Luxury travel: Don’t call it a cruise

The World isn’t just the largest yacht on the planet. It’s a private community at sea.

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From the December/January 2008 issue of the magazine.

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Welcome to our world,” greets the beaming waiter, handing us chilled towels and flutes of Champagne. My husband and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and my birthday and we’re doing it in style.

We’re off-shore from Barcelona, on board The World, which bills itself as the first private community at sea. The staff and the residents would prefer that you not call your vacation aboard this floating global village a cruise. That’s fine with me. I’ve never seen the charm in lining up for midnight chocolate buffets and similar cruise ship rituals. And one of the reasons we’ve decided to make this trip are the constant assurances that it’s not really a cruise at all.

Think of it instead as checking into a grand hotel that just happens to move. A gleaming 12-deck vessel the length of two football fields, The World is the largest private yacht on the planet. It contains 165 residences ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments. You can pay $825,000 (U.S.) to $7.3 million for one of the residences—or you can rent one.

My husband and I are renters. Our 131-sq-m abode for the next six days is a sprawling centre-hall apartment. Its kitchen is larger than the one I have at home. The dining room seats eight. A living room features two sofas and two plasma TVs. Oh yes, there are also two bedrooms, two bathrooms (the master with a Jacuzzi) and a 15-m teak deck with another Jacuzzi.

How much for all this luxury? About $2,500 (U.S.) per night for the two of us. A smaller studio starts at about $1,300. At these prices, you wouldn’t want to vacation on The World every year, but for a 25th anniversary celebration, there’s no indulgence like it. Only about 150 passengers are on hand at any one time, so there are absolutely no crowds anywhere, ever. While enjoying our eggs Benedict on the deck of Tides restaurant in the morning we never see more than 10 other diners. The staff knows our names and our habits. “Will you be having your usual latte?” asks our waiter David as he places a linen napkin on my lap.

Tides is one of four restaurants on board. One night we enjoy a gourmet dinner with Californian wine pairings in Portraits, the ship’s haute cuisine restaurant. Another night we avail ourselves of the “Call-A-Chef” service and watch as a pair of chefs come to our apartment and whip up a goat’s cheese and artichoke salad, noodles with prawns, asparagus tips and black truffles, rack of lamb and a passion fruit mousse. Our candlelit table is strewn with rose petals. In between courses, our waiter entertains with stories from The World’s exotic ports of call.

Should you want to actually use the cappuccino maker or pots in your kitchen, you can buy groceries at Fredy’s Deli where they stock everything from tins of foie gras to ink jets for your computer.  However, I didn’t get the impression that a whole lot of cooking was going on among the residents who are required to spend a yearly minimum of $33,000 (U.S.) on food and beverages. I did, however, detect the smell of burnt toast in the ninth-floor corridor one morning.

Residents of The World vote on its itinerary each year. The idea is that she will be in all the right places at all the right times—Rio for Carnaval, Valencia for the America’s Cup, Scotland for the British Open. Highlights of the 35 countries in the 2007 itinerary included Tierra del Fuego, Buenos Aires, Grenada, Barbados, Lisbon, Bordeaux and Barcelona.

We sailed from Barcelona to St. Tropez. The Film Festival was just around the corner in Cannes but we chose instead to play golf. Did I mention that there’s The World Country Club on the top deck complete with a simulator loaded with 52 of the planet’s best courses? You pick your course and the first hole is projected on a floor-to-ceiling screen. You tee up your ball on a mat and whack it at your target. The simulator calculates where your ball lands, keeps score, even informs you of ball speed and distance.

On subsequent days, we squeezed in a couple of matches of tennis, a Thai massage (for me) and a workout at the gym (for him), as well as an entertaining karaoke night at Quantum nightclub. We also did some people-gawking in St. Tropez, a place that defines the expression “nothing exceeds like excess.” Even the poodles wear Prada.

We spent our final morning sailing into postcard-perfect Portofino on the Italian Riviera. That night three Italian tenors were scheduled to entertain the citizens of The World. My husband and I had to content ourselves with some simple pasta at a local trattoria before schlepping our bags onto a train bound for Nice. While we were heading home, our former ship would be making her way toward Rome. Believe me, once you’ve seen The World, plummeting back down to earth isn’t easy.

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