I’m glad that we got to the mid-point in life before our first Seabourn cruise, because the two-week experience was several full rotations on the luxury socket wrench.
There really isn’t any other way to describe a Seabourn cruise other than as an experience. Seabourn is quite cognizant that they are selling an experience, and that the sum is greater than the whole of the quite impressive parts. It starts on your first visit to the dining room, where the maitre d’ greets you with your name – even on the first day. It continues on the pool deck, where the hard working waiters quickly learn what is your favorite drink, and ask you if you’d like another. The Seabourn experience begins and ends with the superior service of the crew. The highest praise I can give is that in two weeks, I never heard a “no”, and never saw even a scowl. If there is a better level of service in the luxury cruise segment, I haven’t experienced it.
We flew to San Jose, Costa Rica, three days before embarkation, to take some time so see a place long on our bucket list. Our AA flight down was uneventful, and a quick taxi ride had us at the San Jose Marriott. Saturday was a day to see San Jose, with a visit downtown, including the pre-Columbian Gold Museum. That night was a solid dinner at the Hotel Grano de Oro dining room. Next day, we picked up a car rental and drove to Sarchi, the handcraft capital of Costa Rica. After a few purchases, it was off to the Poas Volcano National Park. Unfortunately, as forecast, the crater was shrouded in clouds. Still the drive was interesting. That night, we had an excellent dinner in the suburb of Santa Ana, at Bacchus, an Italian restaurant. Monday, we met our four companions (via the CC boards) to be transferred by Danny Jiminez to Puerto Caldera. We arrived shortly after 1 PM, quickly processed at the passenger terminal, and were escorted to the ship by one of the dining room staff, Joyce. Embarkation was painless, and we were in our stateroom quickly.
Legend has several dining options. The main choices are The Restaurant, open seating and plated service for all three meals and the Veranda Cafe, buffet for breakfast and the daily themed lunch, converting to the reservations only Restaurant 2 in the evening. Other choices include twenty-four hour room service, including the option of having each dinner served course by course from the Restaurant and the Sky Grill, adjacent to the Sky Bar on deck Eight, open for lunch on all at-sea days, and on varying days for dinner, by reservation. A final option during at-sea days is the Restaurant lunch menu delivered to the Sky Bar.
What makes dining on Seabourn so delightful consists of equal parts of the finest ingredients, excellent preparation to the highest standards, presented with an impeccable level of service – in every venue. Chef Thorsten Sergutta leads a talented kitchen brigade, personally reviewing and garnishing every dish that leaves the Restaurant kitchen. He is everywhere, constantly checking on guest satisfaction. On several occasions, guests would work with him to create specialty menus just for their table – in effect, hosting dinner parties in the middle of dinner service. Reasonable serving sizes leave one “un-stuffed”, even with the nightly offering of five courses. On our Central America itinerary, fresh seafood was procured in almost every port, and featured options every night. There is something magical about seeing the purveyors loading dorado onto a returning tender, then dining on it that evening.
Service is just as distinguished. Maitre d’ Ross Seward is personable, but is clearly in charge of a complicated enterprise. His assistants, the waiters, and the waiters’ assistants never miss a beat. Your preference for sparkling water, with ice, is delivered without a reminder. The sommeliers do present a nightly featured wine, but other options are available. Many are from Chile, but a yeasty French white Burgundy quickly became our favorite.
Is it perfect? No. We saw overcooked lobster in both restaurants, and doughy, almost raw pancakes in the Veranda. On a table for eight, two entrees didn’t arrive with the others, and on another occasion, my dessert was served to someone else, and had to be re-ordered. But these minor hiccups stand out by their uniqueness. What was a more serious matter is the lack of bold flavors in the menu. Seabourn proudly features Chef Charlie Palmer as crafting their menu. Chef Palmer owns thirteen restaurants across the country, and considers his style as “…Progressive American Cooking, a style built on rambunctious flavors…”. There is nothing “rambunctious” about the food on Legend – it is classic continental, and reflects Chef Sergutta’s background. One can see the eyes rolling now over complaints about way too much mouselline of foie gras. But the absence of the bold flavors, and deep flavor palates of Palmer’s cooking, becomes boring after two weeks. There are five entrées an evening, in addition to six or seven off the permanent menu. Seabourn would do well to feature at least one of Palmer’s signature dishes, such as a preserved lemon stuffed chicken breast, rotating on every dinner menu. In two weeks of dinners, I can’t pick out a Palmer entrée out of the lot. The ingredients, and the techniques, meant this would never be "dorm food boring", but it was boring nonetheless. I was ready to get home.
Legend’s cabins, when compared to many in the luxury category, can best be described as adequate. They are beautifully outfitted, and have been nicely updated since construction with flat screen satellite TVs, Bose radios, and DVD players.
The bathrooms are nice, and while they have a single sink, the size would probably preclude simultaneous use at any rate. There is plenty of storage in the bathrooms, beside and under the sinks, as well as a small storage closet in the corner. The walk-in closet is also adequate for a two-week cruise, and most luggage will go under the beds. The room also features a two-seat sofa, that is downright uncomfortable. The bed is excellent – slightly larger than an American queen, it easily accommodates six footers. With a pillow top mattress, and high thread count linens, it provides many evenings of restful sleep.
Where Legend’s cabins suffer chiefly, is in the layout. There are two main problems – first is that the bath and closet both open onto the bed, making it difficult to enter either without disturbing someone sleeping. The bigger problem is the dresser at the foot of the bed. If the dresser is being used, say for applying make-up, then passage from the sofa area to the closet or bath is almost impossible. The space between the bed and the window is needlessly large, at the expense of the area between the bed and the closet/bath.
Another small item, and one that reflects the period Legend was designed in, is the shortage of electrical outlets. There are single 110 and 220 outlets, above the dresser. Fortunately, we brought a small 110 surge suppressor/mini-USB charger/multi-tap. A 220 adapter plug would have enabled use of that plug for a multi-voltage power supply such as the laptops. Wi-fi service is available in the suites. On some occasions, it was quick; on others, horribly slow.
“Entertainment” on Legend might not look like what one is accustomed to on other cruise lines. There is a range of live music, from a talented vocal/piano duo, “Everest”, to skilled guest entertainers for short durations, to trivia, to recent movies, either in the lounge, or, weather permitting, on the open deck. Cruise Director Eric DeGray leads several shows that feature all of the musical performers, from the “Rock the Boat” show, to a delightful Broadway evening. Assistant Cruise Director Amanda Thiele is a talented vocalist as well, and led two shows of her own. Possibly the only negative is the house band, “Ultimate Energy”. They are called on to do much, and perhaps it is too much to expect excellence in everything from musical backing for every show, to providing dance music. Their song list is too limited, and doesn’t include the most popular dance music, such as Motown, for the Legend target market. Additionally, the vocalist’s English pronunciation is so bad, it renders the lyrics almost unrecognizable. A definite area for improvement.
Perhaps the best entertainment on Legend is interacting with one’s interesting and diverse fellow passengers. It is paradise for extroverts. Maitre d’ Ross does an excellent job of combining tables of like interests and backgrounds. The Italians have a saying, “Il dolce far niente” – the sweet art of nothingness, which refers to the interaction with others, with food and wine as a vehicle to facilitate that interaction. “Far niente” is frequent on Legend, in several venues. The lack of balconies creates the opportunity for interaction at the Sky Bar, which becomes a frequent meeting place in good weather. It also happens at Trivia, and in the Club before dinner, and in countless other settings. There may not be nightly ice shows, but there is plenty to entertain.
SPA AND FITNESS
Nothing remarkable about the fitness facilities. More than adequate, with all of the normal health club equipment available.
The Spa is real treat. Used it once and Paula Foster, Spa Director delivered an excellent facial. Worth every penny.
It isn’t possible to capture in words the consistently high level of service delivered on Legend. It is superior to almost any other enterprise in the hospitality business. Seabourn is able to retain cheerful people, who take great pride in delighting passengers. The most amazing element is the fact they are always “on”, and always with a smile. Just one anecdote, quite illustrative. “Ruel” is a hard working young man, who sets up the daily early riser’s breakfast in the Midnight Sun lounge, then puts out all of the loungers, both on the pool deck and the bow. One day, he had finished getting all of the loungers out, all of the cushions placed, and towels neatly rolled with the Seabourn logo on top, on every lounger. A rainstorm came up, and he quickly gathered up all of the cushions and towels from probably fifty loungers. Fifteen minutes later, the rain stopped, and he quickly got all equipment right back out. No manager had to tell him – he knew what his job was, what was expected to deliver passenger delight, and he did it – with a smile on his face. And that is just one example, repeated consistently, from the stewardesses, to the waiters, to the bartenders, to the entertainers.
VALUE FOR MONEY and RATES
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this level of service comes at a high price. The question is value. Our fourteen day Central America cruise was heavily discounted, and probably had one of the lowest per diems of any Seabourn cruise this year. So for our cruise, the value for money was high. But still, even with less of a discount from the brochure rates, a Seabourn cruise delivers solid value for money.
Are their drawbacks? Yes, chiefly with the cabins (which Seabourn has addressed in their new builds). Also, one shouldn’t discount the seaworthiness of a 10,000-ton vessel. We encountered 12 to 14 foot waves, and it made for uncomfortable rides that a larger ship wouldn’t have noticed. Also, lack of a ballasting system produced a significant heel when a thirty-five knot wind blew from directly abeam. The lack of balconies may be a deal breaker for some (again, addressed in the new builds). But the intimacy and conviviality of Legend, and her sisters, is something unique, and possibly couldn’t be achieved even in a slightly larger venue. Our Legend cruise was several notches up on the luxury ratchets – one we now consider a necessity.