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3 Rome (Civitavecchia) to Australia & New Zealand Cruise Reviews

When Diane Love and I completed the first segment of our 61-day journey near the end of Encore's inaugural year, we found that in many ways it delivers what Seabourn promises-- contemporary design, more dining and entertainment venues ... Read More
When Diane Love and I completed the first segment of our 61-day journey near the end of Encore's inaugural year, we found that in many ways it delivers what Seabourn promises-- contemporary design, more dining and entertainment venues than its other ships, more open deck areas for swimming and sunning, and the feel of an upscale resort. Encore and its sister ship due next year fulfill the company's commitment to pursue an exponentially larger customer base. Its three other ships launched in the last decade each carry 450 passengers. Encore, with 600 passengers, alone carries the combined capacity of all three of the previous fleet of Spirit, Legend, and Pride that was sold to competing brand Windstar. We found a mostly enthusiastic ship's company and many satisfied fellow guests. About half of the passengers are repeat-customers from its previous, smaller ships, members of what Seabourn calls its “Club.” This is an outstanding loyalty rate that testifies to the brand's historical appeal despite the conversion to nearly-mid-size ships. The ships are a size that it believes can better compete with on-board dining and entertainment offerings of Regent, Crystal, and some other top-rated cruise lines. New Seabourn passengers never sailed on the 200-passenger Spirit, Legend, or Pride. They never had what many considered the superior environment of “the Yachts of Seabourn,” the tag line of yesteryear's quite different experience. Before the Encore launch this year, Seabourn's 450 passenger ships still evoked some of that small-ship experience, or at least passengers like us pretended they did. These vessels-- the Quest, Sojourn, and Odyssey-- presented a challenge to Seabourn as it rapidly doubled and redoubled recruiting and training to staff the ships. The results were mixed, at least in our travels on each of the three, but they still triggered our memories of the Spirit. For us, the bulked-up Encore lacks this link to the past. The magic of the Spirit was created by mutual agreement between passengers and crew, all of whom embraced the fantasy that they were aboard a private yacht and all of whom behaved appropriately. Guests we encountered on three Spirit itineraries were self-assured, friendly without spilling their life story in the first five minutes of conversation, and had nothing to prove to fellow passengers. This self-confidence was perhaps most conspicuous in their dress, which was ironically not conspicuous. We all dressed like we were on a prosperous uncle's yacht. We remember no “formal nights.” In contrast, Seabourn's now much larger clientele includes many who would not appreciate the very old tuxedo joke: “Why would I want to dress like the maitre d'?” Today Seabourn makes social interaction a higher priority, which seems to be well-received by many new customers. But many of the tools used to facilitate instant friendships depart from the original small-ship experience. Early in each cruise there is a party of sorts stretched through all the guest decks and companionways. If you obsess about immediately knowing everything about everyone on-board, you may find it appealing to consume drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the confines of narrow passageways. We found it more like a college dorm party for new freshmen. Add the likes of a costume trivia playoff and passenger “glee club” performance and you get the idea. Love it or hate it. The crowd on our first segment from Civitavecchia to Dubai seemed a bit older than some past Seabourn cruises. We are not privy to the company's data, of course, but the need to fill hundreds more “bed nights” may have expanded Seabourn's net to older targets through different agent promotions and marketing channels. Public, unguarded conversations about options for hip replacement, the benefit of dying quickly if you have cancer, and extended family health histories made us sometimes feel we were on a Holland America cruise. Holland America, which attracts an older profile, has been the sister line of Seabourn since management of both was consolidated by big brother Carnival, the ultimate owner, a few years ago. Seabourn built larger public spaces to make everyone more comfortable, but also books many more passengers to fill the bigger ship. To manage poolside crowds, bulletins remind clients that sun bathing is available not just at the main pool midships, but at new locations fore and aft. In Encore's popular forward Observation Bar, the volume of passengers who have had a few pops sometimes results in increased passenger volume. That is to say that you may quite clearly hear gratuitously loud conversational outbursts in English or non-English languages, including German or New Jersey or Australian. Cocktail hour hors d'oeuvres and teatime treats (except the scones) are no longer passed in the Observation. You must choose from a self-service “tapas” buffet and cart everything to your seat. This provides a greater variety but less "luxury" than passed hors d'oeuvres, which are still offered in the Club lounge. New to us is a bar menu that includes additional charges for what Seabourn considers premium liquors. Seabourn has also been trying to sell wine tasting events from $99 to $500 per person, and individual vintage bottles at meals. All this in an all-inclusive format that promises no charge for fine wine and spirits throughout the ship and no requirement or expectation of tipping. The largest space is the “Grand Salon,” used for daytime lectures and demonstrations. The Encore's slightly larger stage makes space for more ambitious evening entertainment programs. This change has led Seabourn to present “production” events many nights, featuring four singers and two dancers. We found these evenings somewhat comparable to dinner theater, perhaps a reasonable alternative to the overwrought productions on the largest mainstream cruise ships. We would have preferred a jazz trio or a chanteuse. The Grand Salon and Encore's other lounges seem to us better suited to a cabaret duo (as practiced in the Observation) or jazz piano and bass, rather than a mini costume epic. Other nights entertainers come from the rotation of singers and instrumentalists and comics and the occasional magician that is familiar to regular cruisers on any cruise line. For Seabourn regulars, the Grand Salon is best known for numerous fat pillars that block views of the performers from many angles and only a slight rise in seating from front to back that likewise can compromise views. This invariably results in intermittent Jack-in-the Box moments throughout every performance as audience members jump up to try to find a better view. The problem has not been corrected on the Encore. The Restaurant, Encore's main dining room, proved the best choice on this trip and was consistently serving more interesting and better prepared food than our personal experience on Seabourn's 450-passenger ships. However, the “best” table on a particular voyage depends on rotating personnel and other factors, so next sailing you may prefer the poolside Patio, the Colonnade, the new Sushi bar, or the Keller Grill. The net of 1) a bigger ship, 2) ample passengers, and 3) broader demographic and social profile yields an environment akin to a country club or private beach club on a crowded holiday weekend. Whether that delivers what Seabourn advertises-- “ultra-luxury”-- is in the eye of the beholder and depends on the personal experience and preferences of each customer. If you have not stayed at l'hotel du Cap in Antibes or dined at long-gone La Cote Basque in New York or enjoyed a villa at the Four Seasons Jimbarin Bay in Bali or (fill in the blank with your own expectations), you may wrestle with an appropriate way to best characterize Seabourn Encore. Next we continued from Dubai to Singapore to Bali to Sydney. The final legs of our eight plus weeks on Encore were a vivid reminder of the overwhelming importance of people-- both staff and guests-- to the enjoyment and satisfaction of any cruise. About 95 percent of the original 600 passengers who boarded with us in Rome disembarked in Dubai or Singapore, along with a large percentage of the guest-facing staff. We found that we had set sail on a quite different experience onward to our final destination, Sydney. The crew and staff who stayed aboard continued to remember our names (a cornerstone of the Seabourn experience) and deliver the level of service we saw beginning in Rome. Some newcomers did not perform as well and there seemed to be a shortage of personnel during peak demand. Service deteriorated further after Bali. The new cruise director who boarded in Singapore was intent on amping up social events, which led to some odd results. Popular trivia contests appeared more often in the forward Observation Bar, sometimes overlapping afternoon tea or evening hors d'oeuvres. Some bean bag games, which had been played on a small outdoor space on Deck 7 aft of Seabourn Square, moved to the main pool. This necessitated closing one side of the pool sun deck to accommodate the dozen or so people who chose to toss bean bags, clap, and cheer, while the rest of us tried to read or sleep. Encore does offer a more serene escape from the main pool, The Retreat on Deck 12. Access, including a private cabana, is charged at about a $300 daily premium above the "all-inclusive" cruise fare. Caviar in the Surf, which Seabourn labels a "Signature Event," moves to the main pool when staged on a sea day. On one such occasion the cruise director apologized in advance for turning up the music, and then set it so loud that it could have been the ship's Life Boat Muster alarm. I took ear plugs to the next Caviar in the Pool. Sample lyrics: Mr. Worldwide to infinity You know the roof on fire We gon' boogie oogie oogie, jiggle, wiggle and dance Like the roof on fire We gon' drink drinks and take shots until we fall out Like the roof on fire Now baby get your booty naked, take off all your clothes, And light the roof on fire Tell her, tell her baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby I'm on fire I tell her baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby I'm a fireball Fireball Meanwhile, the wave of 500 plus new guests appeared more diverse in nationality and in language (good) and in savoir faire (bad). This diversity cut both ways, adding to the richness of many conversations and interactions, while subtracting from the usual impression of sophistication and civility among Seabourn passengers. At one port, the captain had to urgently announce over the ship-wide public address system that passengers must stop throwing soda bottles off their balconies to children in small boats 5 to 11 decks below. One can be forgiven for sometimes thinking they boarded the wrong ship after watching: a passenger prepare his caviar by mixing all the condiments into the central caviar bowl and eating it with a silver tablespoon, or a diner use his hand to grab a barbecue rib from the family-style serving platter, gnaw it down, and then pitch it back across the table into the platter. Such incidents were certainly not typical, but they were not unique or isolated. Between Dubai and Singapore we did get our wish for a charming chanteuse, British vocalist Laura Broad. Unfortunately, Grand Salon entertainment after Singapore became more and more narrowly targeted, to be polite. Two evenings the acts were the worst we have ever suffered at sea. Most every employee on a Seabourn ship does their best to satisfy, and so our thanks go to all of them. The following were special: Dimir, the Restaurant maitre d', whose attitude and extra treats kept customers happy. Slobodan, the ship's chief bartender, who not only appeared virtually simultaneously at all the ship's venues to smooth service, but also corrected any discrepancy he saw beyond the bars in his travels throughout the ship. Victoria, the bartender in the Observation, who understood that her job is performance art and deserves a standing ovation. Cindy, the server at a crucial corner of the Colonnade, who kept the entire buffet buzzing. Anarita and Bruno, the "Duo" in the Observation lounge, who every night performed outstanding, sophisticated music despite a sometimes raucous bar audience. Reflecting on all 61 days of our travels, Diane and I concluded that Encore is a substantially different product that has attracted many materially different customers, compared to Seabourn's other ships. The suddenly obvious difficulties of imposing the historical Seabourn ambiance and service on a 600 passenger ship suggest that the cruise line may have entered a less discerning customer segment that is at odds with its "ultra-luxury" aspirations. Read Less
Sail Date October 2017
We have recently returned to Australia on a 35 day cruise which began in Rome and concluded in Fremantle. The ship on which we travelled was the M.S.Astor which was on a relocation cruise to spend the summer season sailing out of ... Read More
We have recently returned to Australia on a 35 day cruise which began in Rome and concluded in Fremantle. The ship on which we travelled was the M.S.Astor which was on a relocation cruise to spend the summer season sailing out of Fremantle. There were 10 ports of call at some interesting and very different locations, namely, Rome, Livorno, Sicily, Malta, Athens, Aqaba, Salalah, Columbo, Phuket, Singapore, Bali and Fremantle. I would not hesitate to recommend the Astor to anyone contemplating a cruise. The food quality and variety was consistently great, including the waiters, to whom, nothing was too much trouble. The on board entertainment was exceptional, particularly for a small ship and the array of costumes was amazing. The entertainment in the Captains lounge each night before dinner by two young ladies on the piano and violin was exceptional. The quizzes for the more sedentary like me, although I did my 15 laps around the ship on the walking path most days, were a hit whereas my wife enjoyed the more physical offerings such as Zumba, water aerobics, line dancing and stretch and tone to name but a few. The guest lecturer, archaeologist Mike Stone and Artist Noel with his art classes were both well patronised and engaging. The shore cruises were all of interest and we visited many places which certainly broadened our knowledge of some unusual and fascinating countries. Our stateroom (cabin) on the Atlantic deck was quite adequate with the more expensive suites of course being quite a bit larger. The cruise director Gary, did a great job, making everyone seem a bit special, taking time to chat or seek comment as he roamed the ship. He excelled also as an MC, quizmaster and story teller. We were fortunate with the weather as most of the cruise was in calm weather, but off the coast of Western Australia with the sea given at 7 the Astor was remarkably stable. Very few people suffered seriously from mal de mare. The only negatives were the 20 to 30% increase in drink prices since its last cruise in the Mediterranean area, a fact attested to by a couple who had been on a recent cruise. The tap beer was seldom cold enough and of inferior taste but on recommendation of the many Australians on board this problem may be addressed by the time the Australian cruises begin. The concern over prices was addressed when, for a fee of twenty dollars (?) we were given a 20% discount on all bar purchases. We experienced another problem when settling our on board account. Because Astor’s bank account is in Europe, our bank charged a 3% conversion fee, which in our case amounted to around $130. The best alternative is to settle your on board account in cash. We learned that unless you absolutely must book early to ensure you get what you want, people who booked in the last 2 or 3 weeks received a substantially better deal than we did, for instance an inside cabin and air fare for $3300 and we paid $6200 for an outside cabin, no airfare   Read Less
Sail Date October 2013
In reading this review you might think we are being paid by the ship because of all the pluses. Not true, we are somewhat reluctant cruisers but this itinerary was ideal for an extended journey thru the festive season We planned to make ... Read More
In reading this review you might think we are being paid by the ship because of all the pluses. Not true, we are somewhat reluctant cruisers but this itinerary was ideal for an extended journey thru the festive season We planned to make the most of the entire trip as it is such a long way from Australia to Rome to start, so we flew to Singapore, had a 5 day stop over in that fab city, then up to Kuala Lumpur for 4 days & back to Singapore for the flight to Istanbul. Spent 5 nights in Istanbul & did all the tourist sites & markets then flew across to Rome for 4 nights. This made getting to the ship a journey of its own. Ship day we took the train to the port & walked the short distance from the station to the dock, a cost of only E12 per person !st. cl. Big saving on buying a shuttle to the port. Dockside check in was a blur, bags were taken at the curb, we were ushered into the embarkation building & in minutes were on board heading for the buffet for lunch, never seen such efficiency & speed. By the time we had had a snack & went to the cabin our bags had beaten us there, another speed service. We were totally overcome with the beauty of the ship interior, it was immaculate in every way The decor was mind blowing, the lounges & dining room were works of art compared to some other ships we had been on. Every member of the crew had a smile & a greeting whenever they passed you & all wanted to know if they could do something for us. The attention was almost embarrassing but we loved it. The food---first night we went to the Polo Grille & made a big mistake we both ordered the appetizer, soup, salad then the prime rib. It was shameful to send back to the kitchen 1/2 of the rib. It was so huge I just couldn't eat more than 1/2 of it. Quality, taste, & presentation were excellent.This set the tone for the entire cruise of 41 nights in all the restaurants incl the Grand Dining Room, there was no repetition for us as there were so many options for food. BTW don't have b/fast get a thick shake from Waves at 11.30am. Apart from flavor which was excellent it was a lunch on its own. The only down side I found was the over attentiveness of the table waiters, they often barged into one's conversation to offer pepper or ask if one wanted anything or to place or take plates; this was a bit off-putting. There have been comments on the entertainment not being up to standard, I totally disagree, the entertainment in the theatre by the various musical groups was a very high standard. Sure there wasn't a Las Vegas style dance group but the entertainers were the BEST. The M.C who did a puppet show was unbelievable in his performance. I've never been a fan of pantomine but went to several of his performances. There were 2 female vocalists who were of international standard & these girls doubled up as hostesses during the day.   Shore excursions area personal issue, we rarely ever use the ship's excursions as we prefer to do "our own thing" & usually at a 1/4 of the ship pricing. One exception here is to use the ship in Port Said to Cairo & Safaga to Luxor. The taxis in Egypt have a definite death wish whenever they get behind the wheel. If you go it alone always find out where the gate out of the port is 'cause that's where you will find a horde of cabs waiting to do a deal.You might have to walk 2-300 metre but its worth saving over $100 for the day. Oceania go out of their way to give you a good time we made friends with many of the crew including of all people one of the chefs who would make us any meal our heart desired & then he would watch over you to ensure it was what you wanted, many waiters, the maitre de Carlos who fussed over you the whole time in his domain. Drink waiters soon learned your name & preferences & had drinks in front of you as quick as a wink. Can't comment on disembarkation as we got off in Brisbane & that was a casual stroll down to the reception, pay the account, say our goodbyes & just go home. The trip on the ship could have been 10 days less but that would have interfered with the Xmas period, I think the ideal is around 30 days to really have a shipboard experience. I met many people who flew to the ship , were transferred from airport to ship & then did the reverse going home which I think is a terrible shame as they went 1/2 round the world but didn't take advantage of either Italy or Australia Footnote---We have had to go on a serious crash diet program after 41 days on Nautica I've still got to loose 6 kilos. Read Less
Sail Date November 2007

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