The sky was gray and gusts of wind had women clutching their straw sunhats, but most of the ship’s 450 passengers were too preoccupied clinking glasses to mind the weather. We’d just set sail off the southern coast of Greece on Seabourn Quest—the newest ship from the luxury cruise liner—and for the past hour, guests had been slowly trickling out of their suites for a celebratory glass of bubbly and caviar on the pool deck.
I settled into a polished wooden bar stool near the bow of the ship with a flute of champagne. A smartly-dressed woman slid into the seat next to me. “I’m more of a martini drinker myself,” she said. “I’m very picky about them. Grey Goose vodka, shaken, no vermouth, straight up with a twist.” A gentleman beside her nodded in agreement, seemingly accustomed to the fussy order. The couple introduced themselves as Susan and Arnie from Dallas, together since high school, married 50 years. Susan, a former buyer for Neiman Marcus; her husband, a retired technology company executive.
“I have to be honest—I felt a little ridiculous specifying my martini on the request form, but I’m so glad I did,” she said, motioning toward the bartender. “He knew my exact drink order before I sat down. We haven’t even been on the ship an hour!” It was a telling example of what I would come to expect during the 10-day cruise.
On the first night in the formal dining room (one of seven dining options on the ship), most people were coupled off at tables for two. The menu offered options like beef tataki, poached octopus terrine, grilled filet mignon and crispy skin sautéed salmon, and all drinks—top-shelf spirits, wine, beer and champagne—are complimentary. After dinner and several glasses of pinot noir I retreated to my spacious suite, melting into the Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffy down pillows.
Sluggish from jetlag the next morning, I had breakfast delivered to the room. My Veranda Suite—a far cry from the cramped cabin I envisioned—was furnished with a queen-sized bed, a dining table and couch in a separate living area, a vanity, large bathroom, and, best of all, a walk-in closet. My meal arrived in under 30 minutes and a friendly attendant offered to set it up on the veranda, complete with crisp, white linen tablecloth and place settings. The luxury of having breakfast outside on the balcony (in a plush bathrobe) quickly became a morning ritual.
After several hours exploring the first port of call—a small resort town on Turkey’s Aegean coast—guests flocked to the pool to enjoy a late afternoon cocktail at sunset. I bumped into Susan and Arnie who introduced me to another couple. The benefit of being on such an intimate ship, I found, is that you end up meeting just about everyone on board.
The cruisers onboard Quest—a mix of American, British, German, Swiss and Australian guests—are drawn to the Seabourn’s five-star service, but it’s the ship’s eclectic itinerary that excites guests the most. Quest’s ports of call at small islands like Chios, Greece and Ponza, Italy were a selling point for well-traveled guests, eager to discover lesser-known parts of the Mediterranean. Many on this cruise were repeat customers, having sailed with Seabourn a number of times.
But as with every ostensibly flawless vacation, there’s bound to be a minor setback. Mine happened halfway through the trip, after a questionable meal at a small Chios café. Being on a cruise ship with food poisoning should have been a veritable nightmare, but back in my stateroom, my nurturing room steward—Joy, from Durban, South Africa—offered to draw me a bath and refresh my linens every few hours. She appeared with hot tea and stocked my refrigerator with ginger ale before I even thought to ask. And perhaps most importantly, the flat-screen television was equipped with more films than Netflix. Despite the cold sweats and nausea, it was an awfully pleasant 48 hours of illness. I’d endure it again in a heartbeat.
Fully recovered, I headed to the deck for fresh air and a maître d’ stopped me. “Ms. Silberman, I’m so glad to see you’re feeling better!” I’d never met or seen the gentleman before. How could the staff possibly know every guest’s name and whereabouts? Before the trip, he tells me, the staff receives a manual—like a yearbook—with the guests’ names, photos and personal preferences. They’re instructed to memorize it. A painstaking process to be sure, but a special touch that keeps guests coming back.
By the last evening the dining room was no longer filled with two-person tables. Instead, it felt like a dinner party with good friends. And after returning home I received a letter in the mail.
“So wonderful getting to know you—please come visit us in Dallas!” wrote Susan. “P.S. We’re planning a trip. Vegas in January, then another Seabourn cruise. Would love for you to join!” I wrote back, and told her to count me in.