||Departs Venice aboard Seabourn – Seabourn Legend
July 7, 2013
In an era of cruising in which trends and innovation in design and features have become of paramount importance, my first-ever voyage with Seabourn, on Seabourn Legend, represented a whole other age of travel. I'd forgotten that cruising like this, with an emphasis on sophisticated yet simple pleasures, still existed.
What makes Seabourn such a special experience is precisely what it doesn't offer. Indeed, there are few rules, no queues, and minimal announcements. There's no need to rush anywhere -- the ship is so small, frankly, you can go from bow to stern in about a minute. There aren't too many "attractions" competing for passengers' attentions -- so folks seem to just hang out together and talk. Ultimately, though, what put this cruise on my own "best" list was that Seabourn, legendary for its intuitive service -- from requiring that all staffers memorize every passenger's name and face to anticipating needs you didn't know you had -- exceeded my already high expectations.
My lasting memories are quiet ones.
Standing at the deserted stern, away from the hullabaloo of the pool deck on our first sea day, watching Montserrat pass by, I started to think that "it would be nice to sit here all afternoon in a lounge chair," when Ian, one of the most attentive of an already attentive crew, called out to me: "May I set you up here?" Within minutes I had a fancy tropical drink , a lounge chair pulled up to the railing, and even a little table on which to rest my book. He would have brought me lunch from the Sky Grill, too, but I declined.
Another day, I locked myself outside of my cabin. My stewardess was nearby and quickly came to my rescue. Sure she opened the door -- you'd expect that. What bowled me over -- and again may seem like a small gesture but it's really not -- was her offer to head down to the purser's desk and get me another key card.
Meeting passengers at one of the hosted tables in The Restaurant, particularly early in the week, helped forge new friendships, making it easy to join acquaintances for a drink before dinner, lunch or a shore outing.
At the Veranda Cafe for lunch, I asked about a pasta dish I'd seen on the main restaurant menu. Not being cooked in the cafe that day, one of the wait staff offered to run down to The Restaurant and fetch me a plate.
A lot of cruise lines like to call their customers guests instead of passengers. Makes it seem more hospitable, somehow, and of course cruising is very much a part of the hospitality industry. But on this ship, making a passenger feel like a very much welcomed guest is not just wordplay. It's real.
If all was not absolutely perfect on Seabourn Legend -- it's true that the embarkation process was terrible for a ship of such a small size and, as you'll see from the review below, the ship itself won't win any interior design awards any time soon (though I'm looking forward to Seabourn's new-builds) -- the experience offered a splendid retreat from hassles and hurrying of the real world.
Looking back now, it all seems like a dream. The good news? It wasn't.
A major plus on Seabourn Legend was the unbelievable variety of eating options onboard for such a small vessel.
My favorite spot for dining was, three meals a day, in the Veranda Cafe. Ostensibly the ship's buffet venue, it also allows for made-to-order menu items. Breakfasts offered the usual array of cold items, from yogurts to cheeses and meats to cereal. You could place orders for egg dishes -- from poached to omelets. As well, a menu offered options like blueberry pancakes, cinnamon raison French toast and oatmeal.
Lunch worked the same way; an enticing array of salads and cold appetizers was spread across the buffet and to-order options each day included a hot and cold soup, a meat and fish selection as well as a pasta. Desserts were decadent, and there was always an ice cream of the day (including a sugar free option).
Always available was standard lunch fare, such as burgers and grilled chicken.
The quality of the cuisine at the Verandah Cafe was consistently excellent as was the service (never did you have to wait to place an order, ask for a drink refill, or request a glass of wine; house red and white was served at lunch). Wait staff also stood sentry by the buffet to carry your laden plate, and once you placed an order at the grill there was no waiting around; you found your table and it was brought to you.
Especially pleasing was the atmosphere -- tables covered with white linen were set both outdoors (my favorite spot, even on the windiest days) and indoors.
At night, the Veranda Cafe transforms itself. No buffet here, Restaurant 2 offers theme menus; one night it was bistro (outstanding -- the foie gras with quince compote, escargots classically cooked, a rich lobster bisque and grilled lamb chops ...). On another, Restaurant 2 was a trattoria and offered another fantastic menu, with starters like seared carpaccio, ricotta and potato ravioli, while mains featured a choice of osso bucco or swordfish steak. One night -- I didn't make it, alas -- Restaurant 2 was a steak house. One of its most interesting menus spotlights was tapas -- there are about a dozen small courses, highlights of which were the lobster corn dog with truffle sauce, the roasted salmon in sake ginger brine, and an amazingly decadent gingered almond and pumpkin nougatine. And you don't roll out of there groaning. The portions, quality and quantity, were perfect.
Editor's Note: There's one caveat: There's no "made to order" option during the theme evenings.
It's a testament to the chefs and wait staff at Restaurant 2 that one passenger I met, an Italian-born restaurateur who prior to his recent retirement operated a critically acclaimed eatery in Atlanta, spent most evenings here instead of the main dining room.
Speaking of which, The Restaurant, the ship's primary dining venue, was the least impressive eatery onboard. Let me qualify that by saying that the room itself was big and wide, boringly decorated, and institutional in ambience. While occasionally the cuisine would shine, just as often it would leave me cold. Literally; appetizers and entrees, while prepared to order, would arrive cool to the touch more often than they should.
And while I checked out the expansive breakfast and lunch menus, The Restaurant, whose exposure to the elements is relegated to a series of portholes, was rather depressing.
Still, dinners, regardless of the inconsistency of cuisine (and honestly, sometimes it was excellent, but at this level the food should be consistently outstanding), were a highlight of the cruise. Seabourn's "hosted tables" philosophy is a brilliant one; everyone from the captain, who on our voyage clearly enjoyed entertaining passengers at his table night after night, to members of the entertainment team, and from other senior officers to the spa director all issue invitations. It's a great way to meet your fellow passengers and also forge relationships with officers and staff. And it's not an exclusive thing, based on how much you spend or whether your conversation scintillates. Everybody gets invited -- there are plenty of hosted tables to go around.
Another alternative for dinner was the occasional grill event held out by the Sky Bar, above the pool deck. Surf and turf was the theme there one night, lamb another.
Back to breakfast, beyond the aforementioned, there's a lavish early riser's buffet laid out each morning in the Midnight Sun Lounge that goes way past the standard array of pastries you find on most ships. Afternoon tea, in which waiters serve crust-free sandwiches, scones with real clotted cream, and an assortment of beverages is also held here.
The grill by the Sky Bar was usually fired up at lunchtime and offered everything from the best gourmet hot dog ever to beef and vegetarian skewers.
And huge kudos to room service. For breakfast you can order just about anything you want, whether you use the usual card on the door or simply call down. My regular breakfast order of poached eggs on toast was always perfectly cooked and delivered in a timely fashion. You can order from The Restaurant menu during lunch and dinner; the latter is served course by course upon request (and was beautifully timed on the one night I tried it). And while not on the menu, don't hesitate to order up a serving of caviar and fixings (though it's an astonishingly meager portion) or freshly popped popcorn if you're staying in to watch a movie. The round-the-clock menu offers the usual suspects -- Caesar salad, sirloin steak, salmon, pizza, brownies and cheesecake.
The habit of placing both The Restaurant and Restaurant 2 dinner menus in each day's "Onboard Daily News" was a tremendous help in making choices.
My first impression of Seabourn Legend, upon entering its small atrium, was of the absence of color. There's no outstanding design feature to catch your eye. Bland you could say. And undramatic, too, as well as a tad dated; from public rooms to private ones, the furnishings definitely won't put you in a sleek boutique hotel frame of mind.
On the other hand, I've never sailed on a ship where I've felt such a soothing atmosphere onboard. The ship's public rooms serve as a pleasant but never intrusive backdrop to good conversation. Wandering down corridors (you don't have to go far -- that's nice in its own right) I don't remember much about the decor or the art on the walls, but I do remember the way that stewardesses, waiters, entertainment stars and, yes, the captain, all say hello, offer a warm greeting, and look you in the eye so you know they mean it.
The atrium serves as the business-of-vacationing center -- it's home to the purser's desk, which handles everything from RSVP's to invitations to join hosted tables at dinner to DVD checkouts, and a shore excursion office, which honestly was closed every time I strolled by (of course it could have been a case of bad timing). But the Atrium really is a place that you walk through to go somewhere else.
Most of the entertainment venues are located forward, one atop the other, starting on Deck 5 with the King Olav Lounge; above it on Deck 6 is The Club, the cabaret lounge. (The small casino, with a few table games in a glass-walled enclosure and a handful of slot machines tucked away in a closet-like space in the back, is off to the side.) Above that is the somewhat underused Midnight Sun lounge with its floor-to-ceiling windows; during the day, there are great views from the outer deck that encircles it.
On Deck 6 you'll find the library (compact but very well stocked, and I was impressed to see not only newish release books but also recent DVD's there). Adjacent is a well-stocked game room with three tables for cards and a great selection of board games (Scrabble, Parcheesi, Taboo and others); in that room, a nice morning touch, you'll find a selection of coffee, juice and pastries.
I found the ship's boutique boring -- it's rare that I don't buy something onboard a ship, but in this case the only purchase was made to replace a lipstick. It's mostly stocked with jewelry and tchockes that while pricey were in no way distinguished (I would have loved, for instance, to tote home a selection of the fabulous Molton Brown bathroom products that were stocked in my cabin.).
A deck below is the compact but efficient Internet cafe. There are four terminals and there's no per-minute option; you can only access the Internet via packages, ranging from 30 minutes for $13.50 (minimum) to 32 hours for $479.95 (there are five other options in between). The packages also apply to wireless access, available in cabins. The connections were, by and large, quite efficient. The ship does not have GSM cell phone capability, however.
There's a laundromat tucked away on Deck 4 -- two washers, two dryers, instructions in German (but crew was very helpful); though I used the ship's laundry for most attire, it's nice to have the option to clean your, er, intimates, yourself. There's no charge to use the machines and soap is available.
Like the ship's public rooms, you could call the staterooms on Seabourn Legend bland. Design-wise, they're a bit outdated. But they, too, are comfortable and peaceful. And the line has upgraded electronics and bedding, so those most important accouterments are quite contemporary.
All cabins are considered suites. At 277 square ft. the "Standards," laid out like mini-suites on other ships, are decorated in a blue and beige color scheme. Thirty-six of them have French balconies; when the ship underwent a major refurbishment a few years back, these verandahs-but-not were added to some cabins. Essentially, the difference between this and a window is the floor-to-ceiling French doors open to the breeze. Having that breeze makes a huge difference -- bringing the sea into my sitting room! Those without the French balconies have big picture windows.
Among the electronic toys offered in every cabin are a Bose CD player and a flat-screen television with DVD capabilities. There are nautical clocks on the wall that seemed to push time forward much more quickly than I would have liked. There's a loveseat and coffee table that's height adjustable (suitable for dining) and a mini-bar filled with your beverages of choice. Like other luxury lines, passengers can request two bottles of liquor (and mixers) or two bottles of wine for in-cabin consumption. Sodas, bottled water and beer are replenished as needed.
Queen beds convert to twins and are laden with an incredibly comfortable (firm) mattress, high cotton count white sheets, silky cotton duvet and plump pillows.
All bathrooms are white marble with whirlpool tubs; they're not huge, but they're beautifully designed. There's no separate shower and on this ship, no double sinks. We love the Molton Brown bath products and appreciated the way they were lavishly replenished. In the nice touch category were a make-up mirror, a hairdryer with good power, a bottle of sun block(!), and a container of cotton swabs and cotton balls.
All suites also have walk-in closets; an in-room safe is tucked away inside it. Storage space was adequate but hardly generous.
Other extras include personalized stationery, plush bathrobes and slippers.
Seabourn Legend has a handful of larger suites. The "Classic" model (400 square ft.) has a separate bedroom and bathroom, a real balcony with two teak chairs and a small table. There's also a dining table in the living area. These have no walk-in closet. The Eriksson and Heyerdahl suites (530 square ft.), classified as owner's suites, were my favorite; located at the front of the ship, these have a long aft-facing balcony with enough room for padded chaise lounges and a dining table. They also feature separate living and sleeping quarters; these have a powder room, as well.
There's another owner's suite with a different configuration; these two, located on Deck 6, feature a separate living and sleeping space, but there's no balcony.
Conversely, if on a budget there are a few of the standard suite accommodations that, because of their location far forward, have different (and not as welcoming) configurations. Cabin 100 on Deck 4, for instance, is built in an L-shaped mode; the television is only watchable from the bed and the sleeping area, with no window, is a bit dark. Others with unusual layouts include 101, 102 and 103. These are typically priced somewhat lower, but do otherwise feature the same standard suite amenities and identical bathrooms.
Seabourn says that all gratuities are included in your cruise fare -- and it means it. However, you should feel free to discreetly compensate a crew member who's performed a particularly unique or time consuming request.
On our sailing there was one family with young children, and though they were very well behaved -- and their parents handled them impeccably -- there was quite a bit of buzz from the mostly senior passengers about the presence of young ones. While they were well cared for, this really isn't a ship for younger children. There are few activities and facilities are nil.
International, upscale and well-traveled. Average age depends on cruising region (higher in the Mediterranean, slightly lower in the Caribbean), but the majority are in the 55-plus age range, and onboard entertainment is largely geared to this demographic. Seabourn passengers are intensely loyal; not only do they return year after year, but it's also not unusual to meet couples who are onboard for three or four back-to-backs. Or more!
|Fitness and Recreation|
A note is posted at the spa's welcome desk: "All of our therapists are currently performing treatments on other guests and we are unable to assist you at this time." A pad of paper was provided for passengers to list requested treatments and times. I found this absolutely charming -- and evocative of the ship's casual and cozy ambience. You'll get a call when someone's free, and they'll do their best to slot you in.
No question, the facility is small -- small that is if you're used to huge two-level spa/gym set-ups. But that's to be expected. And even with such limited space, the spa sure didn't stint on treatments; these ranged from stone therapy massage ($178), and body wraps from Ocean Wraps ($180) to Lime and Ginger Salt Glow ($180). There are facials -- for women and men, both -- and an anti-arthritic ceremony. The salon, part of the tiny facility, features the usual -- hair styling, cut and coloring, cleansing rituals, massages and pedicures. Pricing wise, the Swedish massage is $111 -- and that's about average, in cruising, for an onboard 50-minute massage.
One of the challenges for a spa in a ship this size is the staffing -- in this case there was one nail technician, one hairdresser and three massage therapist/facial experts. On our cruise, a seven-night sailing with a lot of passengers for whom spa treatments are a regular occurrence (home or away), the facility was pretty busy throughout the cruise, and making a reservation proved important. (A spontaneous request for a pedicure later on in the voyage was met with a "sorry, we're sold out for the week.") I was told that managing requests are definitely more challenging on the seven-night voyages than on longer cruises.
If the treatments are performed professionally and the menu offers variety, the disappointment here is the facility itself is beyond drab (and is it so hard to gussy up a massage room with a little bit of scent and some Tahitian fabrics?). At the very least replacing the hideous lighting would be a start.
Operated by Steiner, which has a lock on cruise line spa operations, I was appalled to hear that their policy of selling products, often pushing them quite strongly, was permitted on a ship of this caliber. It is, however, a reflection of the passengers who sail on Seabourn that one woman, who was suffering buyer's remorse after a way-too-excessive post-treatment shopping spree, told me she didn't have the heart to return them. "The therapist was so sweet," she said, "and I know she earns commission."
Having sworn to maintain some sort of fitness regimen, I was among those who were casually committed to some sort of routine; in Seabourn Legend's gym all but the most voracious fitness buffs will find just the right amount of equipment. The Life Fitness equipment was arranged for circuit training. And an adequate supply of treadmills and bicycles are topped with flat-screen televisions tuned to ship channels. The mini-fridge filled with bottled water, though commonly found in more upscale ship fitness facilities, is a welcome touch nevertheless.
The ship also schedules classes in Yoga and Pilates, for which there is no additional charge, and offers individualized personal training sessions and a metabolism test (for which there is).
Seabourn Legend's pool deck is actually centered around two huge Jacuzzis instead of a swimming pool (The salt water pool itself is tucked into a private alcove between a glassed-in stairwell and the Verandah Cafe.). There's plenty of space on the teak deck for lots of lounge chairs (white plastic with puffy blue cushions) both here and on Deck 8, just above. However, beware, especially on sea days: The loungers are placed along the running/walking track and clog it up, so you should plan to get your exercise either very early or very late. Sixteen laps, by the way, equal a mile.
One neat complimentary feature is "massage moments" -- therapists come on out to the pool deck and wander around, their fingers making music on bodies ravaged by airplane flights. Lovely.
Way aft is my favorite part of Deck 8 -- it's a nice broad space that, when not used by shuffle boarders, is a lovely away-from-the-crowd spot for sunning.
One of Legend's claims to fame is its fabulous water sports platform. Low down and far aft, the fold-out marina can only be used when at anchor in port, and only then from time to time. It's equipped with windsurfers, sailboats, Zodiacs, water skis, banana boat, pedal boat and snorkeling equipment. In the center of the marina is a stainless steel mesh pool (to keep guests in and sea life out). It proved a disappointment on our trip, if only in scheduling; while anchored off Nevis, our captain made a bit of a last minute announcement at lunchtime that it would be open for two hours that afternoon but for folks already off the ship and those of who had afternoon plans, it meant we missed out entirely. Too bad because it's a unique and fantastic feature that few ships can offer.
As Seabourn offers a range of itineraries, some quite exotic, dress code depends to some extent on where you're sailing. In port, respect the culture of the destination. Onboard, daytimes are in the country club casual mode. At night, there are three different dress suggestions: Casual, in which men can appear sans jacket and women are okay with a simple blouse with skirt or slacks; Elegant Casual, in which men wear jackets and women don more swishy ensembles or a cocktail dress; and, for one night on our seven-night Caribbean cruise, there's Black Tie Optional. Many men did put on a tuxedo and women wore elegant but simple floor length gowns (this is not a cruise line where you'd wear "big ship" bangles and beads).
The real entertainment onboard Seabourn Legend occurs at The Restaurant or whatever theme eatery is being offered in the Veranda Cafe. A leisurely meal, good wine, delicious food, and stimulating conversation meant that many folks spent two hours plus at the table, and that was a highlight for me, night after night. The passengers, in essence, make their own entertainment. Beyond that, this is not a ship for those who want round-the-clock activity.
The second most rocking spot onboard was found at sailaway, almost always at just about sunset, at the Sky Bar; the outdoor bar, a deck above the pool area, has small cocktail tables undercover and larger ones -- all covered with white linen cloths -- scattered around the deck. Every night was like a cocktail party.
Editor's Note: Seabourn's three ships all feature an inclusive beverage policy, so there's no charge for house wine, liquor, beer and sodas. You can opt to purchase "top shelf" items; the house wine choices in particular seemed a bit pedestrian, and I was tempted to buy a better bottle one night.
There were a handful of evening musical shows -- and while all three of the main performers had beautiful voices, the pace -- quite frenetic, with lots of costume changes, and music that spanned decades every night -- was exhausting. As well, the King Olav, the ship's primary theater venue, is a fairly intimate space -- and low ceilinged -- and so these high energy shows seemed out of place.
A pre- and post-dinner option was Viva, a husband and wife duo -- she sings, he plays the piano. They held court in The Club, the ship's secondary venue. They, too, were a disappointment -- she sang out of tune. This was the place to dance -- and it was sweet to watch couples perform the obviously well practiced ritual. The place to go for music, I discovered just in the nick of time, was the Midnight Sun Lounge with jazz and favorites offered at tea time and after dinner.
On a couple of nights movies were shown; and they were good ones ("The Queen" and "The Last King of Scotland") -- right after they'd won major Academy Awards.
Easily the most joyful and plain-old-fun evening bash was the ship's Fruit Flambe Under the Stars, an after-dinner event where chefs created a beautiful array of desserts out on the pool deck and the Navigators, the ship's fantastic all-purpose band, played for people to dance. Just a lovely evening and yes, we were rewarded with a sparkly black sky.
During the day, activities are fairly limited -- this ship appeals to people who can find their own fun, whether it's meeting fellow travelers or curling up in your suite with a good book or movie. But you can participate, on sea days, in a range of activities, such as tour talks, cooking demos, bridge, casino gaming lessons, a matinee movie, galley tour, ice cream social and golf putting competition. Or you can have a long lunch and take a nap! On port days, when most people are off the ship on shore tours, social bridge games are offered. But that's pretty much it.
Speaking of shore excursions, Seabourn Legend offered a solid selection of offerings, ranging from standard island tours for less mobile passengers to more adventurous options (kayak rides, nature hikes, and horseback rides, among others).
What proved disappointing however was a lack -- at least on our cruise -- of really unique options. Ironically, the two most interesting were offered in St. Kitts (so you had to choose); one was a tour of artist studios and another was a day at Rawlins Plantation, a charming small island hotel. I opted for the second, and while it was indeed a lovely experience (complete with a West Indian buffet lunch, use of the pool, grounds, and even the grass tennis court if desired, as well as roundtrip transportation in a minivan), there were a couple of disconcerting issues that perhaps show a carelessness on the cruise line's part in monitoring shore outings.
First, Seabourn's own brochures on the tour listed spa options as an a la carte part of the day. Rawlins, it turned out, doesn't have a spa (though the owners told us they can request massage therapists and the like to perform treatments in a room onsite; reservations must be made 24 hours in advance). Obviously, the tour company that Seabourn uses on the island was responsible for the discrepancy, but a little bit of quality control by the line would have eliminated the inaccuracies. As well, the $280 per person price, which seemed outrageous at first glance, was also outrageous in reality. Pleasant as it was, that tour was embarrassingly overpriced, and fellow passengers did complain about it to the shore excursion personnel onboard.
And yet Seabourn offers one of the great experiences in cruising with its "Exclusively Seabourn" program. On our Caribbean voyage, officers and crew take over a private island with a beach bar in Virgin Gorda; there's a fabulous barbecue, open bar, watersports, and a spa hut, where ship's therapists offer 20-minute rubdowns. The piece de resistance: Two waiters wade through the surf with a surfboard on which is perched a huge mound of caviar, complete with fixings; champagne is served; and guests mix and mingle in the surf. The whole day passes like a dream -- for this Caribbean veteran, it was the most magical, relaxing, pleasant beach outing ever.
And it was clear that the hard working crew, plowing through the sand to serve drinks, provide towels and fulfill all manner of requests was having a ball, too.
Editor's Note: Folks traveling on Seabourn Legend in the Mediterranean also experience an "Exclusively Seabourn" outing, but these vary depending on itinerary. You could go to an exclusive reception at Els Calderers, a historic country manor house dating from the 13th century, in Palma de Mallorca. Or in Sousse, Tunisia, passengers enjoy traditional local delicacies and enchanting Tunisian music in an aristocratic Moorish home in the Old Town. And in Dubrovnik? It's a private evening in the medieval Revelin Fortress, enlivened by an internationally acclaimed Croatian folkloric troupe.
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