What a cruise of excitement, disappointment and finally enjoyment.
This was our second cruise with Seabourn, after the wonderful Odyssey Aegean and Dalmatian Delights we first cruised on in 2009, which I previously posted a review on.
As many have stated, the hardest decision to make, is to decide to go on your first cruise, the easiest decision is to book your second.
Our second cruise was on the newly released Sojourn, World Cruise segment 5 from Dubai to Rome starting on 26th March 2011 where destinations included Egypt, Oman, Jordan, Israel, Greece and Italy. Of particular interest to us, were the "bucket list" locations of Luxor, the Pyramids and Petra.
Accordingly, our excitement when we first booked this cruise. As we steadily approached our departure date, our excitement turned to concern when the Egyptian crisis started, wondering if we would still be going. After continually being told by Seabourn that the cruise was going to continue unaltered, our excitement continued until 13 days before departure, where Seabourn altered the itinerary on their web page.
Disappointment set upon us with the cruise, without prior warning or notice being provided to our travel agent or us directly, the key ports of Safaga (Luxor), Sharm el Sheik and Alexandria (Cairo) were cancelled.
What disappointment and frustration we experienced, with the timing advice and response to our enquires and emails from Seabourn. Very disappointing indeed which is evidenced within a series of posts with the Seabourn forum posts within Cruisecritic.
So with this in mind, we commenced our transit onto our cruise.
I wondered, how would the Sojourn and its crew perform, given our wonderful experience on the Odyssey. What has changed and was it for the better ?
As soon as we arrived at the Dubai port we were welcome by the crew again in a manner, that gave you the feeling that they have known you for some time. A glass of refreshing juice in a champagne glass is handed to you whilst you check in which was again quick, professional and painless.
We quickly arrived in our suite, this time a V6 suite number 827 on the eighth level. As I travelled through the ship to our suite, it felt like coming home, as the Sojourn was exactly like the Odyssey in build configuration.
God, it felt good to be back on board.
The features of the suite were exactly the same as the Odyssey. Every need is provided, from the opening of a bottle of champagne when you first arrive to the soap in the bathroom.
After a quick embrace of happiness we ventured out to look around.
We quickly noticed that this ship was a far better build quality than the Odyssey, (Again my engineering background is coming through here). The ship was far more polished and complete, no doubt due to the fact that this ship was ahead of construction program. No bubbling of internal wall panels, no visible rust spots and replacement of those silly automatic opening doors on level 8 with a traditional turn of the lever and pull the door open and shut.
We also sensed the harmony amongst the crew, well organized, efficient, balanced, friendly and happy. They displayed far more familiarity with the ship, its needs and daily operations. It was clear, the lessons of the Odyssey were noted and enacted upon on the Sojourn.
The ship may have a value of $ 350 Million, but it is nothing in comparison to its wonderful crew lead by their hotel manager Vitor. The crew is young, enthusiast and truly wonderful team of individual personnel.
At times, the crew endured clients that well, are simply rude and difficult to deal with. We witnessed an occasion in the Restaurant when a client split a container of milk all over the place. Immediately, 3 crew members went onto their knees and quickly cleaned up the spillage without hesitation. This particular client amazingly ignored them, did not offer assistance, even attempt to move out of their way or apologize in anyway.
We couldn't believe the arrogance of this person and found it so sad that the crew have to serve clients of this nature. There was also another occasion, when my wife overheard a fellow cruiser over breakfast on our last cruise day, when a member of the crew expressed sadness over that person leaving and he replied, "what do you care, there will be another traveller after I leave". Professionally, the crew member simply smiled and wished him well in the future. I personally would have told him to "go and jump".
Whilst these occasions are few and far in between, we offer them as examples of how temperament this crew is and how they have been trained to serve. They genuinely do care and openly display affection to our needs and health. If you happen to be suffering in health, they caringly ask if there is something they can do, arrange for the doctor, etc. There is no doubt they we viewed them as an extension of our family whilst on the cruise and were quiet saddened to leave them, but look forward to returning to embrace them again in the future.
As per the Odyssey, there are 4 Restaurants on the ship starting with "The Restaurant" with a "al carte" rotating menu choice. This restaurant requires no booking and at no time, were we not able to be seated. Food was equally as refined and excellent on every single occasion.
Restaurant 2 remains with a menu set with a variety of degustation with 24 hour booking notice. On this occasion I found the eating experience just a little too rich for my liking. The restaurant wasn't as full as it was on the Odyssey and I wondered whether Seabourn were best served, to possibly alter the theme of this restaurant to something that cruisers would be accustomed to, such as a specialized seafood or a steak restaurant.
The Colonnade has altered its previous need to book, which was very pleasing given the last frustrations we experienced on the Odyssey. This restaurant also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of the three, it remains as the most casual restaurant and has a menu with two choices per course plus a traditional classic choice menu.
Finally the Patio Grill, is a restaurant in the open air adjacent to the swimming pool on deck 8. Again, Seabourn altered the previous booking requirement for this restaurant during dinner times. A good change indeed which I frequented on numerous occasions.
Overall whilst the food was of high quality, I felt it was slightly below the standard we experienced on the Odyssey. I put this down to the fact, that as we travelled through the Middle East in lieu of the Mediterranean, where the food availability in terms of freshness and quality was probably not as good.
Unlike the Odyssey which was a new and larger ship at the time, the crew during meal times was calm and well organized. No running, dropping of plates and mistaken orders. The efficiency teething problems I experienced on the Odyssey, were well and truly ironed out.
Being a wine buff, I regretfully found the wines to be below par to what I was used to. Some familiar Australian wines were offered which frankly, were not of a standard in keeping with the ships standing. On this occasion, we once with other guests, decided to resort to the "exclusive" and additional wine choices available. This was a little disappointing and I hope this will be considered by Seabourn into the future.
During the day, there were lots of activities within the ship to keep guests entertained, which was beneficial, given that we had a lot of days at sea. I was told by many die hard bridge players that the bridge masters were simply fantastic, with all guests rushing in for their daily bridge games. Quiet amusing actually, seeing everyone rushing their breakfast, to venture to the card room. The only complaint I heard was that the air conditioning in the room was too cold.
Night entertainment at the Club on Deck 5, the Lounge on Deck 6 and the Observation Bar of Deck 10 with piano music was excellent. The highlight of the cruise was when we had an Arabian night pool party night.
The pool area was transformed with props, decorations, Pyramids, camels, etc. All guests become part of the party dressing up in Arabian outfits. Even Captain Karlo suitably donned an Arabian Head piece. It truly was a magnificent night with all guests reflecting on it over the next 2 to 3 days.
Then after slowly removing our initial disappointment of our altered itinerary, it was announced that we would in fact, be returning back to our original itinerary due to a change in the US issued travel alert (mind you, Britain and Australia had altered it sometime before them).
Egypt, here we come !. What a joyous occasion for all on the ship when Captain Karlo announced this over the ship's speaker system. At an instant, the cruise feeling went from very good to excellent. Smiles all round.
We couldn't help but feel some regret for the passengers of Spirit, many of which we communicated with before departure, which was doing a similar leg, ahead of us by some 4 to 5 days. We haven't spoken to anyone from the Spirit, since returning, but we believe the change in travel alert was too late for them to alter their itinerary back.
We did however have an experience where the Sojourn and the Spirit crossed paths in the ocean and circled each other like romancing doves. What an experience it was to see each other, cruisers waving away and happily snapping photos of each other.
On this cruise, we noted the higher presence of the Captain and his crew. We frequently saw them in the gym, sitting next to us during dinner or simply undertaking periodical walk through and wishing everyone well. Whilst always serious and level headed, the captain too was a highlight with his slow, deep voice over the speaker system. I wouldn't have anyone else at the wheel through the dangerous waters of the Middle East than Captain Karlo.
The Cruise Director Jan, was also far more enjoyable and energetic to the cruise director we had on the Odyssey. How she maintained that level of energy, after a long world cruise was a credit to her indeed.
Of the wonderful services we experienced, what negatives were there ?.
One thing that did frustrate me and other cruisers was the speed of the internet, it was slow as a snail. Surely they could do something to speed this up, which was quickly chewing away the time allotted to internet packages we purchased.
The other was the choice of channels on the TV, for 20 days we viewed no sports channel and frankly, I had enough of the CNN, Fox news and BBC view of what was happening in the world. I would have killed for a sports channel to provide something other than the depressing news of Libya, The American economy and the Ivory Coast crisis.
We're on holidays !, please show us a few games of golf, football and baseball. We hope next time we are on a cruise, ESPN or foxsports is also on the TV and the internet bandwidth is dramatically increased.
We noted within some cruisecritic posts the issue of discoloured water. I actually ventured down to the laundry on level 5 and noted its compact, yet sufficient service. We encountered similar problems with some stains being left on white clothing due to the water discoloration. Some cruisers had then chosen to use the in house laundry. We decided to try it again and the stains went away.
Finally, we cannot hide our disappointment with the office personnel of Seabourn. We find it so hard to comprehend the vast difference between them and the wonderful team on board the ships. If the office personnel could be 50 % as attentive, caring and compassionate to the ship's crew, well simply, this would be an absolutely perfect cruise line.
Would these issues stop me from returning to Seabourn ? Of course not. We have become part of the loyal team that exists within the Seabourn family after only two cruises.
Would we be courageous enough to try other cruise lines like Silverseas, Regent or Celebrity cruisers ? Possibly,,,, but not now, as we have placed another on board discount deposit for our next cruise.
As I recover from my jetlag, I have tried to reflect on what my thoughts are on this ship and its crew during a totally different cruise destination to that previously I enjoyed, being the Mediterranean. I cannot overstate the wonderful crew, we both love them and look forward to seeing them again and very soon we hope.
Yes it was a roller coaster of emotion from booking to actually travelling. I can however happily report, that at the end of the day, we were not disappointed. We ticked off our "bucket list" items, enjoyed the ship, it's crew and again gained another 5 kilos of weight !.
The ship has improved in numerous areas, with a slight and I mean slight, decrease in wine quality and food freshness. If they can attend to this and have some improvement in the internet service, well why would choose any other cruise line ?.
My wife of now 27 years now believes she has two yachts. That is of course, until we venture onto the Quest, where I imagine it will expand to three.