Seabourn Encore returns to service after a two-year pause – and it feels so good, writes Lesley Bellew
It’s blowing a hooley out in the Atlantic so Seabourn Encore’s much-awaited return to the high seas after 704 days is delayed – but the upside is another 12 hours in Lisbon.
(Photo left: author Lesley Bellew in Lisbon, overlooking Seabourn Encore in the harbour)
Moored away from the winds on the River Tagus, pretty red-roof houses tumble down to the harbourside where the Phoenicians settled around 1200 BC (four centuries before the Romans), taking advantage of the sheltered position, just like us.
A 15-minute walk along the prom is another history lesson; Praco do Comercio, a magnificent plaza wrapped by yellow pombaline-style buildings with pretty balconies and arches, has a statue of King José I on horseback at its centre. The monarch reigned over Lisbon when it was hit by a violent earthquake in 1775 and tens of thousands of lives were lost. Luckily, the king was not in the city that day.
It was here, too, that King Carlos I and his son Luis Philipe were assassinated in 1908, leading to the fall of the monarchy two years later.
I leave through Rua Augusta arch, the symbolic entrance to the city, and within 10 minutes find the Baxia tram stop to board No 28 for the climb to Campo Ourique, more than 1,000 ft above sea level.
For 3 euros it is the best-value way to see the city; a 40-minute snapshot of city life with locals as well as tourists riding on the century-old bright yellow tram, complete with leather seats and varnished wood-framed windows.
The tram heads west, snaking through shopping districts and past houses clad with brightly coloured tiles alongside cobbled streets patterned with ships that pay homage to the city’s maritime heritage. We also zig-zag past the Romanesque Sé de Lisboa Cathedral and former royal residence Castelo de Sao Jorge, which both, somehow, survived the 1775 earthquake.
Rather than a return ride, it’s more fun to walk back down to the river with a stop for coffee and pastel de nata (Portugal’s must-have custard tart) in medieval Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon where Seabourn Encore below dominates views over the river.
It’s impossible to get lost from here – any route down the labyrinth of steep streets, where clothes flutter on washing lines and geraniums spill over the balconies, ends near the bars along Rua do Arsenal, so build in time for a Portuguese Superbock beer.
And it’s not only me waxing lyrical about Lisbon; Sir Tim Rice is on board and tells me he is ‘really impressed’ by his first visit to Lisbon (photo right).
The lyricist, who is one of only 16 artists to have won an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and a Tony, is on his first trip out of the UK since 2020 and says: “I have never been to Portugal so I enjoyed exploring the city, seeing the cathedral and Cristo Rei, the Christ Statue, as well as finding some rather nice restaurants.
“It is so great to be back travelling; the Seabourn ships are always so well-organised and they are not too big, yet with all the mod cons! Presenting the show ‘An Evening with Tim Rice’ has gone really well – the singers were terrific.”
Ready to sail
Captain David Bathgate (photo left) announces Seabourn Encore is to start her 1,900-mile round-trip with a 525-mile sailing south to Madeira.
The stabilisers are on to smooth the way but nothing stops a visit to The Grill, the ship’s speciality restaurant by Thomas Keller – the first American-born chef to hold multiple three-star Michelin Guide ratings. There’s no extra charge to eat here and the lobster thermidor is definitely a ‘Seabourn Moment’.
On arrival in Funchal, our ship is the first to moor for three days, thanks to Captain David’s skilful choice of route and timings. The temperature is up a few more degrees and perfect for a walk through a lush local park to the market.
(Photo right: Welcoming market vendor Anna in Funchal.)
Artistic displays of fruit, veg and flowers, alongside the fish market, make Lavdora do Mercados such a pleasing place to visit. The streamlined early 1940s building is also easy on the eye and even better for the welcoming rooftop bar.
Next, it’s a call into Blandy’s for a glass of Malmsey, the best madeira wine (apparently the choice of Admiral Lord Nelson) and a slice of honey cake.
The Canaries await and on board the poolside is busy with the 450 guests lapping up the sunshine and superb poolside dining – with champagne all the way if desired!
Seabourn Encore’s crew are faultless. Each one is clearly overjoyed to be back at work. In March 2020, Captain Bathgate brought back the ship from Adelaide, Australia, where she then ‘ticked over’ at anchor off Cyprus. It was not until January 2022 that the 90 skeleton crew were joined by the hotel team, bringing the numbers back to 446 and a one-to-one crew to passenger ratio.
Captain Bathgate observed: “It is wonderful to see the ship come alive with its heart beating again.”
We are in good hands, with 42 years’ experience at sea, including 25 years as master, Captain Bathgate’s priority is ‘the safety and comfort of guests’ and once we are in the Canaries the swell moderates.
In La Palma, where the west of the island is still no-go to tourists due to the recent volcanic activity, a trek in a laurel forest takes hikers into the clouds and a steamy green oasis with waterfalls, trees and ferns.
Lanzarote’s orange sun makes the turquoise sea sparkle and huge white waves crash onto the black sands – natural colours that were the inspiration of Cesar Manrique’s (1919-1992) art and architecture.
Manrique’s foresight helped bring legislation to halt any development over two storeys on the island and we witness his architectural genius on three visits. At Mirador del Rio, we are awestruck by views over the island of La Graciosa; we wallow in the mesmerising Jameos del Agua, a series of lava caves complete with bar, dancefloor, concert hall and pools and delight in his ‘guerilla’ cactus garden, created in a disused quarry alongside fields of prickly pears.
It’s a heady, magical experience matched only by beautiful Seabourn Encore.
Cruise with Seabourn
‘An Evening with Sir Tim Rice’ is an exclusive partnership with Belinda King Creative Productions, in collaboration with Seabourn Cruises. The show features highlights from Jesus Christ Superstar to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Aladdin and The Lion King. It also includes ‘One Night in Bangkok’ from Chess and Evita’s ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’.
To discuss your Seabourn cruise, call 0800 412 5678 to talk to our Silver Travel Advisors who will help you plan and book your ideal voyage.