The launch of 450-passenger Seabourn Quest in June 2011 completed Seabourn Cruise Line's $750 million investment in three new Odyssey-class "yachts," if you can call a 32,000-ton vessel a yacht. Seabourn is, with this sixth ship, now a significant player in the luxury market, competing head-on with Silversea Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Quest is essentially a carbon copy of sister ship Seabourn Sojourn, which debuted in 2010. The decor, hull design and even the menus are the same (although a few tweaks were made between Odyssey, the first of the trio, and Sojourn, the second). Highlights of all three ships include a beautiful and expansive pool surrounded by wooden decking; a central "hub" called Seabourn Square that acts as a combination library, reception, Internet cafe and patisserie; and sumptuous but contemporary decor, with extensive use of cream, white and neutrals in different textures, from leather to gauze, to create a comforting but chic boutique hotel feel. Great emphasis, too, is placed on dining, with three equally appealing venues, The Colonnade (buffet by day, alfresco a la carte by night), the elegant main dining room and Restaurant 2, a gourmet eatery offering tasting menus.
It's very hard to find fault with a product as sleek, contemporary and sumptuous as Seabourn Quest; and the line has, after all, had three shots now at making this style of yacht perfection, learning with each new vessel it launches. So what it boils down to is the service. Is this a luxury product? Or an ultra-luxury product? Sure, it's an all-inclusive product, insofar as drinks, all dining and all entertainment are included (although excursions and spa treatments are not). But is it the last word in pampered cruising? Almost.
The unexpected, if tiny, service hiccups -- like a crewmember not holding a door open for a passenger or a bar waiter being unhelpful when questioned about the ingredients of a certain drink -- had us slightly confused. Disembarkation day was no better than that on a mass-market ship, with constant, intrusive announcements.
On the other hand, most crewmembers do go the extra mile and are all trained to try and solve problems, rather than simply smiling politely. Seabourn calls them "clairvoyant," and it's not far wrong. The initiative shown by even the lowest-ranking cabin stewardesses on Seabourn is always both impressive and touching.
The main gathering places are the two marquee bars -- the Observation Lounge and The Club. The other big daytime hub is Seabourn Square, which has everything: a coffee bar offering specialty coffees, liqueurs, cakes and pastries; a book and DVD library; two banks of Internet terminals; and a central, semi-enclosed area where Seabourn staff sit at desks and sort anything from onboard accounts to shore excursions.
Just off of that area are the shops, selling logowear, other clothing and some extremely high-class jewellery.
Seabourn Quest has a main dining room, The Restaurant, and a lovely, less-formal space, The Colonnade, on Deck 8. There are also various smaller options. These include Restaurant 2, which offers tasting menus; the Patio Grill on the pool deck, which has excellent salads, swordfish skewers and burgers for lunch; and Seabourn Square, where you can get specialty coffees, pastries and cakes all day. There is no extra charge for any dining option.
The main dining room is the same as the one on Seabourn Sojourn -- elegant, light, bright and mainly cream and white, with gauzy drapes and backlit, opaque panels. Dining is open-seating, and all 450 passengers can be accommodated at once. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served there every day, and there's an always-available menu, as well as the daily offering, which changes every 24 hours. Breakfast includes full cooked options, including dishes like Eggs Benedict, as well as fruit, pastries, cereals and smoked salmon. Lunch is full waiter service, with salads, starters, mains and desserts, usually slightly lighter than the dinner menu and with some dishes that reflect the region in which the ship is sailing.
For dinner, the emphasis is on international cuisine with a touch of French influence. Portions are small and elegantly presented, and multiple courses always include fish and a vegetarian option. Typical dishes might be seafood tempura, grilled filet mignon, crispy-skin sauteed salmon and roast poussin, with an always-available menu of plainer dishes and comfort food -- shrimp cocktail, penne with tomato sauce, and sirloin steak.
Specific menu items change, but we enjoyed an exquisite smoked salmon tartar, a superb celeriac "cappuccino" and a herb-crusted halibut, followed by chocolate cake with a liquid center, none of which we could fault.
One comment, though; the service is too quick for European diners, who like to linger over their meals. Plates are whipped away as soon as you've finished, and the next course brought without any break. The waitstaff needs to learn to distinguish between European and American diners and tailor the service accordingly.
The Colonnade is a lovely place to dine, especially on the stern deck on a sunny evening, when there are themed menus and waiter service. This restaurant is used for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is part buffet, part menu, with specials of the day like crabmeat omelettes or eggs Benedict. Lunch is themed; on our cruise, there was a Greek day (although the food didn't seem especially Greek) and a British theme, with roast beef or fish and chips. But whether or not you want the themed dishes, the salads and cold appetizers are delicious, and there's always a choice of more regular items like pasta or steaks.
The Colonnade doesn't feel like a buffet restaurant; there are no lines, the food is displayed on delicately-sized plates, and waiters will always help you find somewhere to sit and carry your plate. One criticism: Opening times seemed rather brief there; lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but on one occasion at least, everything was cleared by 1:30 p.m.
Restaurant 2 is a special-occasion venue in a long, narrow space, with tables for two or six. (The twos go fast, and there are no fours, so book early.) It features a colourful, somewhat eccentric tasting menu of seven courses of exquisite little dishes that come in threes (so, for example, three bite-sized portions of different fish dishes as one of the courses), all beautifully presented. The food, a twist on French nouvelle cuisine with some Asian influences -- fois gras creme brulee, for example, or shellfish cappuccino, or pan-seared quail breast, or lobster with lemongrass, is prepared by two chefs who do nothing else but serve this restaurant. The idea is that everybody gets to eat there once during a weeklong cruise and, as such, the menu may not change for a week, although there are four different variations. Because the food is so special, there are no deviations from the menu, so it's not great for vegetarians.
Seabourn Square's coffee bar does a busy trade all day. The initial aim of the Square was to take away the feeling of waiting in line at a reception area and replace it with a kind of cyber-cafe/library/coffee shop. It's really worked well, with a constant and pleasant buzz of activity, particularly at morning coffee and afternoon tea time, when pastries and cakes appear.
For those who want a more private dining experience, the dinner menu from The Restaurant can be served course-by-course in the suite, either inside or on the balcony. A room service menu of comfort food -- burgers, steaks and club sandwiches, for example, is always available. And for sheer indulgence, if you're sitting at the bar on deck and suddenly feel the need for (gratis) caviar, a platter of caviar and blinis will be presented. Watch one table order this, and then watch the rest follow.
Seabourn Quest has 225 cabins and suites, 197 of which have spacious private balconies. Starting at 65 square feet, these are deep enough for dining alfresco.
The most basic accommodations are on Deck 4, with picture windows but no balconies. Other than that, these cabins have the same amenities as the remaining "standards" and measure 295 square feet.
Most of the cabins -- or suites, as Seabourn calls them -- are V category, from 1 to 5, measuring 300 square feet each, with a 65-square-foot balcony. There really is no difference between these suites, other than their location and, given the small size of the ship, it seems strange to pay more to be on Deck 7 than Deck 6. But in pricing these V cabins according to where they're located, Seabourn is simply responding to market forces.
The V suites each have generous living space, with a sofa and a table at which two can dine. Decor, as on Seabourn Sojourn, is in shades of coffee and chocolate, with accents of burnt orange and a buttery yellow. The heavy, chocolate silk drapes do a great job of keeping the cabin dark when you want to sleep, and further drapes dividing the living area from the bedroom. There is plenty of storage space -- numerous cupboards and cabinets, and a walk-in wardrobe with more drawers and a great deal of hanging space. Balconies are deep enough to accommodate two reclining chairs with footstools.
Each of the suites has a gorgeous, generously proportioned bathroom in chocolate marble with grey granite tiling. There are two sinks, a walk-in shower with glass door and a full bathtub. The taps and controls take a bit of getting used to -- just when you're all warmed up after a rainforest shower, adjust the control too far to turn the water off, and an ice-cold jet shoots out of the hand-shower that hangs on the wall. Bathroom amenities are by Molton Brown, and a cabin attendant arrives with a choice of soaps just after embarkation, including those from L'Occitane and Hermes. Each suite has a bottle of Champagne chilling on embarkation, as well as a stocked fridge with alcoholic drinks and sodas. Mineral water is replenished daily. The flat-screen TV, hidden away in a cabinet, is interactive, so you can check your onboard account. It also offers a decent array of movies. There's even an iPod docking station. The ship's WiFi, for which there is a charge, worked perfectly in our cabin, too.
The biggest suites are dotted around the ship, but Decks 9 and 10 exclusively house the innovative Penthouses (PH grade, 611 square feet with 149-square-foot balconies), which have sleeping areas separated from the living areas by decorated glass panels. It creates a nifty room-within-a-room that can be screened off by heavy chocolate silk curtains if you're entertaining guests or if one wants to sleep and another wants to watch TV.
Two big Winter Garden suites on Deck 7 (914 square feet with 183-square-foot balconies) are perfect for entertaining, with their sizeable curved leather sofas, glass dining tables and extra-deep balconies cantilevered out over the side. Each has a conservatory-like glass-enclosed bath overlooked by potted plants, enjoying uninterrupted views out to sea, in addition to a more private bathroom with a rather unusual-looking circular bath and a ceiling lit with hundreds of fibre-optic pinpricks of light. You'd be exceptionally clean after a cruise in this suite.
The forward-facing Signature and Owner's Suites have huge, wraparound balconies; you'll feel the wind when the ship is at sea. Owners Suites vary in size from 611 to 675 square feet with 149- to 375-square-foot balconies, while the Signature Suites, at 907 square feet with 353-square-foot balconies, are the largest for entertaining in terms of indoor and outdoor space.
Tips are included in the price of the cruise, and Seabourn makes it clear that further gratuities are not expected. If someone performs a special service, for example, organising a private party in your suite, it is, however, appropriate to offer something. Gratuities are included in the prices of the spa therapies, although a line for more is left blank when you sign for your treatment.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Seabourn Spa is run by Steiner and is supposed to be the largest (on this ship and its two sisters) of any spa on a luxury ship. It has the slight feeling of a rabbit warren inside, but the treatment and relaxation areas are indisputably calming and extremely pleasant. A spa pass for the thermal suite (herbal sauna, steam room, fancy showers and contoured wooden loungers) costs $30 for a day, which seems a bit steep on a luxury ship, but Steiner is run as a concession and sets its prices according to the market it serves. If you don't want to pay, there's a very pleasant sauna in each of the changing rooms, too. Treatments include the usual range, from massages using bamboo or hot stones to body wraps. There's also a wide range of SkinCeuticals products for more "serious" facials; these products are quite strong, and you choose between two facial peels, which strikes us as a bit dangerous, given the strong sunshine enjoyed by most cruises.
The gym has an array of gentle classes tailored to the age group onboard. Pilates, Tai Chi and yoga are complimentary, or there's one-on-one personal training on the Kinesis wall for a fee. There are also putting, shuffleboard and occasional outdoor yoga classes in The Retreat, a secluded area on Deck 11.
The ship has two pools, one on the main pool deck and one aft, outside The Club. Each pool is flanked by two hot tubs. When the sun comes out, attendants circulate with bottles of Lancaster sunblock, which is a nice touch.
Seabourn Quest also has a water sports platform, The Marina, which can be lowered in calm conditions when the ship is anchored for kayaking, windsurfing and dinghy-sailing.
Seabourn's ships are not designed with families in mind. Having said that, they do carry families in summer and during other holiday periods, particularly as the trend for multigenerational cruising grows. Seabourn has taken the attitude that it's better to acknowledge this and entertain the children onboard, rather than ignore them and have their presence upset other passengers. To that end, the line hires youth staff during peak sailings. Staff members arrange games and other distractions and offer evening baby-sitting services. Some 18 cabins have interconnecting doors and can be used by families, while several have the option of making up a third bed.
Quest's passengers are well-heeled, well-traveled and mostly older than 50. The mix is about 60 percent North American and 40 percent European/Australian, although this varies according to location, with more Europeans sailing in the Mediterranean in the summer. Summer Mediterranean sailings attract some families -- either parents or grandparents travelling with children.
Daytimes are "resort casual," although most interpret this as fairly stylish. Evenings are either casual, semiformal or formal, with most passengers following the dress code.
During the day, there are various and fairly low-key activities, such as bridge, lectures or cookery demonstrations. But this is a very outdoorsy ship, and passengers seem to spend as much time as possible on deck, sitting around the pool and chatting or lounging in the two canopied Jacuzzis on the pool deck, occasionally holding out a glass for a waiter to fill. There's another sunbathing area forward on Deck 11, by The Retreat, a recreation space with two small putting greens, shuffleboard, a giant chess set and the occasional outdoor yoga class.
Seabourn offers various special touches in its entertainment: free mini-massages on deck; a chance in port to go market shopping with the chef; and its legendary Caviar in the Surf beach party, where uniformed waters emerge from the waves bearing platters of caviar and Champagne.
Shows, dance classes, lectures and cookery demonstrations take place in the Grand Salon on Deck 6, which has comfortable banquette seating but quite a few pillars that obstruct the view. The Red Hot & Blue cabaret is excellent and pleasingly contemporary; the lead singer, Roger Wright, played a leading role in The Lion King when it first opened in London, which is an indication of the quality of the performance. Four dancers accompany the three singers and appear in The Club afterward to dance with the passengers -- or show the passengers up, whichever way you look at it.
The Seabourn Singers and Dancers perform four shows a week, while there are guest entertainers on the other nights.
In the evenings, the focal point after dinner is The Club, which has a dance band and an outside pool area for summer nights. There's a small casino with roulette, blackjack tables and a couple of slots off The Club which sees more or less action, depending on how port-intensive the itinerary is.
The Observation Lounge on Deck 10 is much quieter, and if it's a warm evening, people tend to forget the indoor bars altogether and sit out at the Sky Bar to enjoy the night air.
I was puzzled by the bar service on Quest. For example, in The Club -- which is, for all intents and purposes, a cocktail bar -- there's no cocktail menu. So you have to try to remember what went in that fabulous raspberry Martini you had on another ship and hope that the bartender can make it. The measures are also huge; it's not something most people would complain about, but it seems wasteful as drinks are left unfinished.
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