The Scenic Eclipse’s owner wanted non-billionaire friends to experience the billionaire luxury yacht experience. Count yourself in.
The chef presents a burrito cigar, filled with chicken, salsa and guacamole, resting on a thick glass ashtray you haven’t seen since 1978. Next up is a slice of marbled Jack’s Creek Australian steak sizzling on hot pebbles, blow-torched to order, medium rare. Now the glazed fois gras lollipop, served on candy floss which is melted with chili-infused vinegar spray. There will be ten of these courses, each accompanied by a crystal glass of fine wine from every major wine-producing region. Am I in one of Vancouver’s new Michelin-star fine dining restaurants? No, I’m a passenger on the world’s most luxurious passenger yacht cruising off the Pacific coast of South America, and this is not even the most memorable meal of the week.
In the wake of the pandemic, cruise ships appear to be sailing in two different directions. There are the massive floating resorts appealing to the masses (MSC’s new Wonder of the Seas can accommodate a record 6988 passengers). Then there are the small, extravagant vessels that promise comfort and decadence beyond imagination. With just 114 suites housing 228 guests across five decks, the 168-metre long Scenic Eclipse sails firmly into this harbour, billed as The World’s First Discovery Yacht. This means it can safely navigate Antarctica and the Northwest Passage just as easily as it can cruise the Mediterranean or South Pacific. It also means that each extra-large, sound-insulated cabin has its own butler, electronically customizable beds, Dyson hair-dryers, all-inclusive mini-bar, balcony, gourmet coffee maker, and oversized rain shower bathroom.
-Boarding the Eclipse in Lima on a 9-day sailing to the Chilean capital of Santiago, the lush expansive lounge, beaming staff and towering bar all look impeccable. Doting, attentive and highly trained international crew outnumber guests three to one. The Eclipse was inspired by the Australian owner’s desire to offer his non-billionaire friends the billionaire luxury yacht experience. Forget the tiresome nickel and dime cruise dance, because everything is included: all premium alcohol, wifi, offshore excursions, all nine dining options, entertainment, kayaking, paddle-boarding, even your crew and driver tips. You do however have to pay to ride the two on-board helicopters and comfy submarine, along with expansive spa services that include a range of massage, hair styling and nail services. Considering the pricey rack rates for this bucket list cruise experience, those costs might feel like a drop in the ocean.
“Honey, there’s a sperm whale chilling off our balcony!” My wife is enjoying her long hot shower (the ship desalinates up to 200 tonnes of seawater every day) and misses the unexpected wildlife moment. Gathered for their daily wildlife briefing in the lounge, the ship’s marine biologists, naturalists and guides are suitably impressed. A sense of discovery, immersion in nature, and taking advantage of the ship’s many toys are baked into the Scenic Eclipse experience. Our particular itinerary, an annual repositioning called Latin American Delights, offers mostly land-based cultural excursions as the Eclipse makes her way south for another busy Antarctica season. In Paracas, Peru, zodiacs take us to the Ballestas Islands, where pungent guano is mined for fertilizer and hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest in dramatic cliffs reminiscent of the Galapagos. The following day, flamingos and migrating birds await us in the protected Meija Lagoons, an hour’s drive from the historic town of Matarani. Relieved to welcome the first cruise ship to visit the port town in two and half years (Covid and political unrest battered regional tourism in Peru), locals pull out all the stops in appreciation. We dance, drink pisco, and smile for local media. Sailing into Arica, Chile, we leave the ship to explore the culture and alien landscapes of the Atacama. Life is in constant battle with the elements in the world’s driest desert. In a small desert village called Codpa, the resident shaman’s blessing over smoke, sweet wine and coca leaves feels deeply authentic. Each afternoon, we return by bus to the Eclipse’s decadent bubble of luxury, greeted with hot towels, spotlessly clean rooms, twinkling live piano music, courtly service, and a complementary cocktail bar of dreams. Whatever region of the planet you explore on this striking vessel, expect a jarring contrast onboard to the world you’ll discover onshore.
There are 135 different types of Scotch and whiskey at the bar, and recognizing the opportunity, I’m determined to taste as many as I can. Each dinner menu is a conversation starter, each dish over the top. Even at full passenger capacity, the Eclipse is designed to accentuate opulent space and comfort, hence her ten dining experiences when the outstanding Yacht Club buffet could easily suffice. Hell, the 24-hour room service menu would easily suffice. Smiling staff are eager to satisfy any guest request. Truffle fries at 1am in the morning? Yes sir! Changing one of the six types of available pillows before turning in? Yes sir!
Expect indulgent French cuisine in Lumiere, melt-in-the-mouth sushi at Kokos, grilled rib-eye steak and lobster in Elements, and expensive wine that just doesn’t stop flowing. My favourite meal is the Night Market, where a wonderful chef named Strawberry (yes, that’s her real name) exhibits her culinary creativity across eight courses of Indian, Middle-Eastern or Asian-inspired dishes that defy description. Her blueberry folded gelato served with curry-buttered popcorn and compote will haunt my tastebuds forever. Corporate Executive Chef Tom Götter’s commitment to sustainability and reducing food waste permeates everything: food scraps like vegetable peels and kitchen castaways are dehydrated and turned into fragrant ‘dusts’ and spices. All the gelato and baked goods are made onboard, while fresh herbs grow in specialized cabinets inside Epicure, which hosts cooking classes and beverage tastings. The Eclipse burns low sulphur diesel, and when liquid natural gas starts powering cruise ships, I expect Scenic – which operates luxury river cruises in Europe and has more ocean ships under construction - will be among the early adopters. Initiatives like digital labels updated daily in guest cabins might eliminate paper, although any readers seeking a sustainable vacation won’t find it on an engine-powered cruise ship, at least for now.
As we approach our final port of Valparaiso, heavy wind and high waves pound the ship, so I head to the bridge to see how our affable captain is dealing with it. The technology and engineering inside the Eclipse is mind-boggling. Oversize six-metre-long stabilizers have been deployed on either side, large enough to keep passengers steady on much larger ships. There’s no rudder, as each prop can rotate 360-degrees, while the ship can maintain her position without dropping anchor thanks to GPS positioning. Bridge crew welcome guest visits from 8am to 8pm, patiently explaining to us how the ship works, and allowing the obligatory captain’s chair photo. I can’t stick around though, I’ve got a manicure booked, and want to iron out my back in the infra-red sauna before tackling a half-dozen fragrant Speysides at the bar.
“Who the hell lives like this?” I ask my wife, busy scrolling on-demand movie selection on our cabin’s wall-sized flat screen TV. We need a few hours to digest the 10-course Chef’s Table dinner, featuring that burrito cigar, as well as coconut ceviche, braised BBQ rib, smashed mango-curry lamb chop, and a literal homemade chocolate fudge explosion. In fact, we’ll need a few years to digest the overall Scenic Eclipse experience. Together we’ve come a long way from our first cruise onboard a typical floating hotel with packed pools and excessive buffets. Luxury small ships like the Scenic Eclipse cater to a different clientele chasing unique and exclusive experiences. Pricey it may be, but passengers will delight in that rare opportunity to get far more than what you pay for.
Visit www.scenic.ca for more information about Scenic Eclipse itineraries.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.