If you were to design the ideal new luxury ship from scratch, it might look a lot like Seabourn Odyssey, though not necessarily from the outside. Cruise ships these days are more chubby than sleek, what with the need for big balcony cabins and more interior space for expanded spas, entertainment, and dining.
Inside, however, the classically elegant Seabourn Odyssey shines. Size matters. The cruise line's first three highly-rated luxury ships, designed some 20 years ago, are undoubtedly intimate, carrying slightly more than 200 passengers each -- but space for contemporary features, from private balconies to expansive sun decks and spas, is more limited. At 450 passengers, Seabourn Odyssey, like sister ships Sojourn (2010) and Quest (2011), offers three times as much space.
Having sailed on Seabourn's original trio, I wondered: Is Odyssey's design a clear improvement over the older ships? On a recent autumn voyage from Athens to Venice, I compared and contrasted.
First impressions? My ideal luxury ship is small enough so I don't feel overwhelmed and can get around quickly and easily (on Odyssey -- check), with public areas and dining rooms large enough not to be crowded (check). It's also intimate with the atmosphere of a private club, where service is special and someone anticipates my needs (check).
I want a roomy cabin with a private balcony, a bathtub and a walk-in closet (check), plus plenty of seating sprinkled about the ship so there's always a free place to plop (check).
There's a spacious and comfortable spa, never too busy (check); diverse evening entertainment so each night I could choose from, for instance, a show, an upbeat band for dancing or soft piano music (check); a low-key, daytime meeting place for coffee and pastries (check); a library and computers (check); and a comfortable, casual dining area for daytime meals with outside tables, as well as elegant choices for dinner, including romantic and in-suite balcony room service (check).
My ideal cruise has two other requirements: In addition to opportunities to relax, I want to sail with a group of fellow passengers with the intellectual and physical energy that usually accompanies a variety of ages (check); and I would prefer to enjoy the whole shebang in an environment where nobody is required to don a tie or put on a gown (check).
My feeling is that Odyssey is well-sized to task. I like the ship better than the older ones, both for the style, which seems less formal, and for the private verandahs, which are missed on the three earlier ships, despite the addition of French doors (essentially picture windows that open out without a balcony to step on) to some cabins.
Still, the ship may not appeal as much to Seabourn veterans who prize the intimacy of the line's smaller, older vessels. Other Seabourn veterans told me that, while they liked the additions Odyssey had the space to offer, they still preferred the more intimate vessels.
Their view of reality reminded me of one of my father's favorite sayings, back when I was growing up and working for him in the family hardware store in Ohio. Customers, my dad said, sometimes want to put ten pounds of nails in a five-pound bag.
Well, cruisers needed a bigger bag, and on Odyssey, I believe Seabourn got it right.
The Restaurant is the ship's main dining room venue, and it's an open-seating, choose-your-tablemates eatery. For me, the chic Restaurant was a joy each evening, without rush or crowd. My food, at half a dozen different tables with varying waiters, was served with style and efficiency. I don't remember a single conversation being interrupted by a waiter. I don't even remember the waiters, which is fine by me.
Standouts in the Restaurant included pan-fried Dorado, which the chef had bought the day before in the fish market on Corfu island, Greece; a foie gras appetizer with roasted apples and caramelized honey; sauteed prawns Saltimbocca; and the chef's dinner of curried cauliflower, cilantro shrimp tortellini, monkfish and lobster risotto; and mango creme brulee.
The Restaurant is open 8 to 9 a.m. for breakfast, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and 7:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner.
Restaurant 2 is Seabourn's alternative venue, and it specializes in daring, seven-course tasting menus. The ambience is sleek and sexy, with red and black Asian-inspired decor and low lights.
Restaurant 2 is not the sort of place for passengers who lack a spirit of adventure in their eating. We ate tapas-sized portions of seared tuna with watermelon, salmon with root vegetables, lime duck with bok choy and chili balls, spiced halibut with foie gras and pineapple, hanger steak with poached tomatoes, and zabaglione custard with apricots, followed by white chocolate cheesecake that was almost anticlimactic for me, but perfectly enjoyable.
The menu changes each week in a seven-week rotation, so passengers on the ship for more a week will see a new menu.
The biggest challenge Restaurant 2 presents is getting a table. It seats only 50 passengers per night, at tables for six and two. It's easier to get a reservation if you agree to join a six-top.
Restaurant 2 is open nightly from 7 to 9 p.m.
The Colonnade is the ship's superb casual restaurant, offering both buffet and waiter-service options. It became my home for breakfast and lunch. It has tables inside and out, along the aft end and starboard side. The alfresco tables are the loveliest places to eat on the ship. Just inside the door is a series of high tables, designed for meal mingling, especially among single passengers.
There's plenty of fresh, healthy food -- such as fruits, antipasto, salads and plenty of comfort dishes -- on the buffet, and each day, the kitchen cooks to order from a special menu. There's also an anytime menu so that you can order various staples. Service was excellent, with waiters ready to carry dishes to the table, fetch an iced tea or glass of wine, or take a special order.
In the evenings, the Colonnade is transformed into a bistro-style restaurant with the addition of tablecloths and a waiter-only scenario. Menus are based on themes. One night, the Colonnade is an Italian bistro, the next night Mediterranean, the next French.
The Colonnade is open 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. for breakfast, noon to 2 p.m. for lunch, and 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner.
The Patio Grill, next to the pool on Deck 8, is the most casual venue onboard, with tables that are clustered around the main pool. Breakfast is continental fare; for lunch, there are burgers, hot dogs, salads and pizza. In good weather, the Patio Grill may be open for dinner, offering steaks, chops, shrimp and pizza amidst quite a country club-like social ambience.
The grill is open for lunch from 1 to 4 p.m. and for dinner from 7:30. to 9 p.m.
Early risers will find continental breakfast fare in the Observation Bar on Deck 10 from 6:15 to 8 a.m. and a full range of pastries and special coffees at Seabourn Square from 6:15 a.m. until closing at 6 p.m.
Tea is served daily between 4 and 5 p.m. in the Observation Bar, with piano music and a range of goodies. Tea selections include Himalayan Peak, Darjeeling Organic, Mandarin Rose Petal, Bleu Peacock Oolong and tisanes, such as Ginger Twist and African Amber.
Superb room service is available 24 hours a day -- at 3 a.m., for instance, you might order a Caesar salad, baked salmon, sauteed spinach, and a cheese plate. The room-service menu doesn't vary much; you can order hot breakfasts and a range of staples, such as steaks, chicken, burgers and surprisingly good pizza. During dinner, you can order off the Restaurant's menu, and the food is served course by course.
As Seabourn is one of cruising's more inclusive lines, most beverages, from cappuccino and house wines to martinis and soda, are complimentary. Plus, stewardesses will stock each cabin with two complimentary bottles of liquor. (You choose from a menu.) If you want a special wine or after-dinner drink, waiters and bartenders will add it to your tab.
Odyssey's size (well, relative size, since we're comparing it with Seabourn's smaller ships and not cruising's mega-sized vessels) is deceptive, because interiors and deck spaces are designed to feel intimate and sociable. And yet, you might spend a week on this ship and never get around to exploring it all, as there are plenty of nooks and crannies that make perfect reading or chatting spots. I'm thinking of the fantastic hideaways around the whirlpool at the bow on Deck 6, the pool area at the aft end on Deck 5, the small sitting area on Deck 10 overlooking the main pool, and the Sun Terrace on Deck 11. There's also a lovely deck area, with wicker couches and dining tables, just off Seabourn Square.
Decor is tasteful throughout the ship, which has a contemporary feel -- from the sweeping Observation Bar on Deck 10 to the Grand Salon showroom on Deck 6 and The Club (with outdoor terrace), popular for dancing on Deck 5.
Seabourn Square on Deck 7, new to Odyssey, was a terrific idea, as it replaces the traditional reception area with a warm and comfortable meeting place for coffee, pastries, library books and computer use; it also houses a quiet space for ship concierges. I appreciated using Seabourn Square to connect with local tourism people who came aboard ship and were available, with maps and excursion ideas, for at least an hour after the ship pulled into ports. This was a helpful service for passengers who were not signed up for shore excursions and wanted to roam about on their own.
What the earlier three sisters of Seabourn -- Spirit, Pride and Legend -- lack is what Odyssey flaunts: 197 of 225 cabins have private balconies.
Seabourn calls all 225 of its cabins suites because each has sleeping and sitting areas. (But a heads-up: Standard suites are not designed as separate rooms.) The living rooms, complete with flat-screen televisions, couches and tables, are divided from the sleeping areas via heavy, silk curtains.
To get to a full suite, meaning that the bed is in a separate room, you would have to upgrade to the Penthouse Suite (see below) or higher.
All cabins are roomy. Seabourn Suites, the only cabins without balconies, and standard Veranda Suites, are both a spacious 300 square feet (though the extra 75 square feet afforded by the verandah makes those accommodations larger).
Each cabin has a walk-in closet with safe and is equipped with an interactive, flat-screen TV with a fantastic variety of music and movie selections (no charge). There's also an iPod dock. A bar (above a writing desk) and a refrigerator (below the desk) are stocked according to guest preferences, coordinated before arrival. I didn't put in a pre-cruise request, but upon boarding, my stewardess quickly inquired about my preferences, and a bottle of Jack Daniels soon appeared in my bar. Oddly, the refrigerator did not keep items particularly cold.
In the standard suites, bathrooms are comfortably large, with double sinks framed in granite and separate baths and showers, though only the shower has a handheld spray. The shower is roomy, with a wide, clear glass door and a big shower head. Amenities include soaps by Hermes and L'Occitane and bath products by Molton Brown. Stewardesses will draw warm, scented baths from the "Pure Pampering" therapeutic bath menu upon request or sprinkle rose petals on the bed at night at no charge.
Veranda Suite balconies, at 65 square feet, each come with two chairs, a dining table just big enough for two and one chaise. (The balcony is too small for loungers.)
Penthouse suites, at 436 square feet, are spacious and work especially well for entertaining. The bedrooms are totally separate from the living areas (sealed off by glass doors), which have dining tables, sectional couches, and comfortable chairs. They've also got powder rooms.
Penthouse bathtubs have whirlpool jets.
There are several other, larger suites, and the two Grand Wintergarden accommodations are the nicest of all. At 1,182 square feet, each of the two-bedroom suites has a vast living room with sectional sofa and huge flat-screen television. There's a dining area (the table can seat six easily) and a wet bar and butler's pantry. The separate master bedroom is equipped with the usual Seabourn tech accouterments (flat-screen television with interactive features and a range of music and movie options, and an iPod dock). The adjoining bathroom is superlative, with a large, glass-walled shower and a round tub with jets and sparkly ceiling lights that's easily big enough for two. It's not even the only tub in the suite; what really makes Wintergarden unique is its glass-walled solarium. The highlight? Its egg-shaped, stand-alone bathtub (draw the Venetian blinds when you're in port!) offers a magnificent soaking experience. Also cozy is a day-bed that's wonderfully comfortable for curling up and watching the world pass by.
Its main balcony is outfitted with wicker-style chaises, and there's a full dining table that seats four. This suite can also be booked as a one-bedroom. (The small second bedroom, with its own balcony, can be accessed through the suite or via the hallway.)
Seven suites -- in the Seabourn, Veranda and Penthouse categories -- are wheelchair accessible. At least two suites on every deck can be connected. (Beware, though: Noise travels easily between these cabins.) Balconies of Veranda Suites on Deck 5 are more enclosed than on other decks and carry a lower price than balcony suites on higher decks.
The only complaint I heard about cabins was that noisy cabin doors could wake the neighbors if slammed, though I never heard a slam the entire week. Each cabin key card comes with instructions on how to close the cabin door, using the key in such a way that the door is fully unlocked as you close it. I tried that, but I discovered that simply closing the door softly seemed sufficient.
Tipping is neither required nor expected.
Seabourn does not encourage children, and there is no facility to cater to them, though there is no policy prohibiting children younger than 18 when accompanied by their parents.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Odyssey's lovely main pool area is a vast improvement over the line's older trio of ships. The pool, with attendant whirlpools, is graced by wicker-style chaises and loveseats, and as it's ringed by two decks, there's generally plenty of room for all.
There's another small pool on the stern -- it's the quieter of the two -- just off The Club. And a third spot worth checking out is a large whirlpool on Deck 6, all the way forward.
The Spa at Seabourn covers two decks, though the space on Deck 10 is consumed by two private spa villas (each with a pair of treatment beds), an oversized whirlpool tub, double day-bed and wraparound terrace with lounge chairs for private sunbathing. The minimum cost is $500 for half a day. The villas seldom seemed busy. (Perhaps fortuitously, Seabourn limited the private villa concept to just one on Sojourn and Quest, Odyssey's younger siblings, and opened up Deck 10 to more seating).
The spa entrance on Deck 9 leads to a panoramic, sliding-glass wall to the outdoor relaxation area; six treatment rooms; a hydro spa pool; saunas; steam rooms; a fitness studio with Kinesis Wall -- with free Kinesis training on a pulley system to improve balance and strength; and all the usual gym equipment you find on new cruise ships. The cost for a spa pass to the pool and thermal area is $30. Several group classes -- including Kinesis training, yoga and Tai Chi -- are available, and there's no fee. However, you will pay extra for private lessons and sessions with a trainer.
One popular Seabourn trademark that's featured on Odyssey is its water sports marina on Deck 2. Typically open on one day per voyage, weather permitting (and only when the ship is anchored, not docked), it's fantastic. Offered is an array of toys, from a banana boat and kayaks to a most bizarre activity in which you sit in an inner tube and are pulled along by a speedboat to a swimming platform. A heads-up: On my autumn cruise, the cool weather meant the marina was closed.
My cruise, a shoulder-season trip between Athens and Venice, attracted a younger, more outgoing group that stayed awake later, danced more and made the cruise livelier than I'd seen on trips on Seabourn Pride and Spirit. The ship is primarily suited to couples, though solo travelers are also cared for well.
Daytime wear is casual, but what Seabourn considers casual is more upmarket than big-ship dress codes. It's truly a country club-style of dress (loungewear at the pool, rather than shorts and T-shirts, for instance).
After 6 p.m., Seabourn recommends one of three categories for evening attire: formal optional, elegantly casual and resort casual.
Formal optional, typically once every seven days, is for passengers who want to dress more formally. It suggests a tuxedo or dark business suit with tie for men and a cocktail dress or formal apparel for women. Other passengers are asked to wear clothes considered elegantly casual. The typical dress most nights on Seabourn Odyssey is slacks and a jacket over a sweater or collared shirt for men and a dress, or skirt or slacks for women with a sweater or blouse.
Most evenings, passengers have three entertainment sources: piano music before and after dinner in the Observation Bar; dancing in The Club with several alternating singers and the ship band; and a show in the Grand Salon, which may be a Broadway revue or consist of variety acts, a magician, a comedy set or a classical music performance.
On my cruise, The Club tended to be quite lively, as singers took turns with pop and rock until about 11 p.m.
One area that Seabourn could really step up a notch is its daytime offerings. Admittedly, most of Odyssey's itineraries are port intensive and feature minimal time at sea, but the offerings were pretty tired for such a dynamic ship. They included shuffleboard, bridge, trivia, dance class, cooking demonstrations, Wii games, golf putting and occasional lectures focusing on the ship's itinerary or on history, art and culture. Kudos to Seabourn for offering shore excursions, usually one per port, that incorporate recreational activities (cycling, kayaking and the like). Otherwise, its tours are pretty much comparable with those offered by other lines. It does offer concierge-organized services for travelers willing to shell out for unique experiences.
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