Moored a few hundred yards away is a small private yacht with a helicopter on the deck. It's rumoured to belong to Bill Gates and everyone is green with envy. Not me. I'm on the Seabourn Spirit and as far as I'm concerned, at this very moment, drifting at anchor off the coast of Sorrento, there's not a single thing Bill Gates has there on his private yacht that I should want. I've got it all here and more besides!
For eight days now, all the way from Istanbul, around the Greek Islands and through the Corinth Canal, we've been pampered and spoiled as if we were millionaires ourselves. (Quite possibly some of us are.) We've been spritzed with chilled Evian water as we lie baking in the hot Mediterranean sun. We've been tempted with Greek buffets under the umbrellas on the Sky Deck, Italian buffets by the pool, Indonesian buffets at the Veranda Cafe, silver platters of caviar and hors d'oeuvres at the Captain's party and first class cuisine morning, noon and night in the restaurant. We've been courted like royalty and entertained like sultans and it's all starting to feel like home.
Pampering is part of the routine on this luxurious, all-suite ship, large enough to carry more than twice the 208 passengers setting sail on her, but it's a pampering that is unobtrusive. We imagine that this is what it must be like aboard the millionaire's yacht across the bay. Here too, aboard the Seabourn Spirit, we are the ones who decide what we want, how we want it, when and where.
On the Seabourn Spirit, your days can be fun and stimulating - a wild banana boat ride from the sports marina at the back of the ship or just plain relaxing as you soak up the rays with a good book from the library.
This is what makes it feel like home like our own private yacht. It seems as if we've been here forever.
The rush and bustle of the Istanbul streets that afternoon seven days ago when we arrived in the Mediterranean and had our first glimpse of the Seabourn Spirit seems like a lifetime away.
The Istanbul taxi had barely slowed to a stop in front of the dilapidated terminal building - we hardly had a chance to grow accustomed to the stunning backdrop of a minaret encrusted skyline, the rose water scents, and the babble of an incomprehensible language, when doors were being opened and white liveried staff, all from the Seabourn Spirit, were there to greet us with broad grins of welcome.
Within seconds our hand luggage was lifted from our shoulders, and we were being led feeling suddenly, but delightedly half naked without all the accoutrements of our last several hours of travel through one of the swiftest registration processes I've ever encountered in the cruise industry.
Everything is arranged before you get to your port of embarkation. There are no forms to fill in, no tickets and dockets or vouchers to present. All you have to do is show your customized boarding /credit card, and your passport. In return there's a glass of champagne, and within seconds of all of this you're being leisurely escorted across the pier, through the shadows of the sleek form of the Seabourn Spirit to the waiting gangplank.
This is the welcome of a Seabourn Cruise. An effortless process that makes you feel like an honoured guest. And it's just the start of the style that assumes that everyone is as discriminating as any one of those millionaires in their private yachts just across the bay.
In a matter of minutes we were ensconced in our cabins and besieged with well wishers. The cabin steward who offered us a welcome glass of champagne and a choice of designer soaps, the cruise director, Marsha Harris, who popped in to say hello and who invited us to the Turkish Delight Party on the top deck later that night, and even one of the officers, who happened to be passing by and donned his cap in welcome.
The cabins, certainly larger than anything Bill Gates or any of his pals out there on the bay might be enjoying, are large by any standards in the cruise industry. Every single cabin aboard the Seabourn Spirit, with more than 277 square-feet of luxuriously appointed features, is an outside suite a room with a view.
All suites have 5-foot picture windows and by the end of this year, more than fifty percent of these suites will be converted to include highly distinctive French Balconies with sliding glass doors opening to sunlight and sea breezes.
The cabin is a home away from home maybe even better complete with a fully stocked bar, television and VCR, personalized stationary, a cozy terry robe, walk in closet and my personal favourite, a marble bath. Plenty of room to take your time getting ready for dinner. And there's plenty to look forward to. Dinner that first night aboard the Seabourn Spirit, and all the meals that were to follow, was of a standard a millionaire might expect.
We should imagine that all the millionaires on the yachts anchored peacefully about us have their own chefs aboard. Maybe even two.
Here aboard the Seabourn Spirit there are several teams of chefs, each of them creating award-winning cuisine for the open seating restaurant, and at alternative casual locations like the Veranda Cafe (where you can dine more casually both indoors and out on deck as you watch the sun set behind you), and at festive barbecues out on deck or ashore or on a secluded beach. Dinner can even be served in the cabin. As always, the emphasis is on choice. It's yours!
All the staff aboard the Seabourn Spirit are professionals trained in Europe's favourite resorts, hotels and spas, and they provide a service that is uniquely personalized and pampering. They are all part of what they appropriately call Team Spirit.
Though their roles aren't interchangeable, each member of staff learns each other's areas of service all in the aim to work together and provide the ultimate in seamless service. So don't be surprised if the young man who supplies you with frozen face cloths when you wait at the pier for your tender back to the ship after a hot afternoon of souvenir shopping and Greek tavernas, is the same fellow who will serve you hors d'oeuvres tonight in the cool elegance of the main lounge. He knows your name, he knows you prefer lemon and not lime in your gin and tonic, and he'll remember that you like that little bit of extra blue cheese in your blue cheese dressing. And his colleagues will know all of this too.
It is this that makes you feel as if you're on your own private yacht. All the staff know you, and they all know how you like things. Friendly faces every day, from the moment you wake up to the morning cup of coffee brought to your bedside, to the lazy time after dinner when you head to the show and are greeted by cruise director Marsha Harris who welcomes you to the show.
Unlike many other yacht-like cruise ships, the Seabourn Cruise Line features nightly entertainment something else our millionaire friend across the water is going to be hard pressed to arrange showcasing sophisticated cabaret performers, instrumentalists and occasional folkloric or other programs gleaned from the exotic ports of call.
The ports of call, of course, are one of the highlights of this cruise though if your aim is to stay on board the whole time and just relax in the nautical ambiance of the experience, no one is going to raise a single eyebrow.
Sailing from Istanbul to Rome, and sampling three very distinct cultures in just 10 days, there is plenty on offer for the intrepid adventurers who do want to go
From the busy and exotic city of Istanbul, where east meets west, to the sleepy, whitewashed towns of the Greek Islands with their easy pace of life, to the awe-inspiring passage through the Corinth Canal, and on to Italy and the ruins of ancient Pompeii.
Last night we sipped an after dinner cocktail as we sailed around the amazing volcano of Stromboli and watched as streaks of red leapt into the dark night sky.
And tomorrow there's more. More pampering and more luxuries that are going to make home when we eventually get there seen very mundane. Right now, as we watch that private yacht with the helicopter on top and wonder who it could belong to, we feel the ship shudder just briefly as the engines slip into life. We're on our way to Elba.
The sun is setting behind a distant island. We're dressed and ready for another sumptuous dinner, Karl, another Team Spirit member, has poured us another glass of champagne. Leaning against the railings, I take a last look at the private yacht we've been debating all day. I see a figure on the deck, leaning on the railing there too, gazing back. Whoever it is I suspect he's more envious of us than we are of him. After all, he may have his yacht ... but we're aboard the Seabourn Spirit.
Photos: (from top to bottom) Seabourn Cruise Line, Kevin Retief
For more information visit Seabourn Cruise Line's web site at www.seabourn.com