Seabourn Quest 2012 cruise vs. Silversea Spirit 2013 cruise
We took the Seabourn Quest 2012 11-day cruise from Rome to Barcelona and a 2013 Silversea Spirit 7-day cruise from Athens to Istanbul. Bearing in mind that we are dealing with the top of the high end, and that a comparison in this league is perhaps splitting a few hairs, here is my attempt to make a head to head comparison:
1. Embarkation process: Equally flawless from arrival to completion with lunch served while suites were being prepared for early arrivals, but with some minor differences noted: when you arrive your cabin on Quest, your luggage is sitting on a mat on your bed, whereas on the Spirit your luggage is waiting at your suite’s door. However, the Spirit has a "butler” assigned to all cabins, who offered to unpack us (we declined the offer). (Butler service on the Quest is limited to the highest end suites.) One troublesome gaffe on the Spirit (which I guess could happen anywhere), is that one of pieces of our luggage did not arrive to our room, despite bearing the preprinted Spirit label with suite number on it. We immediately alerted our butler, who repeatedly assured us that the "hotel manager” was on the dock dealing with it and that most likely was delayed for additional security screenings due to containers of liquids in the piece. Then, after 90 minutes of such "assurances”, another guest graciously brought the missing luggage to our suite, advising that it was mis-delivered to his suite. It would be better if they used bar code scanner labels to know where luggage is during movement. Notwithstanding this gaffe, I give a tie vote to the embarkation process.
2. The Ship: Upon first entering the Spirit, my first impression was that (perhaps because it is older), it was dark (using dark woods), as compared to the Quest which presented a lighter and more open experience. As one descends to the lower decks on the Quest, the hallways get narrower, following the taper of the hull, consistent, however, with maintaining uniformity of suite size on all decks. Also, a significant issue to watch out for on the Quest is that some of the suites on the lower decks had portions of veranda walls in metal (instead of the usual glass), effectively serving to block some of the exterior views from those cabins. A niggling design annoyance on the Spirit was that one person could not pass another at the foot of the bed because of the narrowness created by the Spirit building in a second vanity table coming out from the wall opposite the foot of the bed. Otherwise, appointments within the suite were equal, though the Spirit had a bathtub (which the Butler or housekeeper once left with a surprise bubble bath for my wife!), whereas (I think) the Quest did not have a tub (which we do not use anyway). Due to the brighter presentation of the Quest, and the annoyance of inability of us to pass each other at the foot of the bed on the Spirit, the edge in my vote goes to the Quest. On the other hand, while we were midship, higher than middeck on both ships, the sense of any movement, docking, or dock departure was simply undetectable on the Spirit, whereas I did get seasick one night on the Quest. (That, however, may be more a function of routing on open seas, than ship.) However, this should be balanced by the fact that at the time of our booking, Silversea’s pricing for virtually the same 2013 cruise offered by Seabourn (not on Quest), was much more aggressive, which can serve to assuage petty annoyances! (Seabourn’s substantially higher pricing at the time may have reflected it having sold out of the mid-range suites, and the fact that Silversea was running a sale at the time of our booking.) Finally, we experienced some substantial vibration in suites on the aft end of the Spirit that we never experienced anywhere else on the Spirit, so I would book mid or forward on Spirit.
3. Food: Food on cruises is a very big deal to me, so my commentary is perhaps skewed in relation to other factors. The food is excellent on both ships. Now for the whining: The (outdoor buffet) breakfasts on the Quest are deeper in variety, such as interesting daily specials made to order. And one more niggling point about breakfast: it is almost a sacrilege to me for the Spirit to have such wonderful servings of smoked salmon, with cream cheese and capers, and yet no bagels upon which to enjoy it. (I certainly respect readers’ right to deemed me "spoiled”, or to not even know what a bagel and lox is; suffice it to say, the Quest had bagels to go with the smoked salmon, which I enjoyed at many breakfasts.) At (outdoor buffet) lunch, this issue got deeper on the Spirit. There was plenty of good food, but simply not at the depth of quality and selection (and expense to the ship) as on the Quest. For instance, on the Quest, the chef continuously put out individual chilled glass bowl servings of plump shrimp cocktail. Nothing like that on the Spirit. There was more selection of high line food on the Quest’s outdoor lunch buffet, and fellow gourmands (who sailed both cruise lines) concurred with me that there appeared to be relative economizing on the Spirit’s outdoor lunch buffet. (Of course, perhaps over the last year, Seabourn performed some belt tightening of which I would be unaware (no pun intended)). Dinners on both ships’ restaurants were equally excellent, though the standing menu filet mignons on the Spirit were so thin that they appeared to curl up a bit in cooking. The Spirit had more restaurants (+-6 vs. +-4), but two of them on the Spirit were extra charge restaurants, in comparison to there being (I think) no surcharge-restaurants on the Quest.
4. The staff: equally excellent, well-selected, well-trained, and held to " and infused with -- the highest standards of gracious hospitality. Some staff on each ship recalled what alcoholic beverage I had the previous day and automatically brought it over to me the next day " all to the credit of both cruise lines. The Butler on the Spirit, in each case on his own, took my shoes out one night during dinner to be shined, another afternoon had tea sandwiches in our suite upon our return, and on another day had strawberries with chocolate sauce and bubbly on ice awaiting our return to the ship (as though we needed more food!). (That said, as happens anywhere, there are some minor exceptions: the maître d’ at the Italian restaurant on the Spirit needs to be retrained to pick his head up from looking down, and respond to greetings; and a tour director on the Quest shouted at a staffer in the presence of my wife.) Edge to the Quest for the minor luxuries of more staff taking the trouble to learn our names and preferences, which added personalization; though some folks may prefer the feature of the Butler on the Spirit, who was extremely gracious, but whom we really didn’t use since everything generally was executed well, thus not needing his help, though all his special treats were indeed nice.
5. Excursions. Pricey, but well-executed on both ships. (We were advised that Seabourn dropped one tour operator about whom several guests complained.) Dinner at Ephesus, Turkey (illuminated) library ruins (Quest, included), or nighttime concert there (Spirit $179 p/p), is a life-experience not to be missed.
6. Enrichment: Winner is Seabourn; it had pre-port arrival briefings by both a local expert, as well as by a Phd who explained the geopolitical considerations of the port into which we were next to dock. This provided input both practical and intellectual. In contrast, the Spirit had a speaker talking about her book of interesting places to see in the world " none of which had a thing to do with the ship’s itinerary, and there were no other speakers providing local briefings on the Spirit (though both ships maintain local expert-desks for answers to questions / suggestions.) Finally, during such briefings, the Seabourn briefing room / auditorium had servers serving drinks, together with a place to put the drink. The Spirit, had no servers (though you could find a bar on the opposite end of the same deck and bring your drink back to the auditorium where, alas, the drink holders (it that is what they were) were too small to hold a drink glass. Sniff!
7. The bottom line: assuming rough parity in price, I would go "Seabourn” again, because weighing unequally the factors that mean more to me, it is worth a bit of a premium, but not a price gouge. All-in, we are indeed privileged and happy to be on either ship line.