Suite dreams are made on the seas

A luxury cruise liner launching in Asia this month pulls out all the stops to pamper its guests - from a butler service to over-the-top bars and restaurants

I step out of Germany's Hamburg Airport onto a sunny boulevard and all eyes are on me - or at least, on my entourage.

Two Chinese women, white- gloved and in impeccable black suits, trail behind me - one holds up a giant black umbrella to shield me from the glaring sun, the other pulls my suitcase behind me along the cobblestoned street.

I am completely embarrassed by it all, but they insist on doing these things for me.

The two women, tasked to attend to my every whim from the moment they meet me at the airport's arrival hall, are butlers from Genting Dream, a new luxury cruise liner launching in Asia this month.

While the 18-deck, $1.4-billion ship - which includes itineraries to the open seas and to Vietnam's Halong Bay and Da Nang - is based in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, it made a special stop in Singapore this week as part of its debut in the region.

It is, however, built in a shipyard in Papenburg, Germany - about 21/2 hours by car from Hamburg - which is why I am in the country for a media preview of its facilities, a trip courtesy of the liner's owner, Genting Hong Kong (GHK).

If Dream's butler service - said to be the first of its kind for an Asian liner - is any indication, it is clear that this cruise experience will be lavish.

Great lengths were taken to make the boating experience an unforgettable one, especially for those able to afford it: Dream's butler service is exclusive to guests of Dream Palace, a 142-suite section of the ship with private facilities - a gym, an all-day dining space and a pool deck.

This is why being a Dream Palace guest means paying more than double the amount, with prices starting at $1,070 a guest for a two-night cruise, compared with $430 that a regular guest would pay for the same itinerary.

A ballet instructor was brought in to teach the butlers how to stand, I soon learn - with one clenched fist behind their backs and the other hand in front, palm facing up, to appear "graceful and elegant", says Mr Thatcher Brown, president of Dream Cruises.

Each of the liner's 60-odd butlers are also on standby 24 hours a day and can be called to unpack suitcases or make priority restaurant and spa bookings for those on board.

There is about one butler dedicated to every two suites. He can polish shoes, is a trained sommelier and knows a thing or two about matching food and wine.

And, of course, the newspapers on the vessel are crisp and ironed, so you will not smear your hands with ink while catching up on your daily news.

One butler from the Czech Republic was so adamant on opening bottled water for me - perching it on a silver tray, then deftly twisting its cap off - each time I asked for a drink that I jokingly told him I would forget how to open bottled water after I return to Singapore.

Though new to me, such butler services are already on the market - in the ultra-high-end Crystal Cruises, Genting's newly acquired brand that travels through Europe and the Americas.

The Dream version, however, is tailored specifically to Asian tastes, I am told.

Mr Domagoj Binder, a 23-year- old Croatian butler on the Dream crew, tells me that he learnt in his training that older Asian guests prefer hot water to iced drinks during meal times.

It is such attention to detail that Mr Brown hopes will give his company an edge in the Asian cruise market.

"I always say we're Asian at heart. In the past, other cruise brands deployed older vessels with minor modifications for the Chinese and Asian market.

"Initial attempts to repurpose service styles originally intended for Western clientele were criticised for not being authentic or appropriate for the new cultural context. But we always try to reference the Asian context," he tells me as he rattles off a list of the ship's offerings - ranging from restaurants to a mahjong room to a spa.

It also helps that Dream's parent company, GHK, has been spearheading the cruise sector in Asia under the mass-market Star Cruises brand for the past two decades, he says.

Star Cruises, which trawls countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Japan, was launched in 1993, when the cruise industry was in its nascent stages in the Asia- Pacific region.

Dream will stand out from Star's fleet, however, as it is specifically designed to target the premium travel market in Asia - a segment which he says has "grown substantially over the past few years".

To meet its needs, Dream has the highest overall crew-to-guest ratio for an Asia-Pacific ship, with 2,000 crew members attending to 3,400 passengers, says Mr Brown - which means those on the ship who do not have an access to a butler will still be adequately looked after.

Service aside, luxury shows up in other ways on the ship as well.

Several of the suites, for example, will come with their own mini- casinos, so gamers would never have to leave their rooms.

Of the 35 bar and restaurant concepts on board, a few sound so over-the-top that they are almost unbelievable.

Bar 360, a circular-shaped bar designed for guests to enjoy live entertainment from all angles, will showcase high-wire acrobats performing aerial tricks for guests as they sip champagne.

There will also be the world's first Johnnie Walker House on board a ship, offering rare variants and single malts of the famed whisky brand which will not be commercially available elsewhere. Limited- edition bottles will be available for purchase duty-free and you can have them personally engraved too.

Then, there is Silk Road, a 1920s- style fine-dining Chinese restaurant that puts on cabaret shows every night.

I indulge in a decadent six-course meal at the restaurant, savouring crispy duck topped with caviar, Alaskan cod fillet with honey and garlic sauce and lobster hot and sour soup.

The cabaret show of five dancing girls in flapper costumes that accompanied my meal turned out to be rather cheesy and tame, but the food - fresh and full of bold flavours - more than made up for it.

Partygoers need look no further than Zouk At Sea, the iconic Singapore nightclub's first outlet on board a ship.

Like its Jiak Kim Street original, the on-board space will have several nightlife concepts - an indoor dance club, a retro sports bar featuring a glow-in-the-dark bowling alley and Zouk Beach, an outdoor party deck with a wading pool.

The cherry on top?

Fireworks from the party deck in the open sea to ensure that it will all feel like a dream you do not want to wake up from.

•A Genting Dream cruise starts at $430 a person for two nights in a basic stateroom and at $1,070 a person in a Dream Palace suite, excluding taxes. For more details, go to www.dreamcruiseline.com or contact a local travel agent.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 06, 2016, with the headline 'Suite dreams are made on the seas'. Print Edition | Subscribe