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Small Ship Cruising - Is it worth it?

2/28/20    POSTED BY: Melinda Bourgeois 

Recently I spent 14 nights on the Seabourn Encore, promoted as the ultra-luxury in cruising. In the past, I’ve traveled on everything from Carnival to Regent to Uniworld & AmaWaterways. What I found is it’s really about what experience you are looking for and sometimes until you do it, you never knew how great it is. If you enjoy exploring and learning on your vacation, they are many opportunities on luxury small ship cruising 

 

 What is impressive that creates a different experience?

  • Seabourn Square - creative way to have a front desk, internet center, puzzles, specialty coffees in a relaxed, comfortable, lively lounge.  The difference you don’t mind waiting for a guest service specialist while reading the paper and enjoying a gelato.
  • Earth & Ocean- Pool side evening dining. This is not hamburgers or just a grill, but creative casual food like Nigerian prawns, Peking duck or grilled cauliflower. It’s relaxing and casual after a full day in port. Service was outstanding.  The difference is you get fine dining cuisine sitting under the stars.
  • Ventures by Seabourn- perfect for active travelers who enjoy learning about the environment they are visiting. Zodiacs, birdwatching, hikes in mangroves to rainforests, kayaking and conversations. In small groups, you really get to be part of nature and learn at the same time, you might be amazed at how and how long an albatross fly:)
    • Conversations in the grand salon based by Venture Guides, professors and invited experts to share insights on your destination’s history, environment, culture, mammals, etc.
  • Partnerships with Thomas Keller- both in a separate restaurant nightly and at the Colonnade on selected nights. Cuisine with the finest quality ingredients, along with a similarly intense focus on impeccable guest service. Definitely do the table side Caesar salads and ice cream sundaes.  Never thought I wanted to go to the French Laundry in Yountville, but now I might have to reconsider. 
  • Seabourn Moments: Moments where you appreciate the difference.
    • Being welcomed to a show in the Grand Salon with champagne & caviar.
    • Evening turn down with artisan K+M Chocolates, a Thomas Keller partnership, definitely elevates the standard of an evening turndown sweet.
    • Galley brunch- the kitchen galley is opened, and passengers enjoy an exquisite buffet brunch. Very creative food, food displays and a chance to see and appreciate the chefs. Easy way to do a galley tour.
    • Local entertainment - yes, they offered singers, dancers, musicians and magicians, but they also bring onboard local specific to the culture entertainers. In New Zealand, we had Maori dance group and Auckland street artist, The Sandman. Again, it’s about being immersed in the culture you are visiting. 
  • Smaller ship benefits:
    • Unique, smaller port- easy tenders. Unique ports that large ships cannot do because it’s a real challenge to tender 4,000 people
    • Ease of disembarking, no lines waiting at doors
    • Not wearing group numbers for tours
    • Staff remembers you and not because you sit at the same table every night. 

Other Ship Amenities:

  • Laundry room- complimentary nice washer & dryers with soap provided.
  • Bathrooms - separate tub & shower. Great Molton Brown soaps, shampoo, conditioner and lotions.
  • Pre-dinner entertainment nightly: 
    • Cocktails & Appetizers with a piano duo in the Observation Bar 
    • A dance band in the Club
    • Piano Bar in Thomas Keller
         

       

Though it was a great cruise, I do share disappointments, not because they hampered my enjoyment or fun, but to set realistic expectations.  As much as I would like the world to be perfect, I don’t see that happening for a long while:)

  • Conversations in grand salon interesting but should be specific to where we are.  For example, the geology would have much more interesting if we talked about the geology behind the Milford sound or New Zealand not just generic. But MOST were fantastic. 
  • Other than work out room and pool, there are no active options including not having a deck to walk track
  • Internet works but is slow and expensive $400 for 2 weeks
  • Shore excursions - some overpriced (would not recommend Nelson Walking Tour or Maori canoe in Waiheke for price paid) But MOST were fantastic.
  • Satellite for live TV not available for 4 days 
  • Rigid schedule...6:15 - 7:45 club, piano bar, & observation deck had entertainment and none again until 8:45 or 9:30, though during 2nd week offered pre-dinner shows.  Dining times should be fluid based on weather especially at sea days for example the Colonnade could be open to 3:30 with cloudy & cold days and pool dining could close at 2:00 not 3:30.
  • Grand salon very poorly designed with many seats obstructed by poles.
  • Front of ship cabins loud if in high winds and choppy seas.
  • Last night -should have been overnight in Auckland not floating around the sea

Planning a cruise?  What questions to ask?

  •  What is included? With Seabourn, it’s easy everything but the spa, internet, and shore excursions.
  • Who are some of the partnerships and what are the benefits?