Scenic Eclipse, the world’s first "discovery yacht", is finally welcoming her first passengers in Reykjavik today. Last Saturday I had a sneak preview of Scenic’s new venture, which has been promising an expedition cruising experience like no other.
As our coach drove across Rotterdam’s statuesque Erasmus Bridge, we caught a wide-angled view of Eclipse at the dock. With a jet-black hull, a sleek, curved silhouette and a helicopter on deck, it looked for all the world like a super rich billionaire had sailed into town.
The atmosphere on board the yacht reminded me of TV’s Challenge Anneka, when they used to tease that a project would not be finished in time. Decorators and fitters were hard at work, surrounded by plastic-covered furniture, tool boxes and cardboard packaging, adding finishing touches and signage.
With five days to go, the pressure was on, not least because her maiden voyage had already been shunted back 12 months owing to Scenic’s well-documented problems with its Croatian shipyard. In the end Scenic’s chairman and founder Glen Mulroney stepped in to take ownership of the ship before it was finished and paid the workers direct.
It may have been a bumpy ride to get there but the end result is an elegantly stylish super yacht. Interior shades are neutral, with pops of colour added by bespoke artwork. Ceilings are high, corridors wide and all suites have balconies, separate lounge areas and king-sized beds.
Passengers certainly won’t be jostling for space on board nor competing for attention from the crew. Scenic Eclipse can take 228 passengers and 176 crew. In the Arctic and Antarctica, passenger numbers drop to 200, so the ship can offer access to the broadest range of landing sites.
Our tour started with the helipad on deck eight, where we paused to admire a shiny black state-of-the-art Airbus H130 helicopter, one of two that will be used for sightseeing tours. These will cost extra, leading in at $395 (£326) for a 20-minute tour.
We nosed around the palatial Spa Sanctuary, an indulgent place to relax by rotating between the sauna, steam room and whirlpool or with a massage after a trip out exploring the polar wilds by zodiac or kayak.
We toured the dining areas, including Lumiere, which will serve contemporary French cuisine and Koko’s, which is cleverly divided into Asian fusion, sushi and Teppanyaki zones. Alongside a chef’s table hidden away in the main Elements restaurant, 24-hour in-suite dining and an epicurean cooking school, this range of fine dining has not been seen on an expedition cruise ship before.
What’s more there will be no additional charge for any of the food and beverage options on board. Particularly good news for those intent on working their way through the ship’s cheese corner or its rare whisky bar, each stocked with upwards of 100 variations. Or emptying their mini bar in their suite every day.
Rotterdam wasn’t offering up the kindest weather to enjoy the open forward deck area on deck five, but this will become the go-to-spot for wildlife viewing or port arrivals - its pointed design allows you to stand right at the bow.
A small number of tour operators also joined the sneak preview, and their feedback will be encouraging for Scenic as it embarks on the build for a sister yacht to Eclipse.“This is the first really cool expedition ship,” said Martin Johnson, founder of Latin Routes.
Scott Anderson, general manager of the Luxury Cruise Company, agreed: “She has set the bar really high for a new generation of luxury expedition ships.”
We concluded our tour passing through the lounge-style lobby - an airy space that will be the social heart of the ship - on our way to the high-tech theatre. Here we sat in leather reclining armchairs, sipping champagne and listening to Captain James Griffiths bring the ship to life and in particular the U-Boat Worx Cruise Submarine 7 we didn’t see.
The sub is another high-spec piece of kit, giving guests a whole new perspective of a destination, which will be offered from $250 for a 20-minute dive.
“It’s common for leopard seals to play around the subs in Antarctica,” Captain Griffiths told us. “But you don’t have to see amazing wildlife - it’ll be a bonkers experience whatever. How many people can say they have gone down 300m deep?”
It will be a boast limited to the fortunate few and one of many talking points on a pioneering ship.
Inspiration for your inbox
Sign up to Telegraph Travel's new weekly newsletter for the latest features, advice, competitions, exclusive deals and comment.