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.
Too short a stay.
Lovely place for the beach party, albeit a bit rocky! Wear water-shoes.