This was our 8th cruise and the second time on Seabourn. Our previous trip on Seabourn was in 2000 on a 7-day Mediterranean cruise which we thought was outstanding in every way. We selected this cruise to Asia based on our prior experience (stellar), price (discounted due to the rainy season in Asia) and the ports of call (new and different). We previously have sailed on Crystal (3 times in 2009) and older cruise ships (Cunard, Sitmar, Sagafjord). We are a middle-aged, professional couple that enjoy good food and wine. We don’t enjoy large, mass-market cruises and prefer a quieter experience. We offer this review for those considering Seabourn for the first time and hope it provides more detail than the colorful brochures about what to expect from your cruise experience. We had a great time and nothing in our experience on the Pride over-shadowed the fun of our time onboard.
Prospective passengers should be prepared for a small ship (about 250 passengers) without the big cruise line amenities (no Broadway revues, rock climbing or golf) and glitzy design (subdued public spaces). This was a low-key cruise for those that want to relax and visit new ports of call. Seabourn markets their cruises as a luxury yacht experience. The cabins are true suites and service is outstanding, if over-solicitous. But the luxury does not extend to the food or wine. The ship design is awkward in many places (such as no bathrooms connected to any restaurants). Over-all, the cruise would be graded a C+ in comparison to prior experiences and our expectations for a luxury experience. The average score is largely based on ambience and the quality of food/wine. We realize that food and ambience are subjective. There were also some concerns about sloppy sanitation with most passengers ignoring the hand washing stations before entering the eating venues, tablecloths not being changed between covers, foods that should have been cold at room temperature, and a dishwasher that doesn’t remove lipstick from coffee cups. Below is a more specific summary of our experience.
All-inclusive works best for hard liquor drinkers. We drink wine and found the wines served comparable to “2 buck Chuck” of Trader Joe fame. We were served $5-8 retail range wines at all meals. Chile and Argentina are the favored wine production locations. Wine bottles featured for sale at dinner are very high-priced (Far Niente, for example in $90-100 range). We ultimately decided to order the expensive wines as the quality was so poor on the included offerings. Breakfast in the Veranda Café feels crowded as they only serve 36 at a time and it is a buffet service. Fruit is plentiful but never tasted by the kitchen staff before serving and many times the fruit was tasteless or bitter. There was smoked salmon but no bagels unless you asked for them. Scrambled eggs but no potatoes (unless you asked for them). You can order from the grill omelets, eggs, pancakes, or French toast which are good and served promptly. Breakfast in the dining room is much later, better and is promptly served. Lunches in the Veranda are aged sandwiches, a variety of salads (all tasteless and warm) and a selection of hot dishes plus hamburgers and special order hot meals (such as grilled fish). There is an outdoor grill but on this trip there were lots of raining days so it didn’t happen much. Food served during a grill day was left in bowls without any ice on a hot, muggy, 85 degree afternoon. Dinners in the dining room (they are serious about the dress code) are served quickly but lots of short cuts in the prep that compromise quality. For a luxury cruise they need to serve luxury wines and food. Mass production compromised taste at every turn. The meats are cooked exactly to order and are tender but lack flavor without a generic sauce (whatever it’s called on the menu it is the same sauce at each meal). Clam chowder was thin and watery with no clams or potatoes. Lobster bisque had lobster but watery and weirdly spicy. Shitake mushroom soup was a watery broth with some reconstituted dried shitakes floating around. Creamed soups all tasted like cream of chicken no matter the menu listing. Salad one night had a pre-cooked and cold piece of bacon just laid across the leaves. Tomatoes were hard and tasteless. Desserts were plentiful but not very sweet (wondered if they were rationing sugar). Room service serves a variety of items but on my sandwich order one evening they served a handful of oily chips that were crushed and appeared scooped from the bottom of a bag. You will have to ask for cream with your coffee as 2% milk is on all tables in every restaurant. For 2 weeks no one in any restaurant remembered I wanted cream with coffee and I had to ask for it at each meal. Restaurant 2 is the alternative dining venue (it is the Veranda Café during the day) and serves from 7-9pm only by reservation but is more casual for those opposed to dressing up for dinner. It has a single menu with alternatives for each course. The Veranda Café/Restaurant 2 cannot be reached without going outside and walking in the rain. This was a problem on our cruise as it rained hard for the majority of the cruise and wait staff were not very observant in helping people with umbrellas come out of the rain. Sanitizer stations at dining venues are not enforced or not available. Tablecloths are wiped clean of crumbs between services and my coffee cup at one breakfast had an obvious lipstick mark on the cup that should have been removed by even a residential quality dishwasher. The waiter that I pointed this out to said that the washer doesn’t polish the cups. Berries are not available for breakfast in the Verandah unless you ask and they stash them in itty-bitty bowls rationed neatly to 5 berries and kept behind the counter. Hamburgers are tasty but fries are remodeled mashed potatoes that are battered and deep-fried. All sausages are made of pork and when they substituted beef sausage one morning for breakfast it was a hot dog, so beware. Breads are tasteless and generally lacked salt and flavor (rationing salt, too). By the end of the cruise we had decided that the lack of seasoning must be due to Seabourn’s concern for the passenger’s health and were with-holding salt and sugar in our best interest.
Our luggage was available when we boarded in Kobe. Our TA asked about having our luggage boarded while we did some sight-seeing in Kyoto and had been told “NO.” Once in Kobe they readily agreed to have our luggage transferred to the ship without us being present. This initially left a poor impression as to the level of service we would receive but it appears that Seabourn staff in the USA are aggressively resistant to customer service unlike the actual Seabourn staff onboard. Other passengers onboard confirmed issues with headquarters being a negative that changed their interest in sailing on Seabourn again. Our cabin attendant introduced herself immediately on boarding and did a great job of servicing the cabin. Service staff in the restaurants were not always observant—repeatedly had to ask for coffee refills at all meals. Wait staff though is constantly asking if we are satisfied, pouring/offering more wine, and clearing the table of dishes and extra utensils. This was annoying especially when having a conversation with tablemates that were persistently interrupted. There’s a push to have you join large tables at dinner hosted by the ship’s officers but there is no upgrade on any wines when you attended that we had seen on other cruise lines. Room service was slow on the first use—first call yielded no answer. Second call promised to call back and did within 5 minutes. Food ordered (turkey sandwich and brownie) took 40 minutes to show up. Later in the cruise Room Service was exceptional with food arriving promptly. The Spa is fairly priced with excellent service. Sommelier was great and we used her to order higher-end wines for dinners. She also offered a selection of the included wines so we could drink the best of the offerings. Wines on the “revenue” list are pricey and few in number. An average bottle cost is in the $50 to $70 range.
Cabins are large and spacious in comparison to other cruises we have taken. The bathroom contains 2 sinks, a tub, and plenty of additional storage. The shower is hand-held at either 4’ or 6’ fixed by a grip on the side wall which doesn’t give the same effect as a fixed shower nozzle. Soaps and toiletries are high end. The bed is located next to the bathroom door so using the bathroom in the middle of the night will always awaken the person sleeping on the side of the bed next to the bathroom. The bed is comfortable, had high quality linens and lights for reading that are individual. There is a walk-in closet (a squeeze for 2 people though) with drawers and a safe. A sitting area is comfortable and spacious with a coffee table that makes into a table for in-cabin dining. The sofa is covered in brocade fabric with lots of thread pulls that make it look a bit shabby. TV is a fixed flat screen so only 1 person sitting in bed can see it—curtains that separate sitting area from bedroom obscures part of the TV. Channels are few with 3 devoted to almost-new movies. Fox, BBC, and CNN are available news stations. Requested liqueurs were in the refrigerator. The large window in our suite gives great views of the ocean and ports. Wifi failed to work and required a visit to the reception area. Turns out Dell and Mac computers require the direct IP address to connect. This is not posted anywhere.
There were excellent talks on areas we visited emphasizing history, culture and politics from professor and former diplomat Rob Warne. The kimono demonstration was outstanding. Low key activities included bridge lessons and team trivia (which was great fun). We visited the lounge for one night and found the singing group (including the cruise director) an enjoyable listening experience. Dancing in The Club is difficult with a small floor made smaller by the presence of a grand piano and entertainers. Movies on TV were recent releases and shown each day for variety.
Shuttle buses to the center of town are offered at each port at no extra cost and are a great and low cost way to do a little sight-seeing without a formal tour. Currency exchange is available on board and a table for brochures and assistance in touring is available at each port. Excursions are expensive and provide a variety of options. Water is available (though never chilled) and umbrellas as you leave the ship on tour. Our cruise encountered issues with weather with one port socked in by fog and the Chinese authorities refusing us entry from South Korea on the next port stop. Seabourn expanded our visit to Shanghai instead but all potential cruisers should realize that their contract with the cruise line is not a promise of stops as listed in the itinerary. Many passengers were upset at missing 2 stops in China. Seabourn shore excursion staff did a great job of reconfiguring the tours after the cancellation.
The Pride is a small ship and feels crowded at times in the lounges and the Veranda Cafe. A mix of people from octogenarians with walkers and wheel chairs to families with teen-agers was onboard this cruise. Mostly, folks appeared to be retired. We found friendly fellow-cruisers who were the nicest we have met on any cruise line (no sense of entitlement as we experienced on Crystal) and the staff is approachable. Lots of elegant casual nights in the dining room (men must wear jackets) but not much to do after you’re done eating. There is a single seating for each meal with dinner service beginning at 7 pm and ending at 9 pm with no entertainment until 10 pm. There’s a small pool and 3 Jacuzzis (one hidden on the 5th deck forward). Elevators are only big enough for 2 people (maybe 3 if you’re small). Food is not available anytime at any venue unless you want to sit in your cabin and dine from room service. No restaurants have a bathroom available in the same area or level—you must walk up or down or to your cabin.
We had a great time. Nothing on the ship ruined the cruise experience. If considering Seabourn with other luxury cruisers I would examine your expectations for food, wine, ship design, ambience and entertainment. This ship, perhaps because of economies of scale at Carnival (parent company) serves fairly mediocre food and low end wine. If you value the food and wine experience this may not be the ship for you. The ship is older and the design reflects its age. If a newer more contemporary design and amenities are required, then this ship will disappoint. We enjoy shipboard entertainment (when it is good) but we didn't miss glitzy revues and once-famous entertainers. We liked the cruise director's activities and singing ensemble but others may feel that it is too much lounge-style and want the bigger experience. Would we travel again on Seabourn? Likely not, as food and wine for us are deal breakers and the design issues (locations of bathrooms, going outside to eat at the Veranda, and smallish feel of the ship) made the cruise seem a compromise.