Editor's note: Seabourn Spirit was sold to Windstar in February 2013, and will be refurbished and renamed. It will enter service as a Windstar ship in May 2015.
Passengers on Seabourn Cruise Line's trio of 208-passenger, ulta-luxury ships -- Seabourn Spirit, Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Pride -- enjoy fine dining (especially at dinner), all-suite cabins and doting service. You won't find much razzmatazz here, but you will find an opportunity to enjoy some quiet time and converse with your fellow travelers in a refined environment.
The Champagne flows liberally, there's opportunity to eat caviar, and all women get the arm of a waiter when they enter the dining room. Since you've paid considerable bucks upfront, the line can afford to throw in freebies. And they do: Included in the cruise fare are a welcome bottle of Champagne; an in-suite bar setup; nearly all drinks (you pay extra for some premium brands); decent wine with lunch and dinner; and crew tips.
Seabourn also has a complimentary shore excursion program. On each cruise, at one port of call, there is one free shore-side event to which all passengers are invited. These events are often a highlight of the voyage, and have included such excursions as a visit to a private villa in Malta, a glass-roofed canal boat ride in Amsterdam and an outdoor folkloric dance performance in Nafplion, Greece.
You can use the ship's water sports equipment for free, and do not have to pay extra for a Pilates class or wine-tasting seminar. Plus, there are niceties like fruit smoothies, suntan lotion and cold towels passed out on deck on a hot day.
Still, despite a higher staff-per-passenger ratio than most lines, service is not seamless. While dinner is presented with military precision, including lifting silver domes off entrees on cue, the young (but very handsome) waitstaff seemed lost on our cruise during breakfast and lunch buffets, with guests having to flag someone down for coffee or a clean place setting.
The decor on the Seabourn Spirit is comfortably upscale. There is plenty of space to explore but really nowhere to go -- at night, your choices are The Club with adjacent small casino, the show lounge and (weather permitting) the pool bar. Don't expect much late-night partying.
Dinner is an extraordinary experience, featuring cuisine rivaling that of the finest land-based restaurants. The Restaurant is open seating -- you can dine with whomever you choose or ask the maitre d' to choose your companions for the evening. In any event, conversation seems to flow as easily as the excellent complimentary wines.
Okay, The Restaurant is, decor-wise, about as bland as the room's name. But you hardly notice once the food starts arriving. The multi-course menus feature not only old favorites like Beef Wellington and grilled lobster, but new enticements like goat cheese souffle and barbecued quail with chipotle glaze. The onboard chef picks up fresh ingredients at ports of call, and may display the head of a giant swordfish to prove that point. There is always a specially noted chef's selection as well as lighter fare and a vegetarian option. Desserts are sublime, and ours included a trio basil, white chocolate and orange creme brulee, and yummy homemade ice cream and sorbet (some complained about there not being enough chocolate desserts, but my sweet tooth was well satisfied).
For alternative dining, the reservations-required Veranda Cafe has small-plates tasting or themed menus (such as French, Mediterranean, Surf-and-Turf) at night. You can dine under the stars and you don't have to dress up even on formal nights. Reservations often booked up for the Veranda Cafe, but then half the people ended up as no-shows. So if you can't get a reservation, show up anyway and chances are you will be seated. The food in the Cafe is less fussy than in the dining room and is served with less pomp and circumstance, but is very satisfying. And eating outside is so romantic! Passengers also have the option of ordering dinner in their cabin, served course by course. Breakfast and lunch are available from room service, in The Restaurant, and buffet-style at the Veranda Cafe (most passengers choose the buffet option). Both meals are lackluster compared to dinner. Weather permitting, there may be burgers served on the deck at lunch. There is also a nice afternoon tea each day in the Horizon Lounge.
The Spirit is comfortable, but decor-wise, nothing is particularly exciting. The Club with its tan leather chairs and glass wall connecting to the small casino is about as stylish as this ship gets, and a nice venue for before- or after-dinner drinks and dancing. The Horizon Lounge is your typical observation lounge with floor-to-ceiling, forward-facing windows, and is underutilized (it is open for Early Risers breakfast and afternoon tea, but mostly closed at night). The Restaurant is a low-ceiling affair, and The Amundsen Lounge is a show lounge big enough to hold all passengers. The ship also has a small computer center with e-mail access, a tiny library/video library with music and books-on-disc CD's, a card room, and a small boutique (more utilitarian than enticing).
All cabins are suites and offer views, mostly through picture windows. In 2000, French balconies were added to 36 suites and these allow you to open glass doors, let in the fresh air, and step out about a foot-and-a-half.
Standard suites are a generous 277 square feet and offer small walk-in closets, large marble bathrooms with double sinks and a tub/shower, hair dryers, lighted vanities, terry robes and slippers, personalized stationery, a bottle of champagne upon arrival, a complimentary bar setup, a small sofa, a coffee table, which can be raised for in-suite dining and beds, which can be convert from twin to queen and are covered with duvets.
There are also six larger classic suites and owners' suites with small private verandahs (the owners' suites also have dining rooms and powder rooms). And there are four suites that can be combined to make two doubles.
The decor is simple, but the extras make the experience special. Chocolates are left at turn down along with roses, rose petals and other surprises. Toiletries are by Molton Brown, or passengers can choose from a selection of additional designer soaps. You can also choose from a menu of bath salts, and have your room steward draw your bath. In-cabin televisions are of the flat-screen variety and show movies and CNN, among other offerings. All suites also come with DVD players and a Bose Wave sound system.
Tips are included in the cost of the cruise.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Seabourn Spirit is fitted with a water sports marina that can be lowered when the ship is at anchor and is equipped with windsurfers, sail boats, Zodiacs, water skis, a banana boat and snorkeling equipment. In the center of the marina is a steel mesh cage that forms a swimming pool.
The ship also has a small, oddly placed swimming pool on its top deck (it is in a shaded area in the center of the ship and there is no seating around it) as well as three whirlpools (including one hidden in the prow that couples can reserve for a romantic evening complete with champagne and caviar). For two hours during days at sea, via the line's "Massage Moments" program, free mini-massages are available on the Sun Deck.
Cushioned deck chairs are plentiful on the Sun Deck, which is separate from the pool. Fitness facilities include workout, steam and treatment rooms, and a beauty salon -- because space is tight in the gym, exercise classes are held in The Club.
The ship is targeted more towards couples than families. However, the plethora of one-week cruises and a spate of discounts have attracted a younger crowd including families (sometimes multi-generational). The cruise staff tries to accommodate kids by arranging a least a few activities when there are a number onboard, such as a treasure hunt or group showing of a kids' movie.
Passengers are mostly American or British, wealthy, well mannered and well traveled. The average age depends on the cruising region, but usually ranges from late 40's to late 60's. Passengers tend to be loyal to Seabourn; half may be repeaters.
Seabourn passengers generally like to dress up. There are two formal nights on weeklong cruises and three on 14-day sailings. On these nights, many men wear tuxedos, but dark suits are acceptable. Women wear fancy cocktail dresses or ball gowns. Other nights are casually elegant (jacket for men, but tie optional; nice outfit for women), or casual (no jacket for men; sundress or slacks for women). For those who don't like formal nights, the Veranda Cafe offers a casually elegant alternative.
The stage in the show lounge is just right for big voices, and that's what Seabourn offers. On our sailing, three singers (one being the cruise director) did solo cabaret acts and joined together for a highly enjoyable night of Broadway show tunes. Also onboard was a four-piece orchestra/dance band. As an alternative to a show, a movie may be shown outside on the Sun Deck. Most people are quite capable of entertaining themselves during the day with a good book or conversation, and on port days they want to be out exploring. However, there are a few activities including talks by guest lecturers (professors, statesmen, authors, or stars of stage and screen), cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, bridge play and golf putting competitions.
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