Seabourn Quest Cruise Review by cruiseej
- Sail Date: June 2015
- Destination: Norwegian Fjords
- Cabin Type: Veranda Suite
For a point of reference, we've traveled on Regent for half a dozen cruises previously, and in the review I'll touch on a few points of comparison with Regent for others who might be considering either of these lines. We've always enjoyed Regent for the same reasons so many Seabourn cruisers love this line: the size of the ship, the quality of service, the quality of food and drink. It's been a few years since our last Regent cruise, but my feeling on our last Regent cruise was that the quality of food and service on Regent had slipped a little since our earliest experiences (back when it was Radisson). So we were eager to see how we liked Seabourn, and whether the nearly-uniform positive comments on the Cruise Critic Seabourn forum could measure up.
The answer: We enjoyed almost everything about Seabourn and the Quest. We thought the food was excellent throughout. The staff was exceptional: friendly, getting to know our names (even when we never identified ourselves) and our preferences. The ship seemed in perfect condition. We found the Quest very much on a par with the Regent Voyager and Mariner; we felt "at home" almost immediately, despite never having been on a Seabourn ship before. Of course, the Seabourn ships are smaller -- 450 passengers versus 700 on the Regent ships -- but the overall feel is the same. (That's a credit to Regent, that 50% more passengers doesn't feel more crowded.) The larger Regent ships definitely have a nicer theater, and they have a grand atrium that the Seabourn Quest lacks -- but those differences were pretty inconsequential in terms of enjoyment of the ship. (The pillars in the Quest's theater are a minor annoyance.)
Seabourn Square -- the area with customer service and excursions staff, as well as the espresso bar, library, and many seating areas -- beats the Coffee Conection on the Regent ships. Overall, we found the Quest very comparable in most respects with what we have experienced on the Regent ships. The staterooms were very comparable to the Regent ships. I appreciated the larger-than-average safe in the closet on the Quest; the Regent Voyager has a slightly larger walk-in closet, but we found the Quest closet big enough to meet our needs (and we had a LOT of clothing since we were traveling to the Arctic). I liked the the sizable bathroom on the Quest, but wished I could trade the space of the tub -- which we don't use -- for a larger-than-tiny shower; the shower was adequate, but small.
We ate lunch most days in the Colonnade or Patio Grill, and dinner most nights in the Restaurant, and found the food quite uniformly good -- very good to outstanding at every meal, with no clunkers. Some of the daily fresh fish lunch specials at the Patio Grill were every bit as excellent as main courses at dinner in The Restaurant.
Restaurant 2, the high-end alternative restaurant, is a nice, intimate, alternative to the main dining room, but it does have a somewhat quirky concept of multiple small portions paired for each course. I had read that many Seabourn regulars aren't keen about Restaurant 2 for this reason, and seeing the menus, I now understand. It's worth going to Seabourn Square on the first day of a cruise to get a list of the different Restaurant 2 menus offered on your cruise -- they have 5 or 6 that rotate, usually a two-day intervals. Some were rather unappealing to us. If you see a "Signatures" day listed, that's their "best of the best" menu (although it's not detailed on the printed menu), and we ended up choosing one of those nights to dine at Restaurant 2 -- and thoroughly enjoyed it. This may all be moot by next year, when Seabourn's announced partnership with chef Thomas Keller is anticipated to bring about a change to the Restaurant 2 menus. It's certainly worth trying on at least one night if you're new to Seabourn, and try to reserve for a day with the Signatures menu unless one of the other ones really appeals to you.
We got to experience a "galley lunch" near the end of our cruise, and that was fantastic. The food staff turns the main dining room PLUS the entire galley into an amazingly beautiful and bountiful buffet with virtually everything in the ship's repertoire out for dining. I know some people don't like buffet dining, but this is an EXPERIENCE not to be missed. They don't do this every cruise -- I think only on 10+ day cruises with a sea day towards the end of the cruise -- but if you're on a Seabourn cruise that offers a galley lunch, don't miss it!
Another Seabourn specialty is "Shopping with the Chef", where a small group of passengers goes with the Executive Chef to a food market in a port to obtain some local specialities. Since only about 16 people can get on one of these outings, it's popular and hard to get on. In our case, they apparently filled the quota with Seabourn regulars and never advertised it in the daily program (that was one of the only slips in service we experienced from Seabourn on this cruise), but because we had attended a cooking demonstration with the chef earlier in the cruise, we knew it was coming when we were in Bergen. We had gone off the ship on our own and were wandering in the city's fish market when we saw Executive Chef Jes, in his full chef's whites, and several crew members and fellow passengers come up along side us -- so we tagged along (trying to stay unobtrusively in the back to not interfere with the passengers that we officially part of the experience). Jess smiled at us and allowed us to follow them into several stores, as he picked out local seafood to buy, and got the merchants to offer free tastes to us Seabourners. If you're on a Seabourn cruise and get an opportunity to go Shopping With the Chef, do it. (And if your Executive Chef is Jes, he is truly a rock star and a blast to be around!)
I had been prepared to be a little disappointed with the included wines based on reading comments on the Cruise Critic Seabourn forum in the months leading up to our cruise months, but we found we could easily find both white and red wines we quite enjoyed. If I didn't particularly enjoy the wine they were pouring at lunch or dinner, I just asked for an alternate wine and they always obliged. Once I knew certain wines I particularly liked, I could mention them by name and they would fetch them. (This is typical of Seabourn service. One day we were eating lunch at the Patio Grill and a couple next to us was asking about British porter beers other than the Guiness they have at all the ship's bars; after saying they don't stock other porters, the waiter went off for awhile and returned with two bottles from a different bar somewhere on the ship, and told them of some other beer they could get them the next day. The couple asked if they could get a few bottles for their room -- and the reply was "of course!" Impressive.)
We enjoyed having an Expeditions staff aboard, as they did a number of interesting lectures, and we went on one of their new "Ventures" expeditions by zodiac, which was a blast. (An expensive blast! But it proved worthwhile. More on that below.) They also pretty much sold us on an Antartica trip in our future!
We enjoyed the shows by the Seabourn singers; apparently they're new shows and a new formula -- six singers, lots of tight harmonies -- instead of a mix of singer and dancers. Good choice to trade dancers for more/better singers, in my opinion. We also enjoyed talking with the singers and a member of the band in The Club after the shows at night. The guest entertainers on other nights were a mixed bag; one comedian we liked a lot, one singer/comedienne not so much. Most of the ship's passengers called it a night after the shows (or before!); we usually retired to The Club for a nightcap, and we were two of only about 20 people there. We're perhaps a little younger than the average Seaboard passengers, and we were in "the land of the midnight sun", so we enjoyed staying until the end around midnight or 12:30 most nights. Because the sun set late, or for several days not at all, the views were frequently great even at midnight. I often popped out the door of the Club to the aft deck for picture-taking. Meanwhile, the bar staff in the Club had few people to serve, so our glasses never emptied until we begged them to stop. And because we were "regulars", by about the third day, they knew what we were drinking after dinner, and our drinks were often at our table literally within seconds of us sitting down. Talk about being spoiled!
Passengers on our Norway cruise were about half American, one-quarter Australian, and one-quarter mixed among 20 other nationalities. We met some nice folks -- and none who were annoying or unhappy.
In the end, we felt this was probably a half-notch better than our most recent Regent cruises -- not by much, but in some small ways (uniformly good food quality and friendliness of staff, especially), and at this point, I think I'd look to Seabourn first when we're ready for our next cruise.
That's my wrap up on Seabourn and the Quest, but for anyone considering a Norwegian fjords cruise, I'll conclude this review with a description of what we did in the various ports.
By far my favorite port day was our day in the small town of SVOLVAER. The town itself is nothing exceptional, but if you are game for it, and you have favorable weather as we did, rent a car for the day in the Lofoten Islands. The scenery here was SPECTACULAR, among the best scenic driving we've experienced anywhere. It's like driving in the Rocky Mountains or Alps -- with ocean all around! And you won't believe the sand beaches and turquoise color of the water. Google "Lofoten Islands images" to get an idea how great it is. The ship offers a tour to the Viking museum, which covers the first part of the islands, but the scenery gets significantly better as you drive further south.
There are basically just two roads which run along the eastern and western sides of the first island, and then they merge together further south, so you really can't get lost. Depending how many stops you make along the way, you can hopefully get down to the little town of Reine (I can't paste a link here, but Google Reine to see how pretty it is), or 10 km further to the end of the road in the town of A (which we didn't make it to because I had to turn around and head back). Driving straight through, it's about 2 hours down to A and 2 hours back -- but if you stop to take pictures every mile or so, it's slower going! (Our car had a GPS in it, which made it foolproof, and it was good for helping me calculate when we had to turn around to get back to the ship in time; we had to head back after reaching Reine to not cut it too close.) There's not much traffic on the roads, so it's very easy driving. I reserved in advance from Hertz, but there was a local company with cars to rent at the dock if you want to leave it to chance when you arrive. The rental car cost about $125, so even with expensive gas, it cost less for four of us than an excursion from the ship for one of us. This was by far my favorite sightseeing day of the trip. I only wish the ship was in port a little longer on this day so we had more time to enjoy the scenery. Of course, everything is weather dependent -- we had great weather this day, and not-so-great weather on two of our other top sightseeing days. (If you do this, you can request box lunches by calling room service the day before. It's a simple sandwich, cookie and fruit, but it saved us the time of stopping somewhere for lunch.)
In OLDEN, we took the 8-hour "Geiranger and the Roof of Norway" excursion, and I highly recommend it. The day was broken up enough that it didn't feel like a typical 8-hour bus trip, which I know many of us aren't too keen on. The hour-long ferry ride through Geirangerfjord is spectacular, but we unfortunately had a very cloudy day and didn't quite get the stunning views I had hoped for. (I'm not sure why they couldn't improvise a bit instead of sending the bus up to the top Mount Dalsnibba when it was apparent to all that the top of the mountain was well into the clouds; we got there, turned around and came back down. I guess the is the nature of planned excursions.) But this trip was still worth it -- and if you're lucky enough to have good weather, it's a can't-miss excursion.
We didn't do an excursion in BERGEN. It's a very walkable city. We walked to see the fish market, and then took the funicular up to Mount Floien. If you feel like stretching your legs a bit, there's a nice park at the top of the funicular, where you can walk along smooth trails for a short or long hike. (There's a pretty little mountain lake less than a 10-minute walk from the funicular station.) Since it supposedly rains 310 days a year in Bergen, we were happy to have one of the rare days without any rain... and even sun at times.
In FLAM, we did the "Mountains and Valleys By Train" excursion. The Flamsbana train is definitely worth seeing -- although I felt it wasn't as special a train trip as several we've been on in the US (like the White Pass & Yukon in Alaska or the Durango & Silverton in Colorado). Maybe I'd feel differently if we had a bright sunny day here, but it was another cloudy one.
In ALESUND, we didn't do a ship's tour, and just walked around the pretty town. And climbed the 418 steps of Mount Aksla for a wonderful panoramic view of the town and surrounding islands on a beautiful, clear day.
We also walked in TROMSO -- across the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral (we took a city bus back because it was raining off-and-on). This was probably my least-favorite port call; not bad, but not special -- again, perhaps due to the weather.
In HONNINGSVAG, the main thing to do is to go to the North Cape (Nordkapp). It's a bit of a tourist trap, but how often will you get to the top of the world? My parents, who we traveled with, took the bus trip; my wife and I opted to take the "Ventures by Seabourn" zodiac trip. We had some trepidation about being out on the open sea early in the morning and being cold and wet, but it was really great even though we did have some occasional light rain. We saw an astounding number of birds. Most of our group did the hike up to the top of Nordkapp, but it was a strenuous hike up a narrow path with some slippery rocks. My wife started out hiking but was slipping on the rocks and decided to go back to the ship via the zodiacs. (I know the Expeditions crew learned a bit on our trip, since this was brand new for Seabourn, so I expect they'll do a few things differently with the landing spot and the description of the hike for future cruises.) I enjoyed the hike, but some passengers felt it was tougher than advertised. The good thing is that they were happy to take back anyone on the zodiacs who decided the hike was too strenuous; they staff took great care of everyone, and my wife had the sun come out and got some spectacular views from the water going back while the rest of us were huffing and puffing up the side of the mountain. We both ended up very glad we did this excursion instead of the basic bus trip to the visitor center. (Although it was gray and cloudy when we were at Nordkapp, in the evening when the ship left Honningsvag, the captain sailed out and around Nordkapp; the skies were clear and we got absolutely spectacular views, as the captain paused and did a 360 degree circle with the ship. They let us know this was unusual weather for the North Cape, but it was awesome to see it in the sun after being so cloudy earlier in the day.)
In STAVANGER, we did the Lysefjord Cruise to Pulpit Rock. Had this been a sunny day, it would have been truly spectacular. Unfortunately, this day was cloudy as well, so it dulled the beauty a bit. We briefly saw the top of Pulpit Rock at the base of the clouds. The boat for this trip is a very nice, smooth, modern catamaran, and it picks you up right next to where the ship is docked. This is also a very nice, walkable city; make sure you take a short walk from where the ship is docked to the old part of the city for a short walk along Ovrestrandgate to see some very pretty houses and gardens.
We were extremely happy with our Seabourn experience, with the Quest, and with the itinerary cruising the Norwegian fjords. I highly recommend it to anyone considering it.
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