I just completed two back to back cruises, 9/5-9/12 Piraeus-Istanbul (Greek Isles) and 9/12-9/19 Istanbul-Istanbul (Black Sea Odyssey)
This was my first SB trip. For comparison, I have done 8 prior cruises, most of them on luxury competitor lines.
EMBARKATION was pleasant and efficient, took less than a half hour. We got on board on a very hot day around 12:30 for a 4 PM departure, then went to the nicely air-conditioned Colonnade indoor/outdoor venue for a sumptuous buffet lunch while the rooms were readied. Around 2PM we were notified our room was ready. My suitcase was there waiting for me from Luggage Forward, a company sponsored by SB, shipped from the US in advance, right on time.
Contemporary, well-kept ship, very clean, with obviously well-off passengers averaging 55-65. Overall, pax were younger than on Silver Sea cruises I have done, by about 10 years, though this may have been due to the itinerary. Passengers were mostly well-behaved, healthy-appearing couples with varying marital status, including a few gay couples, and a handful of singles (there seemed to be less of them here than on SS). Though there were a few people who appeared unhappy and were having problems they unrealistically hoped a cruise would solve, generally people seemed to be polite, well-traveled, reserved, and content to enjoy their trips and the company of their traveling companions without inserting themselves into conversations with strangers. At least a third seemed to be from non-English speaking countries (I heard at least Italian, German, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, Flemish, and Portuguese). The rest were English-speaking Americans (some originally from other countries), Brits, Canadians, Aussies.
Most of the port excursions on these cruises required a pretty good fitness level (cobblestones, hills, and/or walking and standing around in the heat for the majority of offered excursions), so not surprisingly I did not see any wheelchairs (though some pax had canes and were mobility impaired), or many pax who were young children. However, I heard from a crew member that a couple months before here had been an unusual group of pax on board with 50 children, so absence of children is not guaranteed on this line. Note for smoking phobics: there were a few small outdoor smoking venues which did not bother me at all but might bother some. Even though I am a non-smoker, I am not worried I will die from a few outdoor sniffs of smoke here and there, though I know some people are, and some perceive reactions to even small amounts. Smoking venues were on the starboard side of the 9th floor outside above the pool deck (five tables), and starboard side of SB Square veranda (a couple sofas and tables), plus smoking is allowed on verandas, but overall, VERY few people smoked, or even vaped.
FACILITIES were overall very nice, though the contemporary style modern furniture in most public areas was often uncomfortable for me (I have musculoskeletal problems) so I set up coping strategies (see below).
The ship had immaculate maintenance, tasteful art displays, a very uncrowded environment, and even at the pools on hot days it was tolerable and you could swim laps (there is also a smaller pool lower and aft). I could always find a place to sit in the public areas, including the wonderful Seabourn Square center aft where there are computers, printed newspapers, acceptable Internet, iPADs, easily available front desk personnel, coffees with snacks, ice creams, adjustable recliners, sofas, library books and games. Chairs and sofas in public areas were modern in appearance, some more comfortable than others. Poolside lounge chairs were uncomfortable for me without cushions. Chairs in the Colonnade were very nicely angled, padded, and comfortable, and this was my favorite dining venue (I love eating outside on a nice day). There were two modern styles of chairs in the main dining room: one style (rounded, yellow) was oddly shaped, such that I felt like I would slide off, whereas the others (white, more squared) were ok, though shorter than ideal on the backrest and with hard armrests, and thus not as cushy and plush as the main dining room chairs on competitor lines Regent or Silver Sea. I was a bit disappointed in the overall seating on this line (many hard seats and low backrests), but not enough to dissuade me from coming to SB again, as I can structure ways to get around these issues (e.g., target the venues or chairs that I like, and/or carry portable seating pads). Nothing looked worn out or tired.
Beautiful spa with views of the ocean as you get serviced, with pleasant staff, (Tijan the manicurist from Serbia is a delight to talk to) and a special serene sitting area where you can lie on hard warm rocks if you choose (I did not, too hard), or wade through a serene area pool. You can also rent by the day or by cruise regular access to the serene area. Though I did not use the gym, it looked uncrowded and had a variety of equipment options, also with ocean views, and a trainer was available.
ENTERTAINMENT: I went to several shows, which with the exception of a lovely and talented outstanding young classical pianist (Naomi Edemarian, whom I could listen to all day if offered), were nothing special, but I would never pick a cruise line for its shows. There were some competent Broadway-style singers and dancers, there was a magician, a talented and humorous female fiddle player, but unfortunately also a British comedian who was not too funny and a bit crude. Grand Salon is the main basic entertainment, gathering, and lecture venue, where attentive staff will bring drinks to your seats before and during the events if you want them. Chairs are a little stiff though padded, upright, not comfortable enough for me to want to lounge the evening away in them.
There are also many on demand movies you could watch in your suite, almost all only in English, as well as the usual array of varying and mostly sparsely attended on-board activities common to other cruise lines (cards, dance lessons, trivia, casino, etc). TV showed BBC news, Sky news, FOX news, CNBC, MSNBC, Sky Sports, some TV shows, a view from the bridge, and had an interactive channel where you could book excursions and spa appointments (there were a few problems). There was also a cruise director who was a beautiful young American woman who looked terrific in a tight evening dress and very high heels, and tried very hard to be pleasant and amusing, but who seemed to have a somewhat false manner about her and periodically made jokes that I did not consider to be funny (e.g., about a particular classical music piano piece reminding her of Bugs Bunny themes). But to me, cruise directors (or event entertainment offerings) do not make or break a cruise, so she was mostly irrelevant to my overall rating of this trip as 5/5.
ENRICHMENT lectures: not a strength of SB this journey; lectures were few and far between, weak and disorganized, with some misinformation provided on some topics (one British male speaker was particularly annoying in this regard, not sure if he is paid for his efforts). I would have been better off just reading about the referenced places and history on the internet or in books about the area I had brought on my iPAD, and watching online videos, rather than listening to the speakers with their poorly structured and barely legible slide presentations. But lecture availability does not determine my cruising choice or overall rating (here, 5/5).
FOOD and WINE: Very good to outstanding, all venues, all meals. This is very important to me on cruises. There was a wide variety of competently cuisine, and portions were sensible so you could try more things (considering the constant ongoing feeding), with daily special themes. Also, personnel brought daily fresh fruit specials to the suite daily. I did not have a bad or mediocre meal the entire cruise though some courses were better than others. My biggest ‘complaint’ was that the delicate pheasant one night had a little too much rosemary on it, and the borscht on the Russian food night in the Colonnadede did not taste very Russian. Though I had some mediocre coffee here and there, it was usually good, and always served hot and well-caffeinated, even at room service.
Seabourn Square personnel will make you espresso, latte, etc starting 6:15 AM, till 6:00 PM, no closures, and again 9-11PM, where you can also get little cakes, muffins, tiny sandwiches at will. Room service for breakfast was quick, (often arrived earlier than ordered) and except for one of the times I used it, the tray always had what I had ordered (the other time they had just forgotten to pick up the breakfast order from outside the door the night before). The included Nicholas Feuillatte champagne and international red wine offerings were decent to good, and though some of the included whites were not to my taste, personnel would bring me something different if I asked, also included in the basic fare (such as Stag’s Leap Chardonnay which drinks quite nicely with the wonderful assorted lovely fish dishes SB frequently offered). I did not feel compelled to constantly buy wine off the wine list in order to find something drinkable, like I did recently on SS. It was also not at all difficult to attract a waiter’s attention and the dining rooms appeared well-organized in true team efforts.
Though food in all venues was very good, my favorite was the popular Restaurant 2 (multiple small gourmet portions served in a small quiet room, reservations are required there but there is no extra fee). Restaurant 2 also offered wine/food pairings on one of my two trips there, which were outstanding. Though I am not a vegetarian, I noted on SB there were always vegetarian options, quite tasty, and gluten-free choices were also marked. The main dining room and Restaurant 2 were not open for breakfast or lunch, which some people did not like but I did not care as I knew how and where to eat to get enough tasty food 24/7. For breakfast, most people either used pre-ordered room service for breakfast or ate at the Colonnade (7:30-10). Lunchtime people either ate at the pool (1-4), the Colonnade (12-2), or were on excursions. An improvement would be if advance dining reservations, e.g., for R2, could be made on the internet before the cruise, as on SS or some other lines, to avoid rushing around the first day trying to get a reservation in R2 (they booked out).
SERVICE: Exceptional, and this is an important and distinguishing SB feature. Excellent, friendly and helpful staff everywhere I turned, and personnel did not seem exhausted or act overworked and annoyed with you: very good waiters and service in dining rooms, very good room stewardess (ours was the excellent Monica, from Slovakia). There were also helpful and readily available SB Square destinations and front desk service personnel, and computer tech support (e.g., Adrian — quietly competent and thorough). Personnel who interacted with pax front-line were from English-speaking countries of origin from all over the world, or from countries where almost all young people are required to learn English. I never had trouble getting front line personnel to understand what I was saying, and many were multilingual and picked up on pax language preferences if they were not English. Personnel were readily responsive to the few problems I had: e.g., I have a musculoskeletal condition which makes hard (i.e., new) mattresses difficult for me to tolerate, and my stewardess did not rest until she found a solution to my mattress and sleeping problem (an egg crate topper). Adrian the computer guy also came personally to my suite to help me with my internet and email issues (he resolved a very complex problem I had). I had a sense of “can do, no matter what” from the staff, as opposed to “not my problem."
INTERNET: not as good as I’d like (especially in my suite location), but it was reasonably priced for unlimited service and one way or the other, I was able to get on and stay on to get done what needed to be done. This is not a problem unique to SB.
I had a very forward PH Suite on the 9th floor, right behind the bridge. Surprisingly, I heard no bridge noise. There was a huge amount of storage space, and a luxury bathroom with a side-by-side modern shower and a whirlpool tub. Nothing was broken, but a minor flaw was that the bathtub had no rinse-off hose. There were deep double sinks, plus another sink in the separate toilet area which could be accessed either from the hall or from the bathroom. Though the stewardess was great, the suite overall turned out not to suit my needs: as noted, the bed with its new mattresses was, to me, too hard, and the very narrow living room sofa/chaise was even harder and I thought more appropriate for a dentist’s waiting room than a luxury cruise line. The Istanbul airport had seats more comfortable than this sofa. The sofa was too narrow to stretch out on (it was not wide, like in the picture I saw of the PH on the internet) and as there was also no comfortable recliner in the living room either, just a couple stiff chairs at the dining table, I did not want to sit in the living room/dining area at all.
Also, the suite had poor to non-existent wifi much of the time, though it improved after the internet team performed some upgrades later in the cruise (this was apparently just a bad location for wifi I did not know about in advance). So I had to go to SB Square or closer towards the other side of the ship to use my reasonably priced unlimited internet service plan. The deck in the suite was spacious, and the outdoor chaise lounge chairs partially reclined, but had no pads and were thus hard to sit on for more than a few minutes (I put pillows on them when I wanted to sit outside). The stiff chairs at the eating table on the suite's deck (identical to the pool area dining chairs) did have some pads but were upright and uncomfortable.
Lighting functions were confusing, i.e., the switches let the living room and bathroom be either totally bright or totally dark, no “mood” setting option except in the bedroom. In sum, in hindsight, the extra price paid to have a PH suite was not worth it to me as I could not comfortably use most of the space to lounge in the room that had the view. I typically wanted to leave the suite as much as possible to go sit somewhere more comfortable. I would have been better off with a simple veranda suite prepared in advance with just a bed with an egg crate mattress topper, which is what I have reserved for my next SB cruise to Norway in 2016, where I will be able to ignore the hard sofa but still see the ocean while lounging on the bed.
EXCURSIONS AND PORTS:
SANTORINI: a lovely, must-see, though very crowded, picture postcard island, tender required. We did the SB excursion to Mt Profitis Ilias and Oia Village, ending in Thira. It was a good overview of the area, though the trip up to Mt. Profitis, which was just a ride up a mountain and back yielded nothing to do at the top except look down at the rest of the island (there was some trash lying around, and a monastery you could not enter, no inn or place to sit or relax and enjoy the view). So next time we would probably skip this in favor of more independent time in Oia and Thira for browsing the interesting little streets and shops and enjoying some refreshments.
RHODES — a worthwhile port. We just wondered around on our own here rather than taking a tour (ship was docked right at the key tourist areas, hard to get lost, just follow the old city walls ), and we also toured the extensive Archeological Museum, definitely worth a long stop, it also has shaded gardens.
PATMOS — Nice. We did the "Patmos Highlights” excursion on a hot day, including the Unesco World Heritage Site of the Monastery of Saint-John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse. This is an impressive very old religious site, and there was an active Greek Orthodox service ongoing. The tour included the 300-yr-old Simandris House, with the 90 plus aged female owner sitting there hosting as we toured, interesting, and then we went for a delicious plate of mezes, decent wine and Greek dancing at a local inn. A good tour, though quite strenuous going up the hills, especially if weather is hot, not for people who have trouble going up and down in the heat.
KUSADASI — definitely do the Ephesus Evening Reception complimentary classical music concert, quite beautiful (though the acoustics at the site did not do the musicians justice, i.e., their music got partially drowned out, but this is a visually special event not to be missed. We did a separate Virtuoso tour of amazing Ephesus on the second leg of the cruise out of Izmir so I cannot comment on the quality of the actual SB sponsored Ephesus excursions out of Kusadasi.
MYKONOS — I do not recommend the “Stroll through Mykonos.” The guide was boring, hard to understand, and we stood around in a poorly ventilated hot museum with no chairs to rest on, which had some interesting pieces but also a lot of echo. There was not enough strolling and too much standing. The ship is docked here, no tender, so you could do this high end town on your own. We bailed after the first 45 minutes and just wandered around independently, then ate at a local overpriced but pleasant inn on the water with a view of the interesting windmills.
LIMNOS— did the Highlights tour, which was an ok tour of this more primitive island, which has quite a bit of military installations, rough vineyards, poorer people. Definitely not Napa valley style wineries. They do not get many visitors. We toured the beautifully situated Poliochnis ruins from 4000 BC as well as the British Cemetery and World War I Memorial, both are worth a look, though a private tour might provide more timing flexibility to explore the island
ISTANBUL— we did the “Best of Istanbul” tour as this was our first time here and we were not sure what to expect. We would likely have done a private tour if it weren’t for the recent political unrest in the area. VERY CROWDED city overall, and this tour is not for the easily stressed or fatigued. The bus had stiff, closely spaced uncomfortable seats that did not recline. The palaces were packed, (though fascinating to view) as was the Hagia Sophia museum, (equally fascinating) and the lines were incredibly long at the Blue Mosque even for pre-booked big groups. The tour (at least on a hot day) was too tiring, with no significant rest or food breaks until close to 1:30 when we had an outstanding late Turkish lunch at a lovely air-conditioned upscale restaurant, Nar Lokanta. You may wish to skip the extra morning coffee that day if you are female, as the toilets offered in the area of the tour (other than later at the immaculate restaurant in the afternoon) were less than lovely, often the squat type (though western style at the Museum), with LONG lines as well, and at the Blue Mosque toilets some Muslim women were ritualistically washing their feet and bodies in the washroom sinks though posted signs said they should not do this there (there are other designated locations for this).
NESSEBUR: we did the pleasant Bulgarian cooking demonstration. Seas were too rough to tender off this ancient town, so we docked 16 km nearby at the modern port terminal in Burgas and were then bussed to the colorful UNESCO heritage site of Nessebur where we did a walking tour, then had a wonderful 5-course Bulgarian feast at a local restaurant (Gloria Mar) with a cooking demo before, and recipes provided to take home. Unfortunately the lunch was quite late (close to 2PM before we actually ate) and we were tortured with the preceding cooking demonstrations and aromas around us without having even a morsel of food on the tables for the hungry pax who had not had anything since breakfast to munch on. So, some pax were quite cranky and expressed themselves accordingly. I should have brought some snacks with me to eat late morning in the bus, or perhaps to improve the experience the restaurant could have served the first course salad while demonstrating the rest of the food preparations. If you do this excursion, it might be good to plan on either eating a big breakfast or bringing snacks for late morning, and/or planning skipping a big dinner that night as you will be very full from the lunch feast. As it was, we had to rush through 5 courses, and the last course (a plate of ripe fruit) was mostly uneaten.
VARNA, Bulgaria: a fairly large industrial port, not much to see in town other than a museum. We did the “Treasures of Varna” excursion, on which we saw some notable archeological treasures, also walked in soft sand through a petrified forest near the sea (interesting photo ops), then drove to a forest where we were saw some Bulgarian folk dancers perform (under a sign in German for some reason that said “Waldfest” , which means forest festival). Bulgarian music is not to my taste, too droningly repetitive, but the costumes were colorful and there was an audience participation option which some frisky pax took advantage of. We were offered a snack of lunchmeat and unremarkable cheese, one roll per person, and bad Bulgarian wine, while sitting on hard benches. The excellent, witty guide Elke (who speaks 8 languages) saved the day, though I would probably not do this organized excursion again.
CONSTANZA, Rumania: “Constanza Highlights” excursion — unfortunately, there was not much to “highlight” here. This is an industrial port, a rundown town in a poor country, that shows significant evidence of the damage that communism did over the years. The archeological museum had some interesting treasures and there were a few other historical ruins, ancient and communist, to see. The bus then took us to the “Rumanian Riviera” beach town of Mamaia, which was mostly deserted as the season had ended. We took a gondola across town with a coastline view of the mostly shabby hotels lining a wide, sandy beach. We then were given too much time to kill in an uninteresting location with a few tacky shops and unfriendly locals, and there was surprisingly quite a bit of trash on the streets. I would not do this excursion again.
IZMIR: we did a private group excursion to Ephesus. Ephesus is not to be missed, either from this end (longer drive) or from the Kusadasi access. The Terrace Houses were particularly interesting, fascinating history. Must be fit and able to go up/down uneven areas, best done when the day is not too hot (it was VERY hot, so I struggled). The additional Virgin Mary crowded site was not worth the trip to me but might be if you are a Christian following a pilgrimage route and must see this location.
DISEMBARKATION in Istanbul did not go as smoothly as I expected, likely due to local port issues rather than SB fault. We ordered an early private car through SB to pick us up at 8AM and take us to the airport and were told to wait to be called to disembark at 8. We were given early disembarkation luggage tags. However, the way things evolved, in the AM we did not see any groups gathering waiting to be called, and it was close to car pick-up time, so we left the ship at 7:45 to make sure we did not miss our 8AM pickup outside the port. We and another couple with a 7:45 pickup got stuck in a huge passport and customs line of thousands of disembarking Celebrity pax, with no priority line for us with our early cars, and our luggage was not prioritized (it seemed to emerge randomly), so it was not until 8:45 that we had our delayed luggage and were finally in the car on the way to the airport, when it should have been at 8. We did not miss our flight, not even close, but some anxiety was created.
CONCLUSION/SUMMARY: Despite a few minor glitches (I always expect something to go wrong when I travel) I had a very positive overall experience with Seabourn. My problems with hard mattresses and sofas are likely unique to me or a small minority of people. Food, wine, service, ambience, and a “can do” sense that everything is being taken care of in a professional manner, were and are the main features that I value (plus, of course, the itinerary). I had previously pre-booked a journey on SB with my husband on the Quest to Norway July 2015 (Copenhagen-Dover), and my current experience has reinforced my desire to retain that reservation (but with an eggcrate mattress pre-arranged with the future cruise services desk :). I definitely look forward to more SB excellence in the areas where it counts — cuisine, service, responsiveness, and class. I will also compare it with Hapag Lloyd’s equally highly rated but somewhat different style ultra luxury Europa 2 ship in December where I am booked with my husband as a new customer. Read Less