If you're thinking of jumping ship from a mainstream cruise line and fancy giving Seabourn a try hopefully this somewhat extended review will prove useful. One of the difficulties I found was that a lot of the reviews out there are written by long time Seabourn customers who have certain expectations and if they aren't met their writing is biased towards those variations from tradition. If the bread sticks are anything but the regulation 12 inches all hell breaks loose. Dare I say it there is also a bit of snobbery in some of the reviews, when such and such, "a good personal friend of ours", was hotel manager things were much better. Or else wines will be compared to fine vintages costing the per diem room rate of most cruise lines. I witnessed Louis XIII being served at $110 per 1oz measure which just about covered the bottom of a glass. Several glasses were enjoyed. I have no problem with that but it's safe to say drinking Louis XIII with such gay abandon probably wouldn't be the norm for most of us.
The other type of review contains the phrase, "considering how expensive this cruise was I can't believe........" Price is very subjective so all I will say is our cruise on board Seabourn Sojourn was roughly on par with a premium cabin aboard Royal Caribbean. With this in mind we joined the ship with no particular expectations, we were prepared to take things as we found them and certainly didn't penalise Seabourn based on the price paid. Having experienced Seabourn for myself I consider it great value for money.
Our standard balcony suite on deck 5 was slightly smaller than a Royal Caribbean Grand Suite, 300 square feet of inside real estate with the addition of a 65 square foot balcony. Decor was modern and fresh, condition excellent bar balcony furniture which had aluminium oxidation and bubbling paint. The bathroom was magnificent, double sinks, a bath and separate walk in shower, natural stone finish, soft floor mat, luxury Moultin Brown products - for a cruise ship it could not have been improved on. Actually there was one thing, the sink taps were not Grohe. When you went to turn them on the lever action felt plastic rather than smooth and luxurious, but hey, I'm having to dig pretty deep to find fault.
We boarded the ship in Port Everglades Fort Lauderdale, dropped off the luggage, went away to hand in our hire car and got driven back to join the ship. No queues, no whistles blowing, no shouting, no horns just smiling faces. The check in process was measured in seconds rather than minutes, staff were on hand in the terminal with drinks if you needed one - we didn't as we weren't there long enough. Walking onto the ship we were greeted by a line of Stewards, our hand luggage taken and we were directed to the various lunch options.
Choosing the patio grille there were a choice of several spare tables and we soon found ourselves enjoying a drink and a bite to eat all courtesy of waitered service. Contrast this to the scrum associated with mainstream cruise lines and you start to see the Seabourn difference.
Muster drill was taken very seriously and we were seated in the dining room throughout.
Sojourn is a modern ship, a miniature version of what we are used to on Royal Caribbean. Finishes and materials used around the ship are similar, it's just smaller but then there aren't the number of other guests. It's like being on board during departure day when 90% of the other passengers have left. The other thing of course is pretty much everything you touch do or taste is included within your cruise fare. A cafe latte in the Seabourn square or an ice cream, included. Drinks around the ship, included. Speciality dining, included as is wine with dinner, liqueurs afterwards and so on.
It is possible to spend money, premium wines, the Spa, casino and shore excursions would be the main beneficiaries as would the two shops, one of which sold jewlery, the other clothes, day to day bits and pieces and some costume jewlery.
The sense of freedom in not having to keep signing for drinks is significant. Being able to ask newly found friends if they want to join you for a glass of something encourages discussion. On Royal Caribbean we are diamond plus members and so enjoy the use of the Concierge lounge and diamond lounge prior to dinner where complimentary drinks are served. Some of our best friendships have been formed in those gatherings, with Seabourn the whole ship is a VIP lounge. At no time does Seabourn come across as being mean with their offerings. Not once did I have to ask for a refill of my wine glass at dinner and cocktails are freely poured.
Each night there will be a suggested wine with dinner but if you wish to try something else that is no problem at all. My request for the Petit Chablis was positively encouraged and the glass topped up accordingly. Throughout the cruise I was addressed by name and the wine waiter asked if I would be having the Louis Latour Chardonnay which became my standard dinner drink. There was a Stags Leap which proved popular as well.
The staff really are magnificent. You see the same faces throughout your cruise and they remember your preferred choices. We are low maintenance customers and in the main things arrived before we had to ask but if there was something in particular we fancied then nothing was too much trouble. We ordered caviar and champagne by the pool on Christmas Day, all included within the fare. Contact with senior staff is regular and direct. You will see everyone from the captain to the hotel manager, the cruise director to the chief engineer on a regular basis. You don't have to fight for an audience with them as you would on a regular cruise line. This means any feedback is direct and any problems you did encounter could be dealt with promptly. I have to say we didn't find cause to complain, any discussions we had were to compliment. Despite dining at different tables throughout the cruise food preferences or special requirements follow you around the restaurant.
Rather than a concierge desk with people waiting in line there are 4 desks in the middle of the square on deck 7. You are seated at a table when discussing things. We had a problem with a credit card which had been blocked, the concierge phoned our credit card company for us and there was no charge.
Several reviewers have criticised food in the past. What their palettes require is beyond me. There were some stunning dishes served up in the main dining room. We enjoyed a very flavoursome scallop starter, as good a ribeye steak as I've tasted cooked to perfection and a hazelnut chocolate desert which delivered both richness and texture. I also enjoyed the most magnificent medallions of veal which melted in the mouth. If in doubt ask your waiter for recommendations, they have a menu briefing each day. I spoke with the executive chef Martin Kitzing on several occasions to compliment his team on some individual highlights of what was a superb dining experience.
As well as the main restaurant there is restaurant 2. A much smaller more intimate affair which serves up a tasting menu of several dishes, changing on a rotational basis. The concept of a "premium" dining venue is not unique to Seabourn. Other lines have similar offerings and do the job very well. What sets Seabourn apart is the fact there is no additional charge to eat in Restaurant 2. Nor were we obliged to purchase a premium wine or pairing package. We asked for one of the house wines we had previously enjoyed and that was no problem. Neither were we charged for desert wine at the end of the meal. Dining in restaurant 2 really brought home the differences between Seabourn and conventional cruise lines. I wouldn't say the food was any better than the main restaurant, merely different. That isn't a slur on restaurant 2 more a sign of just how good the food in the main restaurant is.
The number of people we meet grows as the days progress to the point where is is rare not to say hello to an "old" friend whilst walking around the ship. In the main guests are older than us but age doesn't have to be a barrier. There are some real characters and with the years come tales to recount. We are travelling with a 13 year old daughter and so that sets us apart. Notwithstanding a crew members wife and daughter there is only 1 other child on board. I know many Seabourn cruisers would rather not have minors on board, I can only say Emily has enjoyed her cruise and has met with no negative comments. To be fair she probably isn't your average 13 year old in that she shows maturity beyond her years and knows the etiquette required when dining and so on. She is also happy with her own company.
There were no specific activities arranged for children so do keep this in mind. Given her cruise fare was identical to an alcohol drinking adult an idea for the future might be to include unlimited internet for any minors onboard. This would go a long way to alleviating boredom and also reduce the impact of kids on adult guests. An occupied child is a happy one and an unseen one! It would also seem a fair trade for the ban on any form of alcohol. I know Seabourn aren't looking to specifically attract children but when casting the net for new customers it is inevitable that people with school age children will be amongst the passenger roll call.
Don't laugh but I attended some ballroom dancing lessons taught by Anastasia and Sergii the house dancers who are fantastic and lovely people. From a dancing perspective I have two left feet and am beyond hope but such is the inclusive nature of the ship I though I would give it a go. Dare I say it there was a glimmer of hope after each 45 minute session.
Being that bit younger I had all but written off the entertainment. I'm not into musicals and Seabourn were never going to be able to match the magnificence of Royal Caribbean's lavish productions. Like everything else on board the entertainment has over delivered on my expectations. Smaller intimate shows more akin to an after dinner club than a theatre.
The in house troupe consists of an excellent house band, a classical guitarist, a lounge pianist, several singers and the 2 dancers who fill a stage with their energy. There is also a cruise director, Annabel and her assistant Dan. Annabel had more energy than the Duracell bunny and constantly toured the ship involving everyone. The singers and dancers attended many of the evening parties to add life to the event and provide dance partners when required. Seabourn is a very gentle environment which seeks to include everyone.
As well as the in house entertainment team there were guest entertainers which varied from a concert pianist, a magician, comedians and a singer. In all cases the entertainment was enjoyable. Some acts appealed more than others and you have to remember Seabourn caters for a very genteel section of society. The comedians in particular were extremely restrained with their clientele who include some "interesting" characters. Rich pickings for a more traditional comedian who feeds off an audience. We had a regular mid day quiz which sparked much debate and rivalry. On odd occasions a word choice or answer caused debate which extended long beyond the event.
We had an intimate name that tune which was well received by attendees and featured the live keyboard skills of Jamie. There were guest speakers on various subjects and a bridge tutor in the card room. Sadly the beginners class started at 9.00am so I was unable to attend. Maybe on another cruise.
There is a small casino on board. When we embarked 2 tables were set up, 1 for Blackjack, the other Caribbean Stud Poker. Sadly only blackjack was ever played, the poker top was replaced with another blackjack baize. To my mind blackjack is just a slow way to lose money, with a top odds of 1.5 to 1 for a blackjack you are never going to get excited. With the poker game 8 to 1 or even 20 to 1 is a real possibility and as a result the tables tend to be good fun. I walked in to the casino on two occasions with money in my pocket, on both times I walked out having not placed a single bet. I did speak with the casino staff who said their instructions from head office were that only blackjack was to be played that cruise.
That, "from head office" is the only worry I have as the cruise comes to an end. Holland America / Carnival corporate head office tell everyone on board what will and won't be happening to the point where on the ground spontaneity could be lost. You will never see karaoke on Seabourn for instance. Guest "talent" shows also fail to make an appearance which is a shame. You get to know your fellow guests very well and so there would be a lot of support for performers in the room.
This means that in spite of entertainers and staff getting to know their guests better than probably any other cruise line the chance to personalise and enrich is lost. The whole experience will always be a little bit sterile. You might argue safe rather than sterile but to my mind there is a bit of room for adding spontaneity especially on longer cruises.
The one exception to this were the Christmas and New Year one off shows where guest acts, in house performers and entertainment staff all mucked in to put on excellent entertainment. The New Year show in particular lasted 90 minutes and held the audience well.
Seabourn has a very loyal customer base. Of 450 guests over 350 were return cruisers. With this in mind the company has to be careful not to upset the apple cart but if they are to move forward I do think they have to allow staff on the ground to read the audience. A bit of impromptu late night singing amongst a crowd of "regulars" isn't going to upset more reserved quests probably tucked up in bed long ago. Similarly organising an additional activity or two to cater for a particular crowd who happen to be on board would positively enrich their experience. Would this sterility put me off returning? No it wouldn't, not for the moment. But it might mean I eventually tire of the product and end up nit picking my experience looking for any variations on previous experiences. Does this sound familiar !
The one thing we weren't blue to experience was the on board marina. This was a great shame particularly for active people such as ourselves. I understand that weather conditions have to be just right for the marina to be set up, sadly this wasn't to be on our cruise.
About the writer:
We are well travelled both on land and water visiting places such as Thailand under our own steam organising all the elements of the trip ourselves. Although somewhat formulaic cruising has it's place in our lives. At 47 years of age we are diamond plus members of the Royal Caribbean crown and anchor loyalty programme. Living just outside London we are familiar with good food and have eaten in some excellent Michelin star restaurants however we are equally comfortable in our local Italian. We know what we enjoy wine wise but don't consider ourselves connoisseurs.
We are generally pot half full people and look for the best in any situation. We travel overseas several times a year and turn left when boarding the plane. We have been looking to explore the luxury cruise market for some time.