I grew up sailing in inside cabins on last minute deals, usually in the Caribbean – the logic was always that you could save the difference between that inside cabin and a balcony and use it towards another cruise. Thanks to that mindset I have been on quite a few cruises in my lifetime.
However, when the opportunity presented itself to be able to go on a Seabourn Cruise I was ecstatic. Seabourn is one of a couple of handfuls of luxury lines out there. For luxury brands I have only sailed on Seabourn, but if that experience is any indication of what the luxury cruise market is like, it is an incredible experience that can be well worth the money. Their website totes that Seabourn “offers unique, all-inclusive, luxury cruise vacations featuring ports of call around the globe with service consistently ranked best of the best.” It was all of this and more. Suffice it to say I wasn’t disappointed.
I have been lucky enough to sail on two Seabourn cruises. The first on the Seabourn Encore for 10 days in the Mediterranean (Barcelona to Civitavecchia), the second for a week on the Seabourn Odyssey in the Caribbean (Barbados to Sint Maarten). Leading up to the first cruise in the Mediterranean I was excited and a bit intimidated. For the first time in a long time I was researching cruise-ship dress codes, not wanting to seem out of place in this luxury world. After having sailed on dozens of cruises as a passenger and literally lived onboard as a crew member and spouse, how would a cruise on a luxury line be different?
When we arrived at the terminal for check-in there were complimentary drinks being provided, there was no-line, and the crew already knew our names. Thank you very much, I think I am going to fit in here just fine! The dress code onboard was more relaxed than I expected, with everyone wearing what I would call resort casual. Slightly more upscale that on my previous cruises, but also fairly un-stuffy. While I am sure there were those wearing designer labels, during the day a pair of shorts or a sundress seemed to fit in fine. In the evenings at the restaurants it was again resort casual – basically no jeans or shorts, and a button down shirt for the gentleman. At The Club – the bar with a live band playing into the evenings that was nicely located adjacent to an open air deck – a pair of dark jeans would be fine. They had several formal nights as well, although the dress code was mostly for the more formal of the restaurants and there was still plenty to do if you opted to stay more casual.
When we got onboard we went to lunch at The Colonnade (their version of the typical “Lido Buffet”) that is far more than your normal buffet. A server would come around and see what you would like for beverages, and while there was a lovely buffet, you could also order a variety of items through the server as well. After that you wander up to the bar, and, no need to show them your card, why yes I think I will have a glass of champagne, thank you very much! I was also impressed from even that very first meal onboard how knowledgeable and accommodating they were with my food allergy. (Yay!)
Seabourn ships are small compared to the mega-ships of today, with only 600 guests on the Seabourn Encore and 450 on the Seabourn Odyssey; however, this allows them to navigate into smaller ports, as well as to create a club-like, intimate atmosphere onboard.
All staterooms on Seabourn ships are suites and as such I was excited to see what ours had to offer. Our suite was well appointed with possibly the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, a fully stocked mini-fridge (to our tastes, that you can pre-select prior to joining the ship), a welcome bottle of champagne, a walk-in closet, a bathroom drenched in marble and granite with a jacuzzi tub, double sink vanity, a separate shower stall, an assortment of Molton Brown products (which will make your hair feel like silk), as well as truly luxurious bathrobes and slippers. The suite also included a spacious balcony, sitting area, and dining table. There was a separate vanity for putting on your makeup and jewelry, and well designed storage. The television was interactive, where you could select movies, TV shows, news, and sports channels to watch, as well as information about the cruise such as the program of activities for the day, port information, and your bill (if you had one).
While the appointments around the ship and our suite were lovely and tasteful, what I liked the most was that it was all-inclusive. When I first started going on cruises I loved that there weren’t prices on the menus. I loved the feeling of sitting in a restaurant and knowing everything on the menu was already included. The lobster cost the same as the side salad, on the majority of cruise lines now there are a-la-carte add ons to the menus, there are specialty restaurants that cost extra, and should you want extra surf with your turf there is a surcharge with that. There are some items on Seabourn that do carry extra cost aside from the obvious ones like the spa, shops, or shore excursions, but aside from some top shelf liquors and wines those costs are few and far between.
The specialty coffee shop did not have an extra charge for the hot chocolate, or the cappuccino, or the latte. There was no charge for that evening glass of wine, or perhaps you want to try something a bit different – maybe a whisky sour or a Hemingway daiquiri. Be like James Bond and order a dry martini, shaken, not stirred. There was never a charge at any of the restaurants, including the specialty ones. The only difference to dining at the specialty restaurants was you may need a reservation.
The entertainment level was perfect for what we were looking for. There were talks on the places we were going, trivia in the afternoon, a show at night, and a band playing in the evening. The entertainment included a production of An Evening with Tim Rice, a partnership with the acclaimed musical theater lyricist. There was afternoon tea, and a pianist for evening hors d’oeuvres. There were enough pools they didn’t feel crowded, and a bartender (even coming around by the back aft pool) making sure you always had plenty of libations. By the pools they would have sunscreen in varying SPF’s available, not for purchase, simply just to be convenient for your use. And, while we didn’t use them while onboard there was a nice gym facility and a Spa & Wellness program in partnership with Dr. Andrew Weil.
Our stateroom steward saw that Stuart had a pension for local beers and thusly stocked our mini-fridge with beers local to each of the ports we were going to. She knew I liked berries and would deliver a bowl of berries to the suite every afternoon.
On our first cruise with Seabourn we were newly engaged and they decorated our suite accordingly, on our second cruise with Seabourn we were on our honeymoon and they once again went above and beyond (without us asking at all). Rose petals scattered on the bed, a bubble bath drawn, and while the wine was all complimentary, a well presented extra bottle of wine to enjoy.
We never waited in line to get on a tender and never had to get a tender ticket. We enjoyed caviar in the surf where the crew (including officers) were in the water serving us champagne. They towed us around on inner tubes, we had lobster for lunch. We ordered room service for breakfast and had it served on white linen table cloths. We ate at The Grill by Thomas Keller and on the Seabourn Encore enjoyed their sushi restaurant. One night I really liked what was on the menu for The Restaurant (their main restaurant) but Stuart really liked something on the menu at The Colonnade, so we went to both, and sat outside at The Colonnade enjoying a few glasses of wine while looking out at the sea.
There was never an extra charge for any of it, and not only that, we didn’t have to get our room card out to see we had the beverage package, or to see if that dinner was included. As it was all included for everyone on a ship where you needed to have saved some money to get there ironically onboard money, or the cost of something, was never brought up. Tipping is included in the fare of your cruise and, as we didn’t go to the spa or book an excursion we left the ship with a $0 balance on our stateroom account. While the all-inclusive has a more expensive upfront cost, the inclusions and service certainly helped to make up the difference. I left feeling relaxed and pampered. It was a bit like the movie Maid in Manhattan (ad) with Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes, you know the one where she puts on a ballgown and gets mistaken for someone fancy and then gets to sneak into life on the “other side” for just a minute? It’s like any time I’ve gotten moved up to First Class on a plane – except I got to feel that way for a week.
Would we sail on an all-inclusive luxury cruise every time? No, because each cruise line is designed for a different experience. Would it be the right experience for a family vacation with our nieces and nephews? I don’t think so. I think they would enjoy a larger ship with more kids activities, and that’s alright. Not every cruise is meant for every type of holiday. But, for a special holiday – a honeymoon, an important anniversary, or if life has been really hard and you want to feel like you are the bees knees (like it has been for everyone in 2020) – it is an incredible experience that is most definitely worth it.
And, for all those missing life at sea, here’s a sail away from Port Elizabeth in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines from the Seabourn Odyssey last year.
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