From the island of Ischia my dad and I got on the 45-minute ferry (16 euros = US$23 apiece) back to Naples. It was an easy crossing since this time the seas were perfectly calm and we took a nonstop boat. It was so nice out we spent most of the time out back (where everyone smokes) so we could take in the views. Highlights included seeing the islands of Procida and Capri, and then Mt. Vesuvius, before pulling into the port of Naples.
Naples to Rome
There was no problem getting a taxi to the train station, but the driver insisted the fee was 15 euros even though my local friend said it should be 10 euros. My dad didn’t feel like arguing so we obliged. Ten minutes later we were in the Stazione Garabaldi. My father grabbed a Sfogliatelle (1.50 euros), his favorite Italian pastry, and an espresso (90 euro cents) before we boarded the high-speed train. The Eurostar AV or FRECCIAROSSA was comfortable, fast, and nonstop. We made it from Naples to Rome in 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Rome to Civitavecchia
On the train we met a really nice Roman lawyer who insisted on helping my dad with his bag since we didn’t have a lot of time to make our connection. BTW: You can get your tickets in advance from RailEurope.com.
Port of Rome (Civitavecchia)
Rome’s home port is in Civitavecchia, a 40-minute ride outside of the city. Seabourn‘s renowned incredible service began the moment we stepped off the train: one of their representatives was waiting on the tracks. He grabbed my dad’s bags and led us to the shuttle bus for the eight-minute ride to the ship.
BTW: Dante, the Seabourn rep who met us, was a great kid. His mother is English and his father is from NY, and he’s lived in both England and Italy. When I asked him which place he liked better, he said the English are friendlier and Italians are much more closed-minded.
Seabourn Odyssey-Class Ships
Quest is the last of Seabourn‘s three Odyssey-class ships, and I’ve now sailed on all three. My first sailing was in 2009 on Seabourn Odyssey for a fantastic seven-day trip from Istanbul to Athens. Last year, Natalie and I did a 12-day Baltic Sea cruise on Sojourn that took us to seven (7!) countries. And now this preview cruise on Quest, which I’m about to describe in full detail. BTW: Last summer I also participated in Sojourn ‘s naming ceremony for one night in London with former supermodel Twiggy, who was honored as the ship’s godmother. Quest‘s godmother is Emmy- and Tony Award-winning actress Blythe Danner.
Full Disclosure: Seabourn paid our way, but as always, I would never jeopardize my integrity by giving a false account. No matter who is paying, I always tell it like it is, and on regular sailings I always interview other passengers because I know I might be getting a skewed experience.
The Same Ship
Last year when I first stepped foot on Sojourn, I was surprised to learn that she was basically the exact same ship as the $300 million Odyssey. So this year I wasn’t taken aback. All three of Seabourn’s Odyssey-class ships are 650 feet (198 meters) long, made by the same shipyard (T. Mariotti), and have the same designer and architects (Bjorn Storbraaten). The only thing really different about this one is the artwork and the spa (more on both in a bit).
By the Numbers
The dead weight of each of each vessel is 32,000 metric tons. These ships are so big that they could hold up to 1,000 passengers each if they were outfitted like most cruises, but instead, each holds just 450 guests in 225 luxury suites (not rooms), creating a much more intimate experience.
FYI: Ninety percent (197) of the rooms have verandas, which, as you can imagine, make all the difference in the world.
When we stepped off the shuttle we were greeted by more friendly Seabourn crew members. I knew what to expect, so this time around I just watched my dad’s eyes illuminate while he got to experience this pure luxury I’ve been so spoiled with in the past. The moment you step into the check-in area Seabourn staff members dressed to the T offer a chilled towel and cool drink, both served on a silver platter. How civilized!
The first stop was to drop off our tagged and checked luggage at the designated spot. TIP: Keep your carry-on luggage with you, as you always want to have important items like cameras, laptops, passport, money, and medicine close by. An attractive and friendly agent checked our passports and then gave us our personalized credit card-like room keys, each with our name on it.
Before boarding the ship there’s an airport-like security check. In addition to putting their belongings through the X-ray machine and having to walk through a metal detector, passengers had their personalized room key swiped to make sure they were who they said they were. In fact, passengers have to do this every time they embark and disembark the ship. The security staff were not only diligent but they were quick too, so passengers didn’t have to wait in long lines.
Quest, just like her sister ships, is not as grand as you’d think she would be. I didn’t have the same awestruck reaction as when I boarded Celebrity’s Solstice, Equinox, or Silhouette. There is no impressive entryway and no huge atrium with glass elevators. However, what Quest lacks in stature, she sure makes up for in food, service, and overall experience.
Don’t get me wrong! The ship is genuinely beautiful. It’s classy and contemporary, just not flashy. But before I go any further, I guess I should tell you about the Seabourn brand. If you didn’t know by now, Seabourn is known for offering passengers small intimate yachts with extraordinary personalized service and food and providing an overall exceptional cruise experience. We’re talking the crème de la crème of luxury cruising.
Seabourn has earned all kinds of awards including the prestigious 2011 World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line by the readers of bothTravel + Leisure and 2010 Condé Nast Traveler magazines (The 2011 CNT awards have not yet been announced). They also made Cruise Critic Editors’ 2010 Picks Awards for Best Luxury for Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn.
Seabourn’s Quest Service
With all these accolades, I guess I shouldn’t have been as taken aback by Seabourn’s level of service. But it still shocked me that at the breakfast and lunch buffet, every time my dad or I would walk to our table, a Seabourn staff member was almost always there waiting like a security guard at a high-end jewelry store. The moment we took a step toward a table they insisted on holding our plates—even when there was just one itsy-bitsy, tiny scoop of ice cream. At first my dad thought they were trying to take his food away, so he would high-step around them like a running back, but when he realized what was going on, he succumbed to their fine service.
One on One
It constantly surprised me that they had so many available staff members. They have 330 crew working on Odyssey-style ships; that’s impressive since it’s nearly one staff member per guest.
The moment you clear the onboard security check, white-gloved porters take your carry-on bags and whisk you up the elevator.
There are 11 decks and we were in the middle of the ship toward the front. Our cabin number was 738. The hallway looked like a normal luxury hotel hallway but narrower. Each staff member we passed was genuinely friendly. They got even friendlier when I took an interest and asked where they hailed from–they come from all over the world, and the only way to find that out is to ask; their nametags don’t identify where they’re from.
When the door to our veranda suite was opened, my dad’s eyes lit up like a jack-o’-lantern, and our cabin wasn’t even one of their top-of-the-line suites. In fact, out of the seven cabin categories, ours was ranked second from the bottom of the list, and it was still that impressive. These suites range from 269 to 302 square feet, so it was generous in size, and without a doubt, I’ve been in way smaller hotel rooms. To think this is on a ship is mind-boggling.
The cabin had the same tasteful decor with modern elements as I’d seen on the other ships. The queen-size bed, with its bone-colored stitched leather headboard, was cozy as ever. On top of the bed was a leather tarp to prevent filthy bags and wheels from getting the glorious bedding dirty. FYI: The cabin attendant tucks it away once you are unpacked.
In the middle of the cabin is a moderately sized (19-inch) flat-screen TV with DVD and CD players that could be swiveled to be seen from the bed or from the honey-, chocolate- and black-striped couch (it’s pretty but not comfortable) or from the multi-use table that could be turned into a dining table or a desk. The custard-colored leather club chairs are stylish and comfy. There were two sets of curtains, one for the balcony door and the other in the middle of the cabin so it could provide privacy, which was perfect since my dad likes to read with the light on into the wee hours of the night and he snores like a hibernating bear. I moved my twin bed into the living room area and closed the curtain. After inserting my ear plugs it was like having my own cabin.
One of the most attractive parts of the cabin is the 65-square-foot teak balcony. It has two chairs and a table. The views from here are unbelievable, and it’s the ideal place to read a book, check email, and, of course, eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner–especially if you’re in the mood for something quiet and intimate.
Last year I complained that the balcony doors needed improvement since they are so thick and heavy and I could constantly hear them being slammed abruptly and loudly. They didn’t change the doors, but what they did do is put a reminder note next to the cabin key in the wallet they give you at check-in. It politely asks guests to be a good neighbor and gently close their balcony and cabin doors. The other thing that annoyed me last year was our neighbors would constantly leave their balcony light on all night; I don’t think they knew they had a light switch behind the curtain. It didn’t bother my sleeping since the cabins have blackout curtains, but it did prevent us from seeing the stars in the middle of the night. This trip, after the first night I had our cabin attendant go into our neighbor’s cabin and turn it off. I don’t think they ever even noticed.
The large granite bathroom is a masterpiece. It features his and hers sinks, a separate tub and a stand-up shower with Molton Brown bath products, fresh white towels, and fluffy white bathrobes.
To prevent couples from fighting about who’s hogging the bathroom (ah, women!), just outside the bathroom door is a makeup vanity with a mirror and a plug for the hairdryer. Genius.
More good news for women is the storage facilities. At the top of the list is the walk-in closet that has plenty of hangers, five drawers, a personal safe (large enough to fit a laptop) and a full-length mirror on the back of the door. That should be plenty of space, as we didn’t even use the additional cabin storage that consisted of nine more drawers and a couple of cupboards. However, we did use the storage below the bed for our empty suitcases.
The closet contains the life preservers; the only time we touched them (thank God) was for the mandatory muster drill that took place at 4 p.m. on the first day in the main dining room on the fourth floor. FYI: The muster drill took just 15 minutes, and passengers don’t need to put the life vests on until they get to the positioning post. Seabourn definitely could use a better system for roll call during the muster drill. On the Norwegian Epic and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas they electronically scan your key card instead of trying to shout out a list of names.
I’m sure you know that cruising is one of the best values around since your cabin, meals, and entertainment are all included. However, most cruise ships make a lot of their money by selling alcohol, but not on Seabourn. That too is included (except for the really high-end bottles). In fact, each cabin has its own stocked minibar with two large bottles of hard booze (that you choose when you pre-register online), a mini-fridge with soft drinks, and fresh fruit daily.
Shortly after we walked into our cabin, we had a knock on the door from our stewardess Rita. She brought us some welcome champagne (in addition to the bottle in our cabin) and salmon canapés. Also on Rita’s tray were mini bars of L’Occitane and Hermes soap; which is kind of weird since the bathroom is stocked with Molton Brown toiletries, but hey, we’ll take it! After welcoming us aboard, Rita showed my dad around the cabin (I already knew where everything was).
On Seabourn, they have a no-tipping policy since it’s already built into the price. So there’s no worrying about how much money to leave or reminders (or pressure) like on other cruises.
I’m an Internet junkie, so I love the fact that the ships all have Wi-Fi available 24/7 no matter where they are in the world. If you don’t want to bring your laptop, no worries; there are multiple computers available in Seabourn Square (double the amount they had on Odyssey). Just keep in mind that with satellite Internet comes a steep price, so the trick to not ringing up a huge bill is to quickly log on, download your emails, then log off and work offline while replying or writing new emails. When they’re ready to be sent, log back on and start the whole process over. But if that’s not the way you roll, the prices go like this: $9.99 for an hour’s worth of time (at your leisure, just remember to log on and off); $39.99 for 24 hours’ worth (not at your leisure), $234 for a week’s worth of Internet. Or if you are on a cruise longer than seven days it’s $399. Note these prices are cheaper than last year’s.
The TV also uses satellite to receive a number of channels including CNN. The TV comes with on-demand music and videos–just like those hotel rooms that have all the entertainment choices including new releases, classics, comedy, and horror films. The big difference here is that there is no fee and no porn.
That’s right! All the free movies you want! And that’s a bad thing because the bed is so comfortable with its crisp white cotton duvet cover and sheets that you won’t want to leave. If I hadn’t been motivated I could have easily just lounged around all day long, watching movies and chillaxing.
My favorite aspect of the TV is the information channels, from the live mapping with location, speed, and weather to the information on each port of call. They also have live cameras on the bow and aft so you don’t have to get up and open the curtain to see what it looks like outside. I was also fascinated by the ease of booking excursions with just a few clicks of the remote. In addition they have promo videos and videos of previous ship lectors.
There’s no need to worry about bringing converters because the cabins have outlets that work for both U.S. and European plugs. TIP: I always bring a travel power strip so I can charge multiple electronics at once.
Also in the cabin are two telephones and an iPod docking station. Note: I read that Seabourn will loan passengers iPods or netbooks, but double-check that before you book.
The first thing I do on every cruise ship or in any hotel room is wipe down all the switches, remotes, handles and controls with an antibacterial wipe. I suppose it’s a little Howard Hughes of me, but I can’t afford to get sick. What’s nice is that they have anti-bacterial dispenser machines around the ship.
I’m not immune to getting seasick, and I haven’t taken any pills or precautions for any of my cruises. Last year from Stockholm to Helsinki I felt really nauseas one night. This year the water was so calm to France and Monaco that at times we couldn’t even tell if we were moving or not. If you do feel sick, Seabourn recommends Stugeron pills (15 tablets for $8.10), available for purchase at Seabourn Square. People who are really ill can see the nurse; I believe that cost $70 for a consultation. Note: Each restaurant has dried ginger at the entranceway, as this is supposed to be a great remedy.
One of the best parts of cruising is that you can see a lot of different places or countries without having to pack, unpack, and schlep bags. It’s like a dream. What’s nice about Seabourn is that you can either get your clothes laundered (there is a charge) or go down to the fifth floor where they have two small launderettes with two washers/dryers and ironing boards in each. There is no fee and they even supply the detergent. Now, that’s a beautiful thing! FYI: Like on all ships, there are no irons in the cabins; they’re a fire hazard.
It would be ideal for Seabourn to install live laundry cams since it’s always a popular place. That way guests don’t have to keep going back and forth to see if the machines are available.
Seabourn Square is an innovative “concierge lounge” with a library, upscale shops, outdoor terrace, and coffee bar. Mixed in between are the computers and concierges in a relaxed, club-like atmosphere. This is also the place for those who aren’t comfortable booking the land excursions through the TV. Here, you can do it in person.
Art on Quest
The big difference between Quest and the other ships is the artwork. Located on the walls in the main staircase and atrium, as well as in the Grand Salon, were Dutch artist Barbara Nanning’s beautiful, vividly colored blown-glass forms with glossily finished surfaces. In a gallery near The Restaurant on Deck 4 are two small sculptures of space-suited astronauts by Alberto Togni. In the main elevator lobby on Deck 5, a glass case encloses an exquisite scale model of Thunderbird, a classic streamlined 55′ wooden speedboat originally built for the Thunderbird Lodge on Nevada’s Lake Tahoe.
Photography is also an important element of the art on Seabourn Quest. In Seabourn Square the walls display images by iconic fashion photographers of the 20th century, including John French, Horst, Herb Ritts, and Richard Avedon.
Read the Daily Newsletter
Each cabin gets a “Personal Guide to Seabourn Quest,” a daily newsletter filled with all the restaurant times and the day’s information (port info, weather, currency exchange, dress code, and phone numbers).
Seabourn Quest Dining
Like on most cruise ships there is no charge for room service–no matter how much or how often you order. The room-service folks are exceptional; never once did they not deliver what we’d asked for, even when our request wasn’t on the menu. Depending on the time you place your order, it arrives within 5 to 30 minutes. Most meals take about 30 minutes, except for breakfast–you can fill out your order card the night before and request a delivery time.
The first night, the Seabourn executives hosted a dinner in the main dining room simply called “The Restaurant.” My dad was tired so he stayed in and ordered straight off the room-service menu. He had the penne pasta with plum sauce and he loved it–that’s saying a lot because he’s a finicky Italian. The food is delivered on cordless hot plates so it stays hot. I had surf and turf in the dining room; it was so good and the view was to die for. Note: Every day, menus are delivered; food choices change daily except the room-service menu.
Just like Odyssey and Sojourn, Quest has four restaurants and six bars and cafés with a total seating capacity for over 800 diners. The other restaurants are Colonnade, Restaurant 2, and the open-air Patio Grill. My favorite is the Colonnade. Actually, it’s my favorite restaurant in the world. I just love the setting, and for breakfast and lunch they have a buffet with so many options it’s ridiculous. My second favorite is the Patio Grill, not only because of the al fresco setting and food (they make good pizza) but also the casual, relaxed atmosphere.
The restaurant I like the least is Restaurant 2. It’s actually everyone else’s favorite and the only restaurant that really requires advance reservations (you can make them a maximum of 24 hours in advance) since celebrity chef Charlie Palmer created the menu. Each night the menu changes and the avant-garde restaurant comes up with some intriguing food and wine pairings. All the innovative creations are prepared in tasting portions. We dined there on our very last night with some executives from Seabourn’s sister company, Holland America. What’s cool is the menu is backlit in a funky neon frame. Since my photos didn’t come out great this year, here are last year’s food shots to give you a good feel:
- Chef’s cocktail: Caviar in the cloud, foggy potatoes
- Cowboy Roll: seared flank steak, Portobello, Sesame sauce
- Barbequed Salmon: jalepeno, cucumber, melted mozzarella, wasabi mayo
- Duck Confit Pop: Roasted pepper relish, creamy chili dip
- Tea Smoked Game Presse, chestnut Spaetzle
- Porcini & Chestnut Cappuccino, honey-spiced squab & Fig empanada
- Grilled Beef Tenderloin, forest mushrooms, truffled emulsion
- Floating lobster, pesto cream, red pepper fondue, Lime froth
- Sweet & Sour Apple Snow, Granny Smith Confit
- Apricot Beignets, citrus compote, Calvados Ice Cream
- Night Cap: Orange Disaronno
Seabourn Dress Code
Seabourn is not as dressy as it once was, but people still get dressed up–especially at night. A jacket, (but no tie) is often required for the main dining room (The Restaurant). Seabourn’s official dress policy is as follows:
Swimsuits, brief shorts, cover-ups, and exercise attire should be reserved for poolside, on deck, or in the spa and fitness center.
Evenings (after 6 p.m.)–suggested attire for all venues on board will be one of the following:
Resort Casual: Slacks and a sweater or shirt for men; sundress, skirt, or slacks with a sweater or blouse for women. Jeans are not considered appropriate in the main restaurant.
Elegantly Casual: Slacks and a jacket over a sweater or collared shirt for men. Dress, skirt, or slacks with a sweater or blouse for women. Jeans are not considered appropriate in the main restaurant.
Formal Optional: While Elegantly Casual is always appropriate during the evening, a Formal Optional evening will be provided for guests who wish to dress more formally at least once each seven days.
Formal Optional attire includes a tuxedo or dark suit with tie for men; cocktail dress or other formal apparel for women. On Formal Optional evenings, we request no jeans in any of the lounges or dining venues.
On all three Seabourn cruises I’ve been on I asked countless passengers how they were enjoying the cruise and what they liked best. Everyone said they loved it, and what they liked the most was the food and service. I was surprised to hear that–many of the passengers aboard are wealthy (and I mean wealthy), and to hear these rich, typically high-maintenance travelers rave about cruise food is almost a miracle!
My favorite meal on Seabourn is breakfast. It’s served either in The Restaurant, the main dining room on the fourth deck, or the Colonnade on the 8th deck. I prefer the Colonnade because it has both indoor and outdoor seating and they have a huge buffet, just like at lunch. Their fresh fruit and muesli is insanely good. I try and stay away from the pancakes and the pastry section, but it’s difficult.
Seabourn Quest Entertainment
In addition to the ship’s four restaurants, there are plenty of places to meet friends for a drink. The ship has six bars: The Observation Bar, The Sky Bar, The Patio Bar, Seabourn Square, The Grand Salon, and The Club. They also serve alcohol in the small casino.
No Crazy Disco
There’s no crazy disco or after-hours partying. Seabourn’s entertainment doesn’t compare to huge cruise ships that have nightclubs and Las Vegas- and Broadway-style shows. On Seabourn Quest, the venues are much smaller and more intimate. The Grand Salon hosts movie nights, cabaret performances, demonstrations, and entertainers, while the different clubs have live music and dancing. The first night we were there they had singer Lorna Luft –Judy Garland’s daughter. I had never heard of her and just caught the tail end of her act, but I heard mixed reviews. What everyone loved was the ship’s regular nightly performers and band.
Not For Kids
I originally wrote that Seabourn does not cater to the younger generation. But I just learned they now offer a free kids program on their 7-day summer Mediterranean itineraries. If you are sailing somewhere else then I don’t recommend bringing young children. There are plenty of other cruise lines that are geared toward kids but Seabourn is definitely not one of them. I recommend Disney or Norwegian Epic.
Seabourn Quest Spa
The big difference between Quest and its sister ships is the spa. The two-deck spa facility has been remodeled and has over 11,400 square feet. It features a nail /hair salon, seven treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms, and a fully equipped gym with a Kinesis Wall. A Spa Villa is available for guests seeking an indulgent private experience, with a treatment area large enough for duet treatments, a shower, a bathtub big enough for two, a private balcony for sunbathing, a full living room, a dining table, and double daybed for relaxing.
Seabourn Quest Pools
The ship has two outdoor swimming pools and six outdoor whirlpool spas. The most private is at the bow of Deck 6, and that’s because not too many people know about it. There’s so much to see and do during the day that we rarely hung out on the sun decks.
When you’re cruising in a warm climate, Seabourn usually sets aside one sea day as they did when we were in Greece. They open up their unique marina that features a “sea pool” and they bust out all types of complimentary water sports. They did it one day we were in France but the temperatures dropped so not many participated.
Obviously, like all cruise ships, Quest offers every kind of excursion available at each port. On this cruise they didn’t offer any since it was a preview, but my biggest tip is to sign up for tours way in advance. You can always cancel later, and the good ones go fast.
Le Lavandou, France
On this trip we made just one call to port, at Le Lavandou, France! I had never even heard of this place, but it turned out to be a charming French village that didn’t have many English-speaking locals or visitors. The one English speaker that I came across was a beautiful tourism official who came aboard our ship in the morning until 10 a.m. to give advice and answer any questions.
To get there we needed to take one of the ship’s tenders (they operate every 15 minutes). Where Seabourn let us off they set up a nice little hospitality tent with drinks and a couple chairs. We walked to the center of the village and watched some locals play Petanque. It’s the French version of Bocce, which my dad loves. I felt bad because my dad so wanted to play, but the men were obviously in a heated match and didn’t even acknowledge him. He looked like a kid standing on the sidelines with no friends. After I dragged him away we browsed some of the shops. I hit a bakery that had a long line out the door. I wasn’t even hungry but I had to see what was so good about the baguettes everyone was walking out with. It hit the spot and cost less than $2.
Below are some random observations from our trip on Quest:
-Seabourn staff are recruited for their service.
-The Internet was slow this trip. Not sure if that was because we were the first passengers on and they still had some tweaking to do.
-If you’ll be spending a lot of time on the Internet using your computer, I suggest you favorite this URL
-Some of the service in the restaurant was really young and inexperienced; they dropped a lot of stuff, and the waitress kept asking me if I wanted more wine when I never even took a sip (I don’t drink, so normally just have my glass full to toast).
-My a lens from my dad’s glasses fell out one day, so I asked a maintenance worker I passed by in the hall if he had a little screwdriver—he said he did in the shop. He asked what suite we were in and he later delivered the fixed glasses.
-My dad absolutely loved the snake reading lights by the bed. I think I need to get him one for his birthday.
-My favorite place to catch up on emails was out on our balcony.
-I didn’t know the State of Maine had its own boat, and I have no idea what its doing in Civitavecchia desk with personalized stationery.
-Neither my dad nor I had sea legs after the trip.
- The cruise ended in Monaco, but since no hotels were available (there was a big conference going on) we took Seabourn’s free shuttle to Nice. It was just 30 minutes away and I will tell you all about it next week.
How to Book a Seabourn Cruise
Seabourn Quest‘s maiden season includes seven-day Eastern Mediterranean cruises, operating alternately between Athens, Istanbul, and Venice, as well as a seven-day Black Sea voyage. In the fall, the ship will cross the Atlantic Ocean from Malaga, Spain, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from where it will sail on a series of round-trip voyages in the Caribbean. On January 5, 2012, Seabourn Quest will begin a 109-day Maiden World Cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Venice on a unique eastbound course via South America, South Africa, the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. Prices begin at $2,199 and to book your Seabourn Quest cruise, call your travel agent or Seabourn at 1-800-929-9391, or visit their website.