Seabourn Sojourn in Alaska – Part II (Calm Seas, Great Views, but a Rough Start)

This being my third cruise in Alaska (the first being on Regent Seven Seas and the second being on Silversea) and only months after my Seabourn Quest cruise in Antarctica I have wondered if the Seabourn experience in Alaska could make me go WOW.  I mean can this stuff become ordinary?  Are there really differences between the cruise experiences that are delivered?  I will try to answer these questions and more during my journey on the Seabourn Sojourn.

The second best place to cruise the Inside Passage
 on the Seabourn Sojourn.
The best:  The Penthouse Spa Suite!

This cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn is a bit different in that it takes 12 days to cruise from Vancouver, Canada to Seward, Alaska when most every other cruise makes the journey in only seven days.  It most certainly allows you to really take in the scenery, decompress and all but eliminate the frenetic “What are we doing tomorrow?” normally encountered on shorter cruises where everything is packed in.

I am also very fortunate to be taking in the magnificent scenery from a Penthouse Spa Suite with its wall of glass and huge balcony that overlooks the ship’s wash.  My office could not be better…as long as I don’t get too distracted!

Just part of the view from the Seabourn Sojourn’s
Penthouse Spa Suite

One quirk in this sailing is it is a Wellness in the Wilderness Cruise with Dr. Andrew Weil.  Honestly this is not exactly my cup of tea…’er I mean whisky. So will my search for Wow! be consumed by Whaaaat?  

I also noticed that while I know Captain Hamish Elliott and his wife, Gail, the head barman, Juan, a number of the Seabourn Ventures team from the Seabourn Quest and Seabourn Encore and a host of others, there are many new faces and lesser experienced crew.  (Seabourn has a new pin system that identifies the staff that has been onboard for significant periods of time.) Nonetheless, each time I turned around there was a crew member or staff that remembers me from one or more of my Seabourn cruises. (They included one Seabourn Ventures members who said, “I remember you from the Encore in Indonesia.  You were the one kayaking with a beer!)
After settling into my suite it was time for the sailaway.  I immediately could tell that there were not many Seabourn Club members onboard; eventually being told it was only 25%…highly unusual for so few prior Seabourn guest to be sailing.  But as I tend to keep more to myself I was OK with that.  A champagne toast, we set sail and I headed back to my suite to enjoy the wide open views the Penthouse Spa Suite affords.
Dinner was at The Grill by Thomas Keller and, of course, I had the chicken.  The consistency of the TK Grill is remarkable…and comforting.  After just having been on the Seabourn Ovation, the intimacy of the TK Grill on the Seabourn Sojourn was actually quite welcoming even though the hostess didn’t know me and was definitely saw herself more as a gatekeeper than a hostess.
After dinner drinks in the Observation Lounge was another thing.  The bartender, Artem, and I just hit it off and there was quite a bit of banter in his Scottish and my faux Scottish accents.  I am feeling at home.
With most of the next day’s activities focused on “wellness” I thought I would take it slow and easy…and catch up on some work after an early breakfast.  Unfortunately, I did find the service in the Colonnade shockingly inconsistent; especially since it was relatively quiet in the al fresco area.  I could not even flag down a supervisor as none of them ventured outside while I struggled to simple secure my French press and two poached eggs. The problem was evident:  The staff were young, enthusiastic and willing, but they were not properly trained.  This, unfortunately, would be more of the rule than the exception in the Colonnade for the first few days.

Fortunately my poached eggs were perfect as was my coffee.

Counterbalancing that was a great surprise, Seabourn’s head of culinary operations, Chef Rajat Adhikary, was onboard for a few days.  Chef Raj and I have a friendship that goes back to the old days of Seabourn when neither of us had gray hair and it is always special seeing him.  He insisted on making me something special, but I – as always – declined. 

Peacefulness re-found me in the forward hot tub where the views as we sailed the lower portion of the Inside Passage as we slowly cruised were just fantastic. But the views from the Penthouse Spa Suite were even better, as there was time to see everything as it faded into the distance rather than merely pass me by.

I was invited to an “exclusive” galley tour that afternoon.  As the Seabourn Sojourn has a new executive chef, Claudio Notobartolo, I thought I would at least stop by to say hello.  Well, it seems that myself and one other person showed up, of the twenty two invited, so it was truly an exclusive tour.  As we were strolling through the galley one of the sous chefs, Mahesh, came over to say hello, surprising Chef Claudio.  But that was nothing compared to his expression when his boss, Chef Rajat came over and gave me a hug.  The look on his face was priceless.
Once again Chef Rajat insisted that he would cook something special for me and we would enjoy it on the Penthouse Spa suite balcony.  (We reminisced how he and Seabourn’s former head of culinary operations, Bjoern Wassmuth, created an evening of canapes in the same area when the Seabourn Sojourn had its Garden Villas.)  Raj said to leave it to him…and so I did.
Surprisingly the second night of the cruise was the formal night.  I was invited to dine with the Hotel Director, Jason Gelineau.  It was a bit of an awkward table as it was dominated by two couples that knew each other and knew little of class or elegance.  After offending the sixth guest with some ignorant comments, one “gentleman” ordered an expensive bottle of red wine…and then promptly pretty much shoved the cork up his nose trying to impress those at the table. (There are only two reasons to check a wine’s cork:  to assure the wine’s cork matched the label and to see if the cork has failed. Smelling it does nothing.)  He then proceeded to order four lobster tails and, forgetting the horrific pairing, proceeded to eat them with his fingers.  OMG…and new to Seabourn.
Clearly needing a drink after dinner, and a bit of humor, I headed to the Observation Lounge and Artem took good care of me.
Would our third day onboard be more Seabourn-esque.  Yes.  Yes it would!

We would spend the day in Misty Fjords also known as Rudyerd Bay.  With the temperatures rising into the 80’s it was a perfect time to hangout in the forward hot tub and on the Penthouse Spa Suite balcony as we watched the Seabourn Ventures teams head out in kayaks and zodiacs. 

On this cruise there were many “healthy” culinary options that some enjoyed, but honestly I could not get my head around many of them.  Others truly enjoyed the Well Being experience.  While I could walk past the various smoothies, nuts and seeds, one thing I had to experience…so I thought…was a wild caught salmon hot dog.  But when it arrived at lunch I just couldn’t. Some things need to be what they are; and a hot dog is a hot dog.

Dr Weil’s health alternative:  A wild caught salmon hot dog.
For this Jersey guy: Not so much.

Along those lines I did my usual hot dog and hamburger test and, as with pretty much every meal on this cruise Seabourn just about nailed it.  My hot dog was perfectly cooked with a nice snap, super-fresh condiments and a perfectly toasted bun.  My hamburger was thick and juicy.  The lettuce, tomato and pickle could have been a bit more appetizing, but were fresh and crisp.  As always seems to be the case: Order up.  If you want your burger medium order medium well.

Seabourns’s Hot Dog:  Dog Gone Perfect
Seabourn’s Hamburger:  Here’s the Beef!

With most of the lectures on this cruise focused on Dr. Andrew Weil’s health and wellness cruise it was refreshing to listen to Brent Houston’s talk on seabirds of the region.  I first met Brent during my Antarctica cruise on the Seabourn Quest last January and love not only his knowledge and passion, but his irreverence. Very entertaining!

It was then time for hokey, old school, but “Ya Gotta Do It!”  Baked Alaska on Deck.  What you can’t see is that it was so hot that the staff were literally holding up umbrellas to shade the both the staff and the baked Alaska from melting!

Trying for restraint, High Tea was skipped, but another awesome dining experience in The Grill by Thomas Keller after cocktails by Artem in The Observation Lounge was a great way to end our effectively three lovely days at sea.

Thomas Keller’s Lobster Thermador

My second favorite Thomas Keller dish:  The veal chop.

My initial impression is that the staff and crew of the Seabourn Sojourn are fantastic, enthusiastic and willing young men and women that truly want to do their best.  They do need a bit more and proper guidance on how to do that which, with a bit of effort, will come.  On Seabourn good enough is not good enough and while I have experienced some excellent service I am hoping for it to be a bit more consistent.  Meanwhile my culinary experience as been top notch.

Tomorrow brings on a more experiential Alaska!