Before my boarding the Seabourn Ovation I had read from a few guests that preceded me that everything was just as it was before. I actually have seen many changes, but then again my perspective is a bit less emotional and a bit more analytical.
A Preface – The Return to Normal
As I write this Seabourn is the only cruise line operating in Greece that has…and you will like this:
Hopefully, very soon the staff will not have to wear masks.
A Second Preface – First Impressions Matter: The Seabourn Website – My Nemesis!
There is much at Seabourn that has improved, but I want to get this out of the way.
As technology becomes more sophisticated and its delivery to us becomes simpler – as in mobile telephones – and how more environmentally aware and (hopefully) responsible people become, the way products and services are delivered changes. Seabourn has embraced these concepts, which is good, but its execution really needs to be improved. Seabourn is a luxury product and, as such, it must focus more on delivering a luxury experience from first contact; not when I step foot upon the Seabourn Ovation.
Many of the frustrations are based upon a website (and a reservation system) that is deficient in so many ways and has been for a long time.
When I decided on taking this cruise, it was more about timing as I knew the itineraries. However, I wanted to see what the consumer sees on its website. Guess what? The cruise didn’t exist! That’s right, it was nowhere to be found. I let Seabourn know about the glitch and checked back two weeks later and it still did not exist. (I believe I know why the delays, but that is not the purpose of this article.)
As a travel agent, I find this mind-boggling. As a consumer it tells me that the cruise isn’t available…or I can’t share the cruise I know I am going on with friends and family. Along those lines, Seabourn’s lack of use of .jpg files for its itinerary maps is frustrating as they cannot readily be shared and the efforts to have an interactive experience (assuming your cruise exists online) are confusing and frustrating.
But more frustrating is Guest Registration. The number of times I attempted to complete my registration only to run into a notice that Seabourn is having a technical issue was, frankly, mindboggling. It literally took to using two different browsers, Chrome and Edge, to complete the tasks over a period of days.
Another niggle is that if you are a Seabourn Club member it may not remember your Preference for your Club Benefits…at least so that you can see them. It caused me to reenter them a few times until I gave up…though I did see the appropriate discount on my shore excursions later in my pre-cruise process…only to be told onboard I was charged the non-discounted amounts and my other preferences were not in the system either. Ugh.
There is also a confusing back-and-forth between reading information on shore excursions and booking them. Once you find the logic and procedure it works, but it should be better. However, this is much better than the old system…and far superior to ticking off shore excursions and bringing them to Seabourn Square.
So while the Seabourn Source app is a great new feature, the website seems to be relegated to a five-year-old bad site that has become more broken over time.
Now for the good stuff (in no particular order…It’ll keep you reading!)
The Elimination of Physical Cruise Documents
Oh, the joy so many have had when their cruise documents (along with Goldring Travel gifts and swag) appeared in their mailbox. (Heck, I remember being excited when the TV Guide was delivered and I could plan out my programs for the coming week because if I missed them, they were gone forever…until the VCR was invented.) But alas over time, with improved technologies, the actual need for paper cruise documents reduced and then were totally eliminated. Covid made sure the new way was implemented sooner than later.
In actual fact, many of my longtime Seabourn clients no longer wanted me to send them their cruise documents when they went from a sort of travel wallet to a small portfolio to a larger, heavier, more cumbersome one that was poorly designed by someone to be “more luxurious”. So I had literally dozens of unsent cruise document packages sitting in my office with no other possible use for them.
Cruise documents have been replaced with a combination of an online account through the Seabourn website and the new Seabourn Source app; a really wonderful multiuse application that is designed (with upgrades and improvements coming) to deliver an integrated experience. More on this below.
But not to worry, you still have the ability to print out paper documents and luggage tags. And the benefit to these printed documents is that if you print them out close to your departure it integrates your Shore Excursions and any suite changes; making them more useful.
Another interesting change is that your baggage tags, if you print them out, also serve as your disembarkation tags, so you are to leave them on your luggage. Nice. How does Seabourn do this? As part of the Guest Registration process it asks you for your disembarkation information (flights, hotels, etc.) so you have a more integrated experience and you don’t have to drop off documents at Seabourn Square a few days before departure (never a pleasant reminder you are about to get kicked off the ship!). (BTW, it says “Fold Here First” in two places…it doesn’t matter which of those you choose, but it should corrected. Little things matter.)
What I do hope is continued/reinstated is the issuance of nice multi-use Seabourn luggage tags. They can be given as pillow gifts during one’s cruise and I think many do enjoy a reminder of Seabourn no matter when or where they travel.
As I was settling into my suite my first challenge was to get set up with the internet. Here is a big change; one that I have been fighting to have implemented for years: Included Internet!
If you are in a standard Seabourn Suite you are now given unlimited internet access for one device at a good, but not the fastest, speed. (It is more than adequate for emails, social media posts, etc.) If you are in a Penthouse or better you are given high-speed internet access for up to four devices where you can watch videos, make internet telephone calls, etc.
The question became, “How the heck do I sign on?”. In the Guest Book which has your personalized stationery, etc. there are instructions that say, as they have for years, to do it one way. But the instructions are incorrect and to be updated. The way it actually works is you go to internet.seabourn.com on your device, log in with your Seabourn account as you would on the regular website and you are online…and don’t have to keep logging in. A great improvement initially made frustrating by a piece of paper!
The first change is that those little tickets you received, and still do, are no longer used or collected by the tour operators. All you do is present your key card for scanning. A nice touch.
The other thing I have noticed is that there are more active, or somewhat active, tours than in the past. With a desire to draw more youthful in age and/or lifestyle toward Seabourn, this is something I hope expands even further…though I note that the uptake for these tours was fairly limited.
I am hoping Seabourn goes with more of an “If we build it they will come” long-term approach rather than a short-term concern about taking a loss on a less than enthusiastic sign up for a particular tour.
“Eggs & Ocean”
I am confident my friend and, more importantly, genius chef and creator of Earth & Ocean, Chef Tony Egger, will not be happy with my name (actually stolen from the crew) of the new breakfast venue. It is, honestly, my favorite place for breakfast.
It arises out of two things: Covid requiring more distancing and the previous location of the healthy option breakfast being relegated to the unused veranda behind the The Grill by Thomas Keller causing so many good options to be hidden and, thus, unused.
Poolside, there are many wonderful healthy, semi-healthy, and just plain delicious options to choose from while dining al fresco including a different tagine of egg “something” that not only looks but tastes amazing. Coupled with various quiche, fresh fruit yogurt drinks, a plethora of cereal and dried fruit/nut options, and more, I think the variety and ambiance are far superior to the Colonnade.
One thing is for certain: If this breakfast venue is given a name it will be embraced by more people.
Seabourn Square Coffee Mugs
One of my pet peeves was Seabourn’s use of paper cups in the Seabourn Square for takeaway coffee. It was both environmentally bad and I could never figure why Seabourn would invest in roasting its own coffee only to relegate it to paper cups. Well, those days are over!
Seabourn Square now has full-size ceramic faux paper cups with silicone lids that are not only reusable, but allow your hot coffee to be truly enjoyed…hot.
The bar waiters now have small iPad-like devices to enter your drink orders into. They, as in most land-based bars and restaurants, are linked to a computer that prints out drink orders for the bartender. This is so much more efficient for everyone…including those waiting for their drinks!
One niggle, as I mentioned when reviewing Windstar’s Star Breeze, I don’t like being a number in a computer. It would be great if the bar waiter took my order without the iPad and then entered the order out of my site. It’s a little thing, but makes my interaction more human.
The Grill by Thomas Keller
I know some love it and others hate it. But one thing that everyone can agree on is that more diversity of offerings is a good thing. And there are.
Now there are upgraded crudite and, more importantly, a variety of “Dailies” meaning more options for starters and main courses.
But let’s face it: It all comes down to the Sundae in the end!
No Muster Drill
No longer do you need to gather in the Main Restaurant, with or without your life jacket, for a boring demonstration and lecture that everyone ignored anyway. Now, when you turn your television on it automatically plays a safety video. Once it is completed you go to your designated muster station (mine was The Club), a crew member scans your card, and you are done.
Observations Bar Tapas and The Club Gourmet Bites
A very nice upgrade is the pre-dinner offerings. Gone are the passed uninspired canapes! In their place are tapas in the Observation Bar and freshly prepared gourmet bites in The Club…served with cloth napkins rather than paper ones.
Seabourn’s President, Josh Leibowitz
There is both an art and a science to implementing new items and concepts to an already excellent product; you know, like Seabourn. The focus is on improving and enhancing rather than changing and Seabourn is doing a great job with this.
What I keep hearing onboard is that Seabourn’s new(ish) president, Josh Leibowitz, is diving into every aspect of Seabourn from engine room to dining room; speaking with everyone onboard focusing more on staff and crew and less on the officers. It is fostering a positivity and enthusiasm that had been missing for years.
I am confident this new, truly appreciated, approach is going to lead to many subtle (and probably a few not so subtle) enhancements to the Seabourn onboard product.
Now if Josh can fix the consumer website and reservation system!
Next up: Travel stuff! You know: The things that inspire you to TRAVEL!