It's not always easy to compare an upscale line with a true luxury cruise company, but that's exactly what many people try to do when looking at the differences between Oceania Cruises and Seabourn. Oceania offers an a la carte approach to cruising, with a base cruise fare and then for-fee packages for everything from Internet access to alcoholic beverages and shore excursions. Seabourn comes to the table offering intuitive service and a fare inclusive of alcohol and gratuities. Yet both lines share a commitment to fine dining and destination exploration. Can service be compared across these lines? Oceania may get high marks, but how does it stack up against a top luxury line like Seabourn? Let's find out.
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The Oceania Cruises fleet includes six ships: four 684-passenger, older-yet-beloved R-class ships and two newer, 1,250-passenger O-class ships that were built specifically for the cruise line. The smaller R-class ships include Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena. Insignia, Nautica and Regatta joined the Oceania fleet in 1998, 2000 and 2003, respectively; Sirena joined the fleet in March 2016 after a 35-day, $40-million dry dock. For those looking for newer, larger ships with more bells and whistles, the O-class options are Marina, launched in 2011, and Riviera, launched in 2012.
Seabourn sails three sister ships: Seabourn Odyssey (2009) and Seabourn Quest (2011) accommodate 450 passengers, while Seabourn Sojourn (2010) has room for 462 passengers. Two 600-passenger sister ships based on an augmented version of the Odyssey-class design -- Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation -- are set to debut in late 2016 and 2018, respectively.
We're human and it's natural for us to want to make apple-to-apple comparisons when trying to make a choice. The problem is, Oceania is an apple and Seabourn is an orange. How then shall we compare the lines -- especially when it comes to pricing? We need to strip away the differences and make an accurate comparison based on many factors.
Choose Oceania if you want more control over what you're actually paying for.
Oceania cruise fares include airfare (though you can opt instead for a credit and book your own flights); unlimited soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffees, teas and juices; and reservations at all of the ship's specialty restaurants. You'll pay extra for alcoholic beverages, Internet access and gratuities. A suggested gratuity of $16 per person per day ($23 for guests staying in Penthouse, Oceania, Vista or Owner's Suite) is added to your onboard account. An 18-percent service charge is added to all beverage purchases, spa services and dinner at La Reserve. (All meals are complimentary aboard Oceania ships with the exception of the special wine-pairing dinners at La Reserve.)
Note that nearly all of Oceania's itineraries are eligible for the line's ongoing OLife Choice promotion, in which cruisers receive free, unlimited Internet plus one perk of choice: either free shore excursions (the number of which is dependent on the cruise you select), a House Select beverage package (see below) or onboard credit. Certain sailings are eligible for the OLife Ultimate promotion, in which you can get all of those perks thrown in for free.
Cruisers cite the cost of Oceania's wines and spirits to be quite high when paying by the drink, but you can purchase one of three beverage packages (see Drink Inclusions section below). Be aware that even if you purchase a package, you'll still need to sign the check each time you order a drink in any of the ship's bars or restaurants.
Past cruisers also feel that the price of Oceania shore excursions is higher than other lines, but here again the line offers packages to help reduce those out-of-pocket expenses. The Unlimited Passport Collection gives you access to unlimited excursions throughout your cruise, but you must select from a set list of options; the package doesn't include every shore excursion sold on an a la carte basis by the company. While you can't choose from the complete list of tours, you will get up to 40 percent off the tours that are included in the Unlimited Passport Collection. Alternatively, opt for the Your World Collection package that allows you to custom-design your shore time by selecting any of Oceania's available tours. You'll get 25 percent off a la carte prices, and you'll need to book a certain minimum of tours to get the discount. (The minimum is dependent on the particular cruise you've selected.)
Note that Oceania charges a hefty, 100-percent single supplement based on the double-occupancy rate for the suite or stateroom, so solo travelers pay double what their friends sharing a cabin will pay.
Choose Seabourn if you prefer a cruise fare that is more inclusive so you don't have to sign chits all day long.
Seabourn's cruise fare includes passage aboard the ship as well as entertainment and all meals -- there isn't even a surcharge for the line's excellent new restaurant from celebrity chef Thomas Keller. And if you love caviar, you can order it anytime onboard and it's complimentary. The fare also includes open bars throughout the ship, offering fine wines, beer and spirits (although there is an additional list of select vintage and spirits that do cost extra). Soda, coffee, tea, iced tea and juices are also included, as is a nice, in-suite bar setup that's filled with your personal preferences to enjoy in your room throughout the voyage. Seabourn says tipping is neither required nor expected onboard.
Seabourn doesn't include airfare in its cruise fares but you can purchase flights as well as transfers from the company. You also must pay for Internet access onboard (unless you're staying in a premium suite, where it's included), and other activities, such as shore excursions and spa treatments, cost extra.
Solo travelers can expect to pay a supplement that is 75 percent more than the double-occupancy fare for ocean-view and veranda suites, and 100 percent more for premium suites. The line also offers single guarantee fares for just 50 percent more than the double-occupancy fares; with this pricing, Seabourn (not the passenger) will choose the stateroom location, and availability is limited.
Or if you want an authentic luxury experience, a decent-size cabin and plenty of free drinks.
When you perform a back-of-napkin computation comparing similar voyages on the two lines, you might find that Seabourn is the same price -- or even cheaper -- than the premium option proffered by Oceania. Start by comparing comparable staterooms. Seabourn's entry-level Ocean View Suite is 295 square feet. You'd have to go all the way up to a Penthouse Suite on Oceania's R-class ships (Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena) to get similar space of 322 square feet. Aboard Oceania's O-class ships, Marina and Riviera, you could opt for a Veranda Stateroom at 282 square feet, or a Penthouse at 420 square feet. Seabourn's cruise fare includes complimentary open bars throughout the ship, with fine wines poured at both lunch and dinner. You also get a complimentary welcome bottle of Champagne as well as an in-suite bar setup stocked to your preferences. You'll need to factor in paying per drink aboard Oceania or buying a beverage package. When you calculate the fare on Oceania, don't forget to subtract the credit you'll receive for booking your own airfare. Then you'll be able to make a true apples-to-apples comparison of these two lines, as Seabourn does not include airfare in its base fare.
When it comes to choice of itineraries, both of these lines offer a plethora of options; you truly can sail the globe with either line. Oceania has an excellent track record in Alaska, sailing both seven- and 10-night voyages. The line also offers plenty of options in the Caribbean, Mexico and Panama Canal; Canada and New England; Northern Europe and the Mediterranean; South America and the Amazon; Australia and New Zealand; Asia; the South Pacific; and even Africa.
Seabourn sails to each of those destinations plus Antarctica and Patagonia aboard Seabourn Quest, and the Middle East and India via Seabourn Sojourn and the line's newest flagship, Seabourn Encore.
Choose Oceania if you want to visit Alaska.
Oceania Cruises has a strong program in Alaska, and offers sailings in the region from May through September. Shore excursions here are generally of high quality and the ship always welcomes aboard experts to help you identify wildlife from the deck or learn about the culture of the area's indigenous peoples. You can pick from a variety of seven- and 10-night voyages. Oceania's 10-night Seattle round-trip itinerary is popular and includes cruising the Inside Passage, Hubbard Glacier and the Outside Passage, as well as calls on Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Skagway and Sitka in Alaska plus Victoria in Canada's British Columbia. Seabourn will return to Alaska for the first time in 15 years in 2017.
Choose Seabourn if you're value-oriented and you want to sail the Caribbean.
As we've mentioned before, it's important to conduct an apples-to-apples comparison of Oceania and Seabourn cruises to determine which is actually the better value. The Caribbean is a case where Seabourn can offer particularly compelling pricing. We priced two similar Caribbean voyages during the same time span: one in an Ocean View Suite aboard Seabourn Odyssey and one in a Penthouse aboard Oceania Regatta. Seabourn's cost per passenger per day hit just under $500. The comparable sailing on Regatta cost nearly $600 per night (including paid gratuities and assuming the traveler selected the beverage package as the OLife Choice free perk).
The comparison shouldn't end at price, though. Remember that Odyssey is a 650-foot, 32,000 GRT ship with a crew of 330 and a passenger count of 450. Regatta is similarly sized -- 594 foot, 30,277 GRT -- but the ship has 400 crew and 684 passengers. It's easy to see why Seabourn often gets an edge in regard to service rankings. With fewer passengers, the Seabourn crew is better equipped to offer personalized, white-glove service.
Or if you'd like to visit Antarctica.
Of the two lines we're discussing, only Seabourn visits Antarctica. Antarctica and Patagonia voyages are a specialty of Seabourn Quest, which has a reinforced hull that is certified Ice Class (something you need when sailing the icy waters of Antarctica). Even though the experience might be a bit more rugged than other voyages (say, to the Mediterranean or Caribbean), you can expect the same intuitive, top-notch service from the crew. Your entertainment choices and dining venues are that of a luxury ship, but you'll also have access to complimentary Zodiac landings each day to select Antarctic locations. The line's expedition team is outstanding, and knowledgeable guest speakers fill out the enrichment program. There are also digital photography workshops and plenty of opportunities to see wildlife from the ship or shore.
Both Oceania and Seabourn offer a deep list of shore tours to entice all types of travelers, from those looking to learn about the culture of the destination to people seeking a more thrilling, active adventure. Seabourn-sponsored shore excursions tend to get better reviews than those offered by Oceania. In part, that might be because Seabourn limits the number of passengers aboard motor coaches, ensuring a comfortable ride and optimal touring conditions for everyone. Seabourn also partners with experts across the globe and even has a partnership with UNESCO, allowing in-depth exploration of World Heritage Sites across the globe. Oceania, on the other hand, gets glowing reviews of its culinary-focused shore tours that introduce cruisers to the food and wine of the destination.
Choose Oceania if you're a foodie and you want shore tours that focus on food, wine, craft beer and more.
If you love food and wine and you're always interested in trying the specialties of the regions you sail, book any of Oceania's Culinary Discovery Tours. These tours -- some accompanied by a master chef -- take you to local produce, fish or spice markets so you can learn about the region's food supply and get a traditional recipe or two to try at home. You might also tour a winery or brewery, take a cooking class or visit a famous patisserie. Many tours include snacks or even a meal.
Choose Seabourn if you want compelling tours in partnership with UNESCO.
When it comes to shore excursion options, Seabourn partners with UNESCO to promote sustainable tourism at culturally significant sights around the globe. The collaboration begins onboard your ship with guest experts that have special knowledge of World Heritage Sites. They'll present lectures as part of the Seabourn Conversations series. If you then wish to visit a World Heritage Site via a Seabourn tour, look for the ones labeled as "Seabourn World Heritage Tours" or "Seabourn Discovery Tours." The options will depend on your itinerary.
Oceania and Seabourn ships definitely have a different onboard vibe, which is particularly noticeable when you compare the entertainment options available. Oceania offers more structured daytime entertainment options -- especially aboard its O-class ships -- while Seabourn comes to the table with pastimes that make it easy for you to pick and choose what's most appealing. In the evening, most cruisers will tell you that Seabourn has the edge when it comes to theater shows and performances by onboard musicians.
Choose Oceania if you love learning to cook something new or want to use your creative side in an art studio.
If you want to take part in structured classes, pick a sailing aboard either of Oceania's O-class ships, Marina or Riviera. These ships offer two special entertainment complexes. The Culinary Center provides passengers with individual cooking workstations in a state-of-the-art teaching facility. Chefs from around the world help cruisers hone their techniques while teaching them new recipes. Younger passengers love the Pizza Master Class, while adults gravitate to the Cuban Family Table lesson.
Alternatively, you can take classes at the Artist Loft, instructed by an artist in residence. You can learn from the artist and try your hand at creating your own work of art throughout the voyage.
Choose Seabourn if you prefer to select one or two pastimes from a list including card games, lectures, cooking demonstrations, dance classes and more.
When you sail with Seabourn, your daytime hours can be as structured or unstructured as you want. Check the daily program for events like bridge, lectures, dance classes, cooking demonstrations and even free mini-massages on deck by the pool. You can while away your time at the ship's retractable marina where you can swim or borrow a personal watercraft, or hit the pool deck for swimming or lounging in one of the hot tubs. On port days, you might even be able to accompany the chef to a market where he or she will do a bit of shopping for the ship. In the evenings, you can enjoy performances by musicians in the lounge or attend a Broadway-style show in the theater.
Both lines offer some pretty spectacular staterooms, but Oceania comes to the table with several cabin categories that are smaller than Seabourn's entry-level Ocean View Suite, which is available aboard Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest. But if you can book a Penthouse or higher aboard an Oceania ship -- especially on the newer and larger O-class ships, Marina and Riviera -- the digs will be more comparable to what's on offer from Seabourn.
Choose Oceania if you want the most variety in cabin categories.
Oceania Cruises offers a wide range of cabin categories, including inside staterooms. (No Seabourn ship offers inside cabins.) Oceania has ocean-view, veranda and Concierge-level veranda staterooms, plus suites (Penthouse, Vista, and Owner's). Square footage varies and allows you to really select a cabin that's right for you based on your circumstances. If you only use your cabin as a place to rest your head at night, and if there's a great deal on an inside cabin, go for it! Even the least expensive cabin onboard the ship has Oceania's exclusive Prestige Tranquility bed with two-inch-thick, gel-filled pillow top (yes, it's a really comfortable bed!), and the bathroom is outfitted with Bvlgari soap and hair care products. The room steward will also leave some delicious Belgian chocolates in your room at nightly turndown.
Oceania ships also have beautifully designed and decorated suites with bonus inclusions for those that want to go all-out. For example, Concierge-level veranda staterooms include perks like priority embarkation and luggage delivery, priority specialty restaurant reservations, unlimited access to Canyon Ranch SpaClub's private Spa Terrace and more. Penthouse Suite and higher passengers can board the ship even earlier than Concierge-level guests, and a butler -- on call 24 hours a day -- caters to their needs. Vista and Owner's Suite passengers also receive a complimentary in-suite bar setup with six full-size bottles of premium spirits and wines.
Choose Seabourn if you want plenty of elbow room -- even in an entry-level suite -- and you want to be pampered.
All accommodations aboard Seabourn ships are referred to as "suites" and they are all ocean view. (Most even have a veranda.) Entry-level, 295-square-feet Ocean View Suites are available aboard Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest. The Veranda Suite, measuring between 246 and 302 square feet (not including balcony space), is the entry-level suite aboard the new Seabourn Encore and the forthcoming Ovation. Compare that to Oceania's R-class ships, which offer oceanview cabins that are just 143 square feet -- you'd need to upgrade to a suite aboard any of those ships before getting the same amount of space Seabourn offers in its entry-level accommodations. Seabourn also offers a variety of larger suites, including the Grand Wintergarden that spans 1,292 square feet of interior space plus two balconies. While there are no butlers aboard Seabourn ships, well-trained stewardesses tend to all suites and offer caring and personalized service, including special drawn baths strewn with rose petals.
Everyone gets a free welcome bottle of Champagne plus a stocked bar with up to two selected spirits, wine and soft drinks. You'll find fresh fruit in your suite daily, as well as personalized stationery and bath products by Molton Brown. Guests in premium suites (Owner's, Signature or Wintergarden) get extra perks like fresh orchids or potpourri in the bathroom, free Internet access, an in-room espresso machine, binoculars, a choice of daily newspaper and a complimentary, private-car airport transfer (if you're within 50 miles of the departure airport).
Oceania fans rave about the specialty restaurants found onboard, and also have great things to say about the main dining room. Seabourn loyalists say you can't compare the two lines when it comes to cuisine; they insist Seabourn is a cut above. But it's fair to say that foodies will find plenty to keep them happy on both ships. Here's why.
Choose Oceania if you want a lot of choice at mealtime.
Oceania puts great emphasis on its dining venues. No matter what type of cuisine you enjoy, you'll find something that will make your tummy happy. Across the fleet you'll find the Grand Dining Room, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Aboard the R-class ships, the main dining room features six to eight main courses; lighter dinner options designed by Canyon Ranch; as well as some of Jacques Pepin's signature dishes like poached salmon and free-range rotisserie chicken. Carnivores will head to the Polo Grill -- found on all Oceania ships except Sirena -- for delicacies like New York strip steak and free-range, bone-in Iberico de Bellota double pork chop. All ships also have two outdoor dining options, Terrace Cafe and Waves Grill.
Jacques -- a French bistro that's open for dinner -- is found aboard Marina and Riviera, while the Grand Dining Room aboard Sirena is transformed into Jacques Bistro -- serving items like croque-monsieur (triple-decked ham and cheese sandwiches) and herb-crusted free-range chicken -- at lunchtime.
The Italian restaurant Toscana makes an appearance on all ships except for Sirena, which offers Tuscan Steak in its place. An Asian restaurant, Red Ginger, is found aboard the O-class ships plus Sirena, and a wine-pairing dinner at La Reserve (in conjunction with "Wine Spectator") takes place aboard Marina or Riviera. (It's the only meal that carries a surcharge.)
Choose Seabourn if you love American and Continental cuisine.
The Seabourn fleet has fewer restaurants than Oceania ships, but that doesn't seem to bother Seabourn loyalists. The restaurants all use the highest quality provisions, have interesting menus and are run by maitre d's and wait staff that are the best in the business. The newest restaurant in Seabourn's fleet is the much-anticipated The Grill by Thomas Keller. You know him as the chef in charge of New York's Per Se and Napa Valley's The French Laundry. He brings the classic American chophouse to life aboard all Seabourn ships.
The Restaurant is Seabourn's main dining room, offering open seating nightly. The Colonnade, a more casual spot for both indoor and outdoor dining, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You'll also find The Patio for poolside dining at lunch and dinner. If you prefer not to partake in Seabourn's formal nights, you can always dine ensuite with your meal served course by course. You can even select menu items from The Restaurant at dinnertime. Seabourn Encore also has a new dining venue onboard: called Sushi, it (as you can imagine) serves the finest sushi rolls at lunch and dinner.
Or if you want to experience the line's signature "Caviar in the Surf" beach barbecue.
One of the unique and fun activities presented by Seabourn is its once-per-cruise "Caviar in the Surf" beach party. It's a favorite among guests who like to indulge in fine Champagne and caviar while relaxing on a warm, gorgeous beach. You'll want your cameras ready for this one, as uniformed Seabourn crew members plunge into the water to deliver flutes of Champagne from a surfboard. A caviar bar is also set up on the board, and everyone ends up gathering around, eating, chatting and laughing as the waves crest to and fro. It's a fun experience, even if you don't like caviar. (And remember, you can order caviar anytime on a Seabourn ship and it's free.)
There's a major difference between the two cruise lines in terms of free beverages. Here's what you can expect.
Choose Oceania if you don't drink, or drink moderately.
Not everyone swills cocktails all evening or orders wine with dinner every night. Some people are more than happy with Oceania's drink inclusions of soda, bottled water, coffee, espresso, cappuccino, tea and juice. If you don't drink alcohol, or you only enjoy one or two drinks per day, you might be better off booking an Oceania cruise that doesn't include alcohol in its fare rather than a Seabourn one whose fares cover unlimited drinks. On Oceania, you will pay by the drink. The downside is that some cruisers say Oceania's per-drink prices are high, but if you're only ordering a pina colada here or a wine spritzer there, your bill won't be that high.
Or you wish to pay for a beverage package that matches your consumption style.
Oceania is all about choice, so when it comes to alcohol, you can pay per drink or purchase one of three packages. Prestige Select costs $59.95 per day and includes unlimited premium spirits, Champagne, wine and beer "wherever and whenever you wish." The House Select package is cheaper at $39.95 per day and offers unlimited Champagne, wine and beer with lunch and dinner only. The Wine by the Bottle package consists of seven bottles, each priced at $47.50 (gratuity included). Alternately, look for a sailing eligible for the OLife promotion and opt for the free beverage package.
Choose Seabourn if you're a drinker.
If you enjoy fine wine and spirits as well as beer, go for a Seabourn voyage where there are open bars throughout the ship and a variety of wines are served at both lunch and dinner. You'll also like the bottle of Champagne that welcomes you to your suite at the beginning of the voyage, as well as the in-suite bar setup that's stocked to your personal preferences. Seabourn also gets high marks for the wines it selects for the complimentary pours, as well as the brands of spirits that are available for free.
Or you don't drink much but would like to sample lots of new-to-you beverages without spending a fortune.
What better opportunity to try new cocktails than on a cruise that includes them in the fare? If you only dabble at the bar back home but would like to spread your wings and find a new favorite drink, an all-inclusive cruise is the perfect solution. You can order all sorts of drinks off the menu and you won't feel badly if you take a sip or two before deciding the drink isn't one of your favorites. The bartenders aboard Seabourn ships are happy to listen to your likes and dislikes and recommend specific drinks to try -- sometimes even specially designing something just for you. All you need to do is ask. In addition, the open bar policy takes the social pressure away; moderate drinkers don't have to worry about who is buying rounds when socializing with heavier or more high-end drinkers. Plus, no one has to worry about signing bills or asking about prices for different liquors.
Neither Oceania nor Seabourn are a match made in heaven for families -- mainly because none of their ships offer dedicated kids clubs, supervised children's activities or babysitting.
Choose Oceania if you want to visit Alaska and have kids in tow.
While Oceania doesn't normally offer programming for children, it does in Alaska. Sail from May through September and your kids can take part in the line's Alaska Explorer Youth Program. Designed for kids ages 5 through 12, the program is supervised by experienced youth counselors that lead Alaska-inspired activities, games and special events.
Choose Seabourn if you're traveling with adult children or a multigenerational group.
Seabourn's ships are just about the perfect home base for multigenerational trips or when you're traveling with your adult children. Each vessel is intimate, carrying just 450 to 600 passengers, and the space-to-passenger ratio is one of the highest in the business. You never feel cramped on Seabourn ships. And there is so much for older families to enjoy, from the retractable aft marina where you can borrow personal watercraft like kayaks or paddleboards to Seabourn Square, where you can grab a cappuccino and pastry while planning the day ahead. There's also an incredible pool deck and hot tubs that can be found throughout the ship.
Seabourn Encore even boasts a VIP-only area on deck called The Retreat. Under a lovely canopy that provides shade, 30 individuals will find lounge chairs, sofas, tables and chairs arranged around the main hot tub with 15 private cabanas ringing the tranquil area. Each cabana has a flat-screen TV and a fridge stocked with beverages, and a Spa Treatment Cabana is located nearby for anyone that wishes an alfresco massage (for a fee). Cabanas cost $350 per couple per day. Booking spots at The Retreat can be a great way for adult families to really connect in a quiet sanctuary aboard the ship.