If you were to design the ideal new luxury ship from scratch, it might look a lot like Seabourn Odyssey, though not necessarily from the outside. Cruise ships these days are more chubby than sleek, what with the need for big balcony cabins and more interior space for expanded spas, entertainment, and dining.
Inside, however, the classically elegant Seabourn Odyssey shines. Size matters. The cruise line's first three highly-rated luxury ships, designed some 20 years ago, are undoubtedly intimate, carrying slightly more than 200 passengers each -- but space for contemporary features, from private balconies to expansive sun decks and spas, is more limited. At 450 passengers, Seabourn Odyssey, like sister ships Sojourn (2010) and Quest (2011), offers three times as much space.
Having sailed on Seabourn's original trio, I wondered: Is Odyssey's design a clear improvement over the older ships? On a recent autumn voyage from Athens to Venice, I compared and contrasted.
First impressions? My ideal luxury ship is small enough so I don't feel overwhelmed and can get around quickly and easily (on Odyssey -- check), with public areas and dining rooms large enough not to be crowded (check). It's also intimate with the atmosphere of a private club, where service is special and someone anticipates my needs (check).
I want a roomy cabin with a private balcony, a bathtub and a walk-in closet (check), plus plenty of seating sprinkled about the ship so there's always a free place to plop (check).
There's a spacious and comfortable spa, never too busy (check); diverse evening entertainment so each night I could choose from, for instance, a show, an upbeat band for dancing or soft piano music (check); a low-key, daytime meeting place for coffee and pastries (check); a library and computers (check); and a comfortable, casual dining area for daytime meals with outside tables, as well as elegant choices for dinner, including romantic and in-suite balcony room service (check).
My ideal cruise has two other requirements: In addition to opportunities to relax, I want to sail with a group of fellow passengers with the intellectual and physical energy that usually accompanies a variety of ages (check); and I would prefer to enjoy the whole shebang in an environment where nobody is required to don a tie or put on a gown (check).
My feeling is that Odyssey is well-sized to task. I like the ship better than the older ones, both for the style, which seems less formal, and for the private verandahs, which are missed on the three earlier ships, despite the addition of French doors (essentially picture windows that open out without a balcony to step on) to some cabins.
Still, the ship may not appeal as much to Seabourn veterans who prize the intimacy of the line's smaller, older vessels. Other Seabourn veterans told me that, while they liked the additions Odyssey had the space to offer, they still preferred the more intimate vessels.
Their view of reality reminded me of one of my father's favorite sayings, back when I was growing up and working for him in the family hardware store in Ohio. Customers, my dad said, sometimes want to put ten pounds of nails in a five-pound bag.
Well, cruisers needed a bigger bag, and on Odyssey, I believe Seabourn got it right.