Posted tagged ‘small-ship cruising’

The Seabourn Sojourn Experience

May 25, 2012

The Seabourn Sojourn

Seabourn has earned the title of our most-beloved cruise line since we first sailed to Alaska, circa 1999.  The food, intimacy, service and the attention to small but important details placed Seabourn as our top luxury cruise line.  The original Seabourn vessels, the Pride, Legend and Spirit have just 104 suites.  That is about 210 people served by a crew of about 170.  Not a bad passenger to crew ratio in terms of service.  The ships were originally built in the late 1980’s and were refurbished between 2009 and 2011.  We have sailed the three original ships many times and love them, but there are sacrifices.  Because the ships are older, there are no verandas.  The top suite category has a “Balcony” suite which allows you to open sliding doors to fresh sea air, but they are really French windows not verandas you can actually sit out on.  The pool is very small and often in the shade, as if added as an afterthought.  In the last few years, Seabourn added three new larger ships to their fleet, the Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest.  These ships were twice the size of the older ships and carried twice the passengers.  Most of the suites had verandas and the central swimming pool was large and beautiful.  My Wife and I were very skeptical whether Seabourn could offer the same exquisite cruise experience on a much larger scale.  Well, we needn’t have worried.  We sailed the Sojourn for 10 days from November 27-December 8, 2011, and the ship was fabulous.  The Sojourn was, if not the most beautiful ship I’ve sailed, certainly among the top three.  For those curious cruise lovers out there, the other two contenders were the Regent Seven Seas Voyager and the Crystal Serenity.  It should be noted that both of those ships are much larger, with 800-1000 passengers.  I should emphasize we took the Sojourn cruise just to experience the ship, as the itinerary was pretty mundane.  The Sojourn is nothing short of spectacular.

The Main Pool

A  pleasant surprise was how many crew members and guests we knew from previous sailings on the smaller ships.  Let me use this space to praise the people who made our voyage extra special.  While tipping is neither required nor expected, when people go above and beyond, I have always felt they should be rewarded and try to do so.  I always manage to miss a few of them, but I’ll be seeing them again.  Darius, my bartender buddy from the Legend, who I was thrilled to find on the Sojourn.  He is both a marvelous bartender and one of the nicest and funniest guys I’ve met at sea.  Our Cabin stewardess Anne was terrific and very sweet.  We like to have both breakfast and lunch in the Dining Room every day, and Annie, Nigel, Kimberly and Drew were a delight.  Jo and Claudia made the Coffee Bar a must-visit every day.  Jo’s interpretation of Iced Coffee made us skip dessert at lunch in order to have one.  With ice cream, caramel, chocolate sauce and cinnamon, it was better than dessert.  So good it ought to be illegal.  Neither Sue nor I drink booze, and we had a ball with Sommelier Daniela Balser, who tried and tried to find something to entice us.  She was very funny and we were sorry she was leaving to go on vacation halfway through the cruise.  Arek, the Assistant Maître D’ made sure we were pampered at every meal as only Seabourn can.  Although there are four dining venues in the evening, we wound up in The Restaurant every night.  This was strictly a personal choice.  When the day’s activity sheet arrives each morning, the menus for that evening are provided for all four venues.  It just happened that the Restaurant offerings suited us the best.  The food was excellent, although I maintain that their smaller ship, the Legend, has the best cuisine afloat.  Conde’ Nast agrees.  In addition to The Restaurant, there are several other dining options every evening.  Restaurant 2 offers small-dish tasting menus with the offerings changing nightly.  The Colonnade is a more casual alternative to the Restaurant, offering both indoor and outdoor seating.  The Patio Grill, overlooking the main pool, offers al fresco dining nightly.

The Restaurant

The Colonnade

Restaurant “2” Tasting Restaurant

Our suite was elegant in typically-understated Seabourn style.  The veranda was a haven for morning coffee, an afternoon snooze or pre-bedtime star-gazing with the sounds of the ocean and the salt breezes easing your transition to sleep.  A tip about the verandas; the less expensive veranda categories, V1 and V2 have railings that are part metal and part glass.  Categories V3-V6 offer all glass from floor to the teak rail.  If you are going to pay for a veranda, go for the V3-V6 categories.  A few extra dollars offers an unobstructed view of the sea from anyplace in the suite.  It is a small detail, but the kind that matters to me.  The bathroom was a fabulous two-person, two-sink marble affair with both a glassed-in shower and a large bathtub.  I wish my bathroom at home was half as nice.  As with all Seabourn ships, suites feature walk-in closets, refrigerator, mini-bar, and interactive flat-screen TV.  The refrigerator is stocked with the beers, soft drinks, water and juices you selected on your pre-cruise order sheet.  The first evening, two liters of the premium liquor of your choice are delivered to your suite.  The table in the sitting area converts to a Dining table, and all Dinner can be served to you course by course in your suite should you feel like a private evening in.

Veranda Suite – Categories V3-V6

Watersports Marina

The brochures featured great pictures of the Watersports Marina which opens out at the stern and offers swimming, kayaking and sailing right from the back of the ship.  I had enjoyed this many times during cruises on the three smaller ships, but strangely, to my knowledge, the Marina was not opened once in our 10-day cruise.  Obviously, this was not going to happen during our four days travelling at sea in the open ocean, and the ship actually pulled in and docked in San Juan and Antigua, so those days were out.  But in St. John and St. Barts, we were at anchor while in port and tendered in.  Those are traditionally the times the Watersports Marina is lowered.  Perhaps the winds and current were too strong; I really have no idea.  But I don’t believe the Watersports Marina was opened during our cruise, and I would have liked to have at least heard an announcement explaining why.

Spa Pool

              The Spa on the Sojourn was visually the most remarkable I have seen in all my cruises.  Occupying two decks, it features such luxuries as wooden heated loungers to relax pre-massage, Kneipp walk pool, saunas, steam, outdoor whirlpools and a cabana area.  I have posted several pictures, but they don’t really capture just how mind-boggling this spa is.  That said, I had booked four massages and wound up cancelling the last two.  While the massage was adequate, it was not what I had expected, and at over $140.00 for 50 minutes, hardly a bargain.  I have massages regularly at home and perhaps I’ve been spoiled.  There is, of course, a fully-equipped fitness center for all you gym people.  As I do on all my vacations, I made it a point to walk past the Fitness center at least twice daily.

Spa – Heated Loungers in Waiting Room

The Sojourn and her Sister ships feature a Casino with far more options than the smaller ships.  Blackjack, Poker, Roulette and Slot Machines offer an array of ways to lose your money.  I was particularly happy to have the chance to play Roulette, as it requires virtually no innate intelligence to actually win.  If there is in fact a cogent strategy to Roulette, I’m unaware of it.  I finished the trip up an astounding $5.00, and viewed this as a major triumph.

The Boutique

The Casino

For all the diehard Seabourn veterans loyal to the older, smaller ships, I see no reason to change that.  I have already booked for next year on the Legend, our fifth time aboard.  That being said, I would strongly encourage you to give the Sojourn, Quest and Odyssey a chance.  The cruise experience is a little different, yes there are more people, but it is a first-rate cruise experience.  And the ship is so much bigger, I found more places to be completely alone than on the smaller ships.  Seabourn has done a great job.  I think you’ll be glad to have tried the new ships.  I will be sailing them again.

Lobby- Second Deck

Observation Bar – Also setting for Afternoon Tea


The Seabourn Legend

April 6, 2011


It does not take long to realize you are in for something very special when you board the Seabourn Legend.  We just completed our fourth voyage on the Legend and I have no question there will be more.  You walk up the gangway and enter the Reception area, where you are promptly handed a chilled flute of champagne. An attentive crew member has already insisted on carrying all your bags as he escorts you into the King Olaf Lounge for registration. You have two free hands and tell the young man that you’re perfectly capable of helping carry your own things. But he will not hear of it, so we proceed to the Lounge, your hands swinging free, the young crew member laden down like a camel. At registration, as in everything on Seabourn, there is no wait. Within minutes of entering the lounge, you are registered and your picture IDs and room card keys handed over to you.  The young man carrying your bags suggests you have a bite to eat before he brings you to your suite, so you hit the table with finger sandwiches, cookies, pastries and all kinds of beverages. Champagne, soft drinks, and iced tea are there on the table, while a strolling waiter serves rum punches from a tray.  When you are ready, and there is never any hurry, the young man brings you to your suite.


A short stroll down an ornate circular staircase brings you to your suite, an elegantly appointed oasis that you figure you will have no problems calling home. All Legend suites are ocean view, some with “balconies.” While the balcony suites allow you to open the windows and enjoy the sea breezes, the balconies are really more like French windows. There are no chairs, nor room to put one. Our suite has a large picture window, refrigerator, flat screen TV, CD and DVD players, walk in closet, and a marble appointed bathroom.  The suites have all the bells and whistles one could reasonably hope for.  The refrigerator is stocked with the beer, soft drinks, bottled water and mixers you had requested on your pre-cruise order form. Each suite is entitled to two liters of the alcohol of your choice and they will be dropped off in your suite the first evening. Of course, there is no charge for any of this, as it is all included in your fare.  Above the refrigerator is a glass cabinet with beautiful crystal glasses; champagne flutes, wine glasses, rocks glasses, etc.  It is almost a shame to pour a Diet Coke into this beautiful crystal, but I got over it.  Soon, there is a gentle tapping at the door, then shortly after, another.  The first is the arrival of your check-in luggage, faster than I’ve ever had it happen anywhere.  The second knock is your Cabin Stewardess who has come to introduce herself. She has brought fresh canapés to go with the iced champagne sitting in a bucket in your sitting room, along with a bowl of fresh fruit. She also has brought a tray of toiletries for you to select your soaps and shampoos. The soaps are L’Occitane, the other toiletries Moulton & Brown of London; very nice stuff.  Get a good look at your cabin girl, because chances are you will not see her in your cabin again. These girls are masters at seeing to every possible need you could possibly have and keeping the suite turned down, made up and spotless without ever actually being spotted in the suite. To say they are not intrusive is an understatement.  They are like ghosts; very competent ghosts. We take a few minutes to unpack and hang up our clothing and it is off to the top deck Sky Bar to meet our fellow passengers as we prepare to sail out of St. Thomas harbor.

Seabourn Passengers

The typical Seabourn passenger is successful, affluent, well-educated and well-travelled. Most of the people you speak with are returning guests like ourselves, and usually we know at least a few of the guests from previous cruises. Seabourn passengers are very loyal to the brand, so if you travel with Seabourn often enough, there are familiar faces and sometimes, old friends from prior voyages.  But this time, so far, we have not seen anyone we know.  But just as we are preparing to sail, a couple from Ohio comes out on deck who we had gotten to know and like very much on another cruise line several years ago.  We see each other, our jaws drop and a friendship rekindled.  That’s how it works on the smaller ships. It is a pretty small fraternity.  As we pull out to sea, my Wife Susie and I run down to the well-stocked library to pick out some books to read and head back to our suite for a short nap before showering for Dinner.

The Cuisine

Conde Nast Traveler’s latest Reader’s Poll named Seabourn Legend’s cuisine the best at sea. All the Seabourn vessels were rated at or near the top, but the Legend the very best.  Seabourn’s menu and recipes are created by famed Chef Charlie Palmer, and dining is a big reason we are aboard the Legend for the fourth time.  The food and service are sensational, and the servings modest enough that it is possible to try every course and leave the Dining Room content but not bloated.  While the Dining Room is consistently wonderful, try the reservations-required specialty Restaurant “2” at least once on your trip.  The theme changes every night. The night we were able to get a reservation, it was a French Bistro theme, and the meal was possibly the finest I have had at sea in 89 cruises.  A tip: put yourself on the waiting list for”2” every night.  The place is very small and difficult to get in. Most of the passengers seem to like the Veranda Restaurant for breakfast and lunch. You can eat inside or outside and enjoy the sea air. My Wife and I like to go to the Dining Room for both meals. At breakfast it is virtually empty, which suits me fine as I like to have my coffee and look at the paper in peace.  I was a morning person most of my life, but since retiring, I like to ease into the day.  The solitude of the Dining Room in the mornings accommodates this. For lunch, it is nice to get out of the sun for a few minutes and have a real meal. I do not like to eat hamburgers and other things I have at home when cruising, particularly on the Legend.  There is a culinary treat waiting around every corner; try things you don’t get at home.  One story occurs to me that exemplifies the Seabourn approach. One evening, the Chef came out of the Kitchen to go from table to table asking if everything was satisfactory.  My Wife Sue mentioned that the chocolate chip cookies that had been put out that day at Afternoon Tea were the best she had ever had.  The Chef did not ask our names or suite number, but every evening for the rest of the voyage, when we returned to our suite in the evening, there was a plate of chocolate chip cookies and two tall glasses of milk. That is how Seabourn does things.

Our Cruise

This voyage is a Caribbean sailing out of St. Thomas, calling on St. John, St. Barth’s, St. Maarten, Antigua, Jost Van Dyke, St. Kitts and Prickly Pear Island, which is off Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, before returning to St. Thomas. We are beach and sun people, and Caribbean cruises have become our most frequent voyages due to the laid-back nature of the itinerary.  We have done more Caribbean cruises than I can count in our 89 cruises, and thus have seen just about every island most ships call upon.  This removes all the urgency about rushing off the ship in every port, since we’ve seen all the islands many times.  On European cruises, the pace was very different, as there were so many things we wanted to see ashore. But we have cruised extensively, and been all over the world, and the Caribbean seems to fit our current mindset. On this cruise, we did not even get off the ship in St. Maarten and St. John. We find lying on deck and taking dips in the pool while most of the other passengers are ashore to be very relaxing. And the Seabourn staff onboard takes very good care of you. As I stretch out on my chaise lounge, one waiter comes by with a refill of my favorite sunning libation, an Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade).  Another comes by to spritz your baking body with a mist of cold spring water while offering a choice of sunscreens.  The Spa sends out a girl for complimentary Massage Moments on deck. The Water Sports Marina at the stern is opened up for sailing, kayaking and a swim in the ocean.  I awaken from a nap to find another waiter handing me a goblet of fabulous raspberry sorbet topped with a dash of champagne.  It is a rugged existence, but sometimes you have to take one for the team.

The Beach Barbecue

On all Seabourn cruises, there is a unique event scheduled which varies according to where in the World you happen to be.  On Mediterranean cruises, for instance, there is a private classical music concert among the ancient Roman ruins at Ephesus. On Caribbean sailings like ours, there is the Beach Barbecue featuring Caviar in the Surf held on Prickly Pear Island.  The Maitre’D and the restaurant staff, wearing their dress whites, go waist deep in the surf to serve caviar with all the trimmings and champagne from what appears to be a surfboard, or the body of a Sunfish.  The barbecue is not your usual beach fare, either. Served off porcelain Dinner plates with linen napkins and real silverware, you are treated to steaks, barbecued ribs, lobster tails, a whole sucking pig and a potpourri of salads, fruits and desserts.  Strolling waiters serve trays of beers, cocktails of all descriptions and soft drinks.  There is a banana boat and water skiing, as well as an outdoor massage salon and live music. It is quite a party and Prickly Pear has a lovely white sand beach for swimming.

Essential Facts

The Yachts of Seabourn is the Carnival Corporation’s entry in the ultra-luxury cruise category.  Before you think Carnival Cruise lines, understand it is the same parent company but a very different product. Carnival Corp. owns Seabourn, Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Carnival Cruises and Costa, as well as a host of lesser-known, fast-growing cruise lines all over the world.  As such, Carnival Corporation transports almost half of the world’s recreational cruise passengers. The Seabourn Legend and her two small sister ships, the Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Spirit sail all over the World, carrying 210 passengers and 200 crew. Seabourn has recently introduced three stunning new ships which carry 460 passengers and around 400 crew.  The Seabourn Odyssey and Sojourn are already in service, while the brand new Quest is due to make her maiden voyage in May, 2011.  If there is virtually any place on Earth you want to sail,  Seabourn can take you there in the lap of luxury. Well, maybe not anywhere.  I think Yemen, Libya and Somalia may have been given a “time out.” But take a moment, and do your research, as this is a must do travel experience. We think Seabourn is as good as cruising gets.

Sea Dream Yacht Club – Casual, Luxury Small-Ship Cruising

February 4, 2011

Sea Dream Yacht Club- A Different and Unique Cruise Experience

Sea Dream Yacht Club operates two 344 ft. mega-yachts offering all-inclusive, luxury cruises to the Caribbean in the winter and the Mediterranean in the summer.  Accommodating 112 passengers with a crew of 95, these ships call on the smaller, unspoiled islands the bigger cruise lines are unable to reach.  As most of these islands lack an airport, their natural beauty lies, in part, in the fact that they are difficult to get to.  Not terribly easy to get home from, either. Tiny gems like Saba, Montserrat, Jost Van Dyke and Anguilla. If you’ve ever daydreamed about cruising the Greek Isles on your own private yacht, this is about as close as most of us will ever come.  That being said, Sea Dream is most certainly not for everyone.  It is very casual, laid back and geared to adults comfortable with entertaining themselves.

Who Should Not Book a Sea Dream Voyage?

OK, let me try to cull the herd as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. If you are traveling with your small children and looking forward to picking them up from the supervised Kid’s program so you can feed them at the Early Seating and put them to bed with a babysitter in order to don your tuxedo and eat, take in a Broadway-type show before catching a Comedian in one of the many lounges and partying until the wee hours of the morning in a Casino with craps, roulette and all the bells and whistles, you are definitely in the wrong place. It is not happening.  None of it.  Not on Sea Dream.  You are likely to find a larger crowd enjoying early morning coffee to watch the sunrise than you will in the  Casino at 11:00 PM.

The Sea Dream Passenger

The Sea Dream experience attracts guests who are not only able to entertain themselves, but prefer to do so.  The intimacy of the yachts is conducive to meeting people and getting to know them.  Even if you are naturally shy, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid eye contact when you are running into the same people over and over.  You cannot be a face in the crowd, since there is no crowd. So you break down and introduce yourself, and are usually rewarded. Usually, but not always.  Sea Dream can scan your bags, but has not perfected scanners for personalities and social skills.  Seriously, I have found Sea Dream passengers to be the most interesting, educated and friendly, and the least pretentious.  We have a group of former cruise mates who we keep in touch with and sail with every year.  Many of them are Sea Dreamers.

Some Sweet Suites

Most of the suites are Yacht Club Staterooms averaging about 195 sq. ft. and equipped with queen –sized beds, sitting area, refrigerator, fully-stocked refreshment bar, flat screen TV, DVD player, CD player, robe, slippers, etc. The suites are very nice and you would be hard pressed to come up with anything Sea Dream has forgotten.  The bathrooms are small, definitely one person at a time affairs.  When sitting on the throne, I usually locked the door, not because I had a sudden attack of modesty but because I’ve already had my nose broken several times. If you are over 7 ft. tall, I would imagine you would need to be pretty limber.  Of course, you could always use the facilities in the public rooms, but if everyone did that, no one would do that.  If you are a jockey, there should be no issues with the bathroom dimensions.  I happen to really like the Sea Dream bathrooms.  The multi-jet shower is really cool with good water pressure and the Bvlgari toiletries and soaps are fabulous.  If you plan your vacations solely by the brand of shampoo provided, you may have found your niche.  I also like the way Sea Dream has the sitting area by the entrance and the bed by the window. Most cruise lines have it the other way around, ostensibly so you can look out the window from the sofa.  The Sea Dream arrangement works if your Spouse gets up earlier than you and orders coffee.  The room service girl can drop off the tray in the sitting area without coming through the sleeping area.  The lower deck has two portholes while the upper two decks have a picture window.  It really makes very little difference.  For those really wanting the ultimate, there is an Owner’s suite, an Admiral’s Suite and Commodore suites.  If you really want to try something different, ask to have one of the ultra-comfortable Balinese Dream Beds ( pictured below) made up with linens, pillows and duvets and sleep on Deck under the stars.

Cuisine and Service

Both are among the best available at sea.  I had never considered myself a caviar fan, but Sea Dream changed that.  Barely a day goes by where caviar is not available in abundance.  The daily fare is predicated by the chef’s morning trips to the local markets, so you are treated to the very best and freshest offerings that port has to offer.  Even room service cuisine is excellent.  If you call for Room Service, you might as well not sit down again.  These people are good.  Our Cabin Stewardess was remarkable.  I would get up in the morning, put out my “Make up Room” sign on the doorknob and go up to the Concierge to get my daily paper of choice.  I would take it out on deck to glance at the headlines and return to the cabin, this whole exercise having taken maybe ten minutes.  The suite would be completely made up.  Our room was always made up and I never saw our Cabin girl in it or even near it.  Another neat trick was that within two hours of embarkation, crew members who had never seen me before were greeting me by name.  I assume they are given pictures and names and expected to memorize them. But it was a really nice touch.  If you travel under multiple aliases, it may take a little longer.

The Best and Only Licensed Thai Spa at Sea

In terms of massage, Sea Dream has no peer in the cruise industry.  Although I’m sure Swedish massage is offered, skip it and go with the Asian Blend massage.  Ordering the Swedish massage would be like going to Joes’ Stone Crab and ordering the liver.  These girls are incredibly strong and good sports as well.  They don’t gloat about having twisted you into a pretzel-like shape that would make an Olympic gymnast green with envy despite giving up 100 lbs. I have always thought Swedish massage to be the spa equivalent of elevator music. You are oiled up like an Oven Stuffer and given a rub that is mildly enjoyable but forgotten the moment you walk out the door.  The Asian Blend massage actually has results you can feel, although if you have never had Thai massage, it may take a little getting used to.  Sometimes it hurts, although your masseuse will lessen the pressure if she hears you whimpering. Is she really climbing onto my back?  Yes, she is.  You have a pocket of tension in your back and kind of hope she’ll miss it, as kneading it out can be painful?  Forget it. These girls take massage very seriously and they miss nothing. But that evening, or maybe the next morning, you’ll realize that nagging pain you were so used to is just not there anymore.

The Water Sports Marina

The Water Sports Marina really sets Sea Dream apart from any other cruise line. Other lines have them, but none have the toys that Sea Dream does, like Hobie Cat sailboats, kayaks, jet skis and even mountain bikes to take ashore and ride around the often mountainous ports of call.  Please note that while I strongly encourage taking the mountain bikes ashore for a good workout, I personally have nothing to do with them.  I prefer to be driven where I want to go. In order to use the Water Sports Marina, guests must sign a waiver relieving Sea Dream of any culpability should you become entangled in a submarine propeller or eaten by a giant squid.  In exchange for your signature, you receive a brightly-colored wristband which entitles you to use all the toys. When they take in the toys, it is time for the afternoon swim.  While the shipboard pool is fine, there is nothing like swimming out at sea.  But it might be a good time to realistically appraise your swimming strength.  If you’re turning 60 and you swam competitively in your teens, you have to remember you are not that kid.  The ship is a long way from shore, the water is deep and there are currents. Sometimes, they are very strong currents.  There is ample supervision, both on the platform and in a motorboat that watches over you.  A line attached to floating buoys is extended out from the platform so swimmers can grab on if they need to.  Staying fairly close to that line is not a bad plan.  In a good current, you can stroke very hard and find you’ve gone nowhere.  So use your head.

Is There a Sea Dream Cruise in Your Future?

I have provided you with the basics of the Sea Dream experience.  It is a unique one, suited to a certain type of passenger.  The best way to find out if this is for you is to get out and do it.  This is really true of almost anything.  Having read my piece, if all of this sounds fabulous, you simply have to experience a Sea Dream cruise. If some of it sounds appealing, perhaps you should try a Sea Dream cruise. If none of it sounds the least bit enticing, I don’t know what to tell you.