By Louise Goldsbury
Invited to a private cocktail party with the Captain and other past passengers, I am surprised – and let’s be honest, somewhat miffed – to find hundreds of other people in attendance. It seems my status of two cruises aboard Seabourn Sojourn is nothing remarkable. According to our host, 351 out of the 370 guests have previously sailed with the line, and some are clocking up more than 2,000 days at sea. If loyalty is the best gauge of excellence, it doesn’t get any better than this.
The cheerful camaraderie among these regulars creates a community vibe on this luxury ship, and newcomers are soon welcomed like members of the club. As I sit down at the poolside bar for my first glass of champagne (drinks are complimentary on this all-inclusive cruise), a deeply tanned French couple chat to me excitedly about Adelaide’s climate. A fellow Australian hears my accent and comes over – amid the sea of Americans onboard an Australian accent stands out and always sparks a conversation. He tells me the way things work around here.
“There’s a rhythm, which you’ll soon fall into,” he explains. “When the sun starts to fade, we head inside to freshen up before pre-dinner drinks at the Observation Bar. Come up around 6:15pm,” he advises, and I happily oblige.
Within seconds of settling in, the bartender nods, smiles, places a napkin and nuts in front of me. Four Americans bring me into their conversation about things to do in Western Australia, where we’re sailing toward. Ten minutes later we have agreed to do the organised excursion to Margaret River on Friday.
I can soon see that this ship would also be perfect for romance. A hot tub is hidden away at the bow, and upper decks have sun lounges where few people venture. The most secluded area of the yacht is the Spa Villa, which can be booked for several hours at a time. Meals, drinks, beauty treatments and bathing rituals can be privately indulged on the al fresco terrace. The villa experience can also be added, if available, to any face or body treatment booked at The Spa, such as a 24-karat-gold facial, Elemis aroma stone therapy, or a lime and ginger salt exfoliation.
I have a suite to myself but a few friends have also come on the voyage. We meet for dinner at Restaurant 2, a dark and sexy degustation venue, serving 10 small portions in four courses with matching wines. Our Argentinean waiter is exceptionally charming.
He introduces the first trio: lobster roll with yoghurt caviar sauce; bacalaito fritter with avocado and tomato salad; king salmon with white bean salsa. Next is a shiraz-braised oxtail presse, manchego potstickers, white asparagus vanilla cappuccino and mushroom toast. Drunken John Dory is a highlight, as well as the veal with mascarpone mashed potato. Dessert is a rich chocolate ganache, condensed milk ice cream and espresso citrus panna cotta. After a performance like that, there’s no need (or energy) to go to the 10pm song-and-dance show, Groove Tonight.
Confession: I order room service far too often. With no extra charge, and selections available from the main restaurant menu (which changes every day), it feels more decadent than hotel room service. Seared spice-crusted tuna, spring chicken cassoulet with truffle oil, soft shell crab, venison, marinated goat cheese and pesto flan – it all arrives hot on a silver tray.
The next night, after dancing in The Club, I order a midnight pizza and the most deliciously crunchy chips; then another evening it’s a cheeky bowl of caramel ice-cream while watching Gravity in bed. Celebrating with a new friend Natasha, I ask for a bottle of riesling to be delivered and it appears in an ice bucket within minutes. At 22, Natasha is the youngest person staying on for the full 108-day world voyage, which is sold in shorter segments along the way. She’s accompanying an older friend who needed a few months recuperation and decided to splurge for two. One of the eldest is a woman pushing 90 who has been on more than 150 Seabourn cruises. Most people are semi-retired and living like they don’t need to work.
On the third morning I attempt my first-ever Zumba class, presumably safe in the assumption that I won’t know anyone, but already I recognise most faces. It turns out to be a lot of fun, and afterwards I join a group of retirees for lunch at The Colonnade. This is also the best place for a casual breakfast. Aside from the usual continental and hot food items, tasty options include the fig compote, cinnamon toast (all bread is freshly baked onboard) and coriander, chilli and feta omelette.
I can soon see that this ship would also be perfect for romance. A hot tub is hidden away at the bow, and upper decks have sun lounges where few people venture.
However, the poolside patio grill is a favourite as it feels more like summer holidays. The food theme switches every day from Caribbean to Indian, French to surf and turf. But it’s not all about the great dining on Seabourn (and there is barely an overweight cruise stereotype to be seen).
Daily activities include ballroom dance classes, trivia, bridge, arts and crafts, golf putting games with prizes, lots of live music and movies screened under the stars on the pool deck. Educational lectures by guest speakers are popular and our week features local historian Warren Fahey, who discusses Australia’s Aboriginal, colonial and convict past.
In between the action, I relax at the café in the Seabourn Square, a central hub with lots of couches (with an ocean view), a library and iPads loaded with international newspapers. Of course, I also retreat to my suite to read a book on my balcony or watch one of the on-demand new-release movies. There’s also a walk-in wardrobe, a free minibar (and welcome bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne), a bath as well as a shower, Molton Brown toiletries in the marble-clad bathroom, and a stewardess to attend to any requests.
No wonder almost everyone comes back. The company rewards its loyal cruisers through the tiered Seabourn Club, granting a choice of benefits. When your account reaches 140 days, you receive a complimentary seven-day cruise. At the top tier, Diamond Members are also entitled to free laundry, internet, phone calls (40 minutes) and a massage, among other benefits. But if you ask me, the cruise experience itself is beneficial enough.