Exactly one year since my cruise on one of the two larger ships in the Seabourn fleet. This time again the Mediterranean, with every suite taken. I expected a few signs of wear and tear, but the level of maintenance is outstanding. The only small indications I noticed, were that carpets, while not worn at all, are looking a bit dull in high use areas, and many edge areas of marble flooring have had to be repaired due to cracking. The ship remains beautiful inside and out, with our suite, and all public areas immaculate. All areas just pristine with cleanliness and understated luxury. The most stunning ship I have sailed on to date, and the most comfortable veranda suite.
I was interested to experience the onboard service, given many of the negative comments of past reviewers. I have to say that I think the customer service has improved. Without exception every crew member was polite and professional, and on top of that, the vast majority were engaging, friendly and went out of their way to satisfy every need. The breakfast service in the Colonnade, and dinner in the main dining room, has definitely improved, and the iPad technology works well. Not one late or mixed order. Food always arrived hot. Excellent.
My expectations are high given the fares guests pay, and the Seabourn claim, that their service is ultra luxury, note ULTRA luxury. Based on this, let me explain where I think things need to be improved.
Entertainment is predictable, and mixed. The singers do try hard, but I've seen it all before in one shape or form, and some shows, (such as the Tim Rice night) are still running one year on. The opera sail away from Corsica was a nice event, but some of the choices were challenging for the singers.
The Observation Bar was my favourite location last year for after dinner meet ups and drinks. What a disappointment this year. The pianist and singer were so weak (last years were outstanding), and the main bar tender, while very professional and charming, lacked the engagement and touch of service that this intimate bar needs. The whole area lacked a buzz and the intimacy we loved last year, and no connection was built with the guests. We felt extremely disappointed to the point, that on some evenings, we just didn't bother to go.
While the service was impeccable, food choice for dinner in the Colonnade and Patio was just too limited, and at night, unless some form of specialty menu with buffet element was happening, it was dull and uninviting. The Thomas Keller grill was again outstanding, but its a struggle to get in there more than once on a 10 day sailing, unless you want to eat very early.
The main dining room was consistently good, but on a ten day sailing, you want to have alternate options with good choice and atmosphere.
A couple of small things were disappointing. We were so delayed leaving Monte Carlo, due to late unloading of provisions, that we did so after dinner - hence no usual sail away, which is such a lovely start to the holiday and after all the anticipation. We missed the planned Gozo stop due to extended maintenance needed in Malta. Saabourn did give an ex gratia payment in all fairness, but it did not compensate for us. Why have the formal night on the second day, and then no more? Surely better, a little further in to the cruise.
So, in summary, the ship is stunning, the service is great, and without doubt, a cruise on Seabourn Encore will leave most, even those as demanding as us, delighted.
What I question is that, given the limited dining options, and lack of choice, plus the lack lustre entertainment, can Seabourn really claim ultra luxury, and real value for money? They have themselves to blame for setting that expectation.
I will probably sail with Seabourn again, but next time, after an absence of 5 years from Silversea, I want to try their newest ship, The Muse. I am also going to try Oceania, and as their ships and onboard experience starts a major refurbishment form December on. Other guests on board who have tried them were very complimentary, and that was before the planned changes. I am not a huge drinker, so for the different in fare from Seabourn, you can opt for a premium cabin, and a premium drinks package, and with gratuities paid extra. Most certainly worth careful consideration for future cruise planning.