About me: I am a single, 38-year-old systems analyst currently living in North Carolina. When I booked this cruise I was looking for a better experience than I had had on my last mass-market cruise and I was willing to pay for it. I was initially looking at a Crystal Caribbean itinerary for around the same time, but this itinerary and the chance to go through the Panama Canal was just too tempting. And price-wise, it was actually a little less per day than the Crystal cruise.
Just a disclaimer to start out. When I write cruise reviews, I do a lot of comparisons to past experiences. I find this very helpful in other reviews, so that is why I do it. If anyone takes issue with any of the opinions expressed herein, just remember that my opinion and $.50 will get you a cup of coffee. Don't take it all too seriously. With that out of the way, here we go.
Normally there isn't much to say about the preparation process, but Seabourn started out from the very beginning showing their commitment to service and style. Communication was timely and well presented and my TA never had a problem getting my questions answered. The documents were gorgeous and included nice luggage tags instead of just paper or cardboard that could get damaged in transport. My air arrangements were made promptly and were excellently done. There were no bizarre schedules with inordinately long or short layovers and I had a direct flight home. Excellent job Seabourn!
Getting to the ship
Because this was such a long cruise, I could not get enough time off work to go a day ahead of embarkation. I had travel insurance and was prepared if anything should go wrong. I had a 45-minute connection in Miami, which is a little tight for that airport. I made the plane on time, but my luggage did not. My advice to anyone traveling internationally is to pack a few essentials in carry-on in case this happens. With the new security in the US it is more likely than it used to be.
The luggage thing was distressing, but after the rather large group of us on the Miami flight finally convinced AA that our luggage was not there, we all filed claims and boarded the bus for the ship. The Seabourn reps were great and reassured us that the situation would be handled on the ship and that they would help in tracking down the luggage. The bus ride from the airport to the port is quite a sight. You have to go down through the mountains to the Pacific on this narrow, tow-lane road with no guard rails and some very large drop-offs. I was impressed that our driver was able to keep the bus on the road. We were given bottled water several times during the trip and the bus was air conditioned and very comfortable. There was also a guide who gave us great information about Costa Rica as we traveled. The people there are very proud of their country and they love to show it off to tourists. There was some great scenery to take our minds off our lost luggage.
I could tell that this wasn't an ordinary cruise when I got on the ship. The checked everyone in in the Rembrandt lounge where there was Champagne and hors deuvres (hope I spelled that right). People were already chowing down while waiting to get checked in. It definitely beat the hot, Spartan warehouses that you have to wait in on the big ships. Check-in did not take very long either. After I checked in I went and informed Reception that I was one of the lost luggage crew and gave them all the info. They took it from there. Then I was escorted to my cabin.
I had cabin 136 on Deck 4. It is an accessible cabin, which essentially means that it had a large marble shower instead of a bathtub with grab bars that came in handy during rough seas. A word about the accessible nature (or not) of this cabin before I proceed. I booked on a guarantee and that is the cabin I was assigned. My only concern going in was that I did not want to occupy the cabin if someone else needed it. Since it was assigned so close to the cruise, this was not a problem. Anyway, even though the shower had no step into it, but bathroom did. There did not seem to be any other accessible features like a wider doorway into the cabin. My advice to anyone who is unable to stand at all or uses a scooter is to avoid these ships. This is not a criticism of Seabourn, however, just me providing info that I am sure some people wonder about. Seabourn has done the best they can on a small ship with ramps and such, but they are correct in their documentation when they say that this may not be the best cruise for someone who must use a wheel chair or scooter at all times.
Anyway, now that I have that out of my system, the cabin was wonderful. In fact, it was the best I have had with the exception of a full suite on HAL. The cabin was large and well-organized. There was lots of storage for everything and lots of comfy space to spread out in. The furnishings were simple but elegant. The cabin was very functional without seeming sterile. I loved having the CD player in the room and used it frequently. And the marble bathroom was to die for. I really did not miss the tub as the shower was large and had terrific water pressure. I wasn't nearly as upset at losing my luggage when I could get a shower to massage out all the kinks and clean up with wonderful aroma therapy soap.
Frida, my cabin stewardess was a joy. She met me the first day and comforted me over my luggage mishap with Champaign and caviar. She kept the room nice and organized my stuff on the occasions when I left the cabin in a hurry and left things scattered around. She even hung in there when she was seasick on one very rough day. When I returned to the cabin rather green around the gills, she was just finishing with it. Even though she was feeling bad, she told me to let her know if I needed anything. This was just one of the examples of the focus on service on this cruise.
What can I say? Every meal was fantastic. The Verandah is the best casual dining venue I have ever experienced. The staff was always very attentive and knew my preferences almost immediately. It was lovely to sit outside and watch the wake and chat with new friends when the weather was cooperating.
Dinners in the main dining room were always an event with even that turned up a notch on formal nights. Every formal night, the main courses all arrived covered and were all presented at once. I have heard about this being done in some of the extra-charge restaurants on larger ships, but here we got it as part of the deal. Food was always properly prepared and arrived at the correct temperature. It was also very nice to see a staff who knew the proper way to serve a meal of this quality. There was never the diner-esque "Who gets the filet?" that you will sometimes find elsewhere. And I never saw an incorrect order delivered. I also got an extra treat because since a lot of the dining staff is Hungarian, they knew how to pronounce my last name.
But the very best thing for me was getting to meet so many people at dinner every night. I had a formal invitation to dinner almost every night. This is quite an affair with place cards set to ensure that everyone mingles. I had dinner with so many people that I couldn't list them all here, but all table hosts were gracious and entertaining. And boy can some of the Norwegian crew members drink. My liver (or what was left of it) was glad to go home at the end of this cruise.
For those considering a Seabourn cruise, be aware that these ship just don't have the facilities for glitzy and varied entertainment. However, the entertainers they do have are very talented and don't need glitz to hold an audience's interest. Dan Hodge has single-handedly changed my mind about cruise directors. On my first cruise (on the Century) I avoided the cruise staff after overhearing one of them making unflattering remarks about other passengers. Since then I have felt that most people in that position were rather ungenuine. Not Dan, Helen, or Amanda. These three are real professionals who seem to very much enjoy their jobs. They are also real troopers as Dan had a cold for part of the cruise and poor Amanda had a muscle spasm in her shoulder. Despite all that, they all kept on going and being as gracious and friendly as ever.
Here, I also want to put in a good word for Dan and the reception people who helped those of us with missing luggage. Through the efforts of the Purser our luggage was located and brought to the ship via tender the second morning of our cruise. They even did our laundry overnight at no charge so that we would have clean close the next day. Dan also offered any help he could give. On the first night I was at his table and I did ask him if he could arrange an escort into port for me so that I could buy some essentials if my luggage did not show. He was more than willing to help. I do not think that some of the larger cruise lines would have worked as hard for all of us as Seabourn did.
Onboard activities are very laid back and are about the same every sea day. I thought it was great, but if you are used to live music on deck all day and silly pool games, you might be disappointed. They did have trivia (nicknamed "bloodsport for bookmarks") by Dan, golf putting, and board games. The library is small, but has some excellent selections. Also, guests tend to leave books for the library after they have finished with them. They also had a nice CD library for borrowing and videos as well. I was never bored, but then again, I have never been bored on a cruise.
There were also two lecturers on board, Doug Porch and Frank Snelson who were both very good. Frank and his wife Iris were on a trivia team with me. We had a wonderful time together including sharing several meals. Frank invited me to his table a couple of times. Those were wonderful dinners.
This is where things got a bit eventful. The weather turned on us the second week, so we ended up missing several ports and replacing Hunting Caye altogether with Playa del Carmen. The first week was great, though. I didn't get off in Playa Flamingo, but I heard it was nice. I had a special excursion organized by the Virtuoso travel consortium in Puerta Quepos that included a very enjoyable (and very muddy( walk through the rain forest. I wandered around the port in Panama City and found an internet cafe to email home. We had to miss Puerta Moin because a nasty storm had gone though the area and everything was flooded. Then we missed Roatan because we were in the middle of a nasty storm there. We did get to Belize City (the one very nice day) and Playa del Carmen (cold and windy and drizzly). I would like to see Playa del Carmen when the weather is nice. The beaches looked wonderful.
I felt sorry for the captain after a while. He had to keep making announcements of how the itinerary was changing. But, we had a great group of passengers who just went with the flow and had a grand time. It was quite pleasant not to hear whining and threats of lawsuits as I am sure would have happened on some other ships. Shortly before the end of the cruise, everyone received a letter stating that they were giving us a $500 credit on another Seabourn cruise because of the nasty weather. As far as I was concerned, they didn't have to do that as the weather is out of their control, but it is still much appreciated.
What can I say about the Panama Canal? What a wonderful day. I am so glad I picked this ship to go through the canal as there is plenty of outside deck space for viewing. There was never a problem getting pictures or seeing what you wanted to see. They also had someone come onboard from the Canal Authority for the day and give commentary and have a Q&A session. Also, the view from the veranda of the Gamboa resort was breathtaking. This experience surpassed my expectations in every way.
This is just a list of some of the most memorable moments on the cruise.
- Being rocked to sleep every night by the ocean. Except for that really rough night where I was nearly tossed out of bed. - Wonderful pre-dinner get-togethers in the club listening to Diane Ball playing and singing. Diane and Martina know that White Flag is my favorite song. - Name that tune where I discovered to my surprise that I am a fountain of useless knowledge. What fun! - Watching a gorgeous Costa Rican sunset with a bunch of new friends all looking for the green flash. - Trivia or the afore mentioned bloodsport for bookmarks. Yes, some people do take it seriously, but some people still go for the funny answers.
My personal favorite was when someone answered that a drunkship (a group of something) was the Seabourn Legend. And, Dan, the bar team did not win this time. - Craig Diamond's hysterical stories at dinner and during the Liar's Club. - Champaign and flaming desserts served on deck while going through the Gatun locks. - Standing all the way forward on deck 8 with Frank as we went through the last of the locks discussing the decay of the English language (you had to be there). - Falling flat on my face in my cabin when the ship hit a particularly bad swell. - Drinking that green stuff that Stefan ordered for the table. It was a real Star Trek moment - "What is that?" "It's -It's It's green". - Drinking that stuff that Stienar ordered that must have come from someone's personal still. Drink that and you won't get SARS because nothing will be able to survive in your system. - The indoor (because of nasty weather) barbecue. Yum. - My next-door neighbor Mary who is a hoot. Hope she is enjoying Cancun while I am freezing my butt off. - Watching the sunset in Belize while drinking Champaign and listening to the Seabourn Quartet. - All the wonderful, gracious people I met (way too many to mention here). I even met a fellow CC'er (Hi Carol). - Ed's hysterical description of his cruise on the Ziuderdam including a very funny description of the decor. - The galley market feast complete with Hungarian goulash (don't know if I spelled that right) and spetzel. Yum again. - Everything being prepared fresh. No canned fruit or veggies anywhere. What a treat. - A pleasant, well-handled disembarkation complete with the captain saying goodbye to each guest at the gangway.
Tips to those thinking of trying Seabourn
This section is for those who like me had never been on one of the high-end lines before.
- These are smaller ships and they will move around. I took Bonine every day and was only sick on day when the weather was very rough. Even then I got better after lying down for a while. - Formal nights are formal. Men wore tux or dark suit and woman work gowns or cocktail dresses. Most nights that are not formal are elegant casual which was still dressy. Men wore jackets in the dining room on these nights, but did not have to in the Veranda. - There are no snobs. I thought I would feel self-conscious, but everyone was so gracious. The best group of passengers I have ever sailed with. - There is not a lot for kids to do. I would not recommend bringing them unless you are looking at a port intensive itinerary. There were no kids on my cruise and Seabourn does not seem really geared to the family crowd. At the risk of being flamed, I found it quite pleasant. - As I said above there is not a lot of glitzy entertainment and night life slows down pretty early. - If you like a traditional cruise with well-traveled shipmates and a staff that will spoil you rotten, this is the cruise line for you.
If you could not tell, I had a great time. I am ready to go again. I might try a transatlantic next time as they get very good reviews here.