I was recently invited to spend a few days aboard "The World" which, at 644.2 ft in length is the largest privately owned residential yacht on the planet. Although it resembles a cruise ship it is far from the detached, assembly line feel of a commercial cruise line. To put it in perspective, The World can comfortably accommodate 1,500 people however at any given time the average number of residents and guests on board is only about 150-200. It is a very intimate experience.
Having grown up with exposure to the finer things from time to time, I looked forward to visiting The World and even expected to have my skirt blown up a little. The reality was far beyond my expectations; in fact the whole experience was surreal. It felt like one long Hollywood movie clip. First off I had to go through what seemed like a CIA background check to obtain security clearance a few days before my arrival. The World's security team wanted to know everything but my elimination schedule if you know what I mean. Beyond that, the port security in Montréal where I boarded the ship was stepped up for this visit so there was a lengthy process of checking my documents upon arrival, the typical cha-cha through a metal detector as well as a thorough search of the car that brought me in. (Someone probably called ahead and warned them about me!) After my initial clearance, I was free to come and go with nothing more than a flash of my World issued identification card. I was beginning to feel like I had stepped into an episode of the X-Files.
Rock Star Treatment
Once on board, I was photographed in order for the ship's crew to memorize my details and provide me with the most personal experience possible. To the residents, the crew are like family but to me they were like Gods, all knowing, all powerful... they could manifest fine wines and mouth watering desserts, heavenly massages and celebrity lunches all at the wave of a hand.
As I began to settle in and become accustomed to this superstar treatment I found myself feeling more and more like Jack Torrence in The Shining, when he was greeted by Lloyd in the Gold Room. Each and every one of the 250 crew members on board now knew my name, hometown, suite number, itinerary and what I last ate. It was almost creepy... almost. This time I was being asked "Was the Peking Duck to your liking this evening Ms. X?" by a handsome young server in the Regatta Lounge. This laid-back hideout quickly became my favorite place to retired after dinner, where I would sip amaretto and take in the familiar and unmistakable sounds of five-star lounge entertainment. This was the highlight of the trip for me; it was reminiscent of younger days and countless evenings spent with my father in some of the most upscale (and some of the shadiest) restaurants/piano bars between Chicago and Southeastern Michigan. That was where I gained my appreciation for a good "Piano Man".
The World offers residences of varying sizes, from small studios to a massive penthouse which comfortably sleeps twelve people. My accommodation was a mid-range two bedroom, two bath suite which was surprisingly roomy. I was expecting the typical cramped, cruise ship style cabin and was pleased to find my suite was more like a New York apartment, only bigger and with a killer view.
A plush bear, fresh cut flowers and welcome note from the captain made me feel right at home.
The highlight of my quarters was my private bathroom, of course. (A little background: For those of you who know me well, you know I have a real thing with bathrooms. A bad one is always a deal breaker for me.) This time, however I was in luck. Again I was expecting a cramped, very simple version of a residential bath and again I was pleasantly surprised to find a well appointed, luxury spa style bath complete with double sink, jacuzzi tub and separate glass & tile shower. Total heaven... I will admit this is where I spent most of my time on the ship. What can I say? There's just nothing like a great bathroom.
The World Spa
This time dressed in what looked like simpler versions of traditional Karate outfits, the staff once again provided a very personal experience. Gina, the crew member who gave me the (best) manicure (of my life) chatted about my experiences aboard The World as though she had been at my side the entire time while another crew member served me champagne and fresh berries. It was pure bliss.
When my spa experience was complete, Gina insisted upon escorting me back to my suite to make sure I didn't lose my way as I needed to avoid the grand staircase. After all, it was pushing six o'clock and casual attire is prohibited in the main areas of the ship after six. Jackets only please.
The Dining Experience
With world class chefs the dining experience speaks for itself. Executive Chef Peter Hoefler has outstanding credentials and more than 25 years behind him working in places like The Drake Hotels in Toronto and Hong Kong, The Bellagio Las Vegas, The Plaza Hotel in NY and the list goes on. Without a doubt he is the perfect man for the job of overseeing the ships numerous restaurants, a staff of 50 crew members and the exclusive "Call A Chef" program in which residents may request in-suite personal chef service when they would prefer to entertain at home. He has transformed the dining experience aboard The World to a level which rivals any land based 5 star restaurant.
Although I only sampled three of the various dining experiences on board, I was particularly impressed by East. Asian cuisine is one of those things that must be done very well or not done at all. East made the top of my sushi list at the first bite of Maguro, beating out the best of the best from places like Toronto and Manhattan. I even ate (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Unagi. A first for me; definitely impressed.
The wine cellar aboard The World is also worth mentioning. With a holding capacity of 12,000 bottles, residents have a selection of 600 different wines from 18 countries. Now that's my kind of wine cellar.
Although a personalized itinerary had been prepared before my arrival, it was impressed upon me that I should not hesitate to consult "Concierge" if I should have any special requests. My itinerary was so detailed and so tailored to my personal taste that it really didn't leave any desire or much room for further requests. A car had been arranged to take me to some local historic sites and points of interest. The only thing I needed to add was some shopping as I had failed to pack appropriately for the weather. Well, before I could follow along on the map, Charles, my driver had whisked me off to Rue St. Denis where my host followed behind me into each shop, waving his hand at store employees as I expressed my approval of various articles of clothing, shoes etc. I really must learn the secret hand wave because every time it happened, my selected items were immediately boxed and put in the car for me. A girl could get used to this!
My arranged tour of the city was well-balanced and included sites such as Galerie de Bellefeuille, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Montréal Botanical Garden and Plateau Mont-Royal. I also had a chance to enjoy a few local culinary specialties (although I must say that I regret trying the foie gras poutine at Au pied de Cochon since I am very much against the cruel treatment of animals.) My favorite was Chez Lémeac, a fashionable French bistro on avenue Laurier Ouest in the Outremont area. Great menu, atmosphere and wine list as well as very generous portions of some of the most delicious food in the city.
What I Missed
Four days aboard The World is hardly enough time to experience all there is to offer, especially when she is docked in a port as beautiful as Montréal. On my list of on-board facilities and amenities to explore were the pools, tennis court, golf simulator, bali beds, tea room, cigar club, art gallery, library, medical center, night club, theater and last but certainly not least I wanted to squeeze in a fitness class with Juan, the ship's in-house Latin lady-killer zumba instructor... you know, just to see what all the fuss was about. I also wanted to photograph more of the interior of the ship. Unfortunately I was too busy shopping, eating and being pampered to even make it half way through my list.
Fortunately I have been invited to visit again, being given my choice of port over the coming year . I have no idea how in the world I will ever choose. With destinations like the Bahamas, Aruba, Canary Islands, Morocco, Ireland, Italy and Madeira to choose from I might need some input on this one. To add to my indecision, I have been given the additional option of joining The World's residents on an upcoming expedition. Past expedition sites have included Antarctica, The Bering Sea and Madagascar. I had the pleasure of watching a video of a recent expedition to Melanesia/Polynesia and was left speechless. The World calls in experts in each geographic region to fill these trips with rare and authentic adventures. What an amazing opportunity! Stay tuned for updates on my adventures with The World.
Cost of Residency
Now for the fifty million dollar question... What does this lifestyle cost? There are criteria to be met before you can be considered as a resident and the first item on the list is a minimum net worth of US $10 million. This is no surprise since a small studio onboard starts at $650,000 and the 6 bedroom penthouse was recently listed on the market at $10 million. These prices really aren't unreasonable at all considering the cost of similar units in some of the world's more exclusive neighborhoods, the luxury environment and the elite status that comes with ownership however keep in mind that the ship is collectively owned by it's residents and there are maintenance costs associated with such ownership. Think fuel, crew compensation, port charges, food, wine & spirits, waste management, general repairs and upkeep of the ship itself... ouch. It's probably a safe bet in this case to say that if you have to ask you can't afford this lifestyle.
Just before I closed my eyes on my last night aboard, I took a moment to drink in the beauty of the view from my bed, reflect on the entire experience and capture the image below. There is no doubt in my mind that I will return again to finish that list of "must-do" things aboard The World.
My surreal, 'extended film clip' experience ended in true Hollywood fashion, with the entire crew lining the gangway as I disembarked, all smiling and bidding me adieu. It was like the ending scene from James Cameron's Titanic when (now dead) Rose approached the grand staircase to meet Jack and the ship's crew and guests lined the room to greet her... ahhh, Hollywood I love you!