Ship: Seabourn Odyssey.
Cruise: Athens to Venice.
Cabin: A category.
Booking: UK Travel Agent.
Ground transport: Organised myself.
Pre-embarkation: Seabourn customer services in the UK are a bit of a joke, I twice waited over 25 minutes on hold and once over 30 minutes without ever speaking to anyone, however; my TA stepped in on each occasion and spent the time on hold to get the necessary answers, she told me the longest period spent on hold was 42 minutes. I can only surmise that Seabourn have grown in terms of available rooms threefold but have not grown in terms of customer services by the same amount.
Embarkation: Embarkation was very smooth taking around 45 minutes from getting out of the taxi on the jetty to holding a glass of champagne in the grand salon, however; we did meet a couple in the queue for security who were "transit" passengers and had been ashore for the morning and got caught up with the passengers embarking, they complained that transit passengers were getting a raw deal as they were awoken very early (7am) by PA announcements for disembarking passengers that went on for almost 2 hours, and that on "transit" days the Colonnade operated on shorter hours meaning they had missed lunch on their previous "transit" day (the lucky devils where doing 3 weeks). Being stuck waiting in line with the embarkation passengers is really not good enough and Seabourn should have a fast lane for such passengers. FYI the colonnade closes at 1pm on transit days so you can't nip straight up there for some lunch as I had been previously advised, although the patio grill was open the fare on offer was not very imaginative, the main dishes were Croque-monsieur (cheese on toast) tuna melt (cheese on Tuna) and pizza (cheese on bread). This was the only time that I found myself wanting in terms of selection throughout my week on board.
Cabin (or suite as Seabourn prefer to call it): The suite was quite forward and down a couple of corridors which got us confused a couple of times but once we got our bearing the midnight stagger home was easy. The suite was very well appointed and as good as I have encountered in 5 star hotels. Champagne on ice, a fully stocked mini-bar and our pre-selected drinks were all waiting for us along with a short note of welcome from the captain. Our cabin stewardess ( I won't name anyone in this review, good or bad, as I don't think it's fair) arrived shortly after we arrived and introduced herself with some canapEs and discussed our mini bar requirements (types of soda and water etc), she was very friendly and very likeable and although the standard of cleaning was not so good her extremely pleasant demeanour meant we just couldn't complain and so even when my wife found some toe nail clipping behind the bin in the main bedroom we simply bit our lips. One thing that surprised me was the amount of disturbance we had, early morning risers slamming their door at 6am every morning, veranda door slamming and veranda furniture scrapping around 7:30am, bow waves, anchor chains, bow thrusters and PA announcements all led to a feeling of discomfort, one of the most annoying things was the room service waiters when they returned to collect the trays etc from suites that had elected to have breakfast in bed, they always slammed the door so hard they almost took it off its hinges. If you are an early riser then this wouldn't be a problem, but if like me you like to lie-in until after 8am forget it, one way or another you will be up around 7am at the latest, when we got to Venice we stayed overnight and I was so tired I slept right through to 11am the next day. So my advice is, if you can afford a higher floor, midship berth you should book it, if you can't afford it and you are light/late sleeper expect to be disturbed.
Main dining room, The restaurant: The food in this restaurant is exceptional and at times bordered on perfection, I loved every single thing I ordered, and I can only describe the whole experience of The restaurant as magnificent. However; please be aware that Seabourn have changed their dining options and The restaurant is only open in the evening, this means that apart from dinner the odyssey is a buffet only ship which disappointed us no end as we like to partake in a more formal lunch every now and again but this was not possible. I enquired as to the reason for the change in opening hours (I think it had changed 3 weeks earlier) and I was told that it was a staffing issue as too few people were utilising it to make it worthwhile, I jokingly asked if I could have a percentage of the costs saved as I had effectively paid for this service but that was met with a furrowed brow and a "that would not be appropriate sir". However; to reiterate, The restaurant is magnificent and all the staff who work there should be very proud of what they produce in such quantities but with such high quality both in terms of food and service but only being open for dinner is just not acceptable to me especially when the ship is completely full.
The Colonnade restaurant: Breakfast and lunch are buffet style affairs and at dinner time á la carte. Breakfast is very good, I actually prefer a buffet breakfast so it was perfect for me and there is an option to order eggs, toast and a couple of other things that are brought directly to your table but the vast majority is buffet. The available fare is both substantial and of a very high quality, the queueing is minimal (the longest queue I saw was 6 people and that was unusual), food is replenished immediately and if not will be brought to your table as soon as it is ready, tea and coffee are topped up without asking. I had read that waiters would offer to carry guests plates back to their tables but neither my wife nor I were ever asked if we wanted our plates carried for us but to be honest we would have declined anyway. Breakfast closes at 10am, for me that is a little early and on two occasions I saw people turned away around 10:10 as we were leaving. We only ate lunch here a couple of times, firstly because after such a good breakfast it is hard to have lunch before 1:30 - secondly, because we like to have a la carte lunch and thirdly, because we not overly impressed with what was on offer. Don't get me wrong, the food was good, but for example, one lunch we went for was themed seafood, well they really did theme it seafood as everything was seafood in one form or another from the carvery, salmon en croute, seafood chowder, curried mussels, mixed seafood this and mixed seafood that, I didn't fancy seafood so I was kind of stumped. We only ate dinner here once and to be honest it was pretty good, but with the other options available we were never going to return and only went the once to see what it was like. The hours that the colonnade operate are not set which can confuse some guests, I heard grumblings that in particular on "transit" days it closes early for breakfast and lunch which is terribly unfair on the "transit" guests, on our embarkation day we heard stories of guests who had dined between 1pm and 1:30pm all week were met with a CLOSED sign on "transit" day meaning they only had the patio grill to go to which is not really acceptable. The staff who work in the colonnade are (as all the wait staff are) extremely good and very attentive, I write this just in case they are reading this review and feel left out.
Restaurant 2: We only ate here once as the night that we did we felt we had missed a night in the main dining room (yes, as I said it is that good), we had a 7 course sampling dinner with various wines to compliment each course. The food was imaginative and well executed, the service was also very good but it had such stiff competition from The restaurant and unfortunately it lost out mainly because of the necessity to pre-book and then arrive at a fixed time, whereas The restaurant is open seating with no need to book, this means you can get ready at your leisure, you can have a second pre-dinner cocktail if it takes your fancy or if you are engaged in conversation delay dinner until later. Booking restaurant 2 is not that easy and you have to be quick to get a table exactly when you want one, however; if you call guest services and tell them you have not been able to book a table yet they will extend the 48 booking time, or they can arrange a table after the normal 9pm slot, we spoke to a couple who dined there at 9:15 with only 4 other diners but please note the 7 courses take around 1 hour 45 minutes so it will be a late night and you will miss the entertainment.
Patio grill: This is an in between dining option and should be seen as such, the food is fairly limited and themed with pizza, hotdogs and hamburgers always available. I once asked for a steak and it was refused, probably my only refusal the whole cruise and it took me aback somewhat as a steak is available 24 hours from room service so you would think it would be available here too but apparently not. We ate here 3 times I think, mainly as a snack with an afternoon drink when we returned from shore, staff, apart from the chef who refused me the steak, were of the usual exceptional standard and the pool staff who offered the drinks were brilliant too (I'm dying to name a few but that would be so unfair on the ones whose names I have forgotten). At night the Patio grill serves surf and turf and although we didn't try it we heard good reports and it is an ultra-casual dining option where we regularly saw people dining in shorts and tee shirts which was quite fitting around dusk and they did not look out of place at all.
Room Service: We tried breakfast in bed on more than one occasion and it was a completely decadent affair and a fabulous way to start the day, our breakfast arrived on time each time and apart from a hot water flask that had been previously used for hot milk and not washed meaning very cloudy hot water and not having salt and pepper another morning service was perfect, breakfast in bed, a la carte, served on a fully set table is a truly luxurious option. One afternoon I called for a pot of coffee and it arrived with a plate of cookies, the waiter said he had popped them on in case we fancied a snack; it was this kind of touch that really impressed us. I would point out that we had read on a forum that room service could be ordered in places other than you room i.e. the sky bar or poolside but that is not true, we asked and were told room service is purely for your room.
Seabourn Square: Quite a nice idea of having a cafe style outlet, where you can have a cup or two of coffee whilst waiting to make arrangements with guest services.
Observation blounge: This is an absolutely wonderful venue, during the day you can partake in afternoon tea, in the evening you can have pre-dinner drinks and after dinner it is an elegant piano bar serving cocktails and drinks until midnight, it is an amazing place to watch the sail-aways that occurred at 11pm. We were delighted to the sounds of a pianist/vocalist who was excellent and sang requests which gave it an air of sophistication, again though Seabourn let itself down somewhat by closing the observation bar at 8pm on our last night meaning we missed our after show drinks listening to the pianist whilst watching us sail out of Ravenna, I heard the next day whilst disembarking there had been such a furore that eventually they re-opened the bar but alas were weren't informed of this and so missed out.
Sky bar: Nice enough bar but nothing special and we used it only on embarkation day to watch the band play us out of port; old Seabourner's complained that this used to be the hub of late night drinking but it now closes at 11pm
The Club: This is an elegant pre-dinner cocktail bar but turns into a very lively late night club with two sets of entertainers interchanging meaning the music doesn't take a break until well into the early hours. You can also pop out onto the stern deck area for a smoke if you are that way inclined. During our cruise there was a six piece band and a duo that played there every night, they were both of a very high standard and quite superior to what I had expected. Beware the cocktails, they are superbly mixed and it is very easy to get carried away, literally.....
The grand salon: Much has been made of the obstructive view offered by the support beams, it is true that there are several support columns and if you sit in line with them your view will be obstructed, however, it was never necessary to sit behind one as there were normally plenty of seats elsewhere. We were entertained but the Seabourn singers who were OK but far too pretentious for our tastes, they had a habit of staring sternly into space when they weren't singing and when they spoke they put one or two too many marbles in their mouths for my liking, (what has happened to this world, is an accent so common?) We also had a comic magician who was ( I want to say magic but that's too corny) very entertaining indeed, and a pianist (not the one from the observation bar who played and sang every night, this was a one show in the week pianist) who we thought was a concert pianist but was more Vaudeville than Broadway, she did an old Victoria Wood song (English comedienne) which some found funny and others found a tad offensive, I found her to be a wasted talent as she was obviously hugely talented but played quite simplistic tunes, she also had her mother along on a freebie and I'm afraid to say I found her somewhat course and slightly discourteous to paying guests and I heard of at least two couple who had been made a joke of by her. This was a bit of a running theme for me, we saw numerous employees acting as full paying guests, from the Seabourn singers (drunk in the observation bar one night and unforgivably disrupting the pianist), the magician (who actually paid for his supper doing table tricks) the pianist and her mother, then there were the parents of the Seabourn singers and then some technical people, followed by officers in uniform. Apart from the magician who seemed to really enjoy doing his tricks at all hours, the rest of them merely congregated and spent the night together in bars and the club, maybe this is normal on cruise ships but (I'm going to be called snobby for this) I paid a lot of money with the expectation of some level of exclusivity, to see the pianists mother sitting hour after hour outside the club smoking, cackling and making rude comments to paying guests got up my ever so in the air nose. All poetic joking aside, I am a really down to earth person who has worked very hard to pay for this cruise and found it a little upsetting to see people enjoying all this for free without thought for the guests who had paid their hard earned money for their, in some cases, once in a lifetime cruise, Seabourn, if you do read these reviews take note, there were quite a few grumblings on disembarkation morning regarding the state of the pianist (so drunk she was barely able to walk) and her mother laughing and snorting at the top of her voice whenever anyone said anything remotely funny. Maybe this is why Seabourn is opening The restaurant only at night and cutting the Colonnade opening hours, the staff are drinking them dry......
Outdoor facilities: There is a multitude of place to lie in the sun and more sun loungers than guests (although I'm guessing here as there were never more than 50% taken at any time I went), the normal loungers do not have mattresses but are fairly comfortable, there are some double ones that have nice comfortable mattresses on them but they are fixed so you can't turn the to face the sun. We were offered cold towels a couple of times and sunscreen most times we sunbathed, drinks are abundant and the more out of the way places (i.e. deck 6 whirlpool) have a soft drinks tray and ice with waiters doing a loop every hour or so.
The Spa: An excellent facility with a good balance of gym/salon/treatment areas. The staffs are not Seabourn but are definitely out of the Seabourn school of charm and service, although I only actually used the gym it was a pleasure (if running on a treadmill can ever be called a pleasure) and the shower and sauna rooms were meticulous.
Smoking policy: On the Odyssey smoking is permitted in the following areas. Port side of the Sky bar, outside the club on the main deck, on the port side of the observation lounge, inside all suites and on all verandas. I do not smoke but never smelt smoke other that one night passing a suite when someone was leaving while someone else was smoking in that suite. The observation lounge rarely had anyone smoking in there and when there was the air conditioning was more than adequate to remove the smoke. Outside the club on deck 5 was used more by the smokers but it is outdoors and the wind takes care of it seamlessly.
Dress code: I have read a lot of rubbish about the dress code and would like to put the record straight. The restaurant, on the seven night cruise we had two elegant/casual and five casual evenings, on the casual nights I spotted people in polo type tee shirts, one night there was an English gentleman in cargo pants and crocs and several ladies of various nationalities in flip flops. On the elegant casual night I saw several short sleeved shirts and one elderly American gentleman in a nylon button up short sleeved polo shirt trucked into a pair of brown slacks without a belt, it looked really out of place but nothing was said as said gentleman looked very old. The colonnade, this is always casual and I saw jeans on several occasions, yes, shock horror, jeans! It was ultra casual and although I never saw shorts I heard the week before there were some American students who had been allowed to wear them outside on the patio. Restaurant 2, on the night we dined there everyone was dressed in a minimum of a long sleeved shirt, I wore a jacket as did several other diners. The general feel was of casual mixed with a few die hard formality lovers, personally I wore dress trousers and long sleeved short on all but the elegant/casual nights when I also wore a jacket..
Drinks: I was genuinely surprised at the quality of the drinks available, as we sat at the sky bar on embarkation day I noticed a top shelf with some pretty high end bottles of spirit on it, I enquired if there was a price list for these drinks only to be told they were included, I'm talking Remy Martin and Courvoisier cognac, Belvedere and Grey Goose vodka, Matchmaker bourbon etc, there were some drinks in the Club at a premium but these were drinks that cost over $100 a bottle in duty free. Champagne was always available both at the bar and through room service. Cocktails could be ordered with normal spirits or the high end spirits (Grey Goose martini anyone?). Wine in the restaurants teetered between acceptable and good, I'm no wine expert but I realised some of the wines were better than others and found out which were the best ones and asked for them by name. After dinner drink sir? Baileys sir? No problem sir, I'll be right back, amazing!
Getting to know you: I had read that by the following day of embarkation most of the crew would know your name, well I think on the smaller ships that may be true but on a 7 night Odyssey cruise it's probably just not possible, we were only once greeted by our names without having first introduced ourselves, one or two waiters even forgot our names after we had introduced ourselves previously but it didn't bother us, a perpetually filled glass, a smile and a "how are you today" is more than enough for us and I cannot say how impressed we were with all, even the first time onboard staff, they truly made our journey an unforgettable one.
Disembarkation: As smooth as embarkation, we asked our room stewardess what time she wanted us to leave by and she said 9am would be OK as she had a lot of early risers this week (didn't we know it) so the extra hour was a god send, we left the cabin around 8:45, had a bite to eat in the colonnade and left the ship at 9:15 to be met by the Captain and cruise director to say farewell, a perfect touch to an almost perfect cruise.
Conclusion: Some will read this and think I am being overly picky, others will read this and be grateful for its honest and objective approach, as I said in my opening gambit I spent hours researching Seabourn and I think on more than one occasion I was led astray by well intentioned but never the less incorrect posts. There is an undercurrent of posters who I feel are trying to give people the wrong impression of Seabourn to try to attract the kind of people they want to meet aboard, I was once told that the optional elegant casual was that the option was that you could eat in the other restaurants if I didn't want to wear a suit and tie, what poppycock, Seabourn has changed, it is filling its newer, bigger ships and I don't think they will risk their new clients to try to appease their old guard so all these posters are doing is confusing people and having them carry too much excess baggage. Seaboun's recipe is perfect, however; and it's such a shame, sometimes they miss the mark a little and don't quite live up to their promise, closing the main dining room during the daytime is typical of how head office decisions are affecting the onboard staff, moving staff around so much also means that we were asked several times what we wanted to drink because the waiter our waitress had just joined that day and in some cases had only joined Seabourn that day (yes straight into the firing line without a minutes training, but they did admirally in keeping us first timers happy, as for the old guard, Seabourn beware. To end we are still deciding if we will return to Seabourn, if I have a hotel room that is noisy I can change rooms or move hotels, aboard a full cruise that is just not possible so I felt a little trapped to be honest which is a real shame.