Lap of Luxury:
By Susan J. Young
Cruisers seeking the most amenity-laden ships may not always find the small, 208-passenger ships of Seabourn Cruise Line a good fit, although those intimate, yacht-like ships clearly have their fans.
The vessels are also being upgraded between now and April 2008. And a new, larger (yet still intimate) Seabourn Odyssey flagship will launch in 2009.
But it's the line's service that clearly shines. Onboard staff anticipate every need of the guest.
Frankly, the onboard service level rivals and, at times, exceeds anything I’ve experienced afloat. If you want to be pampered to the nines, this may be the perfect fit for your cruise vacation.
Plus, the line has spacious suites (as shown above*) with walk-in closets, marble baths and nice sitting areas. In effect, the suites seem an extension of the ships' public areas; they're large enough for hosting cocktail parties or even a dinner party. Some suites have balconies. And Seabourn's onboard "club-like" atmosphere fosters the trend of guests enjoying en-suite dining with friends.
I sailed on a two-week holiday cruise on Seabourn three years ago. More recently, I sailed late last year on the Seabourn Pride as part of a voyage from Gloucester, MA, to Nassau, the Bahamas.
I boarded in Norfolk, VA, mid-way through the Seabourn Pride’s voyage. Happily cocooned in a standard suite (quite spacious and amenity-filled), we enjoyed the onboard service and relaxing atmosphere as we sailed along the U.S. coastland. Our ports of call included Charleston, SC; Amelia Island, FL; and Port Canaveral, FL, before continuing on to Nassau. Following are gleanings from my time onboard Seabourn.
Service Beyond the Norm
To say Seabourn has stellar service is almost an understatement.
Perhaps most telling is the example I have of my first Seabourn cruise on the Seabourn Legend, when my father – then moderately ill with Alzheimer’s – couldn’t remember how to tie his own tie. It's a debilitating feeling for a family to realize the people they love no longer can do simple tasks.
On two separate occasions, I simply went out in the hall and summoned the nearest available male crew member (one from the restaurant wait staff, another from the purser’s office). Both happily and quickly came into our suite. They tied the tie around their own necks, then removed it with the tie knot intact and lovingly placed it on my dad. He beamed! Despite the Alzheimer's, he knew he wanted to look nice for dinner!
That unusual service was delivered with a smile. So we never felt as though we were imposing, despite the difficult circumstances. That may not have been the case on some other lines, I'm sure. But the Seabourn staff never flinched, immediately springing into action with a smile to assist.
On our more recent trip, whatever was needed, was handled quickly and effortlessly. We needed more hangers (yes, we brought too many clothes)? No problem. The cabin stewardess was on it.
I was working onboard, so we wanted to dine alone many evenings without other guests to shorten the dining experience? The maitre d' understood and made sure we had a table for two.
Or perhaps you might want an intimate table for a romantic dinner as at left.* No worries, just ask.
We've been on some lines in which fine dining equates to a stuffy dining atmosphere. We've seen -- first-hand -- the "uppity atittude" that some continental-trained wait staff take with guests they perceive as just normal folk. We're delighted to say this was never the case on Seabourn.
Not all Seabourn guests are rich; some are teachers, government workers or small business owners who work hard but save up to splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime luxurious voyage. Other guests are wealthy, of course.
But the staff seemed to go out of their way to make all guests -- whether multimillionaires dripping with diamonds or just simple folk like us -- feel comfortable.
On many voyages, the line fields a special, complimentary Exclusively Seabourn Experience. In the Caribbean, for example, we previously enjoyed caviar in the surf during a Seabourn private island experience in the British Virgin Islands.
Along the Eastern Seaboard on our most recent cruise, we enjoyed an afternoon antebellum adventure in Charleston. We waited briefly in the port's terminal for buses to take us on our outing to a historic local mansion.
Imagine our surprise when an entire fleet of horse-drawn carriages lined up to pick up our entire group. Each carriage headed out in a different direction for a 30-minute tour of the city prior to arrival at the antebellum William Aiken House.
Guests had different tours depending which carriage they entered. So it was fun to discuss "what did you do?" when we all hooked up once again as a group at the lovely 1819 mansion.
Greeted by southern ladies in traditional attire (see photo*), we selected a cool drink and began to stroll the grounds. Beverages included a choice of a mint julep, bourbon punch or non-alcoholic punch.
After a grand tour of the mansion, we sat at tableclothed tables and sampled sandwiches, chicken salad, petit fours and other tasty fare. We dined casually but elegantly on an upstairs verandah. The sounds of harp and flute music filled the air.
I’ve been to Charleston many times, including more recently on a land-based journey during the Travel South conference in South Carolina just months ago. But of all my experiences there, this is the one I’ll remember most.
Anyone getting a free tour thinks it’s great, certainly. But if you sail on Seabourn, you get the feeling that superior planning goes into the whole process.
You too can experience that Charleston "Exclusively Seabourn" adventure in October. Seabourn's 12-day Colonial Harvest itinerary sails on Oct. 19 on Seabourn Pride from Gloucester, MA (Boston) to Nassau, with calls at Newport, RI; Philadelphia, PA; Baltimore, MD; Norfolk, VA; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Port Canaveral, FL and on to Nassau. Fares start at $4,883 per person double.
As for shore excursions, Seabourn aims for something unique. At Port Canaveral, we booked one shrimp-focused outing.
At the port's commercial boat dock, Lauralee Thompson (seen below left) explained her family's connections with "shrimping." The family owns shrimp boats, a shrimp processing plant, retail seafood market and the popular Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant in Titusville, FL; the latter is famed for its rock shrimp!
With Lauralee explaining the shrimping operation at every step, we entered a small building to watch workers separate shrimp and fish, spew buckets of ice over them, and wheel large plastic containers here and there.
Then it was time to enjoy an eco-cruise around area waters on a pontoon boat; we were thrilled to spot several lumbering manatees.
Finally, we visited Laura Lee's retail fresh fish and seafood establishment and watched shrimp cleaning and packaging.
To end the tour, we chowed down on an out-of-sight lunch (if you love shrimp!) at Dixie Crossroads -- an extravaganza of hush puppies, chowder, salad, and shrimp galore. We sampled rock shrimp, grey shrimp, white shrimp and so on -- and all cooked many different ways (shown above*).
The Onboard Experience
Onboard, Seabourn seems a bit like an eclectic country club where people get to know each other. Yes, you can keep to yourself, but if you’re seeking eclectic companionship for dinner, drinks or activities, you’ll likely find it.
In fact, that experience is a part of why people book Seabourn. People onboard this line seem to truly enjoy meeting new people and getting to know them. It's a big reason they book.
On my first Seabourn cruise I met an accomplished couple who lived in western Australia and were building a hospital in the Perth area. They were delightful people who genuinely were interested in meeting other interesting people onboard.
Instead of chattering incessantly on about their own lives (as cruise guests are bound to do), they asked everyone at the table about their work, school, or hobbies. They viewed each new guest as someone to chat with, someone to learn from, someone with whom to share experiences and tales. Yes, they shared their experiences too, but they didn't overwhelm other guests with their tales.
On my recent Seabourn trip, I found myself looking for them around every corner – hoping to find them on the voyage. I didn’t. But they’re frequent Seabourn guests, so it would have been possible.
My point? On another cruise line, I never would have even thought about hoping to encounter people I'd met casually on a past cruise. That people-centric feature of Seabourn's style of cruising truly stands out.
Other onboard experiences? I'm not much of a spa person, but Seabourn's other guests did rave about the spa treatments they received. I had my hair cut at the onboard beauty salon and found the experience pleasant.
I'm used to the hard sell often used by Steiner staff on other ships. But this Seabourn salon experience had no "hard sell" for products. Staff could sense whether someone was interested or not in buying products, which was most appreciated.
As for dining, the entire experience was up to our expectations and much more. We loved the 24-hour room service, where we could order not only a plate of cheese, fruit and crackers, but actually explain what type of blue cheese we wanted.
We also enjoyed the once-per-cruise Galley Lunch – a culinary extravaganza in the ship’s galley. It featured everything from jumbo shrimp to prime rib, from Ahi tuna to Asian fare, from salads to desserts, from soups to breads and beyond.
A chocoholic’s dessert buffet on one day revealed the kitchen's artistry. The chocolate concoctions looked too pretty to eat -- but, of course, we did just that!
Breakfast, lunch and dinner in Seabourn's dining room is open seating. Guests sit with whom they choose and arrive in a window of dining times.
Inform the maitre d’ of any special requests such as a table for two, or rotating you among tables if you want to meet as many folks as possible.
A singles table is organized by the maitre d' if you're traveling alone and wish to dine with other singles during the voyage.
Complimentary wines and spirits are served onboard. We appreciated the superb food-wine pairings. We noticed that special dining requests were honored whenever possible. And, each evening was a surprise -- with menus eclectically designed by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer.
We immensely enjoyed casual dining for lunch in Veranda Cafe; guests dine inside or al fresco on the covered deck.
In the evening the cafe evolves into a trendy alternative restaurant called Restaurant 2. It gives you small portions with a taste of this and a taste of that. Each dish features interesting sauces or infusions of flavors. Reservations are highly recommended.
Daily activities might include attending a lecture in the lounge (often with a cultural, heritage or eco-tourism perspective); participating in a trivia contest; enjoying a wine tasting program; testing Lady Luck in the small onboard casino; reading or checking out DVDs in the comfortable library; taking a lap around the deck or a dip in the small pool or whirlpools (see photo at left*); or attending evening jazz or cabaret entertainment programs (no big shows given the ship size). Shoppers might browse in a small boutique.
Special onboard experiences including the complimentary Massage Moments on deck (a mini-massage to relax your neck and shoulders) and movie screenings under the stars on the Top Deck, weather permitting.
For more details about the Seabourn onboard experience, visit our site's Seabourn Cruise Line Profile written by Georgina Cruz. It offers more insight into the line's style of cruising, onboard programs, accommodations, dining and itineraries.
Seabourn Itineraries Covering the South
If you’d like to try Seabourn on a Caribbean voyage, several holiday itineraries originate in Port Everglades this year (Greater Fort Lauderdale) as does a February 2008 voyage.
That 11-day Caribbean Highlights voyage sailing Feb. 27, 2008 on Seabourn Legend sails to Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; Road House, Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Charleston, Nevis; Deshaies, Guadeloupe; St. John’s, Antigua; Gustavia, St. Barts; Marigot, St. Martin, and Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. It’s priced from $4,593 per person double.
If you want to sail in late 2008, consider the 11-day Caribbean Treasures itinerary on Seabourn Pride. It sails Nov. 11 from Port Everglades to Bridgetown, Barbados. Fares are from $4,593.
For all the details about these and other Seabourn voyages, visit the line’s Web site at www.seabourn.com.
Upgrades to Existing Vessels
While we consider service the big plus of a Seabourn cruise, the hardware (the line's ship style is shown at right*) is also getting some attention. The Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend, are undergoing multi-million dollar renovations during drydock maintenance periods between now and April 2008.
The line says these upgrades are the most extensive since French balconies were added to 36 of each ship's suites five years ago.
What's being tackled? The line is overhauling two of the ships' popular open-air alternative dining venues.
The goal is to increase seating capacities and enhance the options for guests to enjoy evening entertainment "Under the Stars."
The renovations will enlarge the outdoor section of the indoor/outdoor Veranda Café. Guests will find more seating and a new awning for enhanced weather protection.
The Sky Bar, overlooking the sun deck and whirlpool spas, is a popular gathering spot both day and night, where Sky Grill dinners are occasionally served. During the renovation, twin staircases leading from the deck below are being replaced with a single stairway, allowing an increase in the deck space adjacent to the Sky Bar.
Existing fixed cocktail-sized tables are being replaced with more versatile furniture, some of which can be removed to clear the deck space for occasional on-deck entertainment and dancing.
Further features of the renovations include an upgrade of the bedding in all guest suites, new carpets in many public areas, upgrades to the treatment rooms in The Spa at Seabourn, and new furniture in the card rooms and internet centers.
Seabourn Pride just completed the process in Germany. Seabourn Spirit's turn will be at Singapore in January 2008 and Seabourn Legend's at Lisbon in April 2008.
One change will be immediately visible as guests arrive to embark.
The ships' livery is being updated, with the decorative line along the shear of the hull being changed from dark blue to black
In addition, the distinctive shield emblem on the ships' stacks will be highlighted in gold rather than blue. A rendering of the new livery is shown above.
Moving forward, Seabourn will likely gain new cruisers as it upgrades its three existing ships and adds the new Seabourn Odyssey. That vessel will offer more public areas and onboard activity options for the line's ultra-luxury guests.
One thing remains constant, though. Seabourn says it is committed to its extremely high service ethic. If you sail on this line, it shines through brilliantly. It's a big part of "the Seabourn Experience."
Susan J. Young is editor and publisher of SouthernTravelNews.com™ and SouthernCruising.com™.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Seabourn Cruise Line and Susan J. Young. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.