If the original Scenic Eclipse caused ripples in luxury expedition cruising, its new sister, Scenic Eclipse II, is likely to create even bigger waves.

Scenic Eclipse II is very much an expedition ship for travellers who want no compromise on luxury. A selection of 100 included whiskies while you’re in Antarctica? Done. Access to a beautiful spa area after a busy day ashore? All yours. A choice in the evenings of five restaurants? Every night.

Scenic’s second “discovery yacht” is a near-carbon copy of the original. But with tweaks and improvements in the spa, pools, bars and top suites. The décor is different, too. But still reflects the chic boutique hotel vision of Karen Moroney, wife of Scenic founder Glen Moroney, and the interiors whizz behind both ships.

A bartender working his magic at the Sky Bar
A bartender working his magic at the Sky Bar

You won’t find science labs and photos of polar explorers on Scenic Eclipse II. But rather, bright contemporary art and banks of mauve bougainvillea (artificial but impressive looking) to add pops of colour to the glossy black, silver, stone, taupe and cream palette. But while the ship is a luxury yacht from bow to stern, it’s certainly an expedition vessel. The hull is Polar Class 6, for nudging through the Antarctic ice, and Bond-style toys include two sleek, black helicopters, a six-passenger submarine, a marina platform for launching kayaks and paddle boards, and a fleet of Zodiacs. All the toys are stashed in a hidden hangar, so the graceful lines of the yacht aren’t compromised by stacks of Zodiacs cluttering the upper decks.

These gadgets will come into their own in 2024, too, when the ship makes the transition from Antarctica to the Kimberley, where it will operate a season of voyages between Darwin and Broome. Expect helicopter rides over pristine landscapes, access to ancient Aboriginal sites (with full permission from the local Elders, of course) and everything from heli-hiking to heli-barramundi fishing. BBQ lunches on uninhabited islands will simply add to the superyacht lifestyle.

So, what’s changed on the Scenic Eclipse II?

The décor is a little different, yes. But the biggest improvement is the addition of a plunge pool on deck 10, replacing the twin hot tubs on Scenic Eclipse. Let’s be clear: this isn’t a swimming pool, but it’s a decent size for wallowing and has assorted jets. Scenic may have to rethink the artificial grass around the edge when the ship is in the tropics. My cruise circled Spain in early summer, and even then we all burned our feet on it.

There’s a chic little bar, the Sky Bar, next to the plunge pool, done out in sumptuous cream marble. I’m not sure Scenic knows yet what to make of this. The bar (along with six cabanas and a giant superyacht-style bunny pad for sunbathing) creates a gorgeous top-deck area for sun lovers. But it closes at 5pm, just when you want to enjoy the golden light of “magic hour”. The hotel director told me it could be opened on demand if enough guests were using it. And quite a few said they would mention the early closure on their guest surveys.

The spa

The spa’s thermal suite area is one of the best at sea and it’s complimentary to use. There’s a bigger steam room, a salt therapy lounge, a sauna with a window and blissful KLAFS infra-red seats, a dream for sufferers of back pain. Men and women have separate areas, which is a shame if you want to enjoy the spa with your opposite-sex partner. But you can always use the different spaces and meet up in the bubbling hot tub at the front. I really wanted to try aerial yoga (yoga moves in big hammocks) when I was on board. But the instructor was off sick, so I settled for cycling, kayaking and hiking in each port to stay active.

The spa onboard the Scenic Eclipse II
The spa onboard the Scenic Eclipse II

The suites

I loved the suites on Scenic Eclipse II; genuinely spacious from entry-level upwards, with soothing grey, taupe, cream and silver colours, gauzy curtains and effective blackout blinds. This is essential when the ship is in polar regions with near 24-hour daylight. Sometimes, the suites are a bit too posh, though. There’s no drying line for swimwear, for example, so we draped ours over the balcony chairs, lowering the tone of the yachting lifestyle. Note that when the ship is in the polar regions, there’s a spacious mud room for hanging expedition jackets and stashing mud boots.

Dining onboard the Scenic Eclipse II

Dining was generally very good. Scenic Eclipse II has two main restaurants and one casual spot open for dinner, as well as three specialty restaurants. Though there is the big ticket – the invitation-only Chef’s Table, offering high-end molecular cuisine. You have to be a VIP, a serial cruiser or a big spender to qualify for a seat.

The specialty Night Market @ Koko’s and the French-themed Lumiere are both excellent: secure bookings as soon as you board. Repeat travellers in the know snap them up quickly.

Sushi at Koko’s is a third option in a lovely setting, with big picture windows and sushi and sashimi prepared by a proper sushi chef, with ingredients sourced from Japan.

As well as Italian/steak-themed Elements and Asian-fusion Koko’s, there’s a casual restaurant, Azure Café, for burgers and pasta, with outside seating, which is a great spot for a quiet dinner on a warm night. It’s a shame the main buffet, the Yacht Club isn’t open in the evenings. The lunch and breakfast buffets were excellent.

The beautiful food at the Night Market
The beautiful food at the Night Market

Entertainment

I like the fact that the entertainment on board is low key, but high quality. We certainly got lucky with two young singers who doubled up as cruise director and assistant cruise director. Both were trained in classical musical theatre and their individual shows, which covered anything from Rat Pack to popular opera, were superb. Better still, we were summoned to the helipad one sunny evening for a “surprise” – a sunset operatic performance, with cocktails flowing. Scenic really does these exclusive events well.

And onshore

Your experience ashore on Scenic Eclipse II will depend very much on where you are in the world. In polar regions and the Kimberley, there will be a full schedule of expedition-style exploration. For regions in between, there’s an impressive programme of very good excursions, at no charge. I learned to make cheese at an organic farm in Ibiza, kayaked the wild coast near Cartagena, cycled off-road in rural Menorca and pedalled around bike-friendly Seville with an excellent guide.

While I could see the expedition leaders champing at the bit to get up to Spitsbergen and Greenland – the cruising area for the next couple of months – for some “proper” adventure, I’d say Scenic Eclipse II was just as well suited to conventional warm water cruising as to expedition. If you love luxury, acres of space, and included booze and fine dining with your adventures, you won’t be disappointed.

The lovely Scenic Eclipse II
The lovely Scenic Eclipse II

Expert advice for the Scenic Eclipse II

Favourite meal

Without doubt, Night Market @ Koko’s: in fact, this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had on land or at sea. The theme changes every couple of days and was Filipino when I tried the restaurant. The enchantingly named Chef Strawberry chops, fries, rolls and blow-torches, creating dish after dish of heaven: guacamole with crispy garlic; cured salmon with tamarind; shrimp with burned aubergine; duck confit with green peas and spicy mayo – keeping up a running explanation of the provenance of each ingredient and its place in her native cuisine.

Tips for sailing on Scenic Eclipse II

Book your speciality dining as soon as you board, as all the restaurants fill up fast. If you don’t follow a special diet (some of the dishes require elaborate preparation, so they need notice) you can try for a cancellation. Otherwise, if you want a table for two, Koko’s is the best bet; Elements has hardly any, and sharing is encouraged.

Highs

The impressive range of excursions and activities that are included in the price – as is everything else, for that matter, from drinks and speciality dining to WiFi and tips. You really don’t put your hand in your pocket all cruise, except to pay for helicopter and sub rides, and spa treatments.

Lows

The ship slightly lacks a sense of connection to the outdoors, which could be an issue in polar regions. While the deck in front of the Observation Lounge is wide open with uninterrupted views, it’s not protected from winds.

Verdict

A sleek and beautiful ship with no compromise on luxury; this is expedition cruising with all the frills.

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