The launch of 450-passenger Seabourn Quest in June 2011 completed Seabourn Cruise Line's $750 million investment in three new Odyssey-class "yachts," if you can call a 32,000-ton vessel a yacht. Seabourn is, with this sixth ship, now a significant player in the luxury market, competing head-on with Silversea Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Quest is essentially a carbon copy of sister ship Seabourn Sojourn, which debuted in 2010. The decor, hull design and even the menus are the same (although a few tweaks were made between Odyssey, the first of the trio, and Sojourn, the second). Highlights of all three ships include a beautiful and expansive pool surrounded by wooden decking; a central "hub" called Seabourn Square that acts as a combination library, reception, Internet cafe and patisserie; and sumptuous but contemporary decor, with extensive use of cream, white and neutrals in different textures, from leather to gauze, to create a comforting but chic boutique hotel feel. Great emphasis, too, is placed on dining, with three equally appealing venues, The Colonnade (buffet by day, alfresco a la carte by night), the elegant main dining room and Restaurant 2, a gourmet eatery offering tasting menus.
It's very hard to find fault with a product as sleek, contemporary and sumptuous as Seabourn Quest; and the line has, after all, had three shots now at making this style of yacht perfection, learning with each new vessel it launches. So what it boils down to is the service. Is this a luxury product? Or an ultra-luxury product? Sure, it's an all-inclusive product, insofar as drinks, all dining and all entertainment are included (although excursions and spa treatments are not). But is it the last word in pampered cruising? Almost.
The unexpected, if tiny, service hiccups -- like a crewmember not holding a door open for a passenger or a bar waiter being unhelpful when questioned about the ingredients of a certain drink -- had us slightly confused. Disembarkation day was no better than that on a mass-market ship, with constant, intrusive announcements.
On the other hand, most crewmembers do go the extra mile and are all trained to try and solve problems, rather than simply smiling politely. Seabourn calls them "clairvoyant," and it's not far wrong. The initiative shown by even the lowest-ranking cabin stewardesses on Seabourn is always both impressive and touching.
Quest's passengers are well-heeled, well-traveled and mostly older than 50. The mix is about 60 percent North American and 40 percent European/Australian, although this varies according to location, with more Europeans sailing in the Mediterranean in the summer. Summer Mediterranean sailings attract some families -- either parents or grandparents travelling with children.
Daytimes are "resort casual," although most interpret this as fairly stylish. At night, Seabourn has elegant casual and formal evenings. Formal attire includes a tuxedo, suit or slacks (jacket required) for men and evening gown or other formal attire for women. Elegant casual attire includes slacks with a collared dress shirt or sweater (jacket optional) for men and skirt or slacks with a blouse, a pant suit or dress for women. Jeans are welcome in all dining venues during the day, but not appropriate in any public venues after 6 p.m., when the dress code applies.
Tips are included in the price of the cruise, and Seabourn makes it clear that further gratuities are not expected. If someone performs a special service, for example, organising a private party in your suite, it is, however, appropriate to offer something. Gratuities are included in the prices of the spa therapies, although a line for more is left blank when you sign for your treatment.