AFTER A FEW YEARS OF ABSENCE, I have joyfully returned to one of my perennially favourite cruise lines and its newest ship, the fabulous Seabourn Ovation. I first sailed the 600-guest Ovation during her inaugural year in 2018 and now we are in Barbados, boarding a 10-day Caribbean cruise. This gorgeous vessel is as beautiful as ever, and every guest’s welcome is as genuine and warm as one could want. The extraordinary world of Seabourn is flourishing.
This time, we are sailing during the festive season to rest, rejuvenate and soak up the sun and enjoy Seabourn’s intuitive and impeccable service. We have about 450 companions and a crew of more than 350. We crave the renowned pampering for which their staff is known, and it’s our first Christmas cruise, so we are keen to see how it feels to spend the festive season at sea (spoiler alert – it’s fantastic!).
Let me set the stage: when you sail with Seabourn, you enjoy a luxurious but nonpretentious atmosphere that is congenial, charming, and caring. Seabourn guests enjoy fine wines, premium spirits and Champagne, and there’s no upcharge for any dining venue, including The Grill by famed American Chef Thomas Keller. Gratuities are included, as is complimentary Wi-Fi, so vital to today’s guests.
From coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice on our veranda in the morning to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the early evening – and the occasional glass of Champagne – our suite became a gracious home-away-from-home retreat. Each luxuriously appointed suite is ocean-front, thoughtfully curated, and well-designed, and we enjoyed the service of our Suite Hostess and Suite Attendant throughout the cruise. They took excellent care of us, noted our preferences for our in-suite mini-fridge and followed our schedule – which was very relaxed! We also loved our spacious bathroom with its two basins, separate shower, and bathtub and lots of room for storage. We lacked for nothing and had ample room (and hangers) in our walk-in closet, lots of charging ports, excellent lighting for reading and space to do our thing, together and separately.
The onboard camaraderie is also an enjoyable part of the experience when sailing on smaller, inclusive ships. The rarified world of Seabourn embraces you onboard their intimate vessels, of which they have five in the Classic fleet ranging from 450 to 600 guests and two in the Expedition fleet, Seabourn Venture and the soon-to-arrive Seabourn Pursuit, each hosting 250 guests. It’s easy to dine with others – perhaps an al fresco lunch on the aft deck, afternoon tea or an aperitif with new friends – there are no bills to sign, and everyone can choose their preferred wine at dinner, which is included in the fare. Premium wines may be ordered for a charge if it’s a special occasion and guests may dine when, where and with whom they please. Reservations are only necessary for The Grill.
The days are as busy (or not) as one might wish – and many of us have cruised in the region before. We’re here for a respite, as are many others. While the itinerary must be appealing, it’s clear that our ship is the main attraction for this festive getaway, with many of us loyal repeat guests. Our sailing takes us from Barbados to Castries in St Lucia, then Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe and onward to one of my favourite days. We arrive at Carambola Beach in St Kitts and Nevis, where a highlight of any Seabourn Cruise is the unique Beach BBQ and Caviar In the Surf. After enjoying a catamaran and snorkelling excursion to Shitten’s Bay, we join the other guests on a golden arc of sugary sand for a fabulous beach barbeque offering lobster, burgers, baked potatoes, corn, salads, and sweet treats. There’s ample room on the sand to find a comfy chaise, to order a drink, and to enjoy the barbecue in a covered restaurant. But the highlight is the arrival, via Zodiac of the Champagne and sustainable caviar with all the accoutrements. My companions and I happily splash into the water, and the servers and Maitre d’ oblige us by pouring Champagne and serving blinis with sour cream, onion, egg white and yolk and, of course, the Caviar. It’s so much fun, a bit decadent and a much-anticipated special event – a typical example of how Seabourn offers those “above and beyond” experiences. As they say, “This is Your Moment.”
There was lots of time for watersports at the beach and the ship’s Marina Platform was lowered as the ship anchored. Snorkelling, paddle boarding, and kayaking were offered, and it was a fantastic day – very relaxing and enjoyable.
Next – a sea day. I love these – there’s time for pampering in the Spa, book reading by the pool, a visit to the heart of the ship – Seabourn Square – for coffee, pastries, and ice cream. (with gingerbread for Christmas, of course!). It’s the primary gathering spot to discuss future shore excursions, meet with the Seabourn team, do a puzzle, check the news, or sit outside and snooze the day away
Seabourn hosts a series of Conversations with fascinating guest lecturers on each cruise. Topics ranged from “The Dutch in the Caribbean” to “The Evolution of Wildlife Art,” and from an Expedition Specialist, “Mutiny on the Bounty.” All were well-attended and well-received. Entertainment on our cruise was equally popular, varied and enjoyable – from an endearing Christmas Eve show, to Detroit City Sounds, featuring Motown classics, a talented cellist, terrific vocalists, a dance party on deck – always well attended, and a Seabourn pièce de résistance, an evening with Sir Tim Rice – “The Circle of My Life”. EGOT winner Sir Tim narrates his musical journey featuring segments from such works as Jesus Christ Superstar, Aladdin and the Lion King. Performed by cast members hailing from Broadway and London’s West End, the concert-style show is peppered with Rice’s notes and stories of inspiration with immersive, bespoke visuals. It’s a must-see!
And on we sailed, arriving at the charming ABC Islands – Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao – all with Dutch-influenced buildings and cuisine. We had an outstanding catamaran snorkelling excursion in Bonaire, where the reefs teemed with underwater life. Numerous excursions are offered at every port – perhaps a zip-line safari, scenic railway or submarine ride, a highlights tour, Segway, or rum distillery visit. The prices range from US $49 up to $179 for a hiking adventure in St Lucia to La Soufrière Volcano. Guests may choose more bespoke outings, such as touring in a private car which can cost up to $699.
We indulged by renting a cabana at The Retreat one afternoon, considered a place of quiet serenity where guests relax with an emphasis on well-being. This lovely, private deck area offers 15 private cabanas, which can be reserved for a full or half day (US $169 and $149, respectively). Each cabana has two chaises, a dining table with chairs, a couch, and a TV with headphones. It’s a fab spot and offers guests a bespoke menu of cocktails, drinks and food.
During our 10-day cruise, there were two formal nights where some gentlemen wore tuxedos, but most chose dark suits and the ladies looked glam in cocktail dresses. Guests do not have to dress for dinner and may prefer to dine at a more relaxed venue, such as Earth and Ocean by the pool or The Colonnade (inside and outdoor seating). We enjoyed dressing up as people were celebrating both Hannukah and Christmas, and the dinners in the Restaurant were fabulous – terrific cuisine and an expansive menu with many choices. It was our preferred dining spot during our cruise, and the service we enjoyed was excellent and personable. For a special evening, we recommend a reservation at The Grill by Thomas Keller. It’s a classic American restaurant featuring updated versions of iconic dishes. Think Caesar salad, Gulf prawn cocktail and Maryland-style crab cake followed by lobster thermidor, Dover sole, a prime New York strip steak, lamb saddle and more. The service is terrific, the wine list is good and reasonable, and the venue is gorgeous. We also spent many an evening both before and after dinner in the adjacent bar, listening to piano tunes and meeting fellow guests.
Dining and lounge venues include Earth and Ocean, with an eclectic evening menu poolside. The Colonnade offers themed buffet lunches and tasty dinners – such as barbecue, Italian, Greek, Indian, Thai, and other mouthwatering dishes. The Sushi restaurant opens for lunch and dinner; there’s a Grill and Sky Bar and the fabulous 270-degree Observation Lounge – the perfect spot for a sail away accompanied by music (music and tasty treats are everywhere) and The Club. Guests find the spaces that suit, and there are a lot of choices, both inside and outdoors.
Seabourn continues to spoil its valued guests and offer them a remarkable experience at sea delivering everything from fine service to outstanding cuisine, great entertainment and fantastic ports of call, the timeless elegance of the ship herself, and the attention given to even the smallest things – all combine to ensure a marvellous cruise experience.
Written by Vanessa Lee (Cruise and Travel Lifestyles Summer 2023)
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