Let me start out by saying my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our Seabourn cruise. For those Seabourn loyalist and those new to Seabourn you can take heart that Seabourn is trying very hard to maintain its quality in the present world economy. However, there still is much room for improvement to make this cruise line worthy of its six stars. I will give the good and not so good in this review, but lets start at the beginning.
My wife and I looked forward to this trip for over a year, and we wanted to see both New Zealand and Australia. The 36 day cruise was a way to see both countries at the same time. I normally plan our own air arrangements, and this trip was no different. We flew out of Phoenix, AZ Sunday February 3rd on Hawaiian airlines with a 24 hour layover in Honolulu. We liked this idea as it broke up the normal very long and boring flight from LA to Sydney. I not only got a great price, but was able to walk the beach in Honolulu and relax before our next leg to Sydney. Our travel agent recommended the Parc hotel which was one of two recommendations our agent made that I wish I had not taken. I'll get to the second recommendation later. Our hotel was close to the beach, but our room was over a delivery area, and we had truck noise most of the night. The hotel catered to the Asian market, especially with the included breakfast buffet. it was composed almost entirely of soups, noodles, and other eastern delicacies. A nice looking hotel, but we will not stay there again.
We arrived in Sydney on Tuesday ( we left on Monday February 4th from Honolulu with the international date line taking a day away on our flight). Our flight was smooth and turned out Hawaiian Airline was an excellent choice for us to travel to Australia. However, at Sydney we were bugged sprayed and had to sit at the gate for 10 minutes breathing the spray before we disembarked. There was a lot of coughing while everyone was inhaling the spray. I found out later that Australia still allows DDT for killing bugs, and my guess is that is what they used. Australia (and New Zealand for that matter of fact too) goes to great lengths to prevent any bugs from entering their countries. They are very protective of their produce, and want to make sure no diseases have a chance to decimate their crops. Since both countries are surrounded by water, they have a much better chance of isolating infestations entering than most countries with common land boarders do. We had one interesting experience to demonstrate the Australian's determination to stop any fruit or foods entering into their country. As we went through customs at the airport, we were directed to set our luggage on the floor and step away. They then had the cutest beagles sniff our bags. To our surprise, the beagle stopped by our carry on back pack and sat down. That we found out was the sign that something wasn't right. They went through our bag, but couldn't find anything that was a food. After about ten minutes and some questions, we figured out that my wife had put a ripe apple in the back pack when leaving two days earlier in Phoenix. She had eaten the apple before we arrived in Honolulu, but the smell was picked up by the beagles many hours after the apple had been taken out. So be forewarned not to bring any food items into Australia. There are heavy finds if they think you are trying to skirt the law. Thankfully, they let us go on through.
After getting past the "beagle" test we had our first taste of Seabourn service. Happily as soon as we rounded the corner from customs, there was a man holding a sign with our names on it. Quickly we were whisked away in our private car to the Shangri-La hotel where we spent the next two nights before boarding the Odyssey. Exploring Sydney was fabulous, and while I won't go into any depth about our roaming the streets it is a city that I would highly recommend visiting and spending some time there. The hotel was a package we purchased from Seabourn, and the location and amenities (especially the buffet breakfast) made it a great choice.
We were picked up by our private car around eleven thirty in the morning and driven to Glebe Island where the Odyssey was waiting for us. My first view of the Odyssey let me know we made a great choice. Not only is the ship beautiful on the outside, it has a great design on the inside. Add to this the fact that it is well cared for by the crew, and you have a great ship for a cruise. My favorite spot was Seabourn Square. You can't do the Seabourn Square justice with any description or even pictures. This was the center point for everything from coffee, tea, finger sandwiches, ice cream, computers, newspapers, books, guest services, and shopping. An array of tables and approximately 100 chairs including motorized reclining lounge chairs make this a favorite place for everyone. When you add in the outside deck area at the aft of Seabourn Square you have one of the best gathering place on any ship. Another of my favorites was the observation bar where we indulged in the afternoon tea. I loved the deck off the bar at the bow of the ship. This is a great space to watch the ship entering or leaving a harbor and looking at the scenery as you sail past islands. A third favorite was the Club. This is a very intimate bar and gathering place for trivia, dancing, and entertainment. The aft deck off the Club was also one of my favorite with a small pool and two whirlpools. A self serve drink station with ice, glasses, and a variety of soft drinks made it feel more like your back yard than a cruise ship. Finally, the Colonnade was our favorite place for breakfast and lunch. It has great seating (we especially liked the high top tables), and the veranda was large enough for several tables to accommodate anyone that wanted to eat outside. I'll mention other areas later that have their own special appeal when I discuss the food and spa venues.
Every suite up to the PH category is identical. They are very well designed except for the electrical outlets. We counted three single 120 v outlets (including one in the bathroom) and only one outlet was functional. The other two were either too close to the light switch for anything but the smallest plug-in to work or were in such a location to make it almost unusable. Bring a power bar or adapter to plug in for your computer and phones or you will have to rotate all of your rechargeable appliances. When you get past the outlets, the rest of the cabin is excellent. The shower and bath tub in a large room with two sinks feels spacious. There were plenty of drawers, and for the first time on a cruise my wife didn't fill all the shelves. The walk in closet was adequate, and had additional drawers and a safe. I will give one warning for those that might consider a guarantee v1 category cabin. This was the second travel agent recommendation I regretted as I was not upgraded. We were assigned v1 cabin 503, which was the furthest forward cabin on this level. What should have been an adequate cabin ended up in sleepless nights. In my opinion there was a design flaw with an adjoining hallway to our cabin. In the middle of the night I heard what I thought was some one entering our room. I found that the staff exit door latch closed on the same wall as our cabin. This made the same noise as if we opened and closed our own door. There were staff cabins behind this door, which added to the late night traffic. The result was that at all times of the night and early morning I was awakened with a noise that sounded like someone entering our cabin. We requested a different cabin, but since the ship was filled we toughed it out until the next cruise segment where we paid to change cabins. In the future I would never guarantee anything less that a v2 category.
This is always the most subjective area of any cruise line. Two people on the same cruise can rate the dinning experience from excellent to poor. On this thirty six day cruise we had some excellent meals and service and at other times we left uninspired. There were four dinning areas (excluding the Seabourn Square) and each had its good and not so good points. We question the dinning hours as we preferred earlier times for breakfast and dinner. The earliest venue that opened in the evening was seven PM, with two not opening until seven thirty. In the morning we found that eight was the norm on most days with the Colonnade opening at seven thirty on some port days. We would have preferred standardized seven thirty morning hours (with some adjustment for early arrival on port days). For the evening dinning hours seven thirty is too late for our liking. We would have been satisfied with a seven PM opening for all the venues even though we would have prefer a six thirty opening for at least one venue. The Restaurant always opened at seven PM, so we found ourselves eating at this venue even when we would have preferred another venue's menu. I know this is not an issue with everyone, but it was our opinion that an earlier opening time would make the dinning experience better. I also have to mention that the ingredients used by all the food services were top notch. As an example, I asked our room stewardess to leave some tomato juice in our refrigerator each day. I was surprised that I found a glass of juice each day in the refrigerator with a cover over the glass rather than a sealed mini can. It wasn't until later in the cruise, that our stewardess apologized that she couldn't furnish the juice until after eleven AM because the restaurant was not going to squeeze the tomato juice until then. We found much the same attention to all of the food. The best quality food products available were used in the preparation.
The Pool Grill - we enjoyed this venue for a casual lunch or dinner that combined table service with a buffet for appetizers, salads, and deserts. While limited in choices, they were always prepared and presented exceptionally well. We found the soup (many times a chilled fruit soup) a favorite that was not always available at the other restaurants. Desert was usually limited by visiting the adjoining Pool Bar for ice cream and cookies. However homemade ice cream is nothing to sneeze at.
I should mention here that the bar service was outstanding at all of the venues. You never had to worry about your wine glass or drink getting too low. There has been expanded discussion on the quality of the wines, but no one should worry about the service or the staff's willingness to try to make you happy.
The Colonnade- We ate all of our breakfasts and most lunches here except when ordering room service. Service was excellent, and could have been considered outstanding if not for occasional lapses of some of the junior wait staff. We especially liked sitting at the "high top tables" near the aft of the room and looking out over the terrace veranda. Their chocolate chip pancakes were great, and there was enough variety that nothing was repeated too often. In the evening when we didn't mind waiting till seven thirty (usually after we attended an early entertainment program) we liked the Colonnade for a more relaxing evening. There were a variety of theme dinners held at this restaurant. Sometimes we decided not to eat here simply because it didn't sound like a menu we would appreciate. However, when we did eat at the Colonnade we were very pleased. Portions at the Colonnade seemed much larger than at the other venues. Whenever I asked for a petite portion I swore they looked for the biggest piece of steak or fish they could find to serve me.
The Restaurant - I should explain that normally we are not big fans of the more formal dining room. However, we did eat here on several occasions and we had some great meals. It was also here that we had some of our poorest meals. We talked with a few of the Seabourn regulars and they felt, as we did, that the service was spotty. Much of this seemed to be a function of too many inexperienced wait staff. Water glasses were sometimes not kept filled, and resulted in us asking for refills. This is the first luxury cruise line I had ever had to ask anyone to fill our water glass. Another example of inconsistent service was when my wife and I both ordered a special meal a day in advance. I ordered a fried calamari lettuce salad with fried onion rings, and she ordered a spinach salad as our main course. My salad and onion rings were excellent as I had spelled out exactly how I wanted it prepared, while her salad arrived plainly with nothing more that spinach leaves in a bowl. She was expecting some type of garnish to be included. To our waiter's credit, he brought strawberries and nuts to add to the salad when my wife told him she was disappointed. We thought the staff should have asked a few more question when she ordered her salad. Expectations were certainly not met, and we learned a lesson that if you want something not on the menu you better make sure the staff is aware of your expectations. The menu at The Restaurant was not as varied as much as we had hoped. Now that may sound strange if you saw the menu, as there were four pages listing various suggestion. However, one page was always the same "Classic" menu. Salmon, steak, and chicken. We seldom ordered off of this page. Several of the other menus had various suggestions of the same thing. As an example the Chef's recommendation might have sea bass with potatoes and vegetables, and the light fare might have the same thing listed with no potatoes. The only salad listed on the menu was a Caesar. At no time did they ever offer a mix salad or spinach salad. Therefore the reason we had a "special" order request mentioned above. On the positive side, proportions here were just to our liking, and the deserts were varied and excellent. We found an excellent waiter (Chris) that we usually requested, and enjoyed the service when we sat at one of his tables.
Restaurant 2 - We ate here twice during our cruise, and might have made reservations more if the first meal had been as good as the last. I asked Guest Services how many different "tasting" menus the Restaurant used. We were told that they were using seven different menus that rotated every two days, but they had other menus that might be added on different itineraries. Proportions were small, but when you sum all of the courses up you didn't go hungry. We didn't hear too many positive comments from the Seabourn regulars we met. They mentioned the presentations were too pretentious. My own feelings are that I didn't mind the presentations, but how the wait staff explained the different foods did make a difference. On our first visit, I felt the staff was presenting a memorized script. However, on the second visit I felt they knew about the food they were presenting. Needless to say the second visit was much more appealing. I do think Seabourn should consider revamping this restaurant and go to something like an Italian or Asian theme restaurant. When one hears so many negative comments during a cruise about Restaurant 2, it is time for a change.
Room Service - I have to mention that we were very pleased with room service even though room service is not considered a separate venue. The hot food was always hot when it arrived, and it was always on time. If you ask for a 7:15 breakfast it will be there no later than 7:15. Seabourn gets an A plus here.
We did use Seabourn for all of our shore excursions, and as mentioned by other Seabourn reviewers they are expensive. Expect to add at least four to six hundred dollars a port to your cost when using Seabourn(per couple). Some excursions were more expensive, but not very many were less than $200 a person. On two occasions we had less than adequate transportation provided. Once resulting in a disabled coach that caused the ship to be late leaving the port, and one coach that had a pipe dragging at the rear of the engine along with a terrible noise coming from the chaise that made us think we were going to be stranded again. On the latter one we were given a 30 per cent discount, but not because of the coach. The guide took us to the wrong restaurant because he didn't look over his itinerary and we were over an hour late for lunch. While no one starved to death by waiting, the restaurant had started preparing our food based on our guide's phone call saying we were almost there. It certainly did effect the quality of the food when we arrived. Seabourn doesn't get an "A" here. You might expect transportation in some parts of the world not be first class, but there is no reason Seabourn couldn't provide first class coaches in New Zealand and Australia. Other than these two excursions we enjoyed our trips. Guides were excellent on all but the one mentioned above. Don't miss a day on the Great Barrier Reef if you visit Australia! Even if you don't snorkel or dive, you should go on a boat or air tour as this is a great once in a life time experience. New Zealand's scenery is also something you should not miss. We especially like the Jet Boat excursion which was one of the highlights. Which excursion you take is a personal preference, but don't sit on the ship at port. Get out and see the sights and people in these two countries as they have a lot to offer.
Spa - Despite being warned by other Seabourn reviewers, I decided to sign up for the Spa package for the entire cruise. This cost $300 per couple, and since we had 36 days with several sea days I thought it would be a good idea. In theory it was a great idea, but in reality we didn't get our money's worth. The spa package for those not familiar with Seabourn included two semi-private areas that included a hot tub, sunning and relaxing areas, a thermal pool, water-bed, a place where you could have tea and other drinks etc. The facilities looked great, and if the hot tub had been hot and the thermal pool had been functioning how we thought a thermal pool should work, it might have been worth the money. However, Seabourn has the most of the same facilities free and in abundant supply throughout the ship. There really is no need to sign up. I am guessing Seabourn is trying to figure a way to bring in more revenue with these areas, and they will be changes in the future. Other Spa amenities were very good, including the exercise gym, and locker room sauna and steam room.
Seabourn has a great product to sell. The ship is outstanding, and the staff (for the most part) is outstanding. Pre and post cruise programs were top notch. Cabins (except as noted) were great. With all this going for it, Seabourn still needs some work. Food service is spotty, menus could be improved, Restaurant 2 needs revamping, and shore excursions need a boost. Would I book again? Certainly, but it has to be the right itinerary and the right price. If Seabourn improves some of the areas above, I would take a cruise just to take a cruise with them.