In this article we look at Seabourn Cruises and Silversea Cruises as part 2 of this three-part series.
Not too many years ago the luxury cruise lines we are addressing in these articles were almost as diverse as the entire world of cruising. But in recent years their offerings have become surprisingly similar. Today, for example, all of the luxury cruise lines have made their cruises almost fully inclusive which makes comparisons between them far more difficult.
For example, several years ago there were different dining options and varying rules on whether tips, gratuities, alcoholic beverages and shore excursions were included in the cruise fare. Today, however, all of these luxury cruise lines are surprisingly similar and inclusive.
So, is there a "best cruise line in the world" that we could place at the top of the luxury cruising category? Not really - if anything the choice has become far more personal for the individual. There are unique aspects to each of these luxury lines that appeal to their loyal patrons for reasons of their own.
There are still a few rather surprising differences, however. For example, one of these cruise lines includes butlers with every stateroom on every ship, while another does not include butlers with any staterooms. While some of the lines offer larger ships yet still manage to visit a new port almost every day, some other lines offer even larger ships making it more conducive to spend the vast majority of their cruises at sea. Some of the smaller ships feature fewer onboard activities, for a quieter and more serene "yacht like experience" with excellent cuisine and service.
The article below will point out some of the differences between these luxury lines to help you make an informed selection. Be sure and read our cruise line and ship reviews for each one, available by clicking on the links below.
Seabourn, Like Cunard, is a smaller, independently managed division of Carnival Corp. But unlike Carnival or Cunard, Seabourn's ships have a loyal following that gives the line an almost cult-like status. Seabourn is currently a six-fleet line, with three larger and three smaller ships. But Seabourn recently announced that it will be selling its three smaller ships, capacity 208 passengers apiece, to Windstar cruises. They will continue to sail the three newer, 450 passenger Odyssey-class ships; and the line just announced it will be building a fourth ship; slightly larger than the larger triplets to make up for the loss of the smaller ships.
The new ship will be built by Fincantieri in Italy, and will join the Seabourn fleet in the second half of 2016. It will be approximately 40,000 gross tons and carry up to 604 passengers in 302 verandah suites. The layout will be based upon the Seabourn Odyssey-class ships, but with an additional deck and larger public areas.
The current 450-passenger ships include the Seabourn Odyssey, the Seabourn Sojourn and the Seabourn Quest. These ships have an onboard ambience that is similar to what was presented on the smaller ships; extremely quiet and solemn. There is not much to break up the day other than a few lectures and, of course, the excellent meals; breakfast lunch and dinner.
Over the last few years, all of the hardware on Seabourn has been upgraded, including the bedding, furniture and the fabrics. But in a way, with the larger ships what has been lost is the human touch. Individual service is the focus, and in the past every crew member knew your name by the second day. On today's Seabourn, however, the service is far less personalized in terms of crewmember interaction.
For example, Seabourn does not offer butler service in any category on any ship. For people who may not realize why this makes any difference in excellent on a luxury ship can help make your cruise a success by making sure all of your plans and desires are carried out flawlessly. The job of the butler is to assist you when you're desires are expressed, or to anticipate your needs when you are not so sure what you might like to do with your cruise.
Somehow, an interactive butler seemed incongruous with the "yacht like" experience on Seabourn vessels. You are put in charge of creating your own vacation, and all day provide is the vessel, the destinations, the accommodations and the excellent cuisine. Bottom line, privacy rules the day and it is up to you to discover the possibilities presented during your cruise. Many people prefer this less intrusive approach because it leaves them feeling completely in control. The drawback is that it one can miss important events during the cruise because the staff and other onboard communication is not proactive in telling you what is possible. In other words, no one plays the role of the butler on Seabourn. It is up to the cruiser to seek out the concierge services and to ask for planning assistance.
The three smaller Seabourn ships will be transferred to Windstar Cruises by the end of 2014, so we will confine our discussion to the larger ships of Seabourn. At 450 passengers these ships are still comparatively smaller than the ships of both Crystal and Regent Seven Seas.
The accommodations onboard Seabourn are extremely comfortable with large comfortable beds and ample balconies. However, unlike many luxury ships Seabourn has a very limited number of suites that are larger than the standard veranda suites that comprise the vast majority of staterooms. In those staterooms, however, is a mini-bar, a king-sized bed and an ample bathroom with shower-tub. One disappointment however was the extremely small television, about 24 inches, but at least you can watch any news network and free, on-demand movies in your stateroom.
In terms of daytime onboard enrichment there is generally just one enrichment advisor, often an historian or cultural expert in your cruising region. Additional demonstrations will be given by the chef. In the afternoons you will find crossword puzzles and trivia games have been distributed, and it has become well-known that on Seabourn the cruisers love “Competitive Trivia” is a team sport. I have heard the term "blood sport" used to describe this onboard competition.
Seabourn no longer provides dance hosts on it ships. The line has also started welcoming children but chose not to add youth coordinators to the staff. The average age of Seabourn cruisers has gone lower in recent years, which has led to an assortment of new shore excursions that includes cycling, hiking, rafting and zip-line canopy tours.
Seabourn Cruises at a Glance:
Many cruise experts place Silversea at the top of the luxury category, although Regent has recently surpassed Silversea in many polls due to new policies where shore excursions are included in the cruise fare. Still, it is hard to argue with Silversea's reputation, which used to be the most expensive cruise line in the world (on the luxury scale), due to its reputation as the cruise line for the people who want the best at any price. Today its prices today tend to be more competitive.
One reason the Silversea reputation became so stellar was the exemplary butler service offered to every passenger on every ship. As noted, as the butler makes helpful suggestions on things not to miss as well as assisting in dining reservations, booking shore tours, coordinating room service orders and making sure the liquor cabinet was always fully stocked.
Silversea also originated the concept of an onboard concierge who could arrange anything for you. Silversea's clientele conjured some very unusual requests, like "we want a private plane to fly us to this ancient ruin; then we'll need a car and driver, and a hotel. Expect us back on the ship the next day." Thus the line embraced the opportunity to combine cruising with "experiences" as something its clientele wanted, and could afford.
In truth, maybe the line tried a little too hard for a few years and struggled, especially as a private company in the current world economy. So Silversea does not have the deep pockets of Regent or Seabourn, but it does have reputation and experience.
Silverseas’ fleet includes two pairs of sisters; the older and smaller Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, and the larger and newer Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper. In addition, the company recently acquired two expedition vessels that specialize in adventure cruises. The first is the Silver Sea Explorer which is an ice class vessel that navigates both the Arctic and the Antarctic regions depending on the time of year. The other ship is the Galapagos Explorer which only goes to the islands of the Galapagos off the west coast of Chile.
The largest and most luxurious Silverseas ships are the 540 passenger, 28,000-ton Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper. Although they only carry 150 more guests, they are still small enough to be intimate, but large enough to offer an elegant two-story show lounge and six completely different dining venues. Something that is very unusual for ships this small.
This is one thing that helps to put Silversea at the forefront of the luxury class. One of the new ships’ ultra-enticing dining options is the Seishin Restaurant for Kobe beef, sushi and seafood (there is a small fee to dine here). But for the most elegant dining experience at sea, the Le Champagne six-course culinary experience is presented on all of the Silversea ships with fine wines and spirits paired with a tasting menu. This true gourmand experience has a price tag to match. Of course, when truffles, caviar, foie gras and other rare dishes are accompanied by the world's most famous vintages, it is worth any price for the memory.
The "Personalized Voyages" program allows voyagers to design their own cruise by choosing their own embarkation and disembarkation days. Guests can create specialized voyages of any length five days or longer. They are charged a daily rate whether they book five or 55 days depending upon the ports and stateroom category chosen. All Silversea staterooms are suites, three-quarters with their own verandas, and all gorgeously appointed. All gratuities and beverages, including select coffees, wines, champagnes and spirits are also included.
As for how the line has changed in the last few years; the average age is now in the lower 50s, similar to other luxury lines, with the medium age on summer Mediterranean cruises dropping into the 30s and 40s. More of their cruises now offer extended port stays, including overnights in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and London, and multiple days in St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Hong Kong.
Probably the most unique thing about the line is its unprecedented focus on multiple hotel night stays and overland excursions during their cruises. These can be pre or post-cruise options, but in many cases these overnight excursions involve plane lifts, private guides and overnight hotel stays to places like Luxor or the Taj Mahal in the middle of the cruise.
A new "Wellness Program" fully integrates classes in nutrition and exercise, fitness activities, spa therapies and healthy dining options. The goal is to create the opportunity for a "complete rejuvenation of mind, body and soul while at sea."
New onboard and shoreside enrichment programs involve famous chefs, politicians, writers, and explorers. Expanded Internet and Wi-Fi capabilities include a recently launched service that allows guests to use their cell phones and PDA devices while at sea.
Silversea Cruises at a Glance: