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PHOTO: Shopping With The Chefs in Vietnam. (photo by Chris Owen)
Just complete, the third annual Seabourn Food And Wine Cruise took travelers on a 14-night Taste of Asia itinerary from Hong Kong to Singapore. Along the way, Seabourn Sojourn stopped in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with passengers choosing from over 90 scheduled food- and wine-related events. Based on attendance and guest feedback, here is a top ten of those experiences:
1. Shopping With The Chefs- A signature feature of nearly all Seabourn cruises, Shopping With The Chefs takes passengers off the ship on a culinary adventure charged with sourcing food to be used on the ship.
2. Take Home Knowledge- A number of cooking demonstrations drew the largest crowds with passengers lining up before the doors to Seabourn Sojourn's Grand Salon were opened. Of special interest were skills demonstrated by chefs onstage that they made sure to say could be done at home.
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3. Culinary Connections- After those cooking demonstrations were over, chefs stuck around to answer questions and provide helpful guidance to passengers in attendance.
4. Wine, Beer, Menu Changes Along With Ports- Some cruise lines say they do this but just don't, or make changes so small it is difficult to determine what changed and why. Seabourn spells this out with intense training of dining servers, bartenders and other crewmembers who need that information.
5. Culinary Events Focused On Days At Sea- Sort of like a seminar set on a cruise - where businesses hold meetings while at sea and play when in port - so goes planning of the Seabourn Food and Wine Cruise. With the exception of some late night beverage/mixology classes, nearly all special culinary events unique to the sailing happen on days at sea. Shopping With the Chefs, obviously, needs to happen when land is close by.
6. The Highest Possible Bar- One interesting outcome of joining the Seabourn Food and Wine Cruise: I know exactly how high the bar can be placed for what can be done with food at sea. As I write this, Seabourn has nearly finished integrating the culinary prowess of Thomas Keller to the menu in several areas. Pushing the bar even higher, the Thomas Keller menu elements compliment an already award winning culinary operation.
7. Background Enrichment- Periodic port talks were much more than cleverly disguised sales pitches for approved vendors on land. Also a signature Seabourn part of the deal, onboard lecturers are interesting and add background detail we probably should have learned about before sailing, but did not have the time. Presented at a time when we need and can use it, port information here is relevant.
8. Late Night And Overnight In Port- There is something to be said for seeing a different land at night that is the exception to the rule when it comes to cruise vacations. Staying late in the embarkation port of Hong Kong gave even those who did not fly in advance of sailing some time to experience it. Staying overnight in Saigon gave even more of a dose of Asian nightlife to those who were interested. Seeking a great place for late night drinks? Follow the crew.
9. A Different Perspective- Not really advertised, but one takeaway from visiting this part of the world is insight into what it is like to live in a Communist country. This was huge for anyone who might have been alive during the Vietnam War (called the American War by locals here). That's not the Vietnam we saw. We saw a busy, thriving country going after tourist business in a big way.
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10. Seabourn Guests- Also not advertised as part of the deal, the unique way passengers are treated by this ultra luxury cruise line is significant. The fact that crewmembers know the name of guests before they walk on the ship, use that name knowledge every step of the way, and take pride in it, is huge. That level of detailed attention represents a trifecta of personal connection, one we have not seen elsewhere, on any other cruise line.
Also part of the Seabourn Food And Wine Cruise: relaxation. Perhaps because it was a 14-night sailing and events were spread out nicely throughout the itinerary, it all unfolded at a relaxed pace. Regardless of how they went about it, Seabourn delivered another Food and Wine Cruise that engaged passengers rather than simply transporting them from place to place. That's the core of it. That engagement adds up fast.
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