As Seabourn Ovation slipped its mooring lines and moved slowly away from the dock at Genoa's Fincantieri shipyard, Captain Stig Betten made a formal but emotional statement. "It gives me great pride to announce that our final departure preparations are complete, and we will embark on Voyage No. 1 of our beautiful Seabourn Ovation.
"It has been my privilege and honour to take charge of this wonderful creation. On behalf of the officers and crew, we salute the good people of Fincantieri shipyard. We now depart from the yard where our ship was born and welcome her into her new lifetime bearing the flag of Seabourn. It is a once-in-a-lifetime event for a ship. And for all of us, a moment we shall remember … and treasure."
This moment marks both the culmination of Seabourn Ovation's four-year design and build journey and the beginning of its career at sea. Seabourn's fifth ship was ordered at Fincantieri shipyard in December 2014. Construction began on June 7, 2016, with the cutting of the first piece of steel, the first of several stages of shipbuilding traditionally marked by ceremonies attended by VIPs from the shipyard and the ship's eventual owners. It belongs to the shipyard until the day it's handed over – in Ovation's case, three days before we set sail.
The keel was laid in December 2016 – the official first step in the ship's construction. In the days of wooden ships, the keel was the central "spine" of the vessel that had the hull attached to it; modern cruise ships are constructed in modules and the keel-laying ceremony is held when the first module is placed in the dock.
Nine months later, the "coin and launch" ceremony was held at the shipyard, to celebrate the first time the ship hits the water. Following maritime traditions, a "madrina" (godmother) presided over the event; long-time Seabourn employee and cruise director Jan Stearman did the honours. Stearman, Captain Betten, Seabourn's president Richard Meadows and Fincantieri's shipyard director Paolo Capobianco witnessed the welding of two commemorative gold coins to the ship's mast, then Stearman cut the ship's cord to allow water to flow into the dock.
About 1700 people were involved in building Seabourn Ovation. By the time we boarded the ship, Seabourn's technical team had been on site for a year and the marine and hotel teams for six months. All crew and officers moved on board three weeks before. Even though this is a small ship – 600 passengers and 330 crew at full capacity – it is a massive logistical operation.
By the time you read this, Elaine Paige will have christened Seabourn Ovation in Valletta, and the ship will be sailing into its maiden season in inimitable Seabourn style.
Sally Macmillan was a guest of Seabourn.
THE PORT Genoa, Italy
WHO GOES THERE Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Disney, Fred.Olsen, MSC, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean.
WHY WE LOVE IT Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa (although other countries claim him as well), it was an important maritime trading centre for centuries and it enjoys a scenic location between rolling hills and the Ligurian Sea. However, while the Porto Antico (Old Port) area has been rejuvenated and its historic centre is packed with intact architectural gems, the city remains one of Italy's busiest, unvarnished working ports.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Cruise ships dock within walking distance of Porto Antico and the old city, across a busy highway. Within the old city, wander around winding laneways (with a map) and check out the Piazza de Ferrari, Palazzi dei Rolli – a magnificent complex of 42 UNESCO-listed former palaces – and go on a shopping spree in Via XX Settembre. More energetic walkers can take the Zecca Righi funicular railway to the hills beyond the city for hikes with incredible sea views.
MUST SEE Musei di Strada Nuova, located in three of the Palazzi dei Rolli, for its collection of old masters; Cathedral of San Lorenzo; the Aquarium, one of the biggest in Europe; the Bigo lift, designed by Genoese architect Renzo Piano, for city views 40 metres above sea level.
MUST EAT Genoese specialities include pesto, plain and savoury focaccia, several varieties of filled pasta, torta pasqualina (vegetable pies), cima (stuffed veal in broth), vegetable minestrone alla Genovese and farinata, a pancake made from chickpea flour. Regional fish and seafood dishes include cappon magro, an elaborate salad topped with lobster. Genoa is famous for its Christmas pandolce fruit cakes.
NEED TO KNOW Most museums are closed on Mondays, along with several attractions and restaurants in Porto Antico. Shops are closed on Monday mornings and many close between 12.30pm and 3.30pm every day. Big department stores are open all day.
New York radio personality Elvis Duran will officially name Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Cruise Line's 16th ship, in Seattle, on May 30.
Evergreen goes to sea
Evergreen Cruises & Tours' 2019 brochure introduces a seven-night cruise along the Dalmatian Coast on the new 36-passenger motor-yacht MV Adriatic Princess II, along with classic European river cruises and some intriguing new combination itineraries. The Dalmatian coastal cruise is combined with a land tour of Dubrovnik, Opatija, Lake Bled, Zagreb, Budapest and more, over 16 days. Evergreen is also offering limited departures of a 19-day itinerary that links a 10-day Russian river cruise between St Petersburg and Moscow with a nine-day Lower Danube cruise from Passau, Germany, to Budapest on one of the company's popular Emerald Star-Ships. Or you can cruise Portugal's Douro river for eight days then join an eight-day cruise from Lyon to Arles, in the South of France – and more options are available. See evergreentours.com.au
Paul Gauguin 2019
Paul Gauguin Cruises has been operating the luxury ship Paul Gauguin since 1998 and it is the longest continually operating year-round cruise ship in the South Pacific. It has an on-board watersports marina, three restaurants, a pool and spa. The 332-passenger ship's popular crew includes Gauguines and Gauguins – local Tahitians who entertain guests with dances and storytelling – and the passenger/guest ratio is one of the highest on any luxury cruise ship. The company's 2019 Voyages brochure features its most sought-after itineraries: the seven-night Tahiti and Society Islands, 10-night Society Islands and Tuamotus, 11-night Cook Islands and Society Islands, and 14-night Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands. The ship is also returning to Fiji, offering 12-night and 13-night Fiji, Tonga, Cook and Society Islands cruises. See pgcruises.com