Seabourn offers a variety of guided shore excursions, ranging from half-day to full-day; select itineraries also include Ventures by Seabourn tours for more adventurous types. (For Ovation's current schedule, these are only found in Norway.) All excursions cost extra and can be booked online before the cruise, onboard with the concierges in Seabourn Square or via the in-suite TV. Private cars and guides can also be arranged.
All full-day tours include lunch and water, while half-day tours usually include snacks and water. You'll find that there's generally minimal waiting time to disembark for tours and returning to the ship from tours. Hand-sanitizing towels and infused water are provided in a tent on the pier, to passengers returning from tours. Tour groups are generally limited to 20 or 25 people, and Seabourn purposefully does not fill buses. For example, if a tour has 60 passengers signed up, the destinations team will put them on three buses with three separate guides.
At some ports, where the ship is required to anchor versus dock, lifeboats are used as tender boats to take passengers to and from the ship and pier. Shuttle buses are brought in for ports located away from the nearest town; there is no charge for these.
A number of standard excursions include visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites -- developed through the line's partnership with UNESCO. Seabourn also offers the opportunity to go shopping with the chef in port, which involves visiting local markets to purchase ingredients for meals to be had onboard. This trip is complimentary but not bookable; instead, you have to keep an eye out for it in your daily cruise schedule.
The Ventures by Seabourn tours are more active, offering some type of outdoor activity by a team of onboard experts (such as historians, scientists and naturalists, who also give lectures onboard). Some tours incorporate the use of the Zodiacs and kayaks kept onboard. Others might include snorkeling (equipment is provided) and hiking, depending on the itinerary.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
On port days, daytime activities are kept to a minimum, but on sea days, Seabourn puts on an array of activities, though nothing like you'd find on bigger ships. Expect programming to include team trivia, bridge and dance classes, cocktail-making demonstrations, beanbag toss or shuffleboard competitions, and galley or bridge tours. LGBT and solo traveler get-togethers are arranged as well, plus enrichment lectures.
The Grand Salon (Deck 6) serves as the ship's main theater and concert venue and hosts the headliner evening attraction, typically with two shows per night. Musical entertainment from the ships' four singers and two dancers (including a tribute to Hollywood's movie musicals that's exclusive to Ovation) switches off with guest entertainers, such as a solo violinist or comedian. Occasionally, a deck party with live music takes the place of a sit-down show. These evening parties, as well as sail-away events, are certain fun with live music, bar staff concocting unusual cocktails, food stations or passed hors d'ouevres, and chatty passengers making the evening feel festive. (Seabourn is known for its Caviar in the Surf beach parties, but with itineraries like Ovation's, you're more likely to find the Champagne-and-caviar fest as a deck party onboard.)
Acclaimed musical lyricist Tim Rice teamed up with Seabourn to develop its marquee show: "An Evening with Tim Rice." The show offers a behind-the-scenes look at Rice's life and the inspiration behind his work. Cast members -- who have Broadway, West End or national/international touring credits -- put on live performances of songs from renowned musicals "Evita" and "The Lion King," among others.
It's the first cruise ship show we've seen that we enthusiastically watched twice in a row. If you've seen the show already on other ships, know that it was updated in 2018 for Ovation's launch with new tech effects and at least one song change. Also, because Tim Rice demands experienced, first-rate performers, the other production shows benefit from the high caliber cast.
On Deck 5, The Club is the ship's dance lounge, where a spacious bar and adjacent lounge chairs tend to draw crowds before and after dinner, when the live band plays. Next door, there's a small casino with a selection of roulette, blackjack and poker tables, as well as slot machines. Note: The casino is nonsmoking. The ship's most stunning entertainment venue, the Observation Bar, is another popular spot for after-dinner drinks; on our cruise, a talented duo played laid-back tunes every night.
Seabourn is known for its Conversations program and gets some decent guest speakers onboard, especially on sailings with more sea days. Port-intensive itineraries offer at least a destination lecturer to give you some insight into the countries you're visiting. You also will find seminars on topics such as mindful living and the usual array of talks from the Steiner-run spa, designed to sell products.
For more adventurous spirits, the Ventures by Seabourn program includes onboard lectures that focus on the history, culture and wildlife of the cruise region. Lectures are hosted by guest speakers -- consisting of historians, scientists and naturalists -- and complement the guided Zodiac and kayak tours. This program is only offered on select sailings.
The bars and lounges on Seabourn Ovation are beautifully designed spaces, and each has its own vibe. What they do have in common, though, is that almost all beer, wine and cocktails served at the bars are included in the cruise fare (with the exception of a few premium drinks). Seabourn has partnered with mixologist Brian Van Flandern to offer specialty cocktail menus that are unique to each bar; we were partial to the refreshing honey dew cocktail in The Club.
The Club (Deck 5): The classy late-night venue, conveniently adjacent to the casino, is where passengers go to drink and dance. There's a spacious bar on one end and a dance floor in the center, surrounded by chairs and cocktail tables. Tunes are courtesy of the ship's dance band (or the show band with a singer during breaks) that plays before dinner and afterward, until late.
The Grill Bar (Deck 8): While this bar is located inside The Grill by Thomas Keller, it's not exclusively used by those who have a reservation. Do seek it out; the bar and most of its comfortable seating is located around the corner from the hostess stand, so hidden from view when you first walk in. The bar is a great pre-dinner spot, with its live music courtesy of a talented pianist.
Patio Bar (Deck 9): This poolside bar sits in one corner, with wooden barstools -- though, thanks to the ship's highly attentive service, you'll likely never have to get up from your chair to order a drink at the bar. The pool deck's gelato bar is here, too.
Sky Bar (Deck 10): One deck up from the pool on the starboard side, this small bar is similar to the Patio Bar below but saves those already on Deck 10 from having to walk downstairs to get a drink. It's by the smoking area, so smokers tend to congregate here.
Observation Bar (Deck 11): Another Adam D. Tihany icon is the Observation Bar, which boasts a contemporary beachy design that includes a blue and tan color scheme, a skylight adorned with a playful sculpture depicting a school of fish and a wall of windows bringing in the ocean vistas. Ample seating is located throughout the space, while a center bar offers additional seating overlooking the mixologists at work. The bar, located at the front of the ship, also hugs a curved deck space that offers bridge-like views. This is your spot for sunset or chilly sail-aways, and for pre- or post-dinner drinks while listening to the easy-listening tunes of a lovely duo.
The main pool is located on Deck 9 and flanked by two shaded hot tubs. Its surrounding teak deck space offers mesh loungers with headrests, a few daybeds and rattan chairs with cushions; one deck up, you'll find more loungers and larger daybeds with a view of the pool. Soft towels are easily accessible at various stations, while waiters make the rounds -- taking drink orders, offering sunblock and cleaning loungers' sunglasses.
On Deck 5, outside The Club, you'll find a smaller plunge pool with two hot tubs and a handful of lounge chairs and tables. The space is a hidden gem due to its "out of the way" location; it's only accessible through The Club or Seabourn Square followed by two flights of stairs down.
Another tranquil hideaway is the hot tub on Deck 7, tucked away at the very front of the ship. It's surrounded by loungers and, despite its offbeat location, is still regularly serviced by waiters taking drink orders.
Other out-of-the-way deck spaces with seating or lounging furniture include Deck 7 aft of Seabourn Square, and a small section of Deck 12 forward, which is accessed most directly from the stairs outside the Observation Bar's deck.
Those looking for something a little more exclusive can splurge on a day or half-day pass to The Retreat. This closed-off sun deck has a center hot tub surrounded by lounge chairs and tables, as well as cabanas and a bar offering drink service (with slightly more premium brands than the regular complimentary menu and a special cocktail menu by Brian Van Flandern). Each cabana has a sofa, fridge, flat-screen TV with wireless headphones, fluffy robes and slippers and two large loungers out front. They feature plantation-style shutters; of the 15 cabanas, nine have shutters that don't open but six on the sides have shutters that open up to sea views. Choice of cabana is first-come, first-served. You are presented with a souvenir tote bag, bottle of Bollinger Champagne and an exotic fruit plate on arrival. Lunch service is available from a special menu, and afternoon tea is brought up as well.
The Retreat is typically quiet and chill, and great ventilation and protection keeps the area neither too hot nor too windy. The cost is $149 for a port or embarkation day, $249 for a sea day or two port days, and $129 for a half-day (sea or port, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 2 to 6 p.m.). The price includes a $50 spa voucher so you can get a discount on a massage in The Retreat's spa cabana; book in advance or day of. Minimum age to use The Retreat is 18 and cabanas accommodate a maximum of two people.
One downside of The Retreat is that there isn't a good place to do a walking loop of the ship, which you could have done on Deck 12 if the exclusive area weren't there. There's also no putting green.
In terms of recreational activities, Seabourn Ovation has a water sports marina onboard where passengers have access to kayaks, pedal boats, banana boats and other toys. Bear in mind: The marina is only open when the ship is anchored -- not docked -- in warm-weather ports, and its hours are weather- and port-permitting. This means the ship can go entire seasons without opening up the marina to passengers, depending on the itinerary.
Seabourn Square is the heart of the ship, acting as the concierge center as well as a quiet space to read or simply enjoy the ocean views with a cup of coffee or tea in hand. There are four concierge desks in the middle of the room, and the staff handle all requests from billing questions to shore excursion bookings and everything in between. The future cruise consultant has a desk off to one side. The rest of the space is composed of various seating arrangements like couches and recliners, bookshelves and TVs -- in fact, the space feels more like a cozy living room than a cruise ship service lounge. In select ports, a local representative takes over one of the sitting areas to hand out maps and provide recommendations.
Computer stations are available for use; there also is Wi-Fi available for an additional fee, and the internet is the fastest on any Seabourn ship thanks to new technology the line is testing. Internet prices are $0.40 per minute pay-as-you-go; two hours for $19.95; three hours for $29.95; four for $39.95; seven days for $239.95; and unlimited for seven days or more is $399.95.
On the outskirts of Seabourn Square is where you'll find the onboard shops, which sell logowear, designer cruise wear, perfume, beauty products, jewelry and watches, purses and bags, and everyday essentials. On select itineraries, specialty purveyors will come onboard to sell destination-related products, such as nesting dolls and amber necklaces on a Baltic cruise to Russia.
Other services include a card room on Deck 8, and two meeting rooms on Deck 7 used for private events, youth activities and religious services.
A launderette is located on Deck 5. Passengers can either opt to use the washers, dryers, steamers and ironing boards for free, or pay for laundry/dry-cleaning service, taken from and delivered to their suites. The laundry room can be hopping, so don't be surprised if you have to wait for a machine and do set a timer to pick up clothes in a timely manner. On our cruise, passengers smartly left their laundry bags hanging off the handle to their machine, so if they were late, another passenger could at least put their clothes in their bag rather than unceremoniously dumping them on a surface, college dorm-style.
The ship's medical facility is on Deck 4.
Cigarette smoking is not permitted indoors, and is limited to the starboard half of Deck 10 by the Sky Bar (including at the bar), on the starboard half of the pool area aft of The Club on Deck 5 and on the deck space behind Seabourn Square on Deck 7. The Deck 7 space is the only place onboard where pipe and cigar smoking is permitting. Electronic cigarettes may be used inside suites and in the other smoking zones; water pipes and glass pipes are not permitted onboard.
Through the line's partnership with acclaimed alternative medicine guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, the spa offers a combination of standard spa and salon services as well as select services and fitness classes that focus on mindfulness.
The spa and fitness center are located on Deck 10 aft. There are six treatment rooms and separate men's and women's locker rooms -- each with its own sauna. A small salon offers services like manicures and pedicures; haircuts, styling and color treatments; waxing; and men's shaving. Be sure to book early, especially on port-intensive cruises with limited sea days; some passengers reported limited time slots left for treatments when they went to book onboard.
Passengers also can choose to purchase a pass to the thermal suite, complete with a steam room, sauna, heated loungers and a quiet deck space with padded loungers. A day pass here is $25 per person, with cruise-long and couples' passes also available.
The gym is equipped with treadmills, bikes, a rowing machine and free weights, plus a Motion Studio for classes. Classes include core and abs, yoga (flow and chakra), guided meditation and Pilates -- most of which are complimentary. The specific Andrew Weil classes in yoga and sound therapy cost $15 to $25.
Wellness-focused spa treatments include a mineral-charged massage (during which crystals are placed on the chakras), a quartz and amber facial, and the amethyst crystal sound bath healing treatment -- during which a therapist uses crystal sound therapy bowls to bring you into a deep meditative state, and infrared light and negative ions are used to reduce stress.
Treatments in the spa include an extension of this sound therapy, where the heavy bowls are placed on your body ($99), and more standard fare: reflexology at $135 for 50 minutes up to a hot stone massage of 90 minutes for $289.
Through the Dr. Weil programming, you also can attend a series of educational lectures, focusing on everything from tips on healthier living to secrets to better aging. For those who really want to embrace the wellness theme, there's a $499 package, including three thermal suite day passes and a selection of treatments and classes.
Seabourn Ovation does not have a dedicated jogging track, although you will see passengers walking the perimeter on Deck 10, overlooking the pool.
Seabourn has always primarily attracted adults, though during school holidays, you're bound to see more families and multigenerational groups. (Our cruise had "a lot" of kids; there were 18 under-18s onboard, as well as more 20-somethings traveling in large, multigenerational groups.) The minimum age to sail is 6 months on most sailings but 1 year on all ocean crossings.
A youth program is offered when kids ages 5 to 17 are onboard. It breaks them into two groups -- ages 5 to 12 and 13 to 17 -- and offers activities like galley tours, pizza- and mocktail-making demos, dance contests and escape rooms. The goal is to keep the kids from getting underfoot (which the program does), but the kids also do seem to enjoy the activities. Parents should not be afraid to take their kids on Seabourn during these vacation periods.
Babysitting is not offered officially, but can be arranged through the concierges in Seabourn Square, should qualified female crew members be available to do it. Parents can also arrange to leave their 5- to 12-year-olds onboard in care of the youth staff while they go on tour in port.
There are no kids' menus; however, Seabourn chefs can accommodate special requests, such as grilled cheese and chicken fingers, if notified in advance. Some cabins are family-friendly, with interconnecting doors and third berths.