Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
Cruising the Seychelles on
(Including visits to Dubai and Constance Ephelia Resort in Seychelles)
Friends often ask me what is my favorite resort area in the world, or what is the most beautiful and romantic resort area in the world. Having spent a portion of my adult years searching the globe for the most idyllic locations that offer a warm, mild climate, panoramic vistas, lovely beaches for long strolls and swimming, and an extremely romantic environment, my first choice is the incomparable Seychelles.
These very unique, dramatically beautiful tropical islands that encompass the 175 square-mile archipelago of the Seychelles are located in the Indian Ocean near the equator. They are 1,000 miles east of Kenya and at least 1,000 miles away from any other land mass. The islands were uninhabited until the mid-18th century, when France took possession. Over the years, the 115 islands (80 of which are still deserted) were settled by Europeans, Africans and Asians. Today the 70,000 inhabitants speak Creole, French and English. Ninety percent live on Mahe, the largest island and the location of the international airport and cruise terminal.
The last major cruise line to offer cruises around these islands was Renaissance Cruises which ceased operations in 2001. From time to time, several other cruise lines have offered one-day stops on the way to other destinations. In December of 2015, Crystal Cruises commenced a series of Seychelles itineraries on the 3,341-ton, 62-passenger (double occupancy) Crystal Esprit, a small, top-luxury mega yacht.
We were elated to learn that Crystal, one of our favorite cruise lines, was offering seven-day cruises around the Seychelles, our favorite destination. We booked the combination pre-cruise package that included two nights at the five-star Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai as well as airport transfers and breakfast.
Tiny Dubai is a member of the United Arab Emirates, a prosperous sheikdom and business hub on the Arabian Sea rich in oil fields. The city has become iconic for its skyscrapers, especially the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. We were impressed with how clean and modern the city was, as well as with the original and inventive design of its hundreds of high-rise buildings, all constructed after 2001. One could say that Dubai is to the Middle East what Singapore is to the Southeast Asia.
Dubai has been called the "shopping capital of the Middle East". Dubai alone has more than 70 shopping centers, including the Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping center. The city is also known for the traditional gold and spice souks and its old town districts located on either side of its creek that runs through the city.
We were surprised to learn that only 15% of its 2.5 million residents were Arabs. The rest were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries. English is the common language spoken by all these nationalities as well as in the schools.
After two days of exploring this cosmopolitan metropolis, we were off to the island of Mahe in the Seychelles to be enveloped in a more pristine, natural environment. From the international airport near the capital city of Victoria, we were transferred to the Crystal Esprit, our home and base for the following seven day exploration of the Seychelles. We were extremely pleased with our spacious 275 square-foot suite which contained every amenity we required for ultimate comfort during our cruise.
Built in 1989 as Classical Cruises Aurora I, subsequently sold to Star Cruises and renamed MegaStar Taurus, it was transferred to Crystal Cruises in 2015. When transferred to Crystal, it was totally refit, renovated and remodeled to bring it up to Crystal's luxury standards. The vessel offers the unique option to visit the smallest ports, harbors, islands and cays that are inaccessible to larger vessels.
All staterooms (categorized as suites) are outside. There are no balconies and no wheelchair accessible accommodations. The accommodations are composed of twenty-eight 280 square-foot suites, two 225 square-foot suites and one 515 square-foot Owner's Suite.
All of the suites offer the following features: queen beds (convertible to twins) with deluxe bedding sets and duvets, bedside tables with lamps, shelving for storage, lounge/seating areas, built-in closets, flat TVs with satellite reception, movies on demand and infotainment systems, stocked refrigerator/mini bars, alarm clocks, phones, safes, hair dryers, and bathrooms with double vanities, showers, plush robes, slippers, luxury bath amenities and toiletries. Butler service including shoeshine, laundry/pressing/dry cleaning and mini bar beverages are free of charge. All gratuities are included in your cruise fare.
The suites and bathrooms have very generous storage; however, the fact that the closet doors and drawers open toward you in rather tight spaces require a bit of navigation.
Considering the size of the ship, you can't expect to find all of the facilities available on large cruise ships. However, the Esprit does have a main lounge/bar/entertainment venue with nightly music in the evenings and occasional movies, a sundeck with a small swimming pool, lounges and day beds, a small Fitness Room with cardio machines and free weights, a sauna and shower, self-service laundermats, four zodiac boats (used to transport passengers ashore), a water-sports marina and one submarine. Submarine rides ran $599 per person.
There are no elevators; but several steep staircases between decks including an outside spiral staircase up to the top deck. Up to 60-90 minutes of Wi-Fi Internet per day is offered gratis but there is no computer room and passengers must bring their own laptop or other device. There is no boutique or sundry shop.
The Island of Mahe is 17 miles long and five miles wide. Coconut plantations surround its majestic granite peaks which rise to a height of 3,000 feet. The islands are geographically unique in that most are of solid granite origin rather than volcanic rock, with dramatic cliffs that rise from the sea, carpeted with lush vegetation and interesting boulder formations. these formations were the debris of gigantic movements of the earth's crust thousands of years ago. The beaches here, as in the other islands of this archipelago, are the very best in the world. The warm seas surrounding the islands offer countless opportunities for swimming, water sports, snorkeling and diving.
During the day that the ship remained on Mahe, we rented a car and drove around the island stopping for a dip at several of the amazing beaches that line its circumference. We visited two of the Islands most posh resorts, the Four Seasons and Banyan Tree.
Both were located on long strands of soft white sand beach and offered luxurious accommodations to their affluent guests at outrageous prices. This convinced us that a cruise on a luxury yacht-like ship was a far better option for exploring the Seychelles.
The following day we arrived near Ste. Anne Island. The options offered were a few hours on a sand bar near Mayenne Island and snorkeling.
Throughout the cruise, the ship was at anchor and did not dock in any of the islands (except Mahe). Passengers were taken ashore by the ship's zodiacs, sometimes with a wet landing. Climbing on and off the zodiacs required ascending and descending from a short ladder at such time as the waves lifted the craft up to the level of the ladder. Although we were assisted by a very able crew, passengers must be fit and be able to lift themselves on to the zodiac while maintaining their balance.
In the early afternoon the next day we visited La Digue. This is the location of the breathtakingly scenic Anse Source D'Argent, the most beautiful beach setting in the world (and the most photographed). Here warm turquoise waters, with mild currents, lap silver-white-sand beaches inundated with tiny private coves interspersed with geometric gray boulder formations, palm trees, and other tropical flora, with verdant green hills in the background. This is the scenery that appears most often on postcards and brochures covering the Seychelles. To tour the island and reach the beach, we had the choice of bicycles or a open wagon ride. Truly an afternoon to remember.
We were then off for an overnight visit to Praslin, the second largest island of the Seychelles offering the most attractions. Similar to the other islands, we found stunning beaches, azure seas, tangles of jungle and a relaxed atmosphere. In the morning we joined the complimentary excursion to the unique Vallee de Mai. This 450-acre, protected rainforest is filled with rare fauna, the most famous of which is the Coco de Mer palm, a tree that produces the world's largest seed and palm flower. The seed and flower are even more famous among tourists due to the fact they resemble the male organ. An additional rarity found here are such rare birds as the Black Parrot, Blue Pigeon and Bulbul.
To our delight, the tour included Anse Lazio, one of my favorite beaches in the world. This strand sits at the most northern tip of the island, accessible only by a rather primitive, bumpy road. However you will be rewarded with the most picturesque, idyllic beach with the setting of palms, pines, sea grapes, granite rock formations and tropical flowers--absolutely breathtaking. The powder-white sand is firm and excellent for strolling and jogging, and the crystal-clear warm waters are the very finest for swimming. Overlooking this panorama is a casual, open-air restaurant.
The following morning was spent on Curieuse Island to view hundreds of giant hump-head parrotfish and to take the trail that extends from the harbor along a boardwalk through mangrove forests to the area where giant tortoises roam freely protected by park rangers.
The same afternoon we arrived at Cousin Island, a special bird reserve, the last holdout for the Seychelles warbler. Cousin Island is also a paradise for nature-loving humans with dense woodland, a rocky southern coast and sandy beaches encircling almost the entire isle.
As our week winds down, we visit Aride in the morning and Coco Island in the late afternoon. Aride is a tiny isle, one mile long and under a half a mile wide with eighteen species of native birds. Its human population consists of a few volunteer conservation officers. Coco Island is another pristine island with granite rocks, coconut trees, turquoise waters and a coral reefs. Our fellow cruise passengers enjoyed swimming, snorkeling and diving during our short visit.
Following the cruise, we again rented a car and drove across the island to one of the best resorts on Mahe, Constance Ephelia for a two night sojourn. Unlike Four Seasons that Banyan Tree, the other luxury properties, this resort was not outrageously priced. Per diem prices ranged from $370 for a Garden Suite to $1,250 for a large beach villa with a private pool.
Constance Ephelia enjoys a unique location with 300 acres of land filled with lush vegetation spanning two picturesque beaches two kilometers apart. This is an expansive property with 312 suites and villas spread over the grounds.
Constance Ephelia is an ideal resort for a family vacation with 17 family villas and numerous attractions for children. The resort also has special appeal to young, active couples. During our visit, most of the guests appeared to be under 40.
The many attractions include: a half dozen swimming pools, numerous water sports, a full facility spa with complimentary sauna, steam and a thalaso pool, a fitness center with a lap pool, four tennis courts, an air-conditioned squash court, a kids club, a natural rock climbing area, a zip line course, hiking trails, nightly musical entertainment for listening and dancing, and dozens of shaded areas for relaxing during the day or watching the stars at night.
Those not wishing to walk could be transported from place to place by carts that continuously circle around the property. In addition, arrangements could be made to have a cart pick you up from your suite.
We found an impressive selection of venues in which to dine. Both full board and half board were available. The main half board buffet restaurant opened for breakfast and dinner offered a diverse range of international fare with both indoor and alfresco seating. Other options included Mediterranean, Asian, Creole and fine dining restaurants. The signature a la carte venue, Cyann served haute cuisine with a view, and included a chef's table and wine cellar.
For us, this was an ideal trip combining exploring the cosmopolitan city of Dubai, a romantic cruise on the Crystal Esprit through some of the most beautiful islands in the world, and a relaxing visit to one of the world's top resorts. Without any hesitation, I would suggest that a cruise on the Crystal Esprit around the incomparable Seychelles should be at the top of everyone's bucket list.
by Steven B. Stern
author of Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases (all available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble) or got to www.stevensterntravel.com