Michael Wilson discovers that the devil is in the detail when it comes to Seabourn’s latest ultra-luxury offering on board Seabourn Ovation.
Having spent over four decades in the travel industry, the majority of which have been dedicated to cruise, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have enjoyed many trips on a wide variety of ships since. Starting right back in 1979, when I stepped aboard Canberra for a travel agent’s educational visit around the Canaries, my family and I have cruised with Cunard, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean to name just a few. More recently, I had the unique chance to be part of the naming ceremonies of Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest, all fabulous occasions, and a great chance for me to see and experience this amazing product for the first time. It was these events that led me to take several family holidays with Seabourn, who have undoubtedly become a firm favourite of mine.
What Makes Seabourn Different?
It’s difficult to put my finger on what makes Seabourn different; all cruise lines use the adjectives such as luxury, but Seabourn just get everything right! On her first cruise on Seabourn Odyssey, my daughter of 16 said, “it’s not as glitzy as I had expected, it’s understated luxury,” and I think that defines what I like about Seabourn. It is certainly the height of luxury, but it is not too overwhelming and the passengers seem to fit perfectly into this environment.
Returning from a holiday in March around the Caribbean on Seabourn Odyssey, I found an invitation to join Seabourn Ovation on a pre-season sailing from the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa to Venice. This short cruise, known as a shakedown cruise in the trade, is a chance to run the ship in test mode prior to starting her formal schedule. For me it was a perfect opportunity to see the latest enlarged concept in the cruise line’s award-winning and highly-acclaimed fleet of Odyssey-class ships. With a passenger capacity of 600, compared to 450 elsewhere in the fleet, I was rather worried that a further 150 passengers might just spoil the perfect balance, so here was the ideal opportunity to find out!
Landing on the rather short runway at Genoa, you could see Ovation gleaming in the shipyard, right next to the airport, and within no time we were driving through the gates and onto the boarding area. It was hectic with last-minute preparations, but amidst what was clearly organised chaos, Ovation stood proud and I must say, amazing! There is something rather special about seeing a brand-new ship for the first time.
Our accommodation for the next six days was a Veranda Suite, located midships on deck 8. As you would expect, the suite was generous with an ample balcony, sitting area, walk-in closet, all marble bathroom and Molton Brown toiletries. The most noticeable difference to the earlier ships was the influence of ship designer Adam D. Tihany. The suite was modern, fresh but luxurious, with a sophisticated colour palette and beautiful fabrics. Tihany’s master touch continued to stand out as we ventured around the ship to see the Penthouse Suites, Signature Suites and, of course, the fabulous Winter Garden Suite.
Exploring the remainder of Ovation, it was Tihany’s influence that really had the greatest impact on me. The perfectly balanced design and attention to detail was evident everywhere. The highlight was The Grill by Thomas Keller, with its own cocktail bar and lounge. It is one of the best designed areas I have ever seen on a ship; even before I had sampled any food, this was a sure winner for me.
Another noticeable improvement was The Colonnade and its enlarged dining area. Situated at the rear, it offers a slightly more casual dining alternative with both indoor and outdoor seating. As a family we always head to The Colonnade for lunch to enjoy alfresco dining and now Ovation boasts not only a much larger outdoor area, but a second outdoor overflow area on the deck below, so finding a table outside clearly was never going to be a problem. As with all Seabourn ships, you can enjoy breakfast here, plus beautiful lunch buffets and regionally themed dinners.
Seabourn are renowned for their multi-award-winning cuisine and a highlight is the main restaurant. Ovation takes the dining experience to a new level and, again, Tihany’s touch is in abundance; The Restaurant is a beautiful, light, open space with a twist featuring modern Murano glass chandeliers. The fine dining was amazing, but it always has been and it’s clear to see why they continue to receive some of the most coveted gourmet accolades. The soufflés are to die for and each evening I sent a photo of the latest offering to my son, knowing full well he would be green with envy!
My highlight dining experience was dinner in The Grill. After drinks at the superb cocktail bar mixed by a highly-competent mixologist, we enjoyed roast chicken in thyme jus for two. Being partial to a roast dinner, this was sensational and for it to be carved at the table by a Thomas Keller Master Chef, over from America just for the shakedown and maiden cruises, was the icing on the cake. I can very highly recommended it.
Final Thoughts on Seabourn Ovation
It is in the quality and style of service on board that Seabourn truly excels. I have been blessed over the years to sample so many products at different levels and Seabourn have my award for outstanding customer service. Other luxury lines come very close, but with crew numbering nearly as many as guests on each ship, their service philosophy underlies every aspect of Seabourn’s shipboard experience. I mentioned earlier about what makes Seabourn different and quality and style of service is undoubtedly also at the core. On Seabourn Ovation, the new team – together for just a very short time were performing as if they had been together for years. This achievement alone is a testament to the exceptional management behind the scenes.
And so, to go back to my earlier question; would a further 150 passengers spoil a product I have come to love? Well, I think my enthusiasm and comments already answer this. There is certainly much more space provided by the extra deck and width, and I am in no doubt that the additional passengers will simply blend in unnoticed. However, the extra facilities can only enhance what is already one of the most amazing cruise experiences available today.