It’s so hard to admit when you are wrong, in any situation. But, when you have to eat crow, you might as well do it while sipping champagne and ordering another tray of caviar to your room as you pass by the rocky hills of a Grecian coastline. Alright, maybe admitting I’m wrong isn’t so hard after all. And, ladies and gents, I was wrong, oh so wrong, about the idea of cruises. And Seabourn Luxury Cruises have shown me the error of my ways. Yes, they were the ones serving the champagne and caviar to wash away my completely ridiculous preconceived notions about the idea of spending a week at sea.
Let me tell you what I would previously think of when someone mentions they were going on a cruise. I would conjure up an image of an overweight male, black socks pulled to his knees, white tennis shoes, khaki shorts, a Disney World t-shirt, fanny pack, camera dangling from his neck, ball cap on head and eyes in search of his next free margarita. Too harsh? Call it all those years of watching people get on and off 5,000+ people carriers in luxury destinations. The whole idea of stepping on a cruise ship struck fear in my heart. It was not my ideal situation whatsoever for world travel. But, then again I knew there would come a time when I would have to face my fear and write a review that would most likely not be positive. Again, so wrong, so oh very wrong.
Earlier this year I received the invite to step onboard the Seabourn Odyssey on an “at sea” adventure starting in Athens, Greece, and finishing in Venice, Italy. So far so good as the path the cruise would take sounded ideal. Then came the visit to the website. As I swiped through the photos on my iPhone I found myself wondering if all this was possible. There was an elegance to this ship. The food looked insane, probably because it’s designed by chef Thomas Keller. He’s a chef that currently holds seven Michelin stars for his restaurants around the globe. No small fries there (but his actual fries on the ship are insane, just saying). Then there were the suites. There are only suites to be found on a Seabourn ship and on the Odyssey there are only 225 suites on board, meaning a grand total of 450 guests are allowed to travel on the ship – a far cry from the mini cities I’ve seen that hold thousands of guests, crammed in like sardines. Each room is decorated to perfection (although I don’t think the pictures on the website do them justice) and the descriptions of the staff’s involvement in making your stay on board a dreamlike experience make this all sound too good to be true.
So, you know what I did? I said yes to the trip. I said yes preparing myself for the worst but hoping for the best. I packed my bag, prayed for good weather and hopped a flight to Athens.
The moment I stepped up to the boat I knew I was in for a pretty special experience. First of all, they had rolled out the red carpet. All surrounding cruise ships were without said accoutrement. Already winning, in my book, Seabourn. But, I couldn’t let my glee escape so easily, I wasn’t even to the suite yet. Straight into the lift we went and we were hurled upwards towards the seventh floor of our Seabourn ship. Our luggage was delivered separately. This would be the first of many times that I would learn that the staff on board wish for you to exert zero effort while in residence. Your vacation enjoyment is truly their life’s blood. No joke. We walked into the room and my jaw dropped to the floor. As our eyes scanned the length of the very generously sized room we honed in on a bottle of fine champagne sitting on ice next to a tray of freshly sliced fruit. We immediately swung open the doors of our veranda, popped the cork and took in our surroundings. Just after the last sip of the first glass of champagne was consumed, our doorbell rang and in walked our “butler” for the trip. She was there to welcome us with more champagne and canapés, as well as some tips for enjoying our stay on board. She made it clear she was there to do anything possible to make sure this was a week we would never forget. I had been on board less than 20 minutes and I was already writing this story. I knew it had to begin by admitting I was wrong. Everything I thought I knew about cruises had been wrong. I had arrived in paradise.
Our first morning was miraculous. Truly. We couldn’t have asked for a better wake up call. We slept with our shades pulled back so that we would wake with the sunlight, and as the rays pierced through the room our attention was called to a postcard worthy view of the town of Monemvasiam. Breakfast was delivered to the room, by a lovely gentleman who suggested we take our meal on the veranda so we could enjoy the scenic view. He then proceeded to assemble a white tablecloth service for us in the aforementioned location. No problems there. After exploring the village early in the morning we made the decision to enjoy the ship’s pleasures in the afternoon. Many of our days were spent in the same way, and we found this was the same for many of the other Seabourn cruisers. Each destination, along the way, offered a plethora of excursion opportunities, which we enjoyed on most mornings. They could run for three hours, or for an entire day in port, but each allowed for you to explore the area at leisure. So some days we just went into town on our own, exploring as we wished and returning when we saw fit. The tenders delivered you to and from the destinations on a regular basis and never once did we feel like we were left too long to stay and wait, a real luxury if you ask me.
But, back to the idea of being on the ship for a second, as I really think this is quite important. First of all, I had thought I’d want to be off the ship as much as possible throughout the trip. Quite the opposite was true. The pool area itself was heavenly and somehow always felt half empty. This is the magic of the Seabourn Odyssey. Even though you are on board with 450 fellow passengers, you never feel like you are all at the same place at the same time. The pool consistently felt private and the loungers always seemed to be free and open. There was never a scrum for space and the pace was that as it should be when one is on vacation – running at the speed of a snail. Well, for guests anyway. It seemed all staff members had been trained in the art of working at warp speed while appearing to be cool as cucumbers. I ordered a strawberry margarita on the first day, my first five minutes by the pool and was never allowed to as much as set up my towel without being asked if I’d like another. Now, this might sound invasive but I assure you it was anything but. The crew on board seem to specialize in knowing what you want before you do. While they always seem to be only a wave away, they are never overbearing. It’s a perfect rhythm, that has no doubt taking years of practice to perfect.
Over the course of the next six days we swung our hips to traditional Greek music on a small olive farm, we swam off the island of Skorpios (an island once inhabited and made famous by Jackie O), we explored the beauty of Corfu, walked the famed streets of Dubrovnik, got lost in the tiny sea village of Primosten and left our hearts in the canals of Venice. Never before has seven days disappeared so quickly. On day five I began to understand why so many of the couples and families we met on board had booked in for 21 day adventures. Seven days is simply not enough.
That all being said, I don’t know how I would have lasted 21 days eating the way I was. When I mentioned to anyone that I was going on a cruise, beforehand, the first words out of most people’s mouths had to do with food. Everyone seemed to think that one had to be rolled off a cruise ship at the end of the week, and everyone was right. While even the most substandard cruises seem to drive people to eat an excessive amount of food, Seabourn takes things to another level. Have I mentioned that you can get champagne and caviar delivered anytime, anywhere on board? Have I also talked about the room service menu; the four restaurants on board, with culinary creations from a Michelin star chef; and the drinks service that seems to be open all hours and on any deck? There’s even a coffee shop area on board, for those looking to emulate their local cafe mornings. That’s where you’d find me nice and early every day as I caught up on work, sipping a latte, with a different view of an amazing destination at every sunrise. This was my dream desk and I’m wishing I was writing from it right now.
I truly feel I could go on to write a whole book with all I have to say about this experience. And everyone that has seen me since will agree. It seems to be all I talk about these days. I feel the need to share. Perhaps I’m writing the wrong blog. Maybe it’s time to become an official cruiser. The only problem is, I started at the top with the true luxury standard in cruising. How do you do anything after that? But, I will say this. This is not my last time on board. In fact, I’ve already made a deal with the devil that is my American Express card and worked out a way to take a similar vacation, with the ones I love, once a year from here on out. I’ve truly never felt more spoiled, more at ease and more delighted with a choice of how to spend my life for one week. Don’t let the preconceptions kill you on this, folks. Seabourn is one to try and the offering for possible designations is unrivaled.
Now, onto answering ten questions about cruising, specifically with Seabourn, from emails and tweets that I received over email when on board. Enquiring minds want to know…
- “Who was on board? All older people?”
Admittedly, this wasn’t a cruise that was overflowing with twenty-somethings. But you know what? I loved it. The whole experience was truly civilized and the people we met along the way were absolutely incredible. We met former captains of industry, a few famous faces from the entertainment industry and people from all over the world that simply shared a passion for travel. This was a sophisticated crowd, for sure. That being said, it was actually a younger looking crowd than I was prepared for, and my goodness were they all young at heart!
- “Will I be bored on the ship and will I feel claustrophobic?”
Never and never. First of all, there is so much to do on the ship that you won’t be able to do it all in seven days. For example, I didn’t even know there was a casino or a second pool until our last night on board. Yup, it’s that big and you are busy juggling shore and sea experiences. You simply can’t do it all. And feeling claustrophobic is never an option. Sometimes you’ll find spaces on the ship where there isn’t a person in sight, it’s just you and the waves below the cruise. I’m not sure how that happens with 450 people on board, but rest assured it does and you have plenty of space around you at all times.
- “Is the entertainment cheesy?”
I have to admit this openly. I didn’t take part in much of the entertainment. On the last night we went to the comedy club and it was pretty hilarious. We were joined by a crowd of about 50 and the cocktail service made sure that the jokes were even more comical. Two margaritas in and anyone’s funny in my book. But really, I’m not the one to ask about entertainment. Most nights we sat on our verandas with books, listening to the world pass below us and watching out for twinkling lights on shorelines ahead. Many times we joked about feeling as if we were on our own yacht setting sail for unknown destinations. Certainly felt like it, and that was our best entertainment – none at all! We just relaxed.
- “Was the room big enough for everything you brought on board for seven days?”
I knew this would be a question as I tend to pack like a crazy woman when it comes to exploring new ways of travel. I brought a lot with me as I had no idea what to pack for a cruise. I’ll be writing more about this later. That being said, we had a walk-in closet in our room. A walk-in closet, people! I don’t even have that luxury in my house in London. But there it was, and we only half filled it between the two of us and I brought at least 14 outfit combinations with me, not to mention shoes, handbags, hats and much more. There was so much storage in the room we were still discovering it three days in. Basically, don’t worry about space. Bring your whole closet, if the airline will allow.
- “How did you sleep?”
Like a baby. We only had two nights where the seas were “rough”and that’s a stretch to even say that. Never once did we feel seasick and the slow swaying of the ship at night seemed to rock us both to sleep. It was heaven and the beds were so comfortable! I’m not ashamed to admit we even took a few naps while on board. The beds were always calling. Hey, we’re on holiday!
- “How did you deal with being out of range with mobile service?”
There is wifi on board, ladies and gents, so don’t worry. Now, a word about this. Seabourn do charge extra for this service and you can buy a week’s package. But, here’s my advice. While you can work on the ship, don’t. The coffee shop is where you will find the best wifi on board, but why are you going to want to work while on vacation? I made the mistake of coming on the ship with a lot to do, thinking I could fit it in between activities. This was a pain and I regret it. It won’t happen again. Get on board with the idea that your cruise is “you time,” not “work time.” Maybe take half an hour every night to send pictures home to loved ones or to post updates on social networks. The rest of the time lock that phone away in the safe.
- “Is there shopping on board?”
There is and this isn’t your average cruise shopping experience. Let’s just say you can buy a diamond, a Rolex and a designer handbag. You can also buy sunscreen, snacks and local goods. Basically you are spoilt for choice. However, I do always recommend coming on board with the essentials and buying whatever else you need while exploring on your daily excursions.
- “What would you bring with you?”
Again, I’m going to go more into this in another post, as far as clothing is concerned. I will say there are a few things we forgot that didn’t seem a problem. We forgot sunscreen, but there was always a staff member making the rounds on the pool deck offering up sun protection, so don’t worry about that. I would say the only thing you might feel at a loss for not having is a great pair of walking shoes. Most important thing ever! Seriously, I’m telling you this because I was the idiot who didn’t bring this essential piece of kit. Other than that, everything is “gettable” along the way.
- “Is there anything you wish you would have done that you didn’t get to while on board?”
The list is endless. Like I said, I believe seven days is just scratching the surface here. While we enjoyed the excursions while on the boat, we actually wish we had spent more time by the pool. I know it sounds ridiculous but we really only spent one afternoon laying in the sun by the pool and it was the most relaxing three hours of my life. In retrospect, we should have “scheduled” more of this in. And yes, you do find yourself scheduling to fit it all in. We also didn’t get to eat in “Restaurant 2,” the real “fancy pants” restaurant. Alright, maybe it’s more appropriate to call this “supreme fine dining” as it really is. But, it’s a reservations only restaurant and you need to get your night in the minute you get on the ship. We were put on the waiting list and sadly no one cancelled. Lesson learned. Make reservations!
- “Will you go back? Was it worth the money?”
Yes and yes. I will most definitely go back and we are already looking at the Vietnam cruise with Seabourn. It looks like an epic adventure that must be had. Now about the money. I have to disclose, again, that I was invited on this trip by Seabourn. The means that I did not pay for this experience. But, we did some number crunching and figured out that there is no way on earth we could have recreated this holiday on our own for the same amount of money – nowhere near. The amount of locations you visit, the experience offered on board, the food, the champagne, the service – it’s pretty priceless but most certainly cannot be recreated elsewhere. At the end of the day, I have walked away from a review trip and already decided to invest my own money in making this a regular holiday with loved ones. This is the first time I have done that. I write about travel for a living and usually try to fill my books with new experiences that can be written about. I’ve finally found my holiday where I can escape, relax, enjoy the people most special to me in my daily life and leave the rest of the world behind. That’s why I’m so excited to share this whole experience with you, dear reader, as I feel I’ve discovered a world I was sure wasn’t for me. Oh how wrong I was.
I do hope you’ll have a look over at Seabourn Cruises, to see what’s on offer in 2017 for destinations and explorations. And who knows, maybe I’ll run into you on board next year? Fancy a margarita and a sunset over the coast of Greece? Meet you on the top deck. The caviar will be waiting.
For those of you that don’t follow FFG on instagram, I did share the entire Instastories experience and made into a quick video. Just gives an additional look at a pretty amazing experience: