Seabourn Cruise Line
by Tim Josephson
Seabourn Pride A Caribbean Discovery
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November 12-22, 1998
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The Ship Herself
From first sight of the lanky lines of her elegant profile to the last memory-kissed glimpse of her out the back of your Town Car, the Seabourn Pride and her wonderful staff are sure to fulfill expectations and delight the spirit. At just 10,000 tons and carrying only 200 passengers, she is a study in tidy perfection, a neat little marvel. Here, serenity and service meet in a place that makes you, personally, feel about as special as you've ever felt on a ship before. Just about any way that anyone could define oceangoing luxury is a polished feature aboard the Seabourn Pride.
Her interiors are spare and cool, and perfectly lighted for a feeling of spaciousness. There is the classic pleasure of fine paintings on white walls. Throughout the ship there is plush, cozy comfort. The Restaurant is a generous room, wide as the beam, sparkling with Scandinavian crystal and porcelain, and English sterling. A painted, coffered ceiling and large marble dance floor may not do much for soft acoustics here, but generous table spacing helps. Fine table linens are steam-ironed flat on the tables so there's never a crease. The rest of the public rooms are all placed aft, but receive very little vibration. Glassed on three sides, the Magellan Lounge for daytime lectures and evening shows is a large mauve-feeling room. I got a close-up look at the fabric and carpet one day to find a rainbow of colors on a tiny scale had been orchestrated to produce the overall effect.
The area known as The Club, all in soft beige tones, is the ample main lounge. Cleverly separated from it with glass partitions is the bar and a cozy seating area, as well as the quieter Casino. The Library is right next door. Dan Hodge (or some other excellent entertainer) will be at the piano, or the small dance band will play in the Club for dancing before dinner, and there is often a late cabaret show.
A slight departure and another even more restful observation area, the Constellation Lounge is well placed at the top and front of the ship. Here daytime quiz games, wine tastings and afternoon tea take place in a gentle blue realm. The activities presented are just enough for a relaxing cruise on a ship of this size. Complimentary soft drinks and all manner of spirits are served about anywhere, and you almost have to put yourself out to come up with something for which to be charged. There's never a real check to sign anyway; your sensibilities are respected in every conceivable way throughout the cruise.
The Seabourn Pride is complete with a small pool and whirlpools out on a protected deck, steps away from the Sky Bar. Her open decks are easily accessible and very pleasant - just right for a unique show we had while anchored off St. John: one of her sister ships, the Seabourn Legend, while "in the neighborhood" so to speak, sailed a crisp circle around us. What a cheer went up from both ships!
Entertainment & Staff
When it came to the entertainers, I was completely impressed by the high caliber of their professional talents. I've never seen a dozen finer artists so thoroughly cover any ship. Especially the knowledgeable Cruise Director, Colin Brown, who set the pace and created an atmosphere of good friends unwinding together throughout the cruise. As well, he provided several gifted and passionate Classical Piano Recitals. To come to know all the entertainers as warm and genuine, available here and there around the ship, hosting games and dinner tables, and then greeting guests before and after the shows - these were remarkable personal gestures, just right for any size ship. Travelling as a single, I particularly appreciated that every day I received an invitation to an officer's or entertainer's table to dine that evening. Rarely did I encounter the same other guests at these tables - quite an effort was made to accomplish this. Someone is really on their toes but you'd never have any idea, the operation is so transparent, you are so pleased by the honest kindness. A special mention should be made of the accomplished Marsha Harris, who "graduated" to cruise director for the Seabourn Spirit, the third sister ship, while on our cruise.
The same sense of special personal attention is found in each and every staff member. I came to feel that I had never truly known what personal service was; previously - I had only been graced by glimpses. This was the most outstanding feature of the Seabourn Pride. Waiters and stewards throughout the ship were so sensitive to any indication of a style or particular preference of guests, and would remember it and share it with other service personnel, that I really did come to think they were mind readers. I didn't think I'd mind that Seabourn strictly prohibits crew members from solicitation or acceptance of gratuities, but I did. Their attention is exceptional. They have come from the most noteworthy hotels, resorts, even famous private yachts, of the world.
The guest celebrity chef and featured enrichment experts were also completely personable and they made themselves available to offer a professional comment or become a new friend. Miami Beach's brilliant chef/restauranteur Allen Susser, the visionary of New World Cuisine, provided demonstrations and tastings, and one evening a fascinating and delicious menu in The Restaurant. Jon Lomberg, our creative and scientific artist/astronomer was comprehensible and accessible, even staying up all night on deck to guide curious stargazers through the rare Leonid meteor shower.
I suppose I should have expected such a well conceived experience from the pre-cruise materials I received. After a brief passenger registration form (mostly about special service requests and guest preferences), there were no forms to fill out, no luggage tags to labor over (they came complete, in embossed kid leather, as did the handsome travel/passport folder). In fact, there was no "ticket". Acceptance of the terms and conditions of the contract, spelled out elsewhere, is understood. A detailed itinerary was included and port information was excellent. Even the passenger I.D./onboard account card was already included. There was no "check-in" before boarding. Though you may later have a Shore Excursion ticket, it is never collected. When it is necessary, for example, to complete a form to clear the British Virgin Islands, you are requested not to worry about the questions --they can answer for you.
To begin, accept a genuine "Welcome Aboard!" with a glass of champagne to enjoy while you are escorted to your suite. An iced bottle of Piper-Heidsieck, à Reims, awaits further exploration. You may leave a credit card impression with Reception at your leisure.
Every standard "cabin" is a very roomy 277 square-foot suite, the largest I've encountered. Though the Seabourn Pride features only a few balconies, the 5-foot wide window seems a vast expanse for the view. An electrically operated gray-out shade allows for the gentlest hint of light in the morning. The well furnished lounge/entertainment area is 10 feet by 10 feet. It includes a handsome, stocked (to your specifications) refrigerator/cocktail cabinet and opposite it, a matching TV/VCR unit. TV programming is extensive and ever-changing. There is a good tape selection in the ship's library, and it is always open. Architectural woodwork details, perfect lighting and the best use of mirrors extend the feeling of spaciousness. When you look at the suite picture, know that the two armchairs actually belong backwards along the unseen wall, with their side table built into the wainscoting. This makes for some distance between the chairs and the large raising coffee table, providing a spacious open area for, well, dancing or whatever.
The 10 foot by 10 foot bedroom area is also very generous, and includes a narrow desk/vanity area. There is a good walk in closet. Yet in all this space, real storage is rather scant. The 10 or so drawers are small and shallow, and the shelves in the closet are triangular - mostly useless. The addition of a good lower shelf in the closet would be helpful. The bathroom is marble and mirror clad, with a double sink area. And when you are drying your feet after a bath or shower, you can sit on the commode and watch TV (was this planned?). Bath amenities are by Neutrogena. Housekeeping here and throughout the ship is meticulous. Yet, why this and so many of the other best ships are using unprotected travertine for table and desk tops remains beyond me.
Life At Sea
Every morning, along with the daily news placed on a handy clip on the door, the Luncheon and Dinner Menus are delivered to your suite. They temptingly reveal what may easily be called some of the finest food afloat. Using classic techniques and the best ingredients from the world over, all the favorites are here among some creative new preparations you are sure to find enjoyable. Service is available in suite, and there's a versatile 24-hour room service menu, but you must not miss the luxurious breakfast and luncheon buffets in the Veranda Cafe.
This is also the venue for the usually nightly (and always more casual) American Bistro and the international Theme Dinners - Italian and then Thai on this sailing. We had a fantastic deck barbecue one evening, replete with the fine crystal, china and silver from the Verandah Cafe. It included a 50's/60's show right there outside, visit from Elvis (the superb Sean O'Shea) and all. Suffice to say I found the food on the Seabourn Pride outstanding, certainly ranking in the top of the handful of best cruise lines in the world, and usually exceeding expectations. It just doesn't get much better than this.
The passengers were an interesting mix - some from Canada, the United Kingdom and other areas in Europe. Florida always provides a strong contingent. Many were Seabourn repeaters, some frequent; many mentioned the beloved name of Royal Viking Line in their cruising histories. There were also some younger couples who took advantage of offers for 5-day segments of this cruise, so one could have all the delights of the Seabourn Pride in a shorter-length stay. There was a very good mix of age groups. I was interested to see how much drinking there would be on a cruise where most beverages were complimentary. Though many people said they drank much more than usual, I never saw anyone embarrassing.
This was a fairly standard itinerary for a 10-day Caribbean cruise, round trip from Ft. Lauderdale: two days at sea, a day each for St. John, St. Barts, St. Thomas, St. Martin and Virgin Gorda, then two days at sea on the return. It was my first time on Virgin Gorda, a distinct pleasure I will long cherish. The Seabourn Pride anchored off Spanish Town for guests on tour to the Baths, then repositioned off Prickly Pear Island in North Sound.
The moment we came within 100 yards of the island, I realized we were entering a different world. There was a calmness, a softness to the air. Open-air safari wagons drove us through the village of Spanish Town's shops and schools, revealing humble homes dotting the lush low hillsides. After parking, we followed a winding footpath down to the beach for our adventure. Our small group was among the first visitors of the day to enjoy the Baths, a fascinating composition of house-sized granite boulders with shallow channels and pools located at the southwest tip of the island.
Though I've seen a few rocks in my life, I've never taken in such intriguing volcanic formations as these. It is a geographical wonder that these huge stones were thrown from a distant volcano to this place. We meandered around and through the unusual formations in sometimes knee-deep water for several hundred yards to emerge at a couple of tan sand beaches. The beauty of the place was astonishing. And frolicking is something the place seems to invite one to do.
Later we passed along the spine of the island, across it's 400-foot peak, and around to Leverick Bay on North Sound. Here lies the Biras Creek Resort and the Bitter End Yacht Club (to which tender service was provided), the latter of which I believe came to its name by being the usual destination of the original trans-atlantic sailings - circa the early 1500's. Here, also, the Seabourn Pride was at anchor adjacent to Prickly Pear Island, with the ship's clever little marina lowered into the water to provide a wide variety of water sports for our Beach Party.
This completely casual day ashore on the desert-like island included a barbecue of lobster, clams, mussels and shrimp as well as Black Angus steaks, burgers and lamb chops, along with the usual wonderful salads and, of course, drinks. It's hard to resist the spirit encouraged by the Cruise Director and his Staff, as if anyone would try to for an instant. Most kindly, the ship's bars, lounges and spa remained in service as usual throughout the day. Thinking of how very well Seabourn does everything, one can easily imagine the unique pleasures to be had that day. Then, unfortunately, we were off on our way, passing Mosquito Island as we came around east northeast past Anegada, and on back to the States.
Seabourn is a very good value, especially during that usually quiet period near the end of the year. You don't have to have been most every place or on many ships - you can start right here and never budge to another small ship, and I don't think you'll have missed a thing.
For me, Seabourn is one of the ultimate cruise travel experiences of our time. The Seabourn Pride is small and may not handle well in rough seas, but the overall product is unmatched in so many ways. The smart appearance, the outstanding service, the highest quality entertainment, the exceptional food, the spacious suites, and the general comfortability made this a truly wonderful cruise.
Tim Josephson is a long time San Francisco-based Mariner, passionate about blue water cruising, and frequent contributor to the SeaLetter. He can be reached for questions or comment at: TimJosephson@juno.com.
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