Seabourn Cruise Line revealed the inaugural itineraries for the Seabourn Odyssey, a 450-passenger ship under construction in Italy that is slated to launch in summer 2009.

Seabourn CEO Pamela Conover said the ship would sail out of Venice on June 24, 2009, for a 14-day cruise to Istanbul before embarking on its second cruise in the Black Sea.

The following winter, the ship will be used for Seabourn's first world cruise, a 108-day itinerary that leaves from Fort Lauderdale in January 2010.

Seabourn had initially accepted Odyssey reservations from people that were on a waiting list. Now bookings are open to the general public. Conover said that in the top category, the 14-day inaugural trip will cost $49,000 per person, and the lowest price will be $11,000. 

Travel Weekly spoke with Conover about the Odyssey, a ship that generated so much excitement among wait-listed customers that they put deposits on a cruise without even knowing where it was going.

Travel Weekly:What will the Odyssey, the first new-build to enter the luxury market in six years, be like?

Conover: We are building on the winning formula and success that we've had in the past. With the increased space that we have because of the size, we are adding certain features and trying to provide more options.

The most notable one, from our perspective, is that 90% of the cabins will have balconies and each balcony will be 65 square feet. The smallest suite with its balcony will be 365 square feet, and the Grand Suite will be 1,400.

TW:You mentioned that you expected there would be more balcony dining.

Conover: When you cruise in warm weather and the balconies are so gorgeous and so romantic, we think a lot of people will take the special occasion to dine on their veranda. I also think we'll see a spike in people that will want to have breakfast out there, too. We will prepare out hotel team to meet that demand.

TW:What are some other features?

Conover: The spa, at 8,600 square feet, will be the largest spa on any luxury ship, with two decks, seven treatment rooms -- some for couples, some of them indoor-outdoor -- and a first-class gym. 

Everybody expects in today's market that you will have a spa. But this is certainly a very large spa for this size of ship and with this few number of passengers.

Dining on Seabourn is a critical part of the experience. We are going to have increased dining options and more opportunities to dine outside. People are becoming more casual and looking for casual alternatives. When they are in a warm climate, they want to take advantage of dining outside. We have significantly increased the size of the indoor/outdoor restaurant, the Colonnade, and dedicated a patio grill restaurant for outside dining, with steaks and lobster tails on the grill. That is something we don't have today.

TW:You said you are capacity-constrained, and the luxury sector as a whole seems to be, as well. After Seabourn ordered two ships, other luxury lines ordered ships. Are you concerned that there could be too much tonnage coming into the sector?

Conover: I think that the sector is growing and is very robust. I think the fact that the market is strong, that we are seeing strong demand and that the booking window is pushing out is a reflection of that.

There is still a huge opportunity for us in terms of the luxury travel consumer, to convince the consumer who's going on a land-based vacation that they should be trying a luxury cruise.

The increased capacity will give us the ability to try new itineraries. This is an opportunity to expand the passenger base.

TW:What are some itineraries you will do with the new ship?

Conover: The Odyssey will give Seabourn the ability to do a world cruise for the first time. That will take us places we haven't been before. We haven't announced any further itineraries.

TW:Why have you not done a world cruise up to this point?

Conover: The existing ships were really too small and didn't have the speed to be able to accomplish it within an appropriate period of time.

TW:How have sales been since you opened the books?

Conover: Good. We are very pleased.

TW:You said most people travel on Seabourn for its itineraries, yet people put down money for this ship without concern for where the ship is going.

Conover: The primary reason people book a cruise is to go to a certain place. They say, "Let's go to Europe this summer," and then they say, "Let's go on Seabourn."

But there are some very loyal Seabourn passengers who say, "Where are we going to go next on Seabourn?" They do it in reverse.

TW:Where do your new passengers come from? Have they cruised before?

Conover: I don't have specific statistics, but I guess that most of our guests have cruised before.

We do get some people for the first time. But in general, they have cruised before and are coming from the premium and luxury lines.

TW:Do you think Seabourn will get into expedition cruising?

Conover: No. The key to the Seabourn brand is to travel to interesting destinations but to take people there in a certain style. The expedition products out there offer something that is somewhat different from the Seabourn product. We are looking to expand and go to destinations we currently don't go to, but we'd continue to do it in Seabourn style.

TW:Is luxury cruising compatible with expedition cruising?

Conover: That's up for debate. There are people who want to go on Zodiacs and wear waterproof gear, and there are other people who don't.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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