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Aboard the New <em>Seabourn Odyssey</em>

The Sun Terrace on the upper deck of the Odyssey, the latest cruise ship from the Yachts of Seabourn.

Photo: Katie Dunn

The new 650-foot Seabourn Odyssey is small. From the Sun Terrace on the top deck—an intimate, loungy sort of place with a few dozen woven wicker daybeds and a very intuitive staff (“Bellini?” the waiter asks; “Why, yes,” I reply)—it feels like you have the place to yourself. As we sail off into the Adriatic and the skyline of Venice fades from view, a stream of people keep stopping by to offer mini massages, chilled towels, fruit sorbet. I begin to wonder if this is how Jackie felt while she was being wined and dined on Aristotle Onassis’s Christina.

Indeed, the Yachts of Seabourn’s Odyssey calls to mind the elegance of another era. The Restaurant, a.k.a. the main dining room, evokes a Hollywood supper club with its dramatic billowing white curtains and 1940’s-style chairs. There’s an old-school shuffleboard court and a miniature putting green. In Seabourn Square—a multiuse area that is the social nerve center of the ship—vintage black-and-white nautical photographs hang on the walls and coffee-table books about the heyday of cruising line the shelves. Passengers gather around the café’s Art Deco mahogany bar, sipping espressos and comparing notes on who was wearing what at the black-tie dinner the previous night. (On such a small vessel, everyone gets to know everyone else pretty quickly.)

At a time when the word luxury has been practically vilified, the Odyssey embraces it: Hermès soaps in the bathrooms; personalized stationery for every guest; a private diamond showroom. The spa takes things to another level, with a thalassotherapy pool and two enormous suites that you can rent out for the day. The treatments range from a Lime & Ginger Salt Glow to a Bamboo Massage to—cue Shirley Bassey’s theme song from Goldfinger—a 24-Karat-Gold Facial. In the name of reporting, I splurge on this $325 indulgence that really is straight out of a Bond flick, with sheets of gold leaf applied to my skin. It’s akin to being in a desert, but apparently this is the intended effect: the precious metal tightens and smoothes out lines and removes toxins. Granted, the facial is a novelty that seems more Trump than Astor—but it gives me something to talk about while chatting with other guests over macaroons at afternoon tea.

The real luxury of the Odyssey, though, is its intimate scale. There are no ice-skating rinks, wave pools, or ziplines here—none of the over-the-top offerings of much larger ships. Seabourn is taking a different tack, with a trio of small vessels launching during the next three years that fuse old-world glamour and new-world amenities. The Odyssey has just 225 suites, each with its own veranda, along with four restaurants, six bars and lounges, three shops, and a casino.

“It’s a yacht on steroids,” says Pamela Conover, president and CEO of Seabourn. “It has more of the options that people are looking for, but is small enough to provide personalized service and areas where you can go off and feel like you’re sitting on your own private yacht.”

There’s also an element of daring in the Seabourn formula: chef Charlie Palmer, of New York’s Aureole, has brought innovation and verve to all of the ship’s restaurants. He uses Restaurant 2 as his own personal laboratory, working with his team to create dishes that will eventually be served in the main dining room. Some of the concoctions are rather adventurous—lobster with pesto cream, red-pepper fondue, and lime froth, for example—but that’s the intent. “It’s experimental,” Palmer says. “If you don’t like risk, it’s not the place for you.”

Seabourn is innovating in the service arena by hiring a young and charming staff to attend to your every need—and then some. At the buffet lunch, a staffer stands guard while I try to decide between the sesame-crusted ahi tuna loin and the roast pork, then insists on carrying the dish to the table for me, something I’m quite capable of doing myself, actually. In the main dining room, an attendant takes my arm and escorts me to the table when I arrive and when I come back from the powder room. Had I wanted it, the staff would have come to my stateroom and drawn a rose-petal bath in the deep sunken tub—and probably offered to help dry me off, too. (I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea.) The nonstop attention can sometimes be a bit much.

On the other hand, the Odyssey is catering to a crowd that likes a lot of fuss. They like the fact that Seabourn can close down the ruins of Ephesus for a night to offer a private torchlit concert just for passengers. Or that they can hire a personal shopper to take them around Vietnam’s markets, followed by lunch with a journalist at the Hanoi Press Club. And how about “Caviar in the Surf,” where uniformed waiters wade into the water carrying silver trays of champagne and caviar? Now that’s the kind of fuss I like.

The Odyssey sails the Caribbean this November and December. On January 5, it heads off on a 108-day world cruise (Tahiti, Dubai, Hong Kong, and more), then returns to the Adriatic and Mediterranean for spring and summer 2010 sailings. 800/929-9391; seabourn.com; seven-night itineraries from $3,799 per person, double.

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