Last year in June we cruised Athens to Istanbul on the Seabourn Spirit. It was our first time on Seabourn. We have previously sailed Crystal and Raddison Seven Seas. The level of service on Seabourn was excellent. The ship was in great condition, although I did see a section of carpet that really should be replaced (minor).
Seabourn can be very expensive, but the Athens/Istanbul itinerary was heavily discounted since it was booking so soon after the war. We felt we really got a tremendous value with this high a level of service at a heavily discounted price. The ship was full with almost 1/3 Europeans (mostly British). This is a very small cruise ship. As a matter of fact its more like a mega-yacht than a cruise ship and that's how Seabourn markets it. Ship size is a personal preference thing. I actually liked the smaller, more intimate feel. However I am very motion sensitive. We had smooth seas but I imagine in a rough sea you will get quite a lot more motion than the larger ships. When we were in Kusadasi, Turkey, we were docked next to the Silver Whisper (Silverseas). The Seabourn Spirit looked small next to that ship, and that one is considered a small ship.
Boarding was a breeze. The next day was a holiday in Greece so we couldn't go see the Monastery on Amorgos Island. Instead they pulled into a protected cove and opened up the marina off the back of the ship. This is really a cool feature and doesn't get used all that often. They pulled skiers, banana boats and tubes. There were inflated canoes and paddle boats. They also have a large steel cage you can swim in but we just swam in the open off the back of the yacht in the Aegean Sea. It was very salty so you were very buoyant. Can't beat it.
The food was really good and we wound up seeing the Chef on a number of occasions as he came around to insure everything was right. There were a number of people with dietary issues that he would personally check on. I did the galley tour and it was sparkling. Oddly, I always had trouble getting a glass of water in the Veranda restaurant for breakfast. Always had to ask multiple times. We met some really demanding people and the crew did their best to satisfy them. One night I asked if by chance they had a Crème Brule in the kitchen (it wasn't on the menu) and out came the most wonderful chocolate one. At lunch on the top deck my wife and another person we had met wanted veggie-burgers. They did not have any but called down to the kitchen to see if there was anything they could do. 15 minutes later, up came a real veggie-burger made by the Chef. It had chopped veggies and used mashed potatoes as a binding agent. It was really good and of course, real.
Drinks were all included and you get 2 bottles of liquor in your room (your selection). We had rum and vodka and one day wanted a Bloody Mary. We left a note for our Stewardess to see if there was any mix we could get and when we returned to our room, there was a pitcher of mix in our ice box. One of the things I liked the most about Seabourn is not having to sign all the time when you order drinks. Its all inclusive. We wind up doing a lot of signing on both Crystal and Radisson.
We got lucky in that Eric DeGray, who had just signed on with Legend, was promoted to Cruise Director and moved to our ship. He is incredibly talented and brought a breath of fresh air to the usual lounge lizard type entertainment on small ships. Eric was talented enough to actually do a real "show".
We had one of the French Balconies. I would recommend them. We had full balconies on our previous cruises and while this was no substitute, it sure was nice to open up the "wall" and look out. The weather was nice so we had it open a lot when we were in the room. The bottom of the balcony is only out about 1 1/2 foot and the top is only out about 9 inches. It has a Plexiglas sheet that was always dirty and hard to see out of. Once we put the footstools on the balcony and sat out there but it was a bit too crowded.
Except Istanbul and Kusadasi we booked ships excursions which were fine but over priced. In Istanbul and Kusadasi we used a local tour co. called Byzance ( http://more.at/Byzance ). An individual full day tour in a Mercedes in Istanbul cost for 10 of us $ 225 and half day tour in Ephesus for $125. They took us everywhere, we wanted to see and was well worth the money since you get so much more information when you see these places with a guide than on your own. In Istanbul the essentials are the Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the underground cistern, the Grand Bazaar and, if you have time, the Topkapi Palace although, for me, this last one is not a "must see". The Spice Bazaar is also interesting but you can see the same thing on a larger scale in the Grand Bazaar. Venice is a place I would do on my own as a lot of that city involves wandering around and absorbing the sights. You can see St. Mark's on your own and not miss anything without a guide. Seabourn always has a free shore excursion that provides an "experience" you can't get anywhere else. Ours was the classical concert in Ephesus. In front of the Library building facade, they had set up cocktail tables and chairs, covered of course like they do at fancy banquets. There was a Quintet of strings which played a concert for us as the sun went down and the Library facade was illuminated in lights. Stunning.
I really liked Seabourn and will cruise them again if I find a good discounted fare. I think they are too expensive for our needs. While the service IS better, I can't justify spending the large increase over Radisson. We are not as demanding of service as others, who will find Seabourn a good value. To us, once we reach a certain level of service, more has very diminishing returns.