I took the 10 day Gems of the Java Sea cruise on the Seabourn Encore on March 12, 2018 with a group of friends. We selected Seabourn as two of our group have cruised many times with Seabourn and raved about their service and quality. ... Read More
I took the 10 day Gems of the Java Sea cruise on the Seabourn Encore on March 12, 2018 with a group of friends. We selected Seabourn as two of our group have cruised many times with Seabourn and raved about their service and quality. Unfortunately, I had a very uneven experience with Seabourn both on the cruise, in the pre-cruise interaction with land based staff and the Seabourn website, and in the after cruise dealing with Guest Relations. Some things were really good as follows:
1. The boarding process was a breeze. There were lots of staff to handle the process and we were on board in minutes after arriving at the cruise port terminal. Our luggage was also delivered to our cabins very quickly. However this may have been due to the fact that we were very late boarders at around 4 pm in the afternoon after most guests have boarded already and we understand from staff that the turnaround for this cruise was particularly easy as a large number of passengers had chosen to do back to back cruises having done an 18 days cruise from Australia to Benoa, Bali and then continuing on with the 10 day cruise to Singapore.
2. The Cabins are very impressive. They look like luxury hotel rooms. Very bright, very modern, spacious, lots of storage cabinets everywhere, a bathroom with bathtub and shower (though the shower did have an awkward location in a corner of the bathroom that resulted in you exiting almost bumping into the toilet with not much room to manoeuvre) and double sink. There is a large walk in closet with mini safe, lots of hanging space and wood drawers and shelves, a large flat screen TV with lots of programming, a separate seating area with glass table and a good size verandah. The only complaint I have, besides the awkward shower location noted above, is that the light switches were a bit difficult to figure out but I had no more problems after asking the cabin steward (we were told to call them stewardesses) to show me how they worked.
3. We had some serious issues in the early part of the cruise and when it was finally reported to the Guest Relations Manager Tiaan Visser, he took extraordinary steps to make sure we had a great time the rest of the cruise including telling us to contact him for all further matters so that he could ensure proper communication and quality control, arranging to waive the charges on an additional private van excursion we requested, and sending some kind of notice to all staff that resulted suddenly in everyone in the restaurants and elsewhere knowing our names the next day and giving us extra attention to make sure we were well taken care of. He also sent each of us a personal letter apologizing for the shortcoming accompanied by a bag of gifts from Seabourn.
4. After a rough first night dinner in the main restaurant where service was chaotic and we seemed to be served by 4 or more different people who did not seem to have communicated with each other about what we ordered or wanted and a drinks server roughly telling one of my friends that it is the food waiter's job to get the hot water we requested but that she would go ask about it just this once, as if it was a special favour never to be repeated, we asked to be moved to another table and then had great service from Jose our waiter and Csaba his assistant for the rest of the cruise. Food quality was great except for a couple of cases of over-cooked fish (one was a swordfish filet that was really tough) in the lunch buffet restaurant and at the dinner restaurant. Soft fleshed fish seemed to do better on the cruise and meats were great. Particularly memorable were the Chefs dinner where the entire set menu impressed with its quality and the beef Wellington was asked to share as an extra main which made us very glad indeed we had asked to share a small slice each of the additional main. Jose and Csaba were particularly thoughtful when we asked to share things such as the beef Wellington by slicing up the meat into smaller slices and presenting each of us with a side dish with our share rather than forcing us to divide ourselves doubtless with less skill. Wines served each evening were good quality and liberally offered as well as pre-dinner cocktails and aperitifs (the special 30th anniversary drink with passion fruit flavour was a favourite, as was champagne before dinner). I must also mention the excellent service and always with a smile that we received from Ruslan in the buffet restaurant at breakfast and at lunch.
5. We tried the Japanese specialty restaurant for the bento box and ramen noodle lunches and they were great. We also had one dinner at the Thomas Keller Grill and it was truly a highlight dining experience on the cruise. Everything was very elegant and the food, spectacular.
6. The actual excursions we booked with Seabourn were very good quality. We loved the Pink Beach snorkel on Komodo Island and our private van tours of Candi Jabung at Probolinggo with Rudi, for shopping around town in Surabaya with Sherly, and to Borobudur from Semarang with Took were all very well arranged and our guides were all very good. I particularly loved Sherly in Surabaya because not only was her English very fluent but she was efficient and decisive and always pointed out to us better ways to do something or a better order of seeing things so as to be efficient and to avoid crowds.
7. The final night celebrations in the pool area was great. Not only were great finger food on offering at various stations in a special Epicurean event, but most of the crew came out on the upper deck above the pool to wish us well in a photo-friendly finish to the party. Well done and classy.
8. The entertainment and guest speakers were great. Dr. Lawrence Blair was fascinating as an authority on Bali and its culture. The 4 singers and 2 additional dancers put on three shows that were very high quality and impressive given the limited space and resource that a smaller ship such as the Encore has. The world champion harmonica player was a different kind of entertainment that was unexpectedly impressive with fireworks like technical dexterity display with a harmonica comparable to a top violinist.
9. I had a soft spot for the afternoon tea and was hooked from about mid cruise and went every afternoon I could. Food offerings were great and there were interesting organic tea offerings. I was also fond of the scone trolley wheeled about by Joao and enjoyed the warm raisin scones with clotted cream and jam.
What makes this review an average (at least for a premium cruise line) rather than excellent were the off-setting bads, which I thought were really bad but also the more frustrating because they were incomprehensible as follows:
1. Prior to the cruise, we pre-booked two private van excursions one for $745 total and one for $945 total and shore side Seabourn excursions agreed it could split the charges for each private van excursion into 5 and charge to the on-board account of each of the 5 travellers in our group so we can use up some on-board credits that we received with our booking. Imagine my shock when a few days into the cruise and before any of the private van excursion tickets were delivered to us, I found out that for the $745 van Seabourn had carefully split the total into five charges of $149 but charged all of them to my account but more astoundingly that for the $945 van Seabourn had made it into 5 charges of $945 which were all charged to my account and then refunded $945 to the on board account of each of my friends. I ended up being charged $5,470 instead of my share of $338 and my friends were very happy as they each received a credit of $945 without having paid anything! The most surprising thing was none of the shore excursions staff we dealt with on-board seemed to be shocked at this and simply weakly offered that it was head office and they could not do anything about it. I took up the matter with front desk reception and Angeliki quickly worked her magic and wiped out the 4 excess $945 charges from my account but said dividing the remaining $945 charge into 5 would need a bit more work. I asked to speak to a manager about my unhappy experience and she also suggested I speak with the Guest Relations Manager Tiaan Visser. Tiaan promptly met with me the next day for over half an hour as I recounted my troubles dealing with shore excursion and other matters and he then took the actions that I mentioned in "good" above that righted the course of our cruise experience.
2. Billing was not the only issue for shore excursions as we also had problems arranging a third private van tour as a result of a change of itinerary where we would have an extra day in Surabaya. Notwithstanding our speaking with the shore excursions head Murat who was also responsible for private van bookings and then my carefully writing him a note detailing what we wanted, another excursions staff then asked me to fill in a form with the same information when I was following up with her about the wrong billing so I felt I wasted time dealing with shore excursions because they did not coordinate internally at all. The third member of the excursion team met me to say he could explain the wrong billing but when I did stop talking and let him talk, he did not explain anything as to what happened and in fact was not even clear on the nature of the error. All this is most perplexing as I had previously given the excursion staff photocopies of the private van confirmations sent to me by shore based Seabourn staff that detailed the cost of each van and how the charges were to be split into 5 and billed to the individual traveller's on-board account.
3. Shore excursions was not the only accounting problem on board. A few days before the end of the cruise, I noticed I received a credit of about $90 which when I asked, was told was a refund of port taxes as Seabourn had cancelled the port call on Celukan Bawang. However, none of my 4 fellow travellers received the same credit. Two of them finally got the credit in their final invoice after they vigorously protested on the final evening and the other two never got the credit and are following up with Seabourn post cruise. It is a mystery to our group how we can all take the same cruise with the same cancelled port, and yet some will have a refund for port taxes and others will not.
4. When we boarded the cruise on Day 1, two of my friends received a notice in their cabin that the itinerary had been altered, the port call on Celukan Bawang had been cancelled, the port call on Probolinggo was moved up a day in order to avoid a Hindu religious quiet day which would have resulted in no tours to Mount Bromo being possible had the ship called on Probolinggo as originally scheduled, and an additional day added in Surabaya to take up the day for the cancelled port call on Celukan Bawang. The other two of my friends received the same notice in their mail slot on Day 2 and I did not receive the notice in my mail slot until Day 3. It goes without saying that a notice of change in itinerary delivered on the third day of a cruise is completely unacceptable and while Tiaan agreed with me, no explanation as to how this happened has been offered. As an additional issue, all of us thought the handling of the change of itinerary was suspect. The Hindu religious quiet day is a well known fact that any internet search would have easily revealed and in fact, we knew about it from our pre-cruise preparations searching on the internet. Therefore it seemed less than competent for Seabourn to arrange a cruise where they would call on a port on a day that they should reasonably have known would result in issues arranging excursions but more confusingly, Seabourn's inability to arrange excursions to Mount Bromo (the volcano which is the top attraction near Probolinggo) would have been known to Seabourn months or at least weeks before the cruise as they went about arranging the excursions so we are at a loss as to why Seabourn failed to notify all booked guests of the change to their itinerary before the cruise so that for example, any guest who made private arrangements for tours for Celukan Bawang can cancel before cancellation penalties were applicable and guests would have time to consider what else they might want to do in Surabaya given the cruise was adding an overnight in Surabaya. The change did not affect us too badly as we had only planned to go on the bird watching and snorkelling excursion at Celukan Bawang with Seabourn and we did have another snorkelling excursion already at Komodo Island but other guests who may have chosen not to snorkel at Komodo Island thinking there was another opportunity at Celukan Bawang might have been more affected (there were no other ports that offered snorkelling in this cruise).
5. I was also disappointed with post-cruise dealings with Seabourn. In addition to the on-line survey, I chose to e-mail Seabourn both to make sure staff like Tiaan Visser received full recognition for their excellent service and also to raise concerns and questions about some of the things that went wrong, if nothing else in order just to get an explanation and an understanding why. I was surprised that I received a reply from someone with the title of special advisor office of the president who then meticulously referred to each of the things I complimented or complained about, offered apologies of course, but then offered no explanations or comments about actions taken to ensure some of the mis-happenings I mentioned would not be repeated. In fact, I expressly followed up with a question about how the billing error came about on shore excursions where I ended up being billed $5,470 instead of $338 and my friends all received refunds of $945. The reply indicates accounting staff mistook the $945 as a per person charge instead of a per van charge but the night audit manager caught this but mysteriously decided to refund $945 to each of my 4 friends instead of making 4 refunds of $945 to me. The reply indicates they have no idea why he did that and gave no indication of what, if any, steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again. I also received no explanation or response to my question as to why Seabourn did not notify passengers of the change to itinerary when the decision was made months or weeks ahead of the cruise, instead of by notice given to the passengers after they had boarded the cruise.
6. Not having cruised with Seabourn before, I thought the ceilings on all decks were noticeably low. Several other passengers I spoke with had the same impression. I am not tall at about 5 ft 9 and could easily reach up and touch the ceiling in the buffet restaurant without fully extending my arm.
7. The Encore, with 600 passengers, is significantly larger than previous Seabourn ships which maxed out at 450 passengers. It was evident Seabourn was still figuring out how to handle a larger ship with more passengers. Tendering was an issue. Passengers were told to meet in the theatre to take tenders for their tours but there was no system of tracking who arrived first or not and instead, when it was time to board the tenders, the shore excursions staff in charge simply arbitrarily counted off people in one side of the room causing others on the other side of the room who had waited longer to complain. Also more confusingly, we had booked a private van excursion for Probolinggo and should be able to get off quickly since we were a complete group already but instead, when we were sent down to the gangway by the shore excursions staff, we and others were then held back on the stairs by the entertainment director who said he had been told to only allow those on large bus tours to board the tenders. This created an unsafe situation lining up on stairs and again frustration as it made no sense not to board the private van tour with the complete group which clearly did not need to wait to be filled, and instead board large bus passengers who may have to wait for more passengers anyway to fill a bus. Tender back was also a problem as our tour ended around 2 pm but it was about 2:40 pm before we were back on the board the ship as there was a long wait for a tender to finally arrive. This was perplexing as the tender ride was only 10 min so if two or three tenders were operating, there should not be more than a 10 min wait for a tender. Back on board, again the failure to plan for larger crowds showed as most tours were delayed due to the tender inefficiency and large groups of passengers arrived back on the ship after all lunch venues had closed for lunch except for the patio bar and there was insufficient seating in the patio to accommodate all. I ended up grabbing food and taking it back to my cabin rather than wait for room service, which was available but again might be impacted by the large crowd returning after lunch service had closed. We had problems even when the ship was docked and not anchored off shore as there are two stairways at the front and middle of the ship and once again the entertainment director, acting as traffic controller, chose to let only those from the middle elevators/stairs file out the gangway holding back those waiting in the foyer and up the stairs of the front stairwell until I finally had to shout to someone in the front to let him know that he was creating a dangerous pile up with people lining up on the stairs in the front stair foyer area. Again, on other larger and more experienced ships, there was always an alternation between letting passengers from the front and from the middle out the gangway, and some system would be in place to assign places in the tender according to arrival at the meeting place.
8. There were some curious lapses in service throughout the cruise. On a couple of days, the face towels place in my room had unsightly brown spots on them. On another day, there was a noticeable hole right in the middle of my napkin at afternoon tea service and on the third day of the cruise, when we asked for one of the special organic teas that was listed in the tea menu and in fact displayed in a sample vile in a box containing examples of each of the organic tea blends, we were told they were out of that tea. It surprised us that they would run out of a particular tea on only the third day of a 10 day cruise. In fact, they kept listing that tea on the tea menu throughout the cruise notwithstanding it not being available.
In summary, I found the cruise to have some really nice premium cruise qualities but then also some shocking and glaring lapses in service and response. While the Guest Relations Manager really made a difference for us after hearing our complaints, I do wonder though whether what we experienced for the rest of the cruise was the true Seabourn experience since he apparently tagged us for special notice such that I could then no longer tell what "normal" service would be like. (I knew he tagged us as I had never given my name or cabin number at the breakfast buffet each day but one day after meeting with Tiaan, the manager for the breakfast restaurant came by at breakfast, addressed me by name and asked if there was anything he could do). Read Less