Known for all-inclusive luxury, Seabourn Cruises has a reputation for offering top-notch service and differentiated itineraries. As a first-timer aboard Seabourn, this heritage loomed large when I boarded the Seabourn Encore in Athens for a seven-night cruise to Venice.
Would it be the formal, tuxedoed, stuffy experience I assumed for such a luxury brand? Or would it be more of a relaxed experience with a friendly environment. Without giving it away, it was the latter.
My image of Seabourn is the famous “caviar in the surf” experience often used in the brand’s advertising. It involves formally dressed staff entering the pool or ocean to serve champagne and caviar (or other drinks) to guests.
It may sound extravagant, but if there’s one word to describe the Seabourn staff, it’s simple. On my cruise, bartenders regularly came across the pool fully clothed to dispense drinks to the applause of the surrounding guests.
While the ship is a bit more elegant and refined than I imagined, the atmosphere on board exudes more of a casual air, with guests mingling and making friends. By the end of the cruise, there were lots of people exchanging emails and social media handles; this is the sign of a good experience.
Seabourn’s penchant for service with a relaxed feel is about to get even more exciting now that it has launched its first expedition ship, the Seabourn Venture. Her next itineraries were the sound of the ship; they include sailing around both poles as well as adventure destinations such as the coasts of South America and Africa.
Ruins at Olympia, Greece, home of the ancient Olympic Games. Photo: Ramsey Qubein
First class food
But the Seabourn Encore deserves its own accolades. For starters, the food was incredible. Not one for formal nightly dining, I often found myself eating sushi at one of the specialty restaurants where the staff would be ready and waiting for my favorite rolls. The Colonnade, a buffet place for breakfast and lunch, was another highlight, especially since you can dine alfresco. The quality, range of choices and made-to-order stations drew me back for meals that fit my favorite schedule and routine. Regularly, the staff would go far from the restaurant to find my favorite drink (believe it or not, that’s V8 juice).
The main dining room was impressive in its design, with pastel chandeliers and tables set for every possible configuration. Foodies will find the steak menu from chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Michelin star fame to be a highlight.
And about that formal dinner attire: There were some formal nights, but khakis and blazers worked well in most dining settings, even when there were bow ties and evening dresses.
Everything is inclusive, from the long drinks list with Champagne Montaudon pouring standard and numerous wines, beers and colorful cocktails. Also included are special dining locations and any cruise-related rewards. Once on board, the only things you pay extra for are spa services (worth it for the Dr. Andrew Weil Wellness Partnership) and destination excursions.
After food and service, what really sets Seabourn ships apart is their size. Most hold about 450 passengers on average, although the Seabourn Encore is the largest with room for 600 guests. Despite the Seabourn ship, their compact size means they can sail into smaller ports.
As a travel writer, I am fortunate to have visited 166 countries. This itinerary introduced me to four new destinations: Brindisi, Italy and the Greek ports of Monemvasia, Katakolo (gateway to Olympia, birthplace of the Olympics) and Nydri on the island of Lefkada. There were also two Croatian ports plus a final day in Venice.
The ancient village of Monemvasia, Greece, as seen from Seabourn Encore. Photo: Ramsey Qubein
Since all accommodations are suites, you can’t go wrong. Mine was spacious and modern with a walk-in closet, a giant marble bathroom with a separate soaking tub and glass shower stall, vanity stocked with Molton Brown toiletries and large bars of handmade Turkish soap. The furnished balcony is something I enjoyed every day.
I quickly made friends with the attendants assigned to my room; they stocked my minibar with everything I wanted (yes, more V8). In fact, when I called for complimentary room service each morning, the staff had memorized my order after the third day. #SpoiledBySeabourn should become a trending hashtag, in my opinion.
Return service is standard, although I wasn’t a fan of the daily printed itinerary being completely digital (a move many cruise lines are making). I like to review the upcoming schedule without having to navigate through different screens. However, the free WiFi on board was fast and easy to use. Working remotely from a Seabourn ship is just heavenly, and I did it every day.
The ruins of the Roman forum and the ninth-century church of St. Donatus in Zadar, Croatia. Photo: Ramsey Qubein
Entertainment included revue-style musical performances and poolside bands. There were often two shows each night, both seemed well attended.
On my cruise, most of the passengers were American and British, but it was the age that surprised me. At this price point, I (wrongly) assumed the guest list would skew older, but there were a handful of families with college-age kids, young couples, and those in their 40s and 50s. which constituted the majority. It was clear that the pandemic pause has encouraged people to indulge in the kind of high-end experiences that matter most to people, and that includes travel.
Seabourn Encore offered something for all ages, interests, appetites and personalities.
Maybe I should be among the first to have that hashtag trending?