My No. 1 requirement for a winter getaway: An easy escape. Schlepping out to JFK for the first leg of a trip isn’t my idea of fun. A much better option: Catch the 8 am JetBlue flight out of Westchester County Airport to Fort Lauderdale; you’ll be on your ship sipping rum punches on the aft deck by noon. As my mom and I approached the Seabourn Sojourn at the port, dwarfed by the behemoths on either side of it, the cab driver was skeptical. “Is that your ship? It’s so small.” Yes, it was our ship, and exactly what we wanted. With only 225 cabins, all suites, it was just the right size for a relaxed yet luxurious sailing experience.
Rule No. 2: Know what I’m paying for up-front. With Seabourn, all beverages are included, even at your in-suite bar (where you can order bottles of wine and top-shelf liquor); there are no extra charges for dining in certain restaurants, where you can eat when and with whomever you choose. There isn’t even any tipping while aboard the ship, for heaven’s sake. The staff—who hail from the Netherlands, South Africa, Romania, Peru, Argentina, Ukraine, and other far-flung locales—treat guests exceedingly nicely because, well, they are all exceedingly nice people. No wonder the majority of our fellow passengers were repeat cruisers. Indeed, Seabourn has been voted World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line by the readers of both Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler too many times to count.
Throughout the ship, we found so many unexpected small touches of luxury: flowers and a welcoming bottle of Champagne in our stateroom, along with a menu of exotic soaps and toiletries; tuxedoed escorts to lead us to our table in the main dining room.
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The aptly named The Restaurant is the main, and most formal, dining room; Restaurant 2 is a smaller dinner-only venue with an elaborate tasting menu paired with wines. The manager stopped by to chat; a server commented on my mom’s “beautiful” smile; our delightful waitress gave us a synopsis of each course, along with the chef’s instructions to eat from left to right. The main course: drunken rockfish and braised veal “hugged” by mascarpone mashed potatoes. Each tiny bite was as delicious as it was beautifully presented.
We quickly settled on The Colonnade as our favorite lunch spot, where we could select from a buffet or order off the menu. After our first visit, we were greeted by name by the maître d’, the captain, and at least four servers who insisted on escorting us to our table; one each took our arms, the other two carried our salad plates, and a fifth offered to carry my sunglasses. They sang to us, joked, and were totally charming; we were totally smitten. And, of course, everything tastes better while sitting outside under a pale blue sky, watching the wake churning turquoise as we headed toward the next destination.
At each port of call, guests can buy an excursion package from Seabourn for activities ranging from walking tours to zip-lining and snorkeling expeditions, or they can go off on their own. We chose the latter in Antigua, disembarking to the beat of a steel-drum band playing “Silent Night” and visited art galleries and boutiques along with open-air markets filled with standard island tchotchkes.
My favorite excursion was to Isla Catalina in the Dominican Republic, the prettiest picture-postcard beach I’ve ever seen: white sand dotted with palm trees shading the chaises already filled with early arrivals. The scent of lobster and steak grilling for our beach barbecue was as intoxicating as the seemingly endless supply of brightly hued drinks—blue, red, banana yellow—offered by waiters at every turn. For those who wanted a little snack before lunch, there was a caviar station set up on a surfboard, with waiters standing by—yes, in the water. You could just wade into the sea for a scrumptious taste of it.
When not in port, guests can choose to work out, attend lectures, seminars, and cooking classes; play trivia or bridge; listen to live music at numerous venues; go dancing; take in a comedy or magic show; or just relax in general (I whiled away many lazy hours in the spa). There was also a library and computer area with an adjoining coffee shop where guests could mingle.
On the last evening, there was a farewell party with yet more caviar—more than 29 pounds of the stuff was served on this cruise—Champagne, even shots of vodka. The entire staff lined the railing of the upper deck, then marched down to meet us to the tune of “We Are Family”—and it honestly felt like that. As the sun set that night, a line bisected the horizon, neatly dividing paradise and the return to the real world.
Details: A 12-day Caribbean cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey with seven ports of call departs Nov 9 and 21 and Dec 3 from Fort Lauderdale; prices start at $4,999 per person, inclusive of everything except taxes, fees, and port expenses. Contact: www.seabourn.com