Why Seabourn Odyssey's Maiden Voyage Didn't Sell Out

February 24, 2009
Remember way back in July 2007 when Seabourn charged $2,000 a person for guests to get on the wait list for Seabourn Odyssey's maiden voyage in June 2009? Well, now that debut sailing is four months away, and the cruise is not yet sold out.

That's right -- you can still book a cabin on the first luxury new-build to debut in six years, on the 14-night maiden voyage sailing from Venice to Istanbul from June 24 to July 8. Guests on this sailing all get to be godparents of the ship, with their names printed on a special plaque onboard, and can attend a sunset naming ceremony in Venice.

Company spokesperson Bruce Good tells us that there are about 20 suites left on the all-suite ship. Entry-level category A and A1 suites start at $11,019 and $12,004, respectively. Higher-category verandah suites (V4, V5 and V6) range in price from $16,621 to $17,825. One 1,097-square-ft. Wintergarden Suite is available for $34,473 and one Owner's Suite is also available for $27,086. These fares all include a 10 percent discount.

What's interesting is that the hotly anticipated 32,000-ton, 450-passenger ship offers everything Seabourn loyalists have always wanted -- real rather than French balconies on 90 percent of cabins, the largest spa on a luxury vessel, a water sports marina, multiple bars and restaurants, and some enormous top-of-the-line suites. In fact, at one point there was a wait list to get on the wait list for the maiden voyage.

So why didn't the maiden voyage sell out much earlier? Good tells us that Seabourn expected to have some suites left over despite the initial rush to get on the wait list, because not everyone who puts down a deposit is ultimately able to book. But when you take into account the number of discounts we've seen from Seabourn, and other luxury lines, there could be more to this story -- namely, that travelers are perhaps shying away from $11,000-and-up cabins.

Seabourn recently re-priced its entire Mediterranean and Northern Europe 2009 season at 60 to 65 percent off brochure rates, and its current fares are some of the lowest we've seen from the luxury line. But with maiden voyage rates starting at $787 a night (and even sale fares averaging $400 to $500 per night), the cachet of a rare debut sailing may not be strong enough to overcome financial concerns -- even for affluent cruisers and Seabourn loyalists.

Competitor Silversea is similarly encouraging travelers to book with lower rates, although its new-build, the 36,000-ton, 540-passenger Silver Spirit, doesn't debut until December 2009. That luxury line recently expanded its "Silver Sailing" discount program to encompass 75 voyages in 2009, with 39 of those voyages selling for 50 percent off brochure rates. The reduced prices are available on cruises around the world -- including in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and South America -- and many of these sailings are also eligible for Silversea's $1,000 onboard credit and free/reduced airfare offers.

These discounts -- and other unheard-of deals offered by luxury lines -- indicate just as surely as Seabourn Odyssey's empty cabins that some of the swankiest ships at sea aren't selling out as quickly as in years past. So if you've always wanted to try out five-star cruising (or dreamed of being a ship's godparent), now is the time to book.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor