My first sailing experience with Seabourn Cruises finally filled a gap in my cruise experience that has haunted me for the last five years. So, how did it go?
|Caviar Hors D' Oeuvres on Seabourn|
Now that Seabourn has Grown Up
But since 2009 Seabourn has tripled its capacity by adding three brand new ships, starting in 2009 when it introduced Seabourn Odyssey, 32,000-tons, 450 passengers and 335 crewmembers. Then in 2010 the identical Seabourn Sojourn was added, and in 2011 the Seabourn Quest arrived. This brought the total number of berths the line needs to fill each week from 600 to 1950, three times higher than before.
Suddenly, it isn't so easy to learn everybody's name overnight, to pay attention to each dish that goes out, to fetch something special from the kitchen before you are asked.
But it is important to note that Seabourn has not changed its style of cruising at all. Basically, the larger ships are just expanded versions of the smaller ships, with the same high crewmember to guest ratio. They still offer the "yacht-like" experience, meaning it is still for independent-minded cruisers. They didn't add any of the typical trappings of a larger cruise ship, like a Cruise Director TV show, youth coordinators, a computer learning center, gift shop sales in the hallways, dance hosts, alternative surcharge dining, a sports bars or a movie theater. The news ships are built for the cruising style of the existing clientele, which has grown over the last 20 years enough to fill them.
But now that Seabourn has grown up, it becomes much easier to compare it to other luxury cruise lines. The new ships are strikingly similar to the ships of competitor Silversea. They are nearly the same size and capacity. The staterooms are very similar, with all of them being loaded into the forward section of the ship. This last aspect I find odd. Smaller ships are much more prone to sea conditions, and the forward section is more prone than the midships (the calmest) or the aft sections. I have never understood why any ship would put its best suites at the front of a ship. But many of them do.
Seabourn Vs. Silversea
So, let's compare Seabourn to its competitors and see where we come down. Silversea is its closest competitor in terms of ship design, activities, size of crew and guest capacity. But Silversea is owned by a sole proprietor family from Monaco and is managed on shore and onboard largely by Europeans.
Seabourn has a much more "American" basis and feel to it than Silversea. The staff members all speak very fluent English (many of them are either English or American). The mix of Seabourn passengers is culled far more from the U.S. than Silversea's, which markets a great deal to Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. Finally, the food is much more American in taste and appearance. You won't find tubes of Norwegian fish spread at the breakfast buffet on Seabourn, or a variety of pâtés in aspic at lunch, as you will on Silversea.
Seabourn has the deep pockets of Carnival Corp. behind it, while Silversea has to make or break it on its own merits. Despite the fact that Seabourn has been suffering an identity crisis in terms of its shoreside sales operations for years, it still manages to keep its loyal followers.
The comments I heard onboard Sojourn regarding Silversea were along these lines: "The service is far more genuine on Seabourn, while at Silversea I felt they were dismissive or only giving me lip service." My own experience is that Europe restaurants and hotels offer a less personalized (but still professional) style of service than in the States. European service is not gratuity-based, for example.
There was some outrage that Silversea has alternative dining restaurants that carry an additional service charge. The only place where Silversea got more kudos than Seabourn was in the area of butlers – Silversea provides butler service to every category of suite on its ships, even the lowest category. Seabourn does not provide butlers to any category at all.
The Butler Enigma
Is a butler important? I have contemplated this a fair amount having had a butler on six different cruises. Butlers are especially useful in the situation in which I found myself on Seabourn, as a first-time cruiser on that cruise line. Butlers help you plan your cruise. For a first-time cruiser on Seabourn, a cruise line that caters to what a friend of mine dubbed "excessive privacy," a butler can help avoid mistakes like booking a restaurant reservation in the special dining room the one night the main dining room is having a special event. That happened to me on Seabourn when I made a reservation in the special Restaurant 2 the same night the chef was presenting his premier meal in the dining room, the well-known "Chef's Dinner."
The Chef's Dinner is a special meal where the ship's executive chef prepares the menu top to bottom, including wine pairings. When we showed up at Restaurant 2 that night it was virtually empty. The hostess said, "Oh, everyone is downstairs eating the lobster." She meant the fresh Maine lobster, picked up the day we were anchored in Bar Harbor.
There had been no public announcements about this dinner, and almost nothing had been written in the Herald about it except one tiny line that was meaningless to me, but would not be to an experiences Seabound cruiser or a butler. When I made this reservation no one asked me why I would do this on the same night as the most important meal in the Dining Room. The only reason is that I had no idea what the Chef's Dinner was, or that I was going to miss it.
When I spoke to various people about the earlier chef's dinner incident, how I felt bad for missing it because it was not well publicized, the editor of the Herald was actually there, as well as cruise director John and one of the guest services people, and after we all looked at the Herald together they all agreed - "Yes, you are right, it really should have been explained better" Or explained at all, to be specific."
The ONLY mention of the Chef's Dinner in the Herald - can you find it?
The guests services person even wrote a letter to someone (I assume the chef) explaining how I had missed the lobster. I told her I had heard him say it was already all gone so I didn't expect to hear anything further about it - and I didn't - but she tried. Oddly enough, on the last day of the cruise I was told ALL the lobster is flown into the ship fresh from Maine anyway. That's a good thing, but that also meant they could have made me a fresh Maine lobster at any time if they really cared, but apparently they didn't. I believe my butler on Crystal or Silversea would have asked me night after night if I wanted that lobster I missed, but not my room stewardess on Seabourn. I hardly spoke to my room stewardess on Seabourn at all, even after I gave her a gratuity in private when I saw her onshore one day.
On Silversea I would leave the cabin and come back to find my shoes shined or my pants pressed by the butler. On Crystal our butler was so likable he was like a member of the family by the end of the cruise.
Seabourn has a stateroom dining table for your room service. During the dinner hours they will serve you any meal from the main restaurants in your room, course by course. This will be done by room service. On Silversea it will be done by your butler – not a big difference.
Still a butler can be very helpful with room service when there are special circumstances. On Seabourn in Norfolk I had a large breakfast (eggs, toast, juice, and fruit) pre-ordered for 7:00 a.m. because I was booked on a tour, but I was up an hour early. On Silversea (and Azamara) I just called my butler and asked him if he could move the entire order up to "now." He replied "certainly," and I got it. I felt comfortable doing this because I knew my butler had personal access to the room service staging area and he could see my breakfast through.
On Seabourn I did not feel comfortable calling room service to move a large breakfast order up an hour because I knew I was making the request to the head of room service operations on what was probably his busiest day of this entire cruise. Now, I can't say Seabourn could not have pulled this off, but I will relate another room service adventure I just had on Sojourn and you can decide.
One day, having missed the 12:00 to 2:00 lunch service window I called room service for a late lunch; chicken Caesar salad – but I didn't hear anything for 90 minutes. Suddenly the phone rang and someone asked me, "are you missing a salad?" The very apologetic room service manager explained that he "didn't get" the correct room number when I called in, and hence he had sent my salad to an unoccupied cabin. Finding the room empty the waiter left a note for the residents to call back if they hadn't ordered it. They did call him when they finally returned.
I couldn't help wondering, "In this age of computers, what kind of room service system does not automatically put the room number in with the order as it comes in?" They always knew what room I was calling from when I dialed – but I guess they still needed to write it down.
This reminded me of something I had seen on the galley tour. This ship was made in 2010, yet I do not recall seeing computerized ordering systems in the dining rooms. Waiters write orders down. Chef Soddy showed us where he puts orders that come in (a tin bin) and orders he has plated. Most cruise ships have completely automated order systems where the waiter enters an order for the table number, etc. My guess is that the room service system on Sojourn is not computerized, I certainly don't see any terminals in pictures of the restaurant. One could claim there are advantages to the old system - more descriptive, but what about the advantages of a newer system, such as remembering my preference for olive oil with my bread?
Inside the Galley for Restaurant 1, Chef Soddy showed us where "new orders" go and where orders go when ready for "pickup."
I had been busy writing myself, so I had not noticed how late it was, but I thought the question, "Are you missing a salad?" to be pretty funny. I resisted saying, "I can't be missing something I never got." Either he had figured out it was my room by deduction, or else he called a lot of cabins to see if they were "missing a salad?"
I would like to say the saving grace was that the salad was excellent. It wasn't. The chicken breast was ice cold with undercooked, rubbery chicken skin. Being 90 minutes late I still ate it because I was hungry – even though it lessened my appetite for dinner.
Now, I will also admit I have had less than great room service on Silversea at times – one time they forgot my French fries, but on a per-incident basis, I would have to say Silversea far out-delivered Seabourn with my personal room service experiences. However, in all fairness I would say I used the system on Silversea far more than I did on Seabourn. I also have to say that if I had used a butler to order that salad it never would have been delivered to an empty room.
Continue Article >> Seabourn Vs. Crystal (Page 4)