This is only the second time that slick Seattle-based cruise company Seabourn has visited the Philippines. When the two-week Pearls of the Philippines and Borneo voyage was announced, loyal seafaring guests hungry for the thrill of a new itinerary – coiffed American bridge-playing ladies doing back-to-back trips, multi-generational family groups and go-something couples who bond on excursions – snapped up the coveted places. And it’s no wonder.
At the undeveloped Hundred Islands, we weave in and out of forested limestone islets on an apple green outrigger named Butch & Christy, spotting fruit-eating bats asleep in Coron Island, The Philippines the trees and snorkelling among shoals of stripy sergeant major fish; in Coron I wait my turn to clamber over a wooden ladder fixed to the rocks and swim in the gin- clear Twin Lagoon; and in Puerto Princesa, a tricycle taxi is a two-minute ride to the local fish market, where I bump into executive chef Guillermo Muro picking up just-caught tuna for that evening’s sushi starter. This is a dreamy snapshot of the 7,641 islands that make up the archipelago, all palm tree-lined white-sand beaches, pristine reefs and super friendly Filipinos. Equal to the incredible islands is the Sojourn ship itself.
The layout is so spacious that it never feels like there are 450 guests onboard; from the ping-pong table and crazy-golf course on deck 11 to the tucked-away jacuzzis, it’s easy to find yourself completely alone as the orange sun dips below a streaked candy-pink skyline at sunset. There are no annoying announcements over the tannoy (thank goodness) so the whole thing feels relaxed and unregimented. Staff somehow have an encyclopaedic knowledge of everyone’s names, even on the first day. And the entertainment -which I feared might veer on the cheesy side – is like something out of the West End with a line-up that includes a female Royal College of Music-trained violinist duo funking up Pavarotti and James Bond theme tunes and Kennedy the mind reader who wins over any sceptics with his brain-boggling number games.
It’s the small touches that make the difference too: the sun cream and mango daiquiris that are handed out around the main pool, the pedalos and banana boats that can be launched from the water sports deck when the ship is anchored at sea, and the afternoon tea in the observation lounge, served by white-gloved waiters as a pianist plays on awhile baby grand. One evening, it’s a toss-up between fine dining in The Restaurant, hickory-smoked bbq ribs with whipped honey butter, inspired by super-star chef Thomas Keller (from The French Laundry) at The Colonnade, or jumbo shrimps and sizzling steaks at the laid-back patio grill. When I do finally head to my cabin, I’m lulled to sleep on a ship that is so smooth, it hardly feels like we’re moving at all.