For our 25th wedding anniversary, we were very lucky to be given the chance to take the trip of a lifetime--a gift from my grandfather. As my wife has always wanted to see Santorini, and Seabourn's Odyssey was going to be there on our anniversary (with a late departure so that we could see the sunset in Oia) it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
I would highly recommend working with a travel agent in planning a trip like this, particularly if you don't normally do this kind of travel.
We had never cruised before--never wanted to, given the crowds and jostling that come with the mega-ships. We figured Seabourn would be the right kind of cruise for us, and they certainly delivered. In our mid-40s, we were not the youngest people on the cruise, though the majority were older.
We arrived 45 minutes earlier than our scheduled time of 2pm, but the embarkation process was well underway. We handed off our bags, answered the health questionnaire, registered at the desk, and went through Turkish passport control all within about 20 minutes, and then were on our way to the ship. We were greeted by a line of staff and officers, and were conducted to the elevator by one of the staff who pushed the 8 button and told us someone would meet us to take us to lunch. When the doors opened, we were greeted by another staff member who led us into the Colonnade and welcomed us aboard. It was not just painless, it was graceful.
We had lunch, and by 2pm the announcement was made that the suites were ready. We finished our wine and walked down the stairs and out to the front of the ship to find our suite ready and our luggage waiting to be unpacked. Having been touring Istanbul for two days already, we were a bit tired and ordered room service for our first night's dinner. We ordered some things from the room service menu, and some from the Restaurant menu, and all was wonderful.
We stayed in Suite 700, the Signature Suite at the front port side of deck 7. The room is vast, with two couches, a dining table for four people, a bar/butler's pantry, a guest washroom, a separate bedroom behind frosted-glass double doors, and a bathroom with a whirlpool tub. There are three closets, including one that extends the entire length of the wall behind the bed--not only is there plenty of room for clothes (the closet offers two sets of drawers as well as a shoe cabinet) but this space provides perfect sound insulation from the adjoining cabin. We didn't hear a sound from neighboring suites the entire time.
The Signature Suite verandah is larger than that of any other suite on the ship; it extends from the bedroom (where the verandah is partially covered--a relief in the cloudless Med during August) all the way along the suite to the front of the ship. There were two wicker-style lounges, a dining-sized table, and two chairs. All of these were anchored to the deck with rope, as the wind does get feisty at times. We enjoyed breakfast on the verandah several mornings as the ship came into port.
Our stewardess, Anna Paula, was a gem. She was so friendly, and so cheerful, that it was a delight to run into her in the hallway. For our anniversary she decorated the room with rose petals and candles, and left us lovely notes of congratulations. We hugged her goodbye at the end of the voyage--I imagine that happens to her a lot.
Given the position of the suite at the bow of the ship, we were concerned about motion. The Aegean in August was relatively calm, though there was a strong wind several evenings. We were awakened once by the ship slapping into a wave, but other than that the motion wasn't a problem. We took Sea-Bands, Bonine, and candied ginger, and didn't need any of them (actually, I ate the ginger during an excursion--yum).
We had room-service breakfast every morning, and every morning it was delivered precisely on time, and with exactly what we had ordered. Even when I went off-menu and wrote in a custom omelette, it was brought without question. One morning a gust of wind seized the croissant we had ordered, and it rolled across the verandah. The waiter was mortified, apologized profusely, and brought a replacement basket of croissants within 5 minutes. The service was exemplary.
We took lunch in the Colonnade most days, except for one day at Patio Grill and one lunch provided on an excursion. The food was always good, the service attentive.
We split our dining between the Restaurant and the Colonnade, depending on the menu (the next day's menu is delivered each night, which is a great service--it allowed us to choose the Indian Market Dinner in the Colonnade one night, for example). Dinner in the Restaurant was well prepared and attentively served, and we found the staff to be both professional and personable. The Colonnade, though primarily a buffet, was always well staffed, and most times my wife was relieved of her plate on the way to the table. The service was attentive without being oppressive.
We were invited to tour the galley with the chef on the second day, and I was really glad I went. There were only 5 of us, and we got to see in person how much work goes into food preparation on the ship. I was particularly impressed to see where the chef stands at the end of the preparation line during service in the Restaurant, and that he personally sees and approves every main course plate that leaves the kitchen. That kind of care and attention shows in the dining room.
A last note about beverages--though I enjoy a glass of wine with lunch and dinner, my palate is not expert (on coffee, though, I have definite views). I was satisfied with the quality of the wines, and there was a selection available (several reds and several whites) at each meal. The cafe in Seabourn Square was my first stop in the morning after working out, and then throughout the day--got to know the baristas quite well!
This was a heavily port-intensive itinerary--no sea days at all! We arrived in Istanbul two days in advance, and did a private tour with Sea Song both days, arranged by our travel agent. After embarkation at Istanbul we went to Myrina/Lemnos (we took the traditional caique tour, which was amazing--swimming in the Aegean is a treat), then to Izmir (where we skipped Ephesus and toured Pergamum instead), then Cesme (the walking tour of the town was a nice, bus-free way to spend the morning). The rest of the ports were in Greece: Patmos, then Santorini, then Paros, and finally Athens. We took a Seabourn tour in each port, and I'm really glad we did. Almost everyone comments in their cruise reviews that the ship's tours are far too expensive, and you can arrange private tours more economically. But on this itinerary it was really nice to have the details taken care of--plus, someone from the ship always accompanied the tour group to provide assistance if needed. Also, the largest group we were ever a part of was still under 30 people--it wasn't a cattle drive. The guides were all knowledgeable, professional, and willing to engage in conversations ranging from history to current politics--they were all terrific.
With a port every day, we were happy to let Seabourn take responsibility for the excursions. We also took advantage of the transfer/tour offered on board for Athens at the end of the voyage--a half-day of touring, including the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum, concluding with drop-off at our hotel, the Grande Bretagne. It was a great way to get oriented in the city, which we explored on our own for the next two days.
A note for those new to cruising
As I mentioned, this was our first cruise. People have told us that we will be spoiled, starting with Seabourn, and I think they're right. It was just so easy and relaxed--never worrying about what anything might cost, or having to sign for drinks. The staff were, to a person, friendly and engaged and professional. Yes, you pay much more up front, but then you never worry about money while you're on the ship--we had to settle up a bill of 1.50 at the end. We got a $400 OBC from the first-time cruiser referral program (check out the Seabourn forum for how to get this) as well as $300 OBC from our travel agent, and spent it on a couple's massage and bathing ritual, a facial, and the transfer/tour in Athens. All of that, plus the world's finest Patron margarita mixed by special order one evening, was covered by OBC and pocket change. A great deal. So when you're considering a luxury cruise, keep in mind the total cost of the trip, and understand as well how much more relaxed you will be on vacation when money isn't an issue on the ship.
We had a terrific anniversary celebration, and wouldn't hesitate to book on Seabourn again.