is included in the fare.

Our first port of call, Mooloolaba, is cancelled due to rough weather. And I can’t say I’m disappointed. The real story here is the ship and I soon feel I would be happy enough never to set foot on dry land again. Cruising through the Whitsundays, we drop anchor right beside Hamilton Island. Surrounded by the curved green backs of the islands and with seemingly doll-sized sailboats bobbing about beside us, it must be the prettiest cruise port in the country. I jump aboard a Zodiac and zip out to Sawmill Bay for one of the line’s custom Ventures by Seabourn shore excursions. The program focuses on active excursions led by members of the expert expedition team; a good way to burn off a few of those champagne calories.

The highlight of the voyage is the Champagne and Caviar evening, one of Seabourn’s signature events. The ship’s singers perform opera on the main deck as we sail away from Hamilton Island at sunset, and it’s exceptional. These are genuine word-class performers, far above the usual ‘cruise ship cabaret’ fare, and even an operatic philistine like me is moved. The ship also hosts a new show from Broadway legend Tim Rice, featuring songs from shows such as The Lion King, Aladdin, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and Evita. Sadly, it’s not performed during my leg of the journey and I don’t get the opportunity to wow everyone with my rendition of ‘Hakuna Matata’.

Cruising through the Whitsundays, we drop anchor right beside Hamilton Island. Surrounded by the curved green backs of the islands and with seemingly doll-sized sailboats bobbing about beside us, it must be the prettiest cruise port in the country.

I spend one day in the private confines of The Retreat, an exclusive adults-only area on deck 12 that’s making its debut on Encore. It is Tihany’s favourite space and the man has good taste. Fifteen cabanas circle a large central hot tub, each with sun loungers, a TV, mini bar and couch. The house pour is Bollinger, which, it turns out, is the ideal breakfast champagne (if you like that sort of thing). A day at The Retreat will set you back an additional US$249 (about A$330) on port days or US$349 (about A$462) on sea days, which is potentially why it remains largely empty during the voyage. It’s a shame, because it really is divine, but Seabourn might need to rethink how it operates.

This isn’t the only problem that crops up. If the outdoor section is closed, there isn’t enough seating in The Colonnade buffet (unless you like to sit with strangers, which I do not). Cabin lighting is unnecessarily complicated. One night, after at least 20 minutes of frustrated flickering, I throw a towel over a lamp that remains stubbornly inextinguishable. There are also few hiccups in the famed Seabourn service that don’t go unnoticed.

I spoke with other passengers who had sailed with the line for close to 100 days and they felt it wasn’t up to the usual standard. Service around the pool was often slow (or non-existent) and a particularly surly waiter left a bad taste in my mouth. But the service improved considerably as the voyage continued. With just a handful of sailings under its bow, Encore is a new ship and is considerably larger than others in the Seabourn fleet, so I’m happy to chalk these up to teething issues. Especially considering the experiences at the other end of the spectrum.

One night, as I’m walking back to my cabin, a man calls me over to the railing. A pod of dolphins are frolicking in the bow waves, their slick silver bodies visible just under the surface. They race along beside the ship for a magical half hour, leaping over the breaking waves and tumbling underneath the foam. It seems everyone wants a piece of Encore.

 

seabourn.com

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Unveils 30-Country World Voyage for 2021

By Staff Writer

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has announced its World Cruise for 2021 providing guests with access to no fewer than 56 UNESCO-designated world heritage sites across the globe.

For those wishing to explore almost all corners of the planet in one epic voyage, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 2021 World Cruise sails aboard the world’s first all-suite, all-balcony ship, Seven Seas Mariner, for 117 nights from Miami to Barcelona – visiting six continents, 30 countries and 61 ports from South America to French Polynesia, Australia, Asia and the Mediterranean.

This journey brings guests to famous cities including Singapore, Dubai, Barcelona, Rome, Miami and more, yet it is the lesser-travelled places that truly make this voyage a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We thoughtfully design world cruise itineraries to bring guests to sites they desire to explore, ranging from iconic destinations to the hidden gems that can only be accommodated on a cruise of this length,” says Jason Montague, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ President and Chief Executive Officer.

“Guests embark on world cruises to discover many destinations in one voyage with immersive experiences, visit museums, see historic sites, appreciate local arts and culture, and enjoy exclusive shore activities offering a unique way to understand our world,” he adds.

“Destinations such as Colombo in Sri Lanka, Jerusalem, Israel, and Limassol, Cyprus, and each night return to their spacious and luxurious suite and enjoy personalised service on board. We’ve also scheduled  11 overnight stays in some of the world’s premier destinations, so world cruisers feel fully immersed in these ports of call.”

The 117-night voyage departs Miami on January 5, 2021.

The world’s first all-suite, all-balcony ship, Seven Seas Mariner recently completed a multi-million dollar bow-to-stern refurbishment, elevating her to a new level of elegance with new culinary experiences, sophisticated new suite designs and furnishings, and completely refreshed public guest spaces.

Considered one of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships, Seven Seas Mariner features a sleek, light, modern look and a warm, comfortable ambiance, luxurious décor and intricate design details.

Accommodating only 700 guests, Seven Seas Mariner offers a staff-to-guest ratio of 1 to 1.6, ensuring the highest levels of personal service at sea and an intimate, yet spacious setting to navigate the world.

 

For more information about Regent Seven Seas Cruises or to receive a brochure, call 1300 455 200 or visit rssc.com.

OceaniaNEXT Takes Oceania Cruises to a New Level of Luxury

By Staff Writer

Oceania Cruises has announced its OceaniaNEXT initiative, a sweeping array of dramatic enhancements designed to elevate every facet of the guest experience.

The first initiative to be undertaken is a US$100 million re-inspiration of the line’s four 684-guest ships (Regatta, Insignia, Sirena, and Nautica) that will result in four better-than-new ships.

Each will emerge from the redesign process with 342 new designer suites and staterooms, and stunning new décor in the restaurants, lounges and bars, inspired by the line’s 450 ports of call.

Insignia will be the first to debut on December 7 this year, followed by Sirena in May 2019, Regatta in September 2019, and Nautica in June 2020.

“OceaniaNEXT will be the most extensive and comprehensive suite of product and guest service enhancements that we have ever undertaken,” said Bob Binder, President and CEO of Oceania Cruises.

“Our Regatta-Class ships are like second homes to our loyal guests and travel partners. They don’t build ships like these anymore, which is why this re-inspiration project is such an important milestone in our company’s 15-year history,” he adds.

“We are maintaining the intimate surroundings and personal attention that our guests love, while at the same time setting a new standard of style and elegance for small-ship cruising.”

At the helm of the dramatic refurbishment is Studio DADO, a Miami-based design and concept studio specialising in luxury residential and hospitality design.

“The moment we stepped onboard, we were impressed by the ambiance and attention to detail,” said Yohandel Ruiz, founding partner of Studio DADO. “The guests we spoke with kept telling us how they loved the ships, so it was important that we kept the intimacy and warmth in the redesign. What we landed on provides a modern and airy atmosphere, similar to what you would find in an elegant estate home.”

Oceania Cruises is one of the world’s leading culinary- and destination-focused cruise lines with six intimate and luxurious ships accommodating between 684 and 1,250 guests and offering an array of premium cruising experiences featuring the finest cuisine at sea and destination-rich itineraries spanning the globe.

Expertly crafted voyages call on more than 450 ports across Europe, Alaska, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, New England and Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Tahiti and the South Pacific as well as epic 180-day Around the World Voyages.

For more information and reservations, contact Oceania Cruises on 1300 355 200 or visit OceaniaCruises.com.

Seabourn Returns to Australasia for 2018-2019 Cruise Season

By Staff Writer

Ultra-luxury cruise line Seabourn is heading to Australasia again this year with Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Sojourn offering multiple cruises around Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific during the 2018-2019 season.

Curated itineraries feature boutique ports, sheltered coves and hidden harbours that larger cruise ships cannot access, as well as onboard luxuries and fascinating on-shore experiences.

Guests will have many opportunities to explore and enjoy the region, including optional for-charge Ventures by Seabourn kayak and zodiac tours in select destinations guided by skilled expedition teams.

Special programming such as Shopping with the Chef excursions will allow guests to discover local food markets, and special deck events, dance parties and movies under the stars will keep things lively and entertaining.

The itineraries also offer not-to-be-missed shore excursions to UNESCO World Heritage Sites with exclusive experiences available only to Seabourn guests via the luxury cruise line’s unique partnership with UNESCO.

“We’re excited to be heading back to the beauty of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific over the 2018-2019 season ahead,” says Chris Austin, Seabourn’s senior vice president of Global Marketing and Sales.

“With two ships sailing in the region, guests will have a wide range of opportunities to soak up the ultra-luxury experience on board our vessels and to explore on land and at sea, including Ventures by Seabourn excursions, mid-cruise overland tours, and special pre- and post-cruise journeys. It’s going to be quite a season for guests returning or visiting the region for the first time with Seabourn.”

The 2018-2019 season of Seabourn Encore in the South Pacific will launch with an 18-day cruise from Bali to Sydney, departing December 3, 2018) and will include four 16-day voyages between Sydney and Auckland (departing December 21, 2018, and January 22, February 7, and March 11, 2019 respectively).

The start of spring will see the ship head out of Sydney on a 16-day voyage to Bali (departing March 27), featuring the Queensland Coast and Great Barrier Reef, plus various islands of Indonesia.

 

For more information and reservations, call Seabourn on 1800 929 9391, or visit seabourn.com.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises Unveils Itineraries for Crystal Endeavor

By Staff Writer

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises has announced the inaugural season of itineraries for its newest globetrotting vessel, Crystal Endeavor, spanning from August 2020 to January 2021.

Offering an in-depth focus on some of the world’s most far-reaching and fascinating regions, the luxury expedition yacht will sail voyages of 12 to 22 days, far off the beaten path of traditional cruise routes.

Voyages will explore the cultural and bio-diversity of Japan and the Russian Far East, New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica, with vast wildernesses and tropical wildlands also featured.

“Every facet of Crystal Endeavor is meant to take travellers beyond their previous travel boundaries and expectations,” says Crystal President and CEO Tom Wolber.

“Her exceptional design, luxury accommodations and amenities have already set the stage for this, and now, as we unveil her first six months of journeys, travellers have a tremendous glimpse of the grand discoveries in store for this groundbreaking yacht,” he adds.

“Crystal Endeavor will take guests to remote destinations not typically accessible on a cruise, as well as some iconic places, albeit with a decidedly adventurous twist.”

The locales visited will offer distinctive experiences, climate and terrain that are suited perfectly for the boldest travellers, with opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkelling, diving, helicopter and Zodiac tours, encounters with majestic wildlife, and much more depending on the region.

“With Crystal Endeavor, we can now offer discerning travellers a truly luxurious expedition experience – the Crystal Experience, which, coupled with the ship’s innovative design and captivating itineraries, will be a highly sought-after travel choice,” said Crystal’s Senior Vice President and Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand, Karen Christensen.

“The inaugural season is one that combines active discovery and cultural immersion, and I fully expect that the luxury traveller, in our Australasian market especially, will be as thrilled with the inaugural destinations as I am.”

In addition to Antarctic exploration, Crystal Endeavor will follow seasonal shifts to warmer destinations, where sun-seeking guests can enjoy waterborne and nature quests.

Crystal Endeavor’s initial roster of itineraries includes 12 unique voyages with fares starting from US$13,349 per guest (based on double occupancy, including port taxes and fees).

Guests on the maiden voyage will also receive a complimentary one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel stay and have the opportunity to participate in the yacht’s naming event.

The release of Crystal Endeavour’s inaugural season coincides with Crystal Cruises Australia’s announcement it has formed a partnership with Qantas Frequent Flyer, offering up to three Qantas Points per US$1 on all Crystal Experiences including Crystal Cruises, Crystal River Cruises and Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises itineraries.

For more information and Crystal reservations, contact Crystal’s Sydney office on 1300 059 260 or visit crystalcruises.com.

Cruise Specialist Cruiseco Unveils its Sixth Collections Brochure

By Staff Writer

Luxury cruise specialist, Cruiseco, has released the sixth edition of its Collections brochures, Epic Ocean Voyages.

Developed and designed to appeal to seasoned and first-time cruisers alike, the new Collection offers travellers with an inspiring selection of 31 voyages across 12 major cruise line brands in one go-to brochure.

The Epic Ocean Voyages Collection covers the best of cruises which combine longer journeys with more days at sea, exotic destinations and intercontinental travel into the one cruising holiday.

“Epic Ocean Voyages offers a range of cruises from contemporary to premium to expedition,” says Cruiseco CEO, Amanda McClelland.

“We developed the Cruiseco Collections to make it simpler for cruise guests to research their cruising options with a certain destination or theme in mind across multiple cruise lines,” she adds.

“This is the sixth Collection we’ve launched into a market hungry for options – exciting our members and their customers alike with new, specially crafted cruise holidays.”

Many of the sailings featured in the Epic Ocean Voyages Collection are commonly known as “repositioning cruises” – the trip a ship makes when relocating from one region to the next once the cruising season ends.

These intercontinental journeys spend more days at sea and are often considered more relaxing due to the longer time between ports at sea.

McClelland’s picks from the new Collection include a 49-day Sydney to Southampton Grand Voyage on Royal Caribbean’s’ Explorer of the Seas, a 25-day Journey to Rio from Fort Lauderdale on Cunard’s Queen Victoria, and the opportunity to experience a full eight days at sea before sighting land on Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ 44-day Fremantle to London “Farewell to Astor” cruise.

Designed to drive value for guests across exclusive inclusions and overall savings, each Epic Ocean Voyages package offers holiday options with attractive itineraries and seamless holiday experiences with flights, accommodation and tours perfectly matched with cruises.

 

Contact your closest Cruiseco member agency by calling 1800 550 320 or visiting cruising.com.au.

Travel Insurance Tips for Cruisers

By Staff Writer

As the $5.3 billion Australian and international cruise industry continually pushes the boundaries of superior experiences and coveted destinations, new data reveals that our love of cruising has overtaken our love of land travel.

A survey of 2,700 Australian travellers conducted by the world’s largest online travel insurer, InsureandGo, revealed that 54 per cent would rather go on a cruise than travel on land. This preference for cruises is strongest among travellers aged 55 and over.

Cruise Lines International Association’s latest report, which reveals the industry’s contribution to the local economy, supports this trend. Its data shows that the number of Australian cruise passengers has quadrupled since 20008, and new record was set in 2017 with 1.3 million Australian passengers taking an ocean cruise.

InsureandGo’s survey also revealed how fearful people are of six potential negative events that could occur in relation to cruising. The strongest fears are an on-board medical emergency such as needing hospital care, along with seasickness and gastro issues – both at 72 per cent.

Onshore incidents followed at 69 per cent, and 60 per cent of travellers said they also worried about lost or stolen baggage and mechanical failures on a ship. Fear of missing ports came in at 45 per cent.

“Travellers realise that cruises give them more time for rest and relaxation, and enable them to travel to multiple destinations without repacking and booking into a new hotel each time,” says InsureandGo’s Managing Director Raphael Bandeira.

“Cruise ships also offer travellers everything they need in one place –different restaurant experiences across various cuisines; games and fitness facilities; spa and shopping experiences; entertainment; and kids’ areas as well as adult-only areas,” he adds. “For cruises, it’s important that travellers purchase tailored cruise insurance to ensure they receive cover for potential incidents that are specific to cruising.”

InsureandGo was the first online travel insurer to provide a cruise-specific policy, which starts from as little as $31, including cover for missed ports, cabin confinement, baggage before boarding and pre-paid excursions.

“To get maximum benefits in the case of cancellation – such as 24/7 emergency assistance from more than 2,000 multilingual operations – I recommend travellers purchase this insurance at insureandgo.com.au at the time of booking their cruise,” says Bandeira.

Top tips for getting cover for cruise-related incidents

 

1. Purchase a cruise-specific, rather than a generic travel policy

A general travel insurance policy may not cover you for cruise-specific incidents such as missed ports.

 

2. Disclose the medical conditions of anyone you are travelling with

To ensure any claim you make is valid once you’ve purchases travel insurance, ensure that you not only disclose any pre-existing medical condition that you might have – but also the pre-existing conditions that people in your group might have. Why? Pre-existing medical conditions change the level of risk of your holiday, as there is potential for your trip to be cut short if anyone in your group experiences a medical emergency. These conditions must be disclosed and accepted by your travel insurer prior to embarking. With InsureandGo, declare any pre-existing medical conditions can be done online.

 

3. Get the necessary vaccinations

Get any necessary immunisations and vaccinations for the destinations you are visiting. If a claim arises as a result of you, or your travel partner, cancelling or altering your travel plans because you contracted a disease specific to your travel region, that you could have been immunised against, you will lose your cover.

 

4. Reveal any changes in your circumstances

Make sure you tell your insurer about any change in your circumstances that happens after your policy has been issued and before you travel. Your insurer has the right to change the conditions of your policy in line with the change of risk.

 

5. Give yourself adequate time to obtain travel documents

Ensure you prepare your passport and necessary visas ahead of time. If you have to cancel or postpone your trip due to failure to obtain documents in time, you won’t be covered for any out-of-pocket expenses.

Riviera Launches Three New European River Cruise Ships

By Staff Writer

Leading European river cruise company, Riviera Travel, has launched a trio of five-star river ships and released a new brochure for the Australian market, while reporting a doubling in bookings since it first offered cruises to the Australian market in 2016.

Featuring a swimming pool and deluxe cabins with marble bathrooms, the luxurious, 121-guest Douro Splendour launched in Portugal this year, while another two river ships – the 167-passenger William Wordsmith and 132-guest George Eliot – will begin cruising in Europe in 2019, continuing Riviera’s tradition of naming many of its vessels after renowned British authors.

The new ships and an expanded cruise program mean Riviera Travel will carry a record 47,000 passengers on 12 river ships, 327 sailings and 14 exciting itineraries in 2019. Already the biggest river cruise operator in the UK, this year Riviera Travel is attracting 100 per cent more Australian bookings compared to 2017.

Based in England, Riviera Travel offers five-star cruises across Europe at fares up to 50 per cent lower than river companies more established in Australia. Riviera Travel is also renowned for its solo travel offerings, with a selection of supplement-free cabins on every cruise and four sailings in 2019 reserved exclusively for solo travellers with no supplement costs in all cabins.

The growth in demand and product is reflected in Riviera Travel’s recently released 2019 brochure for the Australian market. Priced in Australian dollars, the 108-page brochure includes the four exclusive seven-night solo passenger sailings in March and October 2019 – available from $2769 single sole use – and the most popular itinerary for Australians – the 14-night Heart of Europe sailing from Cologne to Budapest, priced from $3959 per person, twin-share.

The new brochure also includes a 14-night Budapest to Black Sea sailing, priced from $5969 per person, twin-share, which is attracting the highest increase in demand since its introduction in 2017, with Riviera adding more departures in 2019 to meet the demand.

Australian sales manager for Riviera Travel, Thomas Morgan, said the cruise line is quickly becoming more familiar to Australians with all Australian bookings here coming through agents via wholesalers Cruiseco and Cruise Traveller.

“There is strong competition in the river cruise space here, but Australians are increasingly appreciating that we offer something different, including more affordable fares which make the refined pleasures of five-star river cruising in Europe more accessible to more people,” says Morgan.

“We offer complimentary tours or visits in every port and we don’t automatically include gratuities in fares, allowing guests to tip as they like. Although we’ve been operating in the UK since 1984, we’re still fresh here in Australia but brand traction is quickly building.”

One of Riviera Travel’s sailings for 2019 – the seven-night Rhine Cruise to Switzerland – has been packaged for Australians by small ship cruise specialist, Cruise Traveller, in a new 13-night fly, cruise and tour holiday.

The ‘Swiss Stunner’ package includes return flights to Europe from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth, the Rhine cruise from Cologne to Basel, a three-night, post-cruise alpine tour in Switzerland headlined by a trip aboard the famous Glacier Express train from Chur to Zermatt and pre-and-post cruise accommodation in Cologne and Zurich.

Cruise Traveller is also offering a complimentary onboard drinks package with a range of beers and wines with lunch and dinner when you book this package. Departures are available in May, June and August 2019, on two ships, including the new George Eliot.

The Details

Cruise Traveller’s 13-night Swiss Stunner package is available from $7695 per person, twin-share. The new 2019 Riviera Travel river cruise brochure for Australia is available via travel agents, Cruise Traveller on 1800 507 777 or Cruiseco on 1800 956 960. Visit rivieratravel.com.au.

Discover China’s Yangtze on a Sanctuary Retreats River Cruise

By Staff Writer

China’s ancient landscapes are vast, its history and monuments epic. Complex and energetic, this country should be experienced at least once in a lifetime. And the Yangtze, the world’s third longest river at 6,280kms, is its symbolic lifeline.

Flowing from Tibet to Shanghai and cutting through the dramatic mountains of the Yangtze basin, the river’s fortunes are inextricably entwined with those of the country itself.

Historically, the Yangtze served as a divider between northern and southern China, a natural barrier against invaders, and a waterway for transport and commerce. Today, the river basin is the nation’s heartland, home to 500 million people – a tenth of the world’s population.

River cruise specialist Sanctuary Retreats offers a range of Yangtze cruises aboard the luxuriously appointed Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer in partnership with various Australian travel operators including APT, Abercrombie & Kent and Wendy Wu Tours.

Carrying a maximum 124 passengers, compared to the 300 or more favoured by other river operators, guests aboard the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer are assured a more intimate and personalised experience.

With one crew member for every guest – the highest crew-to-passenger ratio on Yangtze river cruises – the on-board atmosphere is more private club than cruise ship.

The vessel’s 38 deluxe cabins and 20 fully serviced luxury suites are among the largest on the river, all featuring private balconies and floor-to- ceiling windows, ensuring guests wake up to dramatic views each day.

The Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer offers an innovative east-meets-west menu, featuring dishes from European classics to a traditional farewell dinner Chinese banquet.

The on-board spa features six treatment rooms while an adjoining state-of-the-art fitness centre helps passengers keep fit.

Guests can also enjoy the vessel’s on-board program of free activities spanning from traditional performances and lectures and morning tai chi sessions to Chinese medicine master classes, calligraphy lessons and dumpling-making.

The Details

Book and pay in full three months before any 2019 sailing and you’ll receive a 25 per cent discount plus a free cabin upgrade for bookings made for shoulder and high seasons, and a 10 per cent discount for bookings made in the peak season.

Shoulder season prices start from US$2,025 per couple per cruise twin share, normally $2,700 (save from US$675 per couple). For bookings and further information, visit sanctuaryretreats.com.

A Spanish Sea Dream

By Gary Allen

We wake up to the sun shining brightly over our view across a calm Mediterranean. It’s a beautiful blue-sky day and yoga starts in 20 minutes, enough time to grab a cup of coffee up on deck. Afterwards, we take in a leisurely breakfast before the SeaDream II pulls into port for the day. It’s become our routine, our ritual, on our cruise with the SeaDream Yacht Club.

Named Best Luxury Small Cruise Ship of 2015 by Forbes – the latest of a string of awards since launching in 2001 – the Norwegian cruise line runs two luxury craft in this class, the SeaDream I and II. And they are both all class. Built in the 1980s, the SeaDreams are sumptuously appointed and the scale is more like an intimate private club. The craft are able to dock at ports rather than moor offshore in deeper waters so there’s no queuing to get off or waiting to load onto a tender to go onshore. In fact, there’s no queuing for meals or anything else. The craft accommodates a maximum of 112 passengers and 95 crew, and there is always plenty of room.

SeaDream offer cruises in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic with durations ranging between seven and 14 nights. Ours is a Spanish cruise that begins in Malaga, on the famed Costa del Sol. We cruise up the Mediterranean coast stopping in Cartagena en route to Valencia, then out to the Balearic Islands and the jet-set islands of Ibiza and Mallorca, as well the tranquil island of Menorca, before finishing in Barcelona. SeaDream’s motto is “yachting, not cruising”. Every morning, we pull into a new port, with most of the day to explore. Docking in town means you always have the option to retreat back to the ship for lunch, a break, or just some (more) rest and relaxation. The convenience is one of the best features of the cruise.

Friends are made quickly on the first night as guests gather in the piano bar and lounge. Before long the karaoke and conviviality is in full swing. And if singing off-key is not your thing, there’s always the quiet retreat of the blackjack table. SeaDream claims it is the smallest casino at sea.

Food can make or break a trip and goes hand in hand with the standard of service in determining the enjoyment you get from your holiday. On the SeaDream we saw expert chefs lovingly prepare all manner of culinary delights, paired with wines of distinction, and all dispatched by staff who care enough to make it personal, to find out what *you* want and just how *you* like it: “The usual, Mr Allen?” SeaDream staff always went above and beyond and were a big part of what we loved about this cruise experience.

SeaDream’s “Signature” dining experience is prepared à la minute and served al fresco at the Topside Restaurant or in the stylish Dining Salon. Menus include a raw organic food selection, where none of the fresh ingredients is heated above 48 degrees.

Once you’ve settled on board, head straight to the concierge and book a night to “Sleep under the Stars”. Staff make up a bed at the bow of the ship and, roped off for privacy, it’s all yours for the night. Pray for a cloudless sky, but don’t worry, your luxury cabin is right below should the weather turn.  Suites and staterooms are superbly appointed and come with flat screen TVs, iPhone docking stations, Nespresso coffee machines and 24-hour room service. Your fare includes all meals and gratuities.

In most ports, a guided bicycle ride is offered for those guests eager for early exercise. We took rides at every opportunity as it was a great way to get the sea legs moving and familiarise ourselves with the new port of call. The ship’s bikes are also available anytime you like but numbers are limited on the guided rides, so sign up early. Weather depending, other activities on board include watersports like kayaks, snorkelling, water skiing, swim platform, and a floating island. There’s also a well-equipped gym and the SeaDream Spa, which the owners boast is the only Thai-certified spa service at sea.

 

seadream.com