When Dame Helen Mirren swung the champagne bottle to officially christen the Scenic Eclipse, she was following in the footsteps of other British notables, mostly royal ones. Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, the Royal Duchesses Kate Middleton and Camilla, have all taken on the role of godmother for seagoing ships. Mirren is a natural for the role – she did, after all, win an Oscar for playing a queen.
On the day of the christening Mirren was warm but regally dignified. She seemed to embody the spirit of the Eclipse, dressed in the same tones as the ship’s interior decor – a pale grey pant suit with a narrow red windowpane pattern, a black headwrap and camisole and bright red shoes.
The Scenic Eclipse is billed as the first luxury discovery yacht – a small ship dedicated to exploring exotic and less frequently visited places but with the full-out opulence of top-line cruise ships. These are not just “dine and dance” cruises, though you can do that too. The anticipation surrounding the launch would suggest that this growing trend will continue to build.
Traditionally, exploration ships have tended to be of the “Tilley hat and bunk bed” school of decor. Discovery yachts provide the same layered insights from a team of experts, but also butler service, gourmet dining, deluxe cabins and exceptional add-ons. It is a marriage of expedition and indulgence.
The Scenic Eclipse is at the forefront, providing not just the extravagance of a six-star cruise but also enhanced opportunities for adventure. Two Airbus H130 helicopters and the Scenic Neptune submarine will get guests up close in exotic locations, and the Polar Class 6 rating means the ship can cruise through the icy waters of the Arctic and Antarctic. Guests can fly close over the Arctic tundra, or dive to see marine creatures and coral reefs. There are Zodiacs, e-bikes and kayaks to add variety to port visits. Future cruises are planned to Alaska, Australia and New Zealand, South America, Norway and Greenland, everywhere from extreme polar regions to the tropics.
The Eclipse will soon be joined by other discovery yachts. Seabourn’s ultraluxe, purpose-built Seabourn Venture will launch in June, 2021 with a sister ship to follow in 2022, each with two custom submarines. Crystal’s first expedition ship, the Endeavor, will launch in 2020 with two helicopters, a submarine and in-depth enrichment programs.
Aurora Expeditions’ new ship, the 120-passenger Greg Mortimer, which was launched in September of this year, has a retractable viewing platform to allow guests to get close to wildlife. Itineraries include a repositioning cruise from Antarctica via the west coast of Chile, through the Panama Canal via the Caribbean then north to Greenland. Silversea’s Silver Explorer takes passengers to off-the-beaten-path locations in its signature style.
All these ships also make concessions to environmental concerns. The Scenic Eclipse has a GPS dynamic positioning system that allows for stationary positioning without an anchor, reducing environmental effects in sensitive regions, while Aurora’s Greg Mortimer’s bow is shaped for faster and lower-emission travel.
Of course, exploring in grand style comes with a cost. The Eclipse, for example, offers a 15-day Across the Arctic Circle cruise, departing from Longyearbyen, Norway for $19,500 a person, or an 11 day Wild Scotland and the Hebrideans cruise for $11,700. These are all-inclusive voyages, with meals, drinks and butler services included. Flights on the helicopters and voyages on the submarine are extra, ranging from about $500 a person.
But with only 114 suites and a 1:1 ratio of staff to guests, the Eclipse lives up to its luxury billing. Every balconied suite comes with its own butler. Mine was Sunil, a consummate professional who studied with Robert Watson in London at the Guild of Professional English Butlers.
The ship’s interior aesthetic is predominantly contemporary, with uncluttered lines and a palette of greys, cream, black and silver. Large art pieces anchor the rooms along with clutches of fresh white flowers. The effect is stunning, but not perhaps to everyone’s taste. Some of my fellow passengers loved the modern sophistication, but others found it too monochromatic. One Londoner I spoke with called it stark: “I like more things around, more punches of colour” she told me.
My favourite place on board was Lumière, the French restaurant, one of the 10 dining venues. Anchored by a rose quartz wine bar, it boasts mandarin orange china, a black-and-white tile floor and food that is delicious in a very French way.
This Eclipse, and the other discovery yachts sailing or about to sail, will appeal to cruisers who have done Europe and the Caribbean and are ready for something more. They are also a perfect fit for younger cruisers whose design tastes tend to be more contemporary and who crave active excursion. And it will satisfy passengers of any age or experience who want adventure but live for five-star service.
At the christening press conference, one of the journalists asked Mirren, “If the Scenic Eclipse were a character in a movie, who would she be?”
A pause. “I can’t think of a specific role, but she would have to be a queen, I think – a very modern one”
The writer travelled as a guest of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours. It did not review or approve this article.
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