4 Athens (Piraeus) to Middle East Seabourn Encore Cruise Reviews

Having recently returned from our second Seabourn cruise, we debarked the ship after 19 days wanting to stay on board. Alas, "duty calls", including back to work. Now, after settling in at home, herewith, in no particular, order, ... Read More
Having recently returned from our second Seabourn cruise, we debarked the ship after 19 days wanting to stay on board. Alas, "duty calls", including back to work. Now, after settling in at home, herewith, in no particular, order, are my impressions of our trip. Last year (December 2017) we tried Seabourn for the very first time, on the Odyssey for a Caribbean cruise. Interested readers can find my review for that trip. Suffice to say, we were by no means overwhelmed by Seabourn on that trip. Yet this most recent cruise met and in many ways exceeded our expectations. As a result, we indeed look forward to returning to Seabourn in the future. We sailed October 20, 2018 from Athens to Dubai, including a day on the Suez canal. When we booked this trip way back earlier this year, we knew that we were most interested in Greece before-hand, and Israel as ports of call. For the rest of the trip, for the most part for us "the ship was the destination", with the goal to relax, enjoy excellent food and service on a fine floating resort, and recharge. In that way, the Encore did not disappoint. A few comments first on Athens and the Ports: we very much enjoyed our three days prior to the cruise exploring Athens. People were friendly, the food was very good, and the museums and tours we did fascinating (Acropolis, Parthenon, etc.). Athens is a great place to begin a cruise! We did get off the ship in Israel. The first port of Haifa was a long port day, thankfully, so we used that day to go to Jerusalem, with a private car and guide our travel agent arranged. The next day (Ashdod) we were supposed to be in port until 3PM, with a back-on-board time of 2:30. Yet that changed to back-on-board of 1:30 due to a directive from the Suez authorities. That in our view made things very tight, so we remained on board and treated this as a sea day. Hopefully Seabourn can in future confirm a longer stay there, as there is much to see in a less rushed fashion. Unlike many, we did not venture to Petra. Due to arthritis issues, I did not want to try it. We were not alone as I was told those remaining on board numbered 150 people. Thankfully, Seabourn continues to make all facilities available, including not closing the dining room for lunch on port days. Those who went to Petra with whom we spoke told us they enjoyed it very much so, if you can do it, by all means, go for it! Yet they also confirmed that it was a lot of difficult walking on a hot day. We did get off in Oman (Muskat) and took the "hop-on/off" bus...ok, "been there, done that, got the t-shirt". We thereafter remained on board other than for the beach party at Sir Bany Yas island in the UAE. That was our last stop before disembarkation, and it was a lovely day ashore. A BBQ lunch served in a beautiful setting, after the famous "caviar in the surf". Ah, bliss! Our shipboard experiences: We had a regular verandah cabin on deck 8. Before sailing upgrades were offered to the PH category yet,for us, these were too expensive. While the regular verandah cabins on the Encore are a touch narrower than are the regular verandahs on the Odyssey, we still found the space to be quite adequate. Keep in mind that we are used to the larger "Neptune Suites" on Holland America ships. So, if we can be content for 19 days in a regular verandah cabin on the Encore, I suspect that most people can. Part of the reason for our satisfaction is in how well, ergonomically, the suites are laid out. There is little wasted space. A few things we did not realize until near the end of our trip: the main dining or multi-purpose table in the suite moves! It can be pulled out from the wall for much easier access (unlike, if I recall correctly, on the Odyssey sized ships where it is fixed in place). It is not obvious, or at least was not to us (and, we know, a few others too), that the table can be moved. The chairs are otherwise a tad tight in the space. Yet they are comfortable. The sofa and bed were also quite comfortable, as was the verandah. Our cabin was quite far forward, yet even when there was some "motion of the ocean", we just took the pills freely available at Seabourn Square (ask the guest relations staff) and were fine. On arrival on day one, our in-room preferences were not all present, but were quickly arranged by the stewardess. Unfortunately, our stewardess was otherwise not as capable as the one we had last year. At the evening turn-down, towels were several times forgotten, leading me to call for these to be delivered when we returned from the show, and her cleaning was slap-dash in some respects. I addressed this in my survey. Yet this was really only the one area where we had a few issues. Hardly a deal-breaker! We found the ship itself to be beautiful. It has an elegant look and feel. Even on the many sea days that we had, I did not find difficulty in getting space at one of the pools. My preference was the small plunge pool on deck 5, which offers many shady spots. Alas, as the sun moved, so must those seeking shade, but so be it. The one problematic issue with that area is that smoking is allowed on one side of deck 5--unfortunately, the smoke from those indulging did not know enough to stay on its own side, so would waft across, making it less than pleasant (there was a lady who almost chain-smoked in the afternoons). While I acknowledge that there must be one spot for smokers to indulge (or else folks will likely break the rules and light up anywhere), it should be limited to the upper deck sky bar, in my opinion, not by either pool. Bar service at the pool was excellent--staff were regularly swinging by with trays of "pool drinks" (Pina coladas, etc). Yet one could order anything one wanted and it would be promptly delivered, with a smile. Indeed, bar service generally was very good indeed. In the evenings, my "Rob Roy" was made as I liked it, with the Scotch I prefer (or I could try it with a single malt, etc.). My wife also got her cocktail as she preferred. We particularly enjoyed hanging out in the Thomas Keller ("TK") bar, enjoying the stylings of the pianist while having a pre-dinner cocktail. It was a very pleasant venue, not found on the smaller ships, and a nice addition to this class of ships. We found the dining experiences to be varied and well done for the most part. Were there a few glitches? Of course, as after all, in 19 days things can go a little wrong once in a while. Yet overall, it was excellent and, when there was an issue, it was quickly addressed and rectified. One advantage to having a drink in the TK bar was that, as late diners (usually after 8PM) when venturing into the bar around 7:30, we would ask the hostess to let us know if there was pending availability for a table for two. Often, there was. So, in addition to our one reservation at TK, we in total dined there five times, working our way through the menu. Overall, we found TK to be a nice venue for dinner--the food was well prepared and elegantly served in nice surroundings. It made a change for dinner. Yet we also enjoyed the dining room. With the larger atrium, it has a more airy and open feel than on the smaller ships. We enjoyed one theme dinner at the Colonnade (TK rib night, naturally!) and also dined there the first night for the lovely roast beef. We often had lunch in the dining room--a nice and quiet venue, although we tried the buffet at the Colonnade a few times too. Breakfast was via room service (for the most part prompt and well done) or a light snack at Seabourn Square. The caviar was often a tasty treat while getting ready for dinner. The best coffee was found at the Square! Other drinks such as brewed ice tea (meaning, not from a mix) were also available. Service overall was warm and welcoming. While we never met the hotel director, clearly, he runs a tight operation. We enjoyed meeting Jovan, the F & B director, and a few other managers. Everyone, from officers to servers at the pool bar, were always smiling and willing to do whatever they could to enhance your holiday. It was very cosseting and made returning to reality (starting with the airport!) that much harder! Entertainment was well done. The cast of singers were truly talented. In addition to the usual evening shows after dinner, two 6PM performances during the cruise were offered. One featured opera singing by the singers. The Seabourn band was also very good in the Grand Salon. Pianist John in the TK bar was excellent, as were the duo in the Observation bar. We found the "techno-pop" music in the Club to be far too loud, making conversation impossible. The young foursome were not bad per se, just too loud for us. So we did not hang out there. Guest entertainers were also for the most part quite talented. The Barricade Boys in particular were great. Also great was the Cruise Director Chelsea, and her assistant Henri. Both had a very engaging way with their passengers, making us all feel special. Some of the "conversations", referring to the guest lecturers, were better than others. Some were not to my taste--reminiscent of the university undergrad lectures which I often slept through. After doing that again once or twice, I decided to "cut class" and head directly to the pool. Yet others seemed to enjoy some of the lectures. A word on embarkation, which was a sore point last year for us. This time on the Encore it was truly "easy-peasy". We left our hotel in Athens at noon and were having lunch at the Colonnade by 1:20 PM. The rooms were announced as ready shortly before 2PM. Luggage arrived promptly. In other words, this was as it should be, and virtually stress-free. It was the sign of a well-run operation, so kudos to them! Disembarkation, on the other hand, was less stellar. Our stewardess banged on our door precisely at 8AM, when we were making our final checks in drawers, etc., to ensure that nothing was left behind. She had other rooms to clean and, if we were not gone by say, 8:15, then a gentle knock would be appropriate to check up on us. Yet we found her brusque approach disconcerting, to say the least. We also hope that Seabourn could emulate other lines (such as its sister company Holland America) which allow a later departure from the rooms. As the rooms are not available for new guests until 2PM, a 9 AM cut off to exit the suites for debarking guests instead of 8AM ought to allow enough time (a five hour window) to prepare the rooms, I would think. In any case, our plan was to leave our room at 8AM, and go to the dining room for a last breakfast, which we did. Fortified by a hearty breakfast, well served by the usual team, we easily left the ship (a very short and orderly exit line), claimed our bags, and found the Seabourn-arranged driver who was waiting for us with my last name on a card (very reassuring). Our post-cruise stay, also booked via Seabourn, was fine too. I will review the hotels we enjoyed in Athens and Dubai on the sister web-site, TripAdvisor, in due course. All in all, this was a great cruise, on a lovely ship, with a great crew. Fellow passengers were also most pleasant, and we enjoyed meeting a number of nice people. Hopefully next year, we can do it again on Seabourn. Read Less
Sail Date October 2018
This was our first Seabourn Cruise, and what better way to begin than on Seabourns newest ship, Encore. We held high expectations, and we were not disappointed, We arrived in Athens a few days beforehand, and stayed at the Grande ... Read More
This was our first Seabourn Cruise, and what better way to begin than on Seabourns newest ship, Encore. We held high expectations, and we were not disappointed, We arrived in Athens a few days beforehand, and stayed at the Grande Bretagne, as did a number of other Encore guests, who had booked through Seabourn The embarkation was smooth, we were quickly welcomed on board, by Handre the Cruise Director and other crew. Guests were invited to lunch in the Colonade Restaurant, and soon enough our suites were ready. Our suite, 908, was far enough away from the elevators, but close enough to the pool area. It was of a generous size and tastefully decorated. The bathroom was well appointed with twin basins and a large bath, which we never used. The room lighting was initially confusing and power points were few. For a brand new ship, it lacked the technology we would of expected ( ie: USB ports). The towels were thick and fluffy, and obviously brand new, as were the sheets and other items in the room. The balcony was roomy and comfortable. The closet lighting was inadequate and there was not enough hanging space, and we could not have used it as a dressing room., We met our stewardess, and in conversation we asked about clothes pressing. She told us as there was no self service laundry on the ship, pressing was complimentary, however after we were billed, we had serveral conversations with the front desk before they agreed to remove it from our account. We were told that a laundry was going to be installed on deck 5, probably before the Singapore sail We dined that night at Sushi and thoroughly enjoyed the food, albeit a limited menu. Staff were very welcoming, enjoyed the sake was excellent. We dined at the Thomas Keller Grill the next night and found it a great dining pleasure, and dined there several more times. The Elysian Lamb was excellent, and we enjoyed everything that we ordered on each visit, however during the cruise many guests complained about Grill, mainly, we believe, because they were not willing to be flexible with simple requests. The main restaurant the staff were very pleasant and put in great effort. The food was always presented well and tasted delicious, howvever the food was very mildly spiced so as to appeal to a majority of palates. You cant please everyone! Many guests preferred to dine as a table of 2 or 4, and we felt comfortable with this rather than at larger tables. Breakfast was always at the Collonade Restaurant. I learnt after 2 days to skip a caffe latte, and order tea instead, as it the coffee always took far too long to arrive. As with other ships and hotels, having to make your own toast is an issue, but the staff were always happy to do it for you avoiding any hassle. The staff were always very pleasant and helpful, and the lunch buffet was always popular and of quality ingredients. We also lunched in the Main dining room, and it was much quieter and enjoyable. As Seabourn has a all inclusive policy, the quality of wine and spirits was excellent and any discerning palate would agree. The policy of asking for a special meal to be prepared the next night if the ingredients were available is a good option and we did have Thai food prepared one night which we shared with onboard friends. Most nights began at the Observation bar, and we enjoyed the music of Darlene and Raleigh, a very pleasant and talented couple.Other performers were pleasant, and always made an effort to interact with guests in their free time. We took Seabourn shore excursions in Crete, Israel and Petra. On the way back from Petra we were treated halfway through the journey to champagne and caviar, a Seabourn experience, and to top it all off we were welcomed back aboard the ship by all the crew who lined a red carpet. We felt like A list celebrities as we reboarded the ship. Also, whenever we took a Seabourn excursion, the coaches were full sized coaches but only two thirds occupied for each persons comfort, a great policy. Handre, the Cruise Director, and his assistant Jacqueline always had a smile on their faces and we enjoyed their company. We enjoyed playing Trivia on sea days, and unlike other cruises, we had to retain our original team for the entire cruise. We were also invited to dine with the Captain at his table one night. It felt very special to get the invitation. The Encore has a 'retreat' with 16 private cabanas, and is charged at $350US per day. One couple extolled the virtues of the retreat, to the extent that we felt they were on commission, but we could not see the value or the need. We found that afternoons on sea days lacked much in the way of activities, so many people just lounged by the pool, while others took the opportunity to play bridge Many guests are regular Seabourn cruisers and are fiercely loyal, more so than for other cruise lines. Some guests did not like the size of the new ship or amount of guests onboard. They will know which ships to cruise on in the future. Again some guests need to be more flexible. The front desk is a ridiculous set up with several entrances thereby no one knows who will be served next. The whole cruise was a delight. There were a few kinks, but overall a great introduction to Seabourn, We wonder how different Seabourn Ovation sister ship will be when it is launched soon. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
The Seabourn Encore is a gorgeous ship inside (except the Club - more on that later); and will certainly be the new star of the fleet when she is up to scratch, fully-stocked and staff trained. BUT based on our recent experience aboard her ... Read More
The Seabourn Encore is a gorgeous ship inside (except the Club - more on that later); and will certainly be the new star of the fleet when she is up to scratch, fully-stocked and staff trained. BUT based on our recent experience aboard her first voyage, there are a few wrinkles to be worked out. The designer while talented with colour, texture and pattern, apparently wasn't an overly-practical man, nor did he consult with experienced crew when designing their workspaces, so expect to witness awkward encounters as barmen stumble around one another in their Goldfish Bowl bar in Observation (a stunning space otherwise); and other "traffic flow" issues. Don't expect full-length hanging spaces or mirrors in your suite, either. The lighting system in the suites is bewildering and unlabelled. The only way to hear midday announcements is to open your cabin door and stand in the hallway (really!). Electrical plugs are sometimes in very odd places or missing from logical places (our suite 800 didn't have one by the desk). The small pool area was crowded on our half-full voyage...cannot imagine what it will be like on a full voyage. The public spaces are all stunning and an improvement on the other ships, except Seabourn Square and the Club. The Square has now been made very open, which means any private conversation with the desk staff (say about money) will be overheard by everyone passing by; and the new design means that it is impossible to see who is free to serve you, so it's a total free-for-all to get help. That's a real problem on busy days. The Club has now been com-mingled with the Casino, so is no longer an intimate space, but is affected by the flashing lights of the slots. On the plus side, food is excellent (menus are repetitive, however, which may have been due to the inadequate stocks on our trip) and the best crew are really good. Thomas Keller is a bit overrated in our view (very limited menu and very salty food), but Sushi is amazing! The gym is terrific. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
Being past Seabourn clients, we wanted to test drive this new ship and with a great price on offer for the first leg of its inaugural run, couldn't resist signing up even though the itinerary was not super enticing. Took the Flight ... Read More
Being past Seabourn clients, we wanted to test drive this new ship and with a great price on offer for the first leg of its inaugural run, couldn't resist signing up even though the itinerary was not super enticing. Took the Flight Ease program as well for convenience as finding our own flights out of Dubai was a bit of a challenge - and we were well rewarded for it. The very competitive price included an overnight at Athens at the Grande Bretagne and overnight in Dubai at the Intercontinental Festival City. The ship was beautiful, without a doubt. Wide corridors, standard veranda suites were spacious compared to the older ones in this fleet. Public areas also well designed. Usual layout for Seabourn Square with the Baristas working away from 5:30am to late in the evening offering all kinds of coffees including alcoholic ones! Dining room very attractively done although the much flaunted chandeliers were probably lost on us. Thomas Keller had its own restaurant on deck 8 rear and often even outside the Thomas Keller restaurant, there were theme nights in the Colonnade that featured Keller ideas and in the Restaurant, there were samples of his dishes. The Colonnade was well done and more attractively designed than in the other Odyssey type ships. There was even a Sushi restaurant offering very good fare accompanied by hot or cold sake. The Club on deck 5 seems smaller but each night, the energetic quartet played songs from the era of the majority of the passengers. The shows were quite good, comparable to other smaller ships in terms of variety and quality. One Beatles era show drew many in the audience to get up and dance and was probably the best received of all the presentations. The last night in Muscat was one where we were treated to a typical Seabourn affair : meet the crew and poolside dancing with very nice appetizers pre dinner. Service was up to its impeccable Seabourn standards. They no longer nauseate you with repeatedly calling you by your name within 1 day of boarding but there is no doubt that the wait staff is expected to know who you are within a short time of embarcation. The cruise director Handre was a veteran at his job and was the consummate cruise director: professional, affable, humorous but not obtrusive in any way. His assistant, Jacqueline was almost as good and was obviously his protegee. After an expectedly popular shore excursion at Petra, in typical Seabourn fashion, some 200 staff lined up to greet the returning guests as they got off the buses by the gangway, accompanied by music and cheering even though it took place late afternoon in the brisk wind. You can't forget things like that. Having said all these good things, I have to mention the bad. 1) There were no guest laundry on board! none were planned for. The majority of the passengers just shook their heads in astonishment. When you are on board for 16 or more days, on a cruise line that like the rest of the industry always provided laundries for their guests, it was an eye opener. Oh sure, you can send out your laundry at $50 a bag..... 2)The Sushi restaurant, although open for lunch, did not serve sushi except at dinner ! You can only have Bento boxes......They never ever made that known on the daily dining venue list. Incomprehensible. 3) Underneath the outdoor dining of the Colonnade (which was located on 9), there was a similar al fresco dining area also belonging to the Colonnade. This was barely used as few knew of it and fewer wanted to walk up to 9 to get their food from the buffet. The concept was puzzling. Furthermore, the outside area was 90% covered, so that sun lovers that choose to dine alfresco has to contend with shade. 4) Our suite had double sinks that would not drain properly, and it took 2 days before they were adjusted to useable conditions. Also a non-functioning bedside light took 3 days to be remedied. The day after it was repaired, we had a knock on the door in the afternoon and there were two engineers who came to fix the already fixed light.??? 5)The eating area (The Patio) on the pool deck was placed on the aft end of the pool deck and so when the ship was sailing, any breeze was magnified at that end of the deck. If the tables and the serving area had been located on the bow end of the pool deck, we would have had more meals there. We had the most delicious steak and Nigerian prawn dinner there one evening. All the more ironic since the previous night, we ate at Thomas Keller and had a tough and less than mediocre rib eye steak. 6)The Thomas Keller restaurant was a tremendous disappointment to us. We were not alone in that opinion. One is greeted with a dose of pompous air when arriving for dinner. The menu is not extraordinarily varied. The wait person immediately pointed out the wine list (not mentioning that one could have the many complementary wines that are available on board) encouraging extra charges in the name of "Thomas Keller thinks that these wines pair better with his dishes". We ate there twice and there were less airs the second night but we remained unimpressed with the whole thing. I would never eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant again. 7) The very last comment refers to The Retreat. On deck 11, where there used to be an open area with golf putting and loungers has all been enclosed by a series of cabanas with a private hot tub. The passengers had the choice of paying a significant premium to be pampered for half or a full day. That became an immense white elephant. I don't think it ever paid for its overhead during our time on board. Just think about it, if all your drinks are free and you have several hot tubs elsewhere to use as well as a spa that offers a variety of treatments already, Which business school to you have to go to in order to realize that it makes no sense to build this area? Several passengers in private conversations suggested that they should convert the cabanas to laundries for the guests. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
Seabourn Encore Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 5.0 4.5
Dining 5.0 3.9
Entertainment 4.0 3.8
Public Rooms 5.0 4.4
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.8
Family 2.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.4
Enrichment 5.0 3.6
Service 5.0 3.9
Value For Money 5.0 3.5

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