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Norway: A Seabourn Sojourn

Year after year, The Yachts of Seabourn has been named the World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line by readers of major international publications, guidebook authors and industry organisations. And Seabourn has achieved this acclaim not with bells, whistles and gimmicks but with all-inclusive adult-oriented vessels, sophisticated elegance, flawless service and superb dining.

Just twelve months after the June 2009 launch of Seabourn Odyssey, The Yachts of Seabourn introduced a nearly-identical sister ship called Seabourn Sojourn, a 32,000-ton newbuild accommodating just 450 passengers. In February 2011, Sojourn will ply the waters surrounding Australia, visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Freemantle, but I couldn’t wait that long.

The Copenhagen rain was steady as our taxi pulled up alongside the city’s Friehavn pier, our driver ready to kill the meter and send us into the downpour. Instead, a Seabourn representative appeared and waved the driver into the refuge of the embarkation tent where two crew members assisted with the luggage we required for our Norwegian fjords sailing. Embarkation was speedy and we soon found ourselves escorted to the ship by an umbrella-toting young woman whose apparent assignment was to ensure guests arrived on board happy, dry, and with fabulous hair. It was our first glimpse at Seabourn’s meticulous attention to detail.

On board, our fellow passengers, who hailed from the four corners of the globe, were assembled in the Grand Salon, a single-level show room done in quirky shades of pink, cranberry and purple. Grabbing a glass of champagne, we set out to explore this newest addition to the luxurious Seabourn fleet.

First stop: Seabourn Square, a unique concept for a cruise ship. Part reception, part tour office, part internet café (with reasonable rates) and part library, Seabourn Square is the social heart of Sojourn, a relaxing spot done in blonde wood and appointed with the easy chairs, cocktail tables and accent lamps you’d find in an elegant sitting room. A nearby European coffee bar whips up your favourite brew, offers sandwiches and pastries and even stocks a full bar. You could spend your entire cruise here.

The rain nearly postponed our exploration of Sojourn’s pool deck until we spied the supply of oversized umbrellas thoughtfully stocked by the door leading to the outside deck. Four canopied hot tubs bordered a swimming pool that featured raised teak platforms perfect for a poolside chat with new friends. Ample deck chairs and several covered Balinese sunbeds dotted the spacious area and, if it ever stopped raining, I could imagine myself in one, sipping a cool drink delivered from the Sky Bar on deck 9 above.

Deck 9 would be home for the next two weeks so we replaced our umbrellas and returned to Sojourn’s interior, strolling down the tasteful, art-laden corridor toward 914. Seabourn Sojourn’s accommodations consist of 225 ocean-view suites that range from 295 square feet to a staggering 1,682 square feet, 90 per cent of which offer private balconies. On this sailing, we were ensconced in the luxury of a penthouse, a 535 square-foot (inclusive of furnished verandah) flat-like suite done in stylish tones of gold, cranberry and chocolate. It featured a spacious living area, walk-in closet with plush robe and slippers, marble bathroom with Jacuzzi tub, separate shower and twin sinks with toiletries by luxury brands Hermes, Molton Brown and L’Occitane. Our living area was appointed with a dining table, L-shaped sofa, complimentary in-suite bar and stocked mini-fridge, leather seating and a 40-inch interactive TV that allows guests to view their choice of hundreds of films, program their own music playlist, watch TV and more.

The most dramatic feature of our suite, however, was the sleeping area; a room-within-a-room set off by lovely cherry-framed etched-glass panels. At night, curtains could be drawn across the panels and, for a couple comprised of one early and one late riser, access to the living area through the bathroom or walk in closet assures that the early bird may rise the following day without disturbing his or her partner.

At 4:45pm, Sojourn was under way, cruising toward the Skagerrak Strait and glorious sunshine. Cocktail time! We shunned the lifts in favor of the carpeted staircase that brought us to deck 10’s Observation Lounge, a piano bar with 280 degree views and a retro feel thanks to its illuminated seafoam-green glass-paneled bar and aqua, black and cream seating that, on this newly-launched ship, still exuded the heady fragrance of leather.

“Sauvignon blanc, please?” The bartender aboard Seabourn Sojourn was about to fill a sparkling Schott crystal wineglass for me when he noticed my frown. “You wouldn’t happen to have a New Zealand one, would you?” I asked. Suddenly a bottle of Nelson’s Wingspan appeared in his hand and, judging from the greeting I received from Wingspan-bearing bartenders for the rest of the voyage, word of my preferred libation had gone out to bartenders stem to stern.

The personal touch, I quickly learned, is a Seabourn signature. Throughout our sailing, staff members I’d never encountered would greet me by name and I often found myself snapping my head in their direction, wondering if I’d imagined it. My choice in food, drink, and even the selections in my in-suite fruit bowl were noted. Before I knew it, I had more apricots and fewer apples, as though a mystical power was granting the wishes I wasn’t even consciously aware that I harboured.

Sojourn’s cuisine is as impressive as her extraordinary service staff. It is created by the line’s culinary consultant, celebrity chef Charlie Parker and executed under the guidance of Sojourn’s Executive Chef Bjoern Wassmuth (whose informative and hilarious culinary demonstration was an entertainment high point of our sailing). Aboard Sojourn you’ll find a more relaxed evening dress code (only two black-tie optional evenings on our two-week sailing) and four very different dining venues: the elegant, neutral-toned open-sitting Restaurant; the intimate (44 seat) and dramatic reservations-only Restaurant 2 with its scarlet and black décor and inventive tasting menu; the less formal indoor/outdoor Colannade which morphs from a breakfast and lunch spot to a vibrant evening bistro with rotating culinary themes; and the al fresco, poolside Patio Grill. Choose one, or opt for dinner in your suite. You may even have your in-suite dinner served course-by-course.

Unique to Seabourn is the delivery of a printed overview of each venue’s full dinner menu the evening before, allowing guests to work themselves into a ravenous frenzy as they anticipate the Beef Wellington, Sea Bass, Osso Bucco, Nigerian Shrimps and other tantalizing dishes they might choose to savor the following day. While portions aboard Sojourn are sensible (with the exception of room service’s black and white chocolate mousse, two tennis-ball sized scoops more akin to fudge than mousse) and seasoning is consistently perfect, most guests eventually find their way to the ship’s well-equipped gym, attend a fitness class or have a go at the pulley/resistance system known as the Kinesis Wall.

Sojourn’s only real design departure from sister ship Odyssey is found at the two-deck spa where an innovative Kneipp Walk wading pool (a hot-and-cold water treatment that’s said to stimulate capillary circulation and metabolism) replaces the traditional Hydro-Pool at the Serene Thermal Suite. One of the very few “extras” you’ll find aboard the all-inclusive Sojourn, Serene is an exclusive wellness area appointed with heated teak loungers, leather leg-elevating capsules and a two-level private sundeck with cabanas set off by gauzy cream curtains. The Serene fee (waived on the day of any spa treatment) entitles guests to the Kneipp Walk as well as the intoxicating herbal sauna and aromatherapy bath with salt inhalation and a snack area stocked with juices, flavoured waters, teas, cookies, nuts, banana chips and dried fruits.

Fitting the lavish yet understated experience of Sojourn, on-board entertainment is a tasteful variety of well-attended destination lectures, relaxing piano bar melodies, nightly music and dancing and a small casino. But tonight, Norway’s majestic fjords, thunderous waterfalls and craggy cliffs are putting on the only show I want to see. And I have the best seat in the house, on my verandah aboard Seabourn Sojourn, sipping a glass of Wingspan.

 

 

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