The satisfaction from most of life's experiences depends on expectations. Seabourn sets the expectation bar impossibly high. But it very nearly succeeds in all aspects.
A bit about us. We're both former magazine executives, widely traveled on land, but this was just our second cruise,the first being a Caribbean cruise on the Regent Navigator. The former confirmed that we liked small ships, but that even a week-long cruise (as on the Navigator) demanded a more dining options. Which the Odyssey certainly has. Not to keep anyone in suspense, the Odyssey experience offered the luxury of really pampering service, a la the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires, for example. A majority of the stewardesses and waiters were South African, and the residue of our contacts was a sudden interest in visiting that country. One of the interesting things that Seabourn does is to allow--and perhaps encourage--their service people to be individuals. Yes, you get the requisite "sir" and "madam" often, but you also get a strong sense of the human being behind the service being rendered. This is especially true in Restaurant 2, the smallish tasting restaurant available by reservation only, and in the Colonnade,the less formal (with an outdoor terrace) alternative to The Restaurant.The latter is a trifle too dramatic for our taste, and perhaps the service there is a bit less personable-though no less efficient-- then elsewhere, as the staff responds to the more formal surroundings.
The food was generally excellent. The fish--always on the menu-- never seemed anything other than fresh.Though the meat dishes were often overcooked.(It may be that the customer base--essentially quite senior--likes their meat well done,so getting anything "medium rare" was virtually impossible.) Only two dishes were unacceptable. One was a mournful sauerbraten,tough and clearly not marinated long enough. The other was a New York Clam Chowder so salty as to be inedible. (Remember, I did declare I was picky.) But, how many restaurants do you know where you could have 33 consecutive meals in 11 days and walk away singing its praises? The wines, on the other hand, were far less impressive. Too many come from Chile--which certainly produces some excellent wines, and some not. We got a disproportionate share of the latter. We also got a Rhone wine that was harsh, and an Albarino--hurray for the idea of offering it--insufficiently dry. You can buy packages of higher-priced wines, but that is catering to label snobbery. There are plenty of good wines available at $15 or so retail, and far less than that in the quantities Seabourn orders. So, some disappointment there. The bartenders, I should hasten to add, were tireless in their efforts to make you happy. The chap in the Observation Lounge on Deck 10--Ivo?--made the best bourbon sour I've ever had. (Actually, he made, and I drank, many.)
Others have already commented on the ample cabin dimensions. My wife always travels with a pillowcase from home, but never used it once she fingered the on board linens. Our stewardess could not have been nicer, and seemed always to be there when we needed something--which, honestly, wasn't that often.
Entertainment. The cruise director and his team work hideous hours and seamlessly reflect good cheer. They trio, headed by Barry Hopkins-I hope I've spelled his name correctly-- are thoroughly engaging. Still, there are limits to what a ship of this size can offer.I thought the singers were quite good, the bands good enough to listen to and dance to. The rest was, to my taste, quite uneven. The most lauded was a British film type whose major contribution was workshops devoted to Photoshop, which seemed an odd area of emphasis given the age of many of the passengers. (More on that in a moment.) Happily, this non-event was balanced by Mark Haslam, a master magician, and Phillip Huber, a master pupeter. If those terse descriptions don't tingle your interest, their performances certainly would have. There were other guest lecturers whose personal descriptions seemed inflated, and whose arena of focus seemed not irrelevant to the ship's Caribbean destinations. Oh yes, there is a casino on board, and the experience of being there is pleasant. (And I was not a winner.)
So, who went on the cruise? Of 450 passengers, 245 held American passports. Other nationalities included Canadians,Brits,Belgians, Dutch, French, German and others. We met Americans and others who were bright, witty, interesting. We also met Americans and others who were snobbish, boring and loud.The criticisms from some Americans were both illogical and ignorant."Why can't we have bingo?" whimpered one henna-haired lady from Florida.The answer, I presume, is that you pay for Seabourn's definition of sophistication which quite rightly excludes bingo. (It also, thankfully, excludes the art auctions which pockmark some other cruises.)Other passengers complained that Odyssey only had four singers, while Crystal and Princess cruises offered at least eight. Yes, and those ships are much bigger.Some people just like to complain,and there was always a bit of that.
It always seemed to me somewhat unfair to characterize passengers in simple demographic terms. Which is to say, how old were they? On Odyssey they skewed older--a few in wheel chairs, a few more than that with canes. But there were younger couples too. And interestingly, several gay couples, predominantly from Europe. In the beginning at dinner we asked to seated with other passengers. Sometimes this experience was interesting, sometimes dreadful. By mid-voyage we had found a circle of acquaintances with whom we happily socialized.
The only other aspect of the Seabourn experience which was less that thoroughly satisfying was shore excursions.These seemed pretty routine, and the experience we had with three--a snorkel trip on Antigua; a safari trip on Barbados and a beach excursion to Grand Anse on Guadeloupe were bad, worse and quite good, in that order.Mind you, we had been to all of these islands --excepting Barbados--before. And to the Caribbean many times. We had never--well, rarely--booked group excursions because they are too often commercial, leaving you with a taste of Disney gone really bad, as opposed to the insightful experience you were hoping for.But nobody forced us to take the excursions. And I want to emphasize that people from the local tourism office always appeared aboard the morning we came to a port. They offered maps, brochures and lots of advice. And the Seabourn folk in Seabourn Square were (literally) available 24-hours a day to offer advice about into local tour options.
One small negative that may be very important to some is that Odyssey has a vibration problem. Well, maybe not vibration. One night the seas were running 8-14 feet, and the wind was blowing at 30 knots. In our cabin we didn't feel a lot of rolling or pitching. More like a shudder, a little shake, and the sense of sliding forward. Now, imagine all three of those things happening in rapid sequence. The next morning I would estimate that perhaps half of the passengers were suffering from mal de mer. But my wife, who is sensitive to such things, was unaffected.
So, would we go back? Yes. The Seabourn Odyssey was a memorable experience.