Setting Sail with Seabourn Ovation: The Shakedown Cruise

posted on: Friday, 25 May 2018

Eighteen months ago, I went on my first cruise. When I tell any fellow travel writer that news, their first question is inevitably, "which cruise line was it with?" Then there's a pause as they seem to brace themselves for my response. It's almost a nervous energy in the air. The moment I say "Seabourn," there's either a sharp intake of breath or an audible sigh of relief. Then I always here some version of, "well, if you were going to take your first cruise, you did well to start with the best." And that seems to be the industry in agreement. If you are aiming for adventure with an umbrella of luxury, Seabourn is the answer for your holiday bookings. My Seabourn first cruise was on board with a full ship of passengers, living the life of a cruiser, and taking it all in one night at a time. You can read all about it here. But, when Seabourn invited me back, it was for an altogether different experience and one that seemed all the more special. Not only did they invite me back, they also invited my mother with me. If you read about my first cruise experience, you will see that this was one of the most fabulous holidays we had taken together and I can't recommend it highly enough to any mother daughter travelers. Anyway, getting away from the point here.... they invited us both back, as, I hope I'm alright in saying, members of the Seabourn family. We were set to embark on the first voyage of the newest ship in the Seabourn fleet- The Seabourn Ovation. This was what you call a shakedown cruise.

After flying into Genoa, Italy, we made our way, along with a few other buses full of press, to a shipyard. The Seabourn Ovation was surrounded by the people who had spent months building it. This was their creation and we were there to board and wave goodbye to the artists and engineers that put everything together piece by piece. It was truly a moment I will never forget and a trip that will most definitely be written down as one of the most glorious I've had to date. It's one thing to simply board a cruise ship. It's truly another to meet the people responsible for building it, publicising it and servicing it. It gives one a whole new appreciation for the world of travel, hospitality and luxury living. It's certainly not all caviar and champagne, although any guest of a Seabourn cruise wouldn't normally know otherwise. We got the inside look and I hope you'll allow me not only to give you a tour around the new Seabourn Ovation, but also present you with a few details I learned along the way that have truly opened my eyes to why Seabourn is in a league of its own when it comes to a holiday experience. If I didn't have you booking a cruise after my first adventure onboard a Seabourn ship, I have a feeling you may finally be swayed after reading about this experience. 

Let's start with the ship itself. Here are a few images of us leaving the shipyard. We sat having breakfast on the back of the ship as people on land wished us safe travels. It was truly surreal.



Now, what makes this ship different? Well, there's the obvious... it's brand new. Although saying that, all the ships in the Seabourn fleet are practically babies when it comes to looking at ships cruising the seas theses days. That means they all have the latest technology, the most up to date culinary offerings, entertainment displays and excursion opportunities. But, the Ovation is as different as it is new and here's why.

First of all, the Seabourn Ovation was designed by Adam D. Tihany. For interiors buffs, I can see your eyebrows being raised. Tihany is a serious name in design, responsible for some of the modern marvels we eyeball today around the world. He's been named one of America's greatest interior architects, has worked with Thomas Keller in designing Per Se and Bouchon, and has designed for The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Breakers in Palm Beach and countless other iconic luxury destinations. His beautiful vision for the ship is felt with every passing corridor. It's contemporary, luxurious and, if I may be as bold to say this... decadent. 

One of my personal new favourite additions aboard the ship is the Retreat. This is an area that sits on the top deck, with open air. In the middle of the space sits a hot tub which is flanked by individual cabanas, complete with sofas, televisions, headphones (so you don't disturb other guests), a complete digital movie selection, refreshment service and on and on I could go. Basically, you can come to this space for a day away from your holiday. Yes, I really said that. If your luxury holiday requires a bit more of a zen-like approach, you can retreat to an area of the ship were fresh air, champagne, caviar, soaks in a tub and movies on demand will truly take you away from any reality that exists anywhere else. We spent an afternoon taking in the upper deck, where we were served lunch, decided to indulge in the rather strange film that is "The Lobster" starring Colin Farrell (wouldn't recommend watching it), and I even popped over to the spa for a quick mani/pedi before returning to soak in the tub under the mediterranean sun. It was a tough day. So very tough. All joking aside, it looked a little something like this:



Now let's talk a minute or two about the suites themselves. I find this always what people are most interested in. Well, that and food, but we'll get to that. This isn't a ship where you have to worry about getting a bad room. We all know that dreaded feeling when we check in for a holiday and you wonder if you're going to get a good ocean view or an ocean view at all. Sometimes it rests in the hands of what mood the receptionist is in. That is certainly not the case here. Seabourn Ovation has 300 oceanfront suites, all with verandas. Read that to mean you are GUARANTEED an ocean front suite no matter what level of the ship you are on or what suite you have. While suites are sold in various layouts and sizes, every room is a suite and every room offers an unrestricted view of that big beautiful blue sea. I'm serious as a heart attack when I tell you this is the most stress-free holiday of your life. So, what can you expect in the rooms? Well, if you're high rolling you can expect some serious perks in Garden Terraces suites like a jacuzzi with a full ocean view on your veranda (pictured below). Veranda Suites, however, come complete with marble bathrooms that look as if they've been borrowed from the swankiest of five star establishments. Fluffy towels, specially developed Molton Brown products and a choice of soaps await you in your bathroom upon arrival as well. So not to worry if you've left anything at home. I have come to the point now that I prefer the Seabourn way, so I leave all shampoos and the like at home and indulge in their offering when on board. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone there. But, you'll understand why once you're on board.

The rooms themselves are exactly as we remember, with updated and contemporary touches. There's a walk in closet and more storage space than you'll ever find you'll need. And I say this having brought four suitcases on board with me. Trust me, I tried to find and fill every nook and cranny but didn't manage to make a dent. The rich mahogany wood cabinets were mainly left empty. I truly must try harder next time. For me, however, it is and always will be about the veranda. As you look into the suite, you look straight out, through the room, and into the ocean. 

Every night we slept with our veranda doors open so we could hear the waves as we ripped through the sea and every morning the sunlight would wake us from our slumber. When you awake early in the morning and find yourself slowly passing through the hills of Montenegro, it's hard to imagine any of it is real at all. There is a magic found in waking up in a new place almost every morning. Truly, it is nothing that can be described, it is simply something you must experience yourself. And there is no better place on the ship for breakfast, in my opinion, than on your own veranda, where you can take in the view, in your bathrobe with a hot cup of coffee. Evidence herewith, and there's no extra charge for the service. You could eat in your room all week and no one would bat an eyelid. You could have champagne and caviar delivered every hour on the hour and I am pretty sure you would simply be applauded by the staff for your appetite for life (apparently Seabourn have spooned out so many servings of caviar in the past 30 years in business that they've actually lost track of their ongoing total). But, to not experience the food in the restaurants aboard the Seabourn Ovation would be a crime against humanity. Naturally, this leads us to talk about the food of the Seabourn Ovation, and yes, this requires it's own complete section. 


While the view from your personal veranda on board is impressive, so too are the views from breakfast on the back of the ship, lunch on the top of the ship, dinner on the pool deck or any meal in The Restaurant. That's not even mentioning the new sushi restaurant, The Grill by Thomas Keller or the food service that can be delivered to just about anywhere you are sitting on the ship. But let's start from the beginning.

The restaurant you are probably going to want to hear about first, and the one that was talked about the most while we were onboard is The Grill by Thomas Keller. For those of you lucky enough to have ever dined in Per Se, Bouchon or French Laundry, you will know that a Thomas Keller culinary experience is one you will not soon forget. There is a reason this man is one of the most respected  and celebrated chefs on the planet. He is a master of his craft and every chef on board is trained to be a representation of Thomas Keller on the ship in his absence. They all go out and train, in Napa, and work in the kitchens with Thomas Keller, before boarding the Seabourn Ovation to serve guests. Even the ingredients on board have to pass the Thomas Keller approval process. Butter is brought in especially from Vermont and honey all the way from Napa Valley. And everyday Chef Thomas Keller is sent a report of how service went. He is hands on from day one of sailing. Even the chocolates you get on your pillows every night are Thomas Keller's selection of the world's highest quality chocolate. I could go on forever here and wax lyrical for paragraphs about what an impression this leaves on you as a guest. 

You truly do feel as if you are eating in a Michelin starred restaurant from the first course at The Grill by Thomas Keller. Our waiters were knowledgable and incredibly helpful in assisting us with ordering. Of course for them, you can never order too much, only too little. You would think they have a bet going for which guest can put on the most weight in a week. I've never eaten so much in my life! But everything was so delicious and over the top and like nothing I've ever had before. The Grill began with crudites and bread, served with the now famous shipped in Vermont butter. It was followed by a caesar salad, prepared table-side and cocktails that were recommended for us based on our taste preferences. Next to come were two perfectly cooked steaks, side orders of the best macaroni and cheese I've ever eaten in my life and a series of vegetables that were cooked to perfection (I feel like I had to put that in there to prove that I was getting my five a day)! We ended, however, on a high note. A chef once again approached our table with a rolling cart and prepared an absolutely over the top ice cream sundae for us to share. It was a good thing our room was on the same floor as the restaurant. I am pretty sure we were close to being rolled home at this point. I went to bed positive that I would not be able to button the trousers I had arrived in just three days before (ps. I was right). Here's a look at the meal in The Grill by Thomas Keller:

At this point, I feel like we need to take a culinary breather. Not entirely, mind you. I just mean it's time for me to show you some of the other offerings, for those who are maybe looking for a more casual approach to eating from time to time when on board. First of all, there's a mean burger available to order in room and or in the restaurant.

Then there are always poolside cocktails, which are impossible to say no to. When you have someone constantly walking up and down the deck waiting to take orders, you can't dream of saying no. But not to worry, these aren't attendants that will bug you or actually disturb you in any way. In fact, they seem to have some sixth sense of when they are needed. And rarely on board do I need to order any cocktail twice. By day two they have my order down, but always ask if I'd like to try anything else. I call this the Seabourn Sixth Sense. It's magical.

While we're on the topic of frozen cocktails, we might as well slide over into the arena of gelato - a new highlight for the Seabourn fleet onboard the Seabourn Ovation. Gelato is made on board. Let me give you a second for that to sink in.... fresh gelato is made on board daily. Do you even know how dangerous that is? Not to mention the fact that the places in which you visit actually influence the gelato flavours that are made. If you visit somewhere that is known for having fresh mangos in season, chances are you'll find mango gelato being served the next day on the ship. And whether you are up in the Seabourn Square or down in the Colonnade restaurant, there's a gelato stop ready for your attention. Cone or cup is your toughest decision of the day. Hard life, right? Are you starting to see the picture I'm painting?

A small side note here. On the day before we reached Venice, we had the best seafood pasta, that the waiter assured us we couldn't say no to. We'd actually already ordered our courses and he simply suggested we might want to share a plate. We did and my goodness are we glad we did. It was phenomenal. Mental note to self: always listen to the staff when they impart information about the food.

Now, here we are back at the caviar again. You'll see I start above and start to wrap up herewith by talking caviar. This is one of the highlights of our trip on board, because we are big fans of caviar. And when someone says, "order it anytime, anywhere and don't forget to wash it down with champagne," you do sort of ask yourself if you've died and gone to some kind of heaven. So yes, we ordered it several different times, in several locations to prove a point. The point was mainly just to say if we can do it anyone can. The rumours are true! So yeah, this is us having a caviar picnic by the pool just before a late dinner, as you do, and the next day, having caviar on our veranda in the mid afternoon.


Now, there are two very important, and new culinary experiences onboard the Seabourn Ovation that are worth absolutely shouting about. The first is sushi. Yes, on a ship where everything is provided in endless quantities, there is a sushi bar. I must say, we had so much fun in here we kept coming back. The chefs were amazing, and all from Toyko. We ordered our dishes, but always ended up with more as we sat at the bar and "ooh-ed" and "ah-ed"as they made new combinations. Inevitably a slice from a roll or some sashimi would find its way over to us to try for ourselves. There was such a kindness in there that it was contagious. The chefs wanted you to feel apart of the experience of making the sushi, but they also wanted you to enjoy each and every bit of their creations and took great delight in the various sounds of ecstasy that came from our end of the bar. It might have been a bit embarrassing at times and we'll leave it there. I couldn't believe how much we were eating and oh to have the power to eat more. It was all so delicious and above and beyond what we could have ever expected. Even writing about it now, I'm salivating and can taste the dragon roll with soy sauce and wasabi. Ok, I need to stop. Here's a look at the sushi experience on board, and then let's move onto yet another new culinary creation.

Our very first meal on board the Seabourn Ovation was actually on the pool deck patio for dinner at the new Earth and Ocean. I've left the first for last. Don't even ask me how that happened. I'll just say it most certainly doesn't deserve to be placed last here, but will allow us to leave the food category on quite the high note. The vibe here is romance. These are candlelit tables that sit under the stars with menus that change daily. The al fresco dining experience begins with your bread delivery to the table, which is in fact a delivery by cart that features still-smoking dips for bread that simply melts in your mouth and is a meal in itself. It is then followed with a variety of dishes served in everything from black iron skillets to Moroccan tagines. This was perhaps the most experiential restaurant on board, with all of your senses in check. You are taking in the fresh night air, the sea around you and the light chit chat from surrounding tables. There may be a light swaying of the boat, which only seems to make the moments that more romantic and fantasy like, and all the while the staff are quick to make sure you are never long without some sort of dish in front of you. Between the wine, the bread and multiple servings of cheese, I was pretty sure we wouldn't eat anywhere else all week while on board. We all now know that wasn't the case. 

I would like to just touch on the entertainment while we were on board, just briefly. First of all, you should know that there is a casino, a club, an observation bar, various pool bars and areas a plenty where a drink, a cup of coffee, a pastry or a cone of gelato will be served to you on board. So, should you find yourself hungry in between or after meals, you won't ever have to go far to kill that craving. I mention this with entertainment as it seemed we developed a bit of a routine in our night hours on the ship, which we absolutely loved. After a day either on an excursion or exploring the ship, we'd return to our rooms and change for dinner. We'd then go to one of the bars and have a pre-dinner cocktail. From there, it was dinner and then we were onto the nightly entertainment. It felt like a night out in a much cleaner version of London's Soho. Drinks, dinner and a show, all within a three minute elevator ride or walk from our room. Ideal, right? Only the shows featured talent that, at times, exceeded that which I had found in London's West End. The highlight of the week was most definitely Tim Rice's takeover night. In a rather incredible feat, Seabourn have managed to bring Tim Rice alive for every guest on the ship in one night where the man himself  (in a matter of speaking) introduces his most beloved classics from the theatre and from movie history. Talented men and women sing everything from Evita to The Lion King and there was barely a dry eye in the house. My advice is not to miss one night of entertainment. We didn't have a single experience we didn't love and if something isn't your speed, there's no obligation to stay. Simple take your margarita and run. No one will love you any less.

In the end, we came away having rediscovered what we already knew - that any future holidays together would have to take place aboard a Seabourn ship of some kind. Being invited as two of the first to see the Seabourn Ovation set sail, however, was a memory that will always remain near and dear to our hearts. It's also one we will probably revisit in another part of the world when the Seabourn Ovation sails to a destination we've yet to hit. The first time I wrote about Seabourn I felt I was justifying the the idea of taking a cruise at all, as it was my first ever cruise and I wasn't sure what to expect. Now, however, I feel almost like I'm giving away a highly guarded secret that I whisper to people.... have you heard about Seabourn yet? And if not, allow me to tell you why you'll never vacation the same way after trying it once

To Seabourn, I'd like to thank you for once again giving a mother daughter team the experience of a lifetime and allowing us to form memories that will be with us forever. Every single member of your team made us feel like family and that is something I have never experienced anywhere else. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you for the moments of genuine happiness, relaxation and fantasy living! 

For more information on where Seabourn Ovation will be travelling this year or to book future trips visit: https://ovation.seabourn.com/

And, if you need any recommendations on what to wear while cruising, I've also shared my summer packing ideas for cruise outfits

Signing off for now until next time, Emily (here with my travel partner in crime... my mom... because I feel lucky as all get out to have a mom that will go on these wild and crazy adventures on me when she can).
Fashion Foie Gras was invited as a guest of Seabourn for the Ovation shakedown cruise.