Category Archives: Seabourn Cruise: Jan 2011

Crossing the Equator – Seabourn Style

Begging for mercy from King Neptune

Are you a Pollywog or a Shellback?

Well if you have crossed the Equator before then Neptune would deem you to be a trusted Shellback.  If you have not crossed, however, then you are nothing but a slimy Pollywog and will be summoned to Neptune’s court for punishment.

I had heard of this ceremony from my father who served many years in the Royal Navy.   Actually witnessing the ceremony is something else.  The newbies on the crew (pollywogs) who had been chosen to be  initiated were a bit nervous about what to expect.  And they were justified in this.  King Neptune came aboard and dished out punishments irrespective of whether the accused cried out “Not Guilty”.

“What shall the punishment be?” he shouted out to the crowd.  “The Barber or the Butcher?”.  Both these good “gentlemen” were waiting at the pool side suitably armed with saws and giant razors all covered with large quantities of tomato sauce for effect.  The butcher was equipped with scrubs, a stethoscope and great buckets of spaghetti (posing to be innards) plus the odd chicken bone. 

The butcher operates

It was great entertainment all round with the Captain joining in.  At the end of the punishment a whole fish was presented to the poor pollywog and the crowd chanted – Kiss the Fish, Kiss the Fish.  If you are interested you can read more detail of this old naval ceremony on wikipedia.  Believe it or not, it dates back hundreds of years. 

Yes I kissed the fish

Luckily only the pollywog crew were picked on – none of the guests.  We did however receive a great certificate signed by the Captain which will be proudly displayed over my desk.

Sadly this was to be my last day on Seabourn.  I have not been on a cruise where I felt so much part of the family – both fellow guests and staff.  We made some wonderful new acquaintances and met people from so many different and interesting walks of life.  The ship is so intimate there is always the opportunity to exchange stories about our home towns, children and grandchildren.  The staff and crew are exceptional.  There is no other word for it and the reason why Seabourn consistently receives so many awards :  such as

Best for Luxury – 2010 Editors’ Picks Awards Winner, Cruise Critic;
Best Small Ship – Seabourn Odyssey -2010, Porthole Magazine Reader’s Choice Award;
World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line – Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, 2010;
World’s Best Small-Ship Line – Travel + Leisure annual World’s Best Awards, 2010;
 “Gold List” Condé Nast Traveler for 12 consecutive years

But don’t just believe me – or them – just go do it.  You’ll be glad you did.

Jean de Freitas from South Africa - our lovely cabin stewardess

Sea days – Day 7 on Seabourn

My favourite cruising days are sea days.  I have had many clients who want maximum number of port stops on their itinerary and when I tell them how much I love sea days they are usually puzzled.  So let’s go through a typical sea day (like yesterday Day 7 on my Seabourn cruise).

9.30 am – mmm I think I am awake.  This gentle rocking and gorgeously comfortable bed makes for late sleeps in the morning.  But there’s places to go – people to see – so out of bed, quick shower and up to Seabourn Square for my morning cup of Americano.

Breakfast on the back deck

10.00 am – breakfast on the back deck at the Colonnade Restaurant.  Ah there’s a table for 2 overlooking the wake.  Rosa (from Spain) is there waiting – with coffee pot in hand and news about today’s specials for breakfast.  Eggs Benedict?  No – I think I will stick to the fresh fruit and muesli.  Time to read the paper or maybe just time to stare out at the miles and miles of sea surrounding us.

11.00 am – back to the cabin to freshen up.  Fire up the laptop, check emails, do my blog.  But what’s this?  A whole herd (is that the right word) of sea birds.  Actually I think it is a flock.  They are racing the ship and are level with our balcony.  Next there are flying fish – hundreds of them.  It’s the seabirds’ breakfast buffet.  The birds get so close to us they are looking right into our cabin – enviously I think.

Racing the ship

1.00 pm – is it that time already?  Back up to the Colonnade for lunch.  Ah yes – another lovely table for 2 in a sheltered spot.  Oh yes please, I would love a glass of champagne. 

2.00 pm – back down to the cabin, another quick check of emails, pick up my book and up to the pool deck.  I bag the big comfortable double sofa with tons of cushions and settle down to read my book.  Anything I might need is available from the attentive staff on duty – more champagne, iced towels, sun tan lotion – even special wipes for my sunglasses.  

That's my place!

3.00 pm – zzzzzzzzzz

4.00 pm – down to the theatre to hear another lecture on our next destination.

6.00 pm – getting ready for cocktails and dinner.  First stop is the Observation Bar where Nick the pianist does a really good Frank Sinatra.  Then off to dinner.

10.00 pm – another fabulous show in the theatre with top class singers and dancers, classical soloists and more.

Really?  Who has time to be bored?

A hike in the rainforest – day 6

In the rainforest

Panama has had record rainfall these last few weeks – in fact the Panama Canal itself was closed for almost a day early in December; something that has only happened 4 times in its history. Despite misgivings that I might be consigning myself to a muddy walk through snake infested jungle, I signed up for the rainforest hike as our shore excursion out of Panama. I had heard that there is some excellent duty free shopping in Panama City and had been a little tempted by this but the opportunity to try and see some Howler Monkeys won in the end. I thought I was reasonably well kitted out in my shorts, running shoes and cap (liberally sprayed with Deep Woods OFF) but some of my fellow passengers really looked like they had stepped out of a Hemingway novel called Last of the Great White Explorers. I began to think that I was ill-prepared for this expedition. I need not have worried – it was all quite civilised, if a little damp. The only down side was the long transfer time – over an hour of driving. Was there not a bit of jungle rainforest a little closer I wondered?

Embera crafts

 Our rainforest walk was very interesting. We saw several sloth – some three toed and other two toed. They are not too difficult to spot as they don’t move much – in fact some of them move so little their coats were covered with green algae. Our guide, Luis, was accompanied by one of the Embera Indians. He pointed out the plants and leaves they use for local healing – including one which apparently does the job of Viagra. Apparently you soak this in whisky overnight and then strain and drink. Didn’t Shakespeare say something about provoking the desire and inhibiting the performance. At the end of our tour some of the local Embera women had laid out their wares and of course we all bought something. The Emberas are completely different to the Kuna people we met on San Blas islands. But like the Kuna they are gentle people with soft smiles and quite shy.

Walking through the rainforest with our little guide

 While the colonial towns and monuments of Central America are no doubt fascinating – to me it has been the contact with the indigenous people of the area that has been the highlight.

Through the Panama Canal

Now I have always said that transiting the Panama Canal is a “guy thing” but honestly, the history is fascinating and I must thank Nicki Sepsas, our Seabourn onboard lecturer, who

Seabourn Odyssey entering the locks

took us through the trials and the tribulations of the building of the canal. After the French effort of the late 1800’s failed miserably with thousands dead of tropical diseases and millions of dollars of investors’ funds lost, the United States stepped in to complete the project.

For anyone planning to do this journey it is worthwhile to read the story and also to make sure to attend the lectures on your cruise ship. It makes the journey so much more meaningful. Fascinating trivia – did you know Paul Gauguin, the famous painter, actually worked construction on the canal for a short time before being thrown out for publicly urinating in the street? He maintained that the whole place was a sewer anyway – so what was the problem. He left Panama and went to Tahiti and the rest, as they say, is history.

Gatun Lake - right in the middle of the Canal

 We started entering the canal at 6 am – an early start for sure but Seabourn staff were there with coffee, breakfast, mimosas etc. After going through the first two locks and upon entering Gatun Lake we all dashed off en masse for breakfast. You would think we have been feed on bread and water over the last few days! After that – compulsory bed rest for two hours until we started the transit through the next set of locks. Boy this Panama thing sure takes it out of you!

At the locks

Exotic Central America

I feel liked I just stepped out of a page of Gulliver’s Travels.  Today I met some of the Kuna Indians living on the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama … and they are TINY! 

The tiny ladies of San Blas islands - the Kuna Indians

This is not an oft-visited spot – certainly not your usual cruise port stop.  In fact the Captain told us today that because the infrastructure of the islands is not developed Seabourn have made a policy of not putting together any organised tours because they simply wouldn’t be up to the Seabourn standard.  Nevertheless, tenders were running all day from our ship at anchor out to one of the larger islands so we could visit and maybe shop a little.

Most of my money was spent on photographs.  You have to pay to take a photo of someone – and you know that’s absolutely fine with me.  We have so much and these people have so little – the least we can do for taking away their image is to leave them a dollar. 

Mom is that a parakeet on my head?

 Even the littlest children have the phrases all down pat “One dollar – picture”.  Oh man, and they are so cute – you just can’t resist doling out dollars left, right and centre.

Very serious

Not only are they cute – they are also pretty smart.  They know the way to the a tourist’s heart.  The kids have brought out their pets and even in some cases dressed them up.  Little kittens with dresses (I am not joking), and numerous chirping parakeets – some tendered and some not.  Even a monkey or two.

It made me really think about what the Spanish thought when they first invaded the coast of Panama and came face to face with these fascinating people.  History tells us what the Kuna Indians thought – they jumped straight into their dug-outs and headed for the San Blas islands to take refuge. 

A matriach from San Blas Islands

Today some of the San Blas islands offer overwater bungalows and rustic style accommodation for snorkellers and divers and those who want to take a trip down the road less travelled.  Whatever your choice it is a fascinating stop.

But … being spoilt …. I was happy to take the tender back to my lovely Seabourn to find my bed prepared for the night with rose petals sprinkled on the duvet……….  Oh did I mention I am spoilt?

Food fit for a king

Let’s be clear – I love food.  Sometimes I feel this is my downfall.  I have found however on Seabourn that you can eat extravagantly in a healthy manner – if this is not an oxymoron.  The emphasis is on fresh fruit, vegetables and fish, the finest cuts of meat and small portions elegantly arranged and prepared.  This doesn’t preclude you from having “seconds” if you feel like it. 

A coffee bar to rival Starbucks at Seabourn Square

The menu features a “light selection” which includes all the healthy choices such as baked fish, sugar-free desserts and green salads.  Never fear – there is a great selection of hip-padding options on the full menu and if you have a will to put on those extra pounds you can do it easily and in style.

Those little extras that you only see occasionally on other cruise lines are common fare on a Seabourn; lobster, crab, shrimp, caviar and truffles to name but a few.  Menu choices are prepared fresh and served piping hot.  Little touches such as lemon squeezed over fish dishes at the table add to the touches.  I enjoyed an excellent Caesar salad complete with handmade dressing, sliced parmesan and an abundance of anchovies.  OK I realise that probably cost me about 15 points but what the heck – I can do Weight Watchers at home, right?

Lunch on Seabourn - grilled fish, fresh asparagus and cold sauvignon blanc

Dinner tables are sumptuously laid with damask linen, crystal glasses, large charger plates and silver cutlery.  I was interested to notice the hallmarks on the silver spoons and forks.  Sitting in the dining room was more akin to being in a smart New York restaurant with plush drapes, a bevy of more than attentive servers and a laid back comfortable ambiance.  Want to dine romantically?  Tables for two abound but if you choose to dine just a deux then a table for four will be magically transformed just for you.   And how’s this for service.  Last night at dinner upon seeing my black dress my server insisted upon getting me a black serviette rather than a white so I wouldn’t have lint on my dress.  Wow – that’s good!

To finish off your meal tiny little temptations are presented in the form of miniature  tarts and other such tastings.  Well at least they are small.  Don’t they say that if you eat it while nobody is looking it doesn’t count?

A word about bathrooms….

Is there any other room more private, more personal and more sacred than the bathroom?  It’s the place where we patch up the ravages of time with cosmetic promises, the place where we soak off the aches, pains and frustrations of a long day or perhaps just the place we shower off the salt and sand of a day at the beach.

Gorgeous bathrooms

So …. It’s got to be nice.  In fact it’s got to be lovely and special.  Seabourn hit the nail on the head with it’s bathrooms on the Odyssey.  No matter what category of suite you have – window, balcony or penthouse – all bathrooms feature a separate tub and shower as well as a double vanity.  The shower is a corner unit with a well fitting glass door.  That’s right – have you been on one of those cruises with shower curtains?  Ugh – nothing feels as bad as that cold wet plastic slap on the behind.  Personally I think shower curtains should be banned – but we don’t have to worry about that on Seabourn.  The shower is equipped with a modern contraption of hand held shower and overhead shower.  The water is hot and the pressure is strong.  Go carefully – when I first switched on I felt like a protester at a G8 summit under fire from a water cannon.  These are exactly the same shower units as on the AMAWaterways river cruises and the cruise director promised that they might seem complicated at first but after a week you will want to install one at home.  All true.

For tub-loving folk who love pampering  just ask your suite stewardess to prepare one of the Molton Brown pure pampering experiences.  Fabulous names for these treatments such as The Heavenly Gingerlily Bath or the Yuan Zhi Peacemaker Bath (is that for after you’ve had a row with your significant other?).

Another great feature of the bathrooms on the Odyssey is that the walk in closet is in between the bathroom and the bedroom thus providing a buffer of privacy.  No need to lie there in bed at night listening to your lovey’s ablutions.

Yes I love my Seabourn suite