The inimitable setting of Venice played host to the christening of the first ultra-luxury vessel to debut in six years. In a break with tradition, all 450 inaugural passengers acted as godparents at a masked-ball celebration one evening in late June.

It was a truly glittering affair held on board as Seabourn Odyssey was alongside the prestigious cruise berth at Riva degli Schiavoni – within sight of the iconic Piazza San Marco.

I had joined Odyssey two days earlier for a sneak preview and the chance to quiz the executive management team. “Seabourn’s the best of the best; it is the absolute ultimate in personalised service, a yacht-like atmosphere and quality surroundings; the best of the best is the only way I can put it,” preened Micky Arison, chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation.

No-one was taken aback at this boastful claim once they had spent some time on board but, with a capacity for 450 guests, can the Odyssey really be called a yacht? This was the first question I put to Pamela Conover, President and CEO of Yachts of Seabourn. Her answer was unequivocal: “Seabourn Odyssey is very much a yacht, and indeed this is a differentiating factor for Seabourn.”

During the course of the pre-inaugural event, I had the opportunity to talk further with Conover, who I knew from her time at Cunard when she spearheaded the introduction of Queen Mary 2 back in December 2003.

The next question I asked was about the effect of the economic downturn in the luxury sector of the cruise industry. She replied: “2009 has seen a 90 per cent increase over 2008 in people cruising with us for the first time,” adding there has been dramatic growth in the number of British passengers. Conover was also keen to point out: “The average age on some shorter cruises is late 40s, demonstrating the appeal to a younger demographic of this new addition to the fleet.”

This highly-respected paladin believes the experience aboard Yachts of Seabourn is equivalent to the very top of the hotel chain. “Sailing on board our yachts is like staying in renowned hotels such as the Hotel du Cap in Antibes, the defining difference being that we are all-inclusive.”

When I enquired about the future for the three smaller vessels in the fleet, she was again emphatic: “Seabourn will continue to operate the smaller yachts – deploying them to new cruising areas.”

The Suite Life

There are 13 categories within the array of 225 suites that range from 269sq ft Seabourn Suites to 1,182sq ft Grand Suites.

Some 197 have spacious verandas, where a good-sized table permits private dining.

Possibly the most sumptuous accommodations on board are the two Wintergarden Suites with their glass-enclosed solariums and 215sq ft verandas.

Each of these private halcyons epitomises the uncompromising levels of luxury, from the introductory grade A, through the Veranda Suites to the 22 Penthouse Suites, 5 Owner’s Suites and 4 Grand Suites.

All suites have incredibly comfortable beds, with 100 per cent Egyptian cotton linens and huge feather pillows.

There are large walk-in closets, interactive flat-screen TVs with access to a vast library of movies and music, iPod docks and fully-stocked mini-bars.

Finished in grey and brown granite, the bathrooms have a separate tub and shower, not to mention a cornucopia of Therapies – specially-created plant-based unguents from Molton Brown.

Having sailed previously on all three of the smaller scions of the mini navy that is Yachts of Seabourn, I was curious to see what this new vessel – three times the size of her smaller sisters, yet accommodating only twice as many – could deliver beyond the impeccable levels of service I’ve previously enjoyed. I was not unimpressed.

As I explored the eight decks of this 32,000-ton vessel it was evident Seabourn Odyssey was spectacular without being overblown. Notwithstanding some last-minute finishing touches being put in place by the team from the Genoese shipyard that created this paragon, restrained luxury at sea has been elevated into the stratosphere. Indeed, some pundits have postulated the yacht will be a ‘game-changer’ for the luxury sector of the cruise industry.

The company’s first new build for 15 years was conceived to appeal to contemporary tastes and lifestyle. Intimate and stylish have obviously been the all-pervading principals of the designers – the celebrated Oslo-based company Yran & Storbraaten. Seabourn’s requirement for more balcony suites called for the rearrangement of the structure by pushing public spaces and other functions lower to ensure that most of the suites were on the upper levels.

The architects also came up with a range of solutions to relieve any oppressive impact of low ceilings. The yacht has higher-than-normal ceilings in its restaurants but, in other public rooms, domes are incorporated, creating the illusion the ceiling has disappeared. Effective use of lighting and mirrors has visually enhanced the suites, while honey-coloured marble and travertine dressed with caf