Seabourn Sun has high-end potential


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-Last December, when Norwegian actress Linn Stokke Brynestad grabbed an oversized champagne bottle and gave it a shove into the hull of Seabourn Cruise Line's newly refurbished Seabourn Sun, formerly known as the Royal Viking Sun, she ushered in a new era for the Seabourn.

For the first time, the line has a midsized ship to compete with Crystal and other luxury lines with larger ships and younger passengers.

Seabourn Sun's Spa du Soleil features the latest exercise equipment. "Royal Viking Sun was Seabourn's No. 1 competitor, so we bought it," said Larry Pimentel, president and chief executive officer of Cunard Line Ltd., the parent of Seabourn and Cunard Line.

"It's large compared to other Seabourn ships, but still small in terms of ships being built today. She's the perfect flagship for Seabourn."

With the refurbished Sun, Seabourn plans to go after a younger market that enjoys spa services, good cuisine and less formality.

Former Royal Viking Sun passengers will find a much-changed ship as a result of the $15 million refurbishment, completed late last year at Germany's Lloyd Werft Shipyard.

Although the new Seabourn Sun has kept the Old World charm of its Royal Viking Line heritage, 14 public areas have been updated and all of the staterooms refurbished.

The big changes are the creation of a Roman-style spa, the extension of the Garden Cafe to create a new outdoor seating area, an upgrading of the Golf Club, a reconfiguration the Midnight Sun Lounge and the creation of a Computer Learning Centre.

Despite the impressive changes, former Seabourn passengers may find the ship is not quite as elegant as Cunard Line's smaller Pride, Spirit and Legend or the Sea Goddess and Sea Goddess II ships, soon to be transferred from Cunard to Seabourn.

Cunard's literature and management call the Sun an "ultra luxury global resort cruiser," but travel agents sailing a three-night introductory cruise recently said Seabourn Sun has great potential but faces some challenges before the sobriquet becomes reality.

Pimentel said Cunard is working hard to bring Seabourn Sun's staff, 30% of whom are new to the cruise industry, up to the luxury service standards demanded by Seabourn guests.

Also, Seabourn Sun's size will require a dual level of service on board. Guests in owner's and penthouse suites (about the total number of guests on the smaller Seabourn ships) will experience individual Seabourn-type service, including personal butlers. Guests in other categories will receive the deluxe service typical of larger ships found on other luxury lines.

This duality will make Seabourn Sun good for past guests who expect the line's intensive service but prefer the advantages of a larger vessel.

It also becomes an excellent entry-level ship for first-time cruisers who want a high level of service but are unsure about sailing on small yacht-like ships.

The ship's upscale focus is reflected in the changes made during its refit. Most noticeable is the expansion of Seabourn Sun's Spa du Soleil.

The ship's aft pool was moved further back to create a lap pool with two whirlpools and make room for a glass-enclosed fitness facility with toning and cardiovascular equipment.

Spa treatment areas feature a classic Roman theme with Mediterranean sculptures, soft colors and terracotta tile. The treatment area incorporates nine rooms and an array of additional body treatments. Beauty salon services are also available.

The ship's golf club and pro shop area has been expanded, including a more sophisticated video course simulator that features virtual play on 12 famous courses around the world. Free onboard seminars and clinics are offered, and there is a putting green and driving cage located on the top deck.

The Garden Cafe is an buffet breakfast and lunch restaurant aft on the bridge deck, and it has been expanded with a teak-floored outdoor area reminiscent of a French sidewalk cafe. Buffet choices are varied and good, but service could be better as could the layout and traffic flow.

At the Pool Bar just forward of the Garden Cafe, hamburgers and hot dogs were pre-cooked and reheated. Fast, but not very appetizing. Drinks are served at the swim-up bar near the pool.

Seabourn Sun's redecorated dining room stretches two-thirds of the length of the Promenade Deck. Unlike other midsized luxury ships, the Sun's dining room serves the entire passenger complement in one seating with assigned tables for dinner, and open seating breakfast and lunch.

Most tables seat four, six or 10, but there are also many tables for two. Unfortunately, dining room service was spotty. One set of waiters forgot to serve dessert.

One of Seabourn Sun's most beautiful dining areas is the 100-seat Venezia, a reservations-only alternative restaurant, done in dark woods, blues, greens and burgundies and featuring Italian and Continental cuisine from its own galley. Tables can be arranged for two, four, six or more with advance notice.

As in the main dining room, red and white wines, selected by the sommelier, are complimentary and poured by the glass.

Seabourn Sun's Norway deck could well be called the entertainment deck. It is anchored at either end by lounges, with a casino, the Oak Room cigar and pipe lounge, an espresso bar, the Starlight movie theater, a computer center, a card room, a library and boutiques in between.

The Midnight Sun Lounge seats 171 in banquettes with dark blue fabric and black leather, matching the black granite and mahogany bar. The casino is enlarged, with a bar removed to make room for additional slot machines and roulette, craps and blackjack tables.

Just outside the Casino is the Espresso Bar (formerly the Wine Bar), one of the most popular spots on board. The Espresso Bar leads to the handsome Oak Room, which resembles a classic gentleman's club.

There is a virtual fire created by unique lighting under realistic logs, and the effect is quite startling.

Seabourn Sun's computer center has been expanded. The facility now has 10 PCs for open use. Guests can send e-mail for $5 per 5,000 bytes; incoming e-mail is free.

The 101-seat Starlight movie theater plays first-run films in the afternoon and evening. The theater also used as a lecture hall and for business and incentive group presentations.

Opposite the casino and Espresso Bar is one of the Seabourn Sun's loveliest rooms, the Compass Rose, seating about 60 in chair and sofa clusters. It's a long room, anchored at one end by a baby grand piano and opening through the center into a sort of interior promenade. The room is delightfully decorated in muted sea green, blue and rose, and window walls offer excellent views of the sea (and of the lifeboats just outside some of the windows). The room nevertheless seems intimate and cozy.

The 731-seat Norway Lounge offers dance classes, tea and lectures, cocktail dancing in the early evening and elaborate shows after dinner. Typical of ships designed in the 80s, the lounge has a low ceiling and poor sightlines for late-arriving guests seated in the rear. The performance area is not elevated and sets are mostly limited to backdrops pulled across the small stage' bandstand.

High atop the ship's Sky Deck, at the bow, is the 120-seat Stella Polaris, a magnificent observation lounge with a superb 180-degree view of the sea.

Ranging from 724 square feet (owner's suite) down to 138 square feet (inside cabin), Seabourn Sun's 384 staterooms are spacious when compared to mass-market ships.

Still, the standard staterooms (191 square feet) are smaller than the 277 square feet of Seabourn's Pride, Spirit and Legend, and are just below Cunard Sea Goddess I and II's 205 square feet. Penthouse suites and owner's suite have butler service.

Guest rooms have been refurbished in soft pastels, and mirrored walls create a sense of added space.

Staterooms include a sitting area with a sofa, a table and a chair, and almost 40% have private balconies. There are only 25 interior cabins.

All staterooms have walk-in closets, VCRs, refrigerators, safes or lockable safe drawers, twin beds convertible to king size, mirrored vanity-desksl, 110/220 volt power, a full bath with tub or shower and fluffy terry robes.

Two kinds of liquor plus bottled water are stocked above the refrigerator, which is filled with soft drinks.

Seabourn's larger Sun combined with aggressive marketing to younger guests, backed by the ship's upgrade, should help the vessel live up to its sisters' well-earned reputation.


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