The continued delay of Seabourn Venture, first announced in 2018, is significant news in the luxury cruise and expedition market. After weighing the possibility of my article being seen as “sour grapes” (after Josh Leibowitz, Seabourn’s president blacklisted me apparently for speaking the truth and his not wanting to hear it) versus being true to what I do, who I am, and not let anything intimidate or improperly change my course, I decided to discuss this disappointing news.
Right upfront: It is not unusual for new ships to be delayed; especially in the times of Covid-19. But how and why the delays have happened, and how the guests booked on the delayed sailings are treated, well that is another story.
There is no question that I hold Seabourn to a higher standard than Ritz-Carlton Yachts, which is continually a mess for a number of reasons. Seabourn is not a startup that took a bunch of hoteliers and called them a cruise line. Seabourn did not make a decision to have a one-off ship built at a shipyard that had no real shipbuilding experience. Seabourn was, for better or worse (and you know I think for the worse), brought into Holland America Group which in turn is part of Carnival Corp., behemoths in the cruise industry. With that, Seabourn and its higher-ups have decades of shipbuilding and cruise experience. It is with this base that I view Seabourn’s conduct and failures regarding the Seabourn Venture.
Let’s start at the end (at least the end for now). There is just something so unethical about announcing the further delay of the Seabourn Venture on February 7, 2022, essentially one month after the final payments were due (January 10, 2022) for the now four-time delayed Inaugural sailing. (Of course, there are many that have been paid in full or close to full for many more months.)
Why? Because Seabourn has clearly known for months that the Seabourn Venture wouldn’t be delivered on time for its April Inaugural Cruise. How do I know this? It is pretty simple.
First, the delay is not a couple of weeks, but three months. This is not about a rumor that the submarines may be delayed. (The ship would sail without them.) It is because some significant things are not going to be completed in time and there is a known possible further delay in that delayed schedule to get those things done.
I am also concerned, though admittedly pure speculation, that something in the design of some system needs to be redesigned. This is fairly common in custom shipbuilding. Regardless of the reason, Seabourn has known of the delay for months…probably many months.
Second, I have seen photographs over the past months of the Seabourn Venture and, having a good bit of shipbuilding knowledge from my years building, managing superyachts and running a shipyard, and being a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME), I could readily see that the ship would never be ready for April 2022.
So why didn’t I say anything publicly? Because I was repeatedly assured that the ship would be delivered on time by multiple Seabourn sources…or did I? In actuality, when I went back and looked at the words without my previous (now admitted) rose-colored glasses, there was never an affirmative “It will be on time”, but rather a more innocuous phrase such as there is no information about any delays.
So now let’s get back to the Seabourn Pre-Cruise Guest Experience. In its simplest terms, Seabourn grabbed the guest’s (purchaser’s) money and only then told them that the product they just purchased isn’t available. And it is not only about the ship being available, but also the itinerary.
But making that Seabourn Pre-Cruise Guest Experience worse, let us not forget about all the air and hotel arrangements that were made as time was drawing nearer to the sailing date, with limited airlift – especially business class – from the end of the expedition. I experienced my own client’s nervousness about these issues and resent that it was all so unnecessary!
Not being done, Seabourn is pulling the same “stuff” it pulled in the past – in what appears to me to be a way to slow down the bleeding of cash: It is automatically rebooking all of those on at least the Inaugural canceled sailing into fourth alleged Inaugural sailing. As I said to Seabourn many times in the past, my clients wanted to go on (1) that particular cruise; (2) at that particular time; (3) they may well already have other plans for the new dates; and, (4) they may not have the luxury of sufficient cash to let Seabourn hold their funds while they want to book an alternative to the canceled cruise they prefer. Hence, it is almost like holding them hostage…at least until all the paperwork is completed and they can then cancel their now unwanted cruise. (The solution could have been simple: Make bookings for each guest that do not need to be deposited for X days and give the guest the option of transferring their funds to the new sailing, while not preventing them from immediately canceling their current booking.)
But another issue now arises: With the delays, the Seabourn Venture, when it finally is delivered, will already be a relatively “old” ship with not a single bell or whistle that isn’t present on other ships. And there is only so much that a particular interior design and cuisine can do to push a ship to the top of the expedition ship pile.
Since the announcement of the Seabourn Venture a number of other ships have not only been announced, but are sailing, that are equally or more sophisticated and have the same or more expedition amenities. And, possibly more importantly, a now seasoned staff of loyal experienced expedition team members; some of which worked with Seabourn until it curtailed the Seabourn Quest’s expedition itineraries in 2019-2020. For example:
And there are many more fairly new ship expedition options, including more luxury to more expedition, ranging from Silversea to Ponant to Hurtigruten to…well you get the idea.
To be sure, I am not saying that the Seabourn Venture and her sister ship, Seabourn Pursuit, won’t be good ships (time will tell), but I am saying, “They ain’t that special anymore.”
And the word “SPECIAL” brings me back to the issue of Seabourn, what its guests are entitled to, and Seabourn’s lack of transparency/manipulation of guest funds. It is without question that Seabourn has lost the trust of many and after one’s trust is lost, there goes your credibility.
Seabourn’s guests trusted Seabourn to deliver a Pre-Cruise Experience that mirrors its historical onboard experience. Between the lack of transparency (not only regarding the delivery of the Seabourn Venture, but also with how Covid was/is handled on its ships as another example) and various troublesome pricing schemes/promotions), the intentional tying up of guest funds and the intentional withholding of the delay so that guests would pay in more of their money, the degradation of what was once a hallmark of Seabourn is – personally – disheartening.
What follows on is a loss of loyalty. And, to be sure, there are those who (1) are going to be loyalists no matter what regardless of facts and logic, (2) have too many days vested and are nearing a milestone award, and (3) those that have a lot of Future Cruise Credits (including 10-25% bonuses) to spend. But that only helps fill ships in the very short term.
With the cache of the Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit being so diminished, combined with so many new expedition ships coming on board with equal or better amenities, I think Seabourn needs to return to transparency and the high levels of customer service it once prided itself on.
The Seabourn Venture, which I have followed with an enthusiastic heart from the beginning, deserves better.
The Seabourn guest deserves better.
The cruise industry deserves better.
I truly hope and desire that the Seabourn Venture sails in July 2022 and it is not another misrepresented delay of a shorter duration than Seabourn really knows it will be…in what I can only see as a ploy to keep booked guests interested…like a bad date stringing his/her suitor along.