Hardly a veteran cruiser, I had cruised just once before, two years ago on a mass-market behemoth that was banal and annoying in many respects. In fact, I used to pay scant attention to cruise lines and derisively refer to cruises as "prison at sea." Still, two images from Seabourn advertisements captured my imagination from over a decade ago - waiters in formal wear knee-deep in clear blue waters with trays of champagne and caviar (this publicity image is still in use today), and a cheerful room attendant offering a tray of designer soaps - and I am very happy to report that my first Seabourn cruise exceeded all my expectations.
Prior to booking this cruise, I did research on cruisecritic.com and sought out advice from its knowledgeable, helpful and passionate community. I'd like to start the review by commenting on some of the negative remarks that were discussed in previous reviews and forums regarding the Seabourn Odyssey.
I did notice considerable vibration in the Observation Bar and the Grand Salon, but only during the first couple of evenings. When I got in bed in my suite the first night, I felt minor vibration from the mattress, but that did not prevent me from falling asleep quickly, nor did it recur after that first night. Apart from that, there were no more vibration issues, and I did not hear any complaints from other guests throughout the week.
My suite was adjacent to the Collection (jewelry store) on one side, and another suite on the other, with no connecting door. It was quiet, except for a few moments when I could hear some noise at night from the TV in the other room. Out on the balcony, there was no noise issue; my neighbors were apparently considerate as well as quiet. Even though my suite was below the pool deck, I was never bothered by any noise from above.
We met a lovely couple on their honeymoon (Suite 503), who mentioned that on anchor days, they could hear noise early in the morning from the anchoring, but they did not seem to be bothered by it. We met other guests (Suites 415 & 417), and none of them made any comments about noise (or vibration, for that matter).
Even though I am very sensitive and allergic to smoke, second-hand smoke was not an issue for me. I only noticed two areas on the ship that were open to smokers, and I could easily avoid them without feeling I was deprived of the full Seabourn experience. There were some cigar-smokers on the Sky Bar in the evening, so I'd just stay clear of that small area. Most importantly, my suite smelled clean and fresh, and I had no issue with smoke on the balcony.
This Seabourn cruise was exemplary in many ways. However, if I had to name the one top attribute, it would be the outstanding service! All the team members provided, consistently and tirelessly, caring, friendly, and competent service throughout, with utmost professionalism and attention to detail. More impressively, each of them have their own personality and flair: the waitress at the Colonnade greeting us not only with a "coffee or tea" at breakfast, but a cheerful and beaming "Welcome to Split!"; the assistant manager who chatted with me and my table mates at lunch and who graciously declined my polite suggestion that he excuse himself to take care of the other guests - he was occasionally interrupted by his colleagues concerning other matters - and continued to chat with us for a few more moments; the bartender at the Sky Bar who spoke lovingly about her home country (South Africa) and her life on board and her fellow colleagues... I could go on and on.
These moments speak volume about how well trained each crew member is, how authentic they are, how proud they are to be part of the crew, and how much they enjoy their work.
(I believe that an unhappy or disgruntled employee cannot possibly sustain such a high level of service for days on end. I might add that, during the seven days, I did notice one crew member, a bartender at the Patio Bar, who was unsmiling and unengaged, obviously unhappy to be working there. Of course, surrounded by all the other motivated and excellent staff, he stood out like a sore thumb.)
The food was delicious and exquisite! First of all, a disclaimer: both my partner and I do not eat any meat or meat products, so obviously we did not experience all that was on offer. We took breakfast and lunch mainly at the Colonnade and enjoyed every single meal there. Highlights at breakfast for me were the fresh figs and cherries. The dessert selection at the lunch buffet was good but could be a tad more extensive - I may be vegetarian, but I adore dessert! - but the focus on quality rather than quantity/variety contributed to my gastronomic bliss without the consequence of over indulgence.
My favorite dinner venue was the Restaurant; the beautiful dEcor, the delicious food, and the faultless service all added up to a most wonderful experience. They were also the most accommodating when it came to special requests (with advanced notice); for instance, we had a nice retro dessert of Baked Alaska one night. As stated above, the small portions were greatly appreciated, as I could taste multiple courses without feeling stuffed afterwards.
Another nice touch was the tray of spicy and refreshing candied ginger at the entrance to both the Colonnade and the Restaurant.
The only disappointment for us was Restaurant 2. Even though we wouldn't consider ourselves gourmands, we are used to avant garde food and tasting menus. However, the menu for our week just did not work for us. Granted, they had to make some substitutions due to our dietary requirements, but the combination of flavors and textures on each plate baffled my mind. For instance, the dessert tray consisted of 4 disparate items that lacked visual or thematic cohesion. Sometimes, less is more.
I requested a tofu dish for lunch one day, and to my surprise, they were able to prepare a stir-fried tofu and vegetable dish for me. The tofu was of the soft variety, more suitable for stews or soups than stir fries, but I was delightfully impressed that they came through for me, since we were, after all, sailing in the Mediterranean and not the South China Sea.
Much has been mentioned on cruisecritic.com regarding the downgrading of wines poured at lunch and dinner. Being first timers on Seabourn, we had no precedent to judge against and managed to find a few labels that were more than agreeable to my palate. (I am no wine connoisseur, and an expensive bottle would have been wasted on me.)
During afternoon tea time at the Observation Bar, an interesting selection of quality loose-leaf teas was offered, including herbal ones that I prefer. It would have been great if they made this selection available at the restaurants. (Colonnade told me they couldn't serve these teas because they don't have the strainer and proper equipment. I didn't try the Restaurant or Room Service.) However, I very much enjoyed the simple but refreshing fresh mint tea available at both the Restaurant and Colonnade.
At the first dinner, my partner and I sat alone at a table for two, and we were feeling somewhat concerned that we wouldn't make any friends on this cruise. However, our fears were totally unfounded. Very quickly, from Day 2 on, we started meeting, mainly at breakfast and lunch and on shore excursions, many wonderful and interesting people.
On this end-of-summer cruise, there were more children than usual, but for the most part, they were all well-behaved and did not cause any concern or noise issues. We were also relieved the attire was casual and relaxed. On "casual elegant" nights, we would wear a dark jacket and shirt - no need for ties or tuxedos. (There were no formal nights on this cruise.) It was certainly nice to look at people who were more dressed up, but there were others who were less dressed up than we were. The overall environment was elegant but no-fuss.
Their gym was not small relative to the boat, but it got quite crowded during peak hours every day. The equipment selection was good, except it was missing at least one machine for pectorals or chest press.
Barry Hopkins, our Cruise Director, is a consummate professional extraordinaire! He is the warmest, friendliest, most caring and delightful person. Under his creative leadership, we were treated to an excellent entertainment program. Granted, this was not the type of boat offering a skating rink and rock climbing wall, and the entertainment program was accordingly scaled - intimate and personable. I particularly enjoyed the opera recital by the singers from the "Fondazione Teatro Petruzzelli" in Bari, as well as the charming British vocalist Gary Williams. Being a dance buff, the only thing I could have wished for was more dance performance.
Our suite was tastefully furnished and decorated and kept tidy and immaculate by our lovely, efficient, and hard-working room attendant, Nicolien. There were more than enough cabinets and drawers, and the walk-in closet had ample space. The bathroom was beautiful and reminiscent of those in 5-star hotels. I had read about the choice of soap upon embarking; however, this was not offered to us. In any case, the Hermes soap was what I would have chosen anyway. But still, I was slightly disappointed to have been deprived of this ritual (that I had seen on one of the vintage Seabourn ads years ago).
When it came time to disembark, we were truly sad to leave the boat. We have become true Seabourn converts and are already planning our next Seabourn cruise. I guess that just about says it all and sums it up!