They arrived by sea like an invading navy, sweeping back and forth along the beachfront in a Zodiac, skimming the clear Caribbean waters while holding up a huge stuffed penguin. Suddenly, they unloaded. Waiters in full, fancy uniform leaped into the aquamarine surf, wading up to their waists, soaking their pants and shirts.
Striding forward, they began serving Champagne to us, a motley crew in swimsuits and sun hats gathered on the beach, distributing glass after glass and sometimes (read: in my case) holding the bottles high and pouring it right into people's mouths.
And then, the caviar. Executive chef Martin Kitzing dug his feet into the sea floor to brace himself against the barrage of waves as he reached into an enormous bowl atop a surfboard (steadied by a pair of sous chefs) and dished up crackers topped with beluga to a stream of hungry guests.
I was on Isla Margarita, Dominican Republic, on a private beach reserved for those fortunate enough to sail on board the superluxurious Seabourn Sojourn. Plying the seven seas for a quarter century (including Antarctica – thus, the penguin), Seabourn's smaller ships can access small ports bypassed by megaliners, and are designed to provide an intimate, exclusive experience.
While many travellers turn up their noses at cruises – envisioning pools filled to the brim with screaming kids and long lines of tourists bellying up to the buffet – Seabourn offers an escape that even the most dedicated non-cruiser could love. From caviar on demand to 24-hour butler service, every aspect of every voyage is geared toward pampering guests.
As a cheapskate accustomed to saving as many bucks as possible (last year I paid $8 for a hotel room in Nepal), I decided to push the decadence to the max on a sail through the eastern Caribbean.
On one of the first days, I learned about something truly decadent. A fellow cruiser – one who had some experience with Seabourn – casually mentioned that, if you'd like, someone from the crew will come to your suite and draw you a bath. With thoughts of English gentry, country houses and butlers – something I've always, impossibly, aspired to – I decided that this was something I definitely had to try.
To learn what else could be attempted, I sought expert advice from Michael Wolff, the ship's guest services manager, and Dan Harnakl, the assistant cruise director. The craziest request they've ever had? Just a couple of days earlier, Harnakl said, a woman requested extra help for her husband, who wanted to get into the water but had trouble walking because of recent back surgery. So staff members basically carried the man down the beach, dipping him in the sea.
On Seabourn, such seemingly extraordinary requests are apparently commonplace. Want some Grey Goose chilling in your suite on arrival? No problem at all. Craving a dish that doesn't appear on any of the menus? Just give 24 hours' notice. "And, of course, there's the caviar, which you can have any time you like," Harnakl said. "Scoops and scoops of it. You can have it at any meal, or call room service at three a.m. – it's always available."
I did not order caviar in the wee hours of the morning, but I did indulge in many of the Sojourn's other luxuries. I enjoyed a 90-minute massage in the spa, then spent the rest of the day in a terrycloth robe, first sitting on a heated lounger in the relaxation room, then stretching out on the private spa deck and falling fast asleep in the middle of the afternoon. I soaked until I was pruney in the ship's two whirlpools – one at the bow, with 360-degree views, and one at the stern, perfect for watching the sun set – and I never once had to share.
I got to know the staff, who often addressed me by name and remembered my seating, food and beverage preferences. I dined on gourmet fare with the captain of the ship, part of the line's tradition of dinner invitations that bring guests together with key crew members. And I took full advantage of Seabourn's drinks-inclusive policy, joining a small group of younger passengers every night in the club, dancing until late to a live band (which included a talented singer, guitars and an enthusiastic keytar player).
Onshore, I loved the small ports. In many cases, we were the only ship in the harbour. Tour operators never mobbed us, as is often the case for guests leaving by the thousands from larger ships. I strolled around Gustavia, the small capital of St. Barts, and bumped into a Norwegian couple whom I recognized from the ship, then joined them for a drink. On the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I was the sole customer at the small craft market. And, of course, there was the Champagne and caviar on Isla Margarita.
In the end, I did not get anyone to draw me a bath. I imagined myself calling guest services and someone responding: "Sir, are you, a grown man, unable to turn on the faucet?" But one night, after saying goodbye to my friends at the club, I decided to do it myself. I walked into my suite's huge marble bathroom and cracked open the glass cabinet that held copious amounts of Molton Brown products.
I poured a bottle of Heavenly Gingerlily into the warm water, then settled into the tub and, more like a rock star than 19th-century English noble, drank even more Champagne (which I'd found chilling in my room) right from the bottle. No caviar, but it was still one of the most decadent things I've ever done.
IF YOU GO
Seabourn has six ships in its fleet carrying between 208 and 450 guests; all offer the same high standard of luxury. Destinations include the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Caribbean trips include both seven- and 10-day itineraries aboard the Seabourn Pride and the Seabourn Spirit. Rates from $2,499 a person (based on double occupancy) for seven days. seabourn.com
My voyage departed from Port Everglades, the world's second-largest cruise port. I chose to add additional days in Fort Lauderdale, just a few kilometres north, where I stayed at the lovely Pelican Grand Beach Resort. It's located close to some of the city's best shopping, on one of the best stretches of beach in South Florida. Rooms from $259 (U.S.); pelicanbeach.com
The writer was a guest of Seabourn. It did not review or approve this article.