I read this in the recent Fort Worth, TX Star Telegram about Seabourn
By Len Marino
Special to the Star-Telegram
To paraphrase an old adage, luxury once enjoyed becomes a necessity. Stepping aboard the luxury cruise ship for a trans-Atlantic crossing to Europe was like going home and sinking into your favorite chair: The stress of a travel day melted away in a warm flush of indulgence.
For many years, a luxury cruise was beyond the means of most of us, too expensive to consider. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. The surge in the numbers of newly launched ships, economic hard times and stiff competition have made luxury fares comparable to those of the mega-liners, and today, many experienced cruise travelers are opting for smaller, more upscale ships with personalized service and special amenities.
Surprisingly, the cost for a luxury cruise is sometimes even less than for a cruise aboard a mega-ship.
My wife and I recently took back-to-back cruises, first aboard a large liner and then on a smaller "luxury" ship, the Seabourn Legend. The luxury cruise was $40 a day less per person: $272 for the big ship, once add-on gratuities, beverages and other fees were included, and $233 for the luxury ship.And the experience aboard the Legend was superb.
A different voyage
There are several lines specializing in "luxury" cruising, including Silver Sea, SeaDream, Crystal and Seabourn. Seabourn has garnered an impressive array of awards for passenger satisfaction, cuisine and service.
Recent discounts have been as much as 65 percent below many brochure fares, and the savings are particularly evident for the Legend if you have been aboard any of the 11 sister lines owned by Carnival.
Seabourn has summarized their vacations as "the Seabourn experience." Our "experience" began the month prior when an attractive box containing personalized leather luggage tags and cruise documents in a beautiful leather binder was delivered to our home. We arrived at the pier and were greeted by a white-gloved, immaculately dressed crew member who picked up our carry-on luggage and escorted us aboard -- no line, no waiting, effortless.
The Seabourn Legend resembles a sleek, modern yacht. They advertise that no tipping is expected or required and our cruise fare was truly inclusive. All bars aboard the ship were open -- no charges for wine, cocktails or beverages. Meals were served with fine wines, paired expertly to complement each meal and poured freely by omnipresent servers.
On the larger liner, by comparison, bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were all added to the final bill, as was an unexpected gratuity charge that amounted to about $30 a day.
Within minutes of arriving in our suite on the Legend, our stewardess arrived with a big smile and a tray holding two chilled flutes of champagne and two tiny caviar hors d'oeuvres. We were offered a choice of high-end bath amenities for use during our cruise and a choice of pillow types. The linens were fine Egyptian cotton. Our beverage preferences (soft drinks, bottled water, Belvedere vodka and white zinfandel) were stocked in our in-suite minibar - all complimentary.
By the third day, every staff member aboard the ship greeted us by name -- a personal touch I've never seen aboard another line. I discovered the secret methodology of this while walking past the open cleaning supply locker of our stewardess. There on the inside of the door was not a photo of Brad Pitt, but photos of all of her guests.
The meals aboard the ship were consistently delicious, served in two restaurants -- the main dining room or on a covered verandah at the rear of the ship. Watching the sunset over the churning wake of the ship while enjoying an open-air dinner is something you shouldn't miss.
In each of the restaurants, you may choose to dine alone or join others. There are no assigned tables, as on many mega-ships, and your wishes for company or privacy is respected.
Dinner is an event aboard any cruise. There are formal evenings and casual evenings. Seabourn's passengers seem to uniformly enjoy the old-world custom of dressing well.
Calling room service
Sometimes, however, you just don't want to leave your stateroom, particularly after a long sightseeing day in one of the ports. Room service is an option. Most cruise lines have a room-service menu consisting of a few items available at certain times. On the Legend we were able to order anything we wished -- either from the full restaurant menu (delivered daily to your cabin) or something we were craving that was not on the menu. After a week of gourmet food, I needed a break. Fried chicken and macaroni and cheese were not a problem for the kitchen. Room-service meals are served course by course in suite. Nothing feels better after a long, tiring day sightseeing than five-star dining while lounging comfortably in your pajamas.
One room-service dining experience particularly impressed me: I requested a no nmenu pasta dish. It quickly arrived and was among the best I've ever eaten; I asked our waiter to thank the chef. Fifteen minutes later there was a knock on the door and our waiter presented me with a handwritten recipe for that dish and the compliments of the chef.
Upon arrival in Europe we discovered another advantage to the Legend: Smaller ships can enter ports that are impossible for larger ships to navigate. As a result the doors swing wide to the Spanish and French Riviera's finest yacht havens of Nice, Monaco, Portimao and Cadiz.
In one of our ports we joined a day tour to Seville, Spain. Our arrival coincided with a major festival, "La Feria de Abril," an annual affair during which the entire city pays homage to bullfighting, horseback riding and flamenco. Women throughout the city dress in colorful flamenco garb. These magnificent, flamboyant dresses are everywhere and are worn by all ages, from young girls to grandmothers. There is a daily procession called the "Paseo de Caballos" in which local ladies in their brilliantly colored clothing are pulled through the city in horse-drawn carriages.
Seabourn also has a unique tradition at the end of the day. After hours of touring some beautiful location, you step off your tour bus returning to the ship exhausted and discover the officers and crew lined up in front of the gangway with a small band, playing merrily. Prominent among the greeters is a row of stewardesses holding up a large banner proclaiming, "WELCOME HOME." As you walk up you're greeted with a moist hand towel, a refreshing beverage and smiles everywhere. You realize at that moment that this is home and you really are happy to be back.
Len Marino is a member of *********** forum, president of a San Antonio physician recruitment firm and a retired Army pilot. He and his wife have traveled worldwide and enjoyed dozens of cruises.
This is indeed a very good review. Of course it is easier to give that personalized kind of service on a smaller ship and the legend is a smaller ship.
The new Seabourn Odyssey is 450 passengers, and they have two sisters to it coming out. That means the entire capacity of Seabourn is about to go from 600 passengers to 1950 - more tahn triple their previous size.
Do you think they can coninue to be as personalized at that rate?
Imagine - they have to triple their workforce within the space of two years - and teach them all the Seabourn way of doing things. Not an easy task.
The Seabourn Sojourn, sister to Odyssey, was launched in June 2010 and just completed her first trans-Atlantic crossing (Nov. 3-15, 2010), and the 3rd of the 450-passenger ships, Seabourn Quest, wil launch next June, 2011.
I just returned from a 9 day cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey, one of the big sisters. The quality of the service is on a par with that on the smaller triplets with but a couple of exceptions.
The one that is most notable (though to me not terribly relevant) is that on the smaller ships the staff with probably know your name within two days, while on the larger ships the chances are most of the staff won't. Why? Because each staff member "only" has to learn about 100 names (200 guests) on the smaller ships, but about 225 names (450 guests) on the larger ships.
Otherwise, the cuisine is excellent as is the service. Seabourn has invested significantly in the Seabourn Academy to assure consistency among all of its ships.
The Seabourn Academy is a training program which exists in Seabourn's Miami offices and on all of its ships. Seabourn actually takes 4 suites, in addition to the regular crew space, for trainees to shadow the staff so that they learn on the job (without interfering with the job!) how to do things the Seabourn way.
The staff are actually quite multinational, but the vast majority are from Europe and South Africa. There are a few South Americans as well. Culturally and experientially there is a difference with most Asian cultures, so that the interaction with the guests is more engaged rather than quietly pleasing.
In the end, regardless of nationality, Seabourn trains it staff to be intuitive and to find ways never to say "No".
There are very few Asian crew members amongst the "front of house" staff, but the two that we know are amongst our very favourites. (They are brothers) Then again we also have favourites from South Africa, and all parts of Europe. The crew is what makes Seabourn so "special" IMO.
__________________ Granny Lorr
Seabourn Pride...Dover to Singapore...88 Days....Sept 17 2011