Year Started: 1986
Ships in Fleet: 6
Summary: One of the luxury cruise lines. Spacious all-suite ships, great cuisine, quiet service with no butlers. World-wide itineraries. Three 450-passenger ships.
Seabourn is a luxury cruise line, meaning it has all the inclusive offerings expected such as beer, wine and other beverages and gratuities included in the cruise fare. The most outstanding element of the cruise line is the cuisine which is top quality all the time. The service is non-intrusive yet friendly and helpful. The staff on the smaller ships make it a point to learn the names of all guests by the end of the first night.
Seabourn Cruise Line was started in 1989 with two identical 200-passengers 10,000-ton "yachts," Seabourn Legend and the Seabourn Spirit, with a third of the same size, Seabourn Pride, acquired in 1991. It was a small and exclusive Norwegian line with the initial goal of recreating almost a yacht-like cruise experience for the upper crust.
These three "triplets" comprised the entire fleet for almost 20 years; until 2009 when a new generation of three larger triplets - at 32,000-tons and 450 passenger berths apiece - were introduced within a space of just two years. This took the line from just 600-berths total to over triple the size, 1950 berths.
Seabourn Odyssey was inaugurated on June 15, 2009. Built in Genoa, Italy, the ship carries 450 passengers in 225 suites, 90% with verandahs. A sister ship to Odyssey, named Seabourn Sojourn, debuted in June, 2010, and a third sister, Seabourn Quest, followed in June 2011.
Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest are significantly larger than the three older, yacht-like vessels, but still fall well within the small size standards of luxury cruising at 32,000-tons (about the same size as Silversea ships) and carrying 450 passengers. Seabourn called Odyssey the cruise industry's first ultra-luxury yacht to launch in six years. However some people question whether the vessel is "too large" to be called a yacht. But the onboard experience has not changed significantly, so the "yacht" moniker still applies. Guests are largely left alone on these ships, with very few public announcements, no flyers for special spa offers, no art auctions, no photographers, no dance hosts.
The smaller triplets contain only six suites with private verandas. As time went on and other luxury lines introduced all-suite (with balcony) ships, the line added "French balconies" to 44 of the standard suites onboard. Although these French balconies are little more than sliding glass doors with a few inches of toe-hold outside, surprisingly, the option to open the window and get a breath of fresh air and plenty of sunlight is a vast improvement over an enclosed cabin. Most people will not miss an actual balcony so much. The new nomenclature for this is a "Seabourn Balcony" Suite.
Seabourn's three smaller vessels carry 135 crewmembers to their 208 guests, one of the highest crew to passenger ratios at sea. During 2006 dry-dock and interior refurbishments, the company installed DVD players and flat-screen televisions in all suites, and made improvements to the Veranda Cafe Lido dining areas.
The newer vessels carry 335 crewmembers. These ships come with no DVD players but have extensive video on demand capabilities for newer release movies, documentaries and most impressive the recording and availability (on demand) of any lectures given during the cruise by the excellent roster of historians and regional experts. The only drawback is the very small television screens which are barely visible from the far corner of the bed.
All cabins are on Seabourn are described as suites in the brochure, each coming with a complimentary bottle of champagne to welcome you aboard. Inside are flat-screen TVs with DVD players and Bose Wave sound systems on the older ships, and iPod adaptors for music on the newer ships.
Although the service and surroundings are elegant, the actual watchword for the passengers is still casual, as this is meant to be a vacation experience, with plenty of languid, free time to relax with a book, massage or nap. In fact, free neck & shoulder massages may be available on deck on any given sea day.
There are no art auctions, bingo, photographers or gift shop sales to clog the hallways. No announcements will come into your room except during fire drill and disembarkation. The idea is to make the experience your own - however this lack of communication sometimes translates into a bit of a challenge if your goal is to discover important events not to miss.
What Not to Miss
The Seabourn experience is deceptively tranquil, meaning that without announcements or any kind of "cruise director's TV channel" you can miss the fun things if you don't know to look for them.
Do watch for the "Chef's Dinner," a night when the executive chef selects the entire menu, including wine pairings. This is his night to impress you, so he uses the best ingredients and most creative recipes. Also watch for the Gallery Gala Buffet; a lunch buffet is set up within the confines of the Main Dining Room stainless steel galley. Finally there is Dessert Under the Stars, a late-night offering of sweet treats just before bedtime.
Seabourn ships still offer galley and bridge tours at no cost - sights that mainstream cruise lines now only show during paid "behind the scenes" tours. As far as activities go - Seabourn is known for its "blood sport trivia," which really just means the passengers take the group trivia competitions that almost all cruise ships offer very seriously.
Complimentary wines and spirits are offered throughout the entire ship, especially during the meals when a skilled sommelier will serve up a white wine during appetizers and switch appropriately to red wines with the main entrees. The wine selections are impeccable, although the cost of the bottle is not revealed (all beverages are included in the cruise fare), they certainly taste expensive.
The smaller ships are able to visit relatively untouristed Caribbean and European ports that larger ships can't access. The downside being that shallow drafts mean rocky seas; the smaller Yachts of Seabourn can get tossed around a lot more (and in calmer water) than larger vessels, and even the larger ones will not be as steady as a mainstream cruise ship three times its size.
The new and larger ships definitely put a real wrinkle in the old Seabourn formula. When you increase a line's capacity from about 600 total to 1950 in the space of a few years you obviously cannot draw only from the old clientele - you have to scare up new business. This is where the shorter cruises come in, and Seabourn says its average passenger age has dropped considerably. This is most likely true on the cruises of seven-days or less. Longer cruises still attract retired couples as the vast majority. The challenge with such a drastic increase is in maintaining the line's personalized service when hiring all new personnel to staff the new tonnage. Naturally, the loyal passengers remember the crewmembers they met before, but the new crewmembers are not going to recognize the old passengers.
Passengers used to be primarily 60 and over and not very interested in pool games or deck parties. However, as the line has begun offering more 7-day itineraries making them more available to the younger still-working generation with little discretionary time but more discretionary income, the average age has skewed lower. Seabourn still has its generous single occupancy policy, but the gentlemen hosts programs have been eliminated.
In 2010 a quite controversial change in the onboard dress code was instituted all but eliminating mandatory formal dress. The formal nights have been eliminated on shorter seven-day journeys, with just one per 14-night journey and two per 21-day journey. Hardly worth packing a tux for one in 14 days, but there it is. By day, elegant casual dress is encouraged, although shorts are allowed in the Veranda Cafe during breakfast and lunch. The evening dress code is either formal or elegant casual - your choice.
Tours are targeted to please their audience. In keeping with the desires of their recently acquired younger cruisers, a new slate of shore excursions includes a menu of active tours; cycling, hiking, rafting and even some zip-line canopy tours in tropical ports. For the oldsters there are still wine-tastings and other culinary treats, as well as visits to private villas that, needless-to-say, would never accommodate a busload of Carnival passengers.
The shore tours are not cheap, and many Seabourn cruisers opt to rent cars and drive themselves in different ports of call. The number of possible shore tour options is often somewhat limited as well. However, the tours are well organized and the tour guides are generally very good. There is very limited information about the tours unless you specifically ask - there are no port talks to discuss the tours, for example. This may change in 2012.
Another controversial development, for regular Seabourn passengers, occurred when the line announced it added support services for guests traveling with children. Not exactly announcing a specific children's program, the line merely said it will offer staff members to keep the children occupied rather than having nothing at all scheduled for them to do. Watching over children 24-hours/day is a responsibility that sometimes gets overlooked once the parents get comfortable on a small ship and realize their children can't go far.
Some of the regulars saw this as an open message to new Seabourn passengers that "kids are welcome" on Seabourn ships. Seabourn characterizes it a different way - that if the new cruisers are going to bring kids, it is everyone's best interest to make sure these kids don't get bored and moody. The line has scheduled kid's activities on cruises that have kid passengers, but many of them don't. However, the fact is that these ships are not meant for kids and we don't recommend bringing them (they will be bored) unless it is a port-intensive itinerary.
The "Seabourn Club" members now are offered savings of 50% on an array of cruises throughout the year. Those savings are also available to past guests of Holland America, Princess, Costa, or Cunard. Think of it as an opportunity to try an all-suite, small ship cruise at least once. You also get a 5% onboard booking savings if you book your next cruise while on board.Theme Cruises
Every cruise features the Dress Circle enrichment program presenting leading figures from history, geography, politics, television, journalism, music, theater, film, literature or culinary (including wine, of course).Tipping
Gratuities are included in the fare. It not required or expected.