If anyone had told us that we would be returning to Dubai less than 6 months from our last embarkation from that port, I would have thought them crazy. But then we received a Seabourn brochure this winter that had an itinerary with ... Read More
If anyone had told us that we would be returning to Dubai less than 6 months from our last embarkation from that port, I would have thought them crazy. But then we received a Seabourn brochure this winter that had an itinerary with pricing that we could not pass up. This was the chance to try out a true “luxury” line. Even though we already had a deposit on a cruise for 2019 that would include the Suez Canal and bucket list destination Petra, travel on Seabourn’s Encore would be in a larger cabin with more amenities.
So, this April, we found ourselves back in the UAE. We took advantage of Seabourn’s air as the price, after applying their air credit, was better than what we could get on our own. We made our own hotel arrangements and stayed at the JW Marriott on Abu Baker Al Siddique Road, near the metro. This time we added an extra day for a visit to the Emirate of Sharjah and also made it to Burj Khalifa and the Jumeriah Mosque in Dubai before boarding Encore on April 22.
Check-in went quickly and we proceeded to lunch in the Colonnade as our cabin was not quite ready. Our first surprise was that the buffet was self serve – a definite change from any of the lines we had recently been on and the second was an oddly placed structural column in front of the hot food area. These were small matters that were soon forgotten as the announcement was made that the cabins were ready.
Our guarantee cabin was on Deck 7 which is the perfect deck for quick access to Seabourn Square, which is the hub of activity for the ship. We were immediately impressed with the granite bath with its double sink, tub and separate shower, comfort height toilet with soft close lid and ample storage. The makeup vanity in the hall is perfect for hair care. It was topped with a sprig of fresh orchid and the name card of our stewardess, Patience, who appeared shortly after we arrived to introduce herself and offer a selection of designer soaps. She did an excellent job keeping our suite spotless for 19 days.
There were so many great things about the cabin that it’s almost hard to remember all of them: plenty of storage space (including the walk in closet with double row for hanging and the chest of drawers), curtains that were functional and not just decorative so you could actually separate the sleeping and living areas, a full size couch, a glass table large enough to be set for proper en suite dining, the stocked bar. Ah, the bar. Seabourn totally won me over with the ice bucket kept inside the mini fridge so there are always plump ice cubes available. Two bottles of our preferred liquor were provided along with set-ups and once the beer preference was established, the fridge was always fully stocked. While there were no USB charging ports, there were plenty of 110/220 outlets for all of our needs. The spacious veranda was an enjoyable spot to indulge in caviar and shrimp cocktails brought by room service
The evening turn down service usually included a little surprise (NO towel animals thank you) along with the next day’s Herald, Dining Guide and obligatory chocolates, although in Seabourn’s case they are designed in collaboration with Thomas Keller and Armando Manni! On different evenings there were eye shades, a Seabourn book mark, Holy items from Jerusalem and a cute paper boat with our ship id picture set on an opened page of the World Atlas provided to each stateroom. Seabourn delights with small details.
We felt the food was probably the best we’ve had at sea though there were a few disappointments with dishes not being hot enough or over done but usually things were easily corrected. We missed having a pasta station where the dish is cooked to specific requests but perhaps that would have been accommodated had we asked. The largest dining venue, the Restaurant is located mid ship and offers 4 or 5 different entrees daily in addition to the “always available” and includes vegetarian options for most courses. Dinner tends to be a drawn out affair but the time goes quickly when there is such good conversation. We accepted invitations to two hosted dinners and thoroughly enjoyed the evenings. The Grill by Thomas Keller is by reservation only and features several courses that are prepared or finished tableside. The Colonnade is popular for breakfast and lunch with several items cooked to order, though many items appear every day and there are not many desert options. Themed menus with table service are usually the norm for evening in the Colonnade. Dining on The Patio by the pool is available for lunch and dinner with a limited selection, with one evening being very good and another being less than marvelous. Sushi is a delightful small venue, both with the menu and service. Specialty coffees and small snacks are available from the baristas in Seabourn Square for a good number of hours and a proper tea is served at Tea Time in the Observation Bar. One of Seabourn’s specialties is the bread sticks and they make them by the thousands every day – so good! In case you don’t get enough to eat at a meal, there is freshly made gelato available on the patio or at Seabourn Square for much of the day.
There are not many loungers around the main pool but there are hot tubs and a small pool on the rear of Deck five and another hot tube on the front of Deck 7 that provide more space for sun lovers. The bar servers attended to these areas bringing ice water and special request drinks. There are also loungers on the front of Deck 12 with no shade but it offered an excellent vantage for viewing the Suez Canal. There are also stations set up with amenities such as sun tan lotion, eyeglass wipes and bug repellent (for the Suez transit)
Announcements are kept to a bare minimum so it’s helpful to keep the daily Herald handy to sort out the day's events. There were plenty of things to stay busy on our nine sea days including “Conversations” with four brilliant guest lecturers, dance lessons, two art classes per day, bridge lessons and much more. A galley tour was offered and was so popular that those on the waiting list were treated on the second tour with champagne and lead by Head Chef Giuseppe himself. If you are a fan of art auctions or bingo, Seabourn is not the line for you because you won’t find them on board. About one third of the guests were from the US, followed by Australians, Canadians and then a wide mix of travelers from Europe which made for fun teams for daily trivia. We went to slightly less than half of the evening shows which were all quite good and the Seabourn singers and dancers were excellent.
Our ports included Sir Bani Yas (Abu Dhabi), Doha, Muscat, Salalah, Aqaba, Ashdod, Haifa, Santorini, and disembarked in Piraeus. We booked the Desert Island Game Drive on Sir Bani Yas through Seabourn as it is a private island with not many options. The drive is not terribly exciting except for seeing hundreds of Arabian Oryx which have been brought back from near extinction thanks to the Oryx Conservation Group. This island was also the site of Seabourn’s signature caviar in the surf and fabulous barbeque with all of the supplies being brought from the ship.
Our Roll Call was very quiet compared to other lines but we were we were able to form private tours for Oman and Israel. We used private vans hired by Seabourn for Jerusalem and Galilee for customized tours that included Bethlehem in Palestine which was a sobering experience. We were comfortable doing Doha on our own and took cabs to the souk and the Museum of Islamic Art. We booked a private guide for just the two of us in Aqaba so we could make the most of our time visiting Petra and Wadi Rum. We had the thrill of being picked up by private yacht at the tender point in Thira and spent 5 hours cruising the caldera and enjoyed lunch overlooking Thirassia. After a silent disembarkation, our seamless transfer in Piraeus was handled by Seabourn with plenty of time to make our 1:30 flight to Newark via Zurich.
We appreciated the attention to detail and concern for passenger comfort from the entire crew starting with Captain David Bathgate and his senior staff, cruise director Ross Roberts and assistant director Ashley Edwards, Guest Relations staff (who have the patience of saints) the hospitality team, stewardesses, seamen. The Captain was very friendly and visible, starting from when we first met him on a tender, to participating with trivia questions and judging the boat building contest. He was even present to wish us farewell on our last trip down the gangway, along with Ross, Ashley and the staff from Sushi. Ross is arguably the best cruise director we’ve had the pleasure to sail with and added much to making this a memorable journey.
We really enjoyed our fellow passengers, the crew and not have to think about whether or not anything we wanted was “extra” as virtually everything is included in the fare. Hopefully there will be another Seabourn cruise in our near future. Read Less