Seabourn Encore – The Reason We’re Never Hungry

Good afternoon and greetings once more from somewhere between Salaleh, Oman and Aqaba, Jordan. We had an internet outage last night for a number of hours, so it was as if someone had cut off my right arm. Peace (and internet service) has been restored and all is well with the world.

2017-04-25 - 01 - View
Tuesday morning view from our terrace as we sail towards Aqaba

We’ve been aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore for 8 days now and I thought I should give you a sense of what it’s been like on board. As I think about this particular entry, it’s going to focus mostly on food, as that’s one of the main features of traveling by ship. There may be a couple of detours along the way, but our main focus will be grub.

There are five dining venues on the ship:

  • The Restaurant
  • The Colonnade
  • Sushi
  • The Patio
  • The Grill by Thomas Keller

(There is also, of course, in-room dining 24/7.)

Of these venues, both Sushi (midship on deck 8) and, most importantly, The Grill by Thomas Keller (aft on deck 8) are new to Seabourn. In fact, Seabourn has entered into an agreement with Keller to provide venues on each of the Seabourn ships. For those of you “in the know”, Thomas Keller is an internationally renowned chef, whose flagship restaurant is the French Landry in Yountville, California. Just down the street and within walking distance are Ad Hoc and Bouchon, two less formal and more affordable restaurants. He also opened Per Se in New York in 2005. He is a big deal.

Sushi is the smallest dining venue and is open for lunch (Bento boxes) and for dinner (sushi and sashimi).

The Restaurant, located midship on deck 4, is the main dining venue, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Colonnade, aft on deck 9, is a casual dining venue, offering breakfast and lunch buffets. In the evening, it offers a theme cuisine and, on certain nights, it features a set menu by Thomas Keller and is by reservation only. The concept is a spinoff of the Ad Hoc experience in Yountville.  

The Patio is the most casual venue located poolside on deck 7. It’s the go-to place for burgers and hot dogs at lunch, light snacks, but also offers a dinner buffet each evening.

Arguably the prime dining experience is The Grill by Thomas Keller and is the only venue requiring advance reservations. When you’ve booked passage and paid for your cruise, you may make one online reservation to dine there. Once you’re onboard, you can then make a 2nd reservation and, if your cruise exceeds 2 weeks, you may request a 3rd reservation, which will only be guaranteed the night before. The menu offers many of Keller’s favorites and every ingredient is sourced from a purveyor with whom Keller and his team has had a long-term relationship. So, for instance, if lamb is on the menu, it will be sourced from Keith Martin’s Elysian Fields Farm; if it’s butter, then Keller uses the entire annual production of Diane St. Claire’s inventory. (According to Keller, St. Claire’s expansion has been specifically to accommodate Keller’s needs.)

So, without further ado, I’d like to share with you some of our onboard culinary adventures over the past week:

Night #2: Dinner at the Colonnade featuring a 4-course set menu by Thomas Keller:

Located aft on deck 9, the Colonnade features both inside and outside dining. In the evening, it’s so pleasant to eat al fresco as a gentle breeze keeps you cool and comfortable.

2017-04-18 - 02 - AAC - Keller Colonnade - 01
AAC, CPA anticipates his candlelit dinner, courtesy of Thomas Keller

2017-04-18 - 03 - Keller Colonnade Menu
The menu for this evening’s feast

Over the course of this voyage, The Colonnade will present 3 different Thomas Keller 4-course menus. The others feature ribeye steak and a traditional clambake.

2017-04-18 - 04 - Keller Colonnade Gem Lettuce
First course: gem lettuce with green goddess dressing – huge portion!

2017-04-18 - 05 - Keller Colonnade Ribs
Hickory smoked BBQ ribs with deeeelicious sides

2017-04-18 - 06 - Keller Colonnade Cheese
Cheese course with amazing honey

2017-04-18 - 07 - Keller Colonnade Potted Cheesecake
Save room for potted cheesecake with poached blueberries

Before going any further, I must mention the excellent service at all dining venues. It is friendly, genuine and very professional. Within a day or so, all of the servers knew us by name and they have, without fail, delivered every time.

Night #3: Dinner at The Grill by Thomas Keller

Having made an online reservation in advance, we were delighted to be able to dine at the Grill so early in the cruise. Before dinner, however, we stopped by the bar adjacent to the Grill so that our new BFF, head mixologist Bobby, could create some fabulous libation for us. 

2017-04-19 - 02 - Bobby
Bobby’s amazing Negronis – our fave cocktail

2017-04-19 - 10 - Bobby
And the man himself, Bobby, hard at work doing his magic

After enjoying our Negronis, it was time for the main event.

2017-04-19 - 03 - AAC Thomas Keller Grill
AAC, CPA seated and anticipating dinner

2017-04-19 - 05 - Thomas Keller Grill - 02 - Caesar Salad
Caesar Salad prepared tableside – hearts of romaine only, please

2017-04-19 - 06 - Thomas Keller Grill - 03 - Veal T-Bone
For me, the broiled and naturally fed veal T-bone with a silky bernaise

2017-04-19 - 07 - Thomas Keller Grill - 04 - Lamb Medallions
For AAC, CPA Elysian Fields Farm lamb medallions with herb crust

Although wine and spirits are all-inclusive, we decided to spring for a bottle from the premium wine list as a fond reminder of a wonderful Malbec we had last year in Buenos Aires.

2017-04-18-11 - Catena
A lovely 2013 Catena Alta Zapata Malbec from the Mendoza region

2017-04-19 - 08 - Thomas Keller Grill - 05 - Chocolate Cake
How about a slice of dark chocolate layer cake for dessert?

Let me again commend the entire wait staff – the service was absolutely first rate and we enjoyed our meal immensely.

Day #6: Lunch at Home

We decided on Saturday that we wanted to eat on our terrace for lunch. We were docked that day in Salalah, and decided not to leave the ship.

2017-04-22 - 01 - Lunch at Home - 01
We craved club sandwiches and pommes frites – tablecloth included

2017-04-22 - 02 - Lunch at Home - 02
And, for dessert, my fave: mint chip chocolate ice cream and cookies

(And they even brought us chocolate sauce for the ice cream!!)

Detour #1:

The reason we ate at home was that we needed to do some laundry. One of the few flaws in Encore’s design (which we’re told will be remedied in about 3 weeks) is that there is no self-service laundry. Now I know that it may strike you as strange that something like that would be an issue with us, but the fact is that AAC, CPA likes to do his own laundry. We were told that we could stuff a laundry bag with as much as it would hold and it would only cost $50!! AAC, CPA took that as a challenge and he determined that we would do it ourselves and pocket the $50.

2017-04-23 - 01 - Laundry Day
Laundry day aboard Seabourn Encore

Detour #2:

And, for no particular reason, here’s another photo of the fabulous sunsets we’re enjoying every evening. Because we’re sailing westward and our cabin is at the very front of the ship, it’s as if we’re getting a front-row seat.

2017-04-23 - 02 - Sunset
Another fabulous sunset 

2017-04-23 - 03 - Sunset AAC
AAC, CPA enjoying the sunset with glass in hand

EVENING #8: Sushi for One (or “If you knew sushi, like I know sushi”)

For those of you have been with me for the long haul, you may recall that our very own AAC, CPA has some food quirks – his likes and DISlikes are legion. Sad to tell, he intensely hates sushi – not that he’s ever tried it, I’m pretty sure. As Sushi (the dining venue) serves only sushi and sashimi at dinner time, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll give it a shot.

Therefore, I decided to go all by my lonesome last night, just for a pre-dinner hors d’eauvre. I sat at the sushi bar and, once again, had wonderful service and a delicious sampling of the menu, accompanied by a lovely French Sauvignon Blanc.

2017-04-24 - 01 - Sushi - 01
Nigiri – Akami and Safe (tuna and salmon)

2017-04-24 - 02 - Sushi - 01
An Okayo signature roll (salmon, asparagus, avocado, salmon roe)

2017-04-24 - 03 - Sushi - 01
And our sushi chefs – hamming it up for the camera

So there you have it, a small sampling of our culinary adventures thus far. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the buffets yet!

More to follow!

PS. Look what just sailed by us:

IMG_4927
Friend or foe, I wonder?

 

 

First Sea Day and Doha Recap

Feeling very relaxed (nay, lazy) on this Wednesday afternoon as I begin this blog entry. It’s our first sea day, which is my favorite thing about being on a ship.

When last I wrote, we were in Doha, Qatar and I promised to tell you all about our all-too-brief visit.

Doha Morning Pic
Good morning, Doha – as seen from our suite

Well, in about 2 words: not much. Qatar is another of these Gulf states that, like Dubai, is a very modern and covered with skyscrapers and in constant construction mode. Unlike Dubai, however, it’s not quite as exciting and, at least where we were, there were no sidewalks for walking.

The one thing we were interested in seeing was I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Tuesdays – bad luck for us. 

Museum of Islamic Art
I.M. Pei’s imposing Museum of Islamic Art – closed Tuesdays

Before checking out the sights, AAC enjoys his first breakfast on board:

AAC - 1st Breakfast

Having realized that the museum was not an option, we elected to go out for a nice lunch at Sridan, a restaurant within the Shangri-La Hotel. We’ve had the good fortune to visit several of the Shangri-La properties – in Tokyo, Paris and London – so we knew we’d be in for a good time.

As it turned out, the ship offered complimentary shuttle service to and from the City Center which, as it turned out, was a 3-minute walk to the Shangri-La. How convenient is that?

Doha City Center
Our drop off point – City Center – unsurprisingly in the center of the city

It was so convenient, in fact, that we didn’t feel the need to exchange our US dollars for the local currency in Qatar – the Dirham, the Qatari Riyal. We took a chance.

The Shangri-La in Doha is very much in keeping with their other properties around the world: Elegant, serene and very Zen. Upon entering their properties, you immediately sense a scent that is familiar to you, a nice touch.

Shangri-La-Hotel-Doha-Lobby
The lobby at the Shangri-La – spare and elegant

And look what else we found in the lobby:

Falconry
Yes, falconry at the Shangri-La

You probably won’t notice it, but the falcon was wearing a Shangri-La cap on his cute little head.

We headed upstairs to Sridan, which offers a spectacular daily buffet. Just what we need – more food, right?

Sridan Logo

Sridan - 01 - Mezze
Beautiful mezze station

Although there were Italian and American stations (which we could get anywhere), we opted for made-to-order kebabs from the Indian station. Fancy place: you order what you want and it’s brought to your table.

Sridan - 02
The Indian station

Sridan - 03 - Sweets
Did we leave room for sweets? Not really

Sridan - 04 - Coffee
Finishing off the meal with Arabic coffee – a taste sensation

Following our lunch, we were ready to get back onto the shuttle and return to the ship.

There was one big highlight on our shuttle ride back to the ship:

Kissing Camels
The Royal Camel brigade – or Kissing Kamels!

Encore in Port
Encore docked in Doha

We just lazed around on our terrace until it was time to sail at about 6:00 PM.

Doha Sunset - 01
Another beautiful sunset as we sail out to sea

And then it was time to get ready for cocktails and dinner. On several nights during the voyage, the Colonnade – which usually offers a casual buffet dinner – transforms itself into another Thomas Keller venue, offering a 4-course set menu. The concept is exactly the same as Keller’s casual restaurant in Yountville, California, Ad Hoc. For these evenings, advance reservations are required. It’s a really good deal: at Ad Hoc, the cost of the meal would be around $55 – 60, plus wine; on Encore, it’s all included.

Before dinner, however, we returned to the bar adjacent to the Thomas Keller Grill, probably the most elegant bar on the ship. We made friends with superstar Bobby the night before, and he promised to dazzle us with his mixologist talent. 

So last night, he prepared for me my very first Vesper (a/k/a the James Bond cocktail): Tanqeray 10, Ketel One, Lillet – iced up real well – stirred, never shaken. Poured into a Marie Antoinette glass and finished off with twist of lemon, it was a sight to behold. It was also an extremely potent libation. Kudos to Bobby!

Thomas Keller Cocktails
AAC, CPA’s Campari/Soda and my 1st-ever Vesper – a taste sensation

After enjoying our cocktails and schmoozing with Bobby, we climbed one deck to Colonnade, aft on Deck 9. It was such a beautiful night, that we opted to dine al fresco at the very back of the ship. The entire outside ceiling area is covered for our protection from the elements. It was simply magical.

Immediately upon being seated, we were brought the most delicious fresh baked bread and a glass of delicate Chardonnay.

As I already mentioned, these evenings are conceived in the same way as Chef Keller’s restaurant Ad Hoc in Yountville. 

Check out last night’s menu below:

Colonnade - Keller Menu.JPG
Are you licking your lips and salivating now?

And then the food – with wine pairings – started to arrive:

Colonnade - Course 1
Gem lettuce salad with beets and radishes and green goddess dressing

(Note the size of the portions for just the 2 of us!)

Colonnade - Course 2
Next up, the Hickory Smoked BBQ ribs with yummy sides

We were served a lovely Italian red to compliment the ribs. It did.

Colonnade - Course 3
The most delicate cheddar cheese I’ve ever had – served with flatbread and mustard

Colonnade - Course 4
Potted cheesecake with poached blueberries – did we have room for same?

The meal, the service, the ambience of dining al fresco in a beautiful setting was totally intoxicating – the perfect evening, in fact.

After that, there was nothing left to do but stagger back to our cabin and fall into bed.

So here we are on our first sea day, with all kinds of various activities, should we want to partake.

One interesting side note is that we found this letter in our cabin this morning:

Piracy Drill
Better safe than sorry, right?

At noon we tried our hand at team trivia to see how stupid we can be – no comment.

Then lunch in the restaurant at the invitation of the head sommelier – he wants to discuss wine with us – we’re all in.

And then a duplicate bridge game to keep the little gray cells working.

Later, ‘gator!!

 

 

On the Road Again – Part Three

Greetings from the Concorde Room at JFK, which is the 1st class lounge for British Airways passengers. The great thing about this lounge is that you can have a lovely dinner on the ground before you board your flight. We’ve just finished a 3-course meal and have about an hour before we board our flight to London Heathrow (which you probably already know).

Before we got to the airport, though, here’s our intrepid AAC, CPA with the baggage (no, not me), whilst waiting for our car to arrive:

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AAC, CPA with the bags

CONCORDE ROOM ENTRANCE
The dapper (and hungry) AAC, CPA arrives at the Concorde Room

The meal was quite delicious:

Artichoke
A grilled artichoke and frisee salad for AAC, CPA

Gravlax
A delicious gravlax with pickled fennel and lemon Greek yogurt for me

Sirloin
We both had the Szechuan Crusted NY Sirloin with Sauteed Baby Bok Choy

Mille Feuille
And we each had the Raspberry Mille Feuille with White Chocolate Ice Cream

Each course came with the appropriate wine pairings and we are both now very relaxed and satisfied. Can’t wait to board the plane and climb under the covers!

Getting back to business:

Now that I’ve told you about how we’re getting to Dubai and also about Seabourn Encore, I thought you might like to know our cruise itinerary. Although there are 9 sea days – the entire cruise is 19 days! – it is, especially for us, port intensive. And all of them are new to us, so it’s a good thing that we’ve done our homework and brought along sensible shoes!

We will sail from Dubai next Monday at approximately 5:00 PM. Here’s a look at our cruise itinerary:

Cruise Itinerary
Map courtesy of Seabourn

As you can see, our first stop will be Doha, Qatar. One of the things we were most looking forward to seeing was to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei. As luck would have it, the museum is closed on Tuesdays which is, of course, the day we’ll be in port. (Grrrrr.) We will, however, most likely visit the famous Souq Waqif, the central market, which has served the city for many centuries. If falconry is your thing, the Falcon Souq is just next door!

Doha - Museum of Islamic Art - IM Pei
I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art – closed on Tuesdays!

Doha - Souq Waqif
The Souq Waqif – centuries old

Following our depature from Doha, we’ll enjoy our first day at sea (my fave!)

Our next port is Muscat, Oman, the “Pearl of Mystic Arabia”. Muscat is a city of untold riches, as personified by such sites as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the recently built Muscat Royal Opera House, which attracts many of the world’s finest singers. Unfortunately, there will be no performances while we’re in town, but we hope to take a tour and see the opera house for ourselves.

Muscat - Sultan Taymoor Grand Mosque
The fantastic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Royal Opera House
The Muscat Royal Opera House

Muscat - Royal Opera House Interior
Interior of the Opera House

Following another sea day, we land in Salalah, Oman’s ancient incense capital and an oasis of lush vegetation, unlike the otherwise arid landscapes of the Arabian peninsula. One of the excursions offered will include a visit to Job’s tomb: a sacred site of pilgrimage for Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

Salalah
Salalah, Oman

SONY DSC
A sacred biblical site: Job’s tomb

Once we depart from Salalah, we will then have 5 full sea days, giving us a chance to become really well acquainted with Encore and its passengers and crew. Hopefully, we’ll have good internet service during those seas days so that I can keep you up to date with all of our on board adventures.

Our next port – and the highlight of the trip for us – is Aqaba, Jordan which, for those of you who are Lawrence of Arabia fans, played a major role in the Arab revolt during World War I. Nowadays, the port serves as Jordan’s only deep water port and, as important, is the place from which you can get to Petra, the country’s most important historical attraction.

Because we are in port for only 11 hours, it was necessary for us to book a private car and guide, as we wanted to visit not only Petra but, also, Wadi Rum, which was also one of the primary locations in Lawrence of Arabia. This excursion will be very intensive, but also very exciting.

Long considered the Lost City, Petra is one of the most spectacular sights in all antiquity, a city carved out of solid sandstone, and lost to all but the most intrepid Bedouins until 1812, and excavation of the site didn’t begin until more than a full century later. To get to the main city, you walk on foot (or via a horse-drawn carriage for hire) through a narrow gorge, a mile-long siq. We’re told that a vist to Petra is an experience that you will not easily forget.

Petra Souq
You walk through the extremely narrow siq to get to Petra

Petra Treasury
Petra’s most famous landmark – the Treasury, carved out of sandstone

Once we’ve visited Petra, we’ll return through the gorge to our waiting car. As time is so short, we’ll have a box lunch en route to our next site, the majestic Wadi Rum, about an hour away. Indeed, we’ll be transported back to the time of T.E. Lawrence, Auda Abu Tayi, Prince Faisal and the fearless Bedouins who particpated in the Arab Revolt.

Wadi Rum
The majestic Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum - TE Lawrence
Memorial Carving of T.E. Lawrence at Wadi Rum

Following our visit to Wadi Rum, it’s back to the ship. I believe that this excursion will be one of the most memorable we’ve ever experienced.

Another sea day and, then, the ship will transit the Suez Canal. Having already been through the Panama Canal a few years ago, it will be very interesting to compare and contrast the experience. 

Suez Canal opening
The Suez Canal opened to traffic in 1869Suez Canal Modern
A more modern look at the Suez Canal

The following day, we land at Ashdod, the largest port in Israel and the main gateway to Jerusalem. From the port, it’s about a 75-minute drive (in good traffic!) to this sacred city. Again, because time is short, we’ve elected to hire a car and guide/driver to take us from the ship through the Judean Hills to Jerusalem. I visited Israel many years ago (let’s just say not in this millennium) but AAC, CPA has never been. So I’ve chosen what I believe to be the most important sites for us to see: the Old City (in quadrants for the many faiths who live and worship there), the Wailing Wall (the holiest Jewish site in the World) and the Dome of the Rock (the holiest of all Muslim shrines). 

AShdod
The port city of Ashdod, Israel

Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
Jerusalem

Thanks to our good friend, Yaniv, who has been so generous in suggesting things to do while we’re in Israel, we’ve also scored a reservation for lunch at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Machneyuda, adjacent to the world-famous Mahane Yehuda Market. It seems that Israel has become a place for foodies!

Machneyuda
Machneyuda for lunch!

Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market next door

After our return to the ship, Encore will reposition over to Haifa, Israel’s primary port and located about an hour away (by train) from Tel Aviv. AAC CPA and I have decided that we’ll venture out on our own, starting with a train ride and then visiting Yafo (Jaffa), the Old City, much of which has become a cultural enclave and also has wonderful cafes and restaurants. 

Tel Aviv - Yaffo
Yafo

So we’ll spend our day in Tel Aviv strolling around the city and taking in the sights. Then we’ll get back on the train to Haifa and return to the ship.

Another sea day and then we’ll travel to the Greek Islands. We’ll visit two ports: Rhodes and Santorini, both of which have rich histories and are extremely picturesque. Although excursions are available, I think we’ll opt for “independent activities”, checking out the sites, taking in the cafes, and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Rhodes
Rhodes

Santorini
The magical island of Santorini

We’ll depart Santorini late in the afternoon – it’s our last port and we’ll sail over to Piraeus (Athens), where we’ll disembark after our 19-day adventure aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore and transfer to Athens International for our flights home – and to reality – and to getting on the scale to see how much damage we’ve done. 🙂

How lucky are we that we get to travel to these fabulous places? Stay tuned for my reports as we experience them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road Again – Part Two

Greetings from a fabulously warm and sunny day in New York City. The last time I checked, the Fahrenheit was sitting at a sumptuous and dreamy 78. At least for now, Spring has sprung.

Our countdown clock now stands at about T-28 hours, which marks our departure for JFK, where we’ll catch our overnight chariot to LHR. As you already know, we’ll have a 22-hour layover and then catch a flight to Abu Dhabi and then we transfer to Dubai for a long weekend.

The reason that we’re jumping through all of these lovely hoops is that, on April 17th, we’re boarding the almost brand new Seabourn Encore, which launched this past January. AAC CPA and I are Seabourn newbies, but we’ve been told that it’s a superior line with excellent service and attention to detail.

The newest addition to the Seabourn fleet , Encore introduces a new class of ship (indeed, the “Encore-class”), and is about 26% larger than the three “Odyssey-class” vessels. Built in Italy at the famed Fincantieri shipyard, Encore carries just 600 passengers in 300 suites.

While the vessel has many of the familiar features and venues of past Seabourn ships, Encore has been totally rethought by famed designer Adam D. Tihany and, from what we’ve heard, the ship operates more like an elegant yacht than a more formal vessel. 

So far, all of our dealings with the line have been terrific. One funny thing that happened was that, the day after we booked the cruise, we heard from our travel agents that Seabourn had added an extra day to our cruise at no extra cost to us, which was quite lovely. This cruise – from beginning to end – will last 19 days (9 of which will be sea days), making it the longest time we’ve ever been on a ship. (We’ve already packed some trousers with elasticized waistlines, just in case.)

An important benefit of the Seabourn line is that it is all-inclusive (although excursions are an add-on) and, unlike Crystal or Cunard, every night is a casual night. We’ve heard that the ship will have 1 or 2 optional formal nights, but that will just be in the main restaurant. We’ve been able to eliminate one piece of luggage simply from not having to schlep the formalwear. 

Another innovation on Encore – which will be extended to the other Seabourn ships is the new partnership with famed California chef, Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame, as well as many other establishments). The Grill by Thomas Keller can be booked online one time prior to boarding and, as I understand it, there is no surcharge to dine there, unless you want to order from the premium wine list. We’re already set and will dine there the 3rd night of our voyage. 

One unfortunate and truly bizarre situation occurred in February when Encore was docked in Timaru, New Zealand. A sudden change in weather – high winds – caused the ship to lose its moorings, and the ship started to drift away (almost in slow motion) from its berth. Take a look at the following youtube video to see what happened next.

Seabourn Encore gets a boo-boo

We were all relieved to hear that, following a thorough inspection, Encore was cleared to depart on schedule and continued to its next scheduled port. The extremely minor damage was repaired very soon thereafter.

As this is just a preview and, since we don’t embark until next Monday, that’s all I have to say about the ship right now. 

In the meantime, I thought you might like to see some photos and renderings of the ship. It looks quite gorgeous and, rest assured, I’ll have more to share with you once we’re on board.

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Atrium
The ship’s atrium – are we dizzy yet?

Observation Bar
The Observation Bar – high up on deck 11

null
The pool deck – there’s also a bar around there somewhere, as well as a casual restaurant

The Colonnade
The Colonnade serves up tasty buffets for breakfast and lunch

The Colonnade
The Colonnade also provides dining al fresco

Seabourn Square
Seabourn Square – the center of the ship

The Restuarant
Encore’s main restaurant – all open seating

The Retreat
One of the few add-ons: the Retreat – private cabañas rented by the day

Sushi
A new Seabourn dining venue: Sushi, open for lunch and dinner

Thomas Keller Lounge
Before dining at the Grill, stop by the adjacent watering hole for a cocktail

The Grill by Thomas Keller
After whetting your whistle, enjoy your dinner at the Grill by Thomas Keller

So now you have a bit of an overview for our home starting next Monday.

Next time, I’ll tell you more about the fascinating itinerary and the many unique places we’ll be visiting over the next few weeks.

To be continued!!

On the Road Again – Part One

Greetings from a slightly sunny and cool Sunday morning in New York City. Spring is trying to arrive in fits and starts. I suppose one must be patient.

I know we’ve been away a long time. We’ve missed you, but we’ve had a very productive winter, attending lots of theatre and opera and the like, dining out at establishments both new and familiar.

But now it’s time to get out of town and our upcoming trip will take us to some fabulous places and, perhaps, just a bit out of our comfort zones. 

The main event of this trip will be a 19-day cruise from Dubai to Piraeus (Athens). We’ll sail through the Middle East and the Suez Canal, to Israel and through the Greek Islands. It’s going to be quite the big deal, I think.

Our ship will be the 3 months old Seabourn Encore. As you know, we’re very loyal to Crystal Cruises, and this will be our first time aboard a Seabourn vessel, but everything we’ve heard augers well and we’re looking forward to trying something new. 

Seabourn Encore
The beautiful new Seabourn Encore

Spoiler Alert: If you look at the 2nd deck up from the jacuzzi at the front of the ship, the outdoor area on the right is the balcony for our cabin. We’re literally under the bridge.

More about the cruise later.

But first, we must get to Dubai to board the ship. And therein lies a tale and a bit of an adventure. 

It’ll be no surprise to you that we like to travel well and, most importantly, we like to get the best bargains wherever we find them.

We also like to tick off our “bucket list” items, one of which is to fly on Etihad Airways in the first class Apartments.

Oh – and we want to do it on miles, ie., for cheap!

So, for the past year, I’ve been looking to score 2 award flights from JFK to AUH (a/k/a Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates). There are 2 flights daily but, in order to fly in the Apartments, you must fly the A-380, which service is currently offered only on 1 flight daily. Awards in first class on this aircraft are impossible to obtain. The other daily flight is on a smaller aircraft and, therefore, doesn’t offer the Apartment. It’s always something, right?

(Wouldn’t you know – starting on June 1st, Etihad will offer A380 service on both daily flights from New York and, at that point, it’s possible to find award availability if you can book about 3 months in advance. Sigh!)

To cover ourselves, we booked flights on British Airways through Heathrow (London) with a connecting flight to Dubai. We were able to do it all on miles, but BA charges hefty taxes on awards flights. Even so, for a few hundred dollars each, we booked first class for both segments. These flights were booked last May and, ever since, I checked and rechecked award availability on Etihad, just in case.

BA 1st - 777
Our British Airways chariot from New York to London

BTW, we love taking the BA overnight flights to London Heathrow. If you’re lucky enough to be flying in first class, you’ll have access to the Concorde Room at JFK, which features a proper restaurant, so you can have dinner there (no charge for food and/or drinks) and, then, once your flight has taken off, you can climb under the covers and sleep for most of the light. Delovely!

Concorde Room JFK - 01
The Concorde Room at JFK

Concorde Room JFK - 02
You can enjoy a proper meal in the Concorde Room before your flight.

After months of frustration being unable to get that elusive Etihad award, I had – what Dorothy Kilgallen on What’s My Line used to call – a wienie! I remembered that Etihad has service to Abu Dhabi from London Heathrow. Would it be possible to find an award on that route?

The Etihad website has a very useful tool that allows you to find available awards and I hit the jackpot in finding exactly what I needed! Now, I wondered, would American Airlines allow me to rebook the 2nd segment (London – Dubai) over to Etihad (London – Abu Dhabi)? Only one way to find out.

The American AAdvantage rep couldn’t have been nicer: Not only was it possible, but we ended up saving several hundreds of dollars on the 2nd segment, because there were virtually no taxes! The whole thing took about 15 minutes and we were done! Woo-Hoo!

Etihad 380
The Etihad A380 – a beautiful piece of engineering

Etihad Apartment 3A and 4A
Our Etihad “Apartments”: mine on the left and AAC CPA’s on the right

Etihad Bar
If you want to be social, drop by the bar at 36,000 feet!

There was one small glitch, however: Because the Etihad flight departs London at 9:30 AM, we will end up having a 22-hour layover in London. Well, folks, I certainly know how to put a layover to good use!

Within 30 minutes of booking the Etihad flight, I’d arranged for matinee tickets to see Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Theatre Royal Haymarket, and made an early dinner reservation at one of our favorite London restaurants, Hawksmoor in Air Street. In between, we’ll swan over to one of our favorite hotels, The Corinthia in Whitehall Place, where we’ll enjoy a cocktail at the lovely Bassoon Bar.

Theatre Royal Haymarket
The historic Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Goat
Hey – recognize the guy on the left? He was Brody on Homeland!

Bassoon Bar - 02
The trendy Bassoon Bar at the Corinthia

Hawksmoor Air Street
Great steakhouse and more: Hawksmoor in Air Street

Oh, and as we needed a place for the night, I booked accommodations at the Hilton London Heathrow. It was recommended to us by friends who know. And get this: the hotel is a 10-minute walk to Terminal 4/Heathrow, from which our Etihad flight will depart the next morning.

Hilton Exterior
The Hilton is a 10-minute covered walk to Terminal 4 at Heathrow

Hilton Room
Cool accommodations at the Hilton

Walkway LHR - Hilton
Hotel to airport – quick walk – how great is that?

So, our layover will be filled with fun things to do: culture, liquid refreshment, grub.

Oh, and from Terminal 4/Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus in Central London, we can take the Piccadilly line in just about an hour. How great is that?

Tube Map to London
How to get from here to there.

The flight from London to Abu Dhabi take about 7½ hours (wish it were LONGER!), so we’ll arrive in Abu Dhabi at about 8:00 PM local time. For the transfer to Dubai (about a 90 minute drive), we’ve arranged for our hotel – Raffles Dubai – to pick us up at the airport.

Dubai
Iconic Image – Dubai

Raffles Dubai
Our digs in Dubai – cute, right?

We’ll have 3 nights and 2 full days in Dubai before boarding Encore on Monday, the 17th.

There, in a nutshell, is the first 5 days of our trip. Another preview on the cruise will follow in a couple of days.

Enjoy!

Crystal Symphony: A Look At Our Digs

Welcome, once again, from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. As I start to write to you, it’s about 6:00 AM and all normal people are probably sleeping. As I’m your faithful correspondent, I woke up just to be able to finish this post (while the internet signal is strong).

Let me begin by saying, once again, that AAC, CPA and I are so lucky to be able to do the things that we do. Sometimes, it’s a mystery to me that we are this fortunate. But there it is.

For this lovely voyage aboard Crystal Symphony, we were able to book 1 of the 2 Crystal Penthouses, the ship’s top accommodation. Located on Deck 10 (the Penthouse Deck), it’s a very spacious cabin, about 982 s.f., and is configured as a 1 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath suite, with private veranda. As Crystal Cruises is “all inclusive”, meaning that your fare includes your gratuities, wine and alcohol, limited internet and  entertainment (but not spa or excursions), booking the Crystal Penthouse also includes (amongst other things) unlimited internet (notwithstanding that internet in the middle of the ocean can be very dodgy), all laundry and pressing, complimentary transfers to and from the ship and, the most decadent benefit of all, a bottle of Cristal for each day you are aboard. As you may surmise, it’s the good life.

I thought you might like to have a little tour of the Crystal Penthouse – we made sure that it was nice and neat, so that you’d think we’re nice and neat, too.

cp-1022
Welcome to our humble chapeau (with apologies to Lainie Kazan)

cp-foyer
Our very dramatic foyer (with key lighting)

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The powder room

cp-lr-01
The living room with dining area in the rear (that’s a Swarovski chandelier)

cp-lr-02
The living from as viewed from the dining area

cp-swarovski
The aforementioned Swarovski chandelier

cp-bar-desk
The bar and desk/office area in the rear

cp-bedroom
The bedroom

cp-closet-aac
Walk in closet (for AAC, CPA)

cp-closet-js
And the littler one (for your faithful correspondent)

cp-bath-02
Master bath, with walk-in shower in foreground, WC in rear

cp-bath-01
Master bath from reverse angle and ocean view

sailaway-01
Super duper perk of being in the Crystal Penthouse: 1 of these per day!

Not a bad way to spend a couple of weeks, right?

And it cannot be said nearly enough: the crew aboard the entire Crystal fleet is absolutely superb. The best there is, in fact. I’ve often said that, when you board a Crystal vessel, it’s like going into a rarified bubble, where you are pampered beyond imagination. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a lot of fun, too?

OK, enough for now – time for me to get in some exercise to work off last night’s dinner – more about that later!