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Seabourn Odyssey vs. Silversea Silver Spirit – Reality and Fair Comparison

I am conflicted.  I want Seabourn to have stiff competition, not just for marketshare, but for what a luxury product is supposed to be.  “Increases the Stakes”, “Keeping Them Honest”, “Refining the Luxury Cruise Experience” or whatever you want to call it.  However, calling it as I see it, Silversea is failing miserably with the Silversea Silver Spirit.

As I did when the Silver Spirit undertook its Maiden Voyage and Maiden Transatlantic cruises I have scoured the internet (and emails from my clients) for some insights into the Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise and how she is performing.  (I have looked for anyone posting from Silversea’s Inaugural Cruise and I cannot find much…just some casual comment on Cruise Critic that nothing special has been happening.)

The differences in comments have been striking…and I am not just talking about the Hardware, but the Software. 

The comments about the Silversea Silver Spirit have been basically that the ship is OK, but nothing special and has quite a number of shortcomings.  They include Suites that are too narrow (ex. you have to climb over the bed to get to the bathroom if the vanity is in use) and are not suited well for those with physical challenges (ex. besides being narrow, a walker doesn’t fit through the door and cannot be maneuvered around the suite).  The Bathroom has vessel sinks that cannot be filled with water and which prevent toiletries being kept on the countertop.  In the public areas, the Spa is largely unisex and the area for exercise classes is so small no more than 6 people can participate.  The Main Show Lounge is tightly designed (the Captain’s Cocktail Party has to be split into two events), incredibly has no bar service and has no real accommodation for the physically challenged.  There are only six computers for internet access provided. The Japanese and Le Champagne Restaurants are extra cost…and significantly at that ($80 for a couple and $60-400 a couple, respectively.)  And the list goes on.

The Seabourn Odyssey has a few minor quirks (like the televisions in the suites are too small for some) and some cannot find a good home for their laptops, and the showers are a bit tight if you are larger, but on the hardware side there aren’t many complaints.  With great and much larger Spa and Main Lounge areas (a couple of support poles aside) and no additional cost alternative dining (all are complimentary), and the very well received Seabourn Square, it seems the Seabourn Odyssey is a significantly superior piece of Hardware.

Note:  Both ships have some complaints about less then sufficient sound insulation in certain suites (Deck 7 under the pool on the Seabourn Odyssey and near the Pool Deck and Lounges on the Silversea Silver Spirit).

But, as I say, the Software (people and amenities) are generally more important than the Hardware.  And here it seems that Seabourn has truly overwhelmed Silversea.

It was noted during the Silversea Silver Spirit Maiden Voyage that the guests (many of whom were not too happy) were told it was actually their privilege to be on the cruise and other than luggage tags really received nothing…not even a celebration.  The Maiden Transatlantic was treated the same way.  Reports are that, to date, the Inaugural Cruise is similarly low-key and not reflective of appreciating the guests.  It also seems that Silversea engaged in minimal, if any, pre-cruise training for many of the staff.  While things have reportedly improved significantly, there is a difference between “growing pains” and having guests virtually train the staff.  .  I just don’t know where to go with this.  If Silversea isn’t taking care of its guests at the start, I cannot imagine it is going to get better down the road.

With the qualification that the Seabourn Odyssey has been sailing for about six months now, I have been reading many posts and waiting for the shoe to drop.  Things cannot be that good for that long, can they?  I mean over the past four days the guests have been “rocking and rolling” through seriously rough Pacific Ocean storms so I figured the posts would be reflecting some crankiness.  What was I thinking?!  After just over three weeks, I have yet to read of any significant complaint. 

More importantly, the reports the Silversea Silver Spirit have pretty much been limited to this drinking or eating venue is great, or the close circle of friends are fun (or for two couples, they were treated royally by the Captain and staff), the experience seems to be rather empty; not fulfilling in any cultural or intellectual way.  Other than an occasional comment about how a special order dish was excellent or the “meat on a stone” dining venue is popular, not much in the way of comment that the guests have been wowed exist.

In contrast, the details of the Seabourn Odyssey’s great lecturers, interesting discussion groups, outstanding Guest Speakers, varied and unique entertainers and outstanding meals has been non-stop.  (There was one post about some undercooked penne, but that was by the same person who complained his personal hot sauce was missing… al dente anyone?).  One of my clients sailing on the Full World Cruise wrote this past Saturday (gently edited):

Jan. 23, 2010
We are on our way to Hawaii but, at this moment at least, it cannot be said that the Pacific Ocean deserves its name. The series of storms that battered California with high winds and heavy rain have roiled the sea with swells 15 to 20-feet high tossing the Odyssey around in every direction. Everyone will be happy to have some relief from these rough seas. We reach Nawiliwili, Kauai on the 26th.

Jottings from [DW] – My general impressions after the first two weeks of our journey: We’ve been planning this trip for nearly two years and, as most would agree, expectations sometimes have a way of exceeding reality. In this case, however, the cruise is even better than we anticipated! When I say they’ll have to extract me from this life with a crowbar, I’m not kidding. I therefore offer my top ten reasons for cruising the world:

1) The ship. The Seabourn Odyssey is brand new, stunning and efficient.
2) Seabourn Square, on the 7th deck. It’s the heartbeat of the ship – lattes 24/7, staff assistance 24/7, extensive computer WiFi setup, conversation nooks everywhere.
3) Shore excursions. Fabulous treasures to see and experience. Just sign up and show up.
4) The food. What can I say? Wonderful! Want lobster for every meal? No problem.
5) Our veranda – we sit outside in our robes and watch and world and whales go by.
6) Housekeeping 24/7. Suites cleaned twice daily.
7) New friends. Interesting, well-traveled people, most with a great sense of humor.
8)The great catalog of activities for every taste or deliciously-honored leisure.
9) Popcorn at 1:00 a.m. No problem.
10) Spending uninterrupted time with my favorite spouse – priceless!

[DH’s] impressions:

This trip was a very good idea. Although photographs of the various features of the ship accurately depict its places and spaces, the Odyssey is a much more than what appears on the screen. All of the spaces on the ship are well-designed, beautifully appointed and comfortable, but when all this is complimented by an attentive, friendly and responsive staff, the result is much more than we imagined it would be. It’s simply a very inviting, comfortable place to be.  We I have particularly enjoyed presentations by guest lecturers and demonstrations by chefs from around the world. The evening entertainment is varied and first rate.

A blogger writes, with great detail on most days.  With the ship rocking due to the storm and being rushed for an event, she wrote, “[W]e had to get ready in a hurry – whilst eating our early evening caviar and drinking champagne, so you can imagine how difficult that can be on a rolling yacht!! Needless to say we managed very well -practice makes perfect!!

So whether it be the complimentary caviar and champagne every evening or popcorn at 1:00 a.m., how well the ship functions and flows, or the incredible cuisine, what I am reading and hearing is that the larger luxury ship experience on the Seabourn Odyssey is, in fact, a true, refined and multi-faceted luxury experience while the Silversea Silver Spirit is not only nothing special, but chances are you won’t even receive the message that you are special.

There is a lot of great information on various threads on The Gold Standard Forum. 

If you want to follow the Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise, check it out here.

If you want to read comments about the Silversea Silver Spirit you can read them here,  here and here.

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