First, a little background to put this review in context. We are in middle and late middle age, respectively, one retired and the other still in the workforce. We cruise often, are five star with Holland America Line ("HAL"), so ... Read More
First, a little background to put this review in context. We are in middle and late middle age, respectively, one retired and the other still in the workforce. We cruise often, are five star with Holland America Line ("HAL"), so that line is our point of comparison. HAL is a very good mid-tier cruise line while Seabourn bills itself as a "luxury' line. Thus, on Seabourn, with this smaller ship, we expected more than the very good service we have come to consistently enjoy on HAL.
Generally, Seabourn does some things very well. Yet our overall experience, and thus our first impression of Seabourn, is that it missed the mark for consistent delivery of a "luxury" experience. We found a lack of consistency in food and service. Some days and some meals everything was great. Yet at other times it was not up to par (below HAL standards).
We also thought that on the Odyssey for our cruise there were many new staff not yet fully trained, and that the ship at times seemed short-staffed, both of which led to some service "misses". As these staff become better trained, and more people are added, some of those "misses" will hopefully disappear. Yet this did impact our cruise.
Beginning at the beginning, Embarkation was awful. On HAL we are used to arriving at the port about 12:30PM, waiting perhaps in a short line to see an agent, checking in and boarding the ship. That entire process usually takes about 20 minutes. Once checked-in we typically go to the dining room for a relaxing lunch to start our cruise, avoiding the busy Lido buffet. By the time we are done with lunch, around 2PM, the cabins are ready.
On this Odyssey cruise, however, after arrival at the Port we (and most everyone else) ended up sitting on those hard bench-chairs in the Port. We sat for close to 40 minutes before a group of us were invited to join a long line-up to check-in. We then waited in that line another at least 20 minutes. On boarding the ship, the Colonnade (buffet) was, we were told, full, and the Restaurant (dining room) was not open for lunch. So we sat outside after I found a shady spot (not without difficulty). After having a self-serve hamburger (in fairness it was brought to me but I had to go down stairs to order it), we went into the "Square", usually a nice seating area which was also jammed full of tired people waiting for their cabins.
The expectation in the boarding documents was that cabins would be ready at 2PM, a reasonable time. Our check-in agent told us it would be 2:30. Yet it was only after 3PM when we finally were told that the cabins were ready.
On the much larger ships, with more people and cabins to process, the entire process is far more efficient. The same comparison is made for disembarkation. Not since many years ago have we had to vacate our cabin early in the morning of the last day. Rather, on HAL one may remain in ones cabin until one disembarks, by no later than 9:30 AM. That civilized process is not yet replicated on Seabourn. Rather, we had to be out of our cabins by 8AM, with general disembarkation only scheduled to begin at 8:30 AM. In fact it only began about 8:45 AM, with us waiting in the Club (one of the very nice bars on board which that morning was full of folk waiting for the "all clear").
We waited a bit to allow the crowds to disperse...yet got caught anyway in a hold in a hallway where we had to stand for about 15 minutes and wait until congestion below cleared up. On finally entering the hall where luggage is stored, two of three of our cases were present. Yet the third was not. We noted a bag that was easily identifiable on the slow-moving baggage belt and, when that bag came around again without our third bag having in the interim appeared, we reported our bag missing. We were told that, yes, all bags were off. My wife and the agent went to see if our third bag was elsewhere, while I waited with the other two cases. Lo and behold, after 9:30 a number of other bags suddenly appeared on the belt! So, contrary to what shore-staff were told, not all bags had, even as of that late hour, yet been removed from the ship!
Again, this ship has 450 passengers. It thus begs the question as to why HAL ships with three, four, and even five times more passengers can manage a far more efficient and, dare I say, luxurious, embarkation and disembarkation experience. After all, these two experiences book-end the cruise. They respectively set the tone for the cruise to come, and are the last memories which passengers take away. In my view, it is important that these thus be as positive experiences as is possible. At present, however, for this cruise I describe them as a Gong Show (for younger readers or those who never saw this circa 1980's US TV show, Google it).
From what I hear, Seabourn will be streamlining these processes in the future. Good; as once new and presumably more efficient processes conducive with the goal of providing a luxury experience are in place, we would be interested in how these work.
When we finally got to our room after 3PM, part of our cabin requests were accomplished, yet part were not. There was one person at guest relations who, when I called, was unfortunately completely unhelpful. Thank heavens for our excellent stewardess who sorted matters out, yet that guest relations person was either untrained and/or should go work for a governmental postal service. Alas, this was, however, our continuing "first impression" of what, after all, is billed as a luxury experience. It was in our view until that point the antithesis of luxury. Not a good first impression, yet happily, things did improve.
What was good on the Odyssey? In fact, there was lots we ultimately liked:
• We really liked the verandah cabin. It was more spacious, with more storage space than we expected (lots of drawers and the walk-in closet is great). It also was nicely appointed. We liked the very functional table in the room and footstool with tray, which facilitated room service meals. The verandah was just fine too. It held two nice chairs with ottomans, and a pub table suitable for a light meal or drinks.
• Carambola Beach Day—lovely beach, great meal (grilled lobster) prepared in somewhat challenging circumstances (not on the ship), and everyone, passengers and staff, in a great mood that day, with caviar and champagne in the surf--brilliant!
• Thomas Keller: We had two dinners there, each were truly excellent for food and service.
• Sommelier Onur, who really knows his stuff and is a very hard worker—the man was everywhere, all at once, yet he did it with aplomb! Sommelier Katryna in Keller was also excellent—quite knowledgeable, also, about wine and how to select for her customers.
• Our stewardess was a delight, as indeed were all of them on that floor.
• Some dining room (“The Restaurant”) lunches and dinners were excellent—on those occasions everything came together in a symphony of excellence.
Following from the last bullet above, let’s review what should have been better. The overall impression we formed is a lack of consistency. For example, some meals were great in the Restaurant, others less so. Some servers really were tops; others were the opposite—for example, when dining with another couple one night (night of the Chef’s Dinner) we were being rushed through course after course until my wife put a stop to it. As our second course plates were removed, she asked the waiter to hold the main course. He at first answered that “they were up”—meaning that he was going to bring them straight-away. We had to tell him, no, we don’t want them yet. In fine dining, should not rushing the meal not be obvious, without the guest needing to state the obvious?
Food is subjective, so this is just our taste and preferences. We found some meals excellent whether in Colonnade, Restaurant, or from Room Service. Service also improved as the cruise progressed, as did the food. Yet there were in some dishes too much salt, in our view. For example, the night the BBQ ribs were offered in Colonnade, those were great, yet the baked beans were just loaded with salt (too bad as they were otherwise promising). The lobster soufflé served one evening in the Restaurant also was too salty. Regarding salt, “less is more”. Other spices can be used instead, and more salt can always be added at the table.
Regarding the Colonnade, again, some of the servers (at all meals) were better than others. It was not always consistent. As to the Patio, the one night we tried it for dinner we found the service at best perfunctory, with long waits even for a menu. Nice venue, quite decent food, yet the service was “off” that night. It may have been that the area was short-staffed that night but, whatever the reason, service suffered that night.
One day at the small pool on deck 5 (a lovely spot), unlike the other days there was no bar-server periodically checking for who needed a drink. A deck-hand/mechanic when I asked kindly agreed to call someone to offer service. The chap who arrived took my order and the order of another lady, and eventually brought our drinks. Yet when I suggested that he see if others wanted a drink (the area was nearly full), he demurred, stating it was very busy at the upstairs pool, but he would send someone. My thought was while it was busy at the upstairs pool, what were we all at this pool--chopped liver? Moreover, I was there another almost two hours and nobody ever showed up to offer anyone anything. The next day it was much better, with servers regularly checking in to see if we wanted anything. That is as it should be, yet it should have happened seamlessly. This again speaks to the lack of consistency in the service.
Bar service in the Club was excellent generally, yet some of the new waiters were not aware of what was meant by “soda on the side”. The more experienced ones knew to bring a little beaker of soda water on request. Yet others did not, nor did some clearly understand our drink order the first time. The Bands were excellent at this venue, and got us all up and dancing before and after dinner (it was a different band after dinner).
Regarding the Observation Bar, there was a pianist in the Observation Bar. Yet when a few of us went up there one night after the show it was clear she was playing for background only. Other than a few groups most people left as it was kind of “dead”. If it could be made more of an impromptu piano bar, with sing-a-longs encouraged in the later evening, that would be very nice. I bet other guests would enjoy it.
Overall, we found the entertainment very good to excellent: lovely cast of talented singers and some nice impromptu shows, including opera on deck one afternoon. Some of the speciality acts were good too.
Overall, it appeared to us that the ship was struggling at times with demand. It seemed at times short-staffed, also with lots of new staff.
A word on dress code: we expected Seabourn to be more "formal" or dressy than is HAL. In fact, for our 12 day cruise there was only one formal night. While a few gents wore tuxes, many more wore suits (as did I) or sports jackets/blazers that night. At other nights in the Restaurant, while some men wore a jacket without a tie (most nights, as I schlepped a few jackets in my luggage, I wore them) many just wore a nice shirt and slacks. In the Colonnade or at the Patio it was even more casual. In the Caribbean this was not necessarily a bad thing. In Europe it may be more dressy yet, for this cruise at this time, this was what we observed.
Bottom line: we bought future cruise credits so we have the "no risk" option to return if we wish with a slight discount. We probably will return at some point to give Seabourn another chance. Yet, as can be seen, we were not blown away by our experience. Our first impressions of Seabourn is a mixed one, more mixed than I thought it would be. Read Less