As I started the second week of my cruise on the Seabourn Ovation I was, to be honest, a bit concerned that the itinerary was a bit repetitious and that returning to Piraeus in the middle would be a wasted day. I was, thankfully, wrong! (Of course, the fact that my daughter, Devin, would be joining me for the second week most certainly assured it would be fun.)
Here are my articles so far:
While I waited outside the terminal for Devin to arrive, I saw the Celebrity Apex (I will be at her naming ceremony in Miami on November 2, 2021). My first impressions are that she is both massive and classy. I definitely need to get onboard to understand her. Also nearby was the Norwegian Jade. I could instantly see the far lesser quality of the ship from construction to aesthetics; reconfirming my NCL = NOPE.
My daughter arrived without any issues with late flights or lost luggage (Is this really a Goldring travel story?) and after she had her COVID-19 test we were quickly onboard and settled in. We decided on making the day a Sea Day rather than walking around Piraeus or revisit Athens.
Note: Devin is vegan (aka “A pain in the ass when dining anywhere other than New York City”). Seabourn does a good job in making vegan options available and some of the options are delicious (I really like the vegan chili wraps, fruit smoothies, and a few other offerings in the morning at “Eggs & Ocean”), but some just didn’t hit the mark for a young New Yorker as well as one might wish for. But nobody can say there aren’t enough good options; and Devin was more than content.
On Devin’s first evening we went to the bar at the Grill by Thomas Keller. It was here she started to identify some of the elements of the Seabourn Ovation that she was involved with and, amusingly, some of the motivations for her decisions/input. It was also fun that she was, as I did, tending bar during her summer break from her master’s program at Columbia University, and, like me, let’s just say her bar isn’t the fanciest. So as we bantered with Alexandro, the bartender, about technique and ingredients…and how some of them simply did not exist in her “establishment”. Fun!
As our first day was a Sea Day (OK, it was our second Sea Day) we decided on using The Retreat. We were the only people there other than one family that had two cabanas. It was a relaxing day where we enjoyed our bottle of Bollinger champagne which I paired with a couple of orders of caviar and just chilled out. There is a very nice menu for snacks and lunches as well as some delicious cocktails.
I thought it would be nice for Devin to have a massage in The Retreat as you do receive a discount for same. Curiously, when her massage time approached I saw staff removing lounge chairs, etc. in front of the massage cabana. Why? Because – unbeknownst to me – hardly anyone takes their Retreat-related massage in the Retreat. Huh? I thought the idea of a breeze/fresh air massage (think on the beach) would be attractive to guests. Maybe not? Maybe it needs to be presented differently? Dunno.
I still think each cabana should have a call button to summon staff rather than the staff circulating or you getting up to request something. Such a simple thing would make all the difference. I also think the cheezy flip-flops should be replaced with classy Seabourn: The Retreat t-shirts as a nice memento/marketing ploy, but figure Seabourn has a lifetime supply of them so they are here to stay.
This is definitely an underutilized space (I have had private cocktail parties there when hosting on a Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise) that needs something more to have it more attractive for guests.
I bought Devin “Seabourn Bear” during my 2003 cruise on the Seabourn Spirit. I thought it would be fun to buy Devin a new Seabourn bear (not Bear!) for this cruise. I went to the shop and asked as none were displayed. And there they were two sizes locked away in a floor cabinet. What?! And if you wanted any Seabourn logo anything you were relegated to a Seabourn polo shirt. Seabourn has to force the contractor of the shop to market Seabourn; not just its newly expanded uber-expensive watch collection. So clearly I was not impressed when I was told the reason the bears were locked away was because there was no space to display them. Geez.
Our first night at sea was Formal Night and we were invited to join Captain Stig Betten. I kept Captain Stig’s stature and shy manner from Devin because, well, “Stig Betten” is about as good a pirate name as one can have. And then she met this soft, quiet and kind man. That, however, was not the only disappointment of our dinner. Oh, the service and cuisine were great. It was some of our tablemates. Cost of doing business, I guess.
Next up was Paphos, Cyprus and my hike to the beautiful Avakas Gorge. While I am pleased that Seabourn is making more active shore excursions available they really need to be curated by someone who knows what they are doing. Our hike was about five miles in 100+ degree heat with 60% humidity so while I was happy (and had a lot of water with me in my Camelbak while only one bottle of water was supplied to others before the hike and one after) it was an unnecessary challenge for the others. The guide explained that Seabourn “required” a big bus for the transport, but literally, every other company going to the Gorge used six-passenger Jeeps. Why? Because the bus was too large and heavy to navigate or use the dirt roads; hence the five-mile hike. It really put the health of some of the guests at risk.
But the Avakas Gorge was beautiful and I really enjoyed getting a bit of a workout after nine days of Seabourn and other culinary experiences!
After the hike, we stopped at a nice outdoor taverna for a cold beer or soft drink. But before we got there you know where we stopped. C’mon you know. Yup, once again there was a church. (At least this one had a nice view of the ocean.) Can’t there please be a “No Church” policy for at least nature and hiking tours???
My daughter not only thanked me for not making her go on that hike, but for the 90-minute massage I arranged for her while I was away. As a short day (we departed Paphos at 2:30 PM) there really wasn’t time to explore (not that there was much to anyway), but it was a great time for a nap.
And this is where some things never change. I walked into the suite to see this…just as I have done on pretty much every cruise Devin has been on since she was three. I couldn’t stop laughing, reminiscing, and feeling grateful all at the same time.
Dinner was at Earth & Ocean and even though I asked for smaller portions you know that didn’t happen. What did happen was my continued amazement not only at the creativity of Chef Tony Egger, but how his team consistently delivers his creations flawlessly.
It was now time for a Beach Day at Rhodes, Greece. We walked about 15 minutes on the pierside and across a parking lot to Elli Beach. We paid 30 euros for two oceanfront lounges and an umbrella. Shortly thereafter the very creative and tasty (and expensive) cocktails began to flow with the occasional swim in the ocean. A great morning!
The heat once off the beach was oppressive so we spent little time roaming the nearby Old Town and headed straight for the wonderful little restaurant I ate at the week prior. It was, again, excellent; especially the mussels.
Santorini, Greece was next and what a great day! How could you not have a great day in Santorini, especially when there were no crowds. It was a great day of spoiling my daughter and enjoying it in person. We shopped. And then had a cocktail overlooking the caldera.
I have a knack for wandering and saying “This place!” when it comes to restaurants. I generally don’t go with what some reviewer, whether professional or TripAdvisor. And this time I found a great place for cocktails, but more importantly, baklava.
And then we shopped some more. And then it was time for lunch…and it is a special experience dining high above in Thira looking down to the water!
I saw IDOL and contemplated it for lunch. It looked a bit too trendy for me, but then I looked at its wine list. THIS PLACE!
Santorini as some amazing wines and they are produced in such small quantities that they almost never reach the United States and many never leave the island. I ordered a bottle of Santos 2016 Assyrtiko Grande Reserve and didn’t care it was overpriced. It was an experience worthwhile.
What made it even better was not only sharing it with my daughter and that view but the food and presentation! Delicious bread with amazing olives and olive oil, hummus, grilled sardines, and grilled octopus.
Yes, it was so good and our server was so kind and happy that I made a reservation for our sunset dinner. And that did not disappoint! But first the sunset!
I chose Anhydrous Afoura for our wine which is more complex and a more traditional Santorini wine. As much as we enjoyed our wine at lunch, this one was perfect for the moment! Oh, yes, and then there was the food. Having had a big lunch, we went a bit lighter for dinner. A gorgeous Greek salad (feta on the side)and a beautiful ceviche followed by the best tagliatelle outside of Italy and a fantastic sea bass.
And then a ride down the cable car looking at Santorini lit up at night. The perfect end to a fantastic day!
Spetses, Greece was our last stop. The combination of there not much being there beyond a couple of streets curiously filled with rather high-end shops and small pebble beach (with a commercial backdrop) along with 100+ degree heat I didn’t find it terribly compelling.
So it was back on the ship for lunch at Sushi
and an afternoon at The Retreat I got sad for this fourteen days of Seabourn Ovation bliss was ending.
The Crew Farewell interrupted my packing with the Guest Services Team seeing me on Deck 11 across from them sending me signals and making me laugh. So appreciated.
It was then time for our last cocktails at the TK Bar and then dinner at Sushi.
And then THE text came in. You thought my trip would end without some travel issue, did you?
United Airlines texted me that Devin’s flight the next day would be delayed over 7 hours due to crew shortage issues. Unlike my ordeal with American Airlines where they didn’t advise me of the issue and then stranded me, one call to United Airlines (thank you Seabourn’s greatly improved internet) and Devin was rebooked onto…yes…an American Airlines flight that left at about the same time she was originally departing. Things happen in travel; especially with Covid-19. Having flexibility and a good company to work with makes all the difference!
While we both arrived close to on time and with our luggage, just as a point of interest, I was not upgraded on my Athens to Washington, D.C. flight so I was sitting in Premium Economy. It is, to me, well worth the couple of hundred dollar upgrade from economy. My meal, as when I flew Polaris (Business Class) was served all at once and, to be honest, it was just as good (bad?).
Lower your inflight expectations!
My time on the Seabourn Ovation showed me, better “reestablished”, that Seabourn can and does deliver a best-in-class luxury travel product; not merely a cruise product. Yes, Seabourn’s “A-Team” was onboard. Yes, the Seabourn Ovation was operating at less than 50% capacity. But the way the officers, staff, and crew got themselves and their systems together after 1.5 years of being out of operation so that they could deliver that product was truly inspirational.
But then to have ever-changing protocols, amped up guests with emotional and extraordinary expectations, and so many logistical challenges and still deliver an A+ experience was awe-inspiring.
In my earlier articles I documented a number of onboard improvements from the internet to bar service to my new favorite venue for breakfast that I lovingly call “Eggs & Ocean”, the Seabourn Source app, and more. Seabourn’s development and execution of these improvements during these challenging times is truly remarkable. I was expecting a bit of Seabourn-Lite, but received Seabourn++.
I also have to give credit to Tim Littley, who is in charge of Deployment. Somehow he was able to put together an All Greek itinerary that was, over the 14 days, diverse, interesting, and had something for everyone. My expectations were truly exceeded.
But all is not perfect.
Shore Excursions need to be curated by people that know what they are doing and understand what a Seabourn (rather than Holland America or Princess) shore experience must be. It is not just about the size of the bus or handing out a bottle of water. And it is even more than assuring a church is not included on every tour. The tours must be meaningful, enriching (or fun), and safe.
Speaking of enriching, Andrew Weil has nothing to do with the tours or the Spa. I don’t know of anyone that finds an association with him to be positive. Pay him off if there is a marketing contact and get rid of this sore point.
The Gift Shop must have more Seabourn logowear.
The Retreat needs tweaks such as a call button and caviar on the menu. And a proper massage experience especially since it markets a discount on a massage if you book The Retreat.
Last, but not least, Seabourn must seriously improve its Pre-Cruise Experience. From a terrible website to consistent issues with Seabourn Air to woeful delays in processing credits and payments to nonsensical marketing ploys on canceled cruises, it is becoming harder and harder for me to believe the disconnect from the onboard Seabourn Experience.
In short, regardless of any pre-cruise issues, once onboard the Seabourn Ovation team nailed it. I could not be more impressed and proud of the officers, staff, and crew…and the ship! It was truly an honor, privilege, and, honestly, a relief to be back truly enjoying a wonderful Seabourn Experience.