Seabourn is a luxury cruise line, meaning it has all the inclusive offerings expected such as beer, wine and other beverages and gratuities included in the cruise fare. The most outstanding element of the cruise line is the cuisine which is top quality all the time. The service is non-intrusive yet friendly and helpful. The staff on the smaller ships make it a point to learn the names of all guests by the end of the first night.
Seabourn Cruise Line was started in 1989 with two identical 200-passengers 10,000-ton "yachts," Seabourn Legend and the Seabourn Spirit, with a third of the same size, Seabourn Pride, acquired in 1991. It was a small and exclusive Norwegian line with the initial goal of recreating almost a yacht-like cruise experience for the upper crust.
These three "triplets" comprised the entire fleet for almost 20 years; until 2009 when a new generation of three larger triplets - at 32,000-tons and 450 passenger berths apiece - were introduced within a space of just two years. This took the line from just 600-berths total to over triple the size, 1950 berths.
Seabourn Odyssey was inaugurated on June 15, 2009. Built in Genoa, Italy, the ship carries 450 passengers in 225 suites, 90% with verandahs. A sister ship to Odyssey, named Seabourn Sojourn, debuted in June, 2010, and a third sister, Seabourn Quest, followed in June 2011.
Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest are significantly larger than the three older, yacht-like vessels, but still fall well within the small size standards of luxury cruising at 32,000-tons (about the same size as Silversea ships) and carrying 450 passengers. Seabourn called Odyssey the cruise industry's first ultra-luxury yacht to launch in six years. However some people question whether the vessel is "too large" to be called a yacht. But the onboard experience has not changed significantly, so the "yacht" moniker still applies. Guests are largely left alone on these ships, with very few public announcements, no flyers for special spa offers, no art auctions, no photographers, no dance hosts.
The smaller triplets contain only six suites with private verandas. As time went on and other luxury lines introduced all-suite (with balcony) ships, the line added "French balconies" to 44 of the standard suites onboard. Although these French balconies are little more than sliding glass doors with a few inches of toe-hold outside, surprisingly, the option to open the window and get a breath of fresh air and plenty of sunlight is a vast improvement over an enclosed cabin. Most people will not miss an actual balcony so much. The new nomenclature for this is a "Seabourn Balcony" Suite.
Seabourn's three smaller vessels carry 135 crewmembers to their 208 guests, one of the highest crew to passenger ratios at sea. During 2006 dry-dock and interior refurbishments, the company installed DVD players and flat-screen televisions in all suites, and made improvements to the Veranda Cafe Lido dining areas.
The newer vessels carry 335 crewmembers. These ships come with no DVD players but have extensive video on demand capabilities for newer release movies, documentaries and most impressive the recording and availability (on demand) of any lectures given during the cruise by the excellent roster of historians and regional experts. The only drawback is the very small television screens which are barely visible from the far corner of the bed.
All cabins are on Seabourn are described as suites in the brochure, each coming with a complimentary bottle of champagne to welcome you aboard. Inside are flat-screen TVs with DVD players and Bose Wave sound systems on the older ships, and iPod adaptors for music on the newer ships.
Although the service and surroundings are elegant, the actual watchword for the passengers is still casual, as this is meant to be a vacation experience, with plenty of languid, free time to relax with a book, massage or nap. In fact, free neck & shoulder massages may be available on deck on any given sea day.
There are no art auctions, bingo, photographers or gift shop sales to clog the hallways. No announcements will come into your room except during fire drill and disembarkation. The idea is to make the experience your own - however this lack of communication sometimes translates into a bit of a challenge if your goal is to discover important events not to miss.
What Not to Miss
The Seabourn experience is deceptively tranquil, meaning that without announcements or any kind of "cruise director's TV channel" you can miss the fun things if you don't know to look for them.
Do watch for the "Chef's Dinner," a night when the executive chef selects the entire menu, including wine pairings. This is his night to impress you, so he uses the best ingredients and most creative recipes. Also watch for the Gallery Gala Buffet; a lunch buffet is set up within the confines of the Main Dining Room stainless steel galley. Finally there is Dessert Under the Stars, a late-night offering of sweet treats just before bedtime.
Seabourn ships still offer galley and bridge tours at no cost - sights that mainstream cruise lines now only show during paid "behind the scenes" tours. As far as activities go - Seabourn is known for its "blood sport trivia," which really just means the passengers take the group trivia competitions that almost all cruise ships offer very seriously.
Complimentary wines and spirits are offered throughout the entire ship, especially during the meals when a skilled sommelier will serve up a white wine during appetizers and switch appropriately to red wines with the main entrees. The wine selections are impeccable, although the cost of the bottle is not revealed (all beverages are included in the cruise fare), they certainly taste expensive.
The smaller ships are able to visit relatively untouristed Caribbean and European ports that larger ships can't access. The downside being that shallow drafts mean rocky seas; the smaller Yachts of Seabourn can get tossed around a lot more (and in calmer water) than larger vessels, and even the larger ones will not be as steady as a mainstream cruise ship three times its size.
The new and larger ships definitely put a real wrinkle in the old Seabourn formula. When you increase a line's capacity from about 600 total to 1950 in the space of a few years you obviously cannot draw only from the old clientele - you have to scare up new business. This is where the shorter cruises come in, and Seabourn says its average passenger age has dropped considerably. This is most likely true on the cruises of seven-days or less. Longer cruises still attract retired couples as the vast majority. The challenge with such a drastic increase is in maintaining the line's personalized service when hiring all new personnel to staff the new tonnage. Naturally, the loyal passengers remember the crewmembers they met before, but the new crewmembers are not going to recognize the old passengers.
Passengers used to be primarily 60 and over and not very interested in pool games or deck parties. However, as the line has begun offering more 7-day itineraries making them more available to the younger still-working generation with little discretionary time but more discretionary income, the average age has skewed lower. Seabourn still has its generous single occupancy policy, but the gentlemen hosts programs have been eliminated.
In 2010 a quite controversial change in the onboard dress code was instituted all but eliminating mandatory formal dress. The formal nights have been eliminated on shorter seven-day journeys, with just one per 14-night journey and two per 21-day journey. Hardly worth packing a tux for one in 14 days, but there it is. By day, elegant casual dress is encouraged, although shorts are allowed in the Veranda Cafe during breakfast and lunch. The evening dress code is either formal or elegant casual - your choice.
Tours are targeted to please their audience. In keeping with the desires of their recently acquired younger cruisers, a new slate of shore excursions includes a menu of active tours; cycling, hiking, rafting and even some zip-line canopy tours in tropical ports. For the oldsters there are still wine-tastings and other culinary treats, as well as visits to private villas that, needless-to-say, would never accommodate a busload of Carnival passengers.
The shore tours are not cheap, and many Seabourn cruisers opt to rent cars and drive themselves in different ports of call. The number of possible shore tour options is often somewhat limited as well. However, the tours are well organized and the tour guides are generally very good. There is very limited information about the tours unless you specifically ask - there are no port talks to discuss the tours, for example. This may change in 2012.
Another controversial development, for regular Seabourn passengers, occurred when the line announced it added support services for guests traveling with children. Not exactly announcing a specific children's program, the line merely said it will offer staff members to keep the children occupied rather than having nothing at all scheduled for them to do. Watching over children 24-hours/day is a responsibility that sometimes gets overlooked once the parents get comfortable on a small ship and realize their children can't go far.
Some of the regulars saw this as an open message to new Seabourn passengers that "kids are welcome" on Seabourn ships. Seabourn characterizes it a different way - that if the new cruisers are going to bring kids, it is everyone's best interest to make sure these kids don't get bored and moody. The line has scheduled kid's activities on cruises that have kid passengers, but many of them don't. However, the fact is that these ships are not meant for kids and we don't recommend bringing them (they will be bored) unless it is a port-intensive itinerary.
The "Seabourn Club" members now are offered savings of 50% on an array of cruises throughout the year. Those savings are also available to past guests of Holland America, Princess, Costa, or Cunard. Think of it as an opportunity to try an all-suite, small ship cruise at least once. You also get a 5% onboard booking savings if you book your next cruise while on board.Theme Cruises
Every cruise features the Dress Circle enrichment program presenting leading figures from history, geography, politics, television, journalism, music, theater, film, literature or culinary (including wine, of course).Tipping
Gratuities are included in the fare. It not required or expected.
It does not take long to realize you are in for something very special when you board the Seabourn Legend. We just completed our fourth voyage on the Legend and I have no question there will be more. You walk up the gangway and enter the Reception area, where you are promptly handed a chilled flute of champagne. An attentive crew member has already insisted on carrying all your bags as he escorts you into the King Olaf Lounge for registration. You have two free hands and tell the young man that you're perfectly capable of helping carry your own things. But he will not hear of it, so we proceed to the Lounge, your hands swinging free, the young crew member laden down like a camel. At registration, as in everything on Seabourn, there is no wait. Within minutes of entering the lounge, you are registered and your picture IDs and room card keys handed over to you. The young man carrying your bags suggests you have a bite to eat before he brings you to your suite, so you hit the table with finger sandwiches, cookies, pastries andall kinds of beverages. Champagne, soft drinks, and iced tea are there on the table, while a strolling waiter serves rum punches from a tray. When you are ready, and there is never any hurry, the young man brings you to your suite.
A short stroll down an ornate circular staircase brings you to your suite, an elegantly appointed oasis that you figure you will have no problems calling home. All Legend suites are ocean view, some with "balconies." While the balcony suites allow you to open the windows and enjoy the sea breezes, the balconies are really more like French windows. There are no chairs, nor room to put one. Our suite has a large picture window, refrigerator, flat screen TV, CD and DVD players, walk in closet, and a marble appointed bathroom. The suites have all the bells and whistles one could reasonably hope for. The refrigerator is stocked with the beer, soft drinks, bottled water and mixers you had requested on your pre-cruise order form. Each suite is entitled to two liters of the alcohol of your choice and they will be dropped off in your suite the first evening. Of course, there is no charge for any of this, as it is all included in your fare. Above the refrigerator is a glass cabinet with beautiful crystal glasses; champagne flutes, wine glasses, rocks glasses, etc. It is almost a shame to pour a Diet Coke into this beautiful crystal, but I got over it. Soon, there is a gentle tapping at the door, then shortly after, another. The first is the arrival of your check-in luggage, faster than I've ever had it happen anywhere. The second knock is your Cabin Stewardess who has come to introduce herself. She has brought fresh canapés to go with the iced champagne sitting in a bucket in your sitting room, along with a bowl of fresh fruit. She also has brought a tray of toiletries for you to select your soaps and shampoos. The soaps are L'Occitane, the other toiletries Moulton & Brown of London; very nice stuff. Get a good look at your cabin girl, because chances are you will not see her in your cabin again. These girls are masters at seeing to every possible need you could possibly have and keeping the suite turned down, made up and spotless without ever actually being spotted in the suite. To say they are not intrusive is an understatement. They are like ghosts; very competent ghosts. We take a few minutes to unpack and hang up our clothing and it is off to the top deck Sky Bar to meet our fellow passengers as we prepare to sail out of St. Thomas harbor.
The typical Seabourn passenger is successful, affluent, well-educated and well-travelled. Most of the people you speak with are returning guests like ourselves, and usually we know at least a few of the guests from previous cruises. Seabourn passengers are very loyal to the brand, so if you travel with Seabourn often enough, there are familiar faces and sometimes, old friends from prior voyages. But this time, so far, we have not seen anyone we know. But just as we are preparing to sail, a couple from Ohio comes out on deck who we had gotten to know and like very much on another cruise line several years ago. We see each other, our jaws drop and a friendship rekindled. That's how it works on the smaller ships. It is a pretty small fraternity. As we pull out to sea, my Wife Susie and I run down to the well-stocked library to pick out some books to read and head back to our suite for a short nap before showering for Dinner.
Conde Nast Traveler's latest Reader's Poll named Seabourn Legend's cuisine the best at sea. All the Seabourn vessels were rated at or near the top, but the Legend the very best. Seabourn's menu and recipes are created by famed Chef Charlie Palmer, and dining is a big reason we are aboard the Legend for the fourth time. The food and service are sensational, and the servings modest enough that it is possible to try every course and leave the Dining Room content but not bloated. While the Dining Room is consistently wonderful, try the reservations-required specialty Restaurant "2" at least once on your trip. The theme changes every night. The night we were able to get a reservation, it was a French Bistro theme, and the meal was possibly the finest I have had at sea in 89 cruises. A tip: put yourself on the waiting list for"2" every night. The place is very small and difficult to get in. Most of the passengers seem to like the Veranda Restaurant for breakfast and lunch. You can eat inside or outside and enjoy the sea air. My Wife and I like to go to the Dining Room for both meals. At breakfast it is virtually empty, which suits me fine as I like to have my coffee and look at the paper in peace. I was a morning person most of my life, but since retiring, I like to ease into the day. The solitude of the Dining Room in the mornings accommodates this. For lunch, it is nice to get out of the sun for a few minutes and have a real meal. I do not like to eat hamburgers and other things I have at home when cruising, particularly on the Legend. There is a culinary treat waiting around every corner; try things you don't get at home. One story occurs to me that exemplifies the Seabourn approach. One evening, the Chef came out of the Kitchen to go from table to table asking if everything was satisfactory. My Wife Sue mentioned that the chocolate chip cookies that had been put out that day at afternoon tea were the best she had ever had. The Chef did not ask our names or suite number, but every evening for the rest of the voyage, when we returned to our suite in the evening, there was a plate of chocolate chip cookies and two tall glasses of milk. That is how Seabourn does things.
This voyage is a Caribbean sailing out of St. Thomas, calling on St. John, St. Barth's, St. Maarten, Antigua, Jost Van Dyke, St. Kitts and Prickly Pear Island, which is off Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, before returning to St. Thomas. We are beach and sun people, and Caribbean cruises have become our most frequent voyages due to the laid-back nature of the itinerary. We have done more Caribbean cruises than I can count in our 89 cruises, and thus have seen just about every island most ships call upon. This removes all the urgency about rushing off the ship in every port, since we've seen all the islands many times. On European cruises, the pace was very different, as there were so many things we wanted to see ashore. But we have cruised extensively, and been all over the world, and the Caribbean seems to fit our current mindset. On this cruise, we did not even get off the ship in St. Maarten and St. John. We find lying on deck and taking dips in the pool while most of the other passengers are ashore to be very relaxing. And the Seabourn staff onboard takes very good care of you. As I stretch out on my chaise lounge, one waiter comes by with a refill of my favorite sunning libation, an Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade). Another comes by to spritz your baking body with a mist of cold spring water while offering a choice of sunscreens. The Spa sends out a girl for complimentary Massage Moments on deck. The Water Sports Marina at the stern is opened up for sailing, kayaking and a swim in the ocean. I awaken from a nap to find another waiter handing me a goblet of fabulous raspberry sorbet topped with a dash of champagne. It is a rugged existence, but sometimes you have to take one for the team.
The Beach Barbecue
On all Seabourn cruises, there is a unique event scheduled which varies according to where in the World you happen to be. On Mediterranean cruises, for instance, there is a private classical music concert among the ancient Roman ruins at Ephesus. On Caribbean sailings like ours, there is the Beach Barbecue featuring Caviar in the Surf held on Prickly Pear Island. The Maitre'D and the restaurant staff, wearing their dress whites, go waist deep in the surf to serve caviar with all the trimmings and champagne from what appears to be a surfboard, or the body of a Sunfish.
The barbecue is not your usual beach fare, either. Served off porcelain Dinner plates with linen napkins and real silverware, you are treated to steaks, barbecued ribs, lobster tails, a whole sucking pig and a potpourri of salads, fruits and desserts. Strolling waiters serve trays of beers, cocktails of all descriptions and soft drinks. There is a banana boat and water skiing, as well as an outdoor massage salon and live music. It is quite a party and Prickly Pear has a lovely white sand beach for swimming.
The Yachts of Seabourn is the Carnival Corporation's entry in the ultra-luxury cruise category. Before you think Carnival Cruise lines, understand it is the same parent company but a very different product. Carnival Corp. owns Seabourn, Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Carnival Cruises and Costa, as well as a host of lesser-known, fast-growing cruise lines all over the world. As such, Carnival Corporation transports almost half of the world's recreational cruise passengers. The Seabourn Legend and her two small sister ships, the Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Spirit sail all over the World, carrying 210 passengers and 200 crew. Seabourn has recently introduced three stunning new ships which carry 460 passengers and around 400 crew. The Seabourn Odyssey and Sojourn are already in service, while the brand new Quest is due to make her maiden voyage in May, 2011. If there is virtually any place on Earth you want to sail, Seabourn can take you there is the lap of luxury. Well, maybe not anywhere. I think Yemen, Libya and Somalia may have been given a "time out." But take a moment, and do your research, as this is a must do travel experience. We think Seabourn is as good as cruising gets.
We boarded the Pride in Copenhagen, and were warmly greeted. There was a computer glitch when we were checking in, but after 15 minutes, all was well. We were shown to our suite and greeted with a bottle of Champaign and a canopy. Our suite bar was a little lacking, but our hostess took care of it for us right away.
On Seabourn, if they have it on the ship, it is yours for the asking, at no extra charge, and there is no tipping allowed. We had a 5 course meal delivered to our room one night, a course at a time, and it could not have been better. At each dinner I had caviar as an appitiser, even though it was not on the menu. Our ship had 196 passengers so we made some very good friends very quickly. We did dine with the Captain one night and he was very charming. Seabourn has been criticized for its entertainment, but we loved the music and the magic. Very informal and everyone got along fine. Most were over 60 years old and there were no kids. It was timefor us to unwind.
I was compairing the ship to Silver Sea, as I had just completed a trip with them. Biggest difference is that Silver Sea had large balconies for all suites, and Seabourn did not. But they made it up in being smaller and more intimate and we enjoyed the trip very much.
Embarkation was in Civitavecchia announced at 3 pm but passengers were already allowed on board a lot earlier and seated in the lounge where cold drinks, coffee and refreshments were served. Friendly staff did escort us to the cabin - another welcome by the stewardess introducing herself and offered (French) Champagne and canapes , and some luxury soaps. A complimentary bootle of Champagne, a fully stocked bar, fresh fruit and some flowers all made it great.
The service on board was great: the 3 barmen were fulfilling every wish.
The food was very good, only the very talented chef Michael Batoux was a little bid limited as he had to follow recipes of Charlie Palmer. It is urgent time Seabourn ends his cooperation with Palmer and give full freedom to his own chefs!
The service in the dining room was supervised by a great maitre dé Luca and 4 assistants.
On the itinerary only North Sardinia was borrying and could be replaced by Cagliari.
The people at the reception desk were very friendly and helpful at all times.
Due to a medical emmergency the captain did not hesitate to go back to Civitavecchia but he didreach Nice just on time : all passengers were pleased by his prompt and attentive action.
Entertainment was decent - a small ship is not the place where you can expect flashing shows.