Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Seabourn Encore: The Inaugural Cruise - Part VIII (Seabourn Ventures Expands- Komodo Island, Indonesia)

Seabourn started its Seabourn Ventures program on the Seabourn Quest with its very popular Antarctica sailings and then expended it to include the fjords of Norway and then the British Isles.

With the introduction of the Seabourn Encore, Seabourn is making an effort to expand its Seabourn Ventures program, but with a bit of a softer touch, so that more guests can enjoy it (and, to be honest, to create an environment where guests overestimate their abilities can safely and comfortably enjoy some adventure instead of just a normal tour).

Having previously visited Komodo Island, Indonesia and its famous dragons, I took the opportunity to try out the Seabourn Ventures' kayaking and then some snorkeling at Pink Beach.  The "venture" truly became an Ad-venture...and the Venture leaders did an excellent job reacting and keeping us safe.  But let's start at the beginning...

We anchored off of Komodo Island and were transferred by zodiac to a beach.  This gave me an opportunity to see how guests transfer to zodiacs from the Seabourn Encore...and it could not be safer or easier.

Seabourn Encore's Seabourn Ventures zodiacs
are extremely easy to board.
A short zodiac ride and we arrived at a quiet beach where the Ventures team had already staged the very comfortable and stable kayaks.

My friend Seabourn Ventures's Tua, gives me a warm welcome!

High quality single and double Wavesport kayaks are used
I shared my kayak with my new friend, Linda; a great kayaking partner...if you wanted to laugh a lot, but do most of the paddling.  (As she said, "If we were married, we would be divorced." and as I said, "No, I would be dead!".)  In other words, we had a great time.

I also met a really wonderful family from Australia including an absolutely charming mother with her lovely 12 year old daughter that also had a great time kayaking.  (Anyway, back to the story!)

But our great time had a bit of excitement.  As you can see from the photograph above, the water was almost a flat calm...and then, literally instantly, the water started rushing in (essentially a true tidal wave) creating rapids, eddies and whirlpools.  It came out of nowhere.

Fairly calm waters turned a bit turbulent, but the Seabourn Ventures
team saw it would get worse...
The Seabourn Ventures leader in the kayak immediately told us to paddle to a small island into calm water and the rescue zodiac (driven by my Cook Islander friend, Tua) was there almost instantly. With Tua literally being an expert at reading waters they took stock, made a plan, loaded us into the zodiac and delivered us...kayaks in tow...to Pink Beach, safe and sound.

...and it quickly did

Tua.  You will remember him!
Safely delivered to Pink Beach it was time to snorkel.  But before I get to those photographs, I must tell you the story of my plight to get a beer.

Pink Beach, Komodo Island, Indonesia

The Indonesian government would not allow Seabourn to provide any food or drinks other than water on the beach...and after saving Linda's life by guiding our kayak to the shelter of that island...having a beer did not look good.

However, some locals arrived and set up "shop" with some trinkets and, fortunately, beer.  But, alas, I had no money with me.  (Who knew I would need any?)   So Tua saved me a second time, loaning me 100,000 rupiah (or about US$7.00) so I could purchase a cold (actually merely not hot) beer.

The local woman - after negotiations - agreed to sell me two beers for the 100,000 rupiah but did not have a bottle opener.  She pretended to look for a bottle opener and then she handed me a rock. When that didn't work, she paused and then OPENED THE BEERS WITH HER TEETH!!!  Unbelievable and, frankly, quite impressive!

The coolest, if not coldest, beer I have ever enjoyed.
The local woman I bought it from opened it with her teeth!
I also enjoyed some really good snorkeling.  If the sun was fully out it would have been spectacular.

All in all Seabourn Encore's Seabourn Ventures program provided a very professional, diverse, safe and fun experience for young and old(er)!

Interested in a Seabourn cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email

United States:             (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:       020 8133 3450
Australia:                   (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else:      +1 530-562-9232

Or email us at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Seabourn Encore: The Inaugural Cruise - Part VII (Sushi)

I have to admit that before boarding the Seabourn Encore I thought Sushi, it’s new Japanese restaurant – and a first for Seabourn – was going to be just another sushi restaurant.  I was, well and truly, wrong.  It is, to my mind, one of the best dining experiences at sea and, quite possibly, cuisine at a higher level than even Seabourn’s The Grill by Thomas Keller.

Sushi - a Seabourn Encore-class only venue - is the “baby” of Tony Eggert, Seabourn’s long time culinary guru, who is extremely passionate about his child!  Sushi is a rather plain restaurant with simple white furnishings with hints of purple that seats about two dozen people plus another six or so at the sushi bar.  Why is this no extra cost restaurant so simple and the seating so limited?  Because the cuisine is the focus.  Even the details to accentuate the cuisine are subtle.

Seabourn Encore's Sushi
Seabourn Encore’s Sushi is open for lunch and dinner, but with two distinct menus:  Bento Boxes for lunch and a full sushi menu (but no bento boxes) at dinner.  The details are so carefully crafted that even the chopsticks used at lunch and dinner are different…so that you can change your chopsticks as you change your sashimi or nigiri selections.

Bento boxes are either Teriyaki Chicken, Miso Salmon or Vegetarian.  Each comes with miso soup, a green mixed salad, pickled vegetables, sesame rice and, of course, your main.  I tried the chicken and salmon options.  (One guest offered to me that he felt the chicken was superior to the famous roasted chicken offered at the Seabourn Encore’s The Grill by Thomas Keller, which I will explore in another article.)

Seabourn Encore's Sushi - Teriyaki Chicken Bento Box
with Japanese beer

Seabourn Encore's Sushi - Miso Salmon Bento Box
with cold sake
Dinner has a wide variety of offerings:  sashimi (no rice), nigiri (commonly called sushi), maki (rolls with seaweed on the outside) and rolls.  Vegetarian options are also available. 

Seabourn Encore's Sushi offers Salmon Tataki at its finest
Do not underestimate the cost or quality of the fish because it is on a cruise ship (and, in my instance, in the remote area of Indonesia).  I was truly impressed not only by the variety of fish, but the quality.  You probably heard the term “sushi quality”.  Well that doesn’t really mean anything.  (Ever had uninspired or bad sushi?) Virtually all of the fish is purchased in Japan and – in the Japanese tradition – flash frozen with facilities right on board.  There are very few land-based restaurants that serve such high quality fare.

 What the Seabourn Encore sushi chefs do to prepare the fish means even more.  For example, salmon is usually not my favorite fish (especially for sashimi – no rice).  However, the salmon at Sushi is carefully salted and then washed to remove the oils that make salmon not only oily in texture, but leaves a coating in your mouth…interfering with your subsequent offerings.

A high quality sake is offered (either hot or cold) along with a nice variety of appropriate wines to pair with your dining experience.

Sushi's cold sake is creatively presented
in an ice filled wooden box
Sushi has a team of Japanese chefs that are not only fantastic talents, but exceptionally nice.  They do interact with you if you sit at the bar and have the ability to make their own creations if asked.

The staff, which includes both Japanese and European staff, are extremely knowledgeable and friendly.  They not only give you a warm welcome and excellent service, they happily explain what each type of offering is available and the differences between them, so you should have no fear or intimidation if your visit to the Seabourn Encore’s Sushi is one of your first such experiences.

Seabourn Encore's Sushi offers
a variety of rolls
As little suggestion:  Sushi opens a bit earlier (at 6:45 p.m.) than the rest of the Seabourn Encore dining venues.  If you like to dine a bit later, as I do, stop by the Sushi bar for an early bite with some sake before dinner.

Interested in a Seabourn cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email

United States:             (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:       020 8133 3450
Australia:                   (07) 3102 4685

Everywhere Else:      +1 530-562-9232

or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Seabourn Encore: The Inaugural Cruise - Part VI (Going Local in Indonesia)

The Inaugural Cruise of the Seabourn Encore is not a terribly interesting one as far as ports to and, to be sure, the inaugural celebration has been – so far – quite muted.  But that is about to change (and will be the subject of another article).  But my purpose for being on this cruise was not to explore the ports, but rather the Seabourn Encore.  

Seabourn Encore in Celukan Bawang, Indonesia
However, I have ventured out in Semarang and Celukan Bawang, Indonesia for just a bit of local color and to stretch my legs. 

In Semarang, the first adventure was securing a taxi for a couple of hours, as the port was a distance from the town and the taxi union prevented Seabourn from providing buses for the transfer.  Very aggressive and wildly overpriced taxis were US$55 for two hours and more if you wanted someone who could actually speak some English and tell you where you were going and what you were seeing.

Umbrella Garden - Semarang, Indonesia
In a lesson of “Don’t focus on being right because you may wind up losing a once in a lifetime opportunity” I haggled the price down to $50 for an English speaking driver….and waited for Phase II of the ripoff to occur.  Regardless I was going to visit the true local market and have some local Indonesian food.

Our first stop was an old Dutch colonial building that has been converted into a restaurant of sorts.  It actually was quite beautiful, though I am not sure that the “original” stain glass was actually original based upon the terribly deteriorated condition of most all of the buildings in the area.

After a drive through rather freeform and free-flowing traffic we arrived at the local’s local market.  My driver (never did understand his name) ushered me into the clothing area of the market (where I did not want to be).  However, that morning my watch broke, so I was able to pick up a new watch for about US$15 that actually works and appears to truly be waterproof (at least to the depth of the forward whirlpool!)

The Semarang, Indonesia market might be small and dirty,
but the women were warm and friendly 

A young woman with a great smile
proudly shows off one of the chicken heads she was lopping off
a pile of unrefrigerated chickens in the 90+ degree heat
It was then off to the food “market” which was actually just a dirt street with corrugated metal or blue tarp roofs.  There were sufficient cats and rats around to let you know that this was not the place for a Seabourn Shopping with the Chef experience!  However, the woman in the market were incredibly friendly, though none spoke any English, and I was able to experience two new fruits to me:  Snake fruit and Srikaya or Sugar-Apple.

Snake Fruit
Snake fruit is actually quite delicious. It’s brown outer skin looks like snakeskin, but inside it is a soft somewhat sweet pulpy fruit with each section having a fairly large pit (or stone).

Srikaya looks like a tough, armoured, fruit, but is actually quite soft and with a little twist almost falls apart.  It is quite aromatic, but had too many seeds to make eating it enjoyable.

I did have a few lychees as well.

If you are kind finding smiles is easy

 I told the driver I did not want to buy any, but he bought some anyway.  I figured it was either for himself or it was going to be associated with Part II of the attempted ripoff.  Either way, it was fine as I was seeing what I wanted to see and he was the only way I was going to be able to see it.

After a bit more of a wander it was time to go for a local lunch.  I asked that I have lunch where he would have lunch and, to be sure, that is where we ate.  There were about a dozen semi-permanent food stalls with crowded wood slatted tables and benches outside of each.  Offerings ranged from ramen to chicken.  We ended up a  fish and (I think) beef place.

Going Local in Semerang, Indonesia
On the upper shelf were some small spicy-looking fish and below something that was akin to white bait and next to that was a pot with (I think) beef with a spicy sauce bubbling next to it.  Beer was not an option, so I was served the well-known “kiss of stomach death”:  ice tea with ice.

 The food was actually quite good, once I got over the fact that my spicy fish clearly has been sitting out for a very long time and the anticipated effects of the ice tea would still be hours away!

 After lunch my two hours was up (at least according to my trusty new watch…oh, and of course, my phone!) so it was time to head back to the ship.  And that is were Part II of the attempted ripoff had me driven in long, windy circles, trying to extend the time so I would have to pay more.  I commented a few times, “The port is over that way, isn’t it?” to which “Yes. Yes” was the reply each time.

Eventually we arrived back at the port.  The driver says the cost of the lunch and fruit is US$12 and we were 15 minutes over time.  Besides the fact I did not want the fruit two bags of fruit and a small lunch could not possibly cost $12 and, of course, we could have been on time.  Rather than getting into a fight with him – needing to be right – I figured 200,000 rupiah was about $15 (as I knew from my big watch purchase) and that probably would have been my tip regardless.  So I handed over the money, opened the taxi door and never looked back.  (Oh, I took the fruit, of course!)

The lesson here is if you keep calm and understand your options, you can get ripped off and still win.  Seriously, for only $65 I got a private car, saw what I wanted, had lunch and got safely back to the ship.

I did not get off the ship in Surabaya or Probolinggo, Indonesia as the only tours didn’t sound great and I did not want to spend hours in a bus getting there and back. In Celukan Bawang there apparently was a very nice beach and hotel about 45 minutes away, but that just doesn’t excite me when I have the Seabourn Encore to enjoy.  So off I went on foot.  After getting past the barrage of women hawking cloth and shirts, men selling jewelry and taxis and motorcycles vying for tours, things became a peaceful. 

The few that ventured as I did said there was nothing to see.  While there was nothing breathtaking, there were – yet again – little things that caught my eye.

Two exotic bird "stores" in Celukan Bawang, Indonesia
I fear these beautiful birds were probably illegally captured

A Love Bird
(I used to have one!)
Finding interesting architecture and shrines:

But a gentle father with his son was a sweet moment!

Tomorrw will be my second visit to Komodo Island.  This time it will be Seabourn Ventures program of kayaking and snorkeling on Pink Beach.  I've seen the Komodo dragons and am hungry to have other experiences.

Interested in a Seabourn cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email

United States:             (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:       020 8133 3450
Australia:                   (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else:      +1 530-562-9232

Or email us at eric@goldringtravel.com.