Known for all-inclusive luxury, Seabourn Cruises has a reputation for delivering top-notch service and differentiated itineraries. As a first-timer aboard Seabourn, this legacy loomed large when I boarded the Seabourn Encore in Athens for a seven-night sailing to Venice.
Would it be the formal, tuxedoed and stuffy experience I assumed for such a luxury brand? Or would it be more of a relaxed experience with a friendly ambience. Without giving it away all at once, it was the latter.
My image of Seabourn is the famed "caviar in the surf" experience that is often used in the brand's advertising. It involves formally dressed staff wading into the pool or ocean to serve Champagne and caviar (or other drinks) to guests.
It may seem extravagant, but if there is one word to describe Seabourn staff, it's unpretentious. On my sailing, bartenders would regularly wade through the pool fully clothed to deliver drinks to the applause of guests all around.
While the ship is every bit as elegant and refined as I imagined, the onboard atmosphere exudes more of a casual air, with guests intermingling and making friends. By the end of the sailing, there were a lot of people exchanging emails and social media handles; that's the sign of a good experience.
Seabourn's penchant for service with a relaxed feeling is about to get more exciting now that it has launched its first expedition ship, the Seabourn Venture. Its upcoming itineraries were the buzz of the ship; they include sailing around both poles as well as adventure destinations like the South American and African coasts.
Ruins in Olympia, Greece, home of the ancient Olympic Games. Photo Credit: Ramsey Qubein
But the Seabourn Encore deserves its own heaps of praise. For starters, the food was exceptional. Not one for nightly formal dining, I often found myself having sushi in one of the specialty restaurants where the staff would have my favorite rolls ready and waiting. The Colonnade, a buffet venue for breakfast and lunch, was another highlight, especially since you could dine alfresco. The quality, range of choices and made-to-order stations drew me back for meals that fit my preferred schedule and routine. Regularly, the staff would venture far from the restaurant to find my drink of choice (believe it or not, that's V8 juice).
The main dining room was impressive in its design, with pastel-hued chandeliers and tables set for every possible configuration. Foodies will find that the steakhouse menu from chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Michelin-star fame to be a highlight.
And about that formal dinner attire: There were a few formal nights, but khakis and a blazer worked just fine in most of the dining venues even when there were bow ties and evening gowns in sight.
Everything is all-inclusive, from the lengthy beverage list with Champagne Montaudon pours a standard and numerous wines, beers and colorful cocktails. Also included are the specialty dining venues and any gratuity associated with the cruise. Once you're onboard, the only thing you pay extra for are spa services (worth it for the Dr. Andrew Weil wellness partnership) and excursions at the destinations.
After the food and service, what really sets Seabourn ships apart is their size. Most average around 450 passengers, although the Seabourn Encore clocks in as its largest with space for 600 guests. No matter 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 (the 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 the Seabourn Encore. Photo Credit: Ramsey Qubein
Since all the accommodations are suites, you can't go wrong. Mine was spacious and modern with a walk-in closet, enormous marble bathroom with 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 that I enjoyed each day.
I quickly became friendly with the attendants assigned to my room; they restocked my minibar with whatever I wanted (yes, more V8). In fact, when I would call 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.
Turndown service is standard, although I was not a fan of the printed daily itinerary being completely digital (a move that many cruise lines are making). I like to review the upcoming schedule without having to navigate through various screens. Even so, the free onboard WiFi was lightning-fast and easy to use. Working remotely from a Seabourn ship is simply heavenly, and I did so daily.
Roman forum ruins and the ninth-century Church of St. Donatus in Zadar, Croatia. Photo Credit: Ramsey Qubein
Entertainment included musical revue-style shows and poolside bands. There were often two performances each night, both of which seemed to be well attended.
On my sailing, the majority of passengers was American and British, but it was the age range that surprised me. At this price point, I (wrongly) assumed the guest roster would skew older, but there were a handful of families with college-age children, young couples and those in their 40s and 50s made up the majority. It was clear that the pandemic pause has encouraged people to splurge on the type of high-end experiences that matter most to people, and that includes travel.
The Seabourn Encore offered something for all ages, interests, appetites and personalities.
Maybe I should be among the first to get that hashtag trending?