Let me start by saying that I, personally, am not a huge fan of cruises. Early in my career, I was the publicist during the launch of Disney Cruise Line, so I have spent a ton of time around the industry and onboard ships. While cruises are great, I typically prefer the independence of a land vacation. However, my experience on Seabourn was surprising and I was super impressed with many of the things that separate Seabourn from other Cruise Lines.
This is number one for me, as I am not good at mass-anything. I just don’t find it relaxing to move with tons of people while on vacation. On the Seabourn Sojourn, we were two of 450 guests. We never waited in line for anything, and rarely ever noticed a high number of people in any one place. You feel as if you are spending time with a handful of very well-traveled, curious people. We also dined when we wanted, on our own. No huge buffets - this is not a shrimp cocktail sort of experience.
The other compelling aspect of a small ship is that they can get in and out of ports that large ships can’t. So, while many of the Alaska ports have three to five ships in port for the day, Seabourn will complement those marquee ports with smaller, lesser known spots that bring a much more intimate view of the area. They often anchor at sea in a small cove or a beautiful inlet just because they can.
This was a standout, no question. The experience is completely Thomas Keller. He trained the staff of all the ships - they all went to the French Laundry - and his exacting standards are present in this restaurant. The service, wine, and food are a level above. So many ships have alternative restaurants that are in name only, but charge a service fee to dine in them. Not Seabourn. There was no surcharge for any menu items. In fact, the only additional fee was if you wanted some of the exclusive wine available, but the wines by the glass that they offered complementary were perfect.
If you want adventure, there are many expedition ships available out there. The challenge is that there are not a lot of options for adventure with a luxury experience. Enter the Seabourn Ventures program. They have designed excursions on every sailing that take advantage of a given location, and also offer either kayaking or Zodiac experiences right from the ship.
In Alaska, the ship paused in the Icy Straits in an area with many protected coves where we could encounter animals. This is not wimpy, pretend-adventure stuff. They suited us up in full wetsuits and offered us guidance on how to manage the kayak. We had an experienced naturalist guide accompany us, as well as a Zodiac nearby at all times in case we got tired or were ready to stop. We had a group of 12 - again, not something that any mega ship could ever offer - and the whole operation was done so well.
The Ventures program also means that knowledgeable guides are always walking around the ship. You have the chance to join them at a meal or even be invited for dinner, but they are also just out and about. One day, as we left the Port of Ketchikan, one of the naturalists was on the front deck ready to show us how to spot whales. It wasn’t a formal program of any kind, he just instructed the handful of us on deck how to watch and then happily answered our questions about the species.
Older Families or Couples
My only hesitation with recommending Seabourn to clients is to families with younger children. If you are considering Alaska or the Mediterranean during the summer, there will likely be families onboard, but this cruise line does not cater to them in the way others do. They do offer some activities for kids when the ship has families traveling, but of course it is nowhere near anything along the lines of Holland America or Disney. The Ventures program would make a teen or young adult happy, but young kids may feel like things are a bit quiet.
Fellow Travelers/Country Club Casual
What I liked about Seabourn was that the guests were a very well-traveled, sophisticated group. Additionally, the ship’s atmosphere is more casual and laid back than others, so you will find people who want high standards of service without the fussy nature that can come with it. For example, they have lectures that help enhance the destinations - so on our Alaska cruise they had many naturalists helping us understand salmon and bears. They also have a great wellness program designed by Andrew Weil, so again, more substantive than a simple massage. Most of the guests I talked with travel over and over with Seabourn, and I understand why.
For those who love a beautiful resort with a high standard of service, you should try Seabourn. If price point is an issue, they often have specials on particular sailings that offer a great value if you are flexible with your itinerary and dates. The cruise element brings a different dimension to the trip and allows you to see so much in a short period of time, so I definitely recommend it.