My first sailing experience with Seabourn Cruises finally fills a gap in my cruise experience that has haunted me for the last five years. So, how did it go?
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My Personal Seabourn Experience
I left off my previous article about Seabourn by comparing the line to other luxury cruise lines. But now I would like to relate my personal experience of the ship. As I said before, I went on the ship without knowing every little thing there is to know about the line. However, I don't feel being schooled in Seabourn would have made for a drastically different cruise experience except in the case of the Chef's Dinner - which I missed because I had no idea of its existence.
Despite what Seabourn devotees told me, the service I encountered was not what I would describe as personalized. I have been on almost every cruise line you can name, so while I may not have had previous Seabourn experience, I certainly have experience with all kinds of cruise ships, luxury and otherwise. So I feel fully qualified to judge the service I received.
Now, I do want to say this. I can see HOW a Seabourn cruise could be made very personalized. For instance, if I had chosen to eat dining room room service in my stateroom every night, with a fresh bottle of wine, caviar and a good movie, then I would have felt that Seabourn was "my yacht." I assume a fair number of Seabourn regulars do this. But as a guest of the cruise line I don't feel such behavior would be very polite. I was there to report on the experience, not to live the high life.
So, getting back to the "cruise line for people who don't like cruise lines" idea, while that concept has a wry nonconformist appeal - in fact it is a cruise line and there are aspects of any cruise that are critical, even if it isn't an experience you like. For example, maybe you don't like dining rooms, art auctions or bingo games. I don't either. But no one twists my arm on any cruise to attend them. So, why should I find value in not having something I wouldn't pay any attention to anyway?
My point is this - yes those things are annoying, but what have they replaced them with on Seabourn? I don't like brocolli, but does that mean I should go hungry? I witnessed trivia games like most cruise lines, culinary demonstrations like most cruise lines, enrichment lecturers like all luxury cruise lines...
My challenge has become this - with so little actually happening on this ship, a 12-day cruise with five port stops, that I just don't have that much to talk about except the little details; the stuff that is supposed to make Seabourn so unique, so, here we go.
My Luxury Cruise Background
Once again - I know some people have said I "just don't get it." Let me give you my personal cruise background. My very first cruise experience was working aboard Royal Viking Line, started by the infamous Warren Titus, coincidentally the same person who started Seabourn Cruises. I spent eight months aboard the Royal Viking Sea and the Sky in 1983-4 in a position where I had run of the ship just like any passenger. I even lived in a passenger stateroom. I was in the entertainment department as a stage manager, so I saw all of the shows, ate most of my meals with regular passengers and I was schooled from the staff side, not the passenger side, on luxury cruise line protocol.
In this respect, I do feel I know the difference between luxury and average cruise service.
As I mentioned, Seabourn has defined itself as a very "yacht-like" experience, meaning the focus is on giving the guests a feeling that they are at sea with very few cruise-ship like activities. For example – while there are some activities during the day, rarely if ever will you run into an "I can't decide what to do" conflict. At any given hour of the day there is likely only one event happening, a lecture, a culinary demonstration, a dance lesson, etc. Barring those given options, your choices are to sit in the sun (not easy on our cruise), stay in your stateroom, exercise or sit in the Seabourn Square and read a book or the daily newspaper. The line has USA Today and the Wall Street Journal delivered digitally and they print a few copies for reading by guests within Seabourn Square on large news-print size paper.
It was humorous that my room stewardess asked me if I would like a newspaper delivered to my stateroom daily, and when I said "yes" – she asked, "USA Today?" I asked if there was any extra charge, and she said no. "Wow," I thought, "That is great. I love doing their crossword puzzle daily." Other cruise ships, like Cunard, will deliver the WSJ or USA Today to your suite every day, but you have to pay dearly for it. But alas, it turned out my stewardess was confused, she really meant to ask if I wanted the typical "USA Daily News," six page news summary which is the same as every cruise line brings to you. I wouldn't mention it, except that someone else onboard told me the stewardess asked her if she would like "USA Today" delivered daily.
Otherwise, the stewardess was nice enough. I rarely spoke to her except once to ask her about special bathtub products. We were given three bubble baths for a two-person, 12-night cruise. They were used up by the third day. When we asked if she could get any more she said, "sorry, we don't have any more." That was on day three. On most luxury cruise lines you would expect the stewardess to find and deliver those products to you eventually. She never bothered to recheck so no more bubble bath for the rest of the cruise. Oh, was I supposed to keep asking her about them? I guess I just don't "get" Seabourn.
I also said I prefer Grolsch Beer for my refrigerator. She said it was not available. I said, "But I have seen it throughout the ship, are you just saying it isn't available to staterooms?"
"I'll see," she said. To her credit, it was in my refrigerator the next day. I appears the ship only mentions "soft drinks" and water will be in your refrigerator, and everything I had was in cans, including two cans of a beer brand I don't care for. But she did bring the Grolsch. Kudos for her - but why do they limit the refrigerator drinks to cans of soda or beer?
I personally found the wait staff on Sojourn to be very nice, but as far as personalized service goes, I saw no special proficiency for remembering my personal preferences for anything. Oh, someone was always there to carry my plate (a service I personally dislike in much the same way some people dislike bingo), but my preference for olive oil for my bread was never remembered. Several nights (and I was at the same table many nights in a row) I had to ask for olive oil with my bread, and each time it took several minutes and was delivered to me in a ramekin in miniscule amounts, maybe a teaspoon at a time.
But here is where we had a serious problem; my wife is on a very restrictive vegetarian diet ordered by her personal M.D. due to a very serious medical condition. Pre-cruise in the online registration I specified a dairy and gluten-free vegetarian diet for her. This is what we eat at home. It is not an easy diet for my wife to follow, but she tries because she is under doctor's orders.
My wife asked me a dozen times, pre-cruise, "they know about my diet, right?" I absolutely assured her they did, and that she would love the food. I had heard the Seabourn promise to accommodate any diet. But when we got onboard no one had any knowledge of her dietary request at all.
At our first dinner in the Colonnade she said to our waiter, "My name is Lou Ann Motter, and my husband specified a certain diet for me before the cruise." The waiter had no idea where to even start with that information. She recommended my wife look at the vegetarian entrée. But as she perused the menu and asked about the specific ingredients of anything that looked promising the waiter had to walk to the kitchen and ask the chef, but that night every dish was made with dairy (butter, cream or cheese); even when the menu said "vegetarian." On Seabourn, vegetarian means "without meat," and nothing else. Dairy-free is not something they do onboard, although they certainly promise it on the web site.
Making a very long story short, my wife made do for five nights. Some nights her dinner was a baked potato with olive oil. Some nights she waited while the chef steamed some vegetables. That was nice, but time consuming, she spent most of her dinners watching the rest of us eat. Some nights she "cheated," because it was just easier, but certainly not for lack of trying to do the right thing on her part. The second night we had a discussion with the restaurant manager onboard about her diet, and here is what she was served for her main course the third night...
Now, let me ask you. If you were a travel agent for a client who needed a special diet, and I will just ask you to imagine why a woman would request a "dairy-free" diet, and you got this picture as an example of what Seabourn chose to present to her as her main dinner on her third night aboard - what would your honest reaction be?
Yes - we both wondered if they were making a joke of the dietary requests we had made. I will be honest and say this is pretty much what she asked for - after three days of asking if they could come up with a palatable meal that was meat and dairy-free and getting blank stares she had asked them, "Can you just serve me a salad with nothing but raw vegetables?" and they did.
But we still don't understand why it was so hard to make a hot dish with lentil soup, a baked or sweet potato, any kind of cooked beans with onions and chili peppers, steamed carrots, asparagus, squash or pumpkin, etc. How about brown rice? And if they offer vegetarian dishes, wouldn't just a little soy be nice? This is a cruise line that employs something like 50 chefs - and they couldn't serve a person with a doctor-ordered diet she specified weeks before she left home? That picture would be an embarassment for any cruise line, but this was Seabourn. I have to admit, this put a damper on our entire cruise.
Finally, for our pre-arranged anniversary meal in Restaurant 2, she got her first palatable presentation - an entire plate of lovely cooked vegetables. See how happy she is?They also made us a beautiful, gluten-free cake with tons of fresh fruit on top. The next day she left.
I won't go into the whole story of what she had night after night. I just want to say this about diets - for whatever reason a person wants a certain diet, whether it is doctor ordered, religious or moral (I won't eat anything with a face), it should be devoutly respected by the cruise line you are sailing upon. A cruise line is not just a floating restaurant where if you don't like the food you shouldn't go. A cruise line is a sea-going experience first, with your food service included in the cruise fare. For my wife to have to endure humiliating and uncomfortable experiences, night after night, with waiters who had no idea what to do with her because the chefs didn't seem to remember she was onboard is an insult to any husband's sensibilities. We all feel protective of our wives, and it's too bad to say its probably a good thing she had pre-arranged to leave early.
This night set the mood for a few days, and it was only two days later that we had the "Chef's Dinner" fiasco where I missed one of the Seabourn specialities. I spoke about that before.
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