Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Discovering St. Barts with Seabourn

I was excited to visit St. Bartholomew for the first time. I had heard this island was one of the most exclusive and beautiful in the Caribbean, and I was not disappointed.

I had breakfast at the Colonnade Restaurant on the Seabourn Sojourn. The views of the island were beautiful.

Even though I was heading to a French Island, I couldn’t resist an order of the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries (I found out later that there actually is a large Swedish population on St. Barts) and a side of scrambled eggs for protein.

St. Barts does not have a large enough pier so we needed to take a tender from the ship to the island. The ride was a bit choppy and I was glad to arrive in only a few minutes.

I had no doubt when I pulled up to the pier and faced the shops, with the Louis Vuitton sign facing me at first site, that St. Barts was enjoyed by the rich and famous. Since ours was the only ship in town and the island was just opening for the season, things were fairly quiet in town.

The Tourism Board of St. Barts had arranged for Claude to meet me at the pier and take me on a tour of the island. He told me how it was only 25 square kilometers, with 25,000 residents – and no unemployment. The season here is from November to April and most of the hotels and many restaurants close at least for September and October.

St. Barth Isle de France, as it is also known, is a very clean island with daily garbage and recycling. The land looked fairly lush even though it sometimes doesn’t rain here for six months. The beaches all have their own unique looks with some filled with corals and others over steep hills. Marigold Beach is known for its grey sand from volcanic ash and Shell Beach garners its name for the obvious reason.

It was quite a scenic drive up and around the mountain and I wanted to stop and visit as many beaches as possible for those “Kodak moments.” We also stopped along the road to see some see turtles nesting in front of Grand Fond beach.

I was also amazed by the airport runway that looked like it went right into the beach, almost like the experience in St. Maarten.

St. Barts has quite a few hotels and resorts, but house and villa rentals are the accommodation of choice by many, including celebrities like Selma Hayek and Jimmy Buffet, who will often play in a local bar.

Back at the pier I bid farewell to Claude and headed back to the Seabourn Sojourn. It had just started raining and I hoped it didn’t last.

I met Mom in the room and we headed down to lunch at the pool. I was craving a burger and fries and they made one perfectly. We then spent a few hours by the pool reading and resting.

For dinner in Restaurant 1, I enjoyed a Butternut Squash Broth with Sage Dumplings, the flavorful Potato Bonda Yogurt Dumplings and then the Toasted Angel Hair Pasta.

Mom picked the better choice for a main course, a tender and delicious Lamb Shank.

We finished the night with a fun and tasty party put on by the staff at Seabourn. The very talented members of the Seabourn crew (including Cruise Director Heidi, shown here) performed as we enjoyed an array of desserts and cordials.

The Bananas Foster – which was flambéed in front of us – and the fudge brownie were my favorites, and they went quite well with the Bailey’s/Kahlua/ice cream shot.

Even after that sugar, I was exhausted enough to get a good night sleep as the ship sailed its way to Barbuda. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Seabourn Sojourn Arrives in San Juan

After enjoying two days at sea with Mom aboard the Seabourn Sojourn, it was time for our first stop.

It had been many years since I’d been in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I couldn’t wait to explore. I was up early and had breakfast with Mom on our veranda as the boat docked. Mom had decided to stay aboard for the morning and then join me in the afternoon for the trip to the Bacardi Distillery.

The ship docked right in the heart of Old San Juan. It was a warm and sunny day and I enjoyed a walk down by the pier along the Old Fort. The colorful alleyways pulled me in for a bit of shopping, but I was back in time to have lunch with Mom on the Sojourn.

We went into the Colonnade and the Chef Kipling spotted me eyeing the Asian food. He came over and told me that he had used fish sauce in preparing even the chicken and beef, but would be happy to whip something up for me that was completely seafood free.

Within minutes our table was filled will Stir Fry Beef, Fried Rice and Pan Thai Chicken. It was a delicious treat for me.

After lunch we went down to the dock and got a cab to thee Bacardi Distillery. While we were waiting for our private tour we were immediately handed drink coupons and decided to cool off with Bacardi Coconut Rum and pineapple juice.

Just as we finished our drinks we were escorted to a tram. It was very accessible with a ramp that came right down.

As we rode around the property we learned that Bacardi is the largest premium rum distillery in the world and the largest private spirits company in the industry. It had also just celebrated its 151st anniversary.

We toured the museum and saw all the artifacts and history of the beginnings of the company in Cuba. We also learned that the famous bat on the logo was because bats were once treasured.

I had actually been to Bacardi years previously, but the 127 acres had certainly been built since that time to a major tourist attraction. The selection of rums had also multiplied to included spiced, aged and flavored rums.

We finished the tour in the VIP bar where we learned how to make a Cuba Libre – the most served drink in the world according to the mixologist. It’s actually just Bacardi original rum and Coke with a squeeze of lime.

We also made and Daiquiris and Mojitos. I was surprised to learn that it was actually spearmint used in the original mojito.

Our driver was waiting outside to pick us up when the tour was over. We drove around San Juan a bit on our way back to the ship. I definitely vowed to come back for a longer visit.

I was pretty worn out from the long day in the hot sun. I took a brief nap and then enjoyed a latte in the coffee bar on the Sojourn. Then Mom joined me for a cocktail on the Observation Deck, where we listened to the pianist and watched the ship sail away from San Juan.

While relaxing we met a very nice couple from Kelowna and I could help but remember the great trip I had there.

We all went down to the dining room for dinner, which started with a wonderful Wingspan Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It was, like nearly all the drinks on Seabourn, included with our dinner and I confess to enjoying the refilling of my glass.

The meal started with a fantastic Spring Chicken Cassoulet En Croute (a mushroom chicken soup in a crust), followed by Roasted Tomato Soup and Pork in Cocoa Sauce. I finished up with Apple Strudel with vanilla ice cream.

Mom went ahead to the show, Comedian Chris Bliss, a regular on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  I drifted easily off to sleep, resting up for our next stop – St. Barts

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

At Sea on the Seabourn Sojourn

I had two days to explore the Seabourn Sojourn while we were at sea. I had never been on a small luxury ship before so I was excited at the prospect. I was also ready for some rest and relaxation with my mom.

Mom decided to sleep in, but I couldn’t wait to hit the ocean air. I started with breakfast outside at the Collanade Restaurant, where I was able to pick up some fruit, a croissant and a smoothie (they had a different fruit smoothie each day) and order an omelet from the waiter.

I went back to the room to change into my bathing suit and headed to the pool deck. Unfortunately, there weren’t any empty chairs around the pool. It was a perfect 80 degree sunny day I couldn’t resist and was able to find a chair on the upper deck overlooking the pool.

Waiters came around the lounge area frequently with cool towels, sunblock, water bottles, fresh fruit, cocktails and ice tea. As part of the Seabourn’s all-inclusive program, everything was included. It was quite nice not to have to stop and sign for every little thing.

After I got some sun it was off to the spa to meet Candace, the manager, for a tour. Despite the fact that this is a small ship, it was the Sojourn has the largest spa I’ve seen on a cruise. I took a tour and made arrangements for mom and I to come back for treatments in the afternoon.

I got back to the room to have lunch with Mom. There no restaurants open after 2:00 for lunch, but we were satisfied with a room service order of Prosciutto & Melon with a Cheese Plate before going to the spa.

Mom really enjoyed her massage while I read and relaxed on a heated lounge chair (heaven) in the Spa Villa. I then went into the spa for the Elemis Frangipani treatment. The scalp massage was wonderful and my hair was soft and shiny after the oil was rinsed out and it was shampooed, conditioned and blown dry.

I took a short nap before we went to the Observation Deck for the piano music and hors duerves. We met a nice couple from Toronto and then went to dinner at the restaurant.

Mom went seafood all the way with a shrimp cocktail and the fish special of the day, Pan Basted Wahoo. I didn’t like (or couldn’t eat) most of the selection and decided to go with the vegetarian Vegetables in Phyllo and was a bit disappointed that there was more steamed vegetables than Phyllo or sauce.

I made up for it with an Apple Tartlett with vanilla ice cream and a tiny linzer tart for dessert.

We enjoyed the show, an impersonator of Divas, from Marlena Dietrich to Liza Minnelli before heading to our room for the night.

For the second sea day, I headed to the small pool and extra whirlpool on deck five and relaxed for a while. It was a bit windy, but I could still feel the warm sun.

Mom and I went down to the Collanade for lunch and made a good choice in the Waldorf Salad and Macaroni & Cheese with ham.

I did a tour of the kitchen in the late afternoon with Executive Chef de Cuisine Martin Kipling. In Seabourn fashion, we were given champagne and caviar at the start of the tour.

I found out that there were actually two duplicate kitchens to insure food was prepared and delivered in a timely manner. I also had quite a surprise when I found a picture of myself hanging from one of the shelves! It turned out that Seabourn had photos of everyone with severe allergies so the waiters were all aware.

We were invited to have dinner with the captain and his wife. They were friendly and down to earth and I really enjoyed the conversation with them and a small group from Canada that sat with us.

Dinner was just perfect: Twice Baked Goat Cheese Soufflé, Mushroom Parmesan Broth and Rack of Lamb.

Before the actual dessert came, we were given milk and dark chocolate covered ice cream pops. It was hard not to have more than one, but I knew more sweets would arrive soon.

Dinner ended with an incredible Trio of Chocolate that included ice cream, a soufflé and a s’more with a homemade marshmallow with chocolate inside a graham cracker. It was as incredible as it sounds.

We finished the evening in the Grand Salon listening to concert pianist Tomono Kawamora and resting up for our first stop aboard the Seabourn Sojourn – San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Seabourn Sojourn Welcome

I’m not sure if I was more excited about my first Seabourn cruise because I had heard so much about how many accolades the line received (“World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line by Travel + Leisure for the last five years, to name one) or because the voyage and accessibility of the cabins made it the perfect trip for me to take my mom on.

My mom, who had Polio as a child, needs an accessible room when she does travel. The layout of the Seabourn ship and rooms seemed like a perfect match for her and I was definitely right in presuming so.

From the moment we entered the Port Everglades Cruise Terminal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I had no doubt this was going to be like no previous cruise. Mom was riding her scooter (which the porters helped us unload) and we were greeted and taken to the desk to register. There were no lines and it was a quick process.

We were escorted onto the ship and into our suite immediately. All 225 rooms on the Seabourn Sojourn are suites and we were given one of the 22 Penthouse Suites. Since it had accessibility features it was a bit larger than the others in the category and a huge, by cruise standards, 600 square feet. Only the five Owner’s Suites, four Signature Suites and four Wintergarten Suites were bigger.

To put this in prospective for those of you who have stepped into the average cruise room, landed on the bed and stepped out the other side to go to the shower, our suite for the next 10 days was bigger than most hotel rooms.

We had an entry way with a desk, a living room with a large couch and a flat panel TV, a dining area with a table and chairs as well as a long cabinet, a bedroom with another TV and a walk-in closet, and a bathroom that had a Jacuzzi tub, shower, two sinks and a separate handicapped equipped toilet and sink area! We also had a veranda big enough for two lounge chairs and a table and chairs.

We also had a bar equipped with the two bottles I had asked for (Seabourn has an open bar policy and stocks your room at no charge) – red wine and Bailey’s Irish Cream, as well as our “sail away” bottle of champagne and fruit platter.

Lunch was served in the Collanade Restaurant on the Deck 8, where they usually have a buffet and table service, but had just a buffet for the sail away day.  It was a large selection and everyone was very helpful. We sampled a little over everything before finding our favorite finish to any meal – an ice cream bar with hot fudge.

After the safety drill, I went to Seabourn Square to sign up for my internet. It worked better than any I’ve previously had on a ship. Before I left there I couldn’t resist getting a latte at the Coffee Bar, another complimentary offering of the cruise line. The bar also offers sandwiches, pastries, sorbet, ice cream and frozen yogurt, all day and evening.

Another award Seabourn had received came right before I sailed. It was “Best Culinary Cruise Line” by Sauver Magazine I was anxious to see if they could live up to this. If my first evening’s meal was any indication of the offerings to come, it looked like they could.

Seabourn always has a menu of “classics” available in case you don’t want something on the current menu. This included everything from shrimp cocktails to steak and Caesar salad. There was also a specialty restaurant with a tasting menu we were going to try out later in the week.

I went with the day’s menu and had the Vegetarian Spring Rolls, Tomato Cucumber Salad and Pork Cheeks for dinner, followed by a cheesecake, which I actually didn’t like as much as the pastries and truffles that precluded it. My mom made a better dessert choice with the Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse Cake. 

We skipped the entertainment on the first night. It had been a long day and we had many more nights (and days) to come aboard Seabourn.