Ahoy there, mates! This week we’re coming to you from one of, if not the, swankiest cruise ships in the world — Seabourn’s newest masterpiece the Odyssey! We’ll learn all about this 450- passenger luxury yacht, which debuted in late June. If you want to see what the hype is all about surrounding this $300 million boat, then sit back, relax and enjoy the smooth ride. In an attempt to make these stories read faster, we’re breaking the paragraphs up into almost Twitter-sized tweets. I hope you like it.
The main reason I was in Istanbul was not to tour around the city’s amazing historical sites but to board Seabourn’s new 32,000-ton ship Odyssey. The ship is so big it could hold up to 1,000 passengers if it was outfitted like most cruise ships but instead, it holds just 450 guests in 225 luxury suites (not rooms), creating a much more intimate experience. BTW: Ninety percent (197) of the rooms have verandas, which as you can imagine, make all the difference in the world.
FEAR OF CRUISING
As I mentioned a few weeks ago when I was embarking Celebrity’s new ship Equinox, I had only been on a few cruises in my life and all of them had been for three days or fewer. Therefore, I wasn’t sure how I was going to like being trapped on a boat for a whole week with people I didn’t know, sailing to places I’d never been. But as you will soon see, this ship is so plush, no one ever wants to get off.
HOTEL TO PORT
Natalie and I checked out of the Ciragan Palace around 1:30pm and took a taxi to the port of Istanbul, which was about a 10-15 minute drive and cost just 9 TL ($6 USD). When my eyes first laid sight on the Odyssey, my blood began to pump with excitement. Actually, the blood began to simmer a couple months prior, after receiving (like all passengers) Seabourn’s welcome kit via FedEx. Inside the package were four fine leather luggage tags and a document holder with all the information needed about the cruise, along with preprinted luggage tags displaying our room number. That made check-in at the port so much easier.
Everyone seemed to arrive around the same time as we did so it was crowded but not hectic because everything was so well organized. Our first stop was to drop off our tagged and checked luggage at a designated spot. NOTE: We kept our carry-on luggage with us, just as we would have had we been flying. TIP: Always keep important items like cameras, laptops, passport, money and medicine with you.
On the short walk to check-in, a well-groomed Seabourn staff member dressed in a tuxedo offered us a glass of pomegranate champagne from a silver platter. How civilized! But like a character out of the Beverly Hillbillies I chugged it down before going through the first security check, which was just a few feet away.
Once I cleared security, I tried my best to get the red pomegranate stain off my shirt before walking up to one of the many kiosks for the actual check-in. The friendly agent took our passports and in return gave us our personalized credit card-like room keys – each with our name on it. Later they delivered another card, which was like a mini-passport each with our photo, which was in lieu of our real passports. Seabourn holds on to all guests’ passports to make arriving at ports easier, safer and quicker.
Aboard the ship there was one more airport-like security check. In addition to putting your 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 was not only diligent but they were quick too, so passengers didn’t have to wait in long lines.
Once on board, my first impression of the Odyssey was that it was not as grand as I’d thought it would be. I didn’t have the same awestruck reaction as when I boarded Celebrity’s Solstice or their Equinox ship (my two most recent cruises). There was no grand entryway and no huge atrium with glass elevators. However, what Odyssey lacked in stature, she sure made up for in food, service and overall experience.
Don’t get me wrong! The ship is genuinely beautiful. It’s classy and contemporary, 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 small intimate yachts with extraordinary levels of personalized service, food and providing an overall exceptional cruise experience. We’re talking the crème de la crème of luxury cruising.
MORE 450-PASSENGER SHIPS
Prior to the Odyssey, Seabourn only had three boats and none held more than 208 passengers. So building this 450-passenger mega-ship (by their standards) was a new venture. And it looks like it will be their future as well since they have two more identical ships launching in the next two years. Seabourn Sojourn is scheduled to launch in June 2010 and a third ship, which hasn’t been named yet, is scheduled for 2011.
Seabourn has earned all kinds of awards including the prestigious “World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line” by Travel + Leisure Magazine’s World’s Best Readers’ Survey 2009 and the world’s #1 Small Ship Cruise Line by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler in the magazine’s 2008 annual Readers’ Choice Awards.
SEABOURN ODYSSEY: SERVICE
With all these accolades, I guess I shouldn’t have been as taken aback by Seabourn’s level of service as I was. But it shocked me that at the breakfast and lunch buffet, every time I walked to my table, a Seabourn staff member was there waiting like a security guard at a high-end jewelry store. The moment I took a step towards my table they insisted on holding my plate – even when there was just one itsy-bitsy, tiny scoop of ice cream. I would say, “It’s okay, I can handle it,” but they wouldn’t have any of that. At first I thought they were trying to take my food away so I would high-step around them like a running back but when I realized what was going on, I had no choice but to succumb to the service. I guess this is one way to prevent guests (like my out-of-control self) from overeating, since their staff members would know just what a piglet you really are.
ONE ON ONE
It constantly surprised me that they had so many free staff members and I later read that the ship has nearly one staff member per guest. Now that’s impressive.
Seabourn’s fine service began the moment we cleared the onboard security check. That’s when a white-gloved porter from Zimbabwe, who also worked in one of the restaurants, offered to take our carry-on bags and whisked us up the elevator to the sixth floor.
THE LONG HALLWAY
There are 11 decks so we were in the middle of the ship towards the front. Our room number was 604 and on our maiden walk there, I was still thinking that so far, this ship wasn’t as glitzy as I’d thought it would be. The hallway looked like a normal hotel hallway but narrower. But halfway there, I started to see the light.
Each staff member we passed was genuinely friendly. They got even friendlier when I took an interest and asked where they hailed from — they came from all over the world and the only way to find that out was to ask; their nametags don’t identify where they’re from.
When the door to our veranda suite was opened, it hit me like a villain in Batman: “WHAM! A crushing blow to the head!” This was going to be one heck of a cruise. Seriously, our room wasn’t even one of their top-of-the-line suites. In fact, out of the seven room 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 was on a ship was mind-boggling.
The room was tastefully decorated with modern elements. The first thing I noticed was the queen-sized bed, with its bone-colored, stitched leather headboard. On it were our bags that had been magically placed there for us, on top of a leather mat to prevent the filthy wheels from getting the glorious bedding dirty.
Like a kid in a candy store, I whizzed around the room like a storm checking everything out as fast as I could. In the middle of the room there was a moderate-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 or from the multi-use table that could be turned into a dinner table or a desk. The custard-colored leather club chairs were not only stylish but comfy as well. There were two sets of curtains, one for the balcony door and the other in the middle of the room so it could provide privacy in case two friends were sharing a room; they do have rooms with twin beds.
With the exception of the bed, I. spent most of my time on the 65-square-foot teak balcony. It has two chairs, a table and a lounger. The views. from here were unbelievable and it was 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.
The only thing about the balcony that needed improving was the door. They are so thick and heavy that they slammed abruptly and loudly if you didn’t hold on to the handle. And unfortunately, our neighbors didn’t take the time to handle theirs gently. But hopefully that’s a non-issue by now.
Another masterpiece was the large marble bathroom that featured his and hers sinks, a separate tub and 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 was 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 was the walk-in closet that had plenty of hangers, five drawers, a personal safe (large enough to fit a laptop) and a full-length mirror on back of the door. That was plenty of space for Natalie and me and we hardly even used the additional room storage of nine more drawers and a couple of cupboards. However, we did use the storage below the bed for our empty suitcases.
The closet also contained life preservers and the only time we touched them (thank God) was for the mandatory muster drill that took place around 4pm on 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.
I’m sure you know that cruising is one of the best values around since your room, 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. In fact, each room has its own stocked mini-bar with two large bottles of hard booze (gin and vodka) and a mini-fridge with soft drinks.
We didn’t even touch the liquor. But if we had, the bottles would have been replaced immediately. I can’t say the same about the large bottles of water or the welcome champagne and salmon canapés that our stewardess Marlena brought in.
Also on Marlena’s welcome tray were mini bars of soap: Hermes for him and L’Occitane for her (that’s in addition to the Molton Brown soap). After welcoming us aboard, Marlena (who hailed from Poland) showed us around the room. She turned out to be awesome and a really hard worker who was eager to help or answer questions at any time. My only complaint about Marlena is that she insisted on replacing my towel every day because she said it was wet, despite the fact that I wanted to reuse it, in an effort to do my part for the environment.
What’s crazy is that 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 (pressure) like on other cruises.
I’m an Internet junkie so I loved the fact that the ship had Wi-Fi available 24/7 no matter where we were in the world. If you didn’t bring your laptop, no worries. There were several computers available in Seabourn Square. However, 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 (or make a Skype call), 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.
The TV also used satellite to receive a number of channels including CNN (no charge). The TV also 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 wasn’t motivated I could have easily just lounged around all day long.
My favorite aspect of the TV were the info channels: from the live mapping with location, speed and weather to the information on each port of call. I was also fascinated by the ease of booking excursions with just a few clicks of the remote. And I loved watching promo videos or seeing previous ship lecturers talking about particular destinations and their history. Perfect to lull you to sleep but make you wake up smarter!
There’s no need to worry about bringing converters because the rooms 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 room are two telephones and an iPod docking station. Actually, I later read that Seabourn will loan passengers iPods or netbooks.
The first thing I did (what I do on every cruise ship or in any hotel room) was wipe down all the switches, remotes, handles and controls with an antibacterial wipe. You know what they say: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I am not immune to getting seasick but I didn’t take any pills or precautions for this cruise. In fact, I only saw one guy wearing the patch behind his ear and I didn’t see or hear of anyone getting sick. Actually, the bumpiest time for me was when we first got on the boat and I could feel the sway. It made me nervous that it was going to get bad but it was rarely bumpy. The only other time that was uncomfortable was when we made the crossing from Turkey to Greece but it was late at night and was nothing too crazy. Each restaurant has dried ginger at the entranceway as this is supposed to be a great remedy. FYI: If I was doing an ocean crossing, I would stock up on ginger, Dramamine … you name it.
The second thing I did was unpack, which is a not a normal occurrence for me since usually, I leave everything in my bag; I’m always on the go. In fact, this was the first time in years that I’d really stayed in the same place (other than my house) for seven straight nights. What a great relief it was to be able to just relax and not have to worry about schlepping bags and on top of that, still get to visit multiple destinations. It’s like a dream.
While unpacking I realized that I was almost out of clean clothes since I’d been on the road for over 10 days. I started looking at the laundry prices, realizing I had no choice but to splurge. The good news is that the laundry service prices aren’t as outrageous as the hotels I’d just been staying in. The even better news is that when I handed Marlena my laundry bag to be sent down for cleaning, she informed me that there’s a free option as well. Score! On the fifth floor, they have two small launderettes with two washers/dryers and ironing boards in each. There is no charge and they even supply the detergent. Now, that’s a beautiful thing! FYI: Like all ships, there are no irons in the rooms; they’re a fire hazard.
After throwing my laundry in, I was starving so I went up to the Seabourn Square, which I’d heard through the grapevine (Natalie), was the only place open at the time (3:30 pm). Seabourn Square is a new feature to Seabourn ships. Its 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. After getting some finger sandwiches and pastries, I registered to use the ship’s Wi-Fi (you can also buy Wi-Fi packages). 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.
READ THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
It turns out that I didn’t have to settle for the snacks at the Seabourn Square. If I’d taken the time to read my “Personal Guide To Seabourn Odyssey” — a daily newsletter filled with all the restaurant times and the day’s information including: port info, weather, currency exchange, dress code and phone numbers — I would have known that my best option for food at 3:30pm was ordering off the 24-hour room service menu.
Just to be clear, there is no charge for room service – no matter how much or how often we ordered. Natalie and I used this treat the first night; we were both exhausted and just wanted to relax and enjoy our amazing veranda. The room service folks are amazing; 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 five to 30 minutes. The five-minute orders were snack time when Natalie would call down late in the afternoon for cheese, crackers, cherries and a cookie for me. However, most meals took about 30 minutes except for breakfast since you can fill out your order card the night before and request a delivery time.
The first night, we ordered straight off the room service menu. I had prosciutto and melon, penne pasta with plum sauce and white and dark chocolate mousse for dessert. Everything was so good that I would have been quite happy to have that same meal every night. What’s crazy is that I didn’t learn until the very last day that guests can get food delivered from any of the ship’s restaurants. A special touch: Each day those menus are placed in your room; food choices change daily except the room service menu.
It would have been a shame to just order room service for dinner each night because we would have missed out meeting so many wonderful people. We met our new best friends on the ship on the very first evening on the top deck, getting ready to depart. We were scheduled to leave at 5pm but we left Istanbul an hour and 40 minutes late because six passengers were stuck in rush hour traffic, coming from the airport. NOTE: These people got really lucky and they must have booked everything (air and transfers) through Seabourn, otherwise the ship would have departed without them and they would have been responsible for getting to the next port of call. TIP: No matter what cruise you take, always arrive in your departure city a day or two early so you don’t miss the boat. Literally.
The good news about waiting is that we hung out on the deck longer than we may have otherwise and mingled. Our best friends were a character from New York City, traveling with his wife and stepdaughter and an Australian couple — we enjoyed a number of meals with both. What’s nice about being on a cruise is that there is never a bill to figure out or fight over with your new best friends.
What was also cool about being delayed is that we were able to see all the other ships depart and the coolest was observing the crew of the pilot boat make the most of their time. As they waited around, they broke out a fishing pole and made a fire on the back of their ship – talk about having fresh seafood.
There are four restaurants on the Seabourn Odyssey: The Colonnade, The Restaurant, Restaurant 2 and the open-air Patio Grill. My favorite was the Patio Grill not only because of the setting, food and casual atmosphere but the Portuguese maître d’ and his staff were so friendly and hospitable.
My other favorite was the Colonnade but it wasn’t easy to get into. Therefore, my best advice is to make dinner reservations for the restaurants as soon as possible. The most difficult for us to get into were Restaurant 2 and the Colonnade. But that only goes for dinner because there’s always room for breakfast or lunch and we never had a problem having dinner in The Restaurant, the main dining room on the fourth deck.
DINNER WITH THE CAPTAIN
We dined three times in The Restaurant; celebrity chef Charlie Palmer crafted the menu. We had dinner once with our new friends, once with Barry the cruise director (he’s been all around the world and is a really nice English bloke) and finally with the Swedish staff captain. What an honor it was to be invited to dinner with the staff captain! The two other random couples that joined us were fascinating as well.
As you can see from the picture of the captain, he’s wearing a tuxedo. The passengers on Seabourn tend to dress to kill at night as requested. Out of the seven nights we were aboard the ship, one night was designated black tie optional, three nights were casual and three were elegant casual. Elegant casual just means a jacket and button down for men. Only about half the cruisers wore a tuxedo on the black tie night.
NATALIE’S TAKE ON THE DRESS CODE
The women were dressed casual chic. For example, a pair of capris and a nice top or a maxi dress. The weather was hot so of course, many wore shorts or short summer dresses, but all were quite modest, in keeping with the elegant nature of the ship. For the black tie optional evening, some women wore elaborate gowns, while others simply wore a cocktail dress. Dinner each night was pretty formal and most women wore dresses to dinner. A wrap or pashmina is also an essential; the evenings can get cool outside and so can the air conditioning inside!
I asked countless passengers how they were enjoying the cruise and what they liked best. Everyone, with the exception of a couple with a small child, said they loved it. What everyone seemed to love best was the food; I was surprised to hear that — many of the passengers aboard the ship were wealthy (and I mean wealthy) and to hear these rich, typically high-maintenance travelers rave about cruise food was almost a miracle!
NOT FOR KIDS
Back to the couple with the small child: It was their own fault since they should have known better than to bring a child; Seabourn does not cater the younger generation. There are no kids programs whatsoever. I don’t recommend bringing young children. However, I met a group of teenagers from Texas and they loved being on the cruise so keep that in mind. There are plenty of other cruise lines that are geared towards kids but Seabourn is definitely not one of them.
Actually, I was shocked not only to see teenagers but couples in their 30s and 40s. I was expecting the crowd to be really old but it wasn’t. In fact, I read that the seven-day voyages in the Greek Isles and along the coast of Turkey carried nearly 40 percent more first-time guests than Seabourn’s average and the guests averaged 10 percent younger than the line’s norm. FYI: Most of the passengers were American but there were people from all over the world.
In addition to the ships 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. And they also serve alcohol in the small casino.
There was a fair amount of entertainment on board the ship but I really had no idea (until I later read the brochure) because each day I was in port and at night, I was usually on the opposite side of the ship where all the action was taking place.
NO CRAZY DISCO
First of all, 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 Odyssey, the venues are much smaller and more intimate. The Grand Salon hosts movie nights, cabaret performances and entertainers while the different clubs have live music and dancing.
SAMPLE OF A DAY’S ENTERTAINMENT
Here’s a scan of our first day and night’s entertainment options. The highlights were an afternoon bridge game, guest lecturer on Istanbul (5pm), after dinner dancing on two different decks, a late night (9:30pm) piano man and a comedian.
I also didn’t make it to the spa (it’s expensive). But Natalie did and here’s what she wrote about it: The Spa at Seabourn is a two-deck health spa and salon and features seven treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms and fully-equipped gym. The spa menu is extensive though the prices are a bit steep. But after a day in the hot sun, after a shore excursion, sometimes the spa is just the perfect thing; it was quiet and relaxing though nothing out of the ordinary. But back to those steep prices; when a 50-minute bamboo massages sets you back $169, I wonder just how much business the spa actually does. The Sweet Surrender package (three hours worth of treatments) runs an extraordinarily high $799. Sure, many passengers aboard the ship may be able to afford these price tags but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
There was so much to see and do during the day that I rarely hung out on the sun decks. The ship has two outdoor swimming pools and six outdoor whirlpools. One day, they opened up their unique marina that features a “sea pool” and all types of complimentary water sports.
Obviously, like all cruise ships, the Odyssey offered every kind of excursion available at each port. The best was the special outdoor concert at Efes, which was free and exclusively for Seabourn guests; we’ll get to that next week when we cover all the cruise destinations from Turkey to Greece.
BOOK YOUR SEABOURN CRUISE
To book your Seabourn Odyssey cruise, call your travel agent or Seabourn at 1-800-929-9391, or visit their website.
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