As our first cruise we don't have much to compare our experience too, however as seasoned travellers and as persons accustomed to 5-star luxury holidays we held high expectations for the trip.
We started in St.Maarten having flown in from a 4 day shopping trip to New York. I won't go into the abysmal service and experience of flying with British Airways, however will point out I will never fly with them again. We stayed at the Holland House hotel in St.Phillipsburg, where the cruise terminal was visible from the veranda restaurant and beach. For $200 a night accommodation including breakfast and wifi for two, this was the perfect start to the holiday. It does not have a pool however, the beach is a stones throw from breakfast and the sea perfectly warm and clean.
Having spent a few days on St.Maarten we were ready to board our ship. As our tickets stated we could board anytime, however the rooms weren't ready until 1400, we chose to embark a little early due to boredom and excitement. When promptly greeted by the Seabourn representative at the pier we were a little surprised to find the ship almost full already, as this was 2hrs before boarding time. However guest registration was quick and easy, we were promptly handed a glass of champagne and several canapes before being escorted to our room.
The room itself was on deck 4 and port side. We opted for the cheapest room available as previous travellers on board had advised. This is purely down to the size of the ship, it really isn't big enough to worry about the extra 6 meters walk you encounter by spending Â£500 per person more. We did have an extra flight of stairs to ascend in a morning for breakfast, however as this was the only exercise we encountered each day we were quite glad of it. The room itself was large enough, with a queen bed, sitting area, en suite and walk in wardrobe. Our stewardess Lydia greater us promptly introducing herself and offering complementary soaps and opening a bottle of champagne.
This is where we really noticed the Seabourn difference. The service is exquisite. Within a day virtually every staff member knows your name, the bar staff know what you drink and how you like it. Nothing is too much trouble or effort, however they are not imposing or in your face.
The first night we were invited to dinner by Sam, the ships guitarist. He was excellent company and introduced us to the world of cruising. As a relatively young couple (30) we were slightly concerned as to the demographic on board. We were surprised to find around 20 other similar aged passengers, however they mainly travelled in groups and were unsociable with the rest of the ship. One particular girl really became annoying but having to exclaim "Oh, My, God" in between every other word. This was however no fault of seabourn. The ship had 99 Americas, 50 British and 40 others. Not quite at capacity of 210. There were also 170 staff on board.
The food! As a food lover this was the biggest aspect of the cruise we looked forward to, and it didn't disappoint. The portions are plenty full but not massive and always cooked to your liking (the waiter will remember how you had your steak last night/ at lunch and ask if you want it the same!) By the end of the cruise both the wife and I were struggling to fit into clothes and on return to the UK my scales told me I was 14lbs heavier! Must have enjoyed it.
The drinks are also fantastic. The bar tenders are a knowledge of cocktails and are always happy to recommend something, or make whatever you order. Champagne is virtually on tap 24hrs a day. The frozen Mojitos were my favourite, basically a Mojito flavoured slush puppy. My wife loved the strawberry daiquiri, until she ate them out of strawberries. These were swiftly replaced at the next port after much apologising. Not much of my time on board was spent sober, however it was a little uncouth to be drunk (as the woman who decided to strip naked in the restaurant on the first night found out!)
The ship had recently been refitted in dry dock during the summer so was looking fantastic. The only aspect that is starting to look its age were to two tender boats that take you ashore. These could defiantly do with replacement/refurbishment. They still serve their purpose sufficiently ferrying passengers around and do get some abuse from their helms when approaching the ship/shore. Hold on tight!
The port excursions we experienced, Treasure island snorkeling and Tree too zip lining were well organised and run. Do however be prepared to sign your entire life away before they will let you participate, presumably down the the American suing culture.
We didn't get chance to experience the marina due to weather conditions, and this forms my only negative of the cruise. On the second to last day we were due to anchor off Le.Marin for the beach BBQ and marina day. The swell was large and the captain made the decision it was too dangerous to moor. This was fair enough as Seabourn can't control the sea conditions, however the lack of alternative was disappointing. Our only option was to spend the day at sea travelling to Barbados where there isn't much see or do on an evening around the port. Bridgetown is also a little seedy and intimidating on an evening, so overall we felt to have lost out.
My other gripe was the disembarkation procedure. Bags had to be packed and outside your room by 11pm. This also appeared to be when the service stopped. You all of a sudden felt like an inconvenience to the crew trying to prepare the boat for the guests boarding the following day. As we were travelling straight back from Barbados to the UK for Christmas (the boat arrived in Barbados on 23rd December) we couldn't carry liquids, nor did we want to wear our cold cloths for travelling back to English climates on the morning before flying. Jeans, jumper and coat were too much for 34 degree heat. We ended up changing at the airport and repacking the bags before check in. There were no complimentary Molton Brown goodies on the last day, presumably because people just steal them, but does mean you need your wash bag. A small point I know but quite inconvenient all the same.
We have defiantly caught the cruising bug and are looking at several already. Once you factor in the inclusive tipping, drinks and suite Seabourn isn't that much more expensive than other cruise liners, and I can't see how they are beaten. We are however looking at trying their larger ships just for a comparison. I will report back when done.