Sipping champagne on deck and listening to live performances of operatic arias as the pink-purple glow of sunset spread across the sky and watching the executive chef, in full uniform, take a flying, somersault dive off one of the ship’s launches and surface to serve “Caviar in the Surf” at an all-ship beach barbecue party were among the unforgettable experiences on a recent 12-day Seabourn Odyssey cruise through the Caribbean.
The line calls these “Seabourn Moments” but equally important were the more subtle touches—like discovering the tucked-away Deck 6 whirlpool that my husband and I had to ourselves and having a waiter appear as if by magic to offer us drinks (cued by a security camera, we later learned), being served drinks and popcorn as we played team trivia, and the fruit platter that Raquel, our cabin stewardess, delivered to our cabin
“Our ships are essentially ultra-luxury hotels/resorts. They just happen to be at sea…traveling from place to place, discovering hidden harbors and marque ports and destinations,” says Chris Austin, Seabourn’s senior v.p. of global marketing and sales.
With 335 crew members serving a maximum of 456 guests, the staff has time to tune in on individual needs. For example, one elderly solo traveler found his home chatting and teasing with the ever-friendly guest services staff. Additionally, guest services is on hand 24/7 to right any complaints and a mid-cruise in-room questionnaire offers another opportunity to tease out possible improvements.
Seabourn also has one of the highest ratio of space per guest in the cruise industry. Public spaces include a library, a card and game room, and six lounges and bars as well as a casino and boutique. There are two pool areas—one in the heart of the ship and a quieter one in the aft, along with five whirlpools and ample deck space.
Fellow passengers were well-traveled, affluent, generally aged 45 to 65, and largely British, North American and Australian. On our sailing, we were surprised by how many devoted Seabourn cruisers there were; almost ¾ had sailed with the line at least once and many couples we spoke with had been on five or more cruises with Seabourn.
Dee Framson CTC, MCC, cruise & travel expert, Boca Raton Travel & Cruises, a Virtuoso member, wasn’t surprised. “My clients choose Seabourn for its consistently high level of service. They might cruise on another line when Seabourn doesn’t go where they want.” She adds that for about half her Seabourn clients, the ports are irrelevant. “They say ‘I don’t care where the ship goes, I’m going for the ship.’”
The sense of luxury is enhanced by spacious all-suite accommodations; most are 295 sq. ft. Like 90 percent of the cabins, ours had a balcony. All have a separate sitting area that can be curtained off from the bedroom, a posh marble bathroom with a soaking tub, shower, double sink, selection of Molton Brown toiletries, and a walk-in closet. Both European and U.S. outlets are provided and WiFi, available at a charge, was unfaltering and fast. In-room 24-hour dining, with meals served course-by-course, was available. And except spa and wellness treatments, excursions and WiFi, almost everything—including craft cocktails, champagne and caviar—is complimentary…with no tipping expected.
Despite its small size—the Odyssey has only 229 suites—and even with several sea days, we were never at a loss for things to do. The entertainment is more varied than we’ve seen on many small ships. Highlights include two concerts by pianist/composer/humorist Elliot Finkel, performances by two different comedians, and a choice of pre- and after-dinner venues with live music. We also loved the Seabourn Conversations, engaging talks by professors on regional topics such as Alexander Hamilton, Empress Josephine, and aspects of Caribbean culture. Some we attended live, but we loved that we could watch taped versions at our leisure in our cabin, and then speak to the professors around the ship.
We also enjoyed experiencing the diverse ambiances at the ship’s four dining venues. The main dining room, The Restaurant, offered the option of dining at tables hosted by senior crew and performers. The less formal Colonnade had different ethnic focuses each evening. And we often chose the super-casual, poolside Patio Grill, especially for lunch. There was also full afternoon tea daily at the Observation Bar and specialty coffees and snacks throughout the day at Seabourn Square. All have great service, and showcase the influence of Seabourn’s partnership with chef Thomas Keller. But the highlight is dinner at The Grill by Thomas Keller, a nostalgic throwback to the high-touch service of a 50s-60s chophouse, with table-side preparations of Caesar salad and ice cream Sundays, premium steaks, lobster thermidor and Parker House-style rolls. (Reservations required; no upcharge.)
In addition to chef Thomas Keller, the line has partnered with English lyricist Sir Tim Rice to create a concert-style evening show and Dr. Andrew Weill to offer a customized mindful living program with a daily schedule of lectures, workshops and exercise classes that include guided meditation, yoga and stretch classes. The ship also has an inviting fitness center, as well as sauna and steam baths. Its expansive spa features treatments drawing on traditions from around the world and earned rave reviews from fellow passengers.
“Most repeat guests chose Seabourn for the luxury and their cruises are well-priced considering what is included,” notes Diane Bower, owner, CruzDiva Travel, an independent agency in the Avoya Network. She says presenting a side-by-side pricing and inclusions comparison often makes the sale. “Seabourn offers a lot of fine touches that first-time guests aren’t used to, and it’s very exciting for them.”