Cruise Guide: Seabourn offers small-plate culinary experience

By Michael Coleman

Smaller portioned cuisine options await guests aboard the yacht-like ships of Seabourn, a cruise line big on luxury. 

The company, operators of three elegant vessels – the 208-guest Pride, Spirit and Legend – has also unveiled a series of exotic global itineraries through 2008 punctuated by indulgences that cruise savvy travelers have come to expect from Seabourn.

The line is the first, however, to feature this multi-course, small-plate dining experience at sea but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the concept becomes mainstream especially in the competitive luxury cruise market.

“Seabourn’s guests are very sophisticated diners,” said Seabourn’s president, Deborah Natansohn. “They have experienced the way many of today’s chefs are fusing ideas from Spanish tapas and French menus degustation and Asian multi-course traditions to create diverse, interesting meals, and they expect to find the same sort of inventive cuisine on our ships.” 

Dubbed “Tastings @ 2” – “2” is Seabourn’s casual, alternative onboard dining venue – the line actually expanded its galleys to accommodate two chefs working simultaneously to prepare and plate the dozens of dishes that will make up each meal.

“It’s a culinary symphony,” said menu designer, Anton “Tony” Egger, Seabourn’s corporate executive chef. “Like a complex musical composition of tastes and textures, I am able to mix and match, highlight one dish or serve an assortment of flavors to be tasted together. By serving more than one dish per course, I create a multitude of flavors and sensations in a single meal of five or six courses.”

The dining venue “2”, located atop each vessel in the casual indoor/outdoor Veranda Cafe, accommodates about 50 guests each night, by reservation. Guests can also enjoy the award-winning onboard cuisine designed by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer and served in each ship’s main, open-seating dining venue: The Restaurant.

The small-plate dining option is just one of many onboard perks awaiting guests as part of the line’s Signature Delights program which includes complimentary spirits, wines and French champagne throughout each cruise; free massage moments for guests on deck; therapeutic bathing selections from Molton Brown, and a complimentary shoreside experience on every cruise.

Guests will also enjoy special Seabourn services, among them: Vintage Seabourn, a premium wines pre-purchase package; Seabourn to a Tea, an upgraded menu of rare estate teas; and Seabourn’s Personal Shopper, a program which provides luxury cars and specialized shopping guides in various ports. Additionally, an insider tip program created exclusively for Seabourn from the pages of Conde Nast Traveler magazine features the latest information about attractions, suggested lunch spots, popular bars, unique experiences, shopping tips and more for guests who wish to customize their own port activities through the ships’ onboard concierge.

Nice touches when you consider that the fleet will soon embark on a 15-month, 125-cruise schedule, calling on some 225 ports in 64 countries between January 2007 and April 2008.

New for 2007 are several “Sail & Stay” packages combining cruises with luxurious pre- and post-cruise extensions in Hong Kong, Singapore, Istanbul and Athens. In the first quarter of 2007, look for Spirit to return to China after an extended absence, with a nine-day voyage round trip from Hong Kong including a three-day stay in Shanghai. Legend, meanwhile, will cruise northward from Caldera, Costa Rica to Los Angeles on a pair of 10-day voyages exploring Guatemala and the Mexican Riviera. Pride will repeat her popular circuit of South America featuring a 72-day odyssey that is available in segments from seven to 18 days.

Mediterranean voyages aboard Spirit and Legend in 2007 will feature calls along the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic, such as Split and Zadar in Croatia and Kotor Fjord in Montenegro. Monopoli, in Italy’s southern Puglia region, and the volcanic Aeolian island of Lipari are new port calls in 2007, as is Tarragona in Spain. Also new in 2007 is a European visit to Belle-Ile-en-Mer off the coast of Brittany.

Seabourn Pride’s fall foliage cruises sail 10 days between Gloucester, Massachusetts and Montreal, Quebec, in 2007, and include Summerside, Prince Edward Island, St. Pierre & Miquelon and St. John, New Brunswick.

Cruise Guide: Godmothers symbolize the romance of ocean travel

By Michael Coleman

Female monarchs, heads of state, legendary actresses, world-class athletes, comedians, astronauts and even an animated film character have been named godmother for many of today’s new, gleaming cruise ships. And, like the ship itself, the godmother’s name will live forever in maritime history. 

The task is relatively simple, but the rigors of the job became obviously apparent in 2002 when Dame Judi Dench became affectionately known as Dame Judi ”Drench” when the champagne bottle she was attempting to break on the hull of Carnival Legend – on the third attempt, no less – soaked the Oscar-winning British actress and Captain Claudio Cupisti.

When Martha Stewart served as godmother to Crown Princess during the vessel’s official naming ceremony in New York this week, she joined an elite sorority of women whose sole role is to bring good luck to ships and the passengers who sail on them.

“Christenings evoke the sophistication and romance of ocean travel that are integral elements of the cruise experience,” said Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the marketing arm for 20 premier cruise lines and nearly 17,000 North American travel agencies. So, when Ms. Stewart presided over the vessel at the new Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, she was in good company.

While some might question the wisdom of the choice based on Stewart’s recent and well-publicized legal troubles, she still built a professional career unlike no other business woman in modern history and for that received a place among Time Magazine’s “America’s 25 Most Influential People,” Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women” (twice), Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment List of the Top 50 Leaders of the Information Age,” and Forbes’ Annual 400 List.

Stewart also joined a heady list of luminaries who christened Princess Cruises’ ships over the years including the late Princess Diana of Wales, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, the first lady of Alaska, Nancy Murkowski and Mireya Mossoco, president of Panama. The cast of The Love Boat, the popular TV show filmed aboard Princess ships, also served as godmother to Dawn Princess in 1997.

The 2004 christening of Queen Mary 2 by Queen Elizabeth II, meanwhile, followed an established tradition under which a senior female member of the royal family names Cunard Line ships. The original Queen Mary was named by Queen Mary, wife of King George V, in 1934. Queen Elizabeth was launched by the late Queen Mother, then Queen Elizabeth, in 1938. QE2 was named by the current Queen in 1967.

Christening ceremonies, however, haven’t always been smooth. As noted, it took British actress Dame Judi Dench three attempts to smash a bottle of champagne against the hull of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Legend in 2002. In her last attempt, she soaked herself, thus earning the nickname Dame Judi ”Drench.” 

Actress Mira Sorvino, Newswomen Paula Zahn and Katie Couric, retired Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch and astronauts Tamara Jernigan and Sally Ride have also been godmothers at Carnival.

Luxury operator Crystal Cruises has chosen legendary actresses as godmothers over the years. Acclaimed singer and actress Dame Julie Andrews served as Crystal Serenity’s godmother at a Southampton, England, ceremony in 2004. Angela Lansbury had the honor of christening Crystal Symphony in 1995. In 1990, Mary Tyler Moore named the line’s Crystal Harmony, which has since been transferred to parent company NYK Line.

In an industry first, Tinker Bell christened Disney Wonder in 1999, marking the first time an animated character was named as a godmother. She not only released the bottle of champagne against the hull but also sprinkled pixie dust on the ship thanks, of course, to the Disney magic of laser projection.

Royal Caribbean, through a partnership with NBC’s Today show, launched a national search for the godmother of its new Freedom of the Seas, the world’s largest passenger vessel. Katherine Calder of Oregon, a foster mother to over 400 children, won the honor and christened the vessel last month. Other Royal Caribbean godmothers have included Queen Sonja of Norway, Lauren Bacall, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan and former first lady Rosalynn Carter. 

Ceremonies have come a long way since the Vikings marked ship christenings with human sacrifices and high priest charms designed to appease the gods.