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Scenic Eclipse. Credit: Scenic Cruises

The Mediterranean as you have never experienced it before

Author: Kaye Holland

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Kaye Holland sets sail on six-star Scenic Eclipse’s inaugural Mediterranean voyage.

The sun is kissing the tiled ochre roofs and winding cobbled streets of Porto – Portugal’s second city – and locals and tourists alike are ambling along its bustling waterfront, snapping selfies on Dom Luís I bridge and sipping port wine at a pavement cafe.

This pretty waterfront city is our first port of call aboard a Mediterranean voyage with Scenic Eclipse, and it’s a postcard-perfect scene.

And yet, despite a fantastic tour with the knowledge of amiable Pedro, which took in the beaux-arts São Bento station – undoubtedly one of the world’s most spectacular railway stations – and the Palácio da Bolsa, the city’s neoclassical former stock exchange, I and my fellow passengers find ourselves positively skipping back to our ship.

Like so many vessels, Scenic Eclipse’s nautical debut was delayed (no fewer than three times) due to construction issues, but it’s safe to say she was worth the wait.

Carrying only 228 passengers at any one time, meaning she’s nimble enough to navigate small ports and harbours, the much- anticipated first all-inclusive ‘discovery yacht’ – created by Scenic founder Glen Moroney after he saw Microsoft co-founder-turned billionaire investor Paul Allen’s super yacht – is a constant topic of conversation during our sailing.

And understandably so, for there’s arguably nothing in the cruising world that can compare with Scenic Eclipse. This six-star, 551-foot luxury vessel – the first ocean cruise ship for Australian-owned Scenic Cruises, previously renowned for upmarket river cruises – is seriously good-looking with her sleek, curved silhouette and jet-black hull.

Scenic superstar: the lounge on board Scenic Eclipse. Credit: Scenic Cruises

Suite dreams
Onboard, 114 sizeable suites are tastefully furnished in taupes and slate greys with accents of colour added by bespoke artwork courtesy of Byron Bay artist Mitch Gobel, and come with a living room, balcony, butler service, remote- controlled electric-adjustable mattress, an HDTV entertainment system embedded in a glass wall and Dyson supersonic hair dryers.

I was so enamoured with the hairdryer which, trust me, really does dry hair eight times faster than its competitors, that I spent the first evening hunting for one on Amazon – only to find that it came with a £300+ price tag, another sign that Scenic has spared no expense when it comes to Eclipse.

Your correspondent checked into a Verandah Suite. Dubbed the ‘entry level’ category, the suite was still significantly larger than my London flat at 32m2, and came with a polished marble bathroom kitted out with gorgeous ESPA products.

However, if you’re looking to return to the high seas in style after a few years of being landlocked, the two-bedroom 247m2 Owner’s Penthouse could be the way to go.

Elsewhere, spa suites boast Philippe Starck-designed jacuzzis and steam showers, while the 110m2 Panorama suites have a generous terrace and walk-through bathroom.

A good night's sleep is guaranteed in a Verandah suite. Credit: Scenic Cruises

Food glorious food
The luxury doesn’t stop inside the suites either. Eclipse, who counts Dame Helen Mirren as a godmother, has 10 restaurants you can head to for a taste of the very, very good life. All are overseen by executive chef Tom Goetter, who seems to grasp that for many people, food is no longer just something you enjoy on a cruise – it’s now a reason to set sail.

The hottest restaurant on board is arguably the Night Market, a private dining experience for up to eight guests with an open grill that takes its inspiration from night markets and street food dishes of Asia, India, and the Middle East.

I wasn’t lucky enough to bag a seat at the Night Market but I did get to eat at French-inspired Lumière – where guests are greeted at the entrance by a life-sized dress made of 5,400 spoons by Francois Bertrand and a flute of fizz – before tucking into a seven-course menu paired with fine wines; Koko’s Fusion (try the bibimbap and Instagram-worthy mochi in a forest of blue candy-floss); Koko’s Sushi (pleasingly vegetarians are no after-thought); and Elements, an à la carte Italian, steak and seafood restaurant where I was too blown away by the food to bother talking.

-READ MORE: Scenic Eclipse unveils seven new ultra-luxury voyages -

On a ship such as Eclipse, you’ll want to put on your glad rags and try the various tasting menus when night falls but, at lunchtime, chances are you’ll be looking for something a little more low-key.

Enter Azure, which specialises in casual dining, and the Yacht Club, a poolside grill and buffet on deck seven that transforms into a dance floor by night where passengers (on my voyage at least) danced with abandon to pop classics.

Breakfast can also be enjoyed at both of these venues although, if you really want to embrace the super-yacht lifestyle, your own white-gloved butler will deliver to your balcony.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable about having a butler – as a modern, independent woman, I’m not good with help – but Christian from Romania was keen to stress that firstly, his goal was to make my trip more memorable; and secondly, Scenic treated him very, very well.

It was a sentiment repeated by other crew members who seemed genuinely delighted to be greeting passengers and back at sea.

At Eclipse’s Whisky bar, 110 bottles of whiskey are available for guests to sample and enjoy. Credit: Scenic Cruise

It gets even better...
Other standouts on-board include a built-in theatre, again decked out in chic yet muted greys, beiges, blacks – you won’t find chandeliers or Swarovski staircases here – with reclining leather loungers from which to watch a film, listen to an expedition lecture or catch a concert.

The 5,920-square-foot Senses Spa with its ESPA treatments and temperature-controlled plunge pools also elates, as does the crystal quartz back-lit whiskey bar that’s home to more than 100 of the finest bottles, and the zen-like Observation lounge and library.

I also loved Eclipse’s open bridge policy affording passengers the chance to visit the captain and crew, and learn about the ship’s state-of- the-art technological capabilities.

But what really helps Eclipse, erm, eclipse the competition is its expensive, James-Bond style toys: two shiny black state-of-the-art Airbus H130 helicopters, a first for an expedition cruise ship; a fleet of Zodiac boats for adventuring; and a six-passenger submarine, step forward Scenic Neptune; as well as an array of kayaks, paddle-boards and electric bikes.

As Jason Flesher, Scenic’s Expedition operations manager, told me: "Today, passengers want experiences that they can’t get elsewhere. They want to see things that are totally unique and on Eclipse they have that chance."

Arguably, the real selling point though is Eclipse’s environmental credentials: the ship is fitted with a state-of-the-art water treatment system that discharges only clean water and uses the lightest marine fuel, as well as a GPS dynamic positioning system that allows Eclipse to dock without dropping anchor onto sensitive sea beds.

Indeed the eco-commitment is flagged up everywhere. There aren’t any mini-sized bottles of posh hand wash in the bathrooms – instead bulk dispensers are topped up with lush ESPA products every day; and plastic water bottles have been banned, replaced with refillable containers on shore excursions.

Eclipse's zen-like Observation lounge and library. Credit: Scenic Cruises

Shore thing
Speaking of which, given that Eclipse is akin to a floating six-star hotel and one that’s bursting with things to see and do, it’s easy to understand why some passengers have a hard time motivating themselves to leave the ship.

However, when guided walking tours, wine tasting experiences and more adventurous outings such as kayaking down the Minho river are – like almost everything – included in the price, it would be wrong not to explore ashore no matter how bad your hangover is after one too many at Eclipse’s whisky bar.

In Vigo, a city in northwest Spain that enjoys a spectacular location at the mouth of the Ría de Vigo, I joined a sightseeing tour exploring the nooks and crannies of the old town’s labyrinth of lanes where granite tables are piled high with freshly caught oysters. It turned out that Vigo is the most important fishing port in Spain, whose catch is sold all over the world – who knew?

Sitting in a local tapas bar while sipping a glass of albariño (Spain’s great white wine) and watching both the daily paseo (stroll) and boats depart for the the blissful white sands of the Cíes Islands, it occurred to me that this is one of the attractions of cruising: discovering destinations that hadn’t previously figured on your mental map.

We also journeyed by coach to neighbouring Baiona, where Columbus landed in 1493 to announce the discovery of America. Baiona’s crowning glory is its castellated fortress: with walls dating back to the 11th century, the fortress stands on a headland that dominates the picturesque bay it was built to protect.

On another day, we docked in Douarnenez, aka the gateway to Concarneau, one of Brittany’s prettiest fishing ports. Here I joined a walking tour of the medieval walled town, fortified in the 14th century and modified by the architect Vauban two centuries later, that sits on a small island.

We clambered up the stocky stone ramparts to glimpse the huge fishing fleet before learning about its history at the Fishing Museum (more fun than its name sounds) – and then whiling away the rest of the morning drinking delicious local cider and gorging on Brittany’s famous Kouign amann cake at a sun-drenched cafe.

For casual-cafe dining, Azure Cafe is where it's at. Credit: Scenic Cruises

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And whenever and wherever I ventured, local jaws dropped when I happened to mention that I had disembarked for the day from the swanky Eclipse.

Back on board, every passenger I spoke to was also of the opinion that the ship more than lives up to its six- star hype. Make no mistake: Eclipse is something very, very special.

Of course a cruise on Eclipse doesn’t come cheap – you may have to remortgage your house – but, if you can afford the price tag, the quiet luxury of Eclipse is the perfect balm to stormy times back home.

Get on board
An 11-night ‘Hidden Wonders of the Mediterranean’ cruise, from Valletta to Lisbon via Gozo, Trapani, Carloforte, Ciutadella de Menorca, Formentera, Cartagena, Puerto Banús, Tangier and Portimão, departs May 17, 2024, from £6,758pp. scenic.co.uk

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