I haven’t cruised for years. There’s really no valid reason for this delay since I’ve enjoyed cruising. It’s so easy and creates a sense of carefree diversions where one is devoid of tension, obligations, just floating without a care. (Ah, but the stickler is that there is still internet accessibility.)
And most unforgettable is the fact that one doesn’t have to pack and unpack at every destination and one could drink the water without asking or hesitating.
Most people decide on their cruises by the ports of call and ship size. That said, I couldn’t resist the itinerary of the small-ish Seabourn Spirit, certainly one on the top of the list of luxury cruising companies.
Imagine the itinerary-Venice to Montenegro, down the picturesque Dalmatian coast with various ports of call and back to Venice.
My first and lasting impressive of this fine ship will always be the service. I wondered why our photos were taken when we boarded thinking it was for security reasons (which I’m sure is one of the reasons) and then so surprised when every staff member knew my name within hours. I assumed that they probably had new passengers’ photos plastered on their walls. I’d like to think that we were poster celebs for the 10 days, like George C. and Angelina J.
Although this liner is small with a maximum of 208 passengers, there’s nothing missing that a larger ship has to offer. The first indication that this would be one swell trip, is the cooling bottle of the finest champagne awaiting us on the coffee table in our suite’s sitting area. The next great memory has to be the very large walk-in closet, spacious enough for an around the world trip wardrobe. Also, a large double sink bathroom and bath/shower where towels are changed twice daily, a comfortable king size bed, great lighting, flat screen TV, and a small mini bar. filled with our pre -requested liquids..at no extra charge.( And believe it or not, tipping for all the staff is included in the ticket price.
I challenge the larger ships to be able to have the no-fuss about when or where to eat and with whom. This is a floating boutique hotel while the larger sea competitors have thousands of people, some up to 6 thousand like a breakaway village. Seabourn Spirit is flexible with their meal times and choice of venue and tables.
Breakfast for my husband and myself was usually at the outdoors,7th deck, The Verandah. The August morning sun beamed down, but still not steaming, hot and humid, as it would become later, during the day. And also a great opportunity to see the Dalmation coastline while deliberating the choice of menu which was as overwhelming as the sights.
An early riser, I would head to the gym, small but certainly adequate, where there were always a few constant exercise devotees -so intense that no one ever said a word, so unusual since this was such a friendly group of people.
A few lazy mornings we had breakfast in our perfectly decorated taupe and ecru colored room where the rugs echoed the blue Adriatic Sea. When we stated, on the request form, the time for our meal, right on the tick of the clock, there was a ring at the door. Linen table cloth and napkins laid put for the perfectly serviced morning starter. It was also a way to avoid the temptation of the overwhelming menu and buffet . And what an opportunity to sit in front of our French ceiling to floor doors to our small balcony and smell and hear the sea.
All the meals were nothing less than spectacular and an early morning trip to the fish market in Split, Croatia with Chef Martin Kitzing, was an eye opener on how he chose his produce. That same day for lunch there were the sardines he had bought that morning, now delicately grilled . ..delectable.
It was on this ‘Shopping with the Chef’ tour where I also learned more about fish than I ever knew including that it’s not the eyes that show freshness since with some ice applied, they all look fresh again. “Look at the inside of the fins and make sure they are pink and not slimy, push the flesh of the fish and see how quickly it returns to the original and make also sure the flesh isn’t slimy,” Chef instructed.
However, this was not our first port of call. The butterfly-shaped Port of Kotor,(pronounced Kotoure) Montenegro,(Europe’s youngest country), once part of the now gone Yugoslavia, is far from haute Kotoure!
But just 20 minutes away and feeling as though we had arrived on a different planet, is Tivat and Porto Montenegro, already considered a world-class port. Businessman, Toronto based, Peter Munk, known for his vision, a former hotel owner, mega yacht owner, gold mining magnate,(Barrick Gold Mines), realized the great possibilities for this part of the island. It didn’t take Munk too long before he purchased, a major slice of the island. There are various tales how Munk made the quick decision about this area, one being that he saw this remarkable landscape from a helicopter while with a government official and said “I’ll take it”. The other is less extravagant. A government official knowing his visionary aspect, wealth and also his very comprehensive knowledge in many areas, plus his affluent friends, Munk would be the perfect candidate with his futuristic view, to make this a most important luxury tourism.
Tourism is important especially for poor countries and here is a destination with major shops, 80 suite deluxe hotel which will be completed in 2014, extraordinary sea side villas, a old ship yard building now a naval museum with hundreds of 100 year old shipping objects, an old submarine as its centerpiece, and, of course, the finest food stores and restaurants. Even in the incomplete state, a thriving, posh area with smartly casually chic dressed property owners or, off their yachts for either the day or more, filled the buzzing, streets with their electric energy and joie de vivre.
And a positive for those who are camera shy, it will be almost impossible for the paparazzi with even the longest lenses to snap photos of the rich and powerful. Privacy is key to this lavish resort.
And as the ads attest to this sanctuary by the sea designer “by yachtsmen for yachtsmen”, the area has become the “it” playpen for the extremely rich and powerful and a mooring place for some of the world’s largest yachts bored by the Riviera, Caribbean and other once top marina but lacked privacy, have found a new playground.
The now completed pool area is of major importance since it is stunningly beautiful. The black and white design is beyond any in a ‘Best of the Best’ book. White sofas, tables, great cabanas surround the pool and bar. Small tots are separated in the 64 metre pool by a most unique designed black open-wood frame, The large square is the perfect framing not only for the mountains and sea but the passing boats.
And that was the first delicious ‘taste’ of the rest of the trip’s destinations.
Back on the Seabourn Spirt there are enough public spaces for private time. The Library/ Reading Room, Business Centre, casino, a fine boutique, hair and spa salons, a small whirlpool a few decks below from the pool area. And since it’s such a small and costly ship, perhaps that’s the reason there were no children although there’s no mandate about not having them aboard. And there’s also no children’s’ program. So, no splashing or squealing does have its advantages.
The two sea days were filled with activities, for those who were interested and seeking some brain simulation. Trivial Pursuits turned into a great competition to win the Seabourn visor which seemed to the winners, a solid gold souvenir. Another evening my small group won at ‘Liars’ and we came away with a treasured pen, always useful when you’re a writer- again, an amusing, delightful hour.
Evenings, also included entertainment. The lecture about our destinations was far from interesting and that basic information could easily be found on Wikipedia or other internet sites. But that was the only glitch made up for by a great comedian, also a Canadian flutist and a on-staff guitarist.
The next port of call, Corfu, Greece, was so crowded and the sunny, 40c had many of the ship’s guests rushing back to our private, quite ship.(shuttle service to the port was always available). There didn’t seem to be any economical hardship in Greece. Every cafe was filled. However, discovering an old synagogue was worth the stay and the discussion with one of the 60 Jews who still live here and was convincing there is no anti-semitism. However, when a friend asked directions, the cafe owner, said, “I’m not your servant. Hitler was the best”.
Dubrovnik, Croatia, again this being August, was a mob scene with barely walking space as was glorious historic city of Split. It’s imperative, no matter the weather, to see the Diocletian’s Palace, now fronted with seaside cafes and boutiques.
Two most unexpected wonderful cities were the unexpected beauty of Lecce, Italy, famous for the sandstone known as pietra di Lecce and the amazing Baroque architecture and some of the ancient doors. The tour included seeing only a few of the 99 churches,the magnificent Baroque architecture. However, my guide pointed out to me privately, that the Basilica was originally a synagogue and this was the Jewish area. A large building, now an hotel, has a reminder to all with one room called, La Synagoga. The narrow street with very small shops were where the religious shawls were woven and made. Now there are souvenir shops.
And only the Seabourn could pull off having a home made Italian lunch on the private patio of an circa1800s palazzo then meeting the present owner whose family has owned this magnificent edifice for generations.
The next surprise was Rovini,(Rovinj) Croatia, with narrow cobble stoned streets filled with smart shops, cafes, a very busy marina and houses painted in the most amusing hues of pink, blue, yellow.
Returning to the welcoming staff of Seabourn Spirit was like returning to the warmth of a friend’s fine mansion on the sea. I am smitten by this memorable cruise and all that this small ship offered would fill many albums.