Luxury line Seabourn started life in 1988 as Signet Cruise Lines (the name was quickly changed after a legal challenge) with two ships on order; its first ship, the 208-passenger Seabourn Pride, was christened by Shirley Temple Black in December, and the following year the identical Seabourn Spirit was launched. Over the following decades Seabourn experienced changes in ownership, presidents and shipbuilders and now, in 2018, the company is celebrating 30 years in the luxury cruise business.
Parties started across its four ships on January 1, but the biggest event of the year is the debut of its newest ultra-luxury vessel, Seabourn Ovation. Last month Seabourn Ovation completed its sea trials, sailing in the Mediterranean for four days at sea while a team of officers and engineers tested the ship's technical and mechanical systems; now it is back in the shipyard in Genoa while staff and workers put the finishing touches to the ship.
The next important stage in Ovation's career is the delivery ceremony on April 27, which marks the official handover of the ship from the shipyard to the cruise line. "We're now weeks away from delivery, and I'm very pleased with the progress and preparedness of the ship now that sea trials are complete," said Richard Meadows, president of Seabourn.
On April 25, Ovation will set sail from Genoa to Venice on its six-night "shakedown" cruise, the pre-maiden voyage during which the ship and crew are put through their paces before "revenue guests" step aboard. Ovation's will be the first shakedown cruise I've experienced so I'm looking forward to being the first person to sleep in my suite, sample the food in the restaurants and generally being a very willing human guinea pig. It promises to be an exciting learning curve for everyone on board.
Seabourn Ovation will begin her maiden season in the Mediterranean with an 11-day inaugural voyage from Venice to Barcelona. The ship's naming ceremony will take place on May 11, in the harbour of Valletta, Malta. Elaine Paige, one of the world's most highly acclaimed actors and singers, will serve as godmother and will name the ship during a spectacular ceremony that will light up the dramatic UNESCO World Heritage site and the 2018 European Capital of Culture.
"Seabourn's legendary service has the same DNA as a hit West End show: a dedicated cast of professionals who all come together to deliver a superb performance, whatever their role," said Page. "I can't wait to board the beautiful Seabourn Ovation and send her off into the world!" See seabourn.com
Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
WHO GOES THERE Aranui, HAL, Lindblad Expeditions, Paul Gauguin.
WHY WE LOVE IT Hiva Oa is the second-largest island (after Nuku Hiva) in the far-flung Marquesas, but at just 123 square kilometres it is still a tiny speck in the South Pacific. The picture-perfect tropical island is inhabited by about 2200 people and was the final home for French artist Paul Gauguin, who died there in 1903, and Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, who sailed there in 1975 and died three years later. Today's travellers are just as likely to fall in love with its serene atmosphere, lush landscapes and vestiges of French colonialism.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Most ships drop anchor in Atuona Bay, off Hiva Oa. One of the island's main attractions is Te Me'ae Teiipona, a significant archeological site near Puamau where you can see the largest tiki in French Polynesia; it is about two-and-a-half hours' drive from Atuona town and an organised guided tour is the best way to go as the roads are pretty rugged (views are spectacular though). Locally operated sightseeing tours include 4WD drives, half-day horse-riding trips, guided hikes and cycling tours. There are several ceremonial sites in the Taaoa Valley, closer to Atuona. Aranui Cruises uses local buses to ferry guests to Calvary Cemetery, where Gauguin and Brel are buried, and to the Paul Gauguin Cultural Centre. The centre features a replica of Gauguin's Maison du Jouir (House of Pleasure) and reproductions of many of his paintings. Behind the centre is the Brel Museum, set in an aircraft hangar where his plane JoJo is on display.
MUST SEE Hanaiapa, a picturesque village on the north coast where you can swim and snorkel.
MUST EAT Try Make Make, a small cafe-restaurant in Atuono, for a mix of local and Western food – poisson cru, curried goat, burgers; family-run Hoa Nui, for a Marquesan feast; Hotel Hanakee Hiva Oa Pearl Lodge, for posh French nosh.
NEED TO KNOW The official language is French, but indigenous languages, including Tahitian, are still spoken across the French Polynesian archipelagos. English is also used, especially in tourist areas.
Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas sails out of Sydney on April 17, marking the end of the 2017-18 Wave Season – Australia's biggest yet.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises has unveiled details of Seven Seas Splendor's lavish public spaces and suites ahead of the ship's 2020 arrival. Splendor is the sister ship to Seven Seas Explorer, which launched in 2016 as the "most luxurious ship ever built", and while it promises to be equally fabulous it will have some distinguishing features. The Grand Staircase will face the entrance to the ship's largest restaurant, Compass Rose and the popular Coffee Connection will be expanded with a new al fresco seating area. "With Seven Seas Splendor's upcoming debut, we are focused on perfecting all the details," said Jason Montague, president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Ten categories of suites range from the uber-luxury 413-square-metre Regent Suite to entry-level 28-square-metre Veranda Suites. See rssc.com
Starting this month, all guests on Silversea's nine ships will have access to unlimited free Wi-Fi. The luxury line is spending big bucks on its fleet: Silver Spirit is currently being "stretched" at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, an operation that involves cutting it in half, adding a new midsection, and refurbishing it from bow to stern. When Silver Spirit takes its first post-op cruise in May it will be nearly 15 metres longer, have a bigger pool, four new restaurants, Arts Cafe and a new spa. It will accommodate 608 guests, up from 540. Silver Cloud was transformed into an expedition ship last year and Silver Whisper is scheduled for a major makeover in December; meanwhile, Silver Moon, a sister ship to 2017's Silver Muse, is due in 2020. See silversea.com