I hardly look like a Pilates follower with not a skerrick of Lyrca in sight as I join a class aboard the luxury cruise ship Seabourn Sojourn.
But five minutes into the morning session and I am stretching with the best of them and loving it.
That’s one of the great things about cruising — you get the chance to do activities you often don’t have time for at home.
It’s been an early start on board the 225-suite ship that’s home for four nights as it hugs the coast from Melbourne to Adelaide with day stops at Geelong and picturesque Kangaroo Island.
The $300 million ship is in Australian waters for its second trip Down Under, stopping at 11 ports and giving many Australian passengers a taste of what’s known as “caviar cruising”.
But the trouble is there is so much to do and so little time, hence my early rise to complete a few laps around the deck, enjoy the sea breeze and front up for the class.
It’s followed by a stint on the treadmill in the gym, which is equipped with state-of-the-art cardio and resistance equipment and thoughts of morning yoga on deck tomorrow.
While I am catching my breath at the gym I meet Helen from London, who is a veteran cruiser and a Seabourn devotee.
She and her husband Samuel, who has just retired, are doing the 116-day world cruise that departed from Los Angeles on January 4 and finishes in Venice on May 1.
Helen assures me she and Sam never tire of the ship routine but have to watch their weight due to all the on-board temptations — hence her daily gym visit.
“It’s a wonderful way to see the world — you unpack once and that’s it, plus the service is amazing and all drinks are inclusive so you can always shout the bar!” she says.
Even though I have only been aboard the ultra-swish ship for 12 hours I have to agree — staff recall our name soon after meeting us and are friendly and helpful.
One beaming steward, Martha, greets us with glasses of chilled Champagne as we step inside our spacious suite followed with offers to assist whenever she can.
The stylish suite is impressive and comes with a marble bathroom with full-size bath, separate shower and twin basins.
“Just let me know if you want me to draw a bubble bath and I can stock the fridge with Champagne,” Martha says and I can see why Seabourn appeals.
There’s plenty of room in our suite with a separate dressing room with loads of hanging space and drawers, especially handy if you are on for a long trip.
I know sleeping will not be a problem, the king-size bed is super comfortable and there’s a sitting area with couch, table and chairs and plasma television with an at-call movie channel. Extras such as fluffy robes, slippers, fresh fruit and turndown service all add a personalised touch.
But it’s the verandah that catches my eye — it is perfect for sitting back on a lounge chair and ocean gazing.
Time is ticking by and we unpack quickly then head off to explore the ship, one of six in the Seabourn fleet.
The first thing I notice is how much room there is everywhere, even though it’s a full ship you wouldn’t know it, there so much space and rarely ever any queues.
After a quick dip in one of two pools on board, we head to the bow of the ship and plunge into a warm jacuzzi watching the shorelines disappear into the sunset. Where to have pre-dinner drinks is the next pressing question but we settle on the elegant Oberservatory Bar, where a talented pianist taps out a familiar love tune.
It is just one of the open bars on Seabourn with Champagne, spirits, beers, cocktails and beer all inclusive.
Talk is lively and accents vary as we chat to fellow passengers who obviously love cruising.
“You’ll soon get the hang of this ship,” says Fred, from Brisbane, who confides he’s been on 11 Seabourn cruises.
Dining is serious business and there’s plenty of choice. At the large elegant dining room, known as The Restaurant, we are presented with an excellent menu by Scottish chef Graeme Cockburn.
It is a sophisticated menu with starters such as braised chicken confit terrine with mixed greens and sesame seed dressing, duck consume, warm shrimp fritters or raw apple and celery salad.
For mains there’s lobster and shrimp-studded calamari with English pea puree and tarragon jus, oven-baked chicken breast wrapped in Parma ham with tarragon and summer vegetables, and a firm favourite called Seabourn Chateaubriand, which is roasted fillet of beef tenderloin with glazed vegetables, bordelaise potatoes and sauce bernaise.
There’s also a vegetarian menu option.
But that’s not all — passengers can opt for a Swedish dinner at The Colonnade restaurant, an al fresco dinner at the Patio Grill or order room service from the restaurant menu and enjoy it on their private verandah.
The following night for something extra special we book into Restaurant2, an intimate restaurant where an exciting tasting menu takes centre stage.
There are about 11 small courses, often only a mouthful, which are centred around sensational tastes and flavours.
It starts with the chef’s cocktail of crispy foie gras and port wine splash, followed by lobster roll and yoghurt caviar sauce, avocado and tomato salad and seared king salmon with white bean salsa and piquillo coulis.
Shiraz-braised oxtail presse, white asparagus vanilla cappuccino and mushroom toast is superb and the drunken John dory, porcini with Swiss chard and hazelnut vinaigrette, Tuscany veal and mascapone mashed potato are all impressive.
The sweet finale of dark chocolate ganache, espresso citrus panna cotta and ice-cream brings “oohs” and “aahs” from satisfied diners.
The charming sommelier from Buenos Aires explains his choice of wines and recommendations.
It’s a great night out as candles flicker and outside the moonlight dances across the waves.
No wonder Seabourn is continually honoured for its exceptional cuisine and voted number one by passengers in annual Conde Nast cruise surveys.
What also attracts many to Seabourn is its excellent Celebrity Conversation programs, which feature well-known historians, scientists and authors as well as destination and maritime experts who share their stories, expert opinions and valuable insights with guests.
You may well be listening to Scotland’s only two-Michelin starred chef Andrew Fairlie one week and Dr Thomas Lippman, a journalist and author specialising in Middle Eastern affairs the next.
There are also excellent shows featuring guest artists as well as bridge, zumba and ballroom dance lessons, arts and craft sessions, shuffleboard games and a golf simulator.
The Seabourn Square is home to 24-hour manned concierge desks where staff assist with tour bookings and information as well as an interesting library with a variety of books and computer centre. The cafe which serves excellent coffee, tea and treats has a great following.
For those wanting extra pampering, there’s the Spa at Seabourn where the scent of rosewood oil perfumes the air, offers a variety of experiences and treatments including Chinese reflexology, aromatherapy and Thai massages. Another passenger Helen tells me they often have complimentary massages on deck on sea days.
So what makes Seabourn so special and why does it win so many awards? I put it down to the attention to detail, wonderful service, excellent cuisine and just the feeling of being spoilt, after all there’s a ratio of nearly one staff member per guest on board.
As we get closer to Adelaide I suddenly have serious thoughts of stowing away, just as Helen predicted I would, and I have to agree caviar cruising is definitely addictive.
About the ships:
Seabourn’s five ships carry between 208 and 458 guests exclusively in ocean-view suites many with verandahs.
Complimentary open bars and open seated dining are features as well as award winning cuisine served in a variety of venues.
Seaborn Sojourn carries 450 guests offering the highest space per guest ratio in the cruise industry and the largest spa on any ultra-luxury ship.
Features include a library, boutiques, outdoor water sports marina, two outdoor pools and four dining venues, all at no extra charge.
Seabourn is offering a wide range of cruises across the globe this year including its new Extended Explorations program.
The program, features cruises throughout Africa, Asia, the South Pacific and South America and Antarctica and will see Seabourn Sojourn’s sister ship, Seabourn Odyssey, return to Australian waters in December.
See a licensed travel agent, call 13 24 02 or visit www.seabourn.com
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