In writing this review I am going to do a typical university thing: compare and contrast, mainly because I have decided it is impossible for me not to be constantly comparing: in the last year I have spent sixty days on Oceania (and previously several dozen more), and have just completed my first ten day son Seabourn. How could I not compare? I will leave it to the reader to judge whether or not the comparison is a fair one.
Let me start off by declaring my bias: I am very happy with Oceania's product, but was tempted to try something that was ostensibly even better: perhaps more luxurious -- at least based on their advertising as 'six star' etc. etc., Seabourn certainly positions themselves so.
I have a tendency to be overly verbose, so will try to restrain myself; here goes:
Embarkation at the Singapore was very smooth and pain-free based on Seabourn's efforts. The gaggle of young Singaporean girls who a sub-contractor had evidently hired to do the paperwork part of embarkation were inadequately trained, however. I heard them give entirely incorrect advice to someone next to me, and they totally misspelled both my and my partner's names when they transcribed them to the computer (I'm not sure how you misspell Jonathan (I work in Singapore a lot, that is a common name even there)), so they were pretty raw. This misspelling then recurred throughout the cruise (on bills etc.) so it was a problem that I had to get fixed later on in case I became stuck with a Chinese version of my name in perpetuity.
Stepping aboard, initial impressions and later reflections on service and experience:
First impressions were that staff are friendly and professional, but that something is just missing: there's just not the same level of effort as Oceania. The people at the head of the gangway were more interested in talking to disembarking crew than welcoming new passengers, which was not a good first impression. My husband's luggage was delivered to the room quite quickly but mine was somehow separated from his and took hours to arrive. Rectifying this took three phone calls from me, the person in guest services (your go-to place for everything; called a purser's office elsewhere) say they will phone you back and then they don't. When you chase them again and they do phone you back eventually they let the phone ring three times and if you can't get there in time too bad. When I pointed that out I got a 'oh we'll let it ring longer in future....' hmmmm
The atmosphere seems more rule-bound than Oceania, and the rules do not always seem to be there to suit passengers. When we embarked we were told rooms were not ready. It seems that seabourn want to have have 100% of rooms ready before they release any. I was really tired and keen for a nap so I went to check my room and the stewardess said 'it's ready so I don't see why you can't use it', but other corridor staff insisted that we had to wait for an announcement, which I never did hear having ignored them and put myself to bed by then. One guy, when I said I had a headache and wanted to lie down in my room, had the attitude to say 'oh I believe you'...not sure what he meant by that but it wasn't appreciated. Other examples of this are the closure of venues (e.g., the shop, the coffee bar) at various times (even during sea days), which we found inconvenient on a couple of occasions.
General Service Comments:
It would be too much to say we were disappointed with the service, but it would be fair to say it was patchy and that we were not blown away. Some staff members were exceptional (e.g., one of the barmen (PJ) who regularly went out of his way to prepare interesting non-alcoholic drinks for me). Others had a bit of a 'tell someone who cares' attitude. There are service gaps that just shouldn't exist on such a costly ' six star' line; for example we had a late booking for Restaurant 2, but wanted an earlier one and were told we would be waitlisted and notified if someone earlier cancelled. We didn't hear anything but I phoned three hours later to check: sure enough someone had cancelled but nobody contacted us. Room service was quick, however on more than eight occasions they did not answer their phone and we had to phone guest services to get them to ask room service to phone us back. Oceania's automatic call back service is far more efficient.
On reflection, after disembarkation, I think that there were shining examples of caring, personalised customer service on Seabourn, and also quite a bit of fairly disinterested, sometimes even surly, service as well as some wait-staff whom I can only assume were in training (or else entirely incompetent). I can only wonder if part of less engaged attitude is a result of the no-tipping-required Seabourn policy: goodness knows I am no supporter of tipping (yes, I'm Australian) and I am an active supporter of fair wage policies, but as a generalisation I did notice a less engaged feeling amongst staff in comparison with Oceania and wondered why.
Generally related to F&B
We were really surprised with the food situation. For all the boasting that Seabourn do about their food, and the raving one reads on cruise-related boards, we expected something out of this world and were, therefore, again disappointed. In the main we considered the food comparable to Oceania -- which is just fine, but certainly not any better and on a couple of occasions a lot worse.
I'll start by observing that Seabourn's dining hours don't suit us as well as Oceania's do. The patio grill often has more acceptable hours but it's small and when it rains there aren't enough tables. For us, 7:30 opening of the dining room is late dining when you have an early morning port arrival the next day.
In our opinions the food was portioned in a stingy, and often silly, way. We are not piggish eaters, but for example the berries are doled out in insultingly tiny rations at breakfast. Not for Seabourn passengers the large bowls of berries so beloved of Oceania fans. No, tiny little bowls with -- I kid you not -- about four blueberries, a couple of raspberries and a three or four blackberries are your ration. You then have to take three or four to get a decent bowl full, which is embarrassing.
One of our favourite meals was the surf and turf on deck at the patio grill, but it was an insane situation. Nowhere near enough tables or staff. I spoke to one of the waiters who said it's always like that; so if they know it is going to be popular, why not staff it correctly or move it somewhere else where people can access what they obviously want? Many were turned away, or walked off, presumably unhappily. We took our meal into the cabin to eat the first time because we simply could not get a table. We had 'surf and turf' twice, I had filet mignon both times and both times it was exceptional. The second time my husband had the 'cowboy steak' and it was really, really bad. Thin and gristly. Unacceptable.
On more positive note, we used room service a lot because we don't cruise for formal evenings and my husband didn't bring a jacket. I'm not going to complain about Seabourn's dress code because we knew about that before we came and realised we would not be dining in the dressy dining room, which is just fine by us. One thing we really liked was that the day's dining options were on a menu delivered to the room each preceding evening, and the exact menu from the main restaurant -- foi gras, etc., was all available via room service. Full white linen room service too. And fast. We were very happy with that whole situation.
At first my husband thought that coffee in Seabourn Square was undrinkable; American style rather than the Italian style we are used to in Melbourne. But after a day or so he managed to find a way to get the barista to make coffee as he liked it, and also found out that there are two brands on board; one which he liked better than the other.
We dined at Restaurant 2 one evening and it was fun. The tasting menu was very varied; and we picked a night when they had a lot that we liked and were not disappointed. We meant to go back but the last night ended up being more rushed than we thought so we didn't get there, but it was really good and I would gladly go again. The food was interesting, tasty, and beautifully presented and the atmosphere was 'food adventure' without any stuffiness. Service there was faultless too.
Of course, Seabourn includes all drinks, which is fantastic in some ways but probably a waste in others. As a non-drinker (not a party pooper, I can't drink due to medication), I really enjoyed trying a range of non-alcoholic cocktails, which is something I would not normally do on Oceania because it seems to be so wasteful and indulgent. So that was great, as was the included soft drinks -- I drink a LOT of those! For alcohol drinkers there was obviously anything you wanted, and the bar staff wander around the pool with lots of frozen temptations: this was really excellent. There was a bottle of Single Malt Scotch and Tanqueray Gin in the room to welcome us and when my partner asked for the brand of Single Malt to be changed it was done without any quibble and he was told to keep the first one as well. I guess when one reflects on the cost of Seabourn cruises, then for those who don't drink one wonders if you are paying for other people's drinks, however I made sure I took advantage of virgin-strawberry-mohito's etc. so I didn't feel that I lost out. It was certainly alright at the discounted price we paid but at normal Seabourn prices I reckon I could add $500 to my Oceania fare and have the same experience for a lot less cost.
The ship itself (Odyssey)
We felt that the decor was dull and institutional, beige beige everywhere, weird little square wall hangings that didn't add a thing to the ambiance and a general look in the corridors that brought to mind a good quality private hospital. The pools are very small indeed; much too intimate for our taste and netted over quite early at night: not good if you like a night-time swim.
Our room, however, (829) was fabulous: beds and linen comfortable, veranda nice size and in-room furniture was comfortable with large sofa and more than enough cupboard space and walk-in robe. Plenty of floor space too: and the bathroom was fantastic with standard size bath, lots of marble, two sinks and Molton Brown accessories. In this respect Seabourn walked all over Oceania: only when we had an Oceania Penthouse did the accommodation come close. Moreover we had this cabin for a balcony guarantee price so we were very satisfied indeed with that deal.
The ship itself rode the waves almost imperceptibly. We had very calm seas, but nevertheless there were times when I really forgot I was even at sea. The ship was quiet and shudder free, in fact the captain apologised for shuddering at one stage and I thought 'what shuddering?': it was very minimal. I don't know if it is the way Seabourn usually do things or if it was our itinerary, but she moved very slowly in comparison with Oceania Nautica; usually somewhere between 10 and 15 knots; which probably added to the lack of noticeable movement.
Other bits and pieces, including entertainment
I was pleasantly surprised to find that (and again, especially compared with Oceania) things on board were affordable. Internet was much more affordable, around half the price of Oceania and the package deals would have been really good value if you were on-board for a long time. It was slow, of course, but satellite connections are like that anywhere.
Another thing we much MUCH preferred about Seabourn in comparison with Oceania was the general sense of quiet. Nice and quiet around the pool, no foul canned music (after 45 consecutive days on Oceania if I ever hear John Denver again I will vomit); Seabourn occasionally had poolside recorded 'background' music but it was very unobtrusive. Also I was overjoyed not to hear endless inane announcements from the cruise director. There seemed to be a general consensus that passengers were NOT all idiots and didn't need to be told things ninety times over. Also none of the "Holiday Campers"; 'are we all happy today'; 'Good morning Vietnam' type saccharine announcements. I find Oceania's cruise director's way over the top, and was happy to enjoy the peace and quiet of Seabourn.
I expect that we'll sound very dull, but we cruise for the ocean and the ports and the daytime experience: we don't do much, if any, of the night time entertainment. My partner is into serious high-brow classical music and I love folk/world music and 60's hippy stuff (!!) so the on-board entertainment is not our style on any cruise ship I have been on. However, was I overjoyed that Seabourn had a Chinese Virtuouso Hammer Dulcimer player on board for one night. He was exceptional and I give them full kudos that they went the extra mile to book someone who was different from the normal run-of-the-mill stuff. The room was quite full and he got a standing ovation so I am surprised that cruise lines don't do things like that more often.
Disembarkation was very well done: again a plus for Seabourn. First great thing was that in-room breakfast was available although the times were earlier and cut off at about 8:00 from memory. The organisation of baggage collection was smooth. The actual day of disembarkation one could have breakfast and generally had the feeling that we were not being herded off and treated like food that has gone off! Sometimes on other lines one gets the distinct impression that it's "OK, you've paid your money, we've got your tips now wrack off"!. Seabourn's attitude was much more refined and even quite relaxed.
On a ten day itinerary we didn't see one example of the massage moments, no sign was ever seen of any spa staff other than in the spa. Also no marina day and no caviar-in-the-surf (although I can't imagine anything more silly than the latter so I didn't regret that). There was caviar available during the 'epicurean farewell' event.
The wash up
In summary we had a nice time; not a 'wow' time or a mind-blowing time but a nice, pleasant uneventful trip. We disembarked feeling relaxed and loved. So would we go back? Only if the price was seriously low and the itinerary was something we desperately wanted to do. We didn't think that Seabourn lived up to its self-generated 6* hype, and did not think it was worth the stratospheric price point that they ask when itineraries are not as seriously discounted as ours was. Nice, really nice, but perhaps just not quite our cup of tea.